Coupa and NEC – Gavin Johnston speaks on an implementation success

We covered the Coupa user event in London recently here, but promised to come back to Gavin Johnston’s presentation. He’s Finance and Procurement VP EMEA at NEC Europe, working across 25 countries, and had a good story to tell around their P2P systems approach.

Johnston  was part of what was in effect a turnaround team, who joined when NEC in Europe was under some financial pressures. He found poor systems, and a lack of information - you can't manage  spend if you're not controlling it, as he put it. And the procurement function was pretty ineffective - bottom quartile on a KPMG assessment.

NEC used SAP to some extent, with a requisitioning process backed up with paper. Johnston’s desire to change things started with his own personal frustration of trying to raise a Purchase Order, he explained! It was also difficult to pull data out of system. So his key criteria for a new system included ease of use for the highly devolved user base, and access to better management information. He wanted a system basically to handle the PO process - but also other tools like sourcing were important in the selection.

That process started in October 2012 with the issue of an RFP  - and NEC signed the contract on Xmas Eve. But despite this speed, they “went through a proper selection process” with the RFP, screening to a short list in November and supplier presentations in December. That's an impressively rapid timetable but shows it is possible to run a decent process in a few months rather than years.

NEC involved staff from finance, procurement, and AP in the process, but didn’t go wider into business users. “We wanted the solution to be simple for users – we felt we could judge that as well as the end users”, says Johnston. But he did involve the IT team to get their buy-in, and understand their element of the project workload . NEC use Salesforce and other cloud based apps so it seemed sensible to look for a true “software as a service” (SaaS) solution to fit that overall IT strategy.

NEC started implementation on January 15th 2013, and the platform went live on March 28th, including integration with SAP. There are now (October 2013) some 250 users on the system, across many geographies, Nordic to Far East. NEC are looking to roll out to Russia – fortunately, Coupa has just introduced a Cyrillic language pack!

So far, user surveys indicate very high marks for usability. However, users weren’t so keen on the authorisation process they now have to follow - even though Johnston hadn't changed it! “Basically, the policy wasn’t being followed previously – the platform now enforces it, which is good for control purposes of course”. Indeed, a “no Purchase Order, No Pay” policy is now being implemented which just wasn’t feasible previously.

Johnston is enthusiastic about the SaaS opportunity for rapid product update and refresh, which is provided automatically. "We didn't realise at first just how much Coupa is developing so quickly". The procurement team has started to use the eSourcing capability within and have run a couple of auctions – “it’s very easy to push things out to competitive bidding on the system”. And Coupa has been helpful “without being too pushy” in terms of helping NEC understand what else  the solution can do and what else is available.

The system paid for itself on some headcount reduction, but the real benefits come from focusing procurement activities, consolidation and simply better visibility of spend. “We can look at spend patterns and  compliance using the dashboard, even do things like analyse the "top ten worst approvers" internally. There’s a lot of scope for further analysis”, according to Johnston.

And interestingly, even in "difficult" places, like southern Europe where procurement discipline might have been expected to be weaker, staff have seen the benefits and have been good adopters of the platform. “Users know that the only way to get something done quickly is to use the system”. There are still some mavericks – and the odd non PO invoice – but  Johnston’s team go back and follow that up, “bang the drum about need to change”, and as a last report, report to senior leadership (using outputs like a “league table” of compliance).

“We got all we expected for Coupa -  not just a supplier but a real partnership. They’ve taken an interest in our metrics, helped to push us to new heights, and encouraged us to use the full functionality of the solution”, says Johnston.

It certainly was a powerful customer testimonial, and good news for Coupa as they continue their drive into Europe.

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