On Wednesday 7th of June 2018, Causeway Technologies invited a number of Tradex community members to Sutton Coldfield’s renowned Belfry Hotel and Resort for the third Tradex Strategic Customer Forum.
The forum took a similar format to previous events of the same kind, allowing an array of stakeholders from the construction industry to discuss their experiences, successes and challenges in relation to the Tradex platform. The event used a round-table format, which enabled all participants to openly share ideas about their use of the Tradex platform.
The event created a collaborative environment in which participants were able to showcase the various solutions they have developed with Causeway and offer them to other Tradex users as ways of overcoming challenges within their respective organisations.
We invited five panellists to speak about their use of the Tradex platform within their organisation, which encouraged discussion amongst the group around best practices, challenges and shared experiences. Below is a summary of each of these panels and of the resulting discussions.
Panel 1: Sir Robert McAlpine – On-boarding successes and challenges
The first panel was hosted by Hugh McLaughlan, Project Manager at Sir Robert McAlpine. Sir Robert McAlpine was founded in 1869 and is one of the UK’s leading building and civil engineering companies. The family-owned company was one of the early adopters of the Tradex platform, which manages over 30% of the 10,000 invoices they process every month.
Hugh continued to explain that Sir Robert McAlpine is dynamic in respect to their workplace locations, as they work in different towns and cities across the UK and have just begun a major project in Jersey. The company balances strategic procurement using existing suppliers with their corporate social responsibility. As they move into new locations, they want to help local communities and businesses, and therefore employ many of their sub-contractors and suppliers from the local community.
However, this comes with its own challenges as many local suppliers still use paper or PDF invoices, which account for 29% of Sir Robert McAlpine’s monthly invoices. These invoices require manual processing, rather than the automated processing that the Tradex platform provides. Hugh used this as a springboard to discuss the main challenge Sir Robert McAlpine is facing with the Tradex platform, which he described as ‘The Glass Ceiling’. Hugh discussed that the percentage of suppliers on-boarded to Tradex seems to have hit a ‘Glass Ceiling’ 5-6 years ago, and they have since found it difficult to encourage suppliers to use the free Tradex Active platform to send their invoices.
Hugh continued, explaining that the company had spent a lot of personal business time trying to get suppliers on-boarded. This then led to a discussion surrounding the attractiveness of supplier on-boarding. Causeway’s Tim Cole opened the discussion, suggesting that the strength of the mandate for supplier on-boarding needs to be addressed. Tim explained that many Causeway customers mandate the use of invoicing through Tradex and questioned if this was the case within Sir Robert McAlpine. The discussion also then focussed on how we can make Causeway Tradex more attractive so that suppliers actively want to come on board. Tim went on to discuss that there should be a stronger incentive for suppliers, which shakes things up and requests that eInvoicing is adopted, such as via an EU directive.
However, this led to discussion around lazy ERP systems, which will use the PDF-upload solution to continue sending out PDFs rather than addressing the real problem. Tim Cole highlighted that “a PDF solution would fill a necessary gap, but it’s a step, not the solution”.
This discussion naturally led to ways in which Tradex on-boarding can be most attractive to suppliers, which can be best summed up in the comments below:
Amy Paxford from Causeway commented: “[Suppliers] have immediate verification and confirmation that their invoice has been received and accepted. It’s quicker. If you take up Tradex Active, you can access much more that just putting an invoice in the post and hoping it gets there.”
Finally, Tim Cole rounded up the discussions stating: “It gives suppliers early visibility. When you hit submit, the invoice will then go to the rules system. If it doesn’t match the rules in the system, it will go back to the supplier immediately and tell them what’s missing. It will tell you why it has failed on Day 0 so you know you can fix it. Feedback – that’s fixing the problems that are going to stop you getting paid on time.”
Panel 2: ECG – Automating manual processes with the Tradex Robot
Tim Muir, National Compliance Manager at ECG Facilities Services, led the second panel of the day. Tim explained that ECG Facilities Services had been using Causeway’s Building Services and Property Maintenance suite, Vixen, for over 20 years, which manages their workforce of engineers. It was, therefore, key that when ECG chose to adopt Tradex Supplier Management that it must integrate with the information already contained within Vixen.
ECG Facilities Services implemented Tradex for the initial and continuous verification of their suppliers and sub-contractors, as it gives both ECG Facilities Services and their customers further comfort that they are accredited maintenance providers. ECG then needed Tradex to integrate with Vixen, and import the data surrounding validation onto the Vixen platform. This is how the Tradex Robot was created, as it takes the information from the supplier module in Tradex and puts that within the supplier and sub-contractor accounts in Vixen. This means that should anyone in the company wish to raise a PO with someone that is not a verified supplier, it will not allow them to do so, avoiding any issues that arise from using unverified suppliers.
Causeway’s Andrew Woolstone joined in with the discussion to give some further detail on the bot, suggesting that many other processes that this bot could be used for are already being identified. Andrew describes this below:
“We have used our own technique to create this bot, as we recognise that there may be different needs for different environments that this could be used within. To go back to what we discussed earlier regarding on-boarding suppliers, payment status is often the key reason to get people onto Tradex. This bot may be able to automate the payment status information from a system, which would then solve one of the other problems we are having.”
Panel 3: SPIE – Managing procurement through eCatalogues and eRequisitions
After a short coffee break, Terry O’Brien, Operations Manager at SPIE UK began the third panel. SPIE UK is a subsidiary of the SPIE group, the independent European leader in multi-technical services in the areas of energy and communications, providing energy, safety and environmentally-focused solutions across multi-technical and support services from initial design, through installation, testing, commissioning to long term maintenance and facilities management. SPIE UK went live with Tradex back in November 2016 and now deals with over 800 suppliers, and sends over 20,000 purchase orders per year through the platform.
SPIE UK now stores all of the supplier information that they own in Tradex, such that everything is now handled on the platform, avoiding laborious paper processes. Terry discussed the benefits of using eCatalogues with Tradex in SPIE UK, outlining how much easier the purchase order process is, now that it is all electronic. Today, around 80% of orders are automatically sent directly to the supplier by flowing through the system, automatically amending the price for the supplier and customer to suit their outsourced procurement model.
The remaining 20% of this volume drops into a purchase order inbox within Tradex, which is managed manually by a team at SPIE UK. This allows any orders that are missing required information, or that have any other issues preventing them from proceeding, to get dropped into the inbox. This allows someone in the team to look into these orders further, rather than the orders simply being rejected and the customer having to call up and amend the issue.
Terry sums up SPIE UK’s experience with Tradex with the following:
“The process has saved the team a lot of time and allows greater transparency when reporting. We know how many purchase orders have been raised by a particular person and we can share this with our clients on a monthly basis, so we can all see exactly what was ordered and settle any disputes that may arise.”
Panel 4: Barratt Developments Plc – Managing sub-contractor jobs through Tradex
Ian Ruby, IT Client Delivery Manager at Barratt Developments, presented the final panel. However, the information presented in this panel was only made available to attendees.
Following on from Ian’s panel, Tim Cole opened out this discussion to talk about the processes that Barratt use with Tradex, which allow people to view a document, update its status and to respond. He suggested that this system should not simply be viewed as managing sub-contractor jobs, but as a system which allows you to send, receive and update documents, which are all vital elements for all organisations within the construction industry.
Andrew Woolstone added that whilst this project is slightly different from invoicing, Causeway are demonstrating that we are able to use the Tradex platform in different ways. It is built to be generic, such that others can use the same platform for multiple different uses, operating in different ways.
Panel 5: Causeway Technologies – What’s new and what's coming up with Tradex
Andrew Woolstone opened up the final panel of the day to update delegates on the latest and imminent upgrades to the Tradex platform, including:
- Invoice payment status, which will provide suppliers with greater visibility surrounding the status of invoices such as approval status, scheduled payment or paid dates, etc.
- Invoice statement reconciliation, which will enable customers to load statements and automate the process of matching invoices in the supplier’s finance system to the buyer’s finance system.
- Document update capability, which will allow recipients of documents (such as orders, invoices or jobs/defects) to see a document’s details, update the information, add attachments and then submit back to the sender.
- Automated extraction of information from uploaded PDFs, allowing customers or suppliers to send a PDF copy of an order or invoice to automatically extract the key information and be processed through Tradex.
- The Tradex resource centre has expanded to Maidstone, where staff are dedicated solely to the on-boarding process.
Andrew also then moved on to discuss future projects for the Tradex platform, revealing that Causeway are currently working with an artificial intelligence engine to automate the extraction of information from a PDF document such as an invoice.
Following the final session, the forum was opened up to allow delegates to share Tradex on-boarding success stories and best practices for supplier management. The open forum also allowed Causeway team members to gather crucial feedback about the event, as well as suggestions for future forums. Following a unanimously positive reception to the event, format, and choice of venue, we at Causeway look forward to inviting Tradex customers to our next forum. In the meantime, we will take great pleasure in using the outcomes of this event to further improve the Tradex platform.