May 11, 2004, 12:00 AM

Office Depot expects to save millions of dollars with b2b online payments

With more than 140,000 customers in its online b2b network, Office Depot expects to save millions of dollars per year in the processing of invoices under a new online customer payment system. Two-thirds of customers now prefer paying online, it adds.

When Office Depot Inc. first surveyed its business contract customers a few years ago regarding their interest in online payments, less than 1% said they wanted to pay online. But its contract customers, which range from large companies to one- and two-person shops, all said they wanted to view their invoice records online and, within two years, most were ready to pay online as well. "When we surveyed them again in 2003, 65% said they wanted to pay online," says Jan Gallagher, senior manager of billing and payment systems.

Office Depot serves more than 140,000 business customers through its BSDnet B-to-B online network, which lets customers manage shipments as well as order products online. Because the network produces more than 110,000 order statements per month, Office Depot realized that an online payment service would produce significant savings in the printing, processing and mailing of invoices, Gallagher says. "We can save millions of dollars in having customers go online instead of asking us for paper reprints and reports," she says.

Office Depot didn’t wait for the 2003 survey results, however, to set up a system for offering and administering online payments. In December 2001, it began implementing Avolent Inc.’s BizCast 5.4 financial relationship management system, which serves as a gateway to multiple payment services as well as a tool for presenting online invoices and records embedded with links for making payments. "BizCast serves as a payment gateway to interface with different payment methods, so a company doesn’t need connections with multiple payment services providers," says Scott Dunlap, vice president of marketing for Avolent. BizCast automates the manual financial processes of invoicing, dispute management, reconciliation, and payment -- enabling companies to accelerate cash flow, reduce printing and postage costs, and to provide their customers with self-service access for invoices.

Office Depot sees BizCast as a tool to help both its customers and its own financial management staff, Gallagher says. Customers, in addition to viewing invoices and clicking on either ACH or credit card payments, can directly download such things as their own invoice reprints, payment histories and proofs of payment deliveries. "We have large customers with hundreds of departments and ship-to locations, as well as small customers with little or no back-office operations," Gallagher says. "With BizCast, we`re able to parse and consolidate invoices in the different ways our corporate customers need, while providing our small customers with instant access to copies and reports on their purchases."

Office Depot’s staff, meanwhile, uses BizCast to monitor payment activity. "We’re improving our service by consolidating all of our customer billing and financial transactions into a single view," Gallagher says.

Although it took about 60 days to implement the BizCast system, it required minimal coding with Office Depot’s existing business applications, Gallagher says. "It allowed us to deliver multiple payment capabilities years ahead of what it would take to retrofit our existing back-end systems," she says.


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