How commodities companies can solve back-office staffing challenges

Changes in the labor market call for automated document processing

In times of upheaval, people tend to reassess their priorities, and the pandemic has been no exception. Unprecedented numbers of workers are leaving jobs because they don’t provide enough flexibility, satisfaction, pay or opportunities. As of the end of March 2022, there were a whopping 11.5 million job vacancies — the highest ever to go on record.

Dealing with the labor shortage and retention issues has been especially difficult for many commodities businesses due to a heavy reliance on manual document processing. Manually managing trade confirmations, invoices, inventory statements, bills of lading and numerous other documents received every day requires junior-level workers that are hard to retain, and even harder to find.

This results in a vicious cycle: When the documents pile up, a domino effect ensues which impacts supplier payments, inventory management, hedging and numerous other critical functions. The staff left holding the ball becomes overwhelmed, burns out, and looks for new job opportunities, leading to even greater operational bottlenecks.

The key to escaping this no-win situation? Changing how the documents are processed.

Solving staffing challenges with intelligent automation solutions

Transitioning to intelligent document processing (IDP) dramatically reduces the time employees need to spend on manual tasks by automating data entry and reconciliation. Freepoint Commodities, for instance, has reduced the time staff used to spend manually reconciling bills of lading, invoices, inventory statements and other documents by 75% using the ClearDox intelligent documentation automation solution.

IDP software solutions address staffing challenges while providing additional, significant benefits that enable companies to improve their bottom lines. Key advantages of IDP solutions include:

Fast processing – regardless of headcount
With an intelligent automation solution, large volumes of documents can be rapidly processed no matter how few employees are involved, eliminating bottlenecks that slow business down and prevent teams from having the accurate information they need to make important decisions.

Improved employee satisfaction and retention
Staff whose time was previously consumed with tedious manual work can be refocused on projects that deliver higher value to the company while increasing job satisfaction— and ultimately employee retention rates.

One example of this is ClearDox customer Gulf Oil. Commercial controller Mike Kelliher comments, “Employees once spending five to fifteen minutes processing one invoice now have more time to focus on high-value activities like analysis. This has led to more engaging and fulfilling work for them.”

Reduced costs
Hiring is a costly endeavor even in the best of labor markets, but ongoing staffing costs are significantly steeper: A Goldman Sachs report puts the annual cost of labor and other expenses related just to manual invoice processing at $2.7 trillion. Moving to an intelligent automation solution enables companies to eliminate the majority of these costs even as document volumes increase.

Less operational and financial risk
Automation eliminates the human errors that are unavoidable with manual processes. This ensures every report generated and decision made is based on accurate data. It also mitigates the chance that costly mistakes will slip by, only to be noticed weeks or months later when irreparable damage has been done.

How intelligent automation solutions work

Intelligent automation solutions use technologies including optical character recognition (OCR), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) to quickly extract data from paper or digital documents. Once the data is extracted, it can be reconciled against data in another platform, then integrated into CTRM, accounts payable or other downstream systems. 

Staff only need to get involved when a discrepancy is detected during the reconciliation process. Some intelligent automation solutions like ClearDox will proactively alert staff about discrepancies so immediate action can be taken to resolve them.

These solutions are capable of handling all document formats — structured, semi-structured or unstructured — and can easily scale to automate new processes as business needs evolve.

Adapting is vital

It’s unclear if and when the shifts needed to address the current labor market issues will occur. Adapting to staffing challenges by changing the things that can be controlled is vital to maximizing operational efficiency, and ultimately profitability.

Automating document processing enables commodities companies to not just address hiring and retention issues, but also to reap efficiencies and savings that are just not possible when documents are manually processed, no matter how many people are thrown at the task.

Read our white paper to learn more about why automating back-office processes must be a priority for commodities companies, and the dangers of using manual processes to manage common back-office functions.

How automating back-office processes helps commodities companies thrive in turbulent times

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