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.
In our last post we noted that it has been difficult to find anything recent in the academic world on e-procurement. 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. However, e-procurement software vendors are still going and new development companies still seeking a new angle – despite the fact that many e-procurement systems, and concepts, have proven notoriously difficult to embed in to the culture of organisations.
We can hypothesise and speculate on some of the reasons for this:
- E-procurement has often been touted as the panacea for all procurement department ills. Stops maverick spending, controlled approvals and extensive workflow;
This is correct to some extent. However, this focuses on a small slice of spend (i.e how much of procurement effort is actually spend under management?).
- Many procurement teams write large contracts but rarely take the time or effort to check compliance to contract. No one ever said that vendor catalogues and associated pricing were always correct and accurate. Automated PO processing cannot fix compliance if the core vendor source catalogue pricing is simply wrong;
- Spend analysis is still lacking as a core skill in many procurement teams – so validation and compliance checking of pricing to invoice compliance still seems to be a low priority agenda item. Therefore, e-procurement provides no better protection for contract compliance than any other process in many cases.
- The generic nature of indirect spend activity remains in many cases. Simply, this means that in some categories, the variation in process to specify, order and pay means that a “one size fits all” process platform simply will not work. There are Purchasing cards and a range of other specialised P2P options available – but the advent of products like SAP Fieldglass for temporary labour and service time recording has started to erode the value of e-procurement investment in some categories. All-encompassing e-Procurement capability is simply being picked off at a category level. The purists will argue that it should all be on one system. However, the pragmatists are busy creating applications that deliver value.
Could it be that e-Procurement has simply passed its apogee? Perhaps.
However, do problems with purchase to pay in many organisations simply reside with procurement cultures?
There is little or no doubt that many procurement departments see the entire gamut of purchasing activity as their domain to control. Many procurement executives still initiate major P2P investment projects on the basis that this will provide an entire control platform – and that business teams will simply comply. That assumption is flawed as many imposed P2P initiatives run counter culture and are doomed to fail – or at best simply ignored.
It can also take time to set vendors up on e-procurement, maintain workflow using cost centre files, approve POs, set spend limits etc. There are many variations on a theme in the e-Procurement space – many systems will now claim to resolve a range of category-based issues. However, many business unit buyers have considerable market knowledge, good commercial evaluation skills and translate their domestic purchasing skills in to the workplace very effectively i.e. specify requirements, create opportunities and evaluate responses from multiple suppliers – and place an order. They also can save companies money. As the old Chinese proverb suggests, “give a person a fish, feed them for a day, give them a fishing rod, feed them for a lifetime”.
It may simply be that the majority of e-procurement platforms are designed, in many cases, to pander to the notion of total control desired by procurement teams – not commercial pragmatism around the way the purchasing and business world really works. A mystery for sure.
However, there are alternatives. The question is … is anyone looking?