[Case Study] A Winning Formula for combining AI with process automation

Deemed as one of the marvels of the 21st century, Artificial Intelligence (AI), is predicted to open a gateway of opportunities for new businesses. The reality is that smart companies are implementing AI in existing processes today to ensure they are well-positioned to deal with a threatening and hyper-competitive business landscape. In 2019, growing Australian company Civium undertook a journey with solutions provider Winning Formula to deploy AI and robotic process automation (RPA) to deliver new levels of efficiency throughout the business, including in invoice processing, for its operations in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra.

Since launching in Canberra, ACT in 2003, the Australian family-owned company has expanded from a successful Commercial and Residential Real Estate Agency to now also providing Residential and Commercial Property Management all down the east coast.

As it grew to handle a growing volume of invoices, more than 150,000 per calendar year for thousands of properties under management, Civium found it was struggling with a legacy of manual processes in its financial operations.

There were individual approval processes for each state in Australia where Civium operates, which were further complicated by the need to incorporate external parties in the process. So, for instance a plumber submitting an invoice to repair a faulty tap in a kitchen at a block of flats would need to pass through a specified number of approvers in the Strata Body Corporate before reaching Civium for approval and payment.

Each invoice for a particular service needed to be identified as a particular General Ledger (GL) item and allocated to a specific property under management. This required 6-8 staff at an outsourced facility to perform manual matching by reading each line item on each invoice and interpreting which GL code it should be allocated to.   

The vast majority of line items were plain text without any coding so traditional RPA tools would not have been able to automate this process as they cannot deal with unstructured data.

Another challenge was that GL items are different from one property under management to another. For instance, mowing the lawn could be allocated to ‘Maintenance’ GL for one building and ‘Gardening’ for another.

Civium had been managing with a custom-developed strata management solution but turned to Winning Formula in 2019 to develop a new way forward.

Civium CEO and founder Doug O'Mara said, “Being a reasonably small but innovative company, we had always invested in tech but never to the level we have over the last few years.  This was the single largest investment our company has made in 20 years other than acquisitions.

“We had already embraced an OCR system for a number of years, which while on face value did a reasonable job it was in effect requiring us to do a number of QA checks that meant we lost a lot of the efficiencies we had been expecting.

“I understand we are the first company in Australia to have combined AI in this way with OCR and RPA for invoice processing, which is ground-breaking and testament to Winning Formula's capability in this area.

“Since we began in 2019 we have built out 35 digital processes that were previously done by individuals. The quality and accuracy of our accounting service in particular is now second to none.”

The Winning Formula solution integrates ABBYY FlexiCapture with a range of Microsoft RPA, AI and workflow tools to provide complete end-to-end intelligent automation.

After the invoice data (including line items) has been recognised by ABBYY FlexiCapture, the data is fed by robots to a purposely trained AI Natural Language Processing engine (utilising Microsoft NLP capabilities) to “understand” the plain text line items and “interpret” which GL code they should be allocated to.

Approval workflows are then initiated to gain required approvals from internal and external parties as per policies and regulations for each building and state.

Digital approval workflows have been developed in Microsoft PowerAutomate.

Winning Formula describe themselves as “technology mixologists” tapping into best of breed Intelligent Automation platforms to build optimum solutions that are easy to maintain, deliver best possible ROI and a great experience to internal and external users.

Wassim Soliman, Managing Director - Winning Formula, said “Leveraging ABBYY’s world-class capabilities in OCR/ICR/Doc Classification with Microsoft’s strong Document Storage, Workflow and AI capabilities, together with streamlined processes, delivered a great, scalable solution for Civium.”

For further information contact ABBYY Australia on +61 (02) 9004 7401 or ​sales@abbyy.com.au