AP Association 2018 Conference Round-up
Jamie Radford’s Welcome
The conference kicked off with an enthusiastic welcome by Jamie Radford, addressing the room of an amazing 220 delegates – 3 times as many attendees as last year! This only goes to prove how important conferences like this are. As the leading accounts payable resource in the UK, Accounts Payable Association will continue to provide industry-leading courses and run conferences and other workshops including this APA Conference (which is now CPD accredited and that’s a big step forward for AP Association). The current courses available from the AP Association are being overhauled and new courses are being created – so be sure to keep a look out!
The need for conferences such as this for accounts payable staff was further evidenced by the three attendees who travelled all the way from Estonia to soak up the atmosphere and all the knowledge from the talks and workshops. The plan is to run events during the rest of 2018 and throughout 2019. These regional events will extend up to the Scottish borders, just going to show how popular events for people within accounts payable are becoming.
The theme of the day was “The Robots are Coming – Embracing Technology and Change”. The industry is moving towards automation, robots and artificial intelligence, but there is still huge scope for AP staff, so they should not be concerned. Rather, they should be eager to learn more about how their industry is moving forward, growing with the times and certainly not lagging behind. AP staff should also be proud of the industry that they are in because it is truly an exciting time for everyone involved.
Last year the key takeaway from the event was the keyword, “AP Ninja”. AP staff truly are AP ninjas! What will the keyword for 2018 be…?
The AP Association is soon to be launching its new membership portal which is currently in the process of being re-done. Members can expect a new-look portal with great new features.
The key subjects for the day were:
- Humans are still in charge even though robotics and AI is moving forward
- P2P – what is it and how to succeed
- Perseverance – an inspirational talk given by guest speaker, Clare Lomas
- Success in automation
- Benefits and pitfalls of data analytics
- Benefits and pitfalls of robotics
- Benefits and pitfalls of artificial intelligence
- AP, P2P and emerging technologies
Karen Young’s Talk About a “Year in Review”
Next to take the stage was Karen Young, Director of Accounts and Finance at Hays Recruitment. Karen was looking back over the year in recruitment but also looking ahead to employment and career advice in 2019. Her talk was particularly interesting and she revealed some eye-opening facts, including that currently only 8% of businesses are involved in an artificial intelligence (AI) project, and that there are 48,000 applications to finance jobs each and every week!
The majority of finance industry applications are received for AP Clerks, and then second, for AP Managers. Temps also come in at a high number of applications and jobs listed.
Karen further added to the statistics with the fact that the most popular industries for the number of finance positions available, in order, are:
And interestingly, what AP staff can add to their notebooks is what surveys revealed regarding the top skills that employers look for in potential candidates. These include:
- Problem solver
- Detail oriented
- Good listener
Claire Lomas MBE
The time had finally come for the long-awaited talk by the inspirational Claire Lomas MBE, guest speaker extraordinaire! Claire’s talk was all about the split second that changed her life. Claire’s fall from her horse during a riding event was a truly shocking one, leaving her with fractured ribs, a fractured neck and paralysed from T4, down. Lying in her hospital bed in the Sheffield Spinal Unit, she was advised by doctors that it was highly unlikely she would ever walk again.
Claire describes herself as “genuinely lucky” with the way that she fell off her horse. She had only the use of her arms and felt it could have been much worse.
Claire was not going to let anything stop her, even after receiving the devastating news from her doctors she embarked on “Project Walk”. This involved three hours, each and every day in a gym, pushing herself to her limits, not only physically, but as you can imagine, mentally too. She was not going to give up and the voice in her head continuously told her to take every opportunity that she could…
On 22nd April 2012, Claire took her first step… in a robotics suit. This amazing feat was performed at the London Marathon that year, which she managed to complete, thanks to the robotic suit and of course, her sheer determination.
To describe oneself as “lucky” after a fall like Claire’s just goes to show the type of person she is… inspirational is just not strong enough of a word for Claire, she’s so much more than that and so it was a real treat to get to hear her speak in person at our APA conference. We don’t think we could have chosen a better person to be our guest speaker!
Claire’s moving talk and the re-counting of how she was able to complete the marathon set the tone for the day. Robotics is the way of the future and the robots really are coming!
Next, it was time for Konica Minolta, one of the main sponsors of the APA conference, to collaborate with technology partner, Thoughtonomy, to broach the subject of Intelligent Automation and the benefits available to both businesses and individuals. Konica Minolta is a leader in the provision of automation within the AP industry and therefore perfectly placed to discuss the advantages of intelligent automation, as a true specialist in providing intelligent information management solutions to businesses throughout the UK.
Rod Chadwick, Head of Process Simplification at the Royal Mail
Rod Chadwick was next to speak and his offering concentrated on automation and how it was not just about automating tasks, but the efficiency which automating tasks provided. Automation is possible in a variety of applications and departments including the development team, within the role of solution architects and in the back office robotics. The Royal Mail Group has implemented automation in these areas and their senior team is trained in Lean Six Sigma methodology which is excellent for removing unnecessary tasks and removing the “waste”.
Unfortunately robotic process automation (RPA) currently needs to be binary in the forms of decisions it makes, so for now, it can handle the mundane tasks that so many AP staff find mind-numbingly dull, i.e. it’s better left to the robots! However it is impossible for the robots to do everything. End to end processes do still need to be overseen by team members but the automation does help in various cases to save time and manpower.
At Royal Mail, they have 25 live robots… is that not amazing? Live robots are actually that far advanced that they are performing certain tasks. But that’s not all. Royal Mail has plans to have 60 live robots in place by the end of their business year – they are scaling up fast and making use of this new technology, making great strides. It was not all as simple as it may sound though. At Royal Mail, they underwent three phases to ensure the robots were ready… Phase one was the “proof of value” phase, the next phase was the “partnering” phase and the third and final phase was the “solo” phase.
Robotics is not for businesses to decrease head count and improve profits as many people think. They are not there to take away anyone’s jobs, but rather add to the value of the business and help staff to carry out the more intensive tasks that perhaps require cognitive thinking. Robots, for example, are prime candidates for the task of ensuring GDPR compliance. Ensuring checks are completed in relevant boxes – “black and white” tasks – those are all tasks perfect for robots.
Senior buy in and effective communications within the business is essential for implementing robotics though! And the important thing to remember when bringing in the robots is defining the reasons for them, having clear ideas and methods and above all, objectivity!
And in general, be sure not to copy slavishly what humans do when creating the processes for the robots. Take advantage of them and their capabilities to the max. Also ensure that the processes where the robots are going to take over is smooth – do not try to automate a broken process!
John Wallace, CEO, Documation
John Wallace’s talk was all about how to reap the power and avoid the pitfalls of robotics, AI and data analytics. There are software robots in manufacture and also in use currently by some businesses. They are excellent for automating tedious and repetitive tasks. Automation in the form of robots is going to become more and more a part of our every day lives, especially at work. Adding artificial intelligence into these processes can create amazing results by giving the robots the ability to make decisions, hence enabling them to do more.
AI is all about logic, computer vision, natural language processing and machine learning, while data analytics is about figuring out the current status, creating process efficiency, measuring KPIs and financial analysis. Data creates a feedback loop between human and machine learning. Some transactions are not so simple and they can’t be matched to AP tasks. If they were all simple, they could then be matched without problem. Consumers are comfortable having control over their processes and prefer this, which is a big reason why many people who are not up to date with where robotics is at (including what it can do and the role of AI), are scared that it will take away jobs. Think of the team as stakeholders though, because they all are and they need to be involved in the processes of automating. There are some staff who will understand the tasks like the back of their hand and their commentary is crucial in implementing the right automation.
Robots, automation and intelligence = cognitive intelligence.
Where to start with robotics and AI though? Ask these questions:
- What are the drivers for change?
- What are the capabilities of the people at your disposal?
- Why are you considering implementing them in the first place?
Cost, throughput and supplier relations are usually just some of the drivers. It may also be that some processes need to be roboticised because the right people can’t be found. There are two approaches to implementing automation and that is the Big Bang Approach and the Phased Approach. If the former fails, there is a big problem, but the latter is better because phasing helps in various ways. It helps to build shareholder confidence, it allows the team to gain experience and it enables experiments. Phasing also helps us to manage resource availability and can be horizontal, vertical or both.
Sam Ryan, Head of P2P, Virgin Media
Sam Ryan took to the stage to talk about her team’s achievements and how to succeed in a career within accounts payable. An informative talk and if you were part of her team, you would have been very proud! Sam’s advice and tips on how to be successful in AP will no doubt help many of the delegates that attended and everyone listened intently!
APA Annual Awards Ceremony
Now the part that most of the delegates were eagerly awaiting! There were six categories with a total of 12 awards to be given out for winners and runners up. As this year’s event was so much larger, it was clear that there was most definitely a need for runners up to be recognised too.
Below are the deserving award winners and runners up:
AP Team of the Year
Runner Up: Claire’s
Significant Team Achievement
Winner: Interserve FM Ltd
Runner Up: J N Bentley Ltd
Significant Contributor to Industry
Winner: Samantha Ryan @ Liberty Global
Runner Up: Stewart Griffiths @ Bio Products Laboratory Ltd
P2P Manager of the Year
Winner: Kalbir Rai @ Interserve FM Ltd
Runner Up: Diane Bamford @ National Grid
AP Manager of the Year
Winner: Michelle Smedley @ Royal Mail Group
Runner Up: Gary Rogers @ Equinix EMEA
Investor in People
Winner: Aston University
Runner Up: Lowell Financial Ltd
Workshops and Demonstrations
Thanks to our sponsors and some wonderful speakers, this year we had three rooms in which we were running workshops and demonstrations. These included:
Konica Minolta Software – Giving demonstrations on their unique approach to streamlining business processes and more
Dajon Software – Giving demonstrations on their business process automation systems to help resolve some of the greatest challenges businesses face to achieve astonishing results
Documation Software – Giving demonstrations on their one-stop-shop solutions for AP, purchasing and invoice matching software
Kofax and TwoFold – Talking about the future of P2P
Grant Thornton – Talking about process automation and accounts payable as well as another workshop about the duty to report
Consider Solutions – Talking about AP and P2P and the emerging technologies
ACTLearn – Talking about thriving in a world of change
Capita – Talking about the robots and that they are coming but humans are still in charge.
As you can see, the event, main speakers, workshops and demonstrations were all about new technologies, artificial intelligence, robotics and embracing the changes that are coming to the industry. It was a truly fascinating day with much to learn and we hope that if you didn’t make it this year, you will make it to our even bigger event next year!