Purchase to Pay Process

Sometimes, great ideas just never take off because some prerequisite solution to a problem hasn’t been solved. E-procurement was a great idea in the 1990’s but until the internet was ubiquitous and trusted, it was slow to take off. Looking back, the trust and ubiquity grew quite quickly but in 1996, if we had a crystal ball that said it would take the best part of a decade to become an established way of doing business, I wonder whether we’d have given up. We didn't know that the problem was trust and ubiquity until it was solved.

There are lots of reasons to do e-procurement but most of the stated reasons are not the real reason at all. Indeed, most of the reasons stated for implementing e-procurement are impossible to deliver. But there is one very good reason to implement e-procurement and oddly, the functionality that delivers it is usually not available from the e-procurement vendors.

I've been working with e-procurement in a wide variety of guises and in many different organizations for nearly 20 years. Before the widespread use of the internet there were some proprietary on-line purchasing systems that were, by and large, the same as a modern incarnation of a web based e-procurement system. And they all have one thing in common - they don't work. To be fair, they're getting better but still, most implementations are an expensive set of broken promises. It's not always the technology that's at fault - sometimes it's the promises that are wrong - expectations are set unrealistically. Or its the functional design that's wrong - business requirements ignored or misunderstood. And it's such a shame because e-procurement was such a good idea. So what's gone wrong?

New York - the lights, the excitement, the glamor, the Post Office. A compelling argument for electronic invoicing. [caption id="attachment_7294" align="aligncenter" width="540"]This Post Office in the heart of Manhattan is open for business This Post Office in the heart of Manhattan - one of the busiest and commercially vibrant cities in the world - is open for business. I stood in line for 45 minutes to buy a stamp.[/caption]

Over the years I’ve had some great ideas. I’ve had some pretty dumb ideas too. I’ve followed through on some – both the good ones and the dumb ones but most, I have to admit, have been left as just ideas. But it still gives me great satisfaction when I get to see one of my great ideas executed perfection – by someone else. A number of years ago, I had the great idea that smart phones could be used as purchase to pay tools. I wrote about it here. The problem of process compliance in some situations like construction sites it that it has, historically at least, been difficult to put IT solutions in place. Purchasing Cards have been tried but rather than helping to support a robust purchase to pay process they tend to remove the process entirely – the “Nuke” option. But now, everyone carries a smart phone and it’s perfectly feasible to put purchasing software in the hands of everyone, regardless of their working environment. It’s not just possible – it’s delivered, and a few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to speak to Patrick Hopkins, CPO at Coca Cola Bottling Company to understand how they’ve implemented a Coupa solution to do just that.

Everyone knows that times are tough and times are toughest for small businesses. They're faced with obstacles that can seem insurmountable - paperwork, regulation working capital costs. But there's one obstacle above all others that can strike fear into the every small business - the late payer. They are a scourge. Over years, an obsession with the optimisation of DPO (that's accountant-speak for funding your business at the expense of your smaller, weaker suppliers) has become a central financial strategy for many large organisations. Some of the biggest household names in the UK were recently outed for extending their payment terms to an astonishing 180 days and there is an increased awareness among the public and politicians that this practice is grossly unfair.

Ever since I read Hell’s Angels by Hunter S Thompson, I’ve always found the image of bikers compellingly attractive. And so I’ve not spared any cash when it comes to getting my own image right. When I’m wearing my black Rukka Merlin jacket with matching water-proof Gore-Tex, armored leather jeans and my Schuberth C3 Pro helmet with built in antennae, even though I say it myself, I look the business. All I need now is a bike. I remember from my teenage years, as I suspect will many others, the sad soul with the helmet and no bike. Pursuing the biker dream with not enough money for the full package, he missed the point. Having a helmet doesn’t make you a little bit of a biker. It makes you a little bit of an idiot. Making only a partial investment isn’t always an incremental step towards a complete solution. Often it’s a waste of money. And that’s what e-procurement is if it’s implemented in isolation – a complete waste of money.