In our last two-part series that asked “what is a platform”, we noted that whereas “suite” was pretty easy to define, as it is just a collection of related, and hopefully tightly integrated, modules that address the key steps of a process such as sourcing (or S2C, source-to-contract) or procurement (or P2P, procure-to-pay), platform is hard to define because you have to consider the competing definitions (development framework, enterprise application framework, hardware configuration, etc.) and delivery models (on-premise, hosted ASP, SaaS) and how they can be bundled and/or used to frame a solution space.
We also noted that in order to select the right platform, you needed to define what you needed the platform to do. And to add more confusion, you also need to define any constraints on how you need the platform to do it. Two tasks that are not easy to accomplish. But we can give you some advice on how you can get started.
First, define the problem you are trying to solve.
Not simply the business process at a high level, such as sourcing, procurement, or logistics, but the problems you are experiencing that need to be solved. Is it a paperwork nightmare in procurement, an inability to source efficiently, an inability to track organizational assets and services once requisitioned, an issue with inventory management on the sales side, etc. You can’t even select the right solution unless you know your major pain points, so how could you expect to select the right platform?
Next, outline the preferred process you would like to solve it.
In particular, how should the process work. For example, does all procurement have to begin with a requisition, or is a purchase order from an approved individual enough? How is it flipped to an invoice, and how are the costs verified? In addition, how do invoices come in, how are they matched, and how is this process automated, especially if the organization receives tens of thousands of invoice a month? Does the comparison happen before or after goods receipt? And what is the process if a goods receipt doesn’t materialize x days before the invoice is due? And if the number of invoices are large, with an average error and incompletion rate of 15%, how are the gaps filled in and the errors identified for flip back to supplier with an explanation?
Then document all of the data inputs you need, the artifacts that you need generated, and the data outputs that are required by affected parties.
If you are primarily sourcing direct materials, you will need a bill of materials from engineering along with the cost breakdown that is required, the inspections and certifications that need to be captured, and the timelines that need to be met. If you are sourcing services, you need position descriptions, certification requirements, other validations that must be performed, on so on. Reports will need to be generated, audit trails maintained, and so on.
Follow this with discussions with IT, Finance, Engineering, or any other department that needs to support Procurement in the process.
You will need to find out if there are any restrictions or constraints on an adopted solution dictated by current technology, processes, or third party support … such as systems that need to be integrated with, data that needs to be collected, audit trails that need to be logged, and reports that need to be generated for compliance. Systems can be a big problem — do certain APIs need to be supported, are you restricted to certain technology stack, or do you need certain hardware?
Then go beyond the immediate problem and process to identify other processes and problems that could be impacted by any solution to the problem.
For example, where Procurement is involved, inventory, assets, and accounts payable are clearly impacted. These use different processes and systems which may or may not have been identified in previous steps.
While these steps on their own may not necessarily help you identify the right platform, it will definitely help you identify which platforms are not appropriate to the need at hand and zero in on those that need a closer look.