Why is eSourcing Adoption and Utilization Still So Low?

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Jeff Gilkerson, manager at The Hackett Group.

You would be hard pressed to find a TV viewer that would argue watching a show in standard definition is better than watching in high definition. Similarly, it would be difficult to find a procurement executive that would argue a manual (Excel/Word/email) based sourcing process is better than utilizing an eSourcing tool. It’s almost universally accepted that eSourcing is more efficient, improves quality/standardization, and generates better results. Yet eSourcing tool utilization and adoption is still lagging. Approximately 70 percent of large organizations have eSourcing tools. While at first this may seem encouraging, it begs the question: Why do 30 percent of organizations not have eSourcing tools when the benefits are widely known and accepted, the technology has been around for decades, and the tools can be obtained for a relatively low investment?

The picture gets even worse when you look at the actual adoption and utilization of eSourcing tools in the 70 percent of organizations that have them. Many of these organizations have “implemented” eSourcing tools, but what that really means is they have purchased the tools and have them available to use. It does not mean that the tools are embedded in the sourcing process, that the staff is adequately trained to use the tools, or that the tools are frequently and consistently used for sourcing projects.

We recently helped a mid-size manufacturing client in the midst of a procurement centralization to design and implement an eSourcing program. While eSourcing was new to this organization, some of their challenges and learning curve are just as relevant to more mature organizations trying to understand why eSourcing utilization and adoption has not reached its full potential.

Most eSourcing tool providers will tell you they are easy and fast to implement (some say it can be done in only a few days). However, true implementation of an eSourcing tool is more than just making sure the technology works.

The limits of adoption and utilization go beyond the actual tool, and lie in a range of organizational and people issues:

  •  Change is difficult: Former President Woodrow Wilson once said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Even if you know it’s for the best, change is difficult. Think of moving - despite it maybe being a move to nicer house in a better neighborhood, the process of packing, moving, and unpacking is difficult and not something most people look forward to. Similarly, moving from a manual sourcing process to an eSourcing process requires change on the part of users.
  • Required change: As mentioned, change is difficult, and transitioning to an eSourcing tool is change. And, just like all change, it requires effort and work. Users have to relearn how to do things they have been doing for years, explain to direct reports, suppliers, and internal stakeholders why they are changing, and often times modify the process they have become accustomed to. Additionally, many of the things that make eSourcing tools efficient (e.g. templates, auto-scoring) have to be built or configured. This work is required upfront before users start to realize the benefits that eSourcing tools provide. It’s not just about having the technology, it needs to be embedded into the process and this requires work and change.
  • Lack of process standardization: eSourcing tools provide a great resource to improve consistency in your sourcing process. However, in order to do this there must be a generally accepted sourcing process that is consistently followed throughout the organization. In our experience, many organizations don’t actually have a standard sourcing process. Even in organizations that do have a documented sourcing process, it is common to find that the process is infrequently followed or applied inconsistently when it is actually followed.
  • eSourcing provides more visibility: A robust eSourcing tool and program gives management more visibility into the status, progress, and results of sourcing projects. While this is great in management’s view, users may not see this as a positive.

To address the organizational and people issues, procurement executives can:

  • Standardize the sourcing process: Ensure there is only one sourcing process for the organization and that it is consistently and broadly followed. Just as teaching a young child two different ways to tie his shoes is certain to lead to confusion and frustration, designing an eSourcing program around an inconsistent sourcing process will inevitably lead to confusion and partial adoption.
  • Ensure proper training: eSourcing tools have become significantly easier to use, but for most users it is still change. A comprehensive training should be three-pronged:
  1. Basic Functionality: A “how to” use the tool. This is typically done as a classroom-style training (in person or via webex) and focuses on the technical aspects of how to do things in the tool.
  2. Best Practices: Another classroom-style training that focuses on best practices for eSourcing (e.g. questionnaire design, eAuction design, and set up)
  3. Hands on: The final piece of the training should be a hands-on training in the form of pilot projects. The pilots reinforce the functional and best practice training.


Note: When planning the pilot projects, it is important to select the right projects and users. If the project is too simple it will not provide enough depth for the project team and if the project is too complex it may distract from learning the eSourcing tool. Users selected should also be carefully chosen as the early users of the tool will have a significant impact on overall adoption.

  • Develop comprehensive documentation: Ample documentation will ensure that when users have questions after the initial training and pilot phase they will be able to easily find answers and complete their projects. The documentation should be widely available and focus on both the functional “how to use the tool” as well as the business processes.
  • Track the outcomes: Too often an eSourcing program is rolled out with much fanfare, only to quickly fade into the background. To ensure successful adoption of eSourcing tools, it must be tracked and reported. In addition to tracking and reporting the results (i.e. savings) form eSourcing widely across the company, it’s just as important to continuously track and report to the procurement organization on the use and adoption of the tool.

Comprehensively addressing these organizational and people issues will significantly improve the utilization and adoption of your eSourcing tools.

Voices (3)

  1. Peter Smith:

    Great post! A couple of years back, I spoke to a senior procurement manager at one of the UK’s biggest 30 firms. “Have you implemented eSourcing” I asked. “Well, ” she said, “We bought the ***** suite, 2 years ago”. Are you using it, I asked. “We’ve done 2 eAuctions?” she replied. What else, I asked. No, that’s it. Two auctions.
    Goodness knows what it cost them. . The only thing i would add is that some tools just aren’t user friendly and therefore the training / education / cultural barriers to adoption are greater. Choose carefully.

  2. kris:

    Great advice. In my opinion, one of the key hurdles is that the tools have been made so complex from having been loaded down with functionality. In order to get people to use it, it needs to be simple.

  3. Barbara Ardell:

    For an informative and entertaining explanation of why change is so elusive, I suggest watching this 6 minute video entitled “All Washed Up”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osUwukXSd0k.

    Paladin Associates has “procurementized” VitalSmarts’ Influencer training and offers it as a standard 2 day training session or an application oriented workshop for Procurement project teams. Click here for more information: http://www.paladinassociatesinc.com/influencingchange.htm.

    Feel free to contact me at: Barbara Ardell; BMArdell@PaladinAssociatesInc.com; (770) 315-1581

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