Data entry automation: An essential service beyond COVID-19

Automation is not limited to operations on mine sites, but also what occurs behind the scenes. Australian Mining speaks with software company Redmap about the integration of automation technology in the world of accounting and compliance.

The need to work smarter has become even more important since COVID-19 presented new challenges that question the core operation of many companies.

To start with, the mining sector operates in a unique manner that sets itself apart from the majority of other industries.

Mining headquarters, which are commonly located in metropolitan cities, often remotely control operations thousands of kilometres away in different regions.

This presents many challenges in managing invoice processing, with these invoices typically being received at headquarters, but requiring authorisation from resources in the field.

Some organisations have attempted to manage such challenges via a host of home grown band-aid solutions to route the invoices to the people that need to see them.

While many of these solutions meant that invoices are no longer printed out and put in the mail, they are still manual and require human intervention to ensure that they are operating effectively.

Ernst & Young (EY) global mining and metals leader Paul Mitchell also encourages miners to prepare their organisations and workforces for a new environment.

He says rather than simply transitioning back to how things were pre-COVID-19, mining companies will need to embrace transformative change.

Although COVID-19 did not stimulate the origination of Redmap technologies, it speeds up their adoption as the company’s mining customer base has doubled in the last eight months.

“The pandemic has created the opportunity for sustainable transformation because it has fuelled an increased openness to change,” Mitchell says.

Although a digital transformation has already progressed, this change will accelerate in a post-pandemic world.

It will be driven by a focus on technological innovation and investment in digital capabilities, including robotics and data literacy, Mitchell says.

Ben Woolley, chief executive of Redmap, a business that focusses on document automation, has observed a similar trend during his two decades in the space.

“Four years ago, half of my sales engagement would be to convince companies that enterprise resource planning (ERP) automation was a feasible solution. But that doesn’t happen anymore now,” he tells Australian Mining.

 “Now they are semi-educated and have a reasonable understanding about what they want, because they are already searching for automation solutions so employees can do more with less.”

Redmap was founded more than 20 years ago as a provider of document management platform. While Redmap’s core offering is still part of its service today, the company now also provides accounts payable automation.

Redmap integrated its automation technology with Pronto Software’s popular ERP software, Pronto Xi, eight years ago.

The technology automatically identifies and extracts valuable data from the invoice, then sends it to the right person where it requires authorisation, or uploads accounts payable invoices into the ERP.

Woolley, an instrumental part of developing Redmap’s automation strategy, says the company first started working with Pronto Software eight years ago before he and his business partners decided to specialise in document automation into Pronto Xi.

“At that stage, the business made a sizeable investment in learning everything there is to learn about Pronto Xi, including contracting them to build connectivity for us so that we can use the data in the ERP to more effectively determine the status of the invoice and what we need to do with it,” Woolley says.

The automation technology uses Amazon Web Services’ robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) function to make the data extraction process more intelligent in identifying valuable data in the invoice (such as the date, invoice number and amount payable) and what needs to be done with the invoice.

“This improves efficiency because the manual work the accounts payable (AP) team used to do to determine if the invoice matched the purchase order or not and what to do with it are now fully automated. Those invoices that do not meet the requirement for automatic and immediate processing are sent to a resource for authorisation,” Woolley says.

“Evolution Mining, for example, is operating mine sites across Canada and Australia. The people who manage the payments and accounting entries are at the head office, but the people who ordered the goods to which the invoices relate to are often on site.

The genius of Redmap’s automation is even more valuable for a company like Evolution.

Evolution senior financial accountant Chris Prescott says chasing invoice authorisation with a team that is not at the office for a week at a time was a significant burden to the shared service.

“Our goal was not to replace employees as part of the Redmap project. Evolution’s growth trajectory has meant the business has continued to expand and the team needed to become more productive than simply keying invoices or chasing authorisation. We wanted to redeploy our people to more valuable work and Redmap has allowed us to do that,” he says.

“Pre-Redmap we had six full-time equivalent (FTE) working in the shared service exclusively on AP invoices.

“Post-Redmap we have 2.4 FTEs. Those efficiencies enabled the investment to be paid back in under 12 months, so financially it was a fantastic investment.”

Woolley recognises many benefits in the automation function, ranging from preventing a document loss and missing a payment, to allowing for disciplined capital control. By automating this laborious process, Redmap has helped overcome one of the biggest challenges faced by many finance departments, which is now intensified by COVID-19.

“It was already difficult before, but is even more so now,” Woolley says.

In an article titled ‘The next wave of digital trust has arrived’, Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) states that the need for accurate, complete, consistent and timely data has never been greater than it is right now.

“We’re facing an extremely unpredictable environment, and organisations need to be able to access the right data, of the right quality, and get it into the right hands at the right time,” PwC states.

“Looking to the future, technology resilience is less about crisis management, and more about preventing problems before they occur.”

Redmap has already helped Evolution achieve this outcome across its diverse gold operations and is equipped with the technology to do the same for others moving in the same direction.

The best practice Redmap has performed may just be the beginning of an accounting process evolution.

This feature will appear in the November edition of Australian Mining.

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