“We’re now reconciling 100% of supplier statements in lightning speed. I do feel we’ve invested to get rid of the unenjoyable manual approach we had before.”
That’s an incredible achievement for a business paying 420,000 invoices each year. Lesley Bird is Head of P2P UK and Ireland at Equans. Having recently implemented every Xelix module, she explained why they decided to add the AI tool to their tech stack. She also highlighted the impact it’s having on her department.
Shared services in 20 countries
Originally part of Engie, Equans is now owned by Bouygues Group. Bouygues provides services to businesses, local authorities, and the public sector. These include financial services, fire protection, and support around HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning).
Lesley’s team helps customers with both procurement and accounts payable. They use two core systems – Coupa for procurement and SAP ERP.
“Ultimately, we see Shared Services as the enabler for our colleagues. The more engaged our team is, the easier we make their jobs,” said Lesley.
Growing rapidly, Equans serves 100 customers and has 4,000 active vendors. Part of Bouygues Group which operates in 20 countries, turning over €17.6 billion annually.
Relying on "souped-up" in-house macros
Risk management and fraud prevention have always been important to Equans. The company has regular audits in place. One, called INCOME (internal control of management efficiency), requires Managers to have strong controls in place.
“What we had for monitoring overpayments was a souped-up in-house Microsoft tool with macros. Not particularly sophisticated but a clever build by somebody within the team. It would look at invoice numbers and values for exact matches and highlight them for investigation. We picked up some issues, but always after the event. And it took a lot of manual work to achieve this,” explained Lesley.
As the money had gone out the door, Equans’ cash flow was already hampered. And Lesley’s team would then have to spend time liaising with the supplier to retrieve it. The statement reconciliation process was also fraught with difficulties. Not least, only being able to accept Excel formats.
“If they were PDFs, we had to download the data from two systems and run them through an inhouse invoice splitter. That often led to missing data, so the team would then manually populate the information.
Some account statements could take up to an hour to manage. We often didn’t get the reconciliation done before the supplier sent a reminder. And you've got all that clutter in your system. It was soul-destroying for the team,” said Lesley.
For master vendor data management, Lesley said they have good controls for setting up suppliers and bank details. They also trawl through suppliers annually to spot inactivity. “But after all our laborious efforts to pull the data together from two systems, we'd be exhausted. And we hadn't got to analysis and interrogation yet.
We couldn’t drill down to find trends or troubleshoot areas either. It was all very painful,” she said.
Solving everything with one tool (and unlimited licenses)
Equans was acutely aware of its P2P challenges when Xelix got in touch. What particularly intrigued them was being able to resolve everything with a single AI-powered tool.
Lesley explained: “We were already thinking about our challenges when Xelix approached us. We knew we wanted to exploit technology to remove manual activities and achieve more.
Getting a resolution for all our AP problems from one supplier was unique. We knew we could get a statement tool or find a supplier offering proactive payment error detection. And we could get more reporting through someone else. But getting all that from one tool was unheard of.”
As Xelix is an investment, the Xelix team helps prospective customers create a business case for senior leaders, which helped Lesley get the investment over the line.
“Xelix was the only company to impress all the various audiences involved in our selection process. We were sold on the demonstration. It provided invaluable data for our business case to the CFO. And we didn’t know we had some of the problems Xelix highlighted.
This all helped the cost-benefit analysis stand up. It was important for us to present the value this tool could bring us.
Having customisation to suit our personal requirements was a game changer. And offering unlimited licenses was, once again, unique,” she said.
Getting the team on board
Incorporating new technology can make people feel vulnerable. How will their role change and will there be redundancies? These are valid concerns and Lesley highlighted how important it is to involve your team at every stage.
"Ahead of implementation, we had lots of sessions with our team. Xelix engaged brilliantly. It felt more like working with colleagues than a supplier implementing something new.
Digitisation isn’t about making people redundant. It’s about getting rid of those repetitive tasks and improving peoples’ roles. We involved everyone in the process, from start to finish. They felt confident it was working for them and would do what they needed,” she said.
Worn down by existing manual processes, the team welcomed technology that could help them do their jobs better and faster. And in turn, unlocking more opportunity for professional development.
Like with most companies, an onboarding hurdle Lesley had to overcome was IT. As Equans was still separating from Engie, requests for software requirements were endless. How would she get IT to focus on implementing Xelix?
Lesley explained: “After our IT team spoke to Xelix, they could see how easy it would be to implement. They felt confident they could fit the work in around other support commitments. Plus, all the required security existed already.
After everything was setup, we got great feedback from our IT team about working with Xelix. This was a massive thing for us.”
Machine learning eliminates manual work
Xelix incorporates machine learning. Whilst you review lots of data at the outset, this soon becomes manageable.
“Every morning, we’d get an email highlighting potential duplicate invoices. We’d investigate them and tell Xelix whether they were genuine. This helps the AI to learn our logic quickly.
Xelix does more too. Such as looking for invoice number trends. If they’re out of sync for a supplier, it tells us. This can stop a payment going to an incorrect supplier.
We don’t have any horrendous manual work now. Such as having to contact the supplier and ask for a refund, monitor it, and manually update the system,” said Lesley.
As for statement reconciliation, Lesley says they now achieve the magic 100% figure consistently, with a 24-hour turnaround time. And ha. And have enjoyed a 25% drop in vendor queries as a result.
“And it takes less than half the time,” she said. “It’s 2-3 times quicker. So, the team can use that time on other activities.
If an invoice is missing, you click a button and Xelix fires off an email to the supplier. Then, the system constantly looks to see when that missing invoice comes in. Before Xelix, that was another Excel spreadsheet. It’s brilliant now, you don’t even have to look at it.”
Insightful reporting on tap
Lesley had her eye on Xelix’s reporting capabilities from the start. She knew it could make a huge difference for her own team and the higher management. She explained her early wins.
You can easily drill into your data and look for supplier payment or performance issues. Xelix has a report builder too. And who doesn’t love creating a report without needing an expert to help you?
We’ve now developed team KPIs to track daily. Everyone can also login and have a look themselves. Using this data, we can also appraise their performance more clearly.
We’ve created a monthly executive report that goes to our CFO as well. It contains loads of information plus glance-worthy charts. And now we can troubleshoot results, which is fantastic,” she said.
Investing in our people
Whilst many see process improvement as an important route to governance and compliance - or for making things more efficient – Lesley has a further point of view.
“Yes, these things are important, but investing in your people is more so. Look at what they’re doing and where they’re struggling. Make sure they know you’re investing for them to do their jobs better. And by doing so, you can then obsessively focus on delivering a better customer experience.”
Talking of customer experience, that’s a priority for Xelix too, as Lesley discovered.
“Last year, Xelix invited customers to a London event where they presented features currently under development. They wanted our thoughts on whether each would be useful to us. It was a great networking event as well.
Customer focus like this leaves me confident we’ve made the right decision. Xelix can develop with us to ensure we maintain a highly effective P2P function,” concluded Lesley.