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Face to Face

With Ian Smith, General Manager, Invu

Q: So Invu was established back in 1997, tell me a bit about how the company has developed in that timeIan Smith3

A: Well, it’s been quite a journey! Going back 20 years, the company was thought of as something of a rising star. Invu was at the vanguard of the “paperless office” as scanners arrived and turned paper into digital documents. But organisations soon discovered that didn’t mean that some of the issues associated with paper processing instantly went away. So there was need for electronic document management (EDM) to stop the paper chaos becoming digital chaos. Filing and storing documents is only a benefit if they can be quickly and reliably retrieved. Most people find it hard to be passionate about documents, but they can become extremely passionate about a particular document if they can’t find it!

In the early days it was logical to partner with resellers and by 2008 the company was showing significant growth. However, with the financial crisis later that year, we suffered some significant losses, and our founder left the company. I joined in 2009 and along with a new CEO, we had to right size the company. Although this was a painful experience, it offered us the opportunity to be able to take a good look at the strategy and structure of the company from the ground up. We changed both our route to market and our product strategy and began to focus on software as a solution to business problems, like the challenges in efficiency, visibility and control in accounts payable. To execute this strategy we needed a partner for document capture and so began our partnership with ABBYY. We have continued to address other business problems in this area, for example in purchase requisitioning and ordering, with our POP software. The difference this time is that our interaction with customers is direct and so our growth is based on spreading out and building on our existing offerings utilising specific customer requirements.

Q: So when you started in 2009, just after the difficulties, things must have been challenging. So what attracted you to the organisation?

A: My background is in start-ups and this was my first turnaround project. I started my career at Arthur Anderson, and choose the small business unit, specifically because I wanted to meet and work with entrepreneurs. From there, I’ve worked in larger growth companies internationally, including living in the USA (Boston and LA) for 7 years and in in Switzerland for 3 years and then went through a successful IPO, as employee number 20, at Cambridge based nCipher. When I joined Invu, the strategy needed was the same as if it had been a start-up. I love the opportunity to fix things. But it wasn’t easy, we first needed to half the size of the company and focus on our core software product; where we were strong. We’ve always had a fantastic reputation in document management and workflow, so I knew that the future of the company was based on reliable software, with a solid customer base who trusted us. I just had to focus on cash flow and operating efficiency.

Q: Yes, you’re both CEO and Finance Director – do you see a future where Finance Directors take a more rounded role in general – not just looking at company finance?

A: Yes, I think so. Obviously it will depend on the type of organisation and its corporate culture – but these days, it’s not so unusual to find Finance Directors and CFOs moving into the CEO role. The FD gets involved in all areas of the business and this experience lends itself very well to the requirement on CEO’s to contribute to the business as a whole not just their area of expertise. In my own case, the executive team make most of the decisions as a team of three – something that gives depth and vision to each major move that we make. The traditional view of accountants as being bean counters, lacking in the skills needed to take on the calculated risks necessary to grow a business has passed.

Q: So how does that change inform the products or solutions that you create at Invu?

A: We’re seeing departmental silos breaking down, changing the functions carried out by departments and the management style that goes with them. Partly that’s something that’s been driven by technology – for example the ability to link elements of procurement to accounts payable and get a better visibility of the workflow, creating efficiencies through joined up processes and less touch points. And of course, our products respond to the changes in the marketplace, helping organisations to get what they need out of their processing.

Q: OK, that’s good to hear – so you’d say that Invu was well placed to respond to changes in the industry?

A: Well, yes. We spend roughly £600k on R&D each year. What’s great and what motivates us is the desire to keep on learning from customers about their problems and developing solutions that meet their needs. Once you lose that desire, you may as well stop. So we’re always looking for a creative way to deal with a customer’s problem and always listening. Just recently we’ve launched our supplier portal which we showcased at eWorld in March.

Q: That sounds interesting. So what are the growth ambitions for the company?

A: Our ambitions in the payables and purchasing arena include increasing supplier visibility of the purchasing and payables process and continuing our expansion into the cloud. We believe the future remains as a hybrid of both cloud and on premise solutions, and we’ll look to offer that.

With Rachel Griffiths, Business Process Consultant, Canon

Q: Forging a career out of Accounts Payable is not necessarily an obvious career path – what’s your journey been like?rachel griffiths2

A: Well, I’m lucky in that it’s been a journey that’s taken me down several different paths, each one connected to the last, but providing me with a pretty unique insight into lots of related functions such as supply chain, procurement, sales, credit control and fraud. It actually all started aged 17 on a YTS scheme where a position as an Accounts Office Junior exposed me to just about everything, but most of it was AP. Luckily for me, when the FD left – he took me with him. But it wasn’t until my job with Orange that I realised to be effective, you need to think of AP as a customer service and networking role within the business.

I went with Orange to a role in Australia where my natural curiosity and “challenge everything” approach to business lead me to uncover a AUS$16m fraud! Of course a discovery of that magnitude needed a great deal of research and analytical back up as evidence – which I then had to present to the board.

However, it was my jump into Australian construction firm, Australand as Head of Shared Services that really gave me something to sink my teeth into. Everything was paid by cheque. My love of analytics and perseverance in looking for a better way, led to a complete overhaul of processes and systems and I loved it. But, I felt I needed a change and to be honest, I got a little fed up with CFOs who couldn’t accept my unconventional route into the industry, and decided to go into pre sales, joining Converga in 2010. Sometimes in business you have to be lucky – and my break was teaming up with the best sales person I’ve ever worked with and in 3 months I’d sold 7 deals. While I was there I convinced Converga to partner with Palette and because I immediately saw the value of the product I persuaded our CEO to include the Palette solution in the 7 deals I’d already sold. Then in 2015 Canon bought out Converga, which was timely for me as I was moving back to the UK – and secured a position as a Business Process Consultant with Canon in the London offices.

Q: You’ve obviously had a very varied experience – but what was it about AP and the related functions that made you stay with it?
A: I just found it easy – easy in that it came naturally to me. I’m still astonished by how many companies do it very badly. I like to go in and observe, see what needs changing or what works well. The beauty of AP is that you can have an immediate impact. And one of my personality traits is to be a fixer, to make everything right. So a job working with or alongside AP suits me perfectly.

Q: What do you think the major changes have been?

A: Sometimes I think one of the more remarkable things about AP is actually how little has changed. The mechanics might have done, but the principles are exactly the same. However one of the things which is different is the rise in visibility and accountability. Historically AP were blamed for everything and were working in a position where that couldn’t be challenged. These days, the increase in automation sheds light onto processes and offers levels of traceability that simply weren’t possible before, resulting in an increase in analytics and reporting. The most interesting point about that is what it’s done for the AP role. Being able to analyse data and use that to present ideas that will be good for business, has lead to a better appreciation of the role of AP as well as give rise to a higher profile within the organisation. AP is sometimes viewed as a breeding ground for accountants, when really it’s more akin to a customer service role. But in customer service you don’t get to make significant improvements that can make a real difference. At the end of the day, there’s got to be something special/different/important about AP – otherwise there probably wouldn’t be so many conferences that can attract thousands of attendees to them.

Q: Yes, no doubt that’s true! What difference do you think P2P collaboration is making to the profession?

A: To a large extent, the success of a collaboration project is down to the individuals concerned. Regardless of a P2P department’s aims, a disinterested manager, or a sceptical C-Suite will scupper any attempts at collaboration. To be truly collaborative you have to work with procurement in a way that all parties can see the purpose and the gains that can be made. Of course the synchronised tech has a huge part to play in this.

Q: So you’re now at Canon’s London office – they’re well known for their cameras of course, but less so for their P2P solutions. What attracted you to the role?

A: Well, it’s not quite the departure that you think it is. In many ways the P2P solution is just an extension of what Canon has been doing forever. And without sounding salesy, of course the brand name is one that’s synonymous with quality. The role offered an opportunity to use all the experience I’ve had to date and help organisations and the people within them to find a better way to do things. In other words, I took it because it was perfect for me! As word’s getting out, the pipeline has grown and the take up of the solutions has been exciting.

Q: You’ve come a long way from those YTS days, so what are your plans for the future?

A: More of the same! Really, it’s just to keep doing what I’m doing. The industry is constantly changing and while I’m still learning and helping people and fixing things,  then there are many years ahead. What’s really exciting now is where the solutions are going, and increasingly I’m right at the heart of that too. As I’m often at the coal face, I can relay any challenges and ideas back in development. These days I sit down with our Head of R&D once a month and it’s so exciting when problems that were shared at a meeting with a client, or potential client, turn into a solution to fix it. It’s so satisfying to plug that solution in and make any pain go away.


Face to Face with David Griffiths, CEO FISCAL Technologies

Q: So FISCAL has been in business for around 13 years. What’s the journey been like?david griffiths - new2

A: Well, it’s been incredibly fast-paced and over the last eight years in particular, we’ve grown tremendously – no mean feat when you consider how tumultuous those years have been for the global economy. But what’s seen us through is the strength of the product, passionate and superb staff and our commitment to our customers. And you know what - that’s a winning combination. Watching our brand presence grow from strength to strength is something which I’m very proud of.

Ad van der Poel – SVP, Financing Services, Basware

You joined Basware almost a year ago, from a long background in the payments industry – what kind of initiatives are you hoping to drive at Basware?ad van der poel 2

Well, one of the things banks struggle with is the ability to add additional data to a payment, which is something that’s so desired by clients so that they can get a full view of the transaction. And the other issue is that you’re often just one part of a long chain on the client side. My most recent position was with Bank of America Merrill Lynch – but prior to that I was Head of Innovation at ING, and we were very aware that the payment element was now a commodity, so the big question was - how do we stay relevant for the client?

And we thought the answer was probably to move up the chain, to integrate more with invoices for example. But at that point, the culture or the timing didn’t work out for the bank – but it was an idea which really captivated me. I truly believe that we can merge what’s going on in the AP and invoicing space together with what payments and finance can do.  I don’t think anyone’s found the perfect answer yet, but the opportunity at Basware came along and I thought – that’s exactly the space I want to be in.