Today’s guest post is from Tony Bridger, an experienced provider of Procurement Consulting and Spend Analysis services across the Commonwealth (as well as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt) who has been delivering value across continents for two decades. He is currently President of UK-based TrainingWorx Ltd, a provider of a wide range of Procurement and Analytic business training programs (inc. GDPR, spend analysis, project management, process improvement, etc.) and focussed short-term consulting solutions. Tony can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It has been difficult to find anything recent in the academic world on e-procurement. What was once the doyenne of the procurement world does seem to have become very much business as usual.
However, it really does depend on how you define the term.
So, prior to running off at speed discussing an array of e-procurement related elements, let’s make sure that we discuss the right technology platform.
In 2016, I sat in on an EU conference that had a presentation session on “e-procurement”. Having implemented an end-to-end B2B procure-to-pay platform, I had considered that it was pretty much a common technology – and well understood. I was wrong. I was treated to an hour on e-procurement as an RFP (request for proposal) and optimisation tool. Not the e-procurement I was expecting. The (real) e-procurement, from my perspective, is the good old shopping cart and payment process. So, let’s stick with that definition for now.
At the turn of the millennium, e-procurement and the sister product e-marketplaces, were being implemented at a furious speed. However, as fast as the companies were starting up and creating e-procurement systems, the dot com era brought the entire edifice down and left very few players standing. I was amazed recently to discover that start-ups are still creating these platforms. So much for the concept of a mature market.
For those that have little experience with e-procurement systems, the simplest analogy is that it’s a little like a single organisation implementation of Amazon. The hoster (the buy side) will have access to the range of catalogues and suppliers like any Amazon user. However, these are only generally only contracted suppliers. The supplier makes available their catalogue and goods to organisational buyers. If you do not work for the client company you cannot see or interact with this environment. The supplier can have their own website catalogue (termed as “punch out”) or use third party or software vendor supplied catalogues. Once a PO has been raised and goods despatched, invoices can be submitted, matched and paid. All automated.
Sounds like a transactional nirvana. However, just how successful has e-procurement actually been?
Independent academic research appears to have started to fizzle out from 2007 as the e-procurement technology wave passed and moved on – as most technologies do eventually. This article does not suggest that e-procurement is a failure or is declining – it merely suggests that little real evidence exists to suggest that it is an outstanding success. One may assume that if it was a major success – there would be many (and wide ranging) articles that vaunt the case for investment.
However, e-procurement software vendors are still going and new development companies still seeking a new angle. There have been many variations – from free systems (with revenues made on services), to the more expensive, fully integrated ERP suites. However, none of these options are cheap to implement – and can be notoriously difficult to embed in to the culture of organisations.
Stay tuned for Part II