Overpayments, missed discounts, shipment shortages: these errors are not strangers to companies coping with the aftershocks of COVID-19. While supply chains have been hit by delays and backups over the past year, companies like PRGX have stepped up. According to Andy Green, Vice President of Global Infrastructure and IT Operations at PRGX, the source-to-pay audit industry has never witnessed such growth, as auditing capabilities have taken on new importance.
After all, supply chains in 2021 crave end-to-end visibility. PRGX is a recovery audit and spend analytics company that looks at source-to-pay cycles for large national and multinational companies. They target profit leakage points: in other words, any shortages, errors, or overpayments that traditionally fall through the cracks. Their modus operandi is all about accuracy and finding what companies miss.
As Green noted, recovery audit is an incredibly data-heavy field--and requires an impressive amount of infrastructure. But over the past 50 years, PRGX has continually evolved and improved to stay ahead of new digitalisation norms. “We started back in the day when there were literally boxes of paper delivered to the office,” Green said. “Somebody would sort through that paper and look for points of leakage by physically reviewing documents.”
Now the world turns at a more rapid pace. When customers request an audit, their transaction data could include several hundred terabytes or even petabytes. “It’s not uncommon,” Green told me, “to have databases that are billions of rows deep. Analyzing such large volumes of complex data requires automation and industry expertise, which is why we pair our advanced technology platform with people who are very familiar with that specific client to maximize our ability to find leakage.”
Before advances in automation, audit teams often found the leakage too late and elapsed time frames made a full recovery difficult, if not impossible. “If we go back to supplier one and tell them that we overpaid them a million dollars based on the discount program they had in place from 2019,” Green explained, “they’re going to say, what do you expect me to do about it now?” Often, this forced companies to enter negotiations and reach settlements that involved discounts on future purchases--a solution that struck them as far from ideal.
AI and automation have since changed the playing field. PRGX is leading the digital transformation, aspiring to automate as much as possible. Rather than being a post-event auditor, they seek to be a pre-event partner, helping companies identify and mitigate potential points of leakage. “PRGX’s transformation,” Green said, “is occurring as we speak.”
Most companies would benefit from this expert level of digitalisation: unprecedented agility, immediacy, and efficiency. After I inquired how PRGX uses AI to bring advantages to their client companies, Green answered with characteristic enthusiasm. “[AI] has been a huge time saver,” he said. “It no longer takes one person to do this and then pass it off to someone else, and someone else after that. Now, because of the efficiencies of automation and computing power, we can run these [processes] in parallel. A one-month transformation is now a matter of days or hours.”
Updating digital processes allowed PRGX to decrease the gap between the time when data arrives and when they identify areas of profit leakage. AI also allowed them to look for duplicates and common data errors within their audits. “We went from a billion rows in a spreadsheet to a hundred million rows,” Green said. “And now, through AI, we’re able to say: we know these are good claims.”
From that point, their auditor can take the data and examine it in a compressed window of time. This, according to Green, is where data still requires a human touch. “[AI] is really about empowering people to do what they’re good at rather than complete every task manually,” he said. “But if you think about what [examining an audit] takes, it’s as much an art as it is a skill. You can’t just take someone off the street and put them in front of a dataset.”
To make tough decisions about which new technologies to use, Green defaults to placing PRGX clients first. “What’s the business trying to achieve?” he asked. “Is it additional revenue? Is it increasing the client pool size? We’re focused on what the business wants.” Moving to Cloud PBX - a virtual, internet-based business phone system - for example, was a lifesaver. “In early 2020, when we started working from home, we didn’t lose communication. It’s that kind of empowerment and desire to serve our clients that really makes us successful.”
Given his focus on people and building strong teams, it’s no surprise that Green advised not to overlook the personnel aspect of digitalisation. “When you’re transforming,” he said, “people often get left out of the equation. But the last thing I want to do is alienate anyone as we start this journey, so I make sure that my people have access to the tools, training, and resources to understand these new technologies. They’re not employees; they’re team members.”
Improvements to audit processing now occur on an hourly basis. “The technology is changing,” Green said. “What you’re trying to do tomorrow may not be the same thing you’re trying to do the day after. If you build a vision of what you want your environment and your expectations to be in three years, that’s fantastic. But you have to be flexible in your platforms and design because the world will change.”
To balance present objectives with future plans, Green seeks out not technology vendors but partners. “I don’t work any other way,” he said. “I can’t just bring a vendor in and ask them to give me technology. I want partners that understand what we’re trying to become. I like to have faith in a partnership and work with people that I trust.”
As for long-term goals for the PRGX team, Green hopes to focus on streamlining their technology pipeline. “Rather than having one focal point, we’re currently trying to keep legacy processes alive while moving toward the future.” This time next year, PRGX aims to be entirely focused on enhancing audit delivery and the end-user experience. “We’re working on that right now,” he assured me. “People will have access to our audit services, whether we’re back in an office or not.”