Daily Archives: June 9, 2023

Stop Sanctifying Savings, Recognizing ROIs without Research, or Seeking Solutions Solely in Software

If you’ve been reading the doctor for any length of time, you’re probably a bit confused about the third part of this title — as the doctor is one of the biggest proponents of sustainable software solutions that cover the extended Source-to-Pay process and enable next generation Sourcing and Procurement. However, just because he believes you should have an appropriate software solution for every stage of the source-to-pay process, that does not mean he believes all of the solutions are in software alone. Some are in systems, which are composed of talent, technology, and transformation(al processes).

Sometimes the solution to a challenge isn’t (just) a better system, it’s a better process. Take invoice overpayments, common in large organizations due to over-billings, duplicate billings, and even fraudulent billings. The current “solution” is to use a recovery firm who will take 1/3 of what they “recover” for you as their fee, but they won’t recover everything (since anything off contract is hopeless, as is any fraud that slipped through — the perpetuators are long gone, and even if the authorities find them, by the time you get a judgement in court, they’ve spent, laundered, or transferred the money to somewhere you can’t touch it). This is not much of a solution, because if only 50% of the overspend is addressable, and you lose 1/3 of that in fees, you’re only recovering 1/3 of your overspend. Ouch!

The solution here is better process enabled by technology. When an invoice comes in, the system auto-processes it and auto-matches it a purchase order and a goods receipt. If there is no PO, and it’s not a pre-defined monthly billing, it’s marked as no-pay until manually verified by the buyer that a) the invoice is for goods that were ordered and b) all of the units / services are the agreed upon prices or rates. And even then it’s held for payment until the goods are marked as received or the services delivered. If there is a PO, it must match all of the yet unmatched units (if multiple shipments, and thus invoices, are made against the PO) and each unit must be billed at the approved (contracted rate). If not, it’s flipped back to the supplier for correction. If the supplier won’t correct, possibly because the order was expedited at managerial insistence and the supplier agreed only if a premium could be charged, then it needs managerial approval before a payment can be issued, and if that is not given, it needs to enter a dispute process. In other words, no invoice is paid until matched, verified correct, and, when necessary, granted managerial approval — and the entire invoice management function is governed by a well thought out, defined, and detailed process (with flow-charts that govern process flows) that ensures every invoice is processed correctly in every situation (based upon whether or not the goods and/or services are under contract, PO, cyclic billing agreement, ordered from a catalog, requisitioned at a defined rate scale, bought in an e-auction, etc. In other words, the process comes first, and the technology enables it.

This means that while the software should enable as much of the process as possible, you shouldn’t look to the software, or even the vendor, to define the process for you. The vendor should have best practices, and should provide you with sufficient configuration options to make it work for the process you need, but you need to understand what you need before you select a solution. Some solutions on the market will be really rigid, and others will expect you to configure it to your needs. In other words, software can provide you with what you need to complete the solution, but software alone is not a complete solution — you need the right process and the right people using it. So don’t look to a software provider as the solution, look to a provider to provide software that will provide the software part of the solution.

And, more importantly, don’t accept the promised ROI without doing your own research. Most providers will promise you an ROI of 5X to 15X in an effort to convince you that NOT buying their solution wold be the stupidest thing ever as every day you’re not using their solution you’re flushing money down the toilet. And if the ROI of a solution is that high, you should definitely have a solution — but the solution that gives you that ROI might not be the one that promises it. Remember, ROI is realized return / total solution cost, and depending on how good you were doing before buying the solution, the current market conditions, your industry, and the ancillary costs of the solution (implementation, integration, training, etc.), the ROI for your organization could be drastically different than their average ROI for their average customer. For example, while the vendor’s average customer might see an ROI of 5, you might only see an ROI of 2.5, and at a multiple of less than 3, it’s likely not the solution for your organization. (Unless it’s the only solution and you need a software solution, but it’s rare that there’s only one software solution that would work.)

If you’re given an ROI, ask for the calculation the vendor uses and how you would calculate it for your own organization and do it yourself. Add padding into the price, and when you have an expected range of savings and/or cost avoidance, err on the side of caution (the lower end). That’s the number you use when considering the value, not the vendor’s number. Every situation is different, and you need to understand how different your situation is from their average customer.

However, the most important thing to understand is that you need to stop sanctifying savings and believing that the savings numbers provided by a vendor are a result of their solution. Or that you will achieve anything similar. Remember, “savings”, which is usually just “unnecessary cost avoidance”, is a function of how much the organization is spending across its addressable categories, how much overspend is across those categories, and how much was able to be captured — and this is dependent on organizational size (annual revenue), industry, and spend profile. If your organizational spend is considerably smaller, your addressable spend is less than industry average (long term locked-in contracts, etc.), or your overspend in high volume / dollar categories is less than industry average (either because you had good negotiators, or you cut the contracts at the most opportune time), then your expected “savings” will be considerably less than their average customer savings they are presenting to you. In other words, like ROI, the advertised number may not be what you get. Specifically, your savings might not be anywhere close to their advertised number.

But that’s not the most important reason you need to stop sanctifying savings — the most important reason you need to stop sanctifying savings is that there is absolutely no correlation between the savings numbers and their software. Let’s repeat that. There is absolutely no correlation between the savings numbers and their software. Why? The same reason you should not seek solutions solely in software.

The reality is that, depending on the situation at hand, sometimes most of the “savings” or “cost avoidance” results from a better process alone and has nothing to do with the software solution whatsoever. Also, sometimes the solution that is needed is simply a workflow that enforces a process, a RFX solution that collects comparable information, an e-procurement solution that supports contracted rate catalogs and rate cards, etc. These standard solutions are offered by dozens of vendors and if the majority of the “savings” or “cost avoidance” comes from a baseline solution, it literally doesn’t matter what vendor’s solution you use! Literally. So if the vendor with the significant savings number is asking 1M annually in license fees and a smaller vendor offers a solution with all the necessary baseline functionality for 120K annually, you could get the same savings for 1/8th of the cost (which would significantly impact the ROI).

In other words, when you are given a savings number, you have to do your research and figure out

  • what percentage of those savings results solely from the fact that the implemented solution enforces a proper process
  • what percentage of those savings results solely from the baseline functionality that is available in at least 3 to 5 other solutions (at a lower annual license cost)
  • … and what percentage of those savings result from advanced features found only in that solution

For example, if only 5% of the savings results from advanced functionality and your estimated annual savings from addressable spend for the first 3 years is only 10M per year, are you really willing to spend 8X as much in license fees for an incremental savings of 500K? The answer here should be a resounding NO as that incremental savings is less than the incremental solution cost! But if you’re a multibillion dollar corporate, that could save 50M a year for three years, with a 10% incremental savings from the advanced functionality, then you would be saving an extra 5M per year at an incremental cost of 800K (which is a 6X ROI) AND have advanced functionality that could be applied to all categories that might squeeze out an extra percent here and there.

In other words, what solution you should buy depends on which solution you expect will give YOU the greatest ROI based upon YOUR calculation, not the vendor’s customer averages (or outrageous quotes from multinationals who spend 10X what you do). Furthermore, don’t misread the title — you do need software to enable your Sourcing, Procurement, and Supply Chain, but the software is not the total solution — which requires the right process driven by the right people. So don’t expect the vendor to solve all your problems, just the software portion (which you should only buy after identifying what you need, and the vendor you should choose should be that which has the greatest expected ROI for your organization, as calculated by you).