Happy Valentine’s Day – Feeling Stuck Between Scylla and Charybdis?

For the sake of this post, Scylla is the multi-headed ERP/SI monster and Charybdis the gluttonous maw of the financial maelstrom otherwise known as your IT department. Said tongue-in-cheek of course!

You never seem to get solutions that fully get the job done, and your ERP provider (combined with their systems integrator brother-in-arms) has so many options that that you don’t even know what to get. And your own IT department typically isn’t the right partner to speak with about your needs either. Tough!

Not only do you have to overcome IT reluctance to understand business use cases, then – admit it – there’s your own congenital tendency toward penny-pinching, so the current sub-optimal approach in most companies is understandable. If it makes you feel better, it’s not only procurement that suffers like this. Just take a look at anyone working on the business side in the financial services sector.

First, from a provider perspective, financial services are one of the hardest verticals to please – they are biased toward layers of security, some excessive. Does anyone really need their own hardened biometric-access-only rooms inside top tier data centers that would practically require a SWAT team to breach? Similarly, does anything worthwhile come out of the source code analyses so often requested by IT departments in this vertical? I suppose old habits die hard, and I absolutely invite feedback from those managing IT buys on this topic.

You could perhaps excuse the regulated portions of financial services for inflicting so much pain on their suppliers, but why make procurement solutions conform? After all, you can transact with suppliers using crayon on napkins. I think I’m not alone in asking for a little common sense here.

If it makes you feel better – and here’s the Schadenfreude part of my Valentine’s card – those who work on the regular business side in the financial services industry have it worse. Here is an example from a close friend who has spent a couple of decades in financial services and securities, working her way up the corporate chain, and has worked for several of the top named firms in the industry:

“Let’s say you are a client, contacting your broker to make an investment or a disbursement – this req gets entered (manually by internal staff) into System A, which handles client order confirmations (sort of a repository). Next, step over to System B, which handles the actual financial transactions – work orders, if you will. This then triggers a workflow where the next person up in the management ranks has to go into both systems to compare the req and the work order side by side in order to approve. Both systems require rekeying of the same content of course...

But wait, there’s a third system – think of it as your budget ledger – where the client’s account has to be reviewed. Reasons for that include whether or not the client has sufficient funds, or if the activity involves a regulated activity (e.g. IRA distribution) that in turn requires additional documentation and systems to access. Three primary systems, with extensive rekeying and lookups in other systems.

This is why they specify two screens per workstation as their baseline spec for all employees. Let’s not fix the system and throw hardware at the problem instead – now there’s language IT understands!”

Rather makes three-way matching of purchase orders / invoices / receiving reports look like a breeze.

So, how can we avoid being caught between a rock and a hard place? As I suggested earlier, get IT to follow your business needs instead of managing toward their own agenda. Additionally, the ERP/SI alliance must have their feet held closer to the fire – the Gordian Knot of features and specs that they have created deserves a decisive slice clean through it. “Oh, you want your suppliers to access your supplier management solution? Then you need this additional module.”

I think it was sometime around 1970 that the automotive industry stopped selling cars with essentially everything optional (a sad transition toward our current drab conformity), probably because of regulatory NHTSA/DOT pressures. Regarding business solutions, I think it is time for especially the biggest solution providers (read: ERPs) to not nickel and dime clients so intensely, dare be a little more prescriptive and definitely broaden the bundles a little.

On a more upbeat note, sine it is Valentine’s Day after all, for a fresh take on how to manage requisitions, purchase orders, invoices, receiving reports, returns in one streamlined interface, take a look at Contraqer – their solution should bring tears of joy to the eyes of many in procurement.

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