e-Procurement

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

For some reason, social media gives credibility to even the most suspect stories. Take a read of this article: How We Screwed Almost the Whole Apple Community. The authors drew a screw with a non-standard head. They emailed the drawing to themselves with a text suggesting (but providing no evidence) that it might be a leak from Apple and then posted a photo of the email and drawing on Reddit. They then waited to see what would happen. It took 12 hours for things to liven up. First, the Apple blog Cult of Mac reported ”Apple May Be Working On A Top Secret Asymmetric Screw To Lock You Out Of Your Devices Forever” and thereafter it went viral. The interesting thing for me was their analysis of the credulity of each successive wave of commentators as the story moved from Reddit to the IT press to bloggers to social media.

e-procurement suffers from two problems: the first is the “e” and the second is “procurement”.  Both “e” and “procurement” immediately put people on the wrong mental track.  “e” leads people to think that it is all about IT. “Procurement” is now so diffuse in meaning that people think it is about buying things and it is not.

Today, Coupa Software has announced that Blackstone, the investment and advisory firm, has selected Coupa as its spend management solution and has made a limited investment in the company. Some Blackstone portfolio companies already use Coupa, and the Coupa-Blackstone relationship will now be leveraged at other portfolio companies in coming months.

Shortly before I stopped working for Government I attended a particularly dispiriting conference. The theme was “Delivering More With Less”. I went to a session on “Re-engineering Government Procurement” and listened to assorted “experts” and senior figures claimed that the thing to do was to sort out procurement processes then hand it all over to SAP and Oracle. I could have thrown myself out of a high window had we not been on the ground floor. One speaker wondered out why things were so often going so badly in government despite their having invested in ERPs and there was a sense of bafflement when I asked if he had considered that things were going badly precisely because they were using ERPs.

A meeting is not what you do. It is the forum in which you do something. You discuss problems in order to develop a plan to resolve them. You provide updates on progress of a project in order to gain approval to move to the next stage. You may sell your product or buy a product. These are the things you do in a meeting. If you have a busy day coming up, preparing an important presentation and responding to lots of emails, you wouldn’t say “I’ve got to use the computer a lot today” – you just wouldn’t. So why do people say “I have lots of meetings today”? So I’ve banned the word meeting. I want to remain focused on the purpose of any meeting rather than the meeting itself and I want my staff and colleagues to do likewise. And next, I’m going to ban the word “data”.