Manufacturer Finds Payoff With Automated Accounts Receivable
Published: August 22, 2006
by Victor Wortman
Management of printed documents is one of the last outposts of inefficiency in today's business offices, where technology has impacted virtually every other form of activity. But paper's grip is weakening as more companies explore electronic alternatives. In early 2005, ASF-Keystone moved against the forces of paper with the implementation of Archive/400, an electronic archiving solution from ACOM Solutions. The impetus for the change was a request from the accounts receivable department for a better way to store, retrieve, and distribute invoices and their supporting documentation.
ASF-Keystone is an operating division of the Amsted Rail Group of Amsted Industries, a $1.6 billion multidivisional, privately held industrial corporation that operated for decades as American Steel Foundries prior to the 2000 merger of its foundry operations with Keystone Industries. ASF-Keystone manufactures heavy industrial products such as couplings for locomotives and rail cars as well as heavy-duty products for the agricultural and construction industries. It is headquartered in Granite City, Illinois, with a semi-autonomous branch in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, where Hagreen is located. The ASF-Keystone customer base is varied across the industrial sector and includes a number of its sister Amsted divisions.
The Camp Hill branch is a long-time user of ACOM's EZeDocs document output management system and the EZDesigner/400 document template design tool, so the selection of the archiving product essentially was seen as a build-out of the original software. The Camp Hill facility uses an IBM iSeries i/5 Model 520 platform running OS/400 Version 5.3, with SSA Global's BPCS ERP software.
"The Archive/400 module replaced a purely manual system of file management," said Donna Hagreen, and analyst with ASF-Keystone. It enabled invoices from EZeDocs to be placed directly into electronic archives for desktop viewing, retrieval, and printing and for electronic transmission through the EZeDocs automated email and fax capabilities. However, there were some limitations. Related documents could not be scanned and added to the archive module. Accounts receivable wanted the visibility of these additional scanned documents as well as the capability to link related documents."
In early 2006, Hagreen learned that ACOM had introduced EZContentManager, a product that expands the way companies store and manage content produced internally, such as the documents generated on EZeDocs/400, as well as externally acquired documents from virtually any source. EZContentManager also provided the capability for more users to view documents.
EZContentManager is a scalable enterprise content management (ECM) solution that is built on Web-based architecture and is comprised of three primary elements: the content management utility and user interface, the "capture" workstation, and the workflow engine. With the software located on the company intranet, a step away from the iSeries environment, the corporate information resource potentially could be extended to every employee.
EZeDocs documents are indexed and archived automatically as they are generated, while externally obtained documents that are scanned into EZContentManager are indexed as part of the scanning/archiving process. Content is protected through four-level security. Documents can be retrieved and viewed on desktops via a browser or directly through Windows Explorer, and distribution options include printed paper copies and the solution's integrated e-mail and fax interfaces. The solution coordinates all phases, automates usage control, and provides a range of reports.
"Since EZContentManager is browser-based, it is independent of the iSeries network and therefore anyone that can access the company intranet can access, view, and distribute any files that he or she has authorization for," says Hagreen, who serves as administrator of the system.
Only selected information relating to certain functions has been placed in the EZContentManager database. For authorized users, signing on to the intranet automatically authenticates his or her ID and password. Most content continues to be drawn from the applications on the iSeries platform.
Currently, three types of documents are being managed within EZContentManager, Hagreen says. They are customer invoices, vendor purchase orders, and incoming EDI customer purchase orders. Often there are support documents that relate to these documents. Shipping documents would be one example.
"At present, we use a Fujitsu SnapScan scanner," Hagreen says. "It generates a PDF file, which is named and placed in an interim holding folder for inspection before being sent to EZContentManager. Any document that is relevant to any other can be input and associated with existing files."
EZContentManager makes communication and coordination simpler and more effective when dealing remotely with the headquarters' office and in some cases with internal customers. For example, with ASF-Keystone customer service operations located in the Granite City headquarters, it was formerly necessary to exchange hard-copy documents by mail or fax because their two IT systems were not compatible. Now, customer service personnel in Granite City can simply look up the respective documents on the intranet, saving time, money, and effort by eliminating the interim phase of document production and distribution.
Another example involves an accountant with responsibility for the financial relationship with a customer that is an Amsted Division. The accountant asked for a process through which he could e-mail the customer's invoices. While that division has no access to EZContentManager, Hagreen was able to set this up because of the system's capability to send, receive, and store e-mail communications automatically and directly, with little or no intervention.
Solving Compatibility Issues
Amsted Industries has many divisions, each with its own network so there is no across-the-board physical document exchange capability, Hagreen says, but there are often mutual need-to-know situations. EZContentManager facilitates the flow of such documentation because whatever document is involved, it is easy to find under various search parameters. Documents are viewed in PDF format and can also be sent as e-mail attachments.
Hagreen does not initiate the projects that relate to EZContentManager, but she implements them when department heads request them.
"It is a matter of who wants to be in EZContentManager and what function their documents serve," she says. "There are no real limits and we have not had to promote its use. People who already use it promote it since it is easy to identify value in terms of efficiency and productivity. Users simply log on and type in a keyword or a reference number such as a purchase order or invoice. From there, it is easy to see what has come in, what was shipped out, where it went, what if anything was done to it, and if everything was or is as it should be.
"We still file hard copies, but that has become much easier as well," Hagreen says.
One of the reasons for choosing EZContentManager, Hagreen said, was that it integrates directly with the EZeDocs document output management system, enabling automatic processes that require no additional steps. Moreover, she says, the documents don't have to be fancy forms. She can make a report directly from the data and use the forms package to generate it.
The content management process, which began with Archive/400, eliminates most of the need to look through file cabinets. It results in faster service with fewer mistakes, and it eliminates the difficulty of finding information after the fact.
"We are a small company, although part of a very large one," Hagreen says. "So we need to maximize our resources in every way we can. Feedback from our EZContentManager users tells us that this system is very effective in doing so by saving time, expediting processes, and cutting costs on such expenditures as printing, mailing, and courier services … not to mention fewer paper cuts from digging through files. What we've done so far works very well, and when more requests arrive, we will certainly incorporate them in the system."
Victor Wortman is a Santa Monica-based writer who covers information-processing technology. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.