High street retailer, New Look is saving £700,000 a year using a new supplier trading and invoicing platform delivered by software as a service (SaaS).

The new universal trading and document imaging system allows it to electronically exchange documents with its trading partners and suppliers, enabling New Look to automate its invoice authorisation and processing to deliver the cost savings and improved efficiency.

The system has been developed by P2D, a business services company that specialises in document systems that turn ‘paper to data’. Using a KODAK i160 scanner, P2D said its SaaS platform offers all the benefits of traditional, costly electronic data interchange (EDI) systems at a fraction of the normal cost.

Simon Boyne-Manchee, New Look senior financial systems analyst told CIO UK the retailer looked to update its largely manual invoicing processes in response to expansion plans in Europe and the Middle East. Of the three options considered, the hybrid SaaS platform offered the advantages of the other two alternatives, without the associated cost and control disadvantages.

“With the in-house scanning, workflow and document processing option there was the initial capital expense and need for heavy customisation; with outsourcing the process, we felt we would not retain enough control over the tight timelines we have involving suppliers, as well it also being very expensive,” he said.

Documents are transmitted directly between New Look and supplier systems removing costly and error prone data re-entry. Each transaction is delivered for a fixed transaction cost of 25 pence, which is more cost and time efficient than postal alternatives. Some reports estimate that the variable paper and delivery cost of a traditional invoice is over £1.20.

Boyne-Manchee also said the £300,000 cost of using the system compares to the £1 million it had previously been spending annually on managing its invoices.

Whereas EDI is traditionally the preserve of large corporates and is normally too expensive for small businesses, the P2D system allows suppliers to join at no cost to them. Boyne-Manchee added that New Look has also been able to move internal personnel previously employed to manage invoices onto more strategically important areas, while store and project managers can get an up-to-date view of this area of their responsibilities online.

Acting as an electronic exchange for documents such as invoices, orders and balance statements, the platform allows New Look to automate and manage the manual processes with a secure service, feeding data back into the its Lawson finance systems.

The P2D platform acts as an electronic hub that receives documents as either data files direct from its suppliers or images from New Look’s KODAK i160 scanner. Data is extracted from the images using the rules-based Optical and Intelligent Character Recognition (OCR/ICR) technology. And supplier invoice files can be accepted in any format such as CSV, XML, Webform or from any one of the typical SME accounting packages including Sage, Quick Books and Pegasus.

With nearly 600 stores, New Look processes approximately 70,000 invoices every year with the majority now received directly into New Look’s accounting system from the P2D hub. Of these, about 20% will still be inputted and processed manually using the Kodak scanner which is located at New Look’s offices in Weymouth. The company has also purchased a three year Kodak Service and Support contract to ensure 100% uptime and availability of the scanner.

Since the system went live earlier this year, 120 suppliers have agreed to use it, and 300 are expected to be online within the next six months, with P2D supporting them to get set up correctly.

One of New Look’s suppliers, Bob Tims, general manager at clothing and fabric manufacturer Cambra Styles said joining the network and getting up to speed with the new system was easy with the guidance of P2D. “With up-to-date processing and payment information online, it self evidently saves time,” he said. “It has meant we seem to get paid quicker too.”

“The P2D system tracks invoices from creation to delivery,” said Boyne-Manchee. “It will scale with us a we grow with new stores and franchise operations, allowing us to know what our costs are going to be. We’re getting a lot more data. Manual procedures just can’t capture all the data, now we can.”