How ‘Billy the Bot’ helps Cork Howard Construction streamline accounts payable

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Milissa Douglas knows accounting — after 30 years in the industry, she’s seen it all, from DOS software to Excel spreadsheets running on Windows, and now, artificial intelligence.

A headshot of Milissa Douglas.

Milissa Douglas

Permission granted by Cork Howard Construction


Douglas is the controller of Marietta, Georgia-based construction firm Cork Howard Construction, which performs everything from healthcare and mission-critical work to ground-up building and interiors. 

While Douglas has worked for decades to make sure checks are cut and subs are paid on time, she’s had a little more help recently.

With AI — specifically Douglas’ new helper, Billy the Bot, named and created by Mountain View, California-based software firm Stampli — Douglas is able to cut down on the time, effort and focus necessary to track the litany of invoices that her firm receives and needs to process on any given day.

While the price of the software varies for different tiers, Douglas said at Cork Howard, it works out to about $2 per invoice, and she’s saved about 50% of research and data entry time. 

Here, Douglas talks with Construction Dive about how she adopted her AI assistant, some of the growing pains for the tech and her advice to builders who want to try these technologies out for themselves.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What problems were you looking to solve for your business via AI?

MILISSA DOUGLAS: It wasn’t so much the AI part of it, it was more of the automation part that we were looking for. AI was a bonus that came along with that.

We were doing everything manually — our project managers had color-coded manila folders that we sent out each week with all the original invoices, and then they would approve them and send them back. And sometimes, they wouldn’t all come back.

So, I started looking into an automation software that would help alleviate the loss of invoices.

How did you come around to using Stampli?

Stampli was not my first choice. I originally went with [SAP’s] Concur and went through the whole process of getting it set up. When it came time for it to actually work for us, it would not integrate with our accounting software. So I had to pull the plug on Concur, and Stampli was the next place I went to. 

They were really accommodating and easy to work with, as far as getting everything to work exactly how we needed it to work for our accounting software. Billy came along as a bonus when we originally took on the software.

He was not as much of an idea that I was looking for when I agreed to it. I was really just looking for the automation of the software. 

Who, exactly, is Billy the Bot and how do you use him?

Billy has really become like our little animated best friend. He is very helpful and useful.

When you scan an invoice in, or an invoice is emailed in and you put it in there, Billy fills about 90% of the information automatically for you. Really, all you have to do is verify that he did his job correctly.

We went from keying all the information in, to looking up and all the information being there already. It’s been a great experience for us.

I will say, when we first started using Billy, he didn’t really know what to do. He didn’t have our information. But the more you use it, the more helpful he becomes.

Billy’s work is traditionally performed by accounts payable departments. What do you do now, since Billy is doing a lot of the legwork?

I don’t know that it has changed anything in the way we operate day to day, because you still have to stay on top of the people, make sure that they approve their invoices and get them in, so you can get them in the check grind. It just refocused our attention on different things. 

Instead of keying an invoice, we’re just following up on it to make sure it gets back to us in a timely manner.

Sometimes, for a business, paying out slowly can mean more cash in hand. Was there a business incentive for Cork Howard to streamline this process?

When I was hired in, they were really far behind the times. They were still submitting paper timesheets, still doing the accounts payable manually, and using a lot of paper.

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