Dynamic Discounting

Ask a CFO why he shouldn't pay suppliers early in return for lower prices and he or she is quite likely to say "It's fine occasionally but generally it just gives a one-off hit". I had this exact conversation with a a CFO of a large international organization recently and, not being an accountant, I chose to hold back, go away and lick my wounds and contemplate why his position was both expert and intuitively wrong.

The European Commission has declared some ambitious targets for e-procurement. They reckon that €2 trillion can be saved and they intend to get government organisations using purchase to pay best practice to deliver these savings by 2016. These targets are of course way too ambitious. What’s more, the Commission is going about it in completely the wrong way. They may be ambitious and their methods may not be perfect but I’m impressed and delighted at what they're doing.

So you think DPO is important? Well it is of course but manging it effectively comes at a price and it may be higher than you think. DPO (days payables outstanding) is an imoportant KPI for AP people but in many cases there is a hidden cost in keeping DPO figures high. It's the often significant opportunity cost of not taking discounts.

How can a banjo frailing ballad singer in Appalachia operate a more modern business model than a government department? Imagine that I am a finance director in the UK with personal tastes which run to “roots” music. Even for relatively obscure artists in any genre and any country, I will probably be able to find a website either for them or a distributor and buy their music directly as a cd or as a download. I will pay with my credit or debit card and get my cd a week later or my download almost immediately. The artist will get paid relatively quickly and pay a merchants fee which they will have factored into their original pricing. What I will not do is raise a requisition for the cd, have it approved and then issued to the artist, create and issue a goods received note when the item is delivered and approved, match the ensuing (paper) invoice against the receipt and the order and then promise the artist that I’ll instruct my bank to pay them 30 days thereafter. Yet, when I go into work the next morning, guess which process I will insist that my organisation uses?

Don't tell me your solution is ERP agnostic. I’m a believer in my ERP system and I want to deal with fellow believers. I don’t want to hear that you sit on the fence. It’s a familiar dilemma for vendors. They’d like to please everyone – be all things to all men - or women for that matter. Sales people are always asking product development teams for more functionality, new connectors, compatibility with new standards and so on in order to be compatible with all possible scenarios. So being ERP agnostic – from the vendors point of view – seems like a good thing. Right?

The more I look at the proposed acquisition of Ariba by SAP, the less sense it makes. SAP didn't need the functionality. They didn't need the brand. The Ariba shareholders will clearly be pleased to see this deal go through but what, I wonder, would an SAP sales guy be thinking and what would Ariba's competitors be making of it all?