Purchase to Pay

Some great things have come out of Australia but leaving Rolf Harris and Skippy aside, passion for procurement doesn’t seem to be one of them. Why is it that Aussies don't get as passionate as the poms about procurement? Well I'm not sure that the Europeans do get quite as passionate as Claudine Swiatek believes in her captivating article in her blog The Young Sourcerer about passion. But her point is well made that it's a shame that procurement isn't as well respected in some quarters as it should be.

It's been a difficult couple of weeks to RIM. The service disruption in parts of Europe then more recently in the US couldn't have come at a worse time. With revenues down 10% and profits more than halved,  (according to The Economist) it's a brave IT buyer that backs the Blackberry. The Blackberry is losing ground for all kinds of reasons. Some blame the odd governance structure of Research in Motion with joint chairmen also acting as joint CEO and the growing competition from the iPhone and Android smart phones is having a significant impact. But RIM's difficulties are just a single example of how the rapidly moving market for consumer IT is making the job of managing IT policy and IT sourcing more complex.

We hear all the time about big companies paying suppliers late, abusing their power to take advantage of the good will of smaller companies by delaying payment for as long as possible in order to enrich themselves at the expense of weaker, more vulnerable companies. Well, it’s not true. Deliberate late payment by large companies in all but a few exceptional cases doesn't go on. Systematic management of cash flow by withholding payments is a myth. The reality is, surprisingly, much worse!

You think purchase to pay is a back office function? e-invoicing is a technical innovation? AP automation an incremental improvement to financial supply chain management? And you wonder why nothing ever gets achieved. P2P is as boring as you make it. The reality is though, that purchase to pay, positioned properly, can deliver commercial benefits on a scale that would astound most executives.

I have sometimes described purchase to pay as sitting at the least glamorous end of the business spectrum. At one end is the sex, drug and rock 'n' roll world of PR, marketing and sales - life at the coal face where business really happens - and then at the other end there's the back office functions like purchasing, finance, internal audit. And if we take a closer look at the back office, sitting quietly right at the wrong end of the glamour spectrum is accounts payable. A colleague once described accounts payable as "the spinsters department". Jason Busch doesn't spare his vitriol in his criticism of AP suggesting that "most companies would likely be better off blowing up their AP function". To be fair he does suggest a more constructive fate for AP by describing how they might transform into a high value add supply chain finance operation - something I would strongly endorse. But for the time being, I want to defend AP. Why? Because much of the criticism is unfair and especially when it comes from purchasing.