Why Mobile Matters to Procurement: Key Takeaways from Vroozi’s ‘High Performance Purchasing’ Event

Artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain have dominated the headlines as top technologies transforming businesses, but the essential component to enabling truly digital operations is likely in your pocket.

Yes, smartphones are useful for far more than taking selfies and scrolling social media while your coffee brews. As Vroozi, a provider of procure-to-pay (P2P) software, explained Wednesday at its High Performance Purchasing event in Chicago, procurement should look to mobile technology as an enabler of digital transformation.

That may seem like a tall order for mobile technology, which, now in entering its second decade, excels primarily at facilitating information retrieval and communication. But there’s still room for mobile to grow. By harnessing mobile’s full potential, procurement can realize the original vision of the technology’s creators: to be able to run any enterprise process from any device in any location.

“The vision behind the smartphone is it’s a device that can help you do your jobs,” said Shaz Khan, chief strategy officer at Vroozi. “We want to help you remove latency from the P2P process.”

Why Mobile Matters 

To understand why mobile matters to procurement and how it can enable digital processes, it helps to first step back and examine the technology in context.

One of the top reasons procurement needs to have a mobile strategy is that the technology has become too ubiquitous to ignore. The global mobile workforce is set to increase to 1.87 billion in 2022, accounting for 42.5% of the global workforce, according to research from Strategy Analytics, a technology research firm. That’s a nearly 29% increase from the 1.45 billion mobile workers in 2016.

With so many people using mobile devices in their daily lives, businesses have a golden opportunity to improve productivity by engaging employees on their device of choice. What’s more, the technological design behind mobile guides users to perform tasks in a natively digital way, enabling three key benefits.

First, the ways people like to use mobile devices — a preference for swiping and scrolling motions rather than clicking, the natural applications of voice commands, the need to present information in a format conducive to a smaller screen — necessarily requires a software design that optimizes workflows for end users. Users will declare an application unusable if it calls for incessant tapping and pinching to enter data; thus, superior systems enable a “guided” approach, suggesting decisions or actions that help users breeze through business processes as easily as they browse social media.

These optimal workflows also help businesses tackle another persistent problem: eliminating manual processes. Mobile is, of course, a natively digital environment, and every process that is performed on such a device, rather than through a legacy paper-based approach, helps procurement avoid the data entry errors and lag times that plague the old approach.

Finally, mobile software design and the preference for digital processes enable broader enterprise agility. With mobile the P2P process is simply faster, cutting the time to create and approve a purchase order to seconds rather than minutes. It facilitates a truly global operating environment, allowing any user in any location — procurement, finance or otherwise — to accelerate and improve spend management.

To be sure, there are some tasks that are not only better suited to a laptop or desktop but indeed require a stationary device. Yet that’s exactly the point of a mobile strategy: Procurement must decide which processes can and should be enabled by mobile devices, so it can speed up low-value work with the best-fit approach and create more time for the difficult work that requires the heavy equipment.

Mobile in Procurement 

That distinction between tasks suited to mobile and those best completed at a desk is a key consideration for Vroozi, which goes to market with a “mobile-first” orientation, often positioning its software as a front-end shopping wrapper that can augment an ERP system.

The question procurement organizations should be asking, Khan said, is, “What can I actually run on these devices?” And the answer may surprise you.

Many procurement software companies offer mobile capabilities, but these features are often dumbed down versions of the full desktop experience. In the P2P area, these capabilities frequently amount to not much more than mobile approval tools.

Vroozi’s approach is to flip this default on its head. As we explain in our 2017 Vendor Snapshot covering the vendor's P2P solution, Vroozi enables a full mobile shopping and purchasing management solution:

“Flipping the design paradigm, another key element that Vroozi brings with its mobile capabilities is that the user experience on a laptop is equivalent to that offered via a mobile device, so users feel equally at home in the application regardless of the interface they might be using for a given session. Further, all aspects of the purchasing workflow are enabled on all devices equally (e.g., even in a mobile setting, business users can create purchase orders from catalog and free text items).”

From a competitive perspective, these capabilities are a key differentiator for Vroozi in the Q2 2018 Spend Matters E-Procurement SolutionMap. This is particularly visible within the Nimble persona view, which prioritizes the functional requirements to support decentralized organizations that want fast speed to value and modern, intuitive, cloud-based software — and for all of which mobile support is essential. Here, Vroozi delivers a standout performance, placing within the top three vendors in the Value Leader quadrant (upper right) for this persona and posting Analyst and Customer scores on par with suite providers Coupa and Jaggaer Indirect.  

This dedication to mobile procurement was a deciding factor in why Corcentric, whose CEO Matt Clark also spoke at the event, ultimately selected Vroozi in 2016 to power its e-procurement offering. Of the 50 e-procurement software vendors Corcentric examined, Vroozi’s mobile-first design and open source platform ultimately won out with its argument that it could improve both overall purchasing performance and user adoption.

And Corcentric “drinks its own champagne,” too, Clark said, as the company uses Vroozi’s software to manage its internal P2P processes. He even approved a PO on his Lyft ride to the event, Clark told attendees.

Bottoms Up Innovation 

While approving POs and creating invoices on the go is certainly helpful, these capabilities hardly constitute a fully digital procurement function. The end state, Spend Matters Founder Jason Busch explained in a closing presentation on the Future of Procurement Technology, is one in which technology is tied directly to business concepts.

One of those concepts is the introduction of innovation throughout the enterprise. Mobile, with its ubiquity among employees and its ability to facilitate key parts of the P2P process, is an excellent front on which to address this goal, Busch explained, one where procurement can take a lead in a “bottoms up” manner, rather than letting IT lead from the top.

Consider, for example, how mobile shopping and purchasing can be a way to introduce AI into business processes.

At its core, machine learning and AI-based systems are about searching for patterns, using insights derived from those patterns to present useful information to or influence the behavior of users. When a frontline buyer is looking to buy a laptop, then, an AI-based mobile purchasing app — having analyzed numerous prior purchases or scanned current inventory for previously purchased machines — can identify the best selection in compliance with organizational rules, placing procurement’s desired choice at the top of the interface.

Busch likened this capability to adding a new team member to procurement, without the full cost of an employee. “AI is making recommendations to us as if it were an expert buyer behind the scenes,” he said.

While this is just one use case, the linkages between AI and mobile illustrate how procurement can use technology to enable improved performance from both individuals and the business as a whole. The end result is the ability to guide users to the best solution to a given problem, removing the burden of purchasing compliance from end users so they can instead provide greater value in their dedicated roles.

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