The ‘New Normal:’ How Laguna Niguel has made its finance department virtual
When Governor Newsom declared shelter-in-place for California on March 20, 2020, a number of employees from the Laguna Niguel – like many across the state – suddenly had to make plans to work from home.
I am the “process guy” in the public works department, and my role is to look at new processes and workflows using technology to make things better. So, I immediately sprang into action to learn how to best support a distributed workforce.
In addition to making sure our employees had the hardware they needed to be successful at home (laptops, etc.) we also had to review the different mission critical processes of our city and then match them up with software that could be used in a remote environment. In short, we had to institute paperless systems so processes could still run while the team is distributed.
One of the most important processes that needed to stay intact despite a work from home policy, was city finances, accounts payable in particular. I did some research and found two helpful articles online “Coronavirus Essentials: 9 Tips for Effectively Managing Remote Employees” and “Coronavirus is a Wake-Up call for Remote Accounts Payable Capabilities” which helped me think through remote AP management.
Prior to COVID-19, and our shift to working from home, we processed invoices manually and stored digital copies once fully approved and ready for payment. Since we receive invoices by mail and manually code and route for approvals, we needed to find a solution where these steps could be done remotely. We also wanted something that would support our current approval processes versus having our teams adjust to a new process.
We were looking for several things in a solution including:
- The ability to delegate invoice approvals to another user if the primary person was on vacation or unavailable.
- The ability to upload/send invoices to one platform and have them coded using AI; thus, enabling us to process invoices digitally and saving us time on data entry.
- Transparency in the approval process.
- An intuitive vendor portal that assigned tracking numbers to each invoice and gave an update in real time.
- The ability to upload vendor contracts into the system for each vendor means we can have everything at our fingertips instead of having to go into Office 365 or into a local file share to find stuff. This is especially useful when working remotely.
Stampli fit all these requirements – in addition to not requiring more than a month commitment – so we engaged with them on the new process, starting with the Public Works Department as a “pilot” project.
The implementation process started with support from the city manager’s office who understood the importance of rethinking and redefining our city’s existing workflows in consideration of social distancing and a remote workforce. Next, a conversation with our finance department and public works department staff helped start the dialogue about how Stampli will help users feel more involved and accountable for the process.
Currently, we are in the process of setting up table templates in Stampli that will allow us to assign multiple account codes by vendor, followed by staff training and use cases with management input. To capture suggestions and create a positive feedback loop, an internal staff survey will be introduced after one month, and again another three months in. If the “pilot” implementation is successful for the public works department, the process will begin for other city departments.
COVID-19 was the catalyst for us to quickly adopt a new invoice management solution, but our old, existing workflow needed to change anyway. We spend a lot of our time uploading and processing invoices as well as doing quality control. Implementing AP automation tools creates important efficiencies in our organization to allow staff more time to work on other critical work to continue to improve the quality of life in Laguna Niguel.
Russell Narahara is the management analyst for Laguna Niguel, Calif.