Ivalua’s Workflow Engine: The Connective Tissue of a Standout Source-to-Pay Capability

procurement software

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our series The Featured Feature, where we explore unique technology capabilities that differentiate procurement solution providers. Read our introductory post to learn more.

Behind every module in a source-to-pay suite is a business process that organizations want to improve. Standout software offerings, therefore, do much more than merely digitize processes such as sourcing or invoice validation. At their best, these tools enable entirely new ways of managing actions and communicating throughout the source-to-pay process, both internally between procurement and its stakeholders and throughout the supply chain with various third parties.

It’s no surprise, then, that when comparing features that differentiate source-to-pay table stakes from the winning hand, Ivalua’s workflow engine is a frequent mention. In this installment of The Featured Feature, we take a look at how Ivalua’s workflow capability works in its platform, why the feature stands out from the other offerings and how the suite provider plans to protect its procurement technology chip stack from encroaching competitors.

See how Ivalua compares on a functional level across numerous capabilities: Access Provider Scoring Summaries for the Q1 2018 Source-to-Pay SolutionMap today.

The Feature: Ivalua’s Workflow Engine

To understand how Ivalua’s workflow capability stands out, it first helps to understand what exactly workflow is.

Within a source-to-pay suite, workflow refers to a software application that in full or in part automates a business process. This allows users to add controls for a designated process within a module.

Common applications of workflow include defining who approves for what, also known as an approval workflow; designating the status of certain items; triggering integrations, either to other modules in the suite or to third-party systems such as ERP; and informing users on time passing on certain objects, creating a notification for when action may be required.

This highlights the importance of configurability to procurement organizations when setting up a new software system. As Paul Noel, chief customer officer at Ivalua, explains, workflow is the first thing companies change at the start of system implementation.

“Every company has different hoops they have to jump through,” he said. “Some of them have to do with checking budget. Some of them have to do with asking for a subject-matter expert to weigh in on something. A lot of them have approval flows that have to go from manager to manager depending on the amount over budget or other threshold.”

In effect, workflow helps organizations define the path users must take when executing a business process. Depending on a company’s own internal rules or industry-specific reporting requirements, that path needs to be configured to support the organization’s unique needs.

“Every company modifies that path depending on their situation and the category or other aspect of the request itself,” Noel said.

Why Ivalua’s Workflow Stands Out

To be sure, workflow applications are not unique to Ivalua’s platform. Other source-to-pay providers also offer this capability, and procurement users expect to see this functionality available out of the box in today’s offerings. What sets Ivalua’s capability apart, however, is that its workflow engine is a platform-level element, rather than restricted to module-level applications.

With other suite providers, especially those that have grown by acquisition, the workflows used in one module are often restricted to one business process. This means, for example, that the methods and controls applied to approving an invoice are different from, and cannot interact with, the tools an organization uses to approve a contract.

In developing its platform, Ivalua strove to avoid these constraints. Workflow in Ivalua’s suite is a foundational capability that users can apply to any object (e.g., a purchase order, a requisition, a contract) in any module, managing the lifecycle of that object as desired.

“Workflow is one of the foundational elements of the platform that can be used across all of the solutions,” said Vishal Patel, vice president of product marketing at Ivalua. “For providers that are not platforms, it makes it a little bit harder to use the same workflow engine in different solutions — if they have those different solutions together.”

In addition to this cross-suite flexibility, Ivalua positions its workflow capability as the gate opener to other functionality within its suite. Beyond simply automating the steps to create an RFP, a sourcing workflow could, for example, trigger contracting and supplier onboarding workflows that take the users from award to contracting and performance management.

“Workflow is the connective tissue of the solutions,” Noel said. “The thing that the users get the most is that they understand the steps from one thing to another, and that multiple things happen when the workflow goes from one step to another.”

Winning on Workflow

This level of flexible and integrated process control is one of the key ways Ivalua wins — and plans to keep — business with its solution.

In the market, Ivalua tends to attract customers with complex requirements. This is clear from the provider’s positioning in the Spend Matters Q1 2018 Source-to-Pay SolutionMap, where Ivalua ranks among the top providers on an Analyst and Customer scoring basis. In particular, Ivalua excels in the Configurator persona, which emphasizes flexibility, modularity, configurability and internal/external integration to ultimately support an organization’s diverse and evolving needs.

Case in point, Noel said one of the more common prospect scenarios Ivalua encounters is when customers are searching for a new solution because they couldn’t get their internal processes to bend to the out-of-the-box capabilities of other suites.

This is especially true in spaces like financial services or public sector procurement. Due to the high regulatory bars set in these sectors (e.g., KYC requirements, bidding and award transparency), the needed workflows can be highly complex.

“The big benefits for these companies is the ability to track all activities inside one tool,” Noel said. “Instead of having to step outside and have to do this other ancillary step and come back or do manual work around the sides of a workflow process, it’s all trackable within the tool, because you can actually model the weird processes that they end up having within those industries.”

Staying Ahead

Of course, Ivalua is not the only provider that can serve the complex needs of businesses operating in services industries or government. Within the last year or so, Noel said, competitors have begun to erode on Ivalua’s advantage in workflow capability, broadening the reach of and better integrating workflows across their suites. But that doesn’t mean Ivalua is going to fold its hand early.

To stay ahead of competitors, Ivalua plans to take a similar approach to how it developed workflow, adding artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities on top of workflow at the platform level of its suite. Whereas workflow sets the baseline for process understanding and capability, AI will help organization interpret deviations from those baselines that are acceptable, as well as provide insights into where the process could go from a certain step and forewarn users of any potential risks.

“AI is the workflow of this century,” Noel said. “How we’re really going to stay ahead of the Joneses is that we’ve got a really good understanding of process in every single one of our modules, and AI gives us a step up from there.”

By adding AI capability to workflow at the platform level, Ivalua hopes to not only maintain its reputation for flexibility but also evolve to meet the unique needs of its customers. As procurement organizations become increasingly complex and agile, Ivalua is positioning itself as a provider that can keep up, with its workflow engine forming the baseline for that strength.

For more information on Ivalua’s capabilities, including product strengths and weaknesses, see our deep dive Vendor Snapshots on the provider below.

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First Voice

  1. Jason Busch:

    Nick, great first column / feature. I remember a long debate with Ivalua (Paul) in the vendor review/argument period of the second SolutionMap (Q4 2017) where they argued with us on how strong the workflow components was after we had given it a “4” in core workflow scoring areas during our product demo review — still a great score. We kept unpacking and unpacking exactly what one could do with it via demo and argument. Finally, they convinced us it was, at least at the time, a completely unique differentiator for the suite that they truly won business on. Michael and I gave it a “5” together at that point — our scores aligned. As we likes to say, “5”s in SolutionMap scoring are as rare as a black swan — or close to it. Congrats Ivalua.

    Finally, let me say this is further reason why the re-platforming of DirectWorks (for manufacturers) on the Ivalua platform makes complete sense vs. tight (or worse, loose) integrations between acquired platforms in the case of vendor M&A. Exceptional workflow when tied to a single data model is a magnifier the more suite-based components on adds — and speciality industry capability one builds out — vs. the alternative. One can also accomplish some of this via PaaS but not at the same level at least not yet (my view). Further, it makes the “Frankensuites” out there look more like source-to-pay spend dinosaurs when you compare them side-by-side in demos navigating between modules if you want to access cross-product line components — since the magic here is not in the modules, but the underlying platform itself.

    Curiously, Per Angusta might be a saving grace for some here (stay tuned for PRO coverage next week on them).

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