b-Pack: Packing It In for A Brave New World, Part IV

Three weeks ago, in Part I, we told you how b-pack, hot on the heels of Ivalua, had decided to cross the Atlantic and join in the conquest to bring the bohemian revolution to the world of Procurement and P2P with their extensive solution suite that actually closes the P2P loop. Then, two weeks ago in Part II, and last week in Part III, we expounded on some additional capabilities, relatively unique in the marketplace, that extended the basic value offering beyond basic P2P. Today we’re going to address one of the advanced P2P capabilities, the tightly integrated document management feature, administration, and the supplier portal. But first, a quick recap of the story to date.

Part I described the base b-pack platform that takes you from the start of a traditional sourcing cycle (RFx), through a contract, to a requisition (which may be from a catalog), against a budget, to receipt of the goods (which can include asset tracking information), and the invoice, to payment, reporting, and supplier management. It covered the requisition, approval, receipt, invoice, matching, payment, and reporting cycle in detail as well as the solution delivery options that are available.

Part II detailed some of the integrated applications that build out the core capabilities to also provide the organization with expense and travel management, asset management, dispute resolution, and procurement business intelligence reporting and Part III addressed inventory management and its integration with asset management, budget management, fleet management, and internationalization.

Invoice management, which was initially discussed in Part I, is fairly sophisticated with a built-in invoice viewer (which can handle invoices in e-mail, EDI, and PDF formats, among others), auto-match capability (at the line-item level against original purchase orders), and multi-way match capability between purchase orders, contracts, and/or good receipts. The auto-match can be manually overridden (and maintains a running total of the reconciled amount against the entire invoice amount so the user can track her progress) and an invoice cannot be approved until it is fully matched against one or more purchase orders (at the line item level) and until all disputes against it are resolved. This goes a long way to insuring that incorrect and fraudulent invoices are never paid, which happens way to often when certain commodities, like office supplies, electronics, and storage space, are being purchased regularly and in large volumes.

Like reporting, document management permeates the system and allows each document to be tracked by way of associated meta-data which includes type, creation date, version, author, language, and other information relevant to the document type. In addition, (related) documents can be organized in a tree structure and a new document can be defined as sequential merge of a set of documents organized in a tree. Contract management is then built on top of this capability and allows contracts to be built up from component documents, where each component is a distinct section or clause, with its own meta-data information that aids in searching during contract construction. Through versioning, a user can quickly build a starting contract from standard clauses and then edit them accordingly using the built in word processor. The contract can then be output to PDF or Word, and if edits are made in the Word version (by the supplier), it can be imported back into the system as a successive version.

In addition, the document management system can store e-mail templates which are sent out when an action is triggered in the system, such as the transmission of a purchase order, the formal notification of a dispute, an automatic alert that inventory replenishment is required, and so on. These templates can be stored in multiple languages, and the proper version will be selected according to the language of the recipient. Furthermore, it’s integrated with the auto-translation utility which, although not perfect, gives you a starting template in another language, which can then be quickly reviewed and corrected by a native speaker.

Administration allows the user to define global display properties, procurement specific workflows, batch processes, usage rights by user, help file additions, and log access rights. Global display properties include price display rules, date rules, fonts, and themes. Procurement workflow properties include request limits, default payment modes, templates, and terms. Batch processes include data cache maintenance, undelivered e-mail management, user session management, database optimization, and invoice file management. The buyer can add specific information to the online help files for supplier use and for internal use. Finally, the administrator can also run data integrity checks, performance checks, link and reference checks, and database optimization.

Whereas some vendors build separate supplier portals for suppliers, which can greatly limit the functionality available to the supplier as most of the smaller shops can only devote so many developer cycles to portal maintenance, b-pack chose to build the supplier portal within the core application. The supplier portal is essentially the same application, but with access limited only to what the supplier is allowed to see and do. When a supplier representative logs in, she sees the same task manager that a buyer sees, which shows her to-do list, in-progress tasks, most recent system access, and available applications and allows her to access her reports, search for relevant information, and define the application settings she has control over. If she accesses the purchase order module, she sees the full workflow associated with the purchase order, but she is restricted to altering information related to acceptance and delivery, attaching notes, and initiating or responding to disputes — buyer side information is locked.

In addition, the supplier (vendor) master is tightly integrated with the core platform and allows the buyer to add and deactivate suppliers as required. For each supplier, the buyer can define basic identifying information, contacts, catalogues, currency, a description of the supplier’s product and/or service offerings, and portal access. The administrator can not only grant access to one or more supplier representatives, but choose what authorizations each representative is granted (in terms of invoice management, dispute management, catalog management, packing slip generation, invoicing, etc.).

In summary, the b-pack platform, which has been under development for ten years and which is very well thought out with respect to its goal of optimizing your back office procurement, provides a comprehensive P2P e-Procurement solution that also includes some very useful capabilities above and beyond the basic procurement cycle requirements that can provide significant additional value to many buying organizations, including the invoice management, document management, and supplier management capabilities described in this post.

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