Empathizing with Procurement: How BravoSolution and its Customers are Tackling the Digital Gap

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“These are not necessarily new challenges we’re all trying to solve.”

That’s how BravoSolution CEO Jim Wetekamp described the gap between trends in the procurement software market and data gathered from a recent customer survey by the provider. Addressing a room of more than 50 customers Thursday at the BravoAdvantage Customer Forum in Chicago, Wetekamp highlighted the rising prominence of the procurement function while conceding that cost reduction and data visibility are still persistent thorns in practitioners’ sides.

Companies are starting to see procurement as a center of excellence, one that can break down the four walls of the enterprise. Along with this role comes a rapid increase in the responsibility, scope and impact across the business from procurement, Wetekamp said.

This is a familiar narrative — one with ample evidence to support it — but so is what followed: Cost reduction is still the top priority of 75% of respondents in a BravoSolution survey, and less than 20% have moved beyond basic reporting for analytics, despite a majority identifying data visibility as the fastest rising challenge for their organization.

Herein lies procurement’s digital paradox. Most procurement leaders know that digital technologies will disrupt their industries in the near future, but many have not prepared an adequate strategy to align digital approaches with their business objectives.

Practitioners acknowledge this gap, yet they want to bridge it, too. As several conversations with customers and BravoSolution at the event revealed, technology-enabled approaches to addressing both core tactical objectives and more strategic challenges appear to be gaining traction, helping procurement groups build a business case for an increasing digitization of the function.

Shared Sentiment

Wetekamp’s statement that practitioners and providers share in these challenges was not lost on customers in attendance. Everyone saw at least part of themselves in the opening slides, although some more than others.

“I thought his trends were 100% spot on,” one practitioner from a global food processing company told Spend Matters following the opening presentation. “They looked exactly like my five-year strategy.”

This forward-thinking attitude signaled openness to technology from the practitioner’s organization, and it showed in the way he talked about cost savings.

“When it comes to cost, it’s always the most important pillar,” he explained. “But other pillars can be used to enable that, as well.” Risk, he said, can be viewed as both a core and enabling pillar, and his organization conceived risk mitigation strategies as an avenue that can lead to, among other benefits, cost savings.

While other customers in attendance were perhaps not as far along on their digital journey, they still identified with the desire to bridge cost reduction goals with broader procurement initiatives.

One group of practitioners from a large food manufacturer said that Wetekamp’s trends were “pretty accurate,” but addressing issues of spend would likely be the biggest area of opportunity at their organization for the near future.

What they saw as their most promising current opportunity through digital, however, was using BravoSoultion as a “translator.” The biggest value to them in using a spend analysis solution was the ability to take ERP data and “translate it to a procurement language” to aid in their analysis. The solution translated the data to the metrics they wanted to discuss, so procurement could then translate its interpretation back down to the P&L to prove its value to finance.

Procurement’s Turn

These customers obviously viewed technology differently based on their organizational maturity and role in the broader business. But their approaches to digital reflect how the general capability and readiness of procurement has improved considerably in the last 10 years.

One explanation why these gains have taken longer to set in for procurement than in the highly digitized consumer world is that procurement has had to wait in line to get the attention and investment it needs to digitize. As Wetekamp explained in an interview following his presentation, the evolution of the systems that underlie the business has taken some time, but now the infrastructure exists to enable a foundation for digital procurement.

Before procurement could become digital, several other priorities needed to be addressed, Wetekamp said. First, finance had to be digitized, since ensuring the P&L was as advanced as possible made good economic sense for the business. Then inventory had to be monitored and assured, because without the product the business had nothing to sell or record on the P&L. After that, businesses started to focus on satisfying their customers through digital means, and this focus on boosting the top line led to the expansion of CRM systems.

With that groundwork now established, SRM, P2P and related systems — technologies that help externalize the enterprise and focus on areas less clearly visible on the P&L — are becoming “the fourth anchor of enterprise technology,” Wetekamp said.

Empathizing with Procurement 

So the foundation to support digital procurement is available. The question, then, is how to connect the infrastructure to a digital strategy.

Based on what customers told us, the answer may well come down to the foundation of procurement: relationships.

A procurement software suite is nothing but lines of code without humans on the ends — front or back. Several practitioners said the reason they came to the event was to develop a better relationship with BravoSolution so the provider could better understand their businesses.

“It’s helpful to have a tool that’s available, but until you understand your customer’s business, you have to do back-end customization to get what you need out of the solution,” two supply chain technology support specialists from a healthcare provider told us.

For this company, that meant aligning procurement’s goals with the need to support physicians in their work. Figuring out how to do that seamlessly with technology, so the organization wouldn’t need to send projects to resources outside of the business, was the ultimate goal of partnering with a provider like BravoSolution.

“Everyone has a tool, but not a strategy to use it,” they said.

On its end, BravoSolution emphasized in multiple conversations that positioning itself as a customer-centric provider is one of its key differentiators in the market. One of the key areas Wetekamp emphasized in our discussion was his focus on customers as the business scales.

For now, that message appears to be resonating. That first practitioner for whom Wetekamp’s trends were spot on? His company has only been a customer for six months. But the prospect of getting to know the people who run the technology procurement is using, from influencing the product roadmap to working on the customer advisory board, was a critical factor in choosing BravoSolution, they said.

“It’s all about people at the end of the day.”

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