A high profile public procurement exercises in the UK has become a very public embarrassment for the British government as the award of the franchise for one of the country’s busiest rail lines has been withdrawn following complaints from one of the unsuccessful bidders. This is going to lead to calls for public procurement processes to be examined and it will do nothing for the reputation of procurement professionals in the public sector who regularly come under fire from a press who will seek to conclude that the public procurement process needs to be overhauled.
But that’s exactly the wrong conclusion to draw. Indeed, I think that the whole debacle shows the strength of the procurement process – not its weakness.
Last week at EXPP I had the great pleasure of meeting Dave Wallis, Director Eastern Hemisphere (great job title) for OFS Portal. You could be forgiven for not knowing of OFS portal. OFS Portal is highly niche specializing exclusively in the Oil and Gas industry. In their own words it is a “group of diverse suppliers working together with a non-profit objective to provide standardized electronic information to B2B trading partners to facilitate e-commerce in upstream oil and gas products and services.” That is pretty specific but don’t let that mislead you in any way – there’s many industries outside of upstream oil and gas that could take a leaf out of their book. They are in many ways exemplars for purchase to pay and they’re now adding to their credentials by partnering with Tradeshift.
The first golden rule of business: "Thou shalt not committee".
Decisions made by committee are compromises - almost by definition and in an attempt to satisfy everyone, no one is satisfied. Democracy is overrated.
This is how the EU Commission does things, or at least it appears how to do things. We see it all the time. Discussions about e-invoicing standards and interoperability - recommendations to industry made by a mixture of biased vendors and the independent, self-appointed Messiahs of e-business. It's no wonder the rest of us look on in dismay at some of the misguided nonsense that emerges.
And the timing? Decisions made by committee take an age. By the time decisions are made the world has changed and it’s back to square one.
But it's not always like that
This week, Berlin hosted the 8th EXPP conference - the largest e-invoicing conference of this kind in the world. An eclectic mix of solution vendors, thought leaders and experts from no less than 36 countries, it's a melting pot where friendships are forged, partnerships positioned and, for a couple of days, commercial rivalries put to one side to advance the cause of common sense in business.
EXPP isn't like most conferences. There are very few potential buyers and as a lead generation opportunity for solution providers it would not be considered a great success but the fact that exhibitors come back year after year speaks volumes for the value of the event.
Operating on a global basis can be tough. American companies trying to port solutions across the pond for example, find out very quickly that what works in the US does doesn't necessarily fit in Europe. Just because we speak the same language (almost) and just because we have a similar culture, doesn't mean the local idiosyncrasies can be ignored. And this is especially true with e-invoicing. The rules for e-invoicing are different from country to country. Even within the European Community where the rules are supposed to be the same - they're different.
A global solution has to accommodate local needs. That's why it's good to see Tradeshift continue to grow globally by thinking local.
I once lived in a house with a large kitchen with a white tiled floor that was difficult to keep clean. Dark colored soles on shoes would leave unsightly marks and even the slightest spillage would stand out like a sore thumb. We quickly got used to it however and we learned to remove our shoes and clean it very regularly. The downside of the white floor was that we needed to work hard to keep it clean. The upside was it was spotless. An operating theater in a hospital was no cleaner. You could have safely performed open-heart surgery in our kitchen.
Most people don’t choose white floors or carpets especially if you have young kids or pets. Darker colors or patterns camouflage the reality of life and it’s easier to live with a few grubby marks if you can’t see them and it’s exactly the same when organizations specify their business technology solutions. They specify solutions that fit in with the realities of a complex set of business process and design a solution that fits in with that. And quite right too you may say but I’d disagree. Sometimes you need a white carpet solution.