eSourcing Technology – Ease of Use Is a Key Factor

Our hot topic this month is all about the latest in eSourcing technology and tools. As we said here, there are two notable trends that at first sight appear to be pulling in opposite directions. However, we will argue that they are in fact complementary.

We covered the growth of complex “market-informed sourcing” tools here, but the other mega-trend is the move towards more intuitive user interfaces – basically, easier to use of sourcing platforms and tools. Along with this, we see a parallel move whereby the execution of sourcing processes is increasingly devolved from the professional procurement function to “the business”. That might mean a line manager in an operational role, or another functional manager – a brand manager running sourcing of promotional materials, or an IT manager sourcing temporary staff for a software project perhaps.

Or, in this Coupa case study, a Finance Manager – one of Coupa’s own people - sourcing some office furniture. I really enjoyed reading this and, although it was a small procurement exercise by value, I suspect it has more implications for procurement than might initially appear obvious.

Coupa are one of the software firms that have successfully built much of their marketing and product strategies on ease of use, originally in the purchase to pay area, but now also in sourcing. I’d recommend any procurement professional to read the case study, because it illustrates perfectly what is already happening and will gather pace in the next couple of years as our budget –holding colleagues take on more direct sourcing activity.

So usability has gone up the priority list as a factor in sourcing software selection decisions, as buyers see how good some products are in this field – and how poor others remain. And as this continues, and we can’t see why it possibly will not, every firm offering sourcing tools must follow suit or face real issues. The contrast will become starker, between easy to use products and “traditional” ones that require lots of training to become a competent user.

Other new providers we have covered here include Source Dogg and Keelvar, both with Irish origins. Source Dogg covers conventional eSourcing, with a tool that really could be used by an intelligent 10 year old. Keelvar take us into more complex optimisation-type solutions, but with an approach that stresses the ease of use and simplicity despite the pretty complex maths that sits behind it. Other more established players are also now focusing on usability as an absolutely key factor, which is good news for everyone on the user side.

How does this fit with our other trend, the growth of market informed sourcing, used to handle the most complex sourcing problems? (Let’s call them opportunities, actually, rather than problems, because that’s what they are). We suspect that what will happen is that organisations will look to use different sourcing platforms for different tasks. We might see two or even three different approaches, whether they are all supported by the same software provider or not.

So there will be a very easy-to-use tool that is largely used by budget holders for smaller and non-critical procurements. Then we might have what we might call the “mainstream” tendering tool, used in the main by procurement professionals – although these tools will themselves be more intuitive and easier to use than most are today. Then we will see most (maybe all in time) major organisations using MIS for those large, complex, challenging sourcing exercises where that approach is likely to lead to significant benefits compared to conventional methods. But will the “mainstream” tools get squeezed in the middle there? That’s an interesting question and something worth looking out for over the next two or three years.

Voices (3)

  1. Nick @ Market Dojo:

    Ha ha, no worries Peter! You know us, never shy to add a comment if we think we have something to add! 🙂

  2. Nick @ Market Dojo:

    I’d say that the ‘mainstream’ tools shouldn’t be squeezed in the middle as they should be one and the same tool as the extremely easy-to-use tool that is equally applied to low budget tenders. Those that are challenging to use will gradually fade out of existence.

    As an example, our tool gets used for quick RFQs of just £30 in value to full tenders of £1500 in value (with PQQs etc) up to the complex tenders of multi-millions engaging stakeholders across the globe, with advanced formulaic-based bid templates (all online), weightings & non-price factors, and iterative tender stages perhaps culminating in an auction.

    Then of course we have the tool being used by consumers themselves, such as my house extension (google ‘home advantage supply management’ for the article). Others have since caught onto this idea.

    Ease of use extends beyond just the layout of the software but into the entire experience from purchasing the tool through to competing the tender and archiving the results for perpertual free accesss. As far as I know, we’re the only ones to have so far had a new client sign up, purchase a licence, run a series of multi-milllion pound auctions and export the results without a single call or direct mail needed between us or them. Not to say that we ignored them of course, as we’re always on hand for support, it’s just that is what true self-service should be about, and hence genuine ‘ease of use’, an oft over-used term with little foundation.

    PS: that client has since gone on to run advanced eAuctions inviting more than 600 suppliers without a single support call from either the client or the suppliers. That spells out the true advantage of ease of use.

    1. Peter Smith:

      Good points and I apologise, I really should have mentioned Market Dojo as one of the pioneers of this “ease of use” approach! You’re getting another (brief) mention this week anyway…

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