e-procurement – accommodating all categories is not easy, but it can be done

Sheena Smith at Spend Matters wrote a piece today encouraging readers to contribute the strangest line items they have ever been asked to approve. The examples she gives include a huge golden pencil, 10 burritos and an alphabet made of server wire. I have a few favourites of my own that I’ve collected over the years and while it’s fun to collect them, it’s also really useful as a means of reminding businesses that they must not underestimate the complexity of trying to develop standard purchasing processes – there are always many exceptions.

I found one of my favourites items within a bank’s spend analysis data – an elephant. The P.O. actually said “elephant”, quantity 1. Of course when I looked into it, all became clear and much less remarkable than at first glance. The elephant was hired for a launch event. The marketing team hired it to give people rides – something a little different to attract people to an otherwise boring roadshow event.

It is a very common mistake when designing an e-procurement process to begin with a standard category like office supplies and assume that the process is the same for everything. Then someone points out that services are different from products and suddenly there’s a need for another process. Then it becomes apparent that not all goods can be receipted by the requisitioner so that’s a third process. What about legal spend? Rent, utilities, car fleet, working lunches … Before you know it, you could have dozens of different purchasing processes to model.

Despite the wide variation in purchasing processes, an e-procurement system can support almost all types of purchase. And it is possible with no more than 10 purchasing process models – perhaps more, perhaps fewer depending on the complexity of the buying organisation but all, or very nearly all categories should be able to fit into these 10.

And I say nearly all because I have come across circumstance where no model I know will fit. My favourite example is the cow story. I have to give Conor Mullaney of exceleratedS2P credit for this. He told me this story over lunch about a year ago. A company he knew had commissioned a movie as part of a marketing campaign and the film crew were using a helicopter to shoot some aerial footage. During the filming, the helicopter got too close to the ground and hit a cow killing it out right. Naturally, the farmer was not pleased and demanded a replacement immediately (or at least as soon as possible). Now, if anyone can tell me how they would e-procure an emergency replacement of a cow, I’d like to know.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin

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