Digitization and Death — Unusual learnings for the procurement process
We welcome this guest post from Peter Smith, MD at Procurement Excellence, CIPS past president and business author.
We can always learn from experiences that aren’t exactly the same as the topic in hand, so on that note, I’m going to provide some thoughts on procurement digitization via a circuitous and somewhat unusual route today. That relates to my experiences following my mother passing away peacefully last month at the age of 93. Covid contributed, but the death certificate said, “frailty of old age,” which was probably a reasonable diagnosis.
Since then, it has been interesting to see how different organizations have handled the various processes that follow a death. Two elements of that have surprised me. Firstly, the public sector has been excellent. Clearly, the pandemic and staff working from home has led to major changes in process, generally for the better from the “customer” perspective. For instance, obtaining the death certificate no longer requires obtaining a form from the doctor and a personal visit to the registrar’s office. The liaison and exchange of information between the medics and the registrar proceeded rapidly without our involvement, then we had a telephone call with the registrar and that was it.
But the process for probate was even more impressive. Granted, mother’s estate was below the level where inheritance tax kicks in, but even so, I was amazed by the speed and simplicity of the process. The online forms were very clear, the guidance was useful, and although you still have to send the physical will to the authorities by post, I received probate within five days of applying for it which was remarkable.
Well done to HM Courts and Tribunal Service for re-engineering their processes so effectively. However, I know from the experience of friends that where estates are larger and more complex, the government is still taking a keen interest, so we can assume this is a risk-based approach to process management.
The second surprise has been the range of approaches that different banks and financial services firms follow in terms of the “death of a client” process. Whilst my parents weren’t wealthy, my Father (who died in 2016) was careful with money (to put it mildly) and also spread out savings across quite a range of products and firms! So I have quite a large sample to consider here, and the experience to date has varied considerably. The best appear as effective as the public sector. They use online forms, allow you to scan and upload key documents (such as the grant of probate), and use DocuSign-type digital signatures.
At the other extreme, a couple still want me to come into their physical premises with documents in hand. Actually, I probably prefer that to those that want their own lengthy forms to be filled in, then posted with hard-copy documents. But the level of digitization varies considerably, as does the responsiveness in terms of both getting through on the telephone and the time taken for the firm to reply via the Royal Mail.
Bringing this all back to our core topic here, what have I seen that could be usefully applied to procurement processes and activities? Here are four points that apply to both “digitization of death” and the “digitization of procurement.”
- The “tell us once” principle is very positive for users. I am impressed with how public sector bodies now seem to be sharing information much better, so I didn’t have to keep repeating myself. The same should apply to suppliers. You should collect as much of the relevant information as possible at the initial point of contact and then make sure it is disseminated internally, so the supplier is not constantly repeating themselves to different people, parts of your organization, or systems. Also, look at where you can obtain supplier information from external sources without having to “bother” the supplier at all.
- Move away from paper as much as possible – that sounds obvious, but lots of organizations haven’t really gone as far down this road as they could. Elements of the UK government and some financial firms have made good strides here, whilst others have not. The same applies I am sure to procurement functions in different organizations.
- Look at using a “triage” approach, as the UK government seems to be doing with regard to probate and the size/complexity of estates. On a risk basis, where do you need to spend serious time and effort, and where can you move onto a fast-track approach, with minimal human involvement? One procurement parallel to the probate system might be allowing budget holders to buy low-risk items without procurement involvement – but with procurement providing the technology to facilitate that. Again, that is not a new idea, but pandemic-related changes in working patterns might have brought more focus to that issue, as it has for the probate system.
- Finally, I suspect that the pandemic has amplified the gap between the leaders and the laggards. Firms that have embraced the opportunity to digitise have taken the opportunity to move further ahead of those who are still trying to work with outdated systems and processes. I have seen that with the firms I’ve been dealing with; the same is probably true in the procurement world too.