Formed in September 2001 from two banks with long and successful histories, HBOS is one of the largest single financial service organisations in the UK. It enjoys a relationship with one out of every five households thanks to its broad range of mortgage and savings products, current accounts and credit cards, and full corporate and business financial services. And it's not just the 22 million HBOS customers that the group serves: HBOS also has around 3 million private shareholders, and following the merger of its two businesses, HBOS committed itself to delivering value through its new economies of scale, both by growing its business and by cutting costs.
HBOS recognised early on that a big part of achieving efficiencies would be through the successful implementation of a new, group-wide Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system for its purchasing function, and it opted for Oracle Financials, including its workflow component. But to deliver the full benefits of this system, HBOS also wanted integrated imaging: this would let users retrieve an actual image of any invoice, no matter where the document was in its payments cycle.
"We were already using imaging inside Halifax, and we wanted to roll it out across the whole organisation, using new imaging software," said Bob Ward, Project Manager for HBOS. By making this kind of integrated imaging available across the group, HBOS hoped to reclaim time that was being lost through paper processes. In some instances, invoices were being sent directly to business units instead of to Accounts Payable, so the accounts department may have been unaware the invoice had been received. In other instances, where Accounts Payable did receive invoices, days were wasted while the documents were routed out to the correct party for authorisation and then back to accounts for payment. "We just needed to speed the whole process up," explains Ward.
Another key requirement was that the imaging system should be as minimally invasive as possible to users' existing work practices. After considering various solutions, HBOS opted for integrated imaging from SoftCo, which has achieved precisely the aims that HBOS had been hoping for. Liaising with personnel from HBOS and from Oracle, a team of 6 specialists from SoftCo worked to deliver the solution over a tight 8-week roll-out period in 2003.
Using a SoftCo API, HBOS's own software development team customised the Oracle Financials client-side software, which now features a convenient "View Image" option directly from the file menu. Clicking this lets the end user see an exact image of the original invoice in question, as well as any comments that have been entered by the authoriser, all without having to leave the Oracle Financials application. And when payable invoices first come into HBOS, SoftCo's software is also at work to ensure efficient document capture and Oracle integration from the start:
Thanks to the integrated document imaging solution from SoftCo, HBOS can now call up images of any payable invoice at any time - - either from inside Oracle, or from SoftCo's Web interface.
The SoftCo system is now processing between 2,500 and 3,000 invoices a day for HBOS, which has successfully rolled out the system to more than 4,000 users in a large number of its Bank of Scotland and Halifax areas. Bob Ward says the system has dramatically speeded up invoice processing. "Before, it might take literally weeks to get invoices approved - - we now have that down to a number of days," he said. "Anywhere where we've converted from paper authorisation to image and system authorisation, the whole process is speeded up."
He adds that it's also easier for users to call up invoices for queries - - for instance when suppliers ring to see whether an invoice has been paid or to query an amount. Having the ability to see the document image, complete with any comments made by the approver, has delivered real benefits, he says, and he notes that the SoftCo team proved themselves to be helpful and amenable throughout the entire process.
"SoftCo were very good, and we had no delays with them: if they gave us a timescale, they kept to it," he notes, adding that SoftCo's long experience in this field was clear in the solution they delivered to HBOS. "We had a couple of meetings early on to define all the processes and SoftCo came up with quite a few alternatives we hadn't thought of," he said. "The solution we put in, which uses the bar coding, wasn't the one we first thought we'd go with when we began talking with them. But the way they presented that solution to us made us reassess what we were doing."
Ward points out that the new system also now carries archived images of older invoices, which has allowed HBOS to get rid of its previous, outdated imaging system. "Existing images on the old system are now in a SoftCo database for us, so that's been a big benefit," he says. "Certainly the SoftCo database gives us plenty of potential for growth going forward. We are looking at adding quite a few of our business areas within the group onto the system, and we don't need to worry about the imaging side of that."
For companies on the same scale as HBOS who have not yet considered implementing a document imaging system, Bob Ward notes that the technology is a clear winner. "It's something that should be seriously considered, and the cost is soon realised with the business benefits of speeding up your processes," he says.