|By Dana Gardner||
|May 14, 2014 01:00 PM EDT||
The next BriefingsDirect case study interview explores how American Electric Power improves their financial processes and buying operations using Ariba Dynamic Discounting.
It turns out that a real-time business-process approach to billing, ordering and settlement terms between buyers and sellers benefits both American Electric Power, one of the largest investor-owned electric utilities in the U.S., and its many vendors.
BriefingsDirect had an opportunity to uncover more about about such new, agile business services at the recent 2014 Ariba LIVE Conference in Las Vegas when we spoke to Rick Gray, Senior Treasury Specialist at American Electric Power in Columbus, Ohio, and Drew Hofler, Manage Cash Solution Marketing Director at Ariba, an SAP company. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Tell us about your organization and how you came to be using Dynamic Discounting.
Gray: American Electric Power is an electric utility, one of the largest investor-owned electric utilities in the country. We’re in 11 states, and we have five million customers. We have gross revenues that were over $15 billion last year. So, we’re pretty well-sized.
We started to look at our expenditure cycle, the whole purchase-to-pay (P2P) process, and had an independent consultant in to look at that and to give us some strategy on how we can improve. Part of it was to do the e-invoicing, the e-purchase order.
So we were looking at different tools and companies to provide that, and Ariba was the one that came out, and we selected them. Part of the justification for that whole project was the increase in early-payment discounts. That’s what got the ball rolling.
Gardner: And to what degree are you using it?
A lot of use
Gray: Quite a bit. When we started looking into it with Managed Services help, we saw that we had over 150 different payment terms. We looked at our days payable outstanding (DPO), which is the number of days it takes to pay our suppliers.
It was shorter than the industry average, which means we were paying sooner than our peers in the industry, which caused us a little concern in that we obviously weren’t being overly prudent with our cash or gave that appearance.
So part of the effort was to look at our payment terms and standardize them, and we decided to extend them a little bit to get along with the industry average.
Gardner: What’s changed that makes Dynamic Discounting more relevant now across many markets and industries?
Hofler: The fundamentals around Dynamic Discounting that drive it are the buyers, their not having a lot of cash on hand. Not getting return on cash hasn't changed a whole lot in the last few years. Companies still have a lot of cash, but the Fed funds rate is still very low.
On the supplier side, one thing that has changed for them a little bit is that the actual credit crisis has thawed a little bit, but not completely. The thing that's really changed for suppliers, and it was more of a gradual change, is that they all see longer payment terms now from their buyers. In the old days, before 2008, net 30 was your base term. Now, net 45, net 60 is standard, and many suppliers are facing longer terms than that.
Dynamic Discounting offers the great relief valve for that. It allows buyers to use their cash and earn some great return on that cash, and it allows suppliers to access early payment and lower their days sales outstanding (DSO) when they want to.
The other thing that has really fundamentally changed, and I’d say it's more of an evolutionary growth that makes Dynamic Discounting more relevant than ever, is that what makes Dynamic Discounting possible is e-invoicing and the ability to get invoices approved very rapidly, so there's an opportunity for that early payment.
E-invoicing has really grown in the accounts-payable world, both in the US as well as abroad. E-invoicing has become more standard, More and more people are coming into it. It's not a leading practice anymore. It’s a best practice, but there is a long way to go.
But as those invoices get approved very quickly and suppliers have visibility into them, it becomes very natural for a supplier to raise their hand and say they would really like to get paid early, maybe to reduce DSO, maybe to increase cash flow, whatever their reasons, but the confluence of e-invoicing and that network visibility is really driving Dynamic Discounting.
Gardner: Define for us what Dynamic Discounting is, and then also tell us what the benefits are and to whom.
Hofler: Dynamic Discounting, at its very root, is an early payment on an invoice that is funded by buyer cash. What makes it dynamic is that it allows suppliers, on an automatic or an ad-hoc invoice-by-invoice basis, to essentially raise their hand on a Dynamic Discounting platform by clicking a button and say they would like to get paid early, and in their control, accelerate their payment.
Dynamic Discounting simply puts the tools in the hands of the paying customer, to use their cash and earn something, and it puts the tools in the supplier hands to accelerate payment.
I like to call it the bringing together of opportunity, visibility, and capability, where you have the opportunity created by e-invoicing and where now you have an early approved invoice.
Visibility is through a network that allows the buyer to see where they have an opportunity to pay early and a supplier to see where they have the opportunity to be paid early. Then, there’s the capability on that network to click a button and make it happen, so that they have money in their account a couple of days later.
The business network
As I said, it’s the opportunity, visibility, and capability, and it’s that visibility element, where now more suppliers are used to seeing their invoices on the network. They’re used to seeing them approved very early, and then they can take advantage of it.
But one of the surprises that I see is in who offers a discount and who takes the discount on the supplier side. Logically, you would think it would be your smaller suppliers, with not much access to cash or not much access to credit, and in general, they do very much take it up.
But you will also often see very large suppliers with very large invoice discounts -- I mean in the six digits sometimes -- that will do it on occasion, because they have the opportunity and the control to do it when they want to. They will do it for other reasons, such as end of quarter to reduce their DSO or as accounting window dressing to get receivables off their books.
And the beauty of Dynamic Discounting is that you don't have to know what your supplier is going to do or why they’re going to do it. You offer them the opportunity, give them visibility and the capability to do it, let them make the choice, and you will often encounter some surprises like that.
Gardner: Rick, what about this notion of a business network, transparency, and having more data at your fingertips in order to benefit other processes, other financial issues in your company? Do you see this as an accelerant to the use of network information and transparency and perhaps building less risk into your overall financial situation?
Gray: Absolutely. And because we were looking at our working capital and our liquidity and extending the payment terms and consolidating them, we wanted to provide our suppliers with a tool for them to be able to then give them that relief valve that Drew was talking about. So if they did need the payment sooner, that’s fine. We could give them that opportunity without losing the benefit to ourselves in the process.
It became really important to get the buy-in throughout the company. We realize that some suppliers need the money sooner and that’s fine, and here’s the process to do that. The tool then allows the suppliers an easy way of accessing that and getting their money sooner if they need to, without reaching out to our accounts payable department or our procurement department and calling around. This was a more streamlined process for that.
Gardner: One of the things that’s really interesting to me and why I think this takes off so well is that it benefits both sides. There are more information and terms available. Negotiation positions all work to their mutual benefit. Do you have any metrics of how this has benefited your organization? Do we have some opportunity to look at where the rubber hits the road? What do you get for it?
Gray: There are a couple of things. This past year, we extended our days payable outstanding by two days, which doesn't sound great. On the other hand, with $1.2 billion in average daily accounts payable, that’s two days we didn’t have to borrow $1.2 billion. We even had a holiday where we didn’t have to borrow one day, but gradually that turned out. So we reduced our borrowing for that much.
On the other hand, we also saw increased early payment discounts that matched that business case that we talked about later. So in that regard, we’ve done pretty well.
Gardner: What should we look for in terms of next steps in making Dynamic Discounting even more powerful?
Hofler: What comes next is a continued buildup of the transparency and visibility in a network that allows suppliers to see what's going on and allows buyers to tie that in together.
We’re seeing that companies are looking at these things, not as disparate processes anymore, not just the invoicing, not just Dynamic Discounting, not just procurement, but are looking at the realization that each of those is a link in a value chain and they need to be linked together
We’re seeing people going from where they’ve started and expanding onto a platform that allows them to grow and link these things together. You’ve got suppliers, for example, that may have just been PO or may have just been a contract.
Now, they move them into the invoice on that. Or, it may have been invoice and just contract. More and more suppliers are finding more and more reasons to come to the same network. That increases the pool of who is there to discount.
The other thing that’s tied to it, and not discount specific, is the idea that it’s early payment when they raise their hand. We’re now seeing this area of what we announced at LIVE in AribaPay -- not only to allow the supplier to raise their hand to receive their payment early, but to be able to be paid in such a manner when they do that, they have full visibility into everything that went into the final dollar that comes into their account, with every invoice, every line item, every PO, so that they can reconcile it easily and quickly identify discrepancies.
So we really see the tying together, not only of the desire to be paid early, but then the actual mechanics around the settling of that payment
Gardner: And for global companies that are concerned about currencies, jurisdictions, and tax issues, this can be a big deal.
Hofler: Absolutely, it can, and particularly if they have multiple invoices around payment, keeping track of the differences. You get one lump sum and it accounts for 100 invoices that might have 20 line items each. That becomes a big issue to maintain, and the more global you go, the more complex.
Gardner: Of course, a recurring theme at Ariba LIVE was the networked economy -- and also the fact that you are, as part of SAP, using HANA and other analytics capabilities to bring more insight across the activities of the Ariba portfolio.
I was struck when Rick mentioned that he could compare the industry standard for payable terms and therefore adjust accordingly. Are there other metrics, analysis, or even predictive value that, as an aggregator of Dynamic Discounting terms, with all privacy, security, and anonymization brought to bear, more value add when it comes to being smart about how you do this?
Hofler: I couldn’t be more excited about potentially having all of the 15 years now or more of data on the Ariba Network of POs, invoices, and payment terms and early payments. All of this is brought together in such a way that we can do just that. We can take all that big data and turn it into information that’/s actionable.
There is so much there, not only from the aggregate standpoint. As you mentioned, we never, ever share which supplier we discount how much, but on an aggregate basis, what are some of the trends, what are some of the indicators that a supplier would be more willing to discount? Just on the data that I’ve tracked outside of HANA, not nearly as powerful as that, you’ll see certain patterns, end of quarters, end of certain seasonal cycles.
Having the ability to see that for a buyer or a treasurer to then make maybe more cash available for that particular time and plan for that, they can make more cash available to handle the spike in volume of discounting. There’s just tremendous potential there.
Gardner: Rick, any advice for other organizations that perhaps haven’t done Dynamic Discounting, but are evaluating it? Is there anything that you can offer with 20/20 hindsight that they would benefit from?
Gray: A couple of things. One, it’s not that bad of an integration. There’s not a whole lot of movement there. It’s not really that complicated. So that's not too bad.
The challenge is getting the suppliers on and getting them engaged. We actually purchased the software right when Ariba was rolling out Managed Services, so we were sort of grandfathered in prior to that and didn’t utilize the Managed Services when we implemented. We saw that our adoption rate was well below our target.
Six months or so afterward, we engaged the Managed Services, and within three or four months, we had reached the original target. So that was a big help and something I would strongly encourage. Listen to and use the partners. It’s not that we’re not smart enough or don’t want to work hard enough to do it. It’s just that we just didn’t really have the time and resources.
Gardner: Would you say, Rick, that this has paved the way for a different type of relationship between you and your suppliers? Has it increased collaboration and communication in any way, maybe a stepping stone towards more transparent and even more mutually beneficial business negotiations and relationships?
Gray: Yes, and we’re working on that, as far as a long-term contract is going into place. That's our next target right now with the smaller suppliers, with immediate need. Now, we’re looking to make sure that that’s the culture within the company. These are the payment terms and this is the tool to utilize going forward. We’re sticking to our guns, saying that there are no exceptions. Everyone goes through this, and that’s been beneficial.
Gardner: How does this integrate into other things? You’ve already mentioned AribaPay. We’ve talked a little bit about analytics and visibility. The whole greater than the sum of the parts is where a lot of business services and those that avail themselves of cloud models can go. Where does this integrate into next? Where is the bundle? How do we make this a value-add?
Hofler: It’s just a natural bundle for anything that has anything to do with P2P, Ariba Collaborative Commerce, and Ariba Collaborative Finance. If you look at it as a process, classic process, everything ends up with an invoice to be paid.
So we bundle it in when the invoice is a part of any type of business process re-engineering that a customer is doing. We point it out to them as a natural next progression when they are going there.
Rick made the point earlier that it really drives the business case too. It’s very helpful for folks who are looking to get some technology to help them drive business process re-engineering and to improve their business processes.
Sometimes, efficiency isn't enough in terms of savings to get that raised to the top of the project pile. Dynamic Discounting is a great way to add significant return on investment (ROI) to that business case, so that they can get their overall project approved. We’ve seen that happen time and time again. So it’s a great part of the bundle.
You may also be interested in:
- Ariba's roadmap points to instant, integrated and data-rich business cloud services
- Case study: How ACP simplifies and speeds its billing and payments using the new AribaPay cloud service
- Business success increasingly hinges on supply chain innovation and procurement advantages
- Workforce of the Future -- and Why Preparing Means Rethinking Human Resources Now
- Ariba announces business network analysis enhancements, first transactions conducted under AribaPay
- Spot buying automated by Ariba gives start-up KooZoo a means to shop more efficiently
- Combining big data and cloud capabilities for ecommerce matches buyers and sellers like never before
- Here's Why Healthcare Businesses Must Efficiently Manage Their Suppliers, Purchases, and Processes
- Ariba LIVE roadmap debrief: Cloud data analytics
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
Dec. 8, 2016 12:30 AM EST Reads: 1,094
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to simplify and streamline our lives by automating routine tasks that distract us from our goals. This promise is based on the ubiquitous deployment of smart, connected devices that link everything from industrial control systems to automobiles to refrigerators. Unfortunately, comparatively few of the devices currently deployed have been developed with an eye toward security, and as the DDoS attacks of late October 2016 have demonstrated, this oversight can ...
Dec. 8, 2016 12:15 AM EST Reads: 1,320
"We're a cybersecurity firm that specializes in engineering security solutions both at the software and hardware level. Security cannot be an after-the-fact afterthought, which is what it's become," stated Richard Blech, Chief Executive Officer at Secure Channels, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 7, 2016 11:45 PM EST Reads: 987
What happens when the different parts of a vehicle become smarter than the vehicle itself? As we move toward the era of smart everything, hundreds of entities in a vehicle that communicate with each other, the vehicle and external systems create a need for identity orchestration so that all entities work as a conglomerate. Much like an orchestra without a conductor, without the ability to secure, control, and connect the link between a vehicle’s head unit, devices, and systems and to manage the ...
Dec. 7, 2016 10:30 PM EST Reads: 844
"Once customers get a year into their IoT deployments, they start to realize that they may have been shortsighted in the ways they built out their deployment and the key thing I see a lot of people looking at is - how can I take equipment data, pull it back in an IoT solution and show it in a dashboard," stated Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 7, 2016 10:00 PM EST Reads: 1,189
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, discussed the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
Dec. 7, 2016 08:15 PM EST Reads: 2,210
As data explodes in quantity, importance and from new sources, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and cloud environments grow with it. Managing data includes protecting it, indexing and classifying it for true, long-term management, compliance and E-Discovery. Commvault can ensure this with a single pane of glass solution – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enter...
Dec. 7, 2016 05:15 PM EST Reads: 1,754
IoT solutions exploit operational data generated by Internet-connected smart “things” for the purpose of gaining operational insight and producing “better outcomes” (for example, create new business models, eliminate unscheduled maintenance, etc.). The explosive proliferation of IoT solutions will result in an exponential growth in the volume of IoT data, precipitating significant Information Governance issues: who owns the IoT data, what are the rights/duties of IoT solutions adopters towards t...
Dec. 7, 2016 05:15 PM EST Reads: 278
Businesses and business units of all sizes can benefit from cloud computing, but many don't want the cost, performance and security concerns of public cloud nor the complexity of building their own private clouds. Today, some cloud vendors are using artificial intelligence (AI) to simplify cloud deployment and management. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Ajay Gulati, Co-founder and CEO of ZeroStack, will discuss how AI can simplify cloud operations. He will cover the following topics: why clou...
Dec. 7, 2016 05:15 PM EST Reads: 931
Everyone knows that truly innovative companies learn as they go along, pushing boundaries in response to market changes and demands. What's more of a mystery is how to balance innovation on a fresh platform built from scratch with the legacy tech stack, product suite and customers that continue to serve as the business' foundation. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, discussed why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue and mor...
Dec. 7, 2016 04:30 PM EST Reads: 1,681
The many IoT deployments around the world are busy integrating smart devices and sensors into their enterprise IT infrastructures. Yet all of this technology – and there are an amazing number of choices – is of no use without the software to gather, communicate, and analyze the new data flows. Without software, there is no IT. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation; Alan Williamson, Principal...
Dec. 7, 2016 04:15 PM EST Reads: 394
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
Dec. 7, 2016 03:45 PM EST Reads: 2,268
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
Dec. 7, 2016 03:30 PM EST Reads: 1,788
Successful digital transformation requires new organizational competencies and capabilities. Research tells us that the biggest impediment to successful transformation is human; consequently, the biggest enabler is a properly skilled and empowered workforce. In the digital age, new individual and collective competencies are required. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bob Newhouse, CEO and founder of Agilitiv, drew together recent research and lessons learned from emerging and established compa...
Dec. 7, 2016 02:30 PM EST Reads: 946
"IoT is going to be a huge industry with a lot of value for end users, for industries, for consumers, for manufacturers. How can we use cloud to effectively manage IoT applications," stated Ian Khan, Innovation & Marketing Manager at Solgeniakhela, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 7, 2016 02:30 PM EST Reads: 4,323
Financial Technology has become a topic of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 20th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York, June 6-8, 2017, will find fresh new content in a new track called FinTech.
Dec. 7, 2016 02:15 PM EST Reads: 2,202
Information technology is an industry that has always experienced change, and the dramatic change sweeping across the industry today could not be truthfully described as the first time we've seen such widespread change impacting customer investments. However, the rate of the change, and the potential outcomes from today's digital transformation has the distinct potential to separate the industry into two camps: Organizations that see the change coming, embrace it, and successful leverage it; and...
Dec. 7, 2016 02:15 PM EST Reads: 3,394
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...
Dec. 7, 2016 02:15 PM EST Reads: 1,137
"Dice has been around for the last 20 years. We have been helping tech professionals find new jobs and career opportunities," explained Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 7, 2016 01:45 PM EST Reads: 1,131
Extracting business value from Internet of Things (IoT) data doesn’t happen overnight. There are several requirements that must be satisfied, including IoT device enablement, data analysis, real-time detection of complex events and automated orchestration of actions. Unfortunately, too many companies fall short in achieving their business goals by implementing incomplete solutions or not focusing on tangible use cases. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products...
Dec. 7, 2016 12:30 PM EST Reads: 855