Category Archives: Procurement Innovation

Future Trend 34: Digital Transformation

How did SI miss this one in it’s two in-depth series on the future of procurement and it’s follow up future trends expose???

This anti-trend is as old as the internet!

But let’s back up. Recently, the procurement dynamo published a piece on the digital transformation of procurement where he asked if it was a good abuse of language. In this post he started off by noting that the digital transformation expression is an overused buzzword — which is an understatement.

Secondly, as the procurement dynamo notes, no one has a proper understanding of what it actually means. the procurement dynamo attempts to rectify this by giving a clear definition of the term with respect to the also overused digitization and digitalization terminology. According to the procurement dynamo

  • digitization is the conversion from analog to digital … atoms to bits …
  • digitalization is the process of using digital technology and the impact it has and
  • digital transformation is a digital-first approach that encompasses all aspects of business

… and, in particular, digital transformation is a digital-first approach to the extent that digital can be applied.

And this means that this is yet another anti-trend in Procurement as leading organizations have been doing this ever since the adoption of e-Auctions. The best organizations have been adopting, to the extent possible, new technologies since the e-auction hit the scene 20 years ago. RFX. True e-invoicing. Supplier Information Management. Contract Management. Decision Optimization. And so on. The leaders (which are very, very few) have pushed for, and embraced, digital transformation for the last two decades.

And, to be honest, when you get right down to it, the concept of digital transformation is, as a farmer would say, hogwash. You’re either continually adopting and using the best tools and processes available to you, or you are counting down to the days your doors close. The organizations that have survived decades have embraced multiple technological revolutions. They’ve went from carbon paper to copiers to digital transmission. Digital transformation is just the latest technological revolution, and may not be the last. (If quantum tech gets perfected, you’ll have to move to technology based on qubits … a blend of atoms and bits.)

So don’t fall for the latest fad — keep focussed on the goal. Better business building.

What is the Future of the Procurement Function? (Webinar)

In the beginning, there really wasn’t much of a Procurement function. When someone needed something, they either went to the local buyer (who was either the office manager or the designated purchaser) or the local boss and got permission to buy it themselves if it was small. Assuming it was large enough, then it would go through the buyer who than bought either from a catalog, a local vendor, or a contracted supplier for products he or she couldn’t get locally.

Volume leverage was small, time was short, and deals weren’t that great. It was typically the lowest price from some semblance of 3-bids and a buy. And any deal found by one location typically wasn’t shared with another.

As organizations grew and began to realize these inefficiencies, they decided to centralize the purchasing function to achieve volume leverage and better deals, at least for common categories, and in turn decrease the manpower needed for common buys. This also allowed best practices to be created and shared and archived in a knowledge center, but the centralization came with its own problems. Uncommon or unique categories to one or two locations were often sourced with worse results (as the centralized buyers couldn’t exploit volume and didn’t know the local market), local knowledge was lost, and manpower wasn’t reduced that much as inventory managers and designated “buyers” still needed to be at each location to order off of the master contracts and manage inventory.

So, these organizations moved to a center led model. Common, strategic, and/or high dollar categories were centralized, but uncommon, non-strategic, and/or low dollar were managed in a distributed fashion. This, presumably, would achieve the best of the decentalized and centralized procurement worlds with no disadvantages. Right? Wrong.

As center-led organizations matured, a number of cracks in the shiny new armor appeared. This model, like every model before, had its own disadvantages which leaders are now grappling with.

Another evolution is needed. What is that evolution?

A Virtual Procurement Center of Excellence.

What does that look like?

Join THIS THURSDAY’s free webinar (registration required), sponsored by Pool4Tool and featuring the doctor, and find out.

eBid Systems – An Old Procurement Provider with a New SaaS Sourcing Solution

eBid Systems started out as an ASP of (custom) procurement solutions for the public sector back in 1999. While relatively unknown in the private sector, this vendor is well known in the public sector, having grown over the last 17 years to a large provider of ASP and (multi-tenant) SaaS solutions to over 200 public sector organizations of all shapes and sizes and about 100 private sector organizations (that primarily serve the public sector).

Even though the e-Sourcing market is well established, and, despite the recent M&A frenzy, there are still a handful of mature mid-market e-Sourcing offerings for a mid-market company to choose from, eBid Systems decided to re-enter the market with a new SaaS e-Sourcing solution called, ironically, ProcureWare, which has been in re-development for the last three years.

A few years ago eBid Systems realized that if they were going to accelerate their growth, and increase penetration in the private sector, they needed to get out of the custom software and ASP business and into the multi-tenant cloud-based SaaS business and rework their platforms into a nimble, quick to setup, easy to use, competitive turnkey e-Sourcing solution. And for the last three years they have been developing that suite. The result is a solid mid-market entry with solid RFX, e-Auction, Reporting, basic SIM and basic CLM and, just like ScoutRFP, enough to get the attention of new converts to e-Sourcing, especially in the mid-market. Plus, their experience in the public sector is very attractive to those companies looking to get, or increase, public sector customers.

The RFX solution allows for detailed creation of information request forms, pricing request forms, and scoring schemes — which can be split among multiple reviewers. The RFX can be sent to selected suppliers, or opened up to any supplier on the eBid network for bidding.

Bids consist of all responses to the RFX, any associated documents the supplier wants to upload, questions (or clarifications) that are asked, and responses that are provided. Suppliers and Buyers can drag and drop documents into the platform and a complete audit trail of all bids, changes, clarifications, and responses are maintained in the audit log.

The (reverse) auction works like a standard low-bid auction, but the interface is RFX line-based. There is no graphical interface at this time. However, the platform also supports forward auctions for the disposal of excess inventory, which some public sector organizations find useful.

The supplier information management (SIM) is quite extensive and extremely customizeable by eBid Systems and can track not only all basic company information, financial information, and even compliance information, but can be customized to track appropriate diversity, public sector classifications, and insurance certifications. A supplier record can also be associated with all contracts and associated bids.

Contract management is all about managing and tracking awards, vendor obligations, and associated data — it is not about contract document creation or tracking of contract documents and deliverables. It’s primitive at the moment but could prove more valuable as time goes on. Contract data is primarily used for alerts, as the system can alert to expiring contracts, expiring insurance, diversity review dates, and so on.

eBid Systems market entry is solid and shows promise. SI expects that we could see a strong uptake in mid-market organizations in the private sector that primarily serve public sector organizations and continued, steady, growth in the public sector. Time will tell. Regardless, for those interested in a deeper dive, check out the recent deep dive by the doctor and the prophet over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required]. (Part I).

Procurement-as-a-Service: High Priority or HYPE HYPE HYPE!

Next month, the public defender will be hosting a webinar on the evolution of procurement: alignment, flexibility, and Procurement-as-a-Service where he will be discussing whether Procurement-as-a-Service (PaaS) is high priority for your Procurement organization or just hype. Guess which way SI is leaning?

First of all, let’s define what Procurement-as-a-Service (really) is. Procurement-as-a-Service is the new name for the service you get from a Managed Services Provider that combines technology, personnel, and expertise to take over part, or even all, of your Procurement operations in a transparent and effective way. They use technology to identify what you are spending on, what you need, and where savings likely are; choose categories for sourcing and assign category experts; modern technology to do the sourcing and procurement; and track the purchases and payments and do m-way matching to make sure you only pay for what you get and that you get what you are supposed to when you are supposed to. They also make the process visible through, at a minimum, a reporting and progress portal, and may even give you some access to the analytics and procurement tool to run your own reports, record inventory, and upload payments.

Second, let’s break it down.

1. Technology

Nothing new here. Given that MSPs are typically using someone else’s tech, there’s nothing new here. In fact, they’re probably using inferior tech as they are looking for something that works best at managing multiple client procurement portfolios and not at conducting that best sourcing event, bringing the best analytics or optimization solution to the table.

2. People

Note that we are using people here, not talent. MSPs have people. A lot of people. Because they have to fill a lot of seats, but not all are talented, or at least not talented with respect to your business. And this is key. Talent is appropriately educated, experienced, and relevant to your business. This brings us to:

3. Expertise

While there will likely be a number of people at the MSP with expertise in your categories, this number could be a dozen or two among thousands. And you won’t likely get them working your account, nor are you guaranteed to even get the results you would get from a GPO (Group Purchasing Organization).

Third, let’s analyze what we broke down. No guarantee of even best of breed technology. No guarantee of the right talent for your organization (based on your categories or industry). And no guarantee of the right expertise, or sufficient expertise to go around.

So what is PaaS? In SI’s view it’s a quick-fix band-aid for those organizations without enough tech, talent, or transition management capability to handle its own Procurement operations. But for any organization with any capability to acquire and manage even basic tech, attract talent, and acquire and employ expertise, what does a PaaS provider offer, especially when there are GPOs, niche consultancies, and SaaS solutions that have been offering the same, if not more, for quite some time now? The answer: so far, nothin’.

So, in SI’s view, it’s hype, hype, hype. But it will be interesting to see what the public defender has to say when he goes head to head with Comensura‘s Jon Milton on March 7, 11:00 EST, 16:00 GMT.

Why Isn’t Procurement Changing?

It’s a good question, and one the procurement dynamo recently tackled over on procurement.world. According to the dynamo, multiple factors are at play, including, but not limited to:

Big Jelly Theory

Attributed to Paul Finnerty, the ‘theory’ is that if you throw yourself and your team members, 100% mentally and physically, at the organization, in an attempt to change it, at best the organization will give a little shiver, momentarily, like a giant jelly, and then immediately return to its pre-existing shape and carry on, with business as usual, as though nothing has happened.

Irrational Actors

Attributed to Charles Jacobs, brain cience has found that human beings are anything but reasonable… When it comes to motivation, our approach is based on the view of classical economic theory that people are rational beings trying to maximize their economic return. This leads us to use the promise of rewards to motivate the behavior we need. But in direct defiance of the theory, people don’t respond reasonably or objectively to the rewards.

But are these the only reasons? There are two reasons that modern Procurement solutions aren’t adopted. The first is the people. They can resist, resist, and resist. The second is the management.

Management with Revolving Door Priorities

When Management falls for every fad of the day and changes priorities, processes, and even technologies every couple of years, employees get jaded and even more resistant to change then they’d naturally be. The Big Jelly gets bigger.

Maury the Management Moron

Sometimes the team, who want to do well and get their bonuses, will come to the conclusion they need a new solution, go through a detailed evaluation and select one they are willing to give an honest go. But, Maury the Management Moron, who will just see the price tag (and not the ROI) and correlate it with a potential negative impact on his bonus will say no. And that’s the end of the Procurement progression.

So, when trying to figure out a way around the conundrum, you have to go beyond just people and look at roles and how the values change as the role changes. And take that into consideration when applying your economic theory. (And, sometimes, wait for Maury to be shown the door.)