Deutsche See handles around 80,000 tonnes of live, fresh and frozen goods every year – but it is not only refrigeration and logistics that challenge the processes in a company that is committed to speed. Due to the large number of geographically distributed suppliers, the distribution of fish and seafood also poses major challenges in terms of invoice processing.
With around 1,700 employees in 23 branches and at two production sites, Deutsche See GmbH is Germany's biggest supplier of fish and seafood. The company buys on the global seafood markets on a daily basis and delivers the goods with optimum freshness all over Germany using sophisticated refrigeration logistics.
The central accounting at Deutsche See is dealt with by the invoice processing department for the production sites in Bremerhaven and Hamburg and for all of the branches from a single source. Deutsche See receives 60,000 invoices from 9,400 suppliers every year, meaning that efficiency is not only required in production and logistics. The company decided to introduce a central archive and a system for recording invoice documents back in the mid-1990's. The decisive factor for the choice at that time was the high degree of integration in the SAP system, because particularly the electronic data communication with business partners was to be made easier in this way. But electronic recording and archiving was only one step on the way to improving invoice processing efficiency: In the worst case, invoice checking and approval which was sent to the appropriate contacts by means of in-house mail and routing slips took several weeks. This was a lengthy process with many possible sources of error. Also, it was not always possible to trace who was processing the case in question, meaning that customers and suppliers could not always be provided with information in a timely manner.
Reduced flood of paper via process automation
The company management therefore decided in favour of an automated invoice processing system. "Only electronic processing with comprehensive automation could help to relieve the accounting department of the flood of paper and implement the efficiency improvements which we envisioned," recalls Harry Stehrenberg, head of accounting at Deutsche See. Following systematic market observation and presentations by various providers, the choice fell on the MR.KNOW – BPM (formerly BPM inspire) process management solution which had been brought into play by the bpi solutions software house. After a brief kick-off, the specifications were drawn up, and the implementation and realisation of the automated invoice processing project started one month later.
All invoices arriving at Deutsche See as paper documents are now first scanned and classified. The system recognizes posting-related information in each document, such as the invoice number and the purchase order number, the vendor, the rate of VAT or even discounts and additional delivery costs. Checking and verification are then carried out against the vendor master data and the purchase order system. The quality of the data is also improved by mathematical and logical checks such as order data, sum total and balance comparisons of the individual items. If the check is passed without errors, so-called automated entry takes place: Without further intervention, posting records are generated from the extracted invoice items and transferred to the relevant system for posting. However, documents which are not correctly recognized must be verified manually. Following electronic recording and automated verification, the real secret of the new processes at Deutsche See is revealed: From this point onward, MR.KNOW – BPM controls the subsequent workflows and monitors the processes automatically. Whereas the in-house mail system at Deutsche See used to physically distribute the documents to the responsible employees, MR.KNOW – BPM now forwards the invoices to the electronic mailboxes of the case handlers paperlessly in accordance with clearly defined rules. Physically, it was quite a significant amount of work: A total of more than 250 people are involved in the Deutsche See invoice checking workflow.
Approval processes without loss of time
Thanks to the new workflow, things are now much more efficient: The accounts payable employees check the invoices directly on screen by selecting the invoice to be processed from the inbox. As well as the invoice checking procedure, the relevant invoice is displayed directly in order to provide a better overview. Then the release procedure is initiated by forwarding the invoices to the responsible case handlers in the various departments for further checking. The system supports the accountants with a clearly defined set of rules regarding who has which approval authorisations. Within the departments, the case handler assigns the individual invoice items and collective invoices to the different cost centres depending on the purchase order. Approval is then granted according to cost centre responsibility and the hierarchy level. If any questions remain unanswered, the invoice can be sent to other case handlers for further enquiries at any time – and without any loss of time. A powerful deadline monitoring system also assists the accounts payable department with the monitoring of the timing of processes and in finding deputies. A sophisticated deputisation regulation not only ensures that tasks are processed by the deputising colleague if someone is on holiday, but also identifies and escalates tasks which have not been processed by a predefined point in time. All invoice transactions are clearly displayed in the received goods ledger in the accounts payable department at Deutsche See. The respective procedure can be displayed in detail with another mouse click. The system controls and monitors all stages of the process in a central location, and creates the required monitoring views with comprehensive logs of all procedures in real time. Deutsche See has implemented something which is very important with this comprehensive reporting function: An up-to-the-minute overview of all invoices which are currently being processed. "Previously, I never knew exactly who had the invoice that I was looking for, and why it was delayed", recalls Stehrenberg. "Now we can see at a glance what the current processing status of an invoice is, who is processing it, and provide specific information on the spot when the supplier calls. We have full control over the lifecycle of the invoices. That makes our lives considerably easier in our everyday work."
Integrated reporting with gap-free logging of each invoice procedure
Another tricky requirement was reporting – it was important to Deutsche See for this to take place in an integrated manner so that each invoice procedure is logged automatically. The workflow of this additional application was also realized via MR.KNOW – BPM . When the debit notes are received, mainly in electronic form such as PDF or EDI, an initial comparison is made with the internally available credit notes of a supplier. "The reconciliation between debits and credits was particularly tricky", said Stehrenberg. "We have many different suppliers, some of whom only provide very sparse information. Internal documents could therefore often not be assigned in the past. With MR.KNOW – BPM, we were able to implement sophisticated procedures which even select the relevant internal documents on the basis of very little information. This is made particularly convenient by the smooth integration with SAP: If a credit note exists, the relevant document number is registered as a clearing document for document clearing in the SAP system. Then we are done, the rest is fully automated."
If no credit note or a different credit note exists for a supplier, the relevant invoice is selected from the archive. The responsible case handler is then automatically provided with the entire process for further processing, and an inquiry can be sent to the sales department by e-mail at the push of a button. "This has numerous advantages", says a delighted Stehrenberg. "The sales office can open and comment on the assigned transactions with a mouse click, and in the case of unjustified debit notes, the case handler triggers the objection correspondence to the customer with another click of the mouse. This application now puts us in a position to have almost all debit notes clarified and automatically posted in the SAP system as soon as the settlement letters arrive. The majority of unjustified debit notes can therefore be averted in advance."
Thanks to the new workflow, Deutsche See needs significantly less time to process invoices and credit notes. There are now noticeably fewer manual entries and adjustments. However, the biggest benefits were immediately noticed by the employees working with the new invoice processing solution. "We have received positive feedback from many users about how easy it is to use and how much easier it makes everyday business. We have reduced the time taken for invoice entry and verification by 70 per cent, and have much better data quality at the same time. We were also able to score points with our customers and suppliers due to the processing, which was faster and less error-prone.