PDF download

View full screen

View transcript

 

 

CRE AP Automation

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our first commercial real estate client webinar series, Preparing for the Future Today. For the last seven years, we've gathered in Minneapolis to discuss the stories that were impacting our business. With the environment around us, it is impossible, but now, more than ever, it's important for us to connect, collaborate, and share best practices.

The last several years at our conference, we've talked about what is possible. From automation to innovation, and cybersecurity and risk management, the focus has always been on preparing for the future today. What we didn't know is we would be in this environment, we'd be working from home, we'd be forced to think outside the box, and we would have to simply adapt on the fly.

For some of you, those building blocks to transition were already in place. For others, you had to pivot and move quickly to put those pieces and move forward. Today, we're going to discuss that idea that was top of mind right out of the gate, and that was AP automation. So let's meet our panelists.

My name is Dhiren Patel, and I lead our commercial real estate deposit and payment solutions group at U.S. Bank. We have a team of 35 professionals across the country that work with all of you on a daily basis with depository, treasury management, and commercial card solutions. Our speakers include Holly Ford, senior director of client success at Nexus Systems, Patrick Carrabine, solutions architect at Cushman and Wakefield, and Yolanda Capers, accounting manager at The Beach Company. Thank you for joining us from your homes across the country.

I wanted to start on a macro basis. Holly, at Nexus, you get a broad view of the industry in terms of companies sizes from small to large, private to public. What are some of the key trends that you're seeing at Nexus, both leading up to COVID, as well as in the current environment?

Thanks, Dhiren, for that introduction. Those are all great questions. AP automation, I always like to say no one's ever done, right? Just because you have maybe automated bits and pieces of the AP process-- and the AP process we really define as starting with the procurement. So maybe you have some automated catalogs, or maybe you've set up email for your invoices.

No one's ever done, so it's very much an organic and evolving process. And before COVID hit, we really saw the trend where people were trying to move towards and start to adopt some of the emerging technology trends. OCR is not emerging, but I think it's always evolving, right? In the AP world, it's super hard to automate unstructured forms.

But people are wanting to do more with less contact, so trying to push suppliers to use the tools that people have to automate the invoice delivery, that's a huge part of what a lot of the real estate companies spend a lot of time doing, is receiving the invoices, coding the invoices, figuring out where they need to go for approval. Those pieces are truly things that people are always working to automate, and then that next step, that next gen of how do you then start putting some business rules and intelligence around it to ease the coding process and know where that invoice needs to route for approval. And obviously, the Nexus Automated AP Platform, we already have a lot of that built in, which is fantastic, but it's really deeply working with our clients to figure out what the right solution is for their suppliers.

As you mentioned, the full suite of real estate companies, but on the other side, on the flip side, you have a wide variety of technology capabilities of everybody's suppliers. So depending on where you're located, you might be working with a mom and pop, or you could be working with one of the largest retailers in the nation, and their technology capabilities are going to vary wildly. So one of the things we're always working with clients on is trying to find the right solution for everybody's needs.

And it's not just one solution, which is great. So kind of to answer your question on maybe after COVID hit, we really saw a scramble to get those automated tools set up. So one of the things we have had for many years is a supplier portal where they can upload their invoices right away.

One of the great things about this, especially with COVID, is that they were not having to mail anything, put it in the post. Companies were not having to send people to the office to receive invoices. That's very important. It's very important to have that contingency plan that allows that full automation.

And then part of that, obviously, is moving into the automated payments arena. We heard from so many people that, yes, we're working from home, but we're still having to send somebody into the office once or twice a week to cut checks. Well, that was a risk for a lot of people. So we really saw kind of a mad rush on both sides of the equation for people to start down that automation journey. So we've been excited that we were already there and already ready to deploy those solutions for clients as they needed them.

Yeah, and I think that you bring up a good point. I think this-- thinking about how there are many different company sizes and types on both ends of the transaction, you have some that might be very in favor of automation and going paperless. You have others that might not be, I think. Regardless, the situation that we were all kind of put in, small or large, had to almost buy into that regardless, right?

Because large or small, it didn't matter. You still had that issue of not wanting people to go into the office, or making sure we knew how we're getting invoices, how to route them. I mean, it was kind of one of those where we kind of had no choice. We were just kind of thrown into that, right?

Absolutely. And I'll share real quick a story of a client in New York who I've been working with. I had a meeting with the CFO not too long ago, and he said to me, I realized that I didn't have a backup plan. And they were there in the heart of New York City, as we all know, hit very hard initially, in the early days of COVID.

And he said, as a property manager, as a third party property manager, he felt it was his duty to his owners to have a backup plan, to be able to start moving towards automation. And he was kind of laughing. He goes, you know, I have a whole bunch of owners that I still courier checks over to. They want to feel them and touch them and sign it.

And he goes, everybody needs to get on board that if that's not possible, we need a plan B. And they're actively engaged on getting everything set up to automate. So I think it was a real wake up call for a lot of folks in the industry.

I think the good news is what we realized is the ability to do it was already there. It's been there for a while.

Oh, yeah, ages.

Bits and pieces, as you said earlier, right? Parts of it were maybe more adopted than other parts of it, but the technology, and the platforms, and just important items like integration with the AP software, all of that was already there. We had clients and companies that were already really automated from end to end, which we'll get to hear about. But I think that gave all of us at least a little bit of comfort that we didn't have to wait for something to be built to really get to that end goal.

Things were in place. We just had to figure out, OK, the way we used to manage projects-- and we'll talk about that all has changed, so how do we do it in this environment? I mean, as far-- so we talked a little bit about, from your viewpoint, I think, supplier invoices and all of that was obviously key.

On the payment side, cutting checks, I think all of our clients, mutual clients and others, really wanted us to figure out how to get rid of the check piece immediately. I think that that was really the biggest obstacle everyone kind of had. That was immediate.

We've now been in this environment, what, for going on five, six months now at this point? And I think we're all realizing it could be longer, and we're focusing really on preparing for the future today. So what are you seeing in terms of trends on the payment side? So suppliers maybe being a little bit more willing than maybe they were in the past?

Absolutely. And we actually not too long ago dug in and looked at all of the numbers. So we looked at the trend over the last 12 months. Where were we the start of COVID in 2019 versus 2020, and kind of did that side-by-side comparison, and the results were overwhelming.

We saw that there was over 115% increase of supplier starting to use the portal to submit invoices electronically. We took it a next step and actually surveyed a lot of the suppliers that use our tools. And what they shared with us is that they did-- almost 50-- it was almost split 50-50.

I actually thought it would be less, but it was split about 50-50 that they had a real concern about the post office. So not only does it take time to print, and stuff envelopes, and the cost of a stamp, but they had post office concerns with mail delivery. So we saw-- the results of that survey was that 73% of our suppliers had plans to increase their amount of electronic invoice submission within the next six months because of all of that.

And from the payment side, I think everybody realizes that automated payments really is the wave of the future. We keep saying as a country, checks are a dying breed, even though they're not going to go away. We all know that. But we saw an increase of 157% increase in relative terms of suppliers in rolling for automated payments, specifically, to get paid via the virtual card.

There's just so much more around the security of different types of payments. People are very apprehensive about sharing bank account data, having to maintain bank account data, and the virtual card really is the wave of the future that everybody now-- and we see more and more suppliers able to accept it. They've just realized this is something that is the best way to get paid, and it's the fastest way to get paid.

I think one of the things that I think all of us hear more and more is that the environment that we're in has just accelerated a lot of the things that were inevitable. So I think that migration to electronic payments, which we've been talking about for 10, 15 years now, it was just accelerated. So I think it probably fast forwarded us maybe five years into the future, I guess. So I do think that, yeah, that that acceleration has occurred. It's going to continue to occur in one realm or the other.

Yeah, and I-- I'll have to say that's probably the comment I heard most often from folks that we've been dealing with, is, I wish I had done this last year. But you know, I look at it, it's twofold, right? It's not only the-- it's not only are our real estate customers wanting to do it, it's really only successful as a supplier's being willing to do it to, and I think we had that shift where both all the sudden said, OK, it's time. So I think for an overall industry standpoint, that's really launched the success of the automated programs that people are putting in place.

So speaking of, let's shift over to Patrick at Cushman and Wakefield. So Patrick, walk us through kind of your organizational structure and how things kind of looked, what your AP landscape was pre-COVID, and just kind of going into that. What did things look like over at Cushman?

Sure. So I think COVID didn't change a lot for us at the onset. We talk a lot about BCP and automation and a lot of different terms. I think automation, at least for us, isn't as much of a new thing. So I think Holly nailed it with it's iterations of your automation that you're really getting through.

So for us, we've had automation probably more than-- not necessarily process automation, but technology 10 plus years at this point, so really, for us, it stems from the structure that our company is in as a fee manager is we have locations all around the country, and the person accepting and processing that invoice when it comes in the door is not the same person processing it in the accounting system. So really, the big change we have is driven around getting it from those locations to a centralized hub, and then being able to kind of do three different things.

One is that kind of spoken kind of hub idea, right? Getting it from multiples to one. And then secondly is audit controls, right? Being able to see everything that's being tracked through workflows and easily looked at.

If an invoice is in one city and somebody is approving it there, when somebody looks to automate that, it becomes a little bit tricky, right, when you have to go dig for that paper invoice in a file somewhere. So those are really the big drivers, I guess.

And lastly, really just digital invoices is the hardest thing. So I think the most interesting aspect for us is if somebody wants to audit that invoice or maybe even a series of invoices, those invoices have to be easily available.

So really, an automated landscape and a technology that allows for that is really button clicks, right? Instead of hunting and the time to kind of accomplish each of those. And really, when it comes down to suppliers and AP timing, it-- yeah.

How quick can you get it, how fast can you process it, and how fast is that check it out the door is kind of the game that I think we're always playing. And I think that's really the big picture for us. I think outside of that, it's really creating a process that works for our environment in multiple GL applications and how do we build something that has a very standardized process. That's a big factor too.

What do you do when we have a new acquisition? That seems to be the big thing for us, is as acquisitions come, how can we quickly and efficiently apply an AP solution to that acquisition and get them running in our environment on our system? So that's kind of us in a nutshell.

Yeah. So we're really focused on standardization, especially on the front end, right? So standardization, ERP integration, and really getting that visibility into the workflow and everything that's kind of happening in a digital way.

That's very easy to say, right? I mean, in the most kind of simplistic form. And obviously with the scope of your business, it's a little bit harder to get done. But you have been able to do that historically with use of Nexus, right?

So Yolanda, on your front at The Beach Company, walk us through kind of your history as far as-- you know, you've been at the company for many, many years. You've kind of seen it grow. Where and when did your journey start in terms of focusing on AP automation?

And then so that's the first question, I guess. I'll just kind of start there. Going all the way up until the beginning of March. So historically, pre-COVID, how did it look at The Beach Company?

OK. So at The Beach Company, prior to July, 2016, we were completely paper-based. We received invoices by mail or email, and we would literally stamp the invoice, code it, route it to the manager for approval, and then the accountants usually received the invoices from the manager to key into our accounting system.

And then the accountants would go ahead and cut the checks, take it to a signer, and then a signer signs it. Then we would have to attached and written it to the checks, in then stuff the envelopes up and send it.

We had went to one of our accounting software conferences and came across two AP automation companies and decided to talk to our controller about a way to streamline the invoice process so it would cut back in terms of time with entering the invoices and then cutting checks.

And so we came across Nexus and we liked the fact that they had their vendor portal, where our vendors would be able to import their invoices within the supplier portal, and then our systems would be able to pick up that invoice online and code it, and it would just route to the next person within that approval process.

And then from there, it would go to the accountants. And we had the ability to pull up the invoices during any particular time when we've paid it. Like, say I needed to look at an invoice that we paid in 2019. It's easily accessible instead of going to a filing cabinet and praying that the invoice was actually there.

And so that's what really got us into wanting to automate the AP process that we had with The Beach Company. In 2016, at that particular time we didn't want to have Nexus cut the check on our behalf at the time.

However, the fact that we were able to automate that in the process of routing the invoices, that actually cut back on a lot of the hours that we spent routing, trying to figure out where an invoice was, if it was sitting on someone's desk's or whatnot, it actually saved per accountant about three to four hours, and so that actually helped.

Like I said earlier, we would be able to pull an invoice that's needed. It's also helped us with our draw process. Because, say, if we had to pull invoices from the draw that we paid in July, all we had to go is to the report, pull up invoices that was paid in July, and it would allow us to select the invoices and allow us to email ourselves the PDF form of the invoices.

And then we were able to easily attach it to the draw to submit to the bank, so it made life a whole lot easier there. In 2019 was when we went ahead and implemented the payment process with Nexus where they cut checks on our behalf along with V cards.

And that helped us even more because now we didn't have to send check payments through the mail. We didn't have to worry about stamps, envelopes. And then on top of that, we are able to see within their portal if an invoice was paid. We would be able to see the V card, if the company processed the V card. So it allowed us to see each part of--

Of the process?

--basically each process that we had within-- like, from the beginning all the way to the end. And so when COVID hit, it made it a whole lot easier. I can only imagine how it would have been had we not implemented it previously. When COVID hit, all we did was just took all of our computers, monitors, and everything home.

And because our vendors were already importing the invoices into the system, we were able to go ahead and pick up the invoices within Nexus and just route it through the various process. We have a handful of vendors that are still sending invoices.

However, for the most part, all of it is pretty much in Nexus and it made life a whole lot easier instead of having to be in an office on a day to day basis processing invoices, cutting checks.

Got you. Yeah. So the process was already in place, right? I mean, it's probably-- to go back to Holly's point, it's what, I think, we hear from a lot of clients where I wish I would have done this in the past. But the reality is, not everyone was at that point.

But the one thing that I think is important is that even in this environment, you can get to that point. And so whether you were there, you were in the middle of it, or you're even just starting out now, we do see companies able to get to that kind of an end goal. They're just at a different part of the process.

And so Patrick, what about on your end when COVID hit? Kind of walk us through initial-- I don't know. I mean, initial first few days, first few weeks, and kind of how the environment kind of evolved into the next five months, I guess.

Yeah, I think it hit us like most companies, right? I think everyone kind of got hit with the same world. Anything that was typically physical, right, mail, check cutting, a lot of stuff just in person, right? Even just day to day able to work with someone right there with you. It all changed, right?

So I think a lot of it was dictated by regulation, which is tough, right? Everywhere has its own rules and how everything worked, and you're playing the game, I guess, with what's national, what's state, what's this office, or that office, or whatever it might be.

So it was an interesting dynamic of how COVID hit. I think we took an approach of really the most regulated of any environment kind of got replicate out as the way that everybody followed. And I think you guys are probably under the same-- you guys have a lot of locations. It's just a fun game to play.

So I think the interesting aspect of it is with the automation, a lot of the folks-- kind of a lot of what you said, is a lot of the folks are already at home with their laptops. Things are all digitized. No one's passing paper anymore in that terms.

There's always invoices that are coming in in the mail. Email is obviously preferred to get stuff in, right? And we don't have the portal set up yet and we're working through that process now. But really, just having it in your email and being able to import it into the tool has kind of been a godsend for us that we've pushed that.

Because I think the name of the game has been keeping people out of the office, right? Keep them-- it's kind of what everything is. It's keep yourself, keep everybody safe. And that's obviously the forefront for us too. So I think that that's really been our driving idea, is only the essential personnel are in the office that have to be there.

I think check cutting is an interesting topic just because check cutting is a very secure type thing, right? It's a very secure process where the check stock is locked, the environments are very secure, you're very controlling over all of that information and all of that.

So really, for us, it was aimed at that BCP and keeping that crew as isolated and as kind of by themselves as we could in our office, which has really worked out well. I think there's a nature that could be said around the two day shock, versus the two week shock, versus where we are now.

I think there's obviously a shock factor is just underlying everybody's processes on how to get people remote and that stuff. We were very lucky in that world that we're a global company and we have team members all over the world. So we're very robust in those areas where it comes to being able to communicate.

So we were lucky to at least bridge that part, and it was really just working through those physical aspects that kind of got us more-- I think, really, the idea of redundancy has probably changed a little bit with BCP and COVID. Things that you see as geographically kind of safety nets, where maybe something happens in one office, one BCP, the power goes out or something happens like that.

That doesn't really apply to COVID. COVID doesn't seem to play by any of the actual rules that anything else does. It just hits everything as a blanket effect, so I can't mitigate COVID in one location with another location necessarily. I mean, there is that natural redundancy that you're unlikely to have it hit both locations or something like that, or this location, that one, and that one, right?

But I think it's just an interesting factor. I mean, we have spent probably way too much time on BCP, but that's probably the short answer, is you probably can't spend enough time on that. So I think we felt really comfortable with it, but it's just always kind of a little added element that you have to factor in.

Yeah. And I think it's a good point, right? Especially the geographic point that you made. I mean, a lot of companies, just naturally in their initial business continuity plan that's if a location goes out, you have a backup location within another part of the country, whatever the case may be.

And I think all BCP plans at this point are obviously going to now factor in, well, no location can serve as a backup. That it's more about how to make sure we're leveraging technology and other things like all of us have been doing, right, with most employees working from home.

I think it's been interesting to kind of hear as we talk to our clients, right? And you talked about how you're in the process of implementing the supplier portal. That will help automate the ingestion of invoices and other things.

But you at least started with, well, hey, Mr. or Mrs. Supplier, at least email me the invoice instead of mailing it, right? And a lot of our clients, I think, initially when they were going into the office, whether it was to collect checks, to print checks, get invoices, they kind of just used all of those counter parties as an action plan, right?

It was, OK, we're going to process these checks. We're going to ingest these invoices. But I'm going to-- my next step is to reach out to all of them. So the next time I get an invoice from them, I'm not getting it in the office anymore, right?

So Holly, what-- so, I mean, obviously, you have you've worked with both Patrick and Yolanda for the balance of your client base. And is this fairly similar to what you heard and what you experienced? I'm sure a lot of clients really came to you initially at that time and said, hey, how can we electronify all of this?

Absolutely. Both of their stories could be told tenfold. One of the things that we have been doing as-- you were also in the same boat. And as you know, we've been road warriors. And my team's job, client success is to get in front of our clients and make sure they're during OK.

And we had to shift pivotally to no travel, obviously. But one of the things that we've been just hyper focused on is having meetings with our clients to say, hey, now that we're a few months in, that the dust has settled, the first few months, we had this-- I think everybody saw this flurry of activity where, especially in the real estate world, we were dealing with different tenants and different situations.

They didn't really want to talk to us necessarily from a technology standpoint because they were dealing with their own business. But now that the dust has settled, we're really trying to focus with clients on, OK, now that we're six months in, what's worked, what's not worked in your AP process?

Where did you find yourself still having to be involved with a piece of paper, or go into the office, or, hey, wouldn't it be great if this was automated, right? And going back to what Patrick mentioned, I think the word that sums it up is transparency, and Yolanda touched on it as well.

And the transparency is really from that purchase through the payment piece. One of the things that, actually, our head of marketing shared this morning, a call they had, and it was really focused on the purchasing aspect of it. Which I guess I hadn't really thought too much about, to be honest with you, until a few months ago.

That especially our multi-family clients were saying, our facilities managers used to just run down the street to a major supplier to pick up what they needed. But they didn't want them in stores, so liability was there. So we saw really a lot of people focused on how to automate the purchasing piece of it that, again, we've had in our product for a long time.

But people just weren't focused on it. Like, oh, I don't want to do POs, or there's always been a reason. But all of a sudden when you add that element of business continuity, if you don't want people walking into retail locations because of a risk, you have to have some other way to do it.

So we really kind of-- we've touched on this before. Really kind of breaking down everyone's process, because everyone's process is different, to see where we could make enhancements, where we could add training. It could be, hey, now that everybody's home and stuck inside, how do we add some training?

So we've enhanced the training facilities with our clients, and it's really just been working through the whole thing as much as possible with everyone. And also, we all hear in the news there could be another uptick in the fall, right? So we have a lot of clients in different situations in different cities.

We have some that are back in their office 100% and we have others just like us that are still remote. You know, Nexus isn't open yet. I don't foresee us opening the office before the end of the year at this point. We don't have an announcement, but I don't think we will be.

But of course, like everybody else, we have the technology and the tools available for us to support everybody remotely. So I think it's just continuing down that path with everyone of how can we help them set up features of the automation tool kits that Nexus offers that, honestly, they already have.

So it's really just using what they have and expanding on the use of it. And that really has been head over heels the conversation we're having time and time again. And then we identify something and then we can act on it to help with that business continuity and the automation.

So yeah, I mean, I'm in the same boat as you are. So used to traveling and going out to see our team members, and clients, and others, right? I think the one thing we can all say is we've gotten better, probably, at working remotely.

Oh, yeah.

I mean, a lot of the challenges that we probably had early on, I mean, maybe more technology-based or logistics, other things like that. And there's always going to still be challenges depending on your environment and your situation.

But I think as far as collaboration goes, both internally and externally, we've gotten much better at it, right? I mean, I think folks now understand how to use every kind of web meeting application that's--

Basically.

--out there now, right? I mean, video, audio, all these other things have gotten better. and we're all using better tools, I think, to collaborate, right? So when we used to think about how to implement something in this remote environment, how to push a project forward.

Patrick, on your side, what kind of advice or tips would you have for the audience in terms of how you can collaborate effectively when you might be used to doing this in the conference room, right? And a project plan that you're revealing in a conference room.

And what stakeholders are involved as far as making sure you're attacking all aspects of the process and ensuring that it can be done in a way that's sustainable into the future as well?

Yeah. I think you nailed it with people becoming an expert in every video technology there probably is. Even just interacting outside of our company, you learn how to use every other tool also because every company is different. And so yeah, the intuitive nature is growing on everybody on using this tool sets.

I can tell you first and foremost I was probably the anti video person on everything. I like being face to face. I like that interaction. Video is a little bit foreign to me. I pushed to have it on whatever calls I can. Actually, I have something called a work from home weekly call with our St. Louis team where we don't talk about anything with work.

We just try to get that social interaction, which is what I really think is lost in those conference rooms, right? You lose a lot of that personal effect between people, and kind of seeing emotions, and stuff like that. And I think that's really helped to stay in touch, which makes everything else just seem-- it puts things into perspective, I think.

And things get taken out of context when they're just over a phone call, and facial emotions and that stuff is just so big with everything. And I think that's been a huge thing for us collaborating. Project plans, obviously, I mean, we use very cloud-based systems for a lot of our stuff.

So to be able to utilize that, and for anybody to pull up the plan at any given point, and to have a good system that you can collaborate on, and have your calls on, and pull up those plans that everybody can get to, that really makes a lot of ease to kind of transitioning through this.

I think it's just-- yeah, it's an interesting game of prioritizing what you want in your business too, I think. There is an endless list of roadmap items that everybody wants, and there's competing desires, and wants and needs shift. And I'm sure collaboration tools have gone up 10-fold on people's prioritizations for technology.

They're probably putting all their resources on that now if they weren't in place already. And this exact call, like, well, AP automation. I mean, it's on our roadmap, but really, its prioritization went up, right, when it became also not just a great idea, but something that also could be a BCP plan as well.

We can cut checks, but it would be great to have another option, right, if we needed it. Or let's have the check cut option and just be able to transition if something did happen, right? It's just kind of interesting how those changes happen. So I think that's, with all the give and take on value and how you can stack those items so that you can put forth what you know is most critical, I guess, is the way to see it.

I'd like to add, if you don't mind, I think that, Patrick, you hit on something that I think is a really good point that we have seen as well regarding project management, is that because we're not in person anymore, everybody has gotten more efficient at the collaboration tools.

We're actually seeing projects go a lot faster, even, than they were going before, because we may have wanted to do something in person, and then we couldn't arrange schedules and then travel, and things like that. Not to say we won't get back to the travel again, but I think everybody's a lot more efficient today than they were in March.

And then I think there's a misnomer out there with a lot of companies that are saying, oh, we need to do that, but we just can't take on one more project. These things aren't hard to implement. It just takes a little bit of thought, and then allow us to help you through it. But they are key. There's never the right time. There's always an excuse, right?

Yeah, I--

I was just going to say it's kind of interesting because it's-- I don't know if I've seen an uptick in meetings, but I also feel like there's that aspect that the side conversations you had have now turned into meetings also.

So I think meetings have become efficient, but then there's also the inefficiency of just too many meetings at times with things that were accomplished maybe just as quick conversations or something.

So I think a funny thing that I've seen is the uptick in the 15 minute meeting and the 45 minutes. Which is, naturally, it's a half hour or an hour. But we've seen kind of weird time slots just to get what you think you have to get in and just being efficient on that front too.

I do think that, in general, folks are realizing that they can accomplish these things. You can do things a lot quicker than you thought, right? I mean, I do think all of us can cover more ground and we have covered more ground in this environment.

Because as you said, Holly, without travel, and commute times, and all these other things, yeah, it feels like we're probably working more, but we're able to really address the key challenges probably a little bit more quickly because it's just easier to get many stakeholders together, I feel like.

Well, that and people have the pain points.

They also have the pain points. I completely agree. So Yolanda, you talked about what your journey was, and you were pretty much automated in 2019. You've been able to navigate through this environment.

But even kind of looking back, right, what would you give to folks as far as advice in terms of things that you learned along the way? Either it's things that you thought you were going to achieve but you ended up achieving something else even, and/or what parts of the company really played a big role into helping you get to an automated kind of a state?

Well, it was just basically everyone helping out in terms of trying to get to that AP automation point. Because it wasn't just on the accountants to just go ahead and implement it. The assistance in terms of being able to pick it up within the system, the Nexus system, and go ahead and do what they needed to do on that end.

And then, of course, with the managers learning the piece that they needed to learn as well to go ahead and approve it. And then, of course, looking in terms of what additional piece that we were able to go ahead and automate. Like, for instance, the payment side of Nexus and going ahead and doing that.

Because for years, we wanted that control and having to realize that even with Nexus paying invoices on our behalf, we still have that control because we're actually approving those checks going out and the V cards being issued.

So it's just mainly getting past that wanting to have control of having that physical check in our hands, making sure that we can have that control, getting past that and realizing that the AP automation, you still have that level of control. It's just in a different platform opposed to having to take a signed check.

Holding the check.

Hold that piece of paper. Yeah.

Well, what about from an integration perspective? I mean, as far as working towards making sure efficiencies don't drive other efficiencies. How would you kind of comment on how things have worked out in terms of integration between the company or ERP and the Nexus as well?

OK. So that's one thing that I really loved about implementing Nexus into our accounting system. Because we've had other implementations with other softwares or whatnot where we were told, of course, that it was going to be seamless.

But in terms of Nexus using their project management system that they had in place and monitoring on a weekly basis in terms of where we need to be for each set, that's helped a lot.

And then, of course, with the training on the software in terms of what each piece is in terms of going ahead and implementing each of the different pieces like for the assistant, the accountant, the approver. And, then, of course, with IT helping with various parts in the integration as well. So it all worked together in terms of--

It all worked the way that you wanted it to, right? Right.

Exactly. Exactly. And, of course, the main thing too, with any software, testing. Testing to make sure that, if there are any issues, that we would be able to address those issues within that testing stages. Because we also use not only just the regular AP side of it. We also use job cost as well.

So it's mainly testing each of the different processes, making sure that it's worked properly the way that we have always used our accounting software and making sure it all works. And when the invoices are inside of Nexus, it pushes the information into our accounting software.

And one thing that I did not bring up earlier, even within our accounting software, we're able to drill down and still pick up the invoices that we had imported into Nexus. So all of it, it worked together.

Got it. So Patrick, just kind of closing out this part of the conversation, anything on the lessons learned from a Cushman perspective? I know you're still kind of learning it, right? I mean, all of us are learning every day and we're all kind of in different phases of complete automation, right? But anything in terms of advice just based on lessons learned on your side?

Yeah, I don't know if I can sum it up as a lesson learned, but I think there's a couple things that we've ingrained in our process that we've kind of figured, is one, there's complexity to all of this. So I don't think your current-- what you ever start out as is what you end up building.

Especially in our case, 10 years later, right? We've built so many iterations of this, and we laugh and think that some of our first integrations were store procedures that were running to send stuff, and now it's the world of APIs that just make life so much easier to maintain and run.

There's always a complexity for us around just the environment that we work in. As a public company, you're subject to SOCs, and we have SOC 1 audits, and there's just always a game of having to play within the controls, which I think we've just learned that we built that into it as we test and kind of implement new ideas and new functionalities, that we always have to take that into account.

So it's an interesting thing because it's a game of, I think, tweaking. I mean, I think we have a very matured automation system. But when you look in the grand scheme of things, it's really based around 10 years of tweaking that to make it as efficient as possible and to make sure you accommodate.

And I think the best piece of advice I can give is that even when we implement something, technology isn't always going to solve stuff. And sometimes you have to look at the processes that are driving those things as well. And sometimes the process is wrong, or the process could be improved, and then the technology does fit better.

Or sometimes you change the process so the technology works. But in the grand scheme of things, we never look at something as, that technology is going to be the end all be all solution. It's always the big picture on how to make sure that this is going to work well for the company.

And how they fit together. Yeah. Where are you looking at in terms of where you want to go as the company in terms of AP automation? Kind of next steps for you all?

Yeah. I think for us, it's really we're in the midst of building out the portal for our suppliers to go into, getting payments as a complement to our existing check cutting hubs that have the capability to print checks.

But that virtual card is really-- it's what you strive for also, just for ease of not having a check get printed and mailed, and in that whole world, I don't think that the challenges we see there are just exactly what was said earlier, is, well, I need this person to sign that check, or, like, they have to get that check. They have to review it.

So there's just a lot of, in the midst of all this, conditioning people as well and kind of saying, no, it's OK. Like, it went through 10 quality control checks. It got workflow to guide this. Like, you have to trust that it got printed the way it said it was going to be printed. And I think there's a lot of that too along the current ways, so that's really where we're pushing.

I think we've been through a bit of a grinder in terms of acquisitions, which is really exciting. It's always a rush to keep kind of going in that iteration, so for us, it's maintaining our current environment and really being able to always apply that to the next item, and how to ease in each of these new iteration for the technologies.

I think that's a big part of it too is just-- it's a big jump to put in automation to start, right? There's an initial groundwork that really has to change that. But once you do have a mature thing, a mature process, it really does turn into how do you not disturb that process once it ends, because it really does add those efficiencies that you don't want to lose or you don't want to tweak when you don't think that you're going to tweak, so it's kind of where we're looking.

What I heard-- just to recap a little bit as well, right? Is that one of the things that I picked up on was, you're always learning, and you're tweaking, and you're growing, enhancing. All of those words as far as you build a foundation, but the world around us is going to change. Technology is going to change.

Internal processes, and cultures, and thoughts, even, might change. And it's always about improving over time, right? It's meant making sure that what you do today probably is not going to be the exact same thing that you're doing and two, five, 10 years.

Because that's the one constant is change. I know that's a cliche at this point, but I had to use it. I feel like that's really important, though, is just to keep educating, keep learning, keep growing, and adapting to everything around us.

Yolanda, as far as The Beach Company goes, what's next for you all in terms of kind of the theme of that same point? How do you continue to improve and get better as an organization starting off at a place of pretty good automation?

Well, I feel that if we can get at least closer to-- and no, more than likely, we'll not get to 100%. But at least get as close as we can possibly get to all of our vendors uploading their invoices into Nexus. And then, of course, we've already implemented the check process and of course the V card. Possibly ACH next with that as well for The Beach Company.

Yeah, and I think that does kind of tie into what we were talking about, right, is, once the solutions are in place, it's about improving and growing that efficiency as well. And so that's great, and we'll have to check back with both of you, let's say six months from now and a year from now and kind of see where you are at that point.

So Holly, from a Nexus perspective, what do you-- you had this platform in place for many, many years. That platform has grown and evolved, right? I'm sure. So where are your kind of focus points from a technology and platform perspective to help our clients achieve their goals?

Great question. And it's-- when you think of AP automation, I keep saying this, but procure to pay. There's so many different areas for us to focus on at once. We kind of have our own squirrel moment of where we want to focus on.

So what we really see people wanting to hone in on next is vendor management. It's one of those things that people say, oh, I really need help managing my vendors and when do I onboard them? How do I know that they are who they say they are? Are they a reputable supplier?

We've already taken a lot of measures, just things as suppliers enroll in our Nexus Connect. But we're building out automation tools and API sets to talk to different vendor credentialing systems that are our clients use.

So kind of partnering with a lot of the other companies that provide these really in-depth credentialing services takes a huge amount of work off of companies. It's a lot, I'm sure as both Yolanda and Patrick can attest to, to make sure you always have updated insurance certificates, and that they've dotted their Is, and crossed their Ts, and they are who they say they are.

So that is one area we have been focusing on and are continuing to focus on building out. Because, of course, there's not just one vendor credentialing system out there. There's a gazillion, and they all do it a little bit differently.

The other piece that Yolanda touched on I think is really paramount. And it's that enhancing and adding to the different ways suppliers can automate their invoice submission into the supplier portal. So looking at the different technologies that supports the different types of suppliers we talked about, everybody from your mom and pops to your large ones.

Being able to have different automated solutions for the suppliers to help with that as well. So we're constantly looking at building that out, because I can't really stress enough. It's really a-- the success of the automation is really on both parts.

Both the client willing to do it, as Patrick touched on, getting over some of the paper controls that people have wanted to have. That's part of the equation, and the other part is the supplier willing to do it. So really focusing on both ends of it.

And as technology changes, as things get more solid, we've talked to folks about integration with their RPA, their Robotics Process Automation tools. That is growing. We continue to grow out our mobile app, as we are all mobile and-- OK, we may not be quite on the road as much as we used to, but I still use my phone for a lot of apps.

So continuing to kind of duplicate the features that make the most sense to do on an app, and again, we've had an app for years. It's not new. But we're constantly getting feedback and adding to that to allow for that automation tool as well. So--

That's great.

Yeah.

Yeah, and we talked about this earlier, right, about acceleration of trends. And I feel like we hear a lot about user experience and the consumer experience in our day to day lives, and how that's shaping the way we want to do the business in our business lives.

And what you talked about in terms of kind of putting yourselves in the shoes of the supplier, right, and saying what kind of supplier experience do I want to have, right? And Patrick and Yolanda kind of putting themselves in the shoes of all of the teams that are really using this system.

And as a bank, I think it's the same thing, right? It's we're not just focusing on what our mutual clients expect and want, but it's their clients and their suppliers. And I think it's going to really make the solutions much stronger, I think, going into the future, because we're all kind of focusing on all aspects at this point and how to improve everyone's experience. And I do totally agree on the mobile app. I feel like I do use my phone more and more, but it's because it's easy, right?

It is. It is.

If I get the same experience if not better than I would on the desktop, I'm going to be more prone to use it, right?

Yeah.

And so I think it's a good point. It's just going to keep enhancing the security, the speed, and all of that innovation as a bank where we're super focused on APIs as well, and I think that's just a trend that we're going to continue to see.

So that brings us to the end of our first webcast. I wanted to thank Holly, Patrick, and Yolanda for sharing your experiences with the audience. I really do wish this was in-person at our conference.

But I think that the value that we're able to get out of just kind of hearing your stories and what you're focused on, I think it gives the audience a great roadmap and some kind of bits and pieces that they can take back into their own organizations.

To the audience, we look forward to any other questions that you have. We look forward to joining you and having you join us for a future webinar, so please be on the lookout for follow up after this initial one, where we will be launching-- and I think this also goes into what we kind of talked about.

We'll be following up the AP automation webinar with other topics like robotic process automation, digital technology trends, and also get to hear from a roundtable of commercial real estate treasury experts such as Patrick and Yolanda as we go into the end of the year and even into 2021. So please be on the lookout for that. Thank you for joining us and have a good rest of your day. Bye bye. 

PDF View

September, 2020

CRE AP Automation

See how the commercial real estate industry is transforming the AP process from a panel of U.S. Bank and industry leaders.

 

Learn more »

Scroll to top