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A conversation with mac-group
We had a chat with Michelle Boyle, Group Finance Manager at mac-group, about why she decided to add the Invoice Register to her Summit package and how it’s increasing efficiency across the business.
Established in 2002, mac-group employs 140+ staff and has six operating companies, located in Newry, Dublin, Hamburg, Prague, London and Birmingham. The group’s 2017 turnover was £110 million, with profits up by 69% (£4.9 million) on the previous year. Its multi-disciplined team of professionals manages and delivers three types of project: construction, fit-out and bespoke.
When did mac-group join RedSky?
We signed up for Summit package about six months after I joined mac – that was back in 2007.
What was the situation before you went on to the Invoice Register?
We are a head office Finance team, based in Newry, but a lot of our staff are located on client sites. We also have offices all over Europe. This all made transmission and authorisation of invoices difficult for the Newry team.
What was the old process?
We have a very high volume of invoices coming in every week. Before going onto the Invoice Register we used to receive hundreds by post, so we would have to scan them, to get them on the system. A team member would then section them out into jobs and send a tailored email to each of our 18 QSs every week, with their relevant invoices attached.
The QSs would then print, sign and scan the invoices and send them back to the Newry office, either by post or email. Sometimes managers in departments would sign off invoices too. The process was very cumbersome and lengthy.
Was traceability problematic?
Yes. Although many QSs would email the signed invoices back to us within seven days, we used to get a lot of invoices going astray every month. This was partly because of the multiple locations involved, and sometimes it was because the QSs did not send them to us or the invoices got lost in the post.
This issue used to cause a lot of lengthy, additional work for the members of the Finance team, because when they tried to reconcile the client statements, there would be perhaps three or four invoices that weren’t on our system.
That must have been frustrating for your team.
Absolutely. When my team was working on statement reconciliations they would find at that point that certain invoices were missing. They would then have to look back at the email history, to check that the invoice had been sent to the QS and that there had been no response, and then send a chaser email.
It was all very complicated, not least because they were having to trawl through email chains to QSs in six different locations. I’d say that every week, this issue used to take up to two hours for each of the three Finance team members working on reconciliations.
Did the fact that you weren’t working with real-time information exacerbate the problem?
Yes – when a statement came in from an external stakeholder, it could show an outstanding balance of, say, €42,000. We would go into their account and perhaps find that on our system it was sitting with a balance only €5,000. On review, we would discover that the difference between the two figures had come about because the QSs had not signed off their invoices, scanned them and sent all relevant invoices back to the Finance team at Newry for further processing. It was very time-consuming for staff.
What made you choose RedSky’s Invoice Register to resolve this issue?
We were already operating the financial package of the Summit system at the time. We needed something that was fully integrated and would work well with our current system. Also, many of our QSs and colleagues in our Commercial division were already familiar with the RedSky package, and we felt that it would be a good move for us. The functionality of the package worked very well with the current system.
How did you prepare for the implementation?
Roisin Hawe from RedSky did a lot of the groundwork, and we spent some time at our end just planning how the system should work. Our situation is quite complicated because we have six operating companies on the system and needed to allocate each invoice to the right company.
How did the training go?
It was extremely easy to train the staff on the new system because it’s very user-friendly in relation to accepting or rejecting invoices. Also, many staff were already familiar with using RedSky’s Summit package and found it painless.
Did the implementation go smoothly?
It was all carried out remotely by RedSky, which was great, and the whole implementation took just two days. Although it went very well, we did have an issue with the scanning side of things at first. This was due to the number of different companies on the system.
Our IT expert and Roisin were able to work together to iron out those issues fairly quickly. It was simply a matter of setting up a unique email address to identify each different company. Once we had that established on the system, we just had to make sure that all invoices, once logged onto the Invoice Register, were transmitted into the correct company.
What difference has the Invoice Register made?
It’s great to have the system managing the payment process for us now. Invoices are emailed by the supplier and go directly into the Invoice Register, so they are recorded straight away.
Whereas it used to take hours to work out who was holding on to invoices (and holding up the process), this information is now available at the touch of a button. Every Thursday we just filter out the individuals concerned and email a reminder, asking them to sign off the invoices or pass them back to us with comments.
Whenever our QSs (or departmental managers who approve invoices) log onto RedSky, they get a little notification saying ‘action required’ – so they can go in whenever is convenient to them, to authorise or reject those invoices.
At the touch of a button, we can now produce a weekly report for our Commercial division, to keep them in the loop on approved and pending invoices, and which individuals are slowing down the payment process.
How useful is it for your staff to be able to see the invoice itself?
Once the invoice has been scanned in, the OLE attaches to the transaction and there’s a paper clip symbol that appears. So not only can we see it straight away in the Newry office, but the QSs can view it in real time, wherever they are based and in whichever operating company they choose. It’s fantastic: it certainly speeds up the process across the entire group.
The QSs really like it, because if they want to clarify something about one of the invoices on their job, they no longer have to call the Newry Finance team and ask for a copy to be scanned and emailed across; they can just go into the Invoice Register and see the invoice on their screen.
Is it handy to be able to see authorised and pending invoices too?
It’s absolutely fantastic because there’s a workflow there: whenever an invoice goes onto the system, it now goes through a set process. As a result, my team can see instantly if an invoice has been authorised, rejected or is still pending. If someone in the London office has a query on an invoice, instead of accepting it they add a note to it, explaining what the issue is. My team will see that note immediately.
Similarly, if a supplier rings to ask why an invoice hasn’t been paid, we access the Invoice Register to investigate. If the invoice status is shown as ‘pending’, we simply right-click on the transaction to read the notes on the source of the problem (whereas previously we would have had to contact a colleague based in a different location, to ask why the invoice hadn’t been authorised). Typically, problems relate to poor quality of materials or an incorrect item being ordered or invoiced.
Having all that information to hand increases efficiencies throughout our team and we operate in a more effective manner when dealing with queries. The whole process is a lot more efficient throughout the organisation.
Are statement reconciliations easier now?
The Invoice Register is an excellent tool for statement reconciliations and there’s a large amount of traceability. It’s fair to say that there has been a complete turnaround.
The new process is simple: we put the invoice on the system immediately through the Invoice Register; the invoice is costed to the job, but the system will not make a payment until it’s been fully authorised by the appropriate person.
We can view the account to see the invoice status in real time, at any time. This means that whenever we receive a statement from an external stakeholder, that statement value is an exact reflection of what’s on our system. There’s complete traceability, which is increasing the efficiencies throughout the business.
Has this freed up your team to work on driving further efficiencies?
My team is no longer ‘bogged down’ now with continual reconciliations or chasing other departments for invoices. A lot of that cumbersome work has now been erased by the Invoice Register. I’d say that we’ve saved around 30% of the time spent by the three team members who are active on the purchase ledger, for example. It has freed my team up to focus more on analysis and we’re now being a lot more proactive in the business – we’re looking at ways to increase efficiencies throughout the company.
Do you still receive some postal invoices?
A lot of our suppliers were sending their invoices to us by post, so we did have to work to change their mindset to the emailing option. Instead of receiving a few hundred postal invoices every week, we’re now getting under 10. We scan them onto the Invoice Register as soon as they come in and there is no reason for filing invoices now as we have the scanned version on their account for future reference.
Is the payment process much faster now?
The Invoice Register has made the whole payment process much speedier, ‘from the cradle to the grave’, so to speak. Entering invoices and approving them is much faster all round and my staff are much more content in their roles because the process is seamless.
My team reviews the Invoice Register all the time, so that we respond swiftly. For example, if I have a colleague in Dublin who needs something paid immediately, they just scan it into the Invoice Register at their end and we pick it up in Newry straight away.
Would you recommend the Invoice Register to others?
I would highly recommend the scanning and the Invoice Register. It’s fully integrated onto the RedSky package and we have found it to be extremely robust regarding traceability, viewing of invoices and the approval process. It’s great in that we can immediately view the invoice online with the OLE attachment.
It’s quick and easy to train staff regarding acceptance and rejection of invoices, and to view which individuals are holding invoices for lengthy periods of time. My team is working with real-time information when dealing with suppliers, so we’re better equipped to answer queries. And the fact that staff can identify the invoice status in more detail is excellent for statement reconciliations.
Is RedSky continuing to develop the system?
There are a few items where the functionalities are not yet working quite as they should, but I do know that the RedSky Development team is currently working on them.
For example, we have to go into the purchase ledger and hit ‘Purchase Invoice Reg’ to transmit the info on to the Summit package. And we’re having to do re-costing in the Summit package using credit notes, rather just going onto the Invoice Register and informing the system to re-cost an item to a different job if needed.
However, I believe that once we get the next update, these issues will be eliminated. To be honest, we’re really excited about getting the next upgrade because when the various functionalities have been improved, it will save us even more time. All in all, the Invoice Register has been very positive for us as an organisation, but with a few tweaks it could be amazing!
Is this joint approach a positive aspect of your relationship with RedSky?
Absolutely. It’s not just about working in harmony within our organisation; we also need to have a good relationship externally with our stakeholders, like RedSky. The addition of the Invoice Register is a huge improvement on what we’ve had previously, but there is still work that could be done, to make Summit an even better system – there’s always room for improvement.
What I really like about working with RedSky is that they come and ask us as the client what our issues are with the system. They take our views, our issues and our feedback on board. They review it all and then try to build it into the current package. It’s about nurturing those relationships and making sure that RedSky knows we are not ‘moaning’; anything that we do feed back is for the benefit of mac-group, RedSky and other users. I like to call this constructive criticism.
Sometimes it does take a while for an update to be issued, but I’m confident that when we do get the updates, we’ll be happy with them.
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