With 38 properties in six states, Nolan Real Estate Services was already a dedicated user of RealPage products when one of their user conference attendees dropped in on a session about the Document Management system. She recognized immediately how the system could help Nolan streamline its old-fashioned process of handling and organizing vendor invoices, and before long, the company had added Document Management to its RealPage suite and begun rolling it out to its properties.
We spoke with Catrina Duty, who in her asset management role at Nolan has dealt with invoices on a daily basis – both before and after the adoption of the Document Management system. She described the changes for us.
"It really comes down to the difference between a paper record and an electronic record," says Duty. "Paper just isn’t an efficient way to send, store and organize records for later retrieval."
At Nolan, all vendor invoices are sent directly to the Nolan home office. Because many of these had to be forwarded to the properties, home offices employees previously spent time copying and organizing them for sending, then spent money overnighting them to the properties. "It was a time and money sink," says Duty. "Invoices for things like utilities, locators, legal fees, all sorts of things, had to go to the properties."
But perhaps worse was the problem of physically tracking down the necessary invoices for various auditing functions, once they were stored in file cabinets. "You could only do auditing and cost-control to a certain depth without overwhelming the accounting clerks who had to pull the records," says Duty. "Asking them to locate, copy and send hundreds of invoices just wasn’t practical. So there were both the direct costs of paper inefficiency, and the indirect costs of limited information retrievability."
"Now, when invoices come in, we just scan them, and they go into the appropriate folders where the sites can view the ones they need," says Duty. "We’ve totally eliminated the copying and sending."
Not only does the home office staff appreciate the difference, but so do Nolan’s on-site professionals. "They can pull up the invoices in an organized way, right on their computers, rather than opening overnight envelopes, then having to organize and file the paper."
The actual processing of invoices for payment has become a smooth, streamlined process. But Duty gives several examples of the less visible but equally important benefit of easy access to records.
"One of my projects was a cost/benefit analysis of irrigation systems that are not submetered," says Duty. "To do this, I had to pull all of the related utility bills; this is the sort of thing that would have been impossible before these bills were converted to electronic records."
"In another case, at one of our properties, water bills had doubled while rates had increased only 20%, and we needed to know why. If I had made the accounting clerks pull all the paper invoices I needed to do the audit, they would have been very upset!"
Another area of marked improvement for Duty has been reviewing financial statements, which she goes through with a "fine-toothed comb" each month, to make sure all expenses are coded correctly. For example, she explains, a site professional may simply type in "plumbing" for a new toilet, resulting in its not being classed as a capital expense.
"The person in my role prior to me had only the expense descriptions typed in at the sites to go by," Duty says. "It would have taken her forever to track down the original invoices to see if any expenses needed to be re-classed to another code, so it simply wasn’t done. But today, I can look at the original invoices with a few clicks."
Of course, accounts payable is only one area the Document Management system is designed to address. An even larger area of benefit is the leasing process, with its torrent of associated paperwork, and Nolan is now in the early stages of "going electronic" with leasing as well. But for now, Duty says, the company is quite happy with the benefits they’ve derived thus far from the system. "It has made a world of difference already," she concludes.