Will Sell-Side Win the Usability War? A Controversial Perspective from Forrester’s Duncan Jones

In his presentation at Zycus Horizon, Forrester’s Duncan Jones introduced a somewhat controversial (I think) perspective that runs counter to how we think about controlling actual shopping and buying activity. Specifically, he observes, “sell-side sites” are the ones that are going to win the usability war – and thus will come out on top when it comes to overall engagement with all of the frontline users with the ability to buy goods and services in our company.

The thought has significant implications if you agree with it. If you believe this argument, eProcurement and services procurement applications of the future will have to move to managing external content and activity as much as curating and controlling either supplier or internally hosted catalogs. In Duncan’s words, “they will have to make more extensive use of punch-out capability” and as a result, we should make the ability to support these features a “selection criteria” in broader tool and suite valuations.

He also notes we should make sure that that the tools we use and the punch-out sites we interact with enable the support for guided or “down-buying” in an organization’s cost management favor rather than solutions that enable a continuous supplier “up-sell” capability to thrive. Such tools will “prevent access to unapproved sites,” as well as unapproved items or services offered through approved vendors. He also suggests that in developing specifications for tools to enable this capability, that we “demand a way to bring shopping carts into the approvals process” itself as an integrated component rather than just a loosely coupled efforts.

I find Duncan’s suggestions around the importance of what we might term “next generation punch out support” and management quite curious and astute. But they will require a paradigm shift for legacy eProcurement vendors that started off with a catalog and command/control centric mindset. Indeed, letting our buying troops run loose on the frontlines of a supplier’s trenches – on their side of the “buying line” – as a standard course of action versus an exception will require a shift in the transactional buying mindset to be effective.

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