Document management is one of the few constants in a rapidly changing ERP landscape

21st January 2008

Amid change and consolidation, it's reassuring to find an IT company that is set-on continuing with as little change as possible. Version One specialises in the provision of document management systems that integrate into all major finance systems and is proving a constant in the midst of unceasing industry turmoil. Lynne Munns, General Manager of Version One put it succinctly to FSN, "Customers know that whichever way the ERP market is driven it is likely that they will be able to leverage their investment in our technology," – news that will come as welcome relief to those bewildered by the pace and extent of recent changes within the software industry.

Version One's reputation has been built around the burgeoning demand for document management capability in the finance function. The argument for using this technology is compelling, particularly when taking into account the vast volumes of documents that the average finance department is required to handle on a daily basis.

Physical handling of documents is time consuming, onerous and expensive – which explains the massive uptake that Version One has experienced for its solutions in recent years. Munns told FSN, "We've been growing organically at around 20 percent per annum and we do not see that changing."

But Munns sees a subtle shift in the nature of demand as technology changes. In earlier years the requirement was for automation around 'outbound' documents such as sales invoices, statements and cheque payments. However, the demand for digitising outbound documents has stabilised as more ERP systems generate documents such as sales invoices directly to email and store exact images on central servers. But the challenges of inbound documents remain a major hurdle for most finance functions.

The 'Purchase to Pay' cycle is where the most excitement is being generated – probably because the potential gains are the most significant. Most organisations have to contend with a large variety of supplier invoices that are highly variable in print quality, size, shape, font and colour. But increasingly sophisticated affordable scanning techniques promise very high success rates in faithfully converting hard copy documents into digitised images that can furnish finance departments with the information they need to match purchase orders and capture the accounting entries.

In fact in recent years the scope of these systems has broadened even more into entire workflow solutions that allow the arrival of invoices to be notified to the relevant operational personnel so that they can be coded and routed by email to whoever needs to see them for approval or investigation where necessary.

Fortunately, whilst the capabilities of scanning and bar-coding technology have made considerable strides the cost of the equipment has fallen. This means that sophisticated document management systems are affordable and within reach of even the most modestly sized business. Larger enterprises, with multiple operations scattered across different geographies stand to benefit even more. The certainty of delivering documents electronically rather than relying on internal post means that suppliers' invoices rarely get lost, they are paid on time and companies using the technology can more easily take advantage of cash settlement terms on offer.

The process changes enabled by 'Purchase to Pay' technology not only pay off in financial terms but also in greater operational efficiency and productivity. Savings in storage, photocopying and labour often produce a payback in less than six months and with average transaction costs hovering anywhere between £10 and £50 the ongoing financial savings can be very considerable. Document management in the finance function is one of the few technology projects where the savings are so easy to identify and achieve.

In a business environment smothered in compliance and control the technology is particularly welcome. Outstanding commitments are easier to track, there is an audit trail of approvals and the digitised documents become searchable against a number of user defined criteria.

The 'icing on the cake' is that the whole process is environmentally friendly as well. Suppliers invoices do not need to be photocopied and physical storage can be reduced because the tax man is now content with electronic images.

Given this background it is no wonder that Version One's strategy is to deliver more of the same. Munns told FSN, "We're sticking to the knitting, doing what we do well and continuing to grow the company at 20 percent per year."

In October this year, Version One scooped the 'paperless office' category of the Business Software Satisfaction Awards 2007 – a particularly pleasing result for the company because it is based on votes by actual software users. The company's solutions ranked highest for ease of use, functionality, value for money and reliability.

But Version One is beginning to examine other verticals. It was acquired earlier this year by COA Solutions although Munns stresses it continues to run autonomously. "The acquisition gave us access to capital, additional skills and resources to help us grow," she adds.

With all of the changes happening in the broader ERP marketplace Version One is keeping particularly close to its channel partners. "One of the changes we've noticed is that our resellers are far more services and solutions focussed. This means that they are partnering with their customers to ensure that they deliver maximum business benefit rather than simply selling software packages. Resellers are now much more inclined to choose the software that will best meet the customer's needs and that is a development we particularly welcome," she comments.

Another trend Munns notes is the greater reliance on Microsoft technologies, especially in the mid-market. However, despite Microsoft's rising popularity, Version One has to straddle many environments. Munns comments, "We operate with a wide variety of finance solutions from Sage and Microsoft Dynamics through to Oracle and SAP. The market may ebb and flow but we won't be changing our strategy. In the current environment customers need certainty and know that whatever direction their finance system takes they can use our technology."