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Artificial Intelligence Service Automates Accounts Payable for NHS Trusts

A new online portal, designed to help suppliers resolve invoice queries without any human interaction, will soon be available to all NHS Trusts, having been trialled since October of last year with the help of 12 of the NHS’s largest suppliers.

The unique Accounts Payable portal, developed by ELFS Shared Services (ELFS) and Brightmast, a leading UK-based cognitive and artificial intelligence (AI) software provider, will help suppliers resolve invoice issues and queries without the need for any human intervention, markedly reducing call and email volumes from suppliers into Accounts Payable teams across the NHS – saving time and money for both the NHS Trusts and their suppliers.

After a simple registration process, suppliers can access the portal which uses AI to interactively answer queries and resolve issues that would normally be handled by Accounts Payable teams in NHS Trusts and the ELFS shared service centre on behalf of its NHS partners.

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The successful pilot saw the significant reduction of call and email volumes into ELFS as suppliers were able to engage using the AI-enabled ASK AP portal and address problems that couldn’t be solved using self-service technology from ERP software suppliers.   For the 800 suppliers that have so far registered to use the new service, AI is handling over 80% of their queries, which is freeing up staff time to deal with more pressing and complex issues.  The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and has resolved over 70,000 queries to date and the plan is to bring 6,000 suppliers to the NHS onto the ASK AP service.

By using AI, ELFS has proved that AI can automate front line services and work collaboratively with its Accounts Payable team who have been major advocates on bringing the technology into the shared service centre.  ASK AP is supporting 15 Trusts and ELFS plans to expand the number of Trusts using the service by making the portal available to Trusts not currently using shared services and providing their finance function in-house.

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Graham Gornall, Managing Director of ELFS said:

“Dealing with suppliers and keeping the supply chain running for the NHS is of huge importance at this very difficult time for all of us.  With suppliers and NHS organisations sending staff home with the pandemic, being able to use ASK AP to resolve invoice issues has been a huge benefit to the NHS and suppliers alike.  We were fortunate to have completed the pilots and gone live before the lock-down hit, which meant transitioning to use the Portal has been incredibly easy.  Feedback from suppliers has been superb and we are seeing many of them switch to using the portal exclusively.  For staff in the Accounts Payable team, it’s meant a better-quality working environment with less pressure and more time to focus on the things that really matter in terms of the quality of service we provide to our Trust partners.  We now plan to offer the ASK AP service to all Trusts in the NHS, and it will mean for those who don’t want to embrace shared services, they can keep their Accounts Payable function in-house but benefit from this technology at a very low cost and start their own automation journeys. Using automation to unlock innovation is now more important than ever for the NHS.”

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Simon Robinson, CEO of Brightmast added:

“We are absolutely delighted with the way in which we have partnered with the ELFS team to build this AI service.  The latest upgrade by ELFS to the Brightmast Cognision AI Cloud and tools will enable ELFS to build more applications and offer new kinds of services to its Trust partners without the massive burden of having to learn complex programming languages.  By also being able to offer ASK AP to Trusts running their finance function in-house is also a major step forward for the NHS as it begins to embrace more advanced forms of automation.  With cognitive technologies now at the forefront of the automation race ELFS is very firmly demonstrating it’s a leader in this field.

The Brightmast cognitive application ecosystem (Cognision) was designed specifically to support organisations like ELFS and the wider NHS, making the technology affordable and accessible will revolutionise the way their people work and engage so they can focus on the things that matter most in the business.”

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