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Intake for the practitioner: How intake cuts to the point

05/15/2024 By

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Solutions that cover intake management and procurement orchestration have evolved from being niche or a novelty to being players in a competitive market. The former, as our analysts have written, “use interactive inquiries to understand needs, triage requests, determine the needed guidance and ultimately solve the problem through interactive and integrated workflows,” and the latter is “more focused on orchestrating end-to-end business processes across domain-specific business applications without attempting to replace those applications.” So, intake focuses on receiving requests that go into processes that orchestration makes cohesive.

For some, however, such a definition may still make intake management sound more like a gimmick than a sensible investment. It lacks the concrete impact on procurement that is needed to sway CPOs and, harder still, finance. But Sören Petsch, head of procurement at the end-to-end e-commerce solution Rithum, has reaped the benefits of using Zip, his intake management tool, for two years.

Intake helps practitioners from the outset

Intake is a pre-process process that ensures a workflow’s organization from the beginning. “Whenever somebody has a request,” Sören explains, “whether it’s a renewal, a new contract or an appeal for funds — all those requests go through our intake-to-procure tool.” The tool presents the person making the request with a set of questions that the Rithum team assembled. The answers to these questions dynamically inform the shape of the intake form. If, for example, you are making a software request, the form will differ from the one you’d submit for a consultant. Similarly, if your request touches on PII ‘personally identifiable information’ data, the tool will rope in InfoSec and legal privacy reviews.

“It basically automates the early steps of procurement workflows,” he says. “If somebody wants something from procurement that is related to a contract, adding funds, an NDA, etc., they will always go through our intake management tool. I don’t handle any of those things outside of it.”

The impact of intake on procurement’s workload

While most would admit having more streamlined processes as a general benefit, the felt presence of that streamlining is missing. After all, one of the points of automation is to streamline processes. Intake management solutions can only prove innovative in the way they do this and the results achieved from doing so.

“The short answer,” Sören explains, “is that our intake tool eliminates about 75% — if not more — of all emails related to a request. When I work on multiple requests, I can click into a request that has a ticket with all the information I need, which reduces the time taken to write emails and to search for relevant information and gives greater clarity about what I need to do.”

How this works is that a submitted request creates a ticket that contains all relevant conversations. So, if someone needs to know how a certain request is proceeding through approvals, they can see if it has reached legal review or if IT security is looking at it. The ticket also contains the different uploaded versions of contracts and information relating to the vendor’s payment-routing information, legal information, tax ID numbers, legal addresses and so on. It creates efficiency by consolidating the disparate information, departments and processes into one path.

Intake will further integrate with procurement’s other tools

If the value of intake comes from how it organizes workflows from the beginning, its functionalities will only deepen in relation to how deeply it can integrate and interact with procurement’s other tools.

Sören gives an example of how Rithum does this: “We have connected our intake tool to our e-signature software. So, once a contract is ready for a signature, all you have to do is mark that version as final and click a button. The system then routes you from the intake tool to the e-signature one, and once the contract is signed, it uploads a version back in the intake tool. This is just another example of how we have managed to eliminate administrative steps, such as looking in your email or having to navigate between two tools.”

The team has also integrated the tool into their ERP system, so that when the AP team onboards a new vendor, they just have to push the information from the intake tool into the ERP. Similarly, in the case of existing vendors, all they have to do is push the information into the ERP system, which sends a PO back to the intake tool.

“This will continue to evolve,” he claims. “The first of two ways intake will grow is to continue integration into additional systems that help you have a more comprehensive procurement review.” For example, he expects API-enabled functionality to develop to integrate with systems they use for InfoSec reviews, background checks and the like so that the distance between systems disappears.

The second development he predicts is the continued leverage of AI to augment the process. The idea is that when someone uploads documents, such as a contract or an InfoSec review, an AI tool can scan and screen them for the correct use of language, missing clauses and whetherit is compliant within the organization’s requirements. This would ease the burden of preparing documents procurement will send to legal. (For more about how artificial intelligence can augment human intelligence, read our five-part Autogmentation series.)

“It will augment human review,” he says. “It’ll bring to my attention factors, such as whether a contract has auto-renew language, so I can more consistently and more quickly perform preparatory legal review. So, I believe API integrations and AI augmentation for legal and InfoSec reviews will drive intake development in 2024.”

Selling the investment into intake

At this point, Sören has been using the intake tool for two years. So, he can easily make the case for why he uses it, listing how they have a lot of data around the volume of requests that the team handles and the speed with which they handle them. “If,” he says, “I compare the time before we had the tool to where we are today, I believe that we have improved the productivity of the procurement team by about three to four times. And the measure here is the number of requests handled per person per month.”

But this is all winning the argument after the fact. At one point, Sören had to make the case to invest in what was then an even more niche technology than it is today. He admits it had to do with earning his manager’s trust in the hiring process so that he can return five months into the role and explain how he had found a solution that he thought would make the team much more efficient. Simply put, you need to invest the time into finding the tech that would be the best monetary investment.

That investment paid off. “Nowadays,” he says, “the argument would rest on our merger with another company. Since then, the number of requests that we handle has tripled while we have only received one new team member, meaning we went from a team of two to a team of three when we should be a team of five to six. So, the argument is that you invest in intake management software in order to let people focus on the parts of procurement that require more skill.”

The final argument from his experience with intake is that because the team knows when licenses and the like expire, they can proactively handle renewals, which translates into savings that have consistently doubled over the previous two years. Without the noise of disconnected systems and added steps, procurement can tackle actual sourcing events.

To learn more about Intake and Orchestration in Procurement, visit our dedicated page.