Hi-ho. Hi-ho. It’s Off PO We Go!

Or do we?

A few years ago Jason the prophet Busch wrote a post over on Spend Matters that asked can (and should) we eliminate purchase orders (POs) entirely? In the post he quoted Tom Linton, CPO & Supply Chain Officer at Flextronics, who suggested that we eliminate POs entirely as a result of his mandate to eliminate work before you automate, automate work before you move it and always make sure you improve outcomes in any given scenario.

Mr. Linton is entirely right — there’s no point in automating unnecessary work. And in many circumstances Purchase Orders are entirely unnecessary. If the contract specifies a delivery schedule with approved rates, then there is no need for a Purchase Order since it would just be replicating what’s in the contract. Similarly if it’s for services and approved projects, resources, and rate-tables are defined against a project schedule (unless overtime exceeds the maximum overage allowed).

In this situation, you can just conduct the 3-way match against the goods receipt and the contract when the invoice comes in and you are still certain that you have payed the right price for the right good from the right supplier at the right time.

But what about the situation where there is no (master) contract? What then? You just match the invoice to the goods receipt? I hope not! In this situation you can verify you are paying for the right goods from the right supplier at the right time — but not the right amount. You need to verify that the price is right (because, as the line goes, it can all be yours if the price is right). So in in this case you need something. A requisition? Nope – that’s not sent to the supplier, that’s sent to your supervisor/manager for approval. A one time contract for a single purchase? Isn’t that just a purchase order?

The purchase order can’t be eliminated, because proper purchasing procedure dictates that all purchases should be for approved products from approved suppliers at approved prices and such approvals should be documented in some form — be it a contract schedule or rate card, purchase order, catalog, or approved rate range for a T&E expense — and there are some instances where the only viable option will be a purchase order.

But an effort to eliminate as many purchase orders as possible will be a good and productive one because, like invoices, each and every purchase order comes with a processing overhead cost that adds up and costs the organization significantly over time.