Housing association explains the reasoning behind their decision to implement SunSystems™ iPOS to properly manage their growing business.
North Hertfordshire Homes (NHH) is a not-for-profit housing association providing and maintaining quality homes in eight local authority areas across the counties of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, with a housing stock of over 9,000 properties.
NHH was seeking a procurement system that would both integrate seamlessly with its core finance platform, Infor SunSystems, as well as help it streamline and hone a number of core accounting processes. Another key target was to improve its compliance-handling processes.
The customer had purchasing processes that were too paper-oriented and inefficient to properly manage its growing business. Change management across the business was seen as the key challenge to any automated solution.
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 NHH.
iPOS e-procurement is key to busy housing association's success in streamlining key workflows
With offices in Royston, Baldock, Hitchin, Letchworth and St Albans, North Hertfordshire Homes (NHH) is a not-for-profit housing association providing and maintaining stock of over 9,000 homes in eight local authority areas across the counties of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.
NHH acquired North Hertfordshire District Council's housing service in 2003 but has also built 1,100 new, affordable homes during its subsequent first ten years of operation. Meanwhile, a wholly-owned subsidiary, Rowan Homes, has been set up to market new-build properties for sale, with all surpluses being used to deliver even more quality affordable housing to its catchment area.
When the council stock transferred, NHH made a strategic commitment to a new central finance engine - the Infor SunSystems accounting system. As the service settled down, a decision was made to move to iPOS e-procurement from Professional Advantage as a complementary tool to this important platform.
Better financial reporting
Chris Stoyanov, Systems Accountant at NHH, explains that prior to Professional Advantage, the process of purchase ordering was handled via SunSystems' own module for purchase orders.
According to Stoyanov, the decision to move on came down to the need for "a robust and auditable system" - as well as to better comply with NHH financial compliance structures. Moreover, an internal review had recommended that NHH should introduce purchase-to-pay functionality in order to be fully compliant with wider sector financial regulations.
"It was the right time to invest in a modern system," recalls Stoyanov. "What we had was manual and cumbersome, we felt that a P2P system will make our operations more efficient and effective."
The decision was made to have a dedicated procurement system in 2012, with a project team going to the market to look for options. The final decision to select Professional Advantage was made in December 2012, with Stoyanov noting, "The group decided that iPOS was the best fit for our environment."
iPOS went live in April 2013, with planning, scoping and implementation taking just three months. How was this achieved so rapidly at NHH?
"We ran workshops because we have very specific processes, then we came up with a final workflow, tested it and then it was implemented, very successfully."
In terms of working with Professional Advantage, Stoyanov is very positive: "Professional Advantage has very professional consultants and on the rare occasion we had issues, they resolved them quickly."
Making the most of the iPOS opportunity
NHH took the iPOS' go-live as an opportunity to improve a number of processes within the organisation:
These included the removal of manual commitment accounting and introduction of automated accruals accounting. "In effect with iPOS, when a requisition is raised and the requisition is approved, there is a real time commitment posting in SunSystems; and when goods are receipted in the system the accruals get posted. With iPOS the whole process is automatic, which we consider very useful," confirms Stoyanov.
Another aim for NHH was to be able to speed up the production of full management accounts. "What's great about iPOS, is that you are able to produce management accounts within five working days."
A final objective of the iPOS project was to end the paper chase. NHH was concerned about the amount of paper being generated in Finance. The good news is this was achieved very rapidly, says Stoyanov: "We've substantially eliminated the paper processing; we are a better corporate citizen in terms of preserving the environment now, without doubt."
Payback and benefits
With the system bedded in, the NHH team is able to start weighing up the specific benefits iPOS has inaugurated.
While the system has not cut invoice approval time, it has certainly removed the manual element of a lot of Finance's work, which has meant observable efficiencies.
NHH is also clear that the Professional Advantage software's ability to present a real-time display of purchasing information, including purchase orders raised, delivery reports/receipts and outstanding payments, offers real benefit.
"Before we paid suppliers on time and now we still pay suppliers on time. However, the difference is automation; we don't have to send invoices and receive them and deal with paper. You have one point of contact - iPOS - which means you can always see what is happening to a specific invoice or purchase order. In fact, whatever category of document image you seek to find (e.g. quotes, invoices, etc.) you could do so via iPOS."
NHH also has a much-improved view of its ongoing cash position.
"We have better management of forward expenditure thanks to iPOS. iPOS provided us with a forward look of commitments, for example, you can determine how much the expenditure will be for the next month, based on orders, GRN's and invoice dates which in turn gives you a better picture of how treasury banking could be organised."
iPOS looks set to provide a yet further helpful feature, in the shape of its support for an approved list of suppliers - a key blockage to uncontrolled/ad hoc purchasing, which could well be the next step in terms of functionality.
Integration with the main NHH finance engine Infor SunSystems remains a key benefit, as foreseen at the outset.
"This is one feature that was important to us. For example, if we decide to upgrade to a new version of SunSystems, iPOS is so well integrated that additional work to update iPOS is not needed. Establishing new interface links and re-setting connections are not necessary as iPOS is designed to cope with new SunSystems version releases. iPOS is very well designed in that respect."
Audit trail: a clear benefit
Another bonus is the audit trail, which is highly useful for accountability and regulators. "You can go in at any stage to examine a purchase order, who created it and who approved it, and at what date and time, as well as find any connected documentation from the system."
To sum up, iPOS from Professional Advantage has created a paperless, end-to end purchase invoicing and approvals process for NHH. "The software's workflow functionality and email alerts also mean that we can effortlessly take ownership of the procurement process."
Stoyanov's final verdict:
"iPOS automate key processes and made them paperless, which has been excellent for us".