AF Group – UK’s largest farmer-owned buyers’ group relies on Filestream’s EDMS to manage the storing & indexing of 480,000 invoices each year

7th December 2017

» Press Releases » AF Group – UK’s largest farmer-owned buyers’ group relies on Filestream’s EDMS to manage the storing & indexing of 480,000 invoices each year

UK’s largest farmer-owned buyers’ group relies on Filestream’s EDMS to manage the storing & indexing of 480,000 invoices each year

December 7, 2017 – Filestream announces that the largest not-for-profit agricultural purchasing organisation in the UK, AF Group, is using its electronic document management software (EDMS) to manage all the storage and indexing of invoices which total around 480,000 per year.

With a turnover in excess of £230 million annually, The AF Group (AF) purchases around 10% of the UK’s total farm inputs on behalf of its 3,500 stakeholder members. Working with 1,900 suppliers, it procures 200,000 tonnes of fertiliser, 80 million litres of fuel, 105,000 tonnes of livestock feed, 500 cars and over £2 million worth of tyres. In addition, AF manages 14,000 mobile phone and 5,o00 fixed lines contracts.

With its headquarters in Norfolk, AF formed in January 2003 as a result of the merger of two long established buying groups – Loddon Farmers and Mid Norfolk Farmers.

Alex Morton, AF’s operations manager, says, “We get greater buying power for our members through economies of scale, with an efficient back office service reducing their administrative overheads. It means farmers can get on and farm rather than dealing with all the invoicing and accounting tasks related to the purchasing of equipment and supplies for their businesses.”

EDMS solves the paper handling process each month

With so many transactions and a membership growing year on year, managing the invoice process was a paper handling headache given that most came by post. Each month, AF used to collate all the invoices from suppliers, photocopy and then post the members the originals as a printed consolidated pack with a statement outlining the amount due. Self-evidently, this was hugely laborious, time-consuming, inefficient and error prone.

To solve this, AF has worked closely with suppliers so that many now submit invoices electronically – via either email or XML – with an EDMS from Filestream purchased to store and index them. Today, 40% of invoices are processed via XML up from 20% in 2015. Error rates with billing are just 0.4% – an impressive figure given the quantity of invoices received. Paper invoices received are scanned and stored in File Stream, too.

File Stream integrates with AF’s bespoke built CRM called AFi which allows all staff in the office to view any invoice related to a supplier or member at the touch of a button. The use of XML also means that staff avoid having to rekey information into its systems thereby improving data capture.

Alex Morton says, “We’re trying to extract more data from our invoices so we can complete further analysis about what we’re buying. Historically, if an invoice was received with 20 or so line items, for example, this would be entered as 1 line and coded to ‘machinery’, which is not very useful. Now we use a tool called Esker to extract all the detail from a PDF invoice and then business intelligence and data analytics software from Tableau to interrogate this further. This means ultimately we’ll be in a better position to assess at a granular level precisely what we’re buying and then negotiate better prices with suppliers on behalf of our members.”

The use of an EDMS to store copies of all invoices helps AF’s back office staff to automate the generation of members’ eBilling packs each month. Alex Morton says, “Our eBilling process has become quite advanced, allowing us to consolidate 40,000 invoices each month and send packs to each member, 75% of which are e-mailed. Members can also view invoices via a portal called AF Interactive, and then download accounts data straight into their own software packages like Farm Plan.”

While 95% of the content stored in File Stream is invoice related, AF is also using the software to manage other corporate information such as membership renewal forms, contracts and order confirmations.

EDMS delivers clear return on investment

File Stream is delivering five key benefits to AF:

  1. Productivity is enhanced through the removal of paper-based processes. Compared to the volumes in 2003, AF processes about ten times as many invoices each month but with the same number of administrative staff;
  2. Service to members is improved as billing information is provided accurately to them and on time.
  3. Levy costs to members per transaction have been maintained due to the increased efficiency of AF’s back office operation.
  4. Access to accounting and corporate information is quick and easy and available at a touch of a button.
  5. Data retention policies can easily be set in the software so that auditing and compliance rules are met.

Charles Hooker, Filestream’s managing director, says, “Our software is easy to use, flexible and has created a central repository for AF to store invoices and other corporate data. It is an excellent use case example of where EDMS really delivers commercial value given a manual paper-based way of managing invoices has been removed.”

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