Tips for Preparing the Business (and IT) to Adopt E-Procurement: Usability, Tactics and ERP Considerations

e-procurement Boggy/Adobe Stock

Getting frontline users ready to adopt e-procurement systems consistently is a last-mile challenge that too few procurement organizations confront directly as a central piece of a procure-to-pay (P2P) rollout strategy. We should never assume that change management is something that “just happens” with business users (and suppliers), even if a new process or technology is inherently better, easier-to-use or faster than an older one.

But how do you get front lines to really use tools consistently?

The first (and most important step) is to make sure any e-procurement program puts the business user front and center in the usability equation by not just showing the “how” but explaining the “why.”

This involves not handing over a technology even if you can just “walk up” to it and use it (i.e., the “how”) but also explaining “the why.” In this regard, it is essential to show the positive impact adoption will have in helping them, including the measurable benefits of swapping out their existing methods for a new approach that will more easily accomplish the same task and help them better work towards their objectives.

There’s lots of ways to do this, from creating and sharing cheeky training videos to traditional change management-style communication in emails, online training and internal webinars.

Regardless, one thing is for sure: Just do it.

Beyond Showing the ‘How’ and Explaining ‘The Why’

Regardless of what a vendor might say, e-procurement is not a commodity when it comes to usability. There are nuances here that are important to consider in driving continuous adoption among business users. Here are some tips that require the right tools that will delight business users:

  • Make sure you have fully automated process workflows that do not require the user to even think about what the next step in the process is. Steps and action items should just “pop” into their screen, an email or an app
  • Think lean! Stop “movement.” Try to avoid requiring users to have any unnecessary interactions with the system (e.g., reduce the number of clicks required whenever possible). Get into a “no-touch” mindset by configuring the system to take charge based on user profiles, behaviors, suppliers and transaction types. You can’t “punt” on this step. It requires tight coordination between IT and procurement as early as possible (even prior to final tool selection)
  • Think about the value (and what it means to deliver) a great user experience, for all participants one in which procurement creates a process and environment for users that minimizes required decision making and any potential stress from the buying experience. In short, create a guided buying process that provides the necessary support to enable rapid decisions in the context of user is key — regardless of role (a business user/requisitioner that is shopping, a line of business manager that must approve an order outside a budget limit, a procurement manager that must respond to an exception flag in which an invoice fails a PO and contract tolerance match, etc.)
  • Select and deliver a solution that is intuitive to learn and needs no training (except for administrators) across all probable interactions that users are likely to have with the toolset
  • Enable self-service via online support for at least tier one support levels (and policies and procedures)

Don't Bury ERP Questions When it Comes to Usability

ERP providers are becoming quicker to add features and capabilities than in the past, either directly in their solutions or through partnerships. But they have been generally very slow to embrace usability as a top priority feature of the solutions they deliver.

Spend Matters suggests that procurement and IT organizations that are considering customizing their ERPs processes or business application modules (or maintaining their current capabilities) to meet purchasing requirements should reconsider their approach if usability is one of their top objectives. Or they should at least try to adopt new user-oriented IT solutions for the processes that are facing the users and integrate them with their current ERP environment.

Our experience suggests that companies with strong ERP commitments from IT need to analyze what is the best way to realize the outcomes the business wants to achieve and stop thinking about processes and user scenarios alone. This is not a matters of rebuilding all of the processes into new solutions; rather, it is more about rethinking the real outcomes the organization is looking to achieve and enabling them with new technology that will have the potential to continue growing without increasing their total cost of ownership exponentially — as in the case of maintaining an ERP full of customized processes.

There is no doubt that ERP systems are some of the most important components of a company’s IT landscape. And in most of the cases, they still not only represent master data and systems of record for vendors, spend information and transactions but also systems of process, at least on the back-end. However, when processes requires that business users and suppliers adopt and use tools consistently, the safest and most affordable approach is to put an ERP into a functional warehouse that sits behind a customer showroom (and is seen only by technical users and administrators), rather than dressing up a back-end through customization or other approaches to make it do something it was never designed to achieve in the first place.

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