Purchasing Card

We're in the middle of August and there are two unusual things about the summer in the UK. Firstly, we're having one and secondly, we haven't seen the scandalous use of purchasing cards in public sector exposed. I've been looking out for the story that emerges every year about the £1 billion spending spree that public sector workers go on each year. Apparently, they use "state credit cards" to fund all manner of things like "taxi rides" and "business lunches". Food from Marks and Spencer is often quoted as the disgraceful example of a waste of taxpayers money. Daily Mail readers from all over the UK are aghast: "Food from Marks and Spencer! I wish I could afford to feed myself at M&S."

The amount of sensitive data on the servers of mid-to-large enterprises can be quite shocking. Included in the data could be credit card numbers. Locally storing your customer’s credit card data can be a risky proposition as your company could fall victim to a costly data breach. Many large enterprises keep multiple copies of their customers’ payment data on old legacy systems whose underlying technologies remain solidly rooted in the 1960s.  Because these systems are transaction-based rather than customer-based, their interoperability with internal audit and accounting processes is severely limited.  To make matters worse, organizations often don’t know where sensitive data resides on those systems and have no control over it.

Sometimes, great ideas just never take off because some prerequisite solution to a problem hasn’t been solved. E-procurement was a great idea in the 1990’s but until the internet was ubiquitous and trusted, it was slow to take off. Looking back, the trust and ubiquity grew quite quickly but in 1996, if we had a crystal ball that said it would take the best part of a decade to become an established way of doing business, I wonder whether we’d have given up. We didn't know that the problem was trust and ubiquity until it was solved.

It is depressing that whenever there is conflict brewing  somewhere in the world – a political or diplomatic tension that escalates to point where otherwise peaceful countries contemplate military action - there’s always someone, somewhere who says “Nuke ‘em”. The Nuke option – the answer proposed by the person that doesn’t understand the question. Instead of solving the problem, they want to destroy the problem – that way, they don’t have to worry about how to solve it. It’s not just war of course. There are circumstances in business that present hugely complex issues when it can be tempting to reach for the red button. A few years ago I provided some consultancy support to a construction company. When I began working for this particular client, they were just recovering from the consequences of pressing the red button. They had implemented a Purchasing Card program.