Billing issues are the tip of the iceberg; initial Enterprise Architecture assessment highlights deeper application issues
Griffin was engaged to perform a global wall-to-wall study of billing issues for a large, Record and Information Management (RIM) company after earlier small scale approaches only addressed symptoms and not the root cause. The analysis encompassed the top 10-15 business issues from each of the 20 countries the RIM company operated in, looking for patterns in processes, systems, and issues that would lead to the root cause. Once those were gathered and correlated into roughly 110 common issues around the globe, we plotted 14 primary steps in the invoice creation process. Three lines of business had similar invoice creation processes, with some variance in systems used. The fourth business line was relatively new and had few concrete processes or systems, except in some countries where there was early adoption of those new services.
In general, the monthly invoice process kicked off in the Operational (Ops) systems, where all the work orders and storage data resided. These systems had embedded invoice calculation logic within them, but were scattered among 50 plus instances in the 4 data centers. The monthly initiation of the data extraction process was the trigger for billing, and after the results of the extraction process were reviewed and massaged, those files were passed along the Peoplesoft ERP for pro forma invoice creation. Another round of reviews were kicked off until the billing team thought the reliability of the invoice data was within tolerance levels, and then the data was transferred into the ERP Billing Module for invoice creation and A/R postings. Once the ERP transactions were done, there was another step which pushed Ops data to various print and post vendors around the world to actually print and deliver the detailed invoice documents to the customers. Some major customers required highly specific Excel or csv files to support their internal accounting and reporting needs.
To create a layered, multi-dimensional picture, the applications were color coded so we could see which process step used an application by country and line of business. This yielded a color map of the variety of system use across the globe. The system color was then left in place, and we put all of the Billing Issues numbers in every cell where that problem occurred in the process. At this point we had a color coded process-system-issue map by country and line of business (see example diagram), and patterns quickly emerged.
- Lack of consistent customer mastering processes between the various CRM, financial, and operational systems resulted in a lot of manual entry and a lack of consistent customer info across lines of business
- Lack of a price master for customer contract pricing in the CRM or the ERP resulted in a lot of price adjustments and monthly credit memos. There was also a lot of recurring work to revise prices annually, since there was not a single source to be updated-instead, prices had to be updated in 50 plus Operational systems.
Invoice Creation within the Operational Systems
- Recurring record locks between the Ops production system and the background billing data extraction processes running on a different app server; many invoice extracts failed after 4-10 hours of running and had to be re-started.
- Multi-market customers required coordination among several database instances. The most widely used operational system was not designed to handle customers over several time zones.
- Almost all invoice data was extracted monthly in the same 2 day period for all lines of business, resulting in a spike of invoice data extraction, massaging, and processing.
- A separate pro forma invoice process review was needed after importing data from Ops into ERP.
- Disconnects between ERP customer billing structure and Ops system structure resulted in many corrections to AR postings in the financial system.
- Distribution of large files to print and post vendors who actually distributed paper invoices to customers.
New features needed
- Standardizing the consolidation of invoice information across Lines of Business
- Ability to create bundled pricing structures for a new business line
- Transitioning to electronic delivery of invoices via portal
- Credit card processing for payments
- Month-to-date revenue reporting
These issues were addressed by three primary elements of a new integrated solution:
- Augmenting the RIM operational data store (ODS) to retrieve storage and activity details from the Ops systems daily instead of extracting that data monthly
- Creating a SQL Server based billing engine to standardize the calculation and consolidation of invoices
- Transferring the invoice information to Akritiv, a Force.com application that specializes in Electronic Invoice Presentment and Payment; the Akritiv portal allows on line viewing, dispute, and payment of invoices via ACH or credit card
- Re-integrating the Billing Engine and Akritiv information back into the ODS to facilitate daily revenue updates instead of month end reports
A major byproduct of the initial evaluation was the documentation of how many Ops systems instances existed around the globe, the variation in them, and the fact that there was no clear path forward to create a more cohesive operational organization by leveraging a common system. So a major spin off of the billing evaluation embarked to find a potential application that could support at least 3 of the 4 business lines. Requirements from each LOBs were categorized to look for alignments and differences, normalized for differences in terminology as opposed to real needs, and then finding a software package that addressed those real needs. This spin off effort is beginning in earnest in the first half of 2015 in the form of two pilots.