Conquering the paperwork mountain

Most organisations spend significant amounts of time and energy moving and tracking pieces of paper. In an era when PDF invoices are routine and cheque payments a rarity, it still amazes me that anyone wants to deal with a paper invoice.

While invoices are clearly important, they are not the only paper bogging down your organisation. Contracts, proposals, project documents, and routine correspondence with clients all need to be kept for long periods. Tracking down where information is stored electronically can be very time consuming.

Document Capture technologies can certainly Paper mountainhelp tame the paperwork mountain – even when it is mostly electronic. Rather than rely on employees storing information correctly in the right place and format, document capture can automatically handle storage, indexing, and tracking of information.

Document management systems can be implemented in stages, with many organisations initially focusing on creating a single repository for all electronic and (formerly) paper based information. This greatly simplifies and speeds up document retention, search, and retrieval.

Manual data entry of supplier invoices is still commonplace. According to recent research by Gartner, 75% to 80% of invoices are still paper-based. Automated OCR data extraction is a good example of a second wave of productivity improvements which can be achieved once a document capture solution is in place.

Through the use of automated learning technologies, invoice data can be automatically extracted, then correlated with information already in your ERP system. This can result in a typical 60% reduction in data rekeying and errors.

When suppliers send PDF invoices to you via email, they can be automatically indexed and placed in the document archive, as well as the appropriate data automatically being inserted into your Accounts Payable  system. Invoice line items are automatically checked against POs and supplier information, and the appropriate invoice payment approval processes are commenced.

The Oracle Payables module of the Oracle E-business Suite makes it possible to implement flexible organisation wide approval processes, so that sophisticated payment approval processes can become highly automated, further reducing costs.

The combination of these productivity improvements delivers an enormously streamlined and automated process, leaving accounts payable staff handling the exceptions – not the drudge work. In addition to reducing costs, payment speed can also be improved if desired. Slow payments to your suppliers can be counterproductive, particularly when your own services and products rely on their inputs.

Oracle’s solution in this space is Oracle WebCenter Capture and Imaging (formerly Oracle Image and Process Management or I/PM). It comprises a document capture module and an intelligent and adaptive Forms Recognition component. The solution can be easily integrated into Oracle Payables and other vendor’s financial systems for automatic matching to Purchase Orders.

However the real differentiator for the Oracle solution is the powerful workflow engine based on Oracle BPEL Process Manager. Workflow automation enables large cost savings. It is worth considering that for many organisations, more than 50% of invoices received are not “clean” – more information is required before the invoice can be fully processed. This typically involves tracking down a valid matching PO, or resolving discrepancies in dollar values or other information.

The BPEL workflow engine can automatically handle many of these common issues, while also providing statistics to help benchmark performance and uncover further efficiency improvements.

Based on our recent client experience implementing Oracle WebCenter Capture and Imaging, the technology is very sophisticated, and brings significant savings and efficiency improvements to the table. In most cases you can expect increased AP employee productivity, allowing you to redeploy headcount. Exception handling and governance is also greatly improved, with automatic detection of unusual or duplicated transactions. In some cases, we have seen organisations negotiate pricing discounts with suppliers, as they have been able to achieve consistently faster payment of invoices.

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Getting back Insync

Last week saw the annual pilgrimage of Australia’s Oracle database and business applications users to hear from their peers and global Oracle experts at the Insync11 conference in Sydney. Roadmaps were presented, war stories shared, and we all had the chance to mingle with the rockstars of the Oracle ecosystem.

V8 Supercar

As AusOUG NSW State Partner, Dataweave supported the conference via a sponsorship, and we met many interesting Oracle users and business people at our stand.

My colleague Michael Baggott and I were honoured to present a conference session covering one of our recent client projects. Our session discussed our experiences using the Oracle Lead to Order Process Integration pack, which offers a fast path to integrating Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle CRM On Demand. You can learn more about our project at Clear Solar by reading this customer story.

The business card prize draw is now a firm tradition at the end of the Insync conference. To rev up some excitement, we decided to offer a rip roaring prize – a racetrack session driving a V8 Supercar. It certainly attracted a lot of entrants, with more than a few Top Gear hopefuls challenging us with promises of tyre shredding lap times.

The lucky winner who landed pole position was Amith Uppal of BAE Systems. Lets hope he practices his overtaking skills on his Playstation, rather than the freeway.

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Happy 5th Birthday Dataweave

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Last week saw us hit an important milestone – Dataweave’s 5th birthday. We have grown rapidly since our inception in 2006, with revenue growth hitting 35% this year.

To thank our many customers and partners, we braved the winter chill to drink in the breathtaking views from Cruise Bar in Sydney, and basked in the sophisticated splendour of the Amber Room in Melbourne.

Our partners put in a great showing, with BlueTeq, CSG, Excel4apps, IBM, itX, mcr, Oracle and Unlimited Solutions pitching in to help us to eat some birthday cake. Thanks again for your support.

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CEO Sleepout raises $3.7m

I joined 250 other CEOs at Luna Park last night sleeping rough in aid of the homeless. Thank you to everyone who sponsored me – I raised over $3,000 through your kind donations. Altogether 1001 CEOs slept out across Australia and raised over $3.7m to support Vinnie’s great efforts in providing shelter and services to Australia’s homeless.

My Cardboard Bed

According to ABS statistics there are over  105,000 Australians homeless every night, including 7,500 families. More than 12,000 Australian children under the age of 12 have no home. A further 22,000 young people aged 12 to 18 are homeless, and most of them are estranged from their families.

The widespread tragedy of Mental Illness and family break-ups are significant contributors to homelessness -we can all help prevent these issues becoming tragedies by supporting our staff and our friends through  crises and depression. We heard last night from some of the homeless that Vinnie’s has helped – supporting organisations like this makes a real difference by funding them to help people get their lives back on track.

Mark Arbib and Tony Abbott we both there last night – well done guys – as business leaders and taxpayers we should all keep the pressure on the government to keep Mental Health and Homelessness high on the agenda, properly funded and not in the too hard basket.

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The science of retail therapy

There is a lot of talk about the patchwork economy at the moment. Many retailers in particular have reported poor sales, and some have even run into financial difficulties. When major retail groups like Colorado and  REDgroup (owner of Angus & Robertson, Borders, Whitcoulls) collapse, alarm bells should start ringing.

ABS fashion retail revenue Mar 2011

ABS figures for Fashion Retail Industry revenue March 2011

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has just published retail industry figures for March, which clearly show tough times across the country for retailers.

Which makes the Zara phenomenon in Sydney even more remarkable. Zara is a European fashion retailer which has opened their first Australian store in the Sydney CBD. In the month since opening, crowds of shoppers have been willingly queuing for long periods just to get into the store, and emptying shelves at a dizzying pace.

Internationally, Zara has built their success on vertical integration, with tight management of retail inventory, supply chain, product design and manufacture. A major goal being to optimise inventory holdings, and reduce the lead time needed to bring new products to retail shelves.

Vertical integration is never going to be a viable strategy for most retailers. But technologies such as Oracle Retail Merchandise Planning and Optimisation can lift efficiencies to similar levels. The demand planning tools make it possible to automate restock orders across complex multi-supplier situations.

Getting pricing and inventory levels correct needs to be a continuous effort. Oracle’s sophisticated store merchandising tools can help plan and analyse product line profitability across branches, product categories, or product lines. You can even drill all the way down to how individual store shelves are performing.

The dark art of discounting can also be planned based on measured facts, with markdown and regular prices optimised based on actual inventory performance and supply chain considerations.

When products are sold, collecting and reconciling revenue by store can also be challenging, especially when you are dealing with multiple payment methods such as cash, credit, vouchers, gift cards and refunds. We use the Cash Management module in Oracle Financials, part of Oracle’s E-Business Suite, to help ensure accurate and timely reconciliation, so you always have an accurate view of your financials, allowing problems to be identified and solved quickly.

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Shining light on the supply chain

Organising for someone to come and carry out a service at your home can easily become a nightmare. I think most people dread the thought of hanging around the house waiting for a plumber to fix a leak.

Rooftop household solarOf course there are many businesses that need to visit customer sites. It can be a major customer service challenge. In today’s world of rapid communications and social (or is it anti-social?) media, one of the quickest way to damage your organisation’s reputation is to have employees arrive late at appointments, and turn up with the wrong parts.

Some industries are dominated by tradesmen in vans, with rather haphazard systems for booking appointments and invoicing.

The recent federal government home insulation program showed just how chaotic things can become when demand rockets. The Hawke report into the problems of the insulation scheme is interesting reading. In an extraordinary single year of operation for the home insulation program, 10,000 installers worked in the field – performing 180,000 household insulation installs in November 2009 alone. Australian insulation manufacturers completely ran out of inventory, causing tradespeople to scramble madly for imported materials – contributing to the already chaotic situation.

Clearly, you don’t need to be a big business to have a complicated supply chain.

At the other end of the spectrum, the solar energy sector has grown steadily – and turned into a mature industry. The Clean Energy Council announced this week that regional towns in Australia have some of the highest use of solar energy – with 8 to 12% of homes already using solar. Places like Caloundra, Victor Harbour, Dubbo, Buderim, and Ballina are amongst the highest installed base. Even the big fossil fuel giants are starting to take note, as evidenced by the recent US$1.4 bn takeover of SunPower by French oil company Total.

With most components needing to be imported to order for clients, the solar energy sector has always faced tricky supply chain issues. Dataweave recently implemented a sophisticated Oracle E-Business Suite solution for Clear Solar – one of Australia’s largest installers of solar energy systems. You can read about the project in this recent article in ARN magazine.

When a client places an order with Clear Solar’s contact centre team, they also arrange installation for a specific date and time. This might sound straight forward, but it requires extremely sophisticated supply chain tracking and planning tools, as multiple components need to be imported, warehoused, and field employees allocated to install at specific times.

The Field Services module for the Oracle E-Business Suite makes it possible for Clear Solar’s customer service staff to give estimates of when equipment will be ready for install, and allocate installation staff to accurate appointment slots – taking into account travel times and costs. This all happens at the time of the order being originally made, weeks before the equipment even arrives in the country.

Supply chain issues are clearly important for all businesses importing, installing and servicing goods and equipment. Tier 1 applications like Oracle E-Business Suite can assist in this process and help rapidly growing companies meet customer demand and expectations.

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Taking the sting out of Oracle licensing for VMware datacentres

Datacentre management tools have changed a lot in recent years, and VMware has played a big part in the revolution. Regardless of whether or not your organisation is using cloud computing style deployments, server hardware virtualisation has enormously improved flexibility for datacentres.

Lion's Mane Jellyfish

Lion's Mane Jellyfish, courtesy of Dan Hershman

Virtualisation does however have a rather nasty sting that can easily be overlooked – Oracle database licensing.

Oracle licensing is based on a straightforward model. If an Oracle technology product (such as Oracle Database or WebLogic Server) is running on a piece of hardware, the price paid for the licence is based on the number of processors within that server hardware platform.

Oracle offers favourable application licensing for software running on Oracle’s own Oracle VM virtualisation solution, by allowing the partitioning of the server. But for servers or clusters using non-Oracle virtualisation technologies (such as VMware), the price is based on the number of processors pooled in the cluster.

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