A lot of vendors will tell you a lot of what they do is so hard and took thousands of hours of development and that no one else could do it as good or as fast or as flexible when the reality is that much of what they do is easy, mostly available in open source, and can be replicated in modern Business Process Management (BPM) configuration toolkits in a matter of weeks.
So, to help you understand what’s truly hard and, in the spend master‘s words, so easy a high school student with an Access database could do it, the doctor is going to bust out his technical chops that include a PhD in computer science (with deep expertise in algorithms, data structures, databases, big data, computational geometry, and optimization), experience in research / architect / technology officer industry roles, and cross-platform experience across pretty much all of the major OSs and implementation languages of choice. We’ll take it area by area in this series. In our first post we tackled standard e-Sourcing, and in this post we’re tackling standard e-procurement.
Requisition, Approval, and Purchase Order Management
Technical Challenge: NOTHING
There’s nothing challenging about creating a requisition, placing it in a, possibly bifurcating and reconnecting, approval stream, getting approvals, and flipping it into a purchase order. It’s literally just adding lines and data to a form, like building a survey or RFX, recording approvals, and generating a purchase order in an appropriate distribution format when the necessary (final) approval(s) have been generated.
Technical Challenge 1: Automated Error Correction
It’s easy to create and distribute an invoice. It’s easy to run a set of verification rules to verify completeness and correctness and then reject an invoice if data is missing, incomplete, or invalid. It’s harder to determine when data is missing (such as codes, skus, etc.) what that data should be, harder still to figure out which data is likely correct when there is a mismatch between fields that should align, and even harder when data is incomplete and suggests multiple possibilities. The goal should be to not only determine when there are issues with an invoice and flip it back to a supplier for correction (to reduce the number of invoices that need to be manually reviewed and approved) from an average of 15%+ to 1.5%+, but to indicate what the acceptable corrections are / should be so that the supplier can accept and the invoice can be automatically accepted and processed on re-submit. This requires strong AR (Automated Reasoning) technology and it is not easy to not only identify 90% + of the bad data, but 90% + of the correct data to replace the bad / non-existent data with.
Technical Challenge: Working Capital Optimization with Multiple Options
While ACH integration can be a challenge because of the security requirements, it’s not that difficult (as the banks / payment providers did the challenging task of implementing the encryption, secure networks, etc.) and the vendor just needs to plug in, it’s just coding hoops and a well understood process. The challenge is how to optimize the payment schedule against net terms (to prevent penalties), early payment discount options (when it is cheaper to take the discount offered even if the organization has to pay interest at their preferred credit rate), co-factoring (where the organization helps the supplier factor the invoice and agrees to take an early payment cut to cover some of the supplier’s cost of factoring), and investment opportunities to make sure the organization has the cash on hand it needs while minimizing its supply management costs.
Technical Challenge: NOTHING
While it’s the ultimate pain-in-the-backside to keep up with all of the requirements associated with tax-tracking across multi-level jurisdictions when taxes can be applied at the union, country, state, and city level, especially when the amounts, collection rules, and submission rules are always changing, it’s just data tracking. Nothing more.
With the exception of automated error identification and automated corrective suggestions and of working capital optimization, as with basic e-Sourcing, basic e-Procurement is pretty much common fare today that can be bought off the shelf from dozens (and dozens) of providers, but, as you can see, it’s not all equal. Any provider with AR capabilities for advanced invoice processing and working capital optimization capabilities is leagues ahead of anyone else.
And, as per part I, in this series we’re not discussing the User Experience. While a good User Experience, while not always challenging to code, can be challenging to define, it doesn’t define Technical Difficulty on its own.
Next Up: Supplier Management!