Case Study

How Ocean Network Express Gained Control of Its Accounts Payable Lifecycle

Following a merger of three different companies, ONE needed to consolidate and standardize an array of disjointed processes. At first, the company was able to compensate for the lack of process cohesion, but then the pandemic happened and everything changed.

Global shipping leader with a complex process architecture

Ocean Network Express (ONE) is the world’s seventh-largest container carrier with active participation in all major global trade lanes with a combined 14,000 onshore and offshore employees. 


ONE was founded following the merger of Japan’s three largest shipping lines in 2017. As of 2023, ONE has a global fleet of over 250 vessels, 244 port calls around the world, and more than 170 weekly services to 120 countries.


The Japanese container transportation and shipping company is headquartered in Singapore with regional headquarters in Hong Kong, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Brazil. 

Fragmented communication led to an inefficient accounts payable process 

Following the merger of three different businesses and the subsequent founding of ONE, it was essential to consolidate and marry the cultures, knowledge, processes, and systems and innovate the resulting company’s routine and operations. 


This was no simple task for this newly formed global shipping leader. In its first years, it became evident that a lack of communication between departments and systems was a great obstacle that would need to be solved in order for ONE to achieve its core values: teamwork, reliability, quality, and customer satisfaction.


As a company that relies on getting shipments to their designated locations on time, a streamlined and efficient accounts payable process plays a critical role in paying vendors on time. However, when it was time to pay their vendors, the process for ONE was anything but streamlined or efficient as processing and approvals ran through three different sub-departments within the finance team. 


In addition to this complex workflow, the newly merged process was primarily decentralized, managed manually, and sometimes involved a lengthy paper trail. The finance team implemented controls and used spreadsheets to keep the process on track, but the work became difficult to manage and standardize.

The process involved managing the hard copy of the invoice, asking for signatures for payment approval, sending the payment approval to another department through email — and sometimes even sending the actual paper itself — so everything was being handled in a manual way.
Sérgio Marques
Processes and Projects Analyst

How the pandemic created new challenges for ONE

In spite of the inefficiencies and gaps in communication, ONE’s finance team was able to make do with their existing accounts payable workflow only because every team involved worked in the same office


But then something happened at the beginning of 2020 that made the cracks in communication and collaboration too fragile to ignore: the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Shortly after the team began working from home, the process became unmanageable and an obstacle to seamless communication between the many interwoven finance sub-departments and systems.


As time went by, it became harder for the team to know whether an email related to an invoice or payment was actually received or noticed, so the finance team began to grow worried about the long-term impact the immediate workaround would have on all related processes, as well as the quality of work they provided.


It became clear that they needed a platform, system, or tool to fit all of their processes in this new reality. That’s when Sérgio Marques, ONE’s LATAM Processes and Projects Analyst, realized the team needed help overcoming the coordination hurdles posed by long email threads and mismatched execution plans.

We tried finding workarounds to our problems. We started online forms to gather information, using email to exchange data and communicate. It was not ideal, but it at least covered what we were needing, and that was the communication. But with everyone working from home, the number of requests kept increasing and soon it became too difficult to manage the work and the communication.
Sérgio Marques
Processes and Projects Analyst

Finding the right solution for centralization and orchestration

Pipefy’s capability to centralize all communication within a single platform was what initially caught the attention of the finance team at ONE, but it was its process orchestration capabilities and ability to allow visibility into all operations that convinced them this was the right solution. 


After learning more about ONE’s challenges, the Pipefy team created a protoype process to provide Sérgio with a test environment in an effort to confirm that the solutions to their challenges were possible within the platform. After running the prototype, the team understood how Pipefy could help with their primary issue: communication. 

Anchor aweigh for ONE: moving past spreadsheet sprawl and endless email threads

Prior to Pipefy, payment approvals or payment requests were done via email with external parties; using these external systems further complicated internal finance processes once the team brought the work in-house. 


Because ONE did not have a clear and effective communication channel for team members involved in the accounts payable process, each part of the team controlled the process in their own spreadsheet, and communication occurred via email, which didn’t allow them to standardize their process or control the history of each payable account. The process grew to be even more decentralized once the finance team left the office.

At the beginning, it was very crazy and very difficult for everyone because the number of emails started increasing. We used to communicate face-to-face and then we had to do everything by email, so we lost track of a lot of things even though we tried to keep control. We were receiving information in a lot of different ways. We were registering the information in different systems and using different support tools to keep track of what was happening. But with everyone working from home, the number of requests kept increasing and soon it became too difficult to manage the work and the communication.
Sérgio Marques
Processes and Projects Analyst

En route to a more efficient accounts payable process through integration with SAP

The finance team had two main objectives: gaining control over every single invoice they received and integrating their process with SAP, the company’s global ERP system, to make better use of their earlier IT investments.


Before Pipefy, ONE organized all invoices in a spreadsheet, then manually input data into SAP for accounting purposes. Rather than try to patch up the existing process gaps, the finance team decided to start from scratch and design an entirely new accounts payable workflow.


There were clear opportunities for improvement; replicating the same process within Pipefy would involve additional manual labor better spent on a totally new approach to solve challenges like: 


  • Long, inefficient, and drawn-out invoice lifecycles
  • Delays in communication between different teams 
  • Lack of visibility into how much time each invoice took to be paid
  • Disorganized and unstandardized workflows
  • Repetitive and time-consuming manual work


The ONE team officially started to implement Pipefy halfway through 2020, and within 60 business days, the revitalized accounts payable process was designed and ready to launch.

The results: communication, visibility, and seamless integration

After using Pipefy for over a year, ONE’s finance team was able to deliver the three key results they set out to achieve when they began their digital transformation journey: 


  • Centralized and standardized communication 
  • Total visibility over the accounts payable process
  • SAP integration with robotic process automation


Here's what those results look like in practice. 

Standardized processes

Today, the accounts payable process begins with a vendor filling out a form containing all data necessary for approval and payment. Before Pipefy, payment requests arrived over email with missing information, which delayed the payment deadline. Now, vendors cannot submit an AP request if they haven’t entered all of the required information.

Greater data centralization and process visibility

After receiving the request with all required data, the AP team now centralizes these requests into a single source of truth within Pipefy.  


The finance team defined the flow of all steps to be performed, from the moment the vendor sends an invoice until payment is posted. They also implemented an automation trigger to automatically alert assigned responsible parties the moment invoices are received. 


All communication happens within the platform and the team uses automated emails and notifications to alert internal teams of requests or approvals and update vendors on the status of their payment requests. 


Now every person in the team knows exactly when they need to act and how far along each request is at any given moment.

Pipefy has helped us to simplify supplier registration and payment. Nowadays, we have a single platform with approval flows and standardized and well-defined forms that have become much easier to work with in our daily routine.
Tercio Silva
Agency Accounting Expert Analyst

Faster invoice processing, fewer errors

ONE’s team has also created triggers for automating requests, an essential part of this process. When an invoice is approved, for instance, the accounts payable team automatically receives the request with all the information they need to follow through with the payment, avoiding any miscommunication and duplicated invoices.


Currently, an invoice’s lifecycle — from request to schedule payment — is no greater than two business days.

The automated communication flow is our biggest gain. We created several triggers in the process and connected many teams. This had a direct impact on our results. For example, we currently have no payment delays whatsoever.
Sérgio Marques
Processes and Projects Analyst

Seamless data flow

In addition to standardizing and automating their workflows, Sérgio’s team were also able to implement an RPA solution to connect Pipefy with SAP for seamless communication between the two systems.


Through this integration, information is automatically gathered from all processed payments and then sent to SAP without the need for any human input — a dramatic improvement from the previously 100% manual step.

Digital transformation for finance and beyond with Pipefy

In addition to these benefits, the team was also able to increase team efficiencies and lower the overall costs of operations. 


Whereas the accounts payable process once required three full-time employees to manually manage it on a daily basis, today it only requires one to supervise. Each dedicated employee also gained an additional three to four working hours back each week following the SAP integration.


This decrease in manual work has led to big gains in resources and has since freed up employees so they can work on additional value-generating projects — for finance and beyond.


In 2021, ONE’s HR department began using Pipefy as well. Following the success of the finance team in Brazil, the company’s goal was to use Pipefy to manage all of ONE’s financial operations in Latin America by the end of 2022 as the company’s presence expanded. In March 2021, teams in Panama and Peru began using Pipefy. In early 2022, ONE’s presence expanded to Colombia, where they now also use Pipefy’s automation and an RPA integration to manage operations. By the end of October 2023, teams in Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile also adopted Pipefy. 


Today, seven different countries are using Pipefy to manage their processes with plans for future expansion into additional countries and even more departments.