Manual = Money

Yes, technology costs money and five and six figure technology purchases look expensive, especially if a vendor is asking for payment up front, but it’s often the case that not having an automated technology solution as a mid-size or large organization is costing your organization even more. The reality is that anything not automated has to be done by someone, and having that someone do a task costs you a lot of money. Even if that someone is a (near) minimum wage resource. Remember, it’s not just the $15 an hour, $120 a day, $600 a week, $30000 a year that resource costs, but it’s all the overhead associated with that resource. Benefits. Training. Office space. Equipment. Opportunity cost of NOT having them work on more strategic tasks. Etc. When you do the math, that $15 an hour / $30000 a year resource is likely costing you closer to $30 an hour / $60000 a year. If the solution costs less than 30K a year, and replaces one FTE that’s not only a savings, but another resource you can reassign to value identification and generation (which never comes from doing tasks that can be automated).

But in Supply Management, the solution can often replace 3, 6, 10 or even 50 FTEs with very little incremental processing power required. A great, and often repeated example, is invoice processing with m-way (typically 3+) way match and auto-return to supplier for completion of missing information and correction of (potentially) incorrect information. These systems can review these invoices 100% and often, through auto return and correction, reduce the number of invoices that need human review to less than 2%. For an organization that receives 50,000 or more invoices a year, with dozens (or hundreds) of line items per invoice, where a team of 3 people can only fully review 20% and spot check a few lines on 20% more, this system, if in the 50K price range, has an ROI 10X its cost as it allows all invoices to be fully reviewed and verified before being paid — something that would otherwise take a team of 10 people, who are more error prone than the system and will still miss issues that need to be reviewed.

But it’s not just invoice review in Procurement that takes a huge amount of time, and never gets finished. It’s data entry and maintenance. Catalogs. Supplier Masters. Approved products and bill of materials. Preferred products. An average organization has tens of thousands of records that need to be created and maintained over time. Larger organizations have hundreds of thousands. And the annual maintenance of each record is so time consuming that the cost to accurately maintain this data (and keep it up to date) is literally in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions. (the doctor once read a thesis that estimated the average annual cost at about $2 a record, and with the increased rate of data change, that actually seems to be on the low side). But a system that allows suppliers to maintain their data, automatically updates the data from one central, verified, repository (provided by the supplier or vendor), etc. can greatly reduce this cost while increasing the accuracy.

And it’s not just tactical Procurement that requires a lot of manual effort. It’s also, believe it or not, Sourcing. A lot of categories that should be strategically sourced can be mostly automated. Especially the lower value, market-driven, and non-strategic categories. Often, the best strategy is just a winner-takes-all auction or a 60/40 split between the two best RFPs, where the bidders can be limited to pre-approved suppliers (and products) in the first case (with ceilings) and pre-approved suppliers in the second. These events could be automatically configured and, once reviewed by a buyer, automatically launched and executed and, once the results reviewed, automatically awarded. The entire process, which often takes days in some platforms, could be accomplished in an hour or two, freeing the buyer up to focus on truly strategic and large value categories and new types of supplier consolidation / part standardization / raw-material unification analyses that might yield previously unknown savings opportunities.

In other words, never balk at the cost of a solution until you calculate the true ROI, which is often many times the tactical manpower cost you are replacing (as its often the case the manual effort isn’t doing a complete job). The ultimate goal is to allow your team to focus on value identification and capture, and they can’t do that if all they are doing is manual data entry and review that can be (almost) fully automated.