21 Jun 2012 e-procurement – something else that can ruin your eyesight
Finance people and purchasing people look at the world through different lenses. The world appears completely different to each of them. For a purchasing person, spending too much time working amongst finance people is like borrowing someone else’s spectacles. It will ruin your eyesight!
In my last piece I tried to outline a somewhat conceptual aspect of the issues raised by Pete in his “World Class or Half Assed” post of 14 June. I’d like here to pick up on the more substantive points Pete raised and begin by agreeing with him while arguing that all is not as black as he paints.
The mischief which that post sought to address was that of user-unfriendliness of e-procurement systems and the particular target was the difficulty in selecting the correct items to purchase. I am a Business Development Manager at Elcom International, Inc., and, at the risk of sounding a little advertorial, I want to point out that our e-procurement product is one of the five identified by Gartner as world leaders in “Ease of Use”. Given that I did spend nine years on the other side of the desk establishing and managing an e-procurement programme, I do think that there is scope to indicate some of the lessons we (and I) have learned.
Begin at the beginning: e-procurement systems are typically procured by buyers – by procurement professionals. But buyers typically don’t have a deep understanding of either transactional purchasing or financial processes; it is not what they do. A professional buyer is trained in market analysis, negotiation and category management and in running compliant sourcing procedures leading to the award of a contract. She is not likely to be and end-user of a P2P tool or an ERP system with a purchasing module, although there is probably a stationery clerk sitting three desks away who will be an end user but whose opinion will not be sought. Nor will the buyer likely ever have to deal with e-invoices or the reconciliation of p-card files or configure a punchout connection.
Yet it is probable that the specification with which an organisation goes to market will have been produced by the Procurement or Finance departments. They will likely do the assessment and selection also. After all, who knows more about Procurement than a buyer? So it shouldn’t be surprising that the market is dominated by providers and systems which appeal to those professionals but which then struggle to gain acceptance amongst the end users.
Elcom’s customer base is particularly strong in the public sector and our customers have very different requirements. A teacher wants to teach; a nurse wants to care for the patient; a paramedic wants to be prepared for whatever tragedies the day might deliver; none of them want to wade through screens and fields which deflect them from their job in order to have the tools they require when they require them. And if it is too remote from their needs they won’t do it. We cannot afford to provide content in a way which makes it hard to select and order – and so we don’t. Feel free to ask our customers – Gartner did.
Finally, I’d like to comment one of Pete’s gripes.
“One of the easiest ways to get an e-procurement implementation wrong is to design it without involving the purchasing community. Why then do many organizations get the finance function to design it? The result, a purchasing system that looks like a finance system and a workflow that only an accountant would understand.”
The “purchasing community” is too often a synonym for the Procurement Department and they often don’t understand P2P either.
Pete has clearly spent too much time trying to use the purchasing functions in ERP systems.