CHP Housing Group
Delivering efficiency and visibility to Essex-based housing association.
"Our relationship with Professional Advantage is very good and although it is difficult to quantify the pounds and pence savings the system has delivered, what it has given us is better quality of working – both for our suppliers and internally."
Alyson Lee, Audit Project and Systems Accountant, CHP
CHP is a locally managed and governed charitable housing provider based in Chelmsford, Essex. It provides high-quality affordable family homes and apartments to rent and buy, managing over 8,500 properties across the county.
To implement a solution that would deliver better transparency of spend to help the non-profit organisation use its resources for the full benefit of its housing users.
The organisation has annual operating costs in excess of £25m alongside a capital investment program in the region of £30m per annum. Combined, this represents a high volume throughput of invoicing. As the business has grown and developed, the senior management team were concerned that the rigorous internal controls necessary to protect the public subsidy held may be causing inefficiencies within invoicing processes adversely affecting agreed payment targets and causing needless administration overhead.
iPOS eProcurement for Infor SunSystems from Professional Advantage (PA) was chosen, primarily due to the close development relationship between Infor SunSystems, which was already well established at CHP.
Essex-based Chelmsford Housing Partnership, a locally managed and governed charitable housing provider that provides high-quality affordable homes to rent and buy, has found the combination of the Infor SunSystems finance platform and the Professional Advantage iPOS e-procurement system essential in helping it meet its efficiency goals.
Established in March 2002, CHP has two main aims: to provide excellent services and to increase the supply of affordable homes to those in need. To help it meet those aims, it has a strong finance team equipped with the right tools.
Alyson Lee, the Association's Audit Project and Systems Accountant, has among her other duties the responsibility of managing the iPOS side of CHP's fiscal management since its 2010 introduction. So, what led up to the decision to purchase the Professional Advantage tool?
"There were the two main things we were looking to improve; overall, we wanted a system that would provide us with visibility of spend so that anyone can see what has been ordered, how it has been ordered, who is providing it and where it is along its journey."
An improvement plan takes shape
The decision was taken in 2010 to seek an e-purchasing solution.
A tender was issued and various options from the open market considered, and the decision was made to purchase Professional Advantage's iPOS software. A key factor in that procurement was the system's cost-effectiveness, which in CHP's eyes made it stand out as a solution, plus its built-in links to Infor SunSystems.
The system was embedded in a relatively seamless fashion. CHP's approach was to include various departments in each phase of deployment These departments were then allowed brief settling in period before moving on to the next phase.
The system was made more attractive by the small training requirement, a welcome benefit in CHP's eyes. CHP initially utilised a Professional Advantage consultant support - then having learnt what was required, began to train its own users. Once settled in, the iPOS procurement solution has become fully utilised across most departments within CHP, with over 105 active users up and running.
CHP operates by enabling front line staff to raise requisitions within each cost centre, which are then subject to approval by managers with budget responsibility. Post iPOS go-live, the process of requisitioning and purchase order approval has been streamlined using iPOS and the associated iPOS 'Good Receipt' functionality.
As a result, says Lee, "We've got people who can requisition, plus a clearly separate approvals function; we use the 'receipting' module and have a separate team that enter all the invoices, either with or without purchase orders, which then go through the system to be approved."
End of the paper chase - and better quality work practices
Working with Professional Advantage has been a positive experience for CHP. "We've got a better handle on what is being ordered and the accrual process," says Lee. "I think the managers have a better idea of where money is being spent, so they're closer to their budget requirements and they can see what's going on. It has given us what we wanted - that full visibility of spend."
iPOS has also met Lee's other tick-list needs, as the software provides support for an approved list of suppliers that helps control spend and guard against off-list purchasing: "It has certainly made it easier for our procurement team to enforce if we've undergone a contract with this particular company to supply work, then that is what you should be using. "If users bypass that, it becomes very visible, so iPOS does definitely help us control purchasing."
A major deliverable for the team, meanwhile, is the fact that since the arrival of the iPOS system the days of paper based purchase invoices requiring signatures for approval is virtually at an end.
Having improved the speed of invoice authorisation, the system also means prompt payment - and happier suppliers. "In finance, one of our KPIs is paying within agreed payment terms. I am delighted to say our performance against that KPI has been consistently improving since iPOS came in."
At a higher level, the Company's management team have a detailed audit trail. "Managers now look at their spending and say, 'Show me the invoice' then have it on the screen in seconds. I think that has been a big benefit for us."
All in all, she believes, "Our relationship with Professional Advantage is very good and although it is difficult to quantify pounds and pence savings the system has delivered, what it has given us is better quality of working - both for our suppliers and internally."