Daily Archives: August 12, 2010

Everything I Needed to Know About Procurement I Learned at Clown College

When people ask me why I’m so good at Procurement, despite not having a formal degree in business or supply chain or a professional certification such as the CPSM or SPSM, I tell them that I learned everything I needed to know at Clown College. At this point they let out a hearty laugh and walk away, but I swear on the clown’s code of ethics that it’s the honest truth.

People think it’s easy being a clown, but it’s not. It’s very challenging, just like Procurement. And the skills required are quite similar. And while I enjoy the sound of laughter, I would like to dispel the misconception once and for all that all you do at Clown College is clown around. So, in this post, I’m going to tell you the ten most important things I learned in Clown College and how they helped me to excel at Procurement.

  1. Paint Your Face

    As a clown, you need to maintain a consistent mood every second of every minute of every hour of every day. This can be very hard to do. But if you paint on a happy face, you can be happy all the time. And if you paint on a scowl, you can be scowling all the time. You’d be amazed how much this can help in tense negotiations.

  2. Put On Your Big Red Nose

    Just like a clown wears his heritage with pride, a Procurement professional needs to take pride in his, or her, work and let it show.

  3. … and Your Brightly Colored Costume

    One of the biggest keys to success, especially in Procurement which was traditionally relegated to the back room or the basement, is to get noticed. Just like his brightly colored costume helps a clown stand out from the crowd, dressing sharply helps a Procurement professional stand out.

  4. … and Your Big Red Shoes

    You never know when someone is going to try and step on your toes! The extra padding goes a long way to protecting your feet.

  5. … but Stay Light on Your Feet

    as you never know when you’re going to have to dance around an issue or run away from a charging bull. (After all, no matter how good you are, you can’t win every fight!)

  6. Storytelling is an Art Form

    A clown has to engage his audience with a good story, just like a Procurement professional. The ability to tell a good story becomes important when you have to balance the conflicting needs of multiple stakeholders in a major buy but still claim all-around success. It’s especially important when you have to explain to the CFO why you had to pay more to get the reliability required by engineering and the usability desired by the end customer (which is key if Sales is to meet its quota).

  7. Keep Your Hands Sleight

    because sometimes you just have to make magic happen!

  8. Learn How to Take a Hit

    When clowns get together, someone always gets smacked upside the head. Always. The same happens in business whenever something goes wrong, and they almost always try to blame Procurement first. The ultimate key to success is to be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going like nothing ever happened.

  9. Maintain a Good Sense of Humor Through it All

    In life there are ups and downs, but you’ll be able to get through them all if you just maintain a little humor in your heart.

  10. And Learn How to Work as a Team

    as you never know when you’ll have to squeeze into the equivalent of a Volkswagen Beetle with ten of your best buddies in an all-weekend disaster recovery session at an off-site location after a natural disaster took out your primary location.

Has Coupa Settled on a Coupe? Part I

Has Coupa, which opened the Cabana Cafe a little over four years ago with the goal of enabling Procurement Independence for all with it’s Rails-driven cloud-based EC2 platform, given up its quest for a coupasonic flying car and instead settled for a mini-cooper?

Now, while the original goal of Coupa, that wanted to fill your e-Procurement gas tank, was to bring e-Procurement to the masses, it would seem that they are now content with the fact that you can buy anything you want in The Coupa Store as it would appear that they are no longer charging ahead on the innovation front. While it’s true that they’ve been quite busy ever since they enabled QuickDraw Procurement with QuickStart, what they’ve accomplished since then isn’t all that spectacular compared to their historical rate of innovation … and they’ve missed most of the opportunities for innovation that could take their platform to the next level with their latest release. And while it’s true that you don’t need a very powerful solution if you’re selling fertilizer to farmers (and can get by with a simple cart and a good old-fashioned hoe-down), you’re never going to get the design engineers. (i.e. You’ll get the tactical buyers requisitioning office supplies, but never the strategic buyers trying to order a bill of materials for engineering.)

Basically, besides revamping the UI for the upteenth time (which seems to be a waste of resources to me as it was already [among] the easiest enterprise procurement solution out there and as easy to use as Amazon.com), all Coupa appears to have accomplished in the last eighteen months is:

  • improved ERP integration through upgraded APIs and Boomi,
  • drag-and-drop expense management,
  • transaction metadata for OLAP reporting,
  • a new inline spend dashboard,
  • real-time budget-based alerts during requisitioning,
  • the iPhone app,
  • iRequest,
  • opt-in community benchmarking, and
  • supplier ratings.

Considering that:

  • they’ve had APIs since day one, Boomi handles most of the integration, and ERP integration is always just a matter of time and resources,
  • it’s about data capture (not slick UIs),
  • they’ve had the ability to capture this data since day one,
  • dashboards are dangerous and dysfunctional,
  • they’ve always had alerts and the usefulness of this should have been obvious years ago,
  • if you have an iPhone, you have e-mail, and that’s good enough for approvals,
  • the goal is not to buy outside the system,
  • benchmarks are pointless unless you’re benchmarking against peer data, and
  • optional surveys are about as useful as snowshoes in summer

while it is still forward progress (which is more than a few of their peers can claim these days), it really isn’t much considering their historical rate of innovation. (Of course, that’s when Davie ran The Coupa Factory.) While their new strategy may have enabled their rate of growth to skyrocket, going from a few dozen customers to over one hundred and fifty in under two years, it appears to have put a crimp in their rate of innovation — especially considering the unprecedented power Coupa could have brought to their platform if they had taken the last two features to the next level.

To be continued.

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