‘Sales People Hate Admin’: How Tech Can Cut Paperwork — And Improve Performance

This article was originally published on theguardian.com as part of the SAP Concur and Guardian Labs “Transformational tech tools” campaign.  


Automating processes is enabling clinical and sales staff at Dublin-based medical devices company PEI to devote more time to important work, and the result is award recognition.


A double helping of great news was shared recently at the offices of PEI, on the outskirts of Dublin, with the company receiving two awards in recognition of its achievements. As well as being named one of the best-managed businesses in Ireland in an annual poll by Deloitte, PEI was also voted one of the country’s best small workplaces by the Great Place to Work annual awards. 


“We’ve won the awards for a mixture of our digital processes and our focus on people,” says Michael Keating, the company’s finance director. “Digital helps people to do their jobs better, and we’re all about our people and creating better outcomes for our customers … we have a culture of continuous improvement and curiosity.” 


PEI, a medical devices company, employs more than 100 staff across Ireland and operates in a diverse range of sectors including orthopaedics, orthodontics, sleep, pain management and operating room consumables. PEI’s culture of support and empathy for patients, coupled with a focus on valuing each team member, has continued through more than 50 years of management by the Keily family, down three generations. 


The company, which helps to bring new and innovative products to market, has increasingly found that digitising and automating processes across all aspects of the business is crucial, says Keating. 

Take the company’s work around sleep apnoea, which it carries out as part of a joint-venture with the respiratory specialists ResMed. PEI uses a telemedicine model of support to assist sleep clinicians with the diagnosis, set-up and ongoing care of patients with obstructive sleep apnoea. In order to support the clinicians and patients, PEI put together a multi-disciplinary team to review all the processes and to ensure it provided better outcomes to stakeholders. The result included the development of a new patient-centric app, through which a number of processes are now carried out. 


“It has saved so much time,” Keating says. “Initially there would have been a dozen or more phone calls to support patients through the set up; it was a slow process and the customer didn’t like it.” 


Approximately 2,000 people now use the app every day, with patients able to check their sleep scores remotely, better manage their condition and manage the admin side of their care. 


“It was particularly helpful at the start of Covid, when people with respiratory illness felt so vulnerable,” he says. “We obviously couldn’t see patients face-to-face to help set their devices up, but the app allowed us to do it digitally.” 


Keating has long been a champion of bringing technology into the finance department, too. Automating accounts payable has halved the amount of time the finance team spends on processing paperwork, he says, while invoices are now matched up with receipts and purchase orders automatically too, before going straight through to payment. 


“There’s no need for manual intervention any more, and that’s where the errors used to occur,” he says. “We want our people to be able to add value to the business, not to have to deal with the kind of routine processes that are much better automated.” 


The way the company manages expenses has also been transformed by automation. More than half of PEI’s 100 employees work in sales, and completing expenses was a time-consuming and frustrating process, with missing receipts often slowing payments and hampering company cashflow. 


“Sales people love selling, they hate admin,” says Keating. “By automating expenses we’re making their job easier and less frustrating and saving each of them about four hours a month. Across the whole team that equated to 200 hours, time when the business was paying skilled sales people to sort out their expenses – it was crazy.” 


PEI uses Concur Expense, a cloud-based platform it has adapted with apps to meet specific needs. In PEI’s case this means being able to capture mileage data automatically, and manage benefit in kind (BIK) payments – both tasks were previously carried out separately to expenses. 


The system can also auto-populate expense reports, and integrates with many third-party apps, from airlines to hotels, as well as with existing enterprise resource planning (ERP), HR and accounting software. 


Spend management platforms can also translate spend data into business insights and analysis, help finance teams to manage and reconcile credit card spending, and ensure businesses comply with regulations such as those set by Irish Revenue. 


Technology has moved into the warehouse too, where PEI has introduced radio frequency identification (RFID) to revolutionise stocktaking and keep track of millions of euros worth of medical devices. 


The company found that 30% of its sales and clinical teams’ time was taken up with stock management. Now, instead of scanning each box individually, and matching it up to an inventory, staff simply go into the warehouse with an electronic wand that counts everything automatically in a couple of minutes, cutting the time spent on stock checks by more than 86%. 


“So much of what we are doing is through learning, continuous improvement and ultimately going digital,” adds Keating. “For us, technology is not about replacing people, it’s about enabling them to do their job better.” 


SAP Concur solutions help automate finance processes to free up time for staff, provide insights into spending and future-proof your business. See this eBook to learn more about the benefits of automating your business processes.

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