Case Study

Ocean Network Express: Automating Accounts Payable on Their Voyage to Digital Transformation

How the multinational shipping line company standardized and automated their accounts payable workflows in four countries — and counting — with Pipefy.

About Ocean Network Express

Ocean Network Express (ONE) is a Japanese shipping line company founded in 2017 through the merger of Japan’s three largest logistics companies. After the merger, ONE established their administrative headquarters in Hong Kong, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Brazil.

At the end of 2021, ONE had a fleet of 220 ships, making it the world’s sixth-largest maritime transportation business and offered services to 106 countries around the globe.

ONE’s Challenges

Ocean Network Express was born as a huge enterprise by uniting three colossi from the logistics field. The main goal of the merger, besides consolidating know-how from the three companies, was to bring innovation to the resulting company’s routine.

ONE had to handle the challenge of marrying cultures, processes, and systems from three different businesses. The lack of communication between departments and systems was a great obstacle in ONE’s first years.

In the Finance team (which currently uses Pipefy), accounts payable processes were manual and decentralized. When ONE needed to pay their vendors, the process ran through three sub-departments inside the Finance team. Until the beginning of 2020, this process was managed through emails, spreadsheets, and paper approvals.

In spite of inefficiencies and gaps in communication, the process functioned only because every team worked in the same office. However, after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the process became unmanageable as the company shifted to remote work. During this transition, their Processes and Projects Analyst Sérgio Marques realized Pipefy had the potential to help them overcome the coordination hurdles posed by long email threads and mismatched execution plans.

While we were in the office, the approval flow was physical, gathering signatures from each manager before processing payments. When the pandemic began, we went after an automated digital solution.
Sérgio Marques
Processes and Projects Analyst

The Beginning of a Digital Journey

ONE officially began using Pipefy halfway through 2020, a few months after the pandemic lockdown began. The Finance team’s two main objectives were gaining control over every single invoice they received and integrating their process with SAP, the company’s global ERP system.

When they started using Pipefy, the Finance team decided not to replicate the same process they were already using because it involved a lot of manual labor and the team saw clear possibilities for improvement. As such, ONE implemented their entire accounts payable workflow on Pipefy.

Currently, 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.

After receiving the request with all required data, the Payments team centralizes these requests in a single board, and all the communication flow happens inside Pipefy, using notifications to internal teams and/or automated emails to notify vendors of their requests’ status.

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.

After standardizing and automated the entire flow, Sérgio’s team decided to gain efficiency in a 100% manual step of the process: the integration with SAP. ONE implemented a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solution to connect Pipefy and SAP, making better use of their earlier IT investments.

Before Pipefy, ONE would organize all invoices in a spreadsheet and then needed to manually input data into SAP for accounting purposes. Today, thanks to Pipefy’s standardization, information is automatically gathered from all processed payments and then sent to SAP without the need for any human input.

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

The Results: Communication, Visibility, and Integration

After over a year of using Pipefy, ONE’s team has already harvested great results. According to Sérgio, the three main benefits of this partnership are:

  • Centralized communication 
  • Visibility over the process
  • Integration with RPA

In 2020, ONE did not have a clear and effective communication channel for team members involved in the AP process. Each part of the team controlled the process in their own spreadsheet, and communication was done over email, which didn’t allow them to standardize their process or control the history of each payable account. Today, with a more centralized workflow, every person in the team knows exactly when they need to act and how far along each request is at any given moment.

Currently, an invoice’s lifecycle — from request to schedule payment — is no greater than two days. Before Pipefy, this was a long and drawn-out flow, mainly due to delays in communication between different teams. Managers couldn’t measure how much time each invoice took to be paid. 

Organizing and standardizing the workflow also improved the ONE team’s efficiency. It took three full-time employees to manage this process on a daily basis. Nowadays, only one person needs to supervise the same process, freeing the other employees to work on more value-adding projects.

Finally, integrating with SAP and utilizing RPA has yielded great results. The process used to be completely manual, consuming three to four work-hours weekly from a dedicated employee.

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

Clear Skies and Open Seas With Pipefy

The process in Brazil is considered a successful case by the Finance team. ONE’s team has continued to grow to other countries in Latin America. ONE teams in Panama and Peru have been using Pipefy since March 2021. At the beginning of 2022, ONE’s team has also expanded to Colombia, where they also use automation and an RPA integration.

The company’s goal is to have Pipefy implemented in all of ONE’s financial operations in Latin America. When this happens, by the end of 2022, there will be eight different countries using the platform, with the possibility for future expansions into other countries and departments — such as the HR department, who also started to use Pipefy in 2021.