The UX One Should Expect from Best-in-Class e-Sourcing, Part II

Yesterday, as we continued our series on what makes a good UIX (which followed our posts on Smart Systems and Mission Control Dashboards), we went from generic Source-to-Pay system wide requirements to specific e-Negotiation, specifically e-RFX and e-Auction, requirements.

Specifically, in yesterday’s post, we noted that creating an RFX or Auction from scratch is a lot of work. From defining the need through selecting the suppliers through evaluating the responses to making an award, an average event typically consists of at least a dozen (or more) steps, each of which are arduous and time-consuming. That’s why the first core requirement we focussed on in yesterday’s post was easy template creation as a great template can jump start event creation, initiation, and execution over and over again (especially if it is work-flow enabled and driven by an underlying smart system).

But that’s just one core requirement. Another, as we dove deep into our follow up piece on What You Should Expect from Best-in-Class E-Sourcing User Experience and Functionality (Part 2) over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required], is easy starting bid population and validation. If there are a lot of products that need to be bid on, or a lot of bid fields that need to be filled out, and the data, or most of it, is already available in the system, or a connected system, it should be pre-populated for the supplier so that all the supplier has to do is make updates. This will not only decrease turn-around time, but potentially increase participation. If the event is run every six months, the buyer could pre-populate with the supplier’s previous bids or allow the supplier to pre-populate with their previous bids plus or minus a mark-up/mark-down and if an auction was preceded with a qualifying RFX, the starting bids can be automatically loaded. Either way, not pre-populating (or given the supplier the option to pre-populate) from existing data just doesn’t make sense.

And neither does not validating to the extent of data available. Bids can be compared to market rates and tolerances and suppliers or buyers alerted if the bids are outside of expected ranges and bids can be compared against each other and alerts given if a bid is detected to be an outlier which is off more than one deviation from the average, even if market data is available and it is within a normal tolerance. The bid might be right, and that’s okay, but buyers and suppliers still need to be alerted because erroneous bids lead to wrong awards (especially in optimization-backed events) and a lot of bad feelings in negotiations, especially if one side expects the other to live up to the bid.

These aren’t the only requirements for a great user experience, but they are additional core requirements that no modern platform should be without. For a deeper dive into this requirement as well as other core requirements, see the doctor and the prophet‘s piece on What You Should Expect from Best-in-Class E-Sourcing User Experience and Functionality (Part 2) over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required]. When combined with the rest of our series, it’s the best definition of what a modern e-Negotiation platform should contain that you’re going to find.

The UX One Should Expect from Best-in-Class e-Sourcing, Part I

As we continue our series on what makes a good UIX (to follow our posts on Smart Systems and Mission Control Dashboards), we go from generic Source-to-Pay system wide requirements to specific e-Negotiation, specifically e-RFX and e-Auction, requirements.

As the co-authors of this series, the doctor and the prophet, laid bare in our next deep dive on What You Should Expect from Best-in-Class E-Sourcing User Experience and Functionality over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required], creating an RFX or Auction from scratch is a lot of work. A lot of work. At a minimum:


  • Define the basic need that consists of products, services or bill of materials

  • Define the requirements for those products

  • Define the requirements for doing business with the organization

  • Define the information needed from the suppliers

  • Select (or define) the suppliers

  • Select (or define) the contacts

  • Set up the timeline (and milestones)

  • Send out the RFX invitations or launch the Auction

  • Receive responses back

  • Verify completeness and correctness

  • Evaluate, collaborate with teammates

  • Make an award

If all of this has to be done, from scratch, for every RFX or Auction, very few will get done. Considering that real benefits from these platforms only materialize if a lot get done, obviously this has to be as quick and easy to do as possible — and the platform will, thus, only have a good U(I)X if it is as quick and easy to do as possible.

So, what are the core requirements? Many, but in this post, we’re only going to focus on one of the core requirements — easy template creation. Given that the basic needs for a category don’t change much from event to event, the supply base doesn’t change much from event to event, the business and insurance requirements don’t change much from event to event, and so on. Thus, the ability to quickly and easily define templates that can be used over and over again is key. What should this template creation look like? Check out the doctor and the prophet‘s latest piece on What You Should Expect from Best-in-Class E-Sourcing User Experience and Functionality over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required]. (Vendors, this is the best description you’re ever going to get.)

What Makes a Good UX? Part III “Mission Control Dashboards”

Last week, after singing Bye, Bye to Monochrome UIs, we posted part II of what is to be a rather lengthy series on what makes a good UI, and more importantly, a good UX in a modern Sourcing or Procurement System. (Lengthy in that, after tackling the basics, we are going to dive into all the major components of your average Source to Pay system, and some of these components will require multiple posts on their own!)

In our first post (on What Makes a Good UI) where we noted that the full series is being published over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required], as it is the result of a deep long-term multi-blogger collaboration (led by the doctor and the prophet) and sponsored by Spend Matters, we outlined some of the fundamental requirements of a UI/UX for any Supply Management application which included, but was not limited to, integrated guidance, context awareness, “touch-less” automation, mobile support, and messaging as a competitive advantage.

Then, in Part II, we began our deep dive into what all of this means, starting with “Smart Systems” that drive integrated guidance leveraging new “AI” techniques -— better termed automated reasoning (AR), as software isn’t truly intelligent —- that adapt and learn over time. These systems mix semantic technology, sentiment analysis, key-phrase driven expert systems and other machine learning techniques with history to determine what the user is doing and what the user wants to do and offer appropriate guidance. But that’s just one aspect (and the full Spend Matters Pro article on Smart Systems and Messaging, Chat, and Collaboration also dived into critical MCC aspects among other things.

Yesterday, over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required], the prophet and the doctor released the next part of their UX Series, Advanced Mobile and “Mission Control” Dashboards where we dove deep (and I mean deep, Mariana Trench deep) into two more key requirements of modern Sourcing or Procurement application, namely advanced mobile enablement (which is way more than just e-mail, FYI) and what we are terming “mission control dashboards”.

The real key here is “mission control dashboards”, and not just plain old first generation dashboards (which are very dangerous and dysfunctional) which, if present, should result in the application under consideration being banned for life from your organization.

You see, whereas static first generation dashboards give you useless (and I mean useless) reports (which, at best, show a stoplight indictor with no description or backup data that lulls you in to a false sense of complacency or urgency), a modern mission control dashboard replaces those static widgets with modern fully enabled GUI widgets that allow users to drill down, initiate, and execute relevant actions such as data retrieval, workflow kick-off, or collaborative corrective actions. They can embed “apps” and “portlets” and allow a user to get what they need, and where they need, in 3-clicks, without missing anything important. They are the customizeable interactive views that applications have been missing. But, again, this is only the case for truly modern dashboards. First generation dashboards still belong in the dung-heap. For a truly deep dive into what these are, what they can do, and how they are used, check out the Pro piece [membership required].

P.S. Again, if you are a vendor invited to the Sourcing, SRM, CLM, or Spend Analysis Solution Map, this is a series you do NOT want to miss!

No Solution is Completely Foolproof

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
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Source-to-Pay solutions are getting easier by the day and soon they will be so easy that some vendors will be claiming their solutions are so simple that even a fool can use it error-free. But that’s really not the case. No solution is foolproof. Never will be.

Why? First of all, it’s impossible to predict every action a person could take. So, no matter how many situations you plan and check for, if there is even one you missed, and if the application is complex enough there will be at least one, no matter how unlikely that situation is (or how nonsensical it is), there will be at least one user who finds it and either crashes the application or generates a scenario that is nonsensical.

The alternative is to lock the application down to an enumerable finite set of inputs in each state and limit the allowable actions to those that will allow a smooth, predictable, transition to the next state without fail. But if the vendor chooses this route, the result will be a very limited application with very limited possibilities. And given that the real world is not limited to a small set of situations with always predictable solutions, this is not a very useful solution.

Secondly, never underestimate the application stupidity of a potential user. First of all, the user could be a new transfer from another department with no training and a very shallow understanding of Procurement. What a vendor would assume to be obvious to an average Procurement user would not be obvious to a new transfer. Secondly, not all users are Procurement users. For example, shop floor users might have access to initiate requisitions. And these workers might have limited computer knowledge. And then there’s management. And consultants.

Thirdly, the more a vendor tries to make a solution foolproof, the more they end up throwing in way too much unnecessary code. The more unnecessary code that is put into an application, the more errors that creep in. Errors multiply with code. Always. Doesn’t matter if the code compiles. Doesn’t matter if the code passes the boundary tests. All that matters is that there is more code with more paths and more state transitions to track, to the point where eventually there are too many paths to track and test and something breaks when a user goes down the wrong path.

The moral of the story? Don’t fall for any vendor who says their application is foolproof. And don’t look for a foolproof application, because it’s not about how easy the application is, it’s about how much value the application can generate. The best applications, while easy and logical for most of the functionality, will not be foolproof. Nowhere close. So, value first. Because, at the end of the day, the only user a foolproof solution is for is a fool.

Advanced Sourcing Will Not Disappear If You Figure It Out!

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
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Regardless of this theory is correct or not, advanced sourcing is not the universe … it’s not even the universe of enterprise applications (although it’s becoming a pretty significant part). As a result, your organization should not be scared to acquire, learn, and master it. However, given the continuing rather low uptake of strategic sourcing decision optimization and advanced hybrid spend analysis (that uses machine learning and embeds prescriptive analytics), one would think the average organization is quaking in their boots.

And the answer is not to wait until the application interfaces are simplified enough so that it’s just point-and-click to select a model, accept the default constraints, run the scenario, and accept the result. Just like a top n report in spend analysis will only identify a savings opportunity once, a canned optimization scenario will only identify a significant savings once.

Nor is it the answer to wait until your preferred provider proffers a solution to you. These are solutions you should be seeking on your own, not when your provider brings them to you because every day you wait is a day another opportunity passes you by. And with pressures mounting to generate value, how many opportunities can you afford to miss? None.

So don’t wait. Figure it out. It won’t go away. It won’t change instantaneously when you do. And you won’t have to learn it twice. So just do it.