Purchase to Pay – Are you ready for best practice?

I learned an important lesson a few years ago that I’d like to share.

I play guitar – not to a very high standard I have to say – but I do enjoy it and I love guitars. I made a mistake a few years ago when I went into a very large guitar shop in Birmingham, England with a credit card in my pocket. Neither of these actions is a mistake when done individually – it’s sensible to carry a credit card and a musical instrument store is fine to visit. It’s just that they shouldn’t be done simultaneously.

For me, music shops are like magical Aladdin’s caves. Rue de Douai in the Pigalle district in Paris is one of my favourite places – even better than Denmark Street in London. My visit to the shop in Birmingham was just to have a look around but I had barely stepped through the doorway when I saw it – the Gibson SG Robot in cherry red – just like one of my guitar heroes, Robbie Krieger used to play but this one was self-tuning. The Gibson SG is a great guitar by any standard – like most Gibsons – and the Robot was voted coolest gadget for men by some men’s lifestyle magazine and I wasn’t leaving the shop without it.

But the lesson learned was not to avoid guitar shops when carrying  – I realize that is a mistake – I’ve just not learned the lesson. Last time I was in Pigalle I came out with a 3-string cigar box guitar that I haven’t got room for. No, the lesson I learned was that buying one of the best guitars in the world does not make you a better guitar player.

And I am often reminded of this when I get involved in system selection exercises whether it’s e-procurement, AP automation or whatever. A procurement team and a group of subject matter experts put a selection of competitors to the test to see who is best. And the vendors proudly claim to be “best in class”. It’s not a false claim most of the time. Look at the analysts’ quadrants and you will see the usual suspects huddled together in the top right. They can all claim to be best in

class. In many circumstances, any software vendor in that peer group is never the wrong decision.

But before investing, the enterprise performing the selection needs to ask itself a very difficult question: Are you ready for best in class? If you are about to implement best practice in purchase to pay, is your organisation ready to embrace that? Are you sophisticated enough, mature enough? If you are ready to invest in a best in class solution are you also committed to the change management that will be required to get the best out of it? Does your business case still stack up when you include the change management costs that will be required? To use the guitar analogy, can you play your instrument well enough to justify the investment in an expensive guitar or should you stick to the ukulele?

The thing is, great software will do exactly as you want it to do but it is not a panacea. If you have a dysfunctional organisation, great software won’t fix that. If you can’t manage change to persuade people to do things in a different way, your investment is a waste of time. Software enables best practice – it doesn’t deliver it.

Am I saying don’t invest in best practice unless you are already using it? No, of course not. I’m saying that when considering an investment in an enterprise solution, consider the cost of the software as well as the commissioning and configuration cost but don’t ignore or underestimate the sometimes considerable change management issues that may be confronted otherwise you will have an expensive best in class tool that doesn’t actually do anything impressive – just like my Gibson SG.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin