Analyzing data from CFO Magazine’s Working Capital Scorecard (Part I and Part II), and reviewing case studies around the web as well as several interviews, reveals several themes, or habits, common to top performers. Perhaps the most compelling is a holistic view of the business process, change management and technologies deployed.
Organizations can simplify the “bookends” of their enterprise business processes and focus on the order-to-cash (DSO — days sales outstanding) and source-to-settle (DPO — days payables outstanding; includes the procure-to-pay) processes. Simply put, focus on your customer processes and your supplier processes to improve these metrics. For DIO (days inventory outstanding), certainly internal processes need to be reviewed (for some enterprises, the manufacturing/production process). However, each external process connects into the manufacturing process, therefore, once optimizing each process has been successful, then organizations can optimize joint processes for further efficiencies. An example of optimizing joint business processes can be connecting your customers to your inventory, thus enabling faster moving inventory, and reducing the need for DIO. Similarly, on the supply-side, provide your suppliers visibility into your inventory and manufacturing requirements and enable the suppliers to replenish the inventory based on services levels.
Some organizations are basing performance bonuses on working capital improvement, thus tying personal income to this specific business metric — a smart strategy. Organizations need to continue to think smarter. In several successful working capital initiatives, the sweeping organizational change is making the team pro-active vs. reactive. On the customer side, for example, some organizations (poor performers) do not realize a customer invoice is late until it is past due. By the time the collections team is aware of a specific delay in payment, they are too late — this payment from the customer may not happen for another 60 days. This can be referred to be as a reactive process. Organizations at the top-levels of working capital performance improve DSO by reviewing invoices prior to sending them to the customer. The review goes beyond just formatting and syntax to determine if the invoice matches a customer’s purchase order. In the event the invoice does not match, the collections team is notified and corrective action can be taken before the customer sees the error. By viewing collections within the order-to-cash process as a proactive process, successful enterprises transform the collections team and thus reduce time-to-receipt (payment).
Leverage various technologies
Technology can be double-edged sword. If an enterprise automates the process of manually generating invoices, and the invoices are incorrect 10% of the time, then automating causes the error to happen much faster. Key sets of technologies to leverage are a combination of automation, business process management (BPM) and a workflow-based system. Automation can come in numerous forms from a variety of vendors — from infrastructure providers, B2B integration providers, and providers of e-procurement and e-invoicing solutions to automate the various processes affecting DPO/DSO. Some of these technologies also support varying degrees of BPM, or a stand-alone BPM technology may be deployed, depending on the level of analysis required to analyze any information sent to customers/suppliers. Once such analysis is complete, the workflow-based system can be utilized to route any potential issues to proper personal within the organization.
The high performers in working capital, as measured by days working capital (DWC), improve the DWC by being pro-active vs. re-active in the various business processes which can directly impact this metric and it’s sub-metrics (DPO/DIO/DSO). However, the improvement is not accomplished by just addressing a single facet — process, technology or people, the improvement occurs by addresses all three facets simultaneously. Addressing all three facets enables the proactive management of the business processes, which contribute to improvement of working capital.