That Odd Tendency to Look for Procurement Sourcing Tech by Using… Sourcing Technology

Spend Matters welcomes another post by Paul Blake of GEP.

They’re examples of one of those weird phenomena of 21st Century living - the recursive advertisement. Those banners and billboards and quarter pages in free newspapers; those little disks on the top of the fuel nozzles at the filling station; and those occasional plastic covered frames in shopping mall elevators. They all say the same thing: You could place your ad right here. Yes, you are looking at this, which means that people like you look at this too… and you want people like you to like what you do, don’t you? Well, don’t you?

Persistent little blighters-- and that’s ironic considering the more persuasive they are, the quicker their demise. The fact that we’re aware of them at all suggests that, despite their chirpy confidence, many business don’t want to be associated with the miserable combination of biting winter cross-winds at the motorway services with a generous splash of diesel on the cuff of your best shirt.  Not to mention the mysterious je ne sais quoi blend of aromas in the shopping centre lift.

So maybe they’re not the best places to advertise after all. I could suggest that advertising firms should fill the spaces with ads saying “Wanted: space to advertise for advertising space.” But that would be silly, so I’ll not suggest that.

And yet a rather similar thing is going on in the world of procurement technology right now. It was bound to happen, but the early adopters of sourcing tools are going to market and looking for new sourcing tools. And how are they doing it? Well, I suspect you’re ahead of me already.

Over the last six months we’ve seen a significant rise in the number of businesses going to the market to look for sourcing technology by, yes, using sourcing technology. There is a rather delicious, slightly surreal irony to propounding the virtues of one’s own RFX solution through the medium of that of one’s competitors. That slightly discombobulating experience is compounded when, for example, one’s responding to the question, “Does your solution have an intuitive, easy-to-use, interface?” It’s virtually impossible due to the wholly counterintuitive interface through which one is expected to present the answer!

Churlish to say, perhaps, but it makes me wonder how it feels to have to respond to an RFP for RFP software (through your own RFP software), knowing that the client is looking for a replacement. That’s really not meant to be smug at all, and indeed this isn’t a space for a sales pitch for our technology, so I’ll take a slightly different tack.

In the highly competitive market of procurement technology, the distinctions between different solutions on a feature-by-feature basis have decreased over the years. Today it’s not so much about what you can do with it, but how you do it. The audience and decision-makers are getting younger, and the technology they focus their attention on is light years beyond what passed for state-of-the-art in procurement tech a couple of years ago. A while ago, simply publishing an RFP online was cutting-edge. But pages of questions in dark grey text on a light grey background are not so cutting-edge in 2013.

For your suppliers, it’s just the same. Your procurement tools aren’t just used by your team. Your suppliers are logging in on their portal to your system and responding with bids and accepting orders and all the rest. If the technology isn’t compelling and usable for your team then it won’t be for your suppliers either. Ultimately, that means no one will use it.

Procurement technology tools must move on. In the next five years, it’s not going to be enough to replicate mere steps in the process. The tech has got to do more. It has to work faster, more organically, and everywhere. That is what you want your business to be doing after all, isn’t it?

The tools you use to maximize your productivity, drive those savings, and manage your supplier relationships have to actively support your goals, not just sit there as mere electronic copies of flat paper ancestors.

Just like with those sad little ads on walls behind yellowing Perspex covers. Yes, you could put your name there, couldn’t you?  But… best not, eh?

For more interesting thinking on procurement, visit the GEP Knowledge Portal.

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First Voice

  1. Market Dojo:

    What a fantastic article, really reads well and completely echo the sentiments. In my past, I’ve even taken part in a reverse auction for reverse auction software! Goes to show how commoditised this space is becoming.

    On a more serious note to all this, as a participant in such RFPs/eAuctions, how can we protect our confidential information from the owners of the software that it is being handled? Information like commercial offerings, financial accounts, new product development, that kind of thing?

    In the UK one such RFP was run on a competitor’s software. In the end this question could not be answered sufficiently and the whole process was conducted via email outside of the software.

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