Implementing eProcurement – who defines the process?

(Owen Inglis-Humphrey is a long-serving e-Procurement practitioner and now Director of advisory firm, More then Glue).

In my first article (available here) we considered the issues that business users face reconciling why there are differences between the web shopping experience they have at home and the one they are forced to endure at work. Having set that scene, it's now important to look at what we can do to make it better and hopefully staff can finally realise the position that they were promised back before the turn of the millennium. eProcurement should represent simple to use systems that allow individuals in a business to concentrate on the business at hand and eradicate that feeling of unnecessary bureaucracy.

So let's break down the issues one by one.

Firstly, processes are invariably written by the folk that ran them before the introduction of eProcurement.

In many of the projects I've looked at, the task of defining the business processes has been given to those that were involved in the running the process, or at least elements of it, before the system introduction was proposed. There are many good reasons for this - they understand the issues, they know the business, they clearly know the types of transactions. The downside however is that they are also invariably, and probably subconsciously, predisposed to reflect the old ways of doing things. If you don't believe me just look at how similar the control reports look.

It would be foolish, not to mention downright wrong, to suggest that all business processes prior to eProcurement were wrong or that everything has to radically change in order to be better.  Instead, the proposal would have to be to start with the end users, the ones who really have to interact with the process on a daily basis. Start with the recognition that the process is there to enable the various delivery departments in a business - the customer facing, cash generating ones – to focus on delivery, and that Procurement and Finance (in this instance) are just back office, necessary evils.

Obviously Procurement and Finance need to be involved in the project, as they are going to have to work with whatever comes out, and pick up the pieces when it goes wrong, but they should be there as advisers only to the project and not leading it.  That’s obviously easier said than done, not least as it is invariably the Chief Financial Officer or the Head of Procurement who have sponsored the overall project, but why not look at things differently?

Instead of the normal approach, why not get the Head of Marketing, or the Head of Customer Services to lead the project? Granted, they may not be experts in the technicalities of  Procurement or Finance. On the other hand, what they do understand, above and beyond anything else, is how to win over the 'Customer' and how to keep the customer happy. In their day to day lives, they are the ones who should be spending every waking minute thinking about how best to serve the ever changing demands of the customer - so why not focus that talent internally for a while?

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Voices (2)

  1. Iain.wicking:

    The real issue from an information systems point of view is that we live in a ‘transactional’ and ‘data’ centric world which is perpetuated by the clunky enterprise systems we use.

    We are evolving to a world of collaboration and knowledge management. The former favours siloed operation and hierarchical management structures while the latter supports a ‘matrix’ operation. ERP’s are irrelevant and so are the vast majority of enterprise systems given the emerging potential of Internet based technologies.

    I have recently seen an incident management system built around Social Media and genetic algorithms. It makes the current generation of incident management systems irrelevant in terms of performance and value to the end user.

    1. Iain.wicking:

      Forgot to add that if procurement systems were truly collaborative and underpinned with social media traits and genetic algorithms it would change the way we buy, sell and interact. Such and approach would maximise the potential of interaction between buyer and supplier as they operate in same ‘environment’ and share data meanings, processes, etc. The same observation applies to a customer and retail supplier. CRM is only one part of the solution as its eProcurement and ERP behind the firewall is one part of the solution that should involve the supplier.

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