Improving Procurement Through Technology

As part of our April Hot Topic, Roger Phare, UK Operating Officer, TechnologyOne, asks whether procurement technology is living up to its promise.

The application of technology in any guise, whether it’s 3D printing or procurement technology, must improve business processes and increase efficiency to be seen as successful.

For procurement technology in particular, success is defined by the capability to capture all procurement activity as and when it happens, so that the business operates at optimal efficiency. The technology must also support and facilitate the actual process of procurement, from authorisations and compliance through to quality and performance. For this to happen the technology must be widely adopted to be effective and, therefore, it must be intuitive, easily accessible and integrate to the rest of the business systems.

Interconnecting systems

Often a purchase is initiated as a result of wider business process, for example, ordering a replacement window to complete a work request. Employees should be able to create the purchase from the original work request, without having to re-enter information that is already known. Procurement systems need to be a part of a complete enterprise solution and not something that is bolted on.

Where next - the mobile workforce

The importance of mobility cannot be underestimated in the future development of procurement technology. Employees use a range of devices throughout their working day – phones, PCs, tablets – depending on where their work takes them. They should be able to use any device to raise a purchase request, while taking advantage of consumer concepts such as touch gestures, and familiar app controls, browse catalogue, add to cart, check out, etc.

Surprisingly, we have not seen widespread adoption of these concepts in the business world. ERP vendors globally have been promoting mobile working and end-user computing as the new world, yet take-up on the ground has been slow.

The reason for this is that there is a tendency to develop new ‘front-ends’, which effectively ‘bolt on’ to the legacy systems behind the scenes. Knowing that the core system is often too complex or unwieldy for a manager or field worker to use, the mobile front end is designed to be more intuitive and easier to use. The mistake that is often made is that ‘dumbing down’ a user interface does not make it simpler, in fact it can often lead to frustration with the lack of functionality, and users will naturally find other ways to complete their jobs. This approach also adds more complexity to the IT systems environment.

Cloud technology

For IT teams, supporting a range of devices that change frequently, while providing strong security, scalable systems, risk management and network infrastructure, can be a costly and complex task.

By combining cloud and mobile technology, organisations can access their enterprise software from any device, without needing to use a device-specific app that offers a cut-down version of the full system and requires frequent updates. True Software as a Service (SaaS) allows users to simply sign on for a service they can use anywhere, any time and on any device.

Employees can move across different devices throughout the course of the day, from using their mobiles on the train into work, to their desktop at work, or an iPad whilst out in the field, without needing to sync their device or download updates. SaaS solves the problem of having all employees use the enterprise system for their purchasing activity, capturing the information as it occurs and automating the workflow process to smoothly complete the transaction.
Through SaaS, organisations no longer have to worry about running or updating their software and infrastructure - the software provider takes care of all of that for them, while also managing the security, compliance and risk. By removing the burden of maintaining its computing environment, the organisation can focus on business, rather than the supporting technology.

So where does this leave us? One thing is certain: technology will continue to be critical to procurement efficiencies and competitive advantage. Technology is no longer a luxury, but expected and without it organisations will find it difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate good business practice.

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