Coupa Inspire 2016: E-Procurement Customer Blocking and Tackling Still Matters

Coupa Inspire 2016

I had the chance to sit in with a small group of Coupa customers yesterday during an informal (non-sanctioned) meeting. A number of these organizations were relatively new to Coupa and were in the process of rollouts, some global, some regional. What struck me in this session — and some other informal chats I’ve had with people here so far — is how much basic blocking and tackling still matters from a deployment perspective and how much organizations take for granted that things will “just work.”

If only e-procurement were that easy! I think organizations moving to the cloud — or using cloud applications for the first time — forget that there is still a significant amount of everyday blocking and tackling to get applications up and functioning as planned. The cloud is not a panacea by any stretch when it comes to overcoming many of the same implementation and program management challenges that organizations faced in the CD/enterprise software era of e-procurement.

Not only can integration to core financial systems be a non-trivial exercise, but increasingly, Coupa customers (and other e-procurement users) are wanting to explore linkages to other systems (e.g., VMS/services procurement). And there’s no simple or consistent answer to doing this out of the box — at least not yet.

Overall, from a blocking and tackling perspective, there are a number of items Coupa customers are bringing up that probably matter more than most organizations — prior to an implementation — are willing to give enough credence to fully prepare for the efforts that will be required.

These areas include:

  • Fully considering all of the requirements necessary to support global deployments, including localized requirements and suppliers. This is probably the largest challenge multinational firms suggest that caught them off guard (globalization can increase e-procurement complexity by an order of magnitude).
  • Maximizing supplier onboarding efforts and enabling supplier lifecycle management (SLM),  including the fact that most P2P systems (including Coupa) don’t yet fully solve the challenge that CRM solves for managing the lifecycle of customer data and engagement. Extra credit: tackling supplier master data management as part of a deployment (beyond just on-boarding and SLM).
  • Managing supplier catalog and SKU content on a continuous basis
  • Supporting transactions and automation from orders to payment through connectivity that goes beyond just standard PO, invoice and receipt matching scenarios. What about supporting non-PO spend transactional scenarios (and organizations that don’t want to move to a PO as a standard policy)? What about organizations with strong card programs already in place that don’t want to change? What about supporting direct procurement scenarios including order replenishment, PO change orders, blanket POs, etc.?
  • Educating the organization about how best to use e-procurement in the context of other procurement systems such as travel and expense (T&E), direct procurement, specialized categories and services — and what to expect once it’s up and running (e.g., where you go to buy “X”).

These discussions support the premise that e-procurement is never easy, even when it’s in the cloud. Even if you’re working with a strong implementation firm or consultancy to guide you on your rollout journey — you should be — there are many elements you simply can’t out-task to others and you should never expect a technology provider to have solved for you already. Far too many procurement organizations simply assume things will work out of the box as planned.

Coupa may help keep companies with the guide rails of the buying highway more consistently than earlier generation P2P solutions that truly let procurement organizations go off-roading without even knowing what they were getting into. But any application or process change that touches on so many people and so many systems within a firm brings a level of complexity that no one should underestimate.

Finally, a key piece of advice for Coupa users — invest the time to get to know and network with other companies also using the technology, especially within your industry. You’ll be surprised how much you learn and the similar challenges other organizations face. Of course this goes for users of other P2P systems as well.

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