SQL upgrades: Why you need a roadmap
21 August 2018
“For a shipping agency, I would say we are “ahead of the game’’ when it comes to information technology and infrastructure”
- Monique Grobler, Commercial Manager, Monson
Monson is an Australian shipping agency that’s been servicing bulk vessels globally for more than 30 years. In a complex port environment where a ‘one size fits all’ approach is impossible, Monson provides a vital service - one point of personalised contact for shipping operators to get all their specific needs met when vessels call at all key ports in Australia.
The logistics involved with processing ocean vessels from pre-arrival to departure are highly complex, with many moving parts. Monson’s personalised service ensures a seamless experience for their customers. Managing the details and complexity behind the scenes is Monson’s business, and to ensure a simple experience for their vessel operator customers, they need the skills and technology to maintain a high level of quality and consistency to ensure repeat business. Monson knows having the right IT is a business asset rather than a cost centre. The need to exceed the high standards expected by customers means Monson is always looking for technology-backed processes to stay ahead of competitors by providing a professional, world-class shipping agency service.
Monson’s established history and service set them apart from the competition. It means customers trust Monson to be reliable in the face of a lot of unknowns when vessels load at an international port. While their service was great, behind the scenes Monson’s finance system and settlement process was inefficient and was a weak link in their otherwise seamless process.
While the majority of Monson’s IT systems were online and integrated across the different business processes, its accounting system hadn’t been updated and was working in isolation. This meant the finance team was having to use a number of time-consuming and manual workarounds to bill customers.
Monson wanted a new financial software system that would integrate all of its data to enable timely and accurate billing and settlement with vessel operators and free up finance staff to focus more on increasing productivity.
Monson carries out a long varied list of services for its vessel operator customers, the main ones are outlined in the diagram below:
When an appointment is received, the above tasks are all planned, estimated and organised. The costs of each vessel port visit are usually pre-funded by the vessel operator based on the port estimates and ultimately Monson bills/refunds the difference once all the costs are finalised. This wrap up of the activities, costs and final settlement position is called the disbursement process.
Details of the activities and costs are collated and disbursed to the vessel operators and related parties. Like most shipping agencies, their disbursement process was all still manual. It included a mixture of hand typed letters and spreadsheets. This approach was challenging when dealing with a number of business exceptions against an already complicated task list. The risk of human error was high and resource intensive, taking staff a long time to pull everything together. Customer specific requirements like GST inclusive/exempt status were challenging. Inconsistencies between the systems and data were frequently left unresolved, with staff resource stretched by all the manual processing. Monson knew it needed a more efficient and consistent system to ensure customers were having a professional experience at all stages of their experience with the shipping agent.
Sandfield was tasked with developing and deploying a new accounting and settlement solution, integrating Monson’s existing vessel system and automating their complex customer disbursement process.
‘On Account’ (OA) is Sandfield’s own cutting edge finance and management accounting solution. The browser-based software program has highly configurable accounting, tax and reporting capabilities.
Ideal for Monson, OA enables detailed reporting to support a complex variety of management, customer and supplier requirements.
The Sandfield team configured OA to integrate with existing vessel systems and details - meaning there was now only one source of true data to communicate accurately and quickly with all of its partners and customers.
As invoices are entered and matched to cost estimates, the invoices are scanned and automatically stored against the invoice transaction in the new system e.g. when an email disbursement report is created by OA, the scanned images of all related invoices paid by Monson are automatically added to the PDF file document to support the disbursement claim. Previously, the related invoices would be manually pulled out of files, photocopied and incorporated into a printed document package mailed or faxed to the customer. The OA-generated billing reports ensure Monson customers receive a much more professional package delivered on time and with consistently high-quality data and information.
OA allows unique businesses like Monson to efficiently and inexpensively address specific requirements, with minimal customisation.
Before OA, Monson would have to employ additional accounts staff to match increased vessel volume. The efficiencies the OA system has brought to the business has meant despite an increase in vessel volume, no additional staff has been needed to manage the growth, OA has it covered. This means significant time and cost savings.
The capabilities of Monson’s new accounting system has meant the value OA provides is more like a customer experience system in the seamless process it enables between staff and customer.
The high quality and timeliness of disbursements provide an accurate and transparent billing record for customers, who can be confident that what they owe is consistent and correct.
“The shipping industry is traditionally very paper orientated and slow to move to automated cloud based systems, however as technology changes you are forced to move with it and I believe we stand out from our competitors”
- Monique Grobler, Commercial Manager, Monson
Changes made in the vessel system including planned activities for ships and estimated costs are now passed through to OA automatically. This ensures that OA always has the very latest details from source systems. OA then supports the process of matching these activities and estimates to actual cost invoices as they are processed, automating the cost approval process.
OA means the Monson finance team can adapt at scale from smaller jobs to those with great complexity. The team is now able to create accurate documents and cope with changes on the fly, OA has made the small tasks easy. This ease goes across their workflow, with data integrated across the cover letter and invoice and all generated into a single document package.
Productivity has been hugely increased for the team. Staff have been able to evolve their tasks from manual processing of disbursements to double checking the outputs of automated disbursements - ensuring human intervention is only required in exceptional cases.
The Monson team has found the disbursement capability a highlight of the new system, saving the team many hours of manual accounting preparation. They’ve also found greater efficiencies and accuracies with the integration of their vessel estimating system on the Accounts Payable side.
The professional billing package customers receive maintains Monson’s USP as a trusted partner providing outstanding service for its customers, ensuring Monson remains a preferred choice.
OA has made the complex simple for Monson, it meets the unique and varied requirements of the shipping agent’s business, while also managing to provide a standard approach and drive workflow efficiencies.