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Would you impose purchase to pay policies on people in your organization if those policies, whether followed or not, have no real consequences? Think about it – if someone goes off piste and buys some stationery from a non-preferred supplier and expenses it – a few dollars in a few billion dollars of spend – are you really going to crack down on them? They’re going outside of a policy and they know it. Interpreted strictly, they’re breaking the rules and they could be disciplined for such behaviour. Should we develop a sense of perspective? What difference does this behaviour make?

 Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has revealed it is now managing its entire procurement and financial activities with its suppliers in a paperless and automated environment.

Over 3,000 suppliers exchange over 20,000 documents each month – from RFPs through purchase orders and invoices to payment confirmations – creating an efficient and environmentally-friendly process with saving of up to 50% in operational resources compared to the manual procure-to-pay process previously in place.

This transformation is enabled by the Nipendo Supplier Cloud platform, which allows organizations to electronically collaborate with all of their trading partners while enabling seamless integration with their ERP systems. With over 3,000 IAI suppliers using the platform and more than 90% of invoices electronic, paperless process enables dramatic error reduction, savings of up to 50%

For years the growth in the use of electronic invoicing was hampered by a very simple fact. There was nothing in it for suppliers. Think about it. A supplier wants to be paid and needs to send an invoice. Whether that’s a paper invoice in an envelope with a stamp on it or an email makes very little difference. The cost of a stamp has got nothing to do with it – unless a supplier is sending many very low value invoices, the postage cost is trivial. While only a few customers demand electronic invoicing, while the business world was largely paper based and while suppliers were being asked to subsidize the cost of their customers' e-invoicing programs by paying for the privilege of sending an invoice, there was always going to resistance. But the world has now changed and the business case for e-invoicing is now fundamentally different to the one-sided calculation with all the benefits loaded on the customer side that would have been built perhaps 5 years ago.

The purchase to pay police aren’t naturally an attractive bunch of people. Like auditors, they only bring ugly messages about compliance and process. And they don’t make their lives easier by tarnishing further their image by moaning about their lot. So how do you get the perfectly rational P2P messages across effectively? How do you prevent it from being perceived as a pointless dictat from an area of the business too remote to understand commercial realities?

A few weeks ago, somebody asked me why supply chain finance had suddenly burst into life - especially in the UK - with a new breed of SCF providers appearing at the same time?. Why is it that in the space of a few months the market place seemed to blossom? Tungsten bought OB10 to create a new SCF proposition. Crossflow Payments emerged in the summer and there were others. Why the sudden explosion? There was nothing sudden about it. These operations have years of planning and preparation behind them. It appears sudden – but it’s not. And we’re about to see something similar happen in Europe around e-invoicing.

On 8 October 2013 the Aswad Composite Mills factory, in Gazipur, outside Dhaka in Bangladesh burnt down. Seven workers were killed and a further fifty were injured in the fire. As newspaper reports state, the fire came soon after eleven hundred workers had been killed in a blaze at the Rana Plaza factory, a tragedy which led to more than ninety High Street retailers reaching an accord to ensure fire and safety inspections at their suppliers’ premises. The Aswad Composite Mills were not amongst those to be inspected because they were not perceived to be in the direct supply chain of the Western retailers.

I thought of these tragedies when reading the draft Directive on public procurement regarding use of “life cycle costs” in assessment procedures. I am aware of the possibility of bathos in that sentence – I was reflecting on the very real human cost of supply chain decisions the further one looks back through the tiers.

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