Intelligent Automation a No-Brainer for the ESC Accounts Payable Team
Vol.6 Issue 7
Intelligent automation provides efficiency in payment processing.

Despite the global health crisis, the Enterprise Services Center (ESC) Accounts Payable (AP) team (in conjunction with ESC customers) have continued the efforts to automate payment processing.

There are several benefits of transitioning to e-Invoicing:

Faster Processing Times – invoices are transmitted at the point of submission by the vendor. The vendor is not required to prepare, print and mail a paper invoice to the ESC AP for payment processing.

Approval Process Transparency – Electronic invoices follow an approval hierarchy and move in and out of queues until payment disbursement has occurred. Email notifications provide real-time updates when invoices are approved or rejected. This keeps the vendor apprised of the status and when they can expect payment in their account. The status and location of an invoice can be identified at any time by the vendor, reviewer, approver, accounting personnel, etc. Vendors can look up the status of payments, versus sending emails or placing phone calls about status inquiry.

Invoice History/Aging Report – Reports on invoices in which payment is coming due or is overdue can be identified for immediate action. Cases in which reviewers/approvers are out for extended periods of time, business process issues, system technical issues, etc. can be identified by the distribution of this data.

Invoice History – The entire process required on an invoice (from the time the vendor submits the invoice to the time a payment made) is captured in the Invoice History. This information is pertinent for audit-related issues.

Electronic Retention – All actions taken on the invoice have occurred electronically and are retained within the Delphi Financial Application for easier retrieval for audit purposes.

Paper Reduction – The reduction in invoices received via paper have allowed a reduction in cost by government contractors, as well as reduction in required onsite personnel to receive and process paper invoices.

In November 2019, all Department of Transportation (DOT) agencies completed e-Invoicing Phase I, which used Invoice Approval Workflow technology for commercial vendor payments.

The next step involved implementing e-Invoicing Phase II of the automation process. This involved allowing vendors to submit their invoices via the i-Supplier portal. This submission eliminates the manual steps originally required to enter invoices into the Delphi Financial System.

The ESC AP team developed implementation plans in conjunction with colleagues at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Federal Highways Administration (FHWA). Then on January 6, 2020, the FRA led the DOT agencies with the implementation of the i-Supplier vendor portal. Positive practices and lessons learned from this implementation were (in turn) used to continue the planning of implementations by the Surface Transportation Board (STB), Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and FHWA; with STB implementing in February 2020 and FTA in March 2020.

As Project Teams rolled forward implementing additional DOT agencies, our world was impacted by the COVID-19 global health crisis. Fortunately, ESC and their customers had emergency preparations in place. Tools necessary for a productive work environment at home were already in place along with the Information Technology’s infrastructure required to deliver effective telework activities. This allowed the ESC AP team to immediately transition to full-time telework. Meeting tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams were added quickly and issues that were encountered with other meeting technology tools were swiftly overcome by creative scheduling using Adobe Connect. New business processes were implemented for the continuation of payments.

Being prepared for an emergency, as demonstrated by all stakeholders, allowed for Phase II to continue with minimal impact. Invoice Reviewer/Approver training occurred using available technology methods. Desk-side support (using Adobe Connect and Zoom technology) provided easy analysis and the resolution of issues encountered by approvers, or the answering of functionality questions.

The FHWA successfully implemented Phase II on April 1, 2020. The successful implementation during the global health crisis reassured other DOT agencies that their implementations scheduled for June, July and August of 2020 were possible, in spite of COVID-19.

To date, eleven DOT agencies are using i-Supplier functionality, with 8 of those agencies implementing after March 15, 2020, indicating a start date of when the global health crisis began. Why would agencies continue pursuing implementations in the midst of the global health crisis?

Other ESC AP e-Invoicing initiatives that have benefitted during this unprecedented time frame include Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) billing implementation. This effort focuses on FAA utility payments and FHWA FedEx freight bills. To date, over 1,000 utility accounts were converted to EDI billing with another 600 accounts in the queue for 4th Quarter FY20. EDI billing allows the utility and freight companies to submit electronically formatted invoices to ESC through a secured network that interfaces with DELPHI for approval and payment. This process also reduces paper mail received by the ESC AP and allows for more efficient electronic payment processing.

As we complete the busiest quarter of the fiscal year, e-Invoicing and other intelligent automations will continue to drive the ESC AP team. Obligation and payment processing through electronic methods allows for the ability to reassess business processes and make improvements using different types of intelligent automation.

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