Category Archives: Procurement Innovation

Will Coupa Inspire Sourcing?

In our last post we asked whether or not Coupa inspired at Inspire, referencing our post from last week that asked if they would inspire and indicated where inspiration might come from, and determined that, for an average Procurement professional, Coupa most definitely inspired. But it’s Sourcing and Procurement. Did Coupa inspire Sourcing?

The short answer is no (but it’s not the full answer). Sourcing wasn’t really addressed beyond the statement that with the acquisition of Trade Extensions, most likely being (re)named Coupa Sourcing Optimization, Coupa now has the ability to do complex events, as complex as an organization requires. And while this is true, it’s not very inspiring to an organization that might not even know why they truly need advanced sourcing.

But then again, as of now, Coupa does not really understand advanced sourcing. Up until now, for a Coupa customer, sourcing has been very simple RFXs and basic auctions, age old sourcing technology that any strategic buyer would not find very interesting. But, fortunately for us, Coupa readily admits this. And, as of now, have not decided when, or even if, they are going to integrate Trade Extensions or Spend 360 into their core platform. (Their expectation is they will integrate what makes sense at the right time, but recognize that these were Power User Applications acquired primarily to support current, and future, power users.)

This is good news. The main reason every acquisition of a (strategic sourcing decision) optimization company has failed to date is, as pointed out in a previous post, because the acquirer believed they understood the technology, could integrate, and take it further (and immediately preceded to do just that). But, as we pointed out in a previous post, the ultimate procurement application is the exact antithesis of the ultimate sourcing application. For starters, one is no UI and the other is a UI so complex current desktop systems cannot support it yet.

Based on the history of acquisitions of advanced technology in our space, the only chance of success is to allow both of these acquisitions to more or less continue business as usual, independent of Coupa’s primary business, until such time as all parties collectively, and in conjunction with their collective user base, decide what integration makes sense, when, and how. (And, fortunately for us, this is exactly what Coupa plans to do.) Moreover, in most companies, the people that do the complex sourcing are not only a small user base but are not the people who do procurement and requisitioning. As a result, effective integration right now only consists of pushing transactional data to Spend360 for opportunity analysis, kicking off a sourcing event in Trade Extensions, and then pushing a selected award into Coupa for contract creation and tracking.

As long as Coupa takes advantage of the new Trade Extensions 6 capabilities to define workflows and UX that are easy to use and consistent with what a Coupa power user might define, then they can create a transition for their more advanced organizations into true sourcing, and, more importantly, the Trade Extensions 6 platform can offer a path for those customers that need a more modern Procurement application. And letting each unit do what it does best will insure that, for the first time in the history of acquisitions of advanced sourcing technologies, all parties will actually thrive.

In other words, by saying and doing essentially nothing at this point with respect to their recent advanced sourcing acquisitions, Coupa is actually doing the best they could actually do because it’s going to take them a while to figure out what they got, what they can do, and how all of these units will work together. As far as the doctor knows, they haven’t even hired a translator yet who speaks advanced optimization, machine learning, econometrics (and risk), and truly simplistic Procurement and can teach all parties a common language. So, even though they’ve historically advanced as fast as possible in Procurement, the fastest way for them to advance beyond is to actually slam on the breaks and start again in first gear. If they do this and maintain this philosophy, at a future Inspire, they will finally inspire sourcing in a way that their Source-to-Pay brethren have not.

Did Coupa Inspire?

Last week we asked if Coupa would inspire at Inspire, especially given that most big companies, especially in the Procurement arena, have not given us much to be inspired about as of late. In fact, most announcements in the Procurement Arena have consisted of new UIs, name changes, and acquisitions — none of which does anything for the end user who needs to do a job day-in-and-day-out and spends much of it fighting with an outdated processes implemented by an even more outdated technology causing them to go prematurely bald as they rip out their follicles one by one.

We said that in this day and age you don’t get inspired unless the technology brings value and a technology doesn’t bring value unless it offers something more than the same-old same-old which could include an inclusive design (that also provides functionality needed by suppliers to serve buyers), a multi-functional application (that supports the organizational stakeholders that Procurement must serve), or a better user experience (which is not just a fancy-smancy UI).

So, to this end, did Coupa Inspire?

Inclusive Design?

Definitely. In this release they’ve made it easier for suppliers and service providers to acknowledge POs, flip to invoices, enter timesheets upon services completion, and respond to buyers. The suppliers can determine whether or not they want dynamic discounting, and what terms they will accept (and not need to opt in to or opt out from buyer offers one-by-one). They can maintain their catalogs and use the collaboration tools. With Coupa’s new release, it’s a more inclusive design.

Multi-Functional Application?

With InvoicePay integration, AP can now pay suppliers in 31 countries and know they are being fully compliant with local regulations. Their inventory functionality makes it easy for office managers responsible for indirect inventory. Their single data store gives Finance visibility into all spend under management. And their new risk scoring functionality gives buyers visibility into potential risky transactions that are being directed at potentially risky suppliers. It certainly is becoming multi-functional.

User Experience?

Coupa has figured out the most important feature of a Procurement UI, and that is, simply put, no UI. Procurement is a tactical function that is focussed entirely on servicing a need in the most efficient and effective manner possible. A user shouldn’t see any more than they need to see, do any more than they need to do, and, most importantly if they don’t need to see or do anything, they shouldn’t need to see or do anything at all. If all that is required is an approval for a requisition that completely satisfies all the requirements, and the approval is only required because the total amount exceeds an amount where all requisitions must be approved, then if the approver is aware the approval request is coming, is aware of what it’s for, and has given verbal approval already, then all she should need to do is press a button in the approval request email or send a yes response to an SMS — no application entry needed. In Coupa, she can do that, and a number of other processes have been simplified as well.

So, did Coupa inspire?

For an average Procurement professional, most definitely yes!

But what about a sophisticated sourcing professional, who has to do demand consolidation, new supplier identification and strategic supplier management, complex negotiation, and sophisticated contract creation? Well, that all depends on their read of what Coupa’s acquisitions mean … come back tomorrow.

Supply Management Technical Difficulty … Part II

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.


Invoice Management

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.


Payment Management

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.


Taxation Management

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.


IN SUMMARY

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!

Are We About to Enter the Age of Permissive Analytics?

Right now most of the leading analytics vendors are rolling out or considering the roll out of prescriptive analytics, which goes one step beyond predictive analytics and assigns meaning to those analytics in the form of actionable insights the organization could take in order to take advantage of the likely situation suggested by the predictive analytics.

But this won’t be the end. Once a few vendors have decent predictive analytics solutions, one vendor is going to try and get an edge and start rolling out the next generation analytics, and, in particular, permissive analytics. What are permissive analytics, you ask? Before we define them, let’s take a step back.

In the beginning, there were descriptive analytics. Solutions analyzed your spend and / or metrics and gave you clear insight into your performance.

Then there are predictive analytics. Solutions analyzed your spend and / or metrics and used time-period, statistical, or other algorithms to predict likely future spend and / or metrics based on current and historical spend / metrics and present the likely outcomes to you in order to help you make better decisions.

Predictive analytics was great as long as you knew how to interpret the data, what the available actions were, and which actions were most likely to achieve the best business outcomes given the likely future trend on the spend and / or metrics. But if you didn’t know how to interpret the data, what your options were, or how to choose the best one that was most in line with the business objectives.

The answer was, of course, prescriptive analytics, which combined the predictive analytics with expert knowledge that not only prescribed a course of action but indicated why the course of action was prescribed. For example, if the system detected rising demand within the organization and predicted rising cost due to increasing market demand, the recommendation would be to negotiate for, and lock-in supply as soon as possible using either an (optimization-backed) RFX, auction, or negotiation with incumbents, depending upon which option was best suited to the current situation.

But what if the system detected that organizational demand was falling, but market demand was falling faster, there would be a surplus of supply, and the best course of action was an immediate auction with pre-approved suppliers (which were more than sufficient to create competition and satisfy demand)? And what if the auction could be automatically configured, suppliers automatically invited, ceilings automatically set, and the auction automatically launched? What if nothing needed to be done except approve, sit back, watch, and auto-award to the lowest bidder? Why would the buyer need to do anything at all? Why shouldn’t the system just go?

If the system was set up with rules that defined behaviours that the buyer allowed the system to take automatically, then the system could auto-source on behalf of the buyer and the buying organization. The permissive analytics would not only allow the system to automate non strategic sourcing and procurement activities, but do so using leading prescriptive analytics combined with rules defined by the buying organization and the buyer. And if prescriptive analytics included a machine learning engine at the core, the system could learn buyer preferences for automated vs. manual vs. semi-automated and even suggest permissive rules (that could, for example, allow the category to be resourced annually as long as the right conditions held).

In other words, the next generation of analytics vendors are going to add machine learning, flexible and dynamic rule definition, and automation to their prescriptive analytics and the integrated sourcing platforms and take automated buying and supply chain management to the next level.

But will it be the right level? Hard to say. The odds are they’ll make significantly fewer bad choices than the average sourcing professional (as the odds will increase to 98% over time), but, unlike experienced and wise sourcing professionals, won’t detect when an event happens in left-field that totally changes the dynamics and makes a former best-practice sourcing strategy mute. They’ll detect and navigate individual black swan attacks but will have no hope of detecting a coordinated black swan volley. However, if the organization also employs risk management solutions with real time event monitoring and alerts, ties the risk management system to the automation, and forces user review of higher spend / higher risk categories put through automation, it might just work.

Time will tell.

We Don’t Need Another Hero!

the doctor‘s response to the public defender‘s post on What’s the Future of Procurement? How the Rogues Will Become the Heroes

Out of the ruins
Out from the wreckage
Can’t make the same mistake this time
We are the relics
The last generation
We are the ones they left behind
And I wonder why we are always after change
Dancing around the way, till nothing pure remains

We don’t need another hero
We don’t need to know the way forth
All we want is rules stopping
Mavericks

Looking for something
We can rely on
There’s gotta be something better out there
Rules and processes
Their day is coming
All else is descriptive vapourware
And I wonder why we are always after change
Dancing around the way, till nothing pure remains

All the stoics say
We don’t need another hero
We don’t need to know the way forth
All we want is rules stopping
Mavericks

So what did we do with our lives
If we don’t leave our mark
Will our story shine like a light
Or end in the dark
Give it all or nothing

We don’t need another hero
We don’t need to know the way forth
All we want is rules stopping
Mavericks

While flexibility, collaboration, and innovation are to be nurtured and cherished … if the system is the workaround, then something’s wrong …