Mark Sheldon, Chief Technology Officer, Sidetrade


The global pandemic has meant companies everywhere have woken up to the fact that cash is king, leading to a renewed prioritisation of liquidity generation and cash conservation to survive.

One of the ways that companies have sought to secure cash flow is through improved Order-to-Cash (O2C) processes – helping enterprises minimise risks and maximise returns in their financial dealings.


But not all O2C processes are created equal. In fact, I see the current O2C market split into three segments:

  1. The first being the companies that employ manual siloed systems, who continue to work predominantly with Excel spreadsheets and even the postal system, and they continue to manually process customer data across a variety of siloed functions (sales, support, finance, etc.).
  2. The second segment, and where we start to see technology being leveraged, is a more digitised approach, whereby the basics of automation are employed, or digital collection media such as email is the norm. Firms taking advantage of these kinds of technologies can expect to benefit from improved efficiencies across the whole O2C process.
  3. The third and most mature segment however, and where the full benefits can be reaped, is when AI capabilities are built into the O2C process.
Mark Sheldon

In overlaying AI into this process, firms are able to leverage data and intelligent insights to supercharge their efficiencies even further. Teams can benefit from AI-powered recommendations that lead to optimum results, improved customer retention and overall streamlined O2C workflows. Customers can enjoy a much more sophisticated and effective end-to-end experience with their suppliers. And the business at large can benefit from significantly healthier cash flow, reduced bad debt and the enhanced ability to better forward plan.

But where to start when implementing AI technologies into your O2C process and what are the most important things you should be aware of?


Top tips for implementing AI-powered O2C systems

Firstly, it’s important to look past the hype of AI. It’s become a bit of a buzzword across all industries, and there are many vendors out there that label themselves as an AI provider, but simply don’t have the creds for it.

Fundamentally, without historical data, there is no AI. A company just starting out for example, might have the technical abilities to build an AI platform, but is highly unlikely to have the data sets required to feed it, and make it truly “intelligent”.

Secondly, it is critical to clarify the difference between robotic process automation (RPA) and AI. Many RPA vendors talk about AI and RPA interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing.

RPA is generally concerned with automating everyday processes – using software “bots” that you can set up to emulate a particular task; so it’s very much focused on automation of existing manual processes. Whilst there are some similarities in terms of efficiency benefits, it’s very different from what we do in AI. In AI, we use algorithms to intelligently recommend the best course of action, by taking the human thinking out of the system.

The risk with a purely RPA-based solution is that you end up automating ineffective or even damaging processes. For example, missing insight into where bottlenecks lie, or where siloed systems further amplify cash flow problems. So you could argue there is nothing truly intelligent about RPA.

Thirdly and finally, one of the biggest barriers that still exists today for anyone looking to employ AI in the O2C process, is the cultural challenges. Wherever we deploy AI, the number one challenge in terms of the rollout is the cultural belief and trust that AI is going to do a good job.

Fundamentally, AI-powered O2C software has been proven to improve key business metrics. With AI solutions, you can expect significantly reduced DSO, faster cash collection, and improved efficiencies by up to 50%.

What’s more, with AI, businesses can enjoy far more in-depth insights: understanding which suppliers aren’t paying fast enough, where to get cash into the business more efficiently, or identifying where the business opportunities for growth lie. All of this is powerful ammunition for CFOs looking to implement a cash-to-cash culture across the entire business, and a valuable aid in demonstrating the significant impact that AI in the O2C process can have across the business.



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