The NSW Police receive over 120,000 invoices per year. Invoices have traditionally been received in paper form by local commands, stamped and distributed to approving officers for their signature before being forwarded to Police Headquarters for payment.
This process was inefficient. Paperwork could easily be lost and payments delayed. Invoices would then need to be batched and boxed at the end of the financial year and approximately 150-200 boxes were stored each year. Once their retention period was up, a disposal project needed to be instigated so that they could legally be disposed of.
Staff within the Process and Records Services division of Shared Services recognised these inefficiencies. They met with Finance staff and their IT support to determine a means to develop appropriate workflow using digitised images integrated with SAP (used for Police Force financial management) and their EDRMS.
The main aim of the integration and digitisation program was to remove inefficiencies and introduce process improvement for accounts payable.
Another important aim was to make sure that the records within SAP would not create an ongoing storage and legacy problem for the organisation. Large financial processing systems like SAP are good at making data but they are unable to manage data efficiently over time. The Police recognised that by integrating SAP with their EDRMS they could ensure that the invoices could be managed as records and could be sentenced with a disposal authority and trigger. This would then streamline disposal when the 7 year retention expired, bringing additional efficiencies for the organisation.
Integration could also ensure that NSW Police Force could be compliant with State Records’ Standard on digital recordkeeping by enabling the storage of accounts payable records within a digital recordkeeping system with suitable protections and metadata applied.
The NSW Police Force needed to select a digitisation service provider to assist them with the integration and the automated collection of metadata.
A particular digitisation service provider had successfully tendered for an accounts payable project run by Business Link. The NSW Police were able to piggy-back off the provisions in that tender and hire this service provider without going to separate tender.
The digitisation solution involved the use of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to extract relevant metadata required from the invoice on digitisation.
When determining requirements, staff rejected the need to replicate all metadata from SAP in the EDRMS. All that was required for transfer was the metadata needed to manage the record in the EDRMS. The SAP document number became the common key between the two systems.
One advantage of the digitisation solution is that it produces an audit trail, a PDF file of all actions taken on the SAP document, which can help to demonstrate that proper processes have been followed, including those required by s.12 and s.13 of the Public Finance and Audit Act. If there are a number of processes, e.g. rejection of an invoice and resubmission, a number of audit trails will be captured. With the integration these audit trails are also saved into the EDRMS.
If further information needs to be supplied by staff processing the accounts they could scan and attach the information in SAP, which would also share the SAP document number.
The new process is as follows:
- An invoice is received by Shared Services staff and scanned. The Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software populates the metadata fields. The data is verified to the invoice and green traffic lights display if fields have been populated appropriately. Red traffic lights appear if there are problems. Staff can check the boxed text in the image to determine what metadata may have been missed or inaccurately transferred. When all metadata is correct, the image is accepted by the operator.
- Once verified, the image is sent to the EDRMS. The metadata from the scanned image is transferred into the EDRMS.
- The data from the image is then sent to SAP. At this point further metadata is transferred to the EDRMS including the SAP number, the key between the systems.
- Once in SAP a workflow is triggered. The invoice is sent to the appropriate Accounts Payable staff members. These staff members complete the approvals and payment in sent to the vendor. The users can also view the image of the invoice stored in the EDRMS from within SAP.
- Further metadata including the approval date is then automatically transferred to the EDRMS. This allows for the application of the sentence from General retention and disposal authority – Administrative records (GA28). The trigger is set at 7 years after the end of the financial year in which the invoice was approved.
One of the advantages of the integration is that staff handling the accounts payable process can access and view the invoice and any other attachments in SAP – they do not have to be given access to or trained in the EDRMS interface. The organisation can also rely on the access and security business rules already established in SAP. Having a familiar interface can reduce the need to introduce widespread training and change management initiatives.
However, staff still experienced some change management issues problems which needed to be addressed.
For example, there was a need to encourage external vendors not to send invoices to local commands (even if work being invoiced was undertaken there) but to forward them to Police Headquarters where Shared Services would digitise the invoices.
On occasions invoices were being sent to local area commands. Staff would then scan them, attach the images to an email and forward them to Headquarters. Their low-tech scanners would not produce the same quality image that those at Headquarters could produce. In addition, officers would usually save the scanned invoice to their local network drives and the email with the image attached would also be saved in their email archive ‘just in case’. So they could potentially be duplicating the image a number of times before it even reaches Headquarters. This practice was inefficient and, if not addressed, could impact over time on storage space.
The Accounts Payable program has met its aims to deliver a much more efficient and streamlined process. Disposal can be applied at creation, which means that the destruction of these records can be facilitated quickly and easily when the retention period has been expired. The NSW Police Force has saved paper storage costs, the cost of staff time to batch records and transfer them each year, and the cost of future manual disposal projects.
An unexpected but valuable benefit is that the program has increased strategic awareness of the work of the Process and Records Services division. By word of mouth their reputation has grown within the organisation and now some staff are beginning to approach them for assistance when rolling out new systems and asking for them to be integrated with the EDRMS.
Staff are taking advantage of these opportunities and a number of further projects have been established using digitisation and integration of systems to improve digital recordkeeping.
Published June 2012