The Future of e-Sourcing – Less is More

Today I’d like to welcome Alan Buxton of Trading Partners.

Anyone remember SAP circa 1998? The way SAP integrated everything was great. Except it was completely unusable. Then along came Ariba’s e-procurement system and it’s whizzy interface. Here was a system that would address SAP’s legendary user-unfriendliness, and drive adoption of improved purchasing processes through organisations. Guess what? While Ariba did solve some of SAP’s problems it raised plenty of new ones: how to ensure catalogs could be easily searchable and contained relevant items; how to ensure users understood what they had to buy through the Ariba platform and what they had to buy through different processes, etc.

A common theme throughout is that software systems, however intuitive they are to their designers and builders, are rarely intuitive enough to their end users. Aside from a small number of glowing successes, many corporations find themselves achieving less than what they expected when implementing new e-sourcing systems. As European Leaders In Procurement put it in July 2007: E-systems gather dust.

The relentless consumerisation of business technology is a great opportunity to change all this. I’m not talking about a Web 2.0 phenomenon – the blurring of boundaries between consumer tools and business tools has been going on since Instant Messaging, if not before. However, it is consumer Web 2.0 sites that are now pointing the way to the future of enterprise sourcing software. For example, two web sites that excite and inspire me the most are ones like and They are easy, friendly and the user can see where the value is. Consumers are not interested in “downstream process improvements” – they are interested in whether a particular tool is good for them now. This is not to say that consumer tools are unsophisticated. Zopa, certainly, needs to do a lot of fancy footwork behind the scenes when it matches borrowers with lenders.

For sure, the e-sourcing industry has come a tremendous way in the past decade, but in all honesty e-sourcing is still in a comparatively early adopter phase, globally. In order to really reach mass adoption of our tools, and to transform the effectiveness of enterprises, e-sourcing tools need to take far more cues from consumer-friendly sites and, dare I say it, less cues from IT departments’ integration requirements. Imagine that: users demanding e-sourcing tools because they are fun and helpful rather than using them because the boss says so. A brave new world indeed.

For those of you expecting Sustainability Sunday, this week will instead feature Thought-Provoking Tuesday.