Carl Lewis: Welcome to the Connected Enterprise Podcast. I’m Carl Lewis, your host from Vision33, and my guest is Duncan Wyeth from iDocuments. Duncan, welcome to the podcast. Please tell us about yourself and iDocuments.
Duncan Wyeth: Hi, Carl. Thanks for inviting me. I’m Duncan Wyeth, and I work with a company called Synantix in the UK. We created iDocuments to extend the reach and breadth of SAP Business One and enable users to create transactions without an SAP license. It started with things like employee expenses but quickly moved to creating purchase orders, dealing with purchase transactions, and automating some sales function away from the ERP system. With iDocuments, people don’t need a Business One license just for a once-a-month purchase order.
Business has grown significantly in 10 years. We have hundreds of customers across the globe – Australia, the US, the UK, and Europe – ranging from small, 4-5 employee organizations doing oil exploration to large investment houses and industrial companies.
Carl Lewis: All that growth is one reason I wanted to have you on the podcast. With so many customers, you hear lots of things. What industry trends, especially regarding automation, are people discussing? What do they want to do, and what are they spending money on? And do you think the pandemic has affected those decisions?
Duncan Wyeth: Yes. The pandemic is the biggest driver in IT and automation-related decisions I've ever seen. Last March, we never would have guessed it would cause a significant boom in what we do. It was like someone lit paper on fire. The driver comes from the current industry buzzword: digital transformation. I doubt anyone is working somewhere that hasn’t discussed digital transformation.
Digital transformation is about using digital technology to transform your business processes. For us, that means automating things like AP processing. In the middle of the pandemic, a UK restaurant chain approached us. To prepare for lockdown, their IT department had given everyone the ability to work from home. Employees had laptops and could connect to the internet and their IT systems to do their jobs remotely. Great. But after a week, they discovered that although they didn’t have any revenues, they still had AP invoices being delivered to a central email address or in the mail, and it became a real scramble.
Their ERP provider referred them to us, and four weeks later, they went live on iDocuments. Now, every invoice they get is digitized and distributed to the relevant people/place. Digital transformation is the trend everyone's trying to do now. COVID is driving it because it’s created such a highly distributed workforce. People are working from home – but they still need to walk the dog. So, at 2:00 pm, working from home means doing things on their mobile devices, like approving invoices.
The pandemic is also making people talk about EDI. The internet of things. That’s a buzzword that's been around so long it’s not buzzing anymore. What is it? Has it happened yet? What about artificial intelligence?
You could argue, "You can't be artificially intelligent. You’re either intelligent or you’re artificial." But there’s the whole thing about machine learning and bringing AI to the fore. The IT industry is good at creating noise around phrases, technology, and pieces. And it's happening with automation, eCommerce, EDI, the internet of things, and warehouse management systems. How much can we automate?
Business owners are saying, "I don't want to recruit staff. I want to grow, but I don't want to add people. What can I do with computerized technology and digitalization, and how much can I use them to drive business forward without hiring people?” That's digital transformation: Growth without people.
Carl Lewis: I agree. The last time I saw an outside force making people do things like this was Y2K.
Duncan Wyeth: Yes. But only some of us remember that!
Carl Lewis: There was a lot of activity, but it was primarily hardware-driven.
Duncan Wyeth: Yes.
Carl Lewis: But now these forces are driving us to do dynamic things with software. Duncan, what are the biggest challenges your customers face when deploying the technologies for digital transformation?
Duncan Wyeth: One of the biggest challenges is expectations. The commercial IT sector is now heavily influenced by the consumer IT sector. There are B2B and B2C eCommerce solutions. B2B solutions are functionally robust but aesthetically weak – it doesn’t have to look good; it just has to work. In B2C eCommerce, everything has to look pretty and have whizzy things, like trying on clothes virtually.
That’s creating expectations in the commercial environment. And it’s challenging because there’s a difference between what people think is easy and what can realistically be delivered in a commercial environment. You need a solution that’s functionally rich with a robust foundation to be compliant with everything. In today's market, people expect huge functionality with a small price tag. There's a significant skew between expectations and reality.
For example, automation in terms of document scanning. "I want to scan the document, extract the data, create a transaction, automatically code it to everything, and do it automagically."
"But what do we do with the variables? How do we code this invoice across multiple entities in the business?
"Well, we do it manually."
"Because it's complicated."
"So, how do we do that using AI and machine learning?"
"We probably don't. We probably need to do it with machine learning only; AI can’t replace the human brain."
Carl Lewis: Expectations. Ok.
Duncan Wyeth: If you understand the expectations from the beginning, manage them, and don't spend all your time fixing issues that don't occur often, you might be ok. We had an example last week. During a presentation, we got caught up on how we’d deal with one particular transaction. I asked, "How often does that transaction occur?" Someone said, "About once a quarter." We were stuck trying to fix a problem that occurs four times a year. Just do it manually! Sometimes you must accept that manual is the right approach. And if automating some processes frees up time to do the tricky manual processes more carefully, we're delivering benefit.
Carl Lewis: Absolutely. Now, what do you think as you look toward the future? Things are changing quickly. What’s the next big thing for businesses?
Duncan Wyeth: Our industry is cyclical. Many years ago, there was a move to create a standard for transmitting transactions via email. Those of us who have been in this industry for a while remember when email first came about. People said, "If I could just send an invoice by email and have the recipients process it, life would be so easy." And we do a lot of that today with iDocuments in terms of reading documents and creating transactions from them. But this was about having a standardized document format all ERP systems would adopt.
Part of me thinks it's a pipe dream, and part of me thinks the ERP vendors have a vested interest in that not happening. Because if all ERP systems share a common interface, it's the death of EDI.
I think there's too much to lose for the big players for that to happen. But people are saying, "We can do this with OCR. Can we replace OCR with something that lets transactions zip around the internet via email or some other methodology that lets my customer pick up my sales invoice without anyone touching it?"
Are we going to get there? I don’t know. A long time ago, someone asked me if an application service provider would take off. I said, "Yes. But it’ll be version three and have a different name." An application service provider is what we call the cloud. The first version rained, the second version blew away, but this one's here to stay. So, I think automated transactions are the next big thing.
Carl Lewis: You mentioned EDI. I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in where someone says, “There are EDI standards.” A friend said that’s basically an oxymoron in today's marketplace because there really aren't.
Duncan Wyeth: Yes. I believe that vested interest in failure exists in many organizations. Because if some things don't fail, their solutions become redundant. And if everything were easy, we wouldn't need technology. So, the more technology makes it easy, the less we need technology. There’s an argument that some people are pushing back on automation because they don't want that to happen. They don’t want fewer people using their software.
Carl Lewis: Right. Now, Duncan, you're in the UK, and I'm in North America, but we're talking easier than we've probably ever done in our whole lives. In your lifetime, you've seen different communication and lots of change. How have the changes affected you? What's your communication like now?
Duncan Wyeth: I was an early adopter of Zoom – and I regret not being an early shareholder! Now, tools like Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Zoom, etc. are standard features of doing business. Funnily enough, it's the reverse of what I mentioned earlier about the B2C market having a significant impact on the B2B market. My friends and family use Zoom. We have regular meetings at the rugby club. We had a remote dinner to celebrate my brother-in-law's retirement. The biggest change is the rapid adoption of Zoom, with video calls. You and I can see each other almost as if we’re sitting in the same room.
That inclusion of everyone via video calls, and the ability to communicate clearly regardless of location, affects how we do business. It's easy to do it quickly. Years ago, an in-person meeting with 15 people took a lot of organizing. And if those people were overseas? Even harder. Before our call, I was talking with an investment company in the US. There were five people from their finance team, one person from Vision33, and two people from the UK. But people aren't used to communicating like this. They’re used to sticking information in an email.
Video calls have brought back telephone-based and person-to-person communication, and I like that. Seeking clarity, understanding people's requirements and expectations, and digging deeper in face-to-face meetings is important. I think we’ll move away from email and things like Zoom will become more important.
I’ve never liked email that much. It’s a very depersonalized method of communication. Some don’t even start with a "Hi Duncan." They're just bullet points. Do people think about how they’re saying things via email? And it's easier to offend people via email because you can't see body language. You can't see they're laughing. I welcome a move back to personal communication via Zoom. The more we can have meetings like this, the better.
Carl Lewis: I'm a fan of being face to face with people, too. This isn’t in a room like I prefer, but I agree with you – it’s heightened that personal touch in communication. For a while, a guy who worked for me sent me an email every night. I wanted to throttle him because of the way he communicated in the emails. But then I’d see him in person, and he'd talk about the same issues, and I didn’t want to throttle him. Relying on emails or text messages has brought a lot of impersonalization to life.
Duncan Wyeth: Carl, we both have the requisite gray hair to remember when you wrote a letter, put it in an envelope, mailed it, and waited four or five days for a response. My son is 21 and gets frustrated if you don't respond to an email within a few minutes. I say, "They might be doing something else. I know you're important, but so are they. Don't rush people." I get frustrated when people send me an email and then call me 20 minutes later to tell me I haven’t replied. I say, "No, I haven't, because it's one of 87 emails in my inbox demanding a response. I hate email; leave me alone. You want something, call me. If you’d called instead, you would’ve had an answer by now."
Carl Lewis: I hear you.
Duncan Wyeth: And don't send me an emoji; I don't know what they are.
Carl Lewis: Yes. There are way too many these days. Well, Duncan, we've talked about the challenges companies face putting in new systems. But what are their biggest challenges when with third-party consultants/partners to deploy software? And how can they make that relationship better?
Duncan Wyeth: The biggest challenge is making sure the third party knows what they're doing. Everyone involved in the transaction has a vested interest. What's their nexus in the transaction? What's their cash position? What do they want out of it? Too often, I see consultants involved in big ERP projects where, in effect, the consultant borrows your watch to tell you the time, then points out it was your watch when they got the time wrong. They ask you questions, regurgitate what you know, and give you their opinion. They're not adding any value. Always know what the third party’s vested interest is in the project. Where are they coming from? What are they taking away? What value do they bring to the table? Do they just want to implement a system and walk away, or do they want a lifelong relationship with the business?
The people I spoke to before this call said one reason they want to work with us is because they can see we understand SAP Business One really well. That’s important because it means we know what’s going on under the hood. We can make things work. We understand the impact of what we're doing on SAP Business One. That’s what we take to the table as a third party.
We want long-term relationships with customers. We're not interested in a quick sale or a 20-minute install. We don’t want to walk away and leave people to get on with it. It's challenging for businesses working with third parties because they don't understand from the beginning what the third-party relationship will be and what the long-term objective is. It's easy to be mis-sold. I once spoke to someone processing transactions with one of our competitors. They thought they had OCR technology – but what they have is other people getting their invoices and keying the data in for them.
That’s the challenge: understanding, communicating with, and getting on a personal level with the third party. People are important. You buy from people; people make things work. Is that trust factor there? If the third party says, "We don't think this fits," you're in the right place. If there are three people – the customer, ERP vendor, and third party – what's the third party’s relationship with the ERP vendor or the partner? What's the third party trying to get out of the transaction? What benefit is the third party bringing to this?
Do they want to hide behind the partner, so if something goes wrong, it will be the partner's fault? Or are they prepared to say, "We'll manage this. We'll be at the forefront of the solution, and we're here to help all the time.”?
Carl Lewis: Sometimes companies that work with software, especially publishers, create great tools they sell to customers but don’t use. It's like the cobbler's children – they get their shoes last. Duncan, does your company use new technology like automation? How’s that going?
Duncan Wyeth: We deploy what we do, Carl. If we get a purchase invoice, it's processed automatically. It’s simple: we use our own expenses module. If it's not good enough for us, how can we expect it to be good enough for others? So, we deploy our own technology in our business and try to live by our words. If we commit to doing something internally, we must deliver. Because if we can’t deliver it internally, how can we deliver it to a client? If our software doesn't work for us, how can we make it work for a client? If you're not doing it right for yourself, you can't do it right for others.
We also go back through a product’s development cycle and say, "Can we do this better?" We're doing that right now with our sales order automation. We're looking at what we do so we can deliver a better solution to clients. That’s driven not just by client feedback and requirements but also by internally revisiting that process.
Carl Lewis: That’s great, Duncan. Thank you for joining me.
Duncan Wyeth: Thanks for the invite; it's been good.
Carl Lewis: And for everyone else out there, we'll see you next time. Until then, stay connected.