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Colas save pounds on implementing paperless invoice approval systems

Background

Colas Rail is one of Europe’s leading suppliers of railway infrastructure services. Across five separate UK locations this diverse and complex business was manually processing over 20,000 supplier invoices per calendar year. Colas Rail required a system to automate the Accounts Payable (AP) process to improve the efficiency, timeliness, and environmental impact of the purchase-to-pay procedure. The incumbent system was paper-based, time-consuming, and unsuitable for this fast growing national business. Something needed to change to allow the business to have greater control over the visibility and processing of the large influx of purchase ledger invoices.

The Challenge

For Colas Rail this was a step change in approach. To support the challenges of creating tomorrow’s railway and delivering the efficiency improvements demanded by Network Rail the incumbent process was seen as outdated, slow, cumbersome, and unsuitable for a UK wide business.

In response, the business decided that it required a fast, sustainable, secure, and accurate system, which not only supported existing controls but would deliver an efficiency enhancement, and was scalable in the event of planned future growth.

As the provider of Summit, Colas Rail’s Financial Cost Management solution, RedSky IT was approached to work with Colas Rail and help identify the best solution for this project. In light of a rapidly changing UK railway industry the brief was to deliver a solution that eradicated paper purchase ledger invoices and manual approvals, within a short eight month window.

RedSky IT took the lead in helping the project team design and configure automated workflow to reflect the current authorisation model. Their consultancy aided the design process and highlighted features of Summit that Colas Rail had previously not utilised.

RedSky IT worked with two other existing partner suppliers that were identified by Colas Rail to deliver an in-house designed but outsourced scanning solution whereby purchase ledger invoices are received, sorted, and validated before being scanned and interpreted for processing in Summit. The information extracted from paper documents is then provided and electronically passed to Summit where the solution automatically costs the invoice based on the purchase order and dictates the relevant approvers in the approvals process.

This was a complex project involving four distinct stakeholders in a live operating environment that had to come together seamlessly to achieve a successful outcome.

Conclusion

The project delivered the objective – to automate the process of capturing and approving the 20,400 invoices processed each year in a paperless way. It did so on time and on budget.

The impact of the solution, which has been live since the start of the calendar year has been immense. The business has completely removed paper from its purchase ledger authorisation process with invoices appearing as document image instead of a physical piece of paper.

For the 144 Colas Rail approvers who work across the UK and around the clock delivering railway infrastructure this has meant timely sight of documents and in turn quicker invoice approval. Colas Rail’s supply chain in turn has benefited from improved relationship management, which in turn has supported further innovation in the UK railway network.

Environmentally, the project has saved the equivalent of 28kg of paper, 6.84 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas not produced, 2,930 litres of petrol not consumed and 2,264 litres of waste water prevented from being discharging into rivers and lakes. These figures are based on processing 20,400 invoices per year. The environmental savings are predicted to grow exponentially as the business expands and with its processing volumes increase. Crucially this is forecast to be without the need for additional head count that would have otherwise been the case.

Financially the business expects to save in the region of £150,000 this year on better individual effectiveness through a mixture of improved timeliness and reduction of duplication of effort, as well as reduced stationery, postage and printing costs. The business has benefitted from this better processing and improved supply chain management for nearly nine months.

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