All posts by Paul Blake

The Quarterback’s Code for Strategic Sourcing

When it comes to strategic sourcing, organisations shouldn’t have to choose between standardisation and flexibility. Good technology should allow for both.

The Quarterback’s Code for Strategic Sourcing

Download GEP’s white paper on the role of procurement in the mobile revolution here.

“Omaha!”

A familiar cry to many, but maybe not to those not especially interested in the sport of Football in the USA (aka American Football back home in the UK). “Omaha!” is the often used pre-snap call of one of the sport’s greats, two-time Super Bowl winner Peyton Manning.

But what does “Omaha!” mean? And if it means something specific, how have the competition not worked it out after all these years?  And how come Manning’s former team are as much in the dark as the rest of us?

Context Is Everything

The truth then, clearly, is that it doesn’t mean anything, at least not anything consistent – either from season to season or game to game or even play to play.  As a placeholder, as a piece of gamesmanship, as a way to test the sensitivity of the hair trigger of the opposing defence, it has proven extremely effective, time and again.

Constantly switching up the sequence of calls and preparations and communications to keep the competition on the back foot is smart game play. But to do that without changing the vocabulary is sporting genius.

Without the need to constantly reinvent the language of the game, the effort can be fully devoted to implementation and execution.  Context is everything, and so by using a standard set of tools, a well-prepared team can snap-to and address each play successfully.

This is, in many ways, a model which is familiar to everyone. From Lego bricks to document boilerplates to groceries, we are very much aligned to the concept of creating a range of different outcomes from a standard kit of parts.

Standardised vs. Customised

It is also a model that business processes aim to emulate, but with varying degrees of success.  Sourcing and contracting are cases in point.  It is always a “nice idea” to have a standard set of processes or questions or clauses or whatever, but the reality is that changing circumstance forces a change in approach and time and again RFPs (and the Ps that result) are created from scratch with little reuse and standardisation.

That’s not without good reason, of course. Too much standardisation is a constraint.  A “take it or leave it” attitude to contracts is rarely a workable strategy in the long term. The need to be flexible, and adapt to changing circumstances, is important.

Nevertheless, there is a happy medium between “out-of-the-box” and “bespoke”. Your choice of procurement software should give you the ability to both select from a standard set and customise what you need – at the same time.

It shouldn’t be a question of having to choose between a boilerplate and a custom-built document. You should have the freedom to select which pieces you want to remain standard and which pieces you want to personalise.

Best of Both Worlds

So far, so obvious, I think.  But if that approach is adopted end-to-end in the procurement operation, enabled by the software, such that each sourcing wave, each program of supplier management, and each category are all consistently structured and arranged, then there emerges a common basis on which success can be measured and best-practice shared and transferred from team to team.

Thus a consistent approach and process needn’t be prevented by the requirement to change strategy or tactical game play. At GEP we develop procurement software that is designed around the principles of simplifying the processes and yet permitting maximum flexibility; two aims which can be seen as mutually exclusive. But we don’t believe they are.

If the software is smart enough we think you should be able to get the best of both worlds – a consistent common vocabulary that allows you to communicate effectively with your team mates, but with the ability to react swiftly and specifically to win every play.

Learn more about state-of-the-art procurement software at www.smartbygep.com.

GEP have shared a white paper on procurement’s readiness for the mobile revolution with the Procurious community. Download it at gep.procurious.com.

Is Procurement Ready for the Mobile Revolution?

The Mobile Revolution is firmly upon us, but procurement seems to be behind the curve when it comes to adapting. Why is this?

Mobile Revolution

Download GEP’s white paper on the role of procurement in the mobile revolution here.

“In all my time in procurement I have never seen a procurement person using an app.”

This was a quote passed to me by a colleague who was discussing our mobile procurement software strategy with the prospective customer.

You might be forgiven for thinking that this was some sort of dismissive statement, indicating perhaps an underlying Luddite tendency, “We’ve never used procurement software like that before so don’t see why we should start now”.

But, as it turns out, quite the reverse was true. This particular comment was made by someone enthusiastic about the prospect of a different way of employing technology, and the subtext was really, why is procurement so far behind the mobile revolution curve?

Procurement Inertia

This is a fair point. Human Resources and Sales Operations have been blessed with state-of-the-art technology solutions for some time. SaaS, and now Cloud, are de rigueur for our colleagues elsewhere in the business. But procurement still largely lumbers along with an online/offline hybrid of on-premise systems, spreadsheets and email.

As the quote implies, the inertia in procurement is not a result of lack of innovation or drive amongst the community. There is certainly a desire for a better, more efficient means to execute many of the processes and tasks encountered on a daily basis by the procurement professional.

The lag in evolution of the use of procurement software is largely a result of the legacy of direct materials management and ERP systems. Direct categories are so mission-critical that the systems used to handle planning, inventory and production are fine-tuned and locked-down to make them robust. But this in turn makes them inflexible, and the business becomes totally dependent on them.

When indirect categories are procured using the same systems, this intractability becomes a hindrance to progress and innovation. However, the ERP companies have no real interest in breaking the mould.

Technological Change

Expecting a sea-change for indirect procurement to come from that direction is probably in vain.

Decoupling the indirect categories to take advantage of up-to-date procurement technology solutions is a start. Inevitably, this requires deep thought and the investment of considerable brain power, but the results can speak for themselves.

New levels of efficiency, innovation, opportunity realisation and, of course, savings can result directly from the adoption of a new way of working with procurement software.

In a sense, that quantum jump of improvement can result solely from a procurement software system being simply better than the legacy system. Certainly, smart, professional individuals are able to force old-fashioned and outdated processes into something workable. But unleashed from such restrictions, those same people can really start to motor.

The Mobile Revolution

Mobile, app-based technology is a part of that picture. The only reason our guest has never seen a procurement person using an app is because the procurement software industry itself has been mired in the same inertia and legacy of on-premise solutions.  Well, most of the procurement software industry.

Mobile technology is going to have a huge impact on business-to-business operations and procurement is a key part of that. To find out more about state-of-the-art procurement software visit www.smartbygep.com.

GEP have shared a white paper on procurement’s readiness for the mobile revolution with the Procurious community. Download it at gep.procurious.com.

Procurement Technology: To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade?

At a recent industry procurement technology conference, I heard a presenter state, quite reasonably I thought, that risk doesn’t begin until you select a supplier.

cloud

As one of those suppliers, I’d naturally argue that the risk in selecting us is lower than our competitors but, still, it is a valid point. It is a given that staying at home less risky than travelling, but only for certain kinds of risk, of course. An outdoor, active lifestyle requires an inevitable degree of caution and hazard awareness, but then again so does sitting on the sofa watching TV.

Thus, while a procurement technology project cannot go wrong until you start, that is no case for lack of action. Doing nothing, can expose your organization to even greater risk in the long term.

So what should you be doing? What should be your approach? A challenge, surely, is when to put a stake in the sand and commit to a particular project in an environment where change and new product announcements are increasing year on year.

Time and again, one hears of companies locked into a legacy system that is too important to ditch and too costly to upgrade. How can that be right?

In the past couple of decades, we’ve seen a big shift in the types of technology solutions that are considered suitable for the workplace. At a time when most large business could only comprehend huge, cumbersome systems, integrated on a very large scale and at enormous cost, those who elected to search for best-of-breed solutions for each requirement, from a range of providers were looked upon as cutting-edge thinkers, almost the avant garde.

And yet, today, attempting to build a robust, transformed, next-decade-ready procurement practice on a mish-mash of different procurement software tools for sourcing, contracts, P2P and SRM is likely to be considered a very risky strategy indeed. More and more businesses are looking for a single procurement software solution to assist in that transformation process.

So, times have changed and seemingly come full circle, but have they really?

I’d say they haven’t. Today’s complete end-to-end procurement technology solutions are as far removed from the ERP systems of 20 years ago as your choice of personal computing device is from that which you were using during the same period.

The only common theme is the notion that you can do everything in one place. The difference is that now you can do so much more than was ever possible in the past.

What drove businesses at the leading edge to seek out best-of-breed solutions was the need for increased power, control and efficiency delivered by innovative technology, something they could definitely not find in the old, megalithic systems.

The advent of a whole new architecture underlying the modern world — with its cloud, wireless and mobile technologies — has made it possible to conceive of one single solution that is powerful and flexible enough to deliver what a global business needs in terms of control and management, but remains agile and responsive enough to keep the modern procurement practice on the leading edge.

We know this, because we’ve built such solutions. Having seen procurement professionals wrestle with the old, monolithic systems and then struggle to make sense of a patchwork of different tools, this really does feel like something quite new.

The most exciting thing of all is the speed at which we can now innovate and address new demands in the ever changing world of procurement. And gone are the days of the business not being able to afford an upgrade. The question today is: cannot you afford not to upgrade?

Procurement Technology and Procurement Software – Are they Any Different?

Often used interchangeably by enterprise clients and vendors alike, are the two concepts really the same?

It’s all in the perception and the word. Technology is more current, more relevant, and encompasses the full landscape of neat innovations that are offered to us in increasing numbers.

Software, well, it’s a bit old-fashioned really. It’s more flabby-old-floppy-disk than app-store-chic.

Consider the growing range of tiny little devices that extend the range of things we can do with our smart phones. Little buttons, tags, sensors and switches are reinventing and redefining the way we use our phones. There are buttons that you can program to push and play music, push to order takeout food, and so on.

But however much they devices are pushed to the forefront — with a focus on tablets and wearable devices, and the potential impact they will have on our daily lives — the truth is that these gadgets are just the means of access to the software.

These gadgets are appealing and exciting, and the prospect of having everything at the push of a button is irresistible. But look under the covers and the reality is somewhat different.

Because, in fact, you won’t be programming the buttons at all. The button is just a switch that says, “I’ve been activated”. It is the app on your smart device that translates that activation into a result.   Although, of course, it isn’t even that simple. App, we all know, is an abbreviation of application. In other words, a way of using the underlying power of another system. Software applications, in essence, are devices for instructing an operating system to do something clever.

We think the cute little buttons are smart, but they are just a veneer of glamour over the real miracle, which is the vast repository of information and decision support that is available to all of us.

This is where the power lies in procurement technology, not in the fact that you can approve a purchase order on your wristwatch, but the fact that you can do it wherever your wristwatch happens to be. The distinction is that it is the underlying software that enables the gadgetry, mobility and flexibility to work the way you need to.

And it is the software that needs to be crafted cleverly to deliver the business results you need. Code that is written to do clever things based on requests and demands. The software needs to work the way you do, and the developers need to understand the business requirements you have.

As a leading global developer of procurement software, we at GEP recognize that procurement technology is a big deal. Mobility, usability, accessibility and all the other abilities determine how you can work. But it is the underlying understanding of the business needs, encapsulated in the software that drives the tech that determines what you can do.

Procurement technology is rapidly growing and evolving, but at its heart, it is driven by good old-fashioned software.

Whether procurement professionals need gadgets to make working practices more automated is not yet clear, but what they will always need is results.

So there it is, procurement technology and procurement software — two distinct things that are interdependent on each other for success.

Paul Blake leads the technology product marketing team at GEP, a leading global provider of procurement technology solutions that help enterprises boost procurement savings and performance. Read Paul’s first blog here.

Is Your Procurement Technology a Solution or Just an ‘Empty App’?

There are hundreds of procurement technology products in the market today – from standalone tools to end-to-end platforms. But are they really ‘solutions’ or just ’empty apps’?

Let’s look at an example. Satellite navigation was a technology that had to be developed in order to make commercial sense of GPS. Originally developed to guide cruise missiles to their targets, GPS is quite an extraordinary feat of engineering which we now take for granted due to the ubiquity of SatNav devices and apps on smart phones.

Critical to the success of SatNav are the maps. The ‘data’, if you like. The quality and utility of these apps is entirely dependent on the content. Without map data, your SatNav is just a shell, literally an empty app. As I discovered recently landing in the USA with a cool new navigation app on my phone – for which I had completely neglected to download the map dataset for the region I was in. A useless, empty app.

The same is true of procurement technology products.

You may note I have used the terms ‘products’ in place of the more often-used euphemism, ‘solutions’. For a piece of procurement technology to be a solution to anything, its use must deal with existing issues and provide better outcomes than if it were not used at all. My phone app at that point was definitely not a solution.

Heretical as it may sound, in the world of procurement technology there is no guarantee that deployment of expensive, fully-featured software alone will make life better for your organization.

Large-scale implementations of procurement technology systems are always complex and require considerable effort and investment to pull off. Delivering a return on that investment is not a done deal until you can really demonstrate the benefits and savings generated.

Focus on Results, Not Features

Increasingly, then, CPOs and industry professionals are looking closely at procurement technology to see how it will generate the desired results and what is. The focus is more on usability and effectiveness, rather than features and functionality — whether the procurement technology being considered is more than just an ’empty application’.

And that’s the whole point. It’s one thing to have all the functions and features, it’s quite another to be able to use the software to deliver results quickly, efficiently and without months of additional effort.

So What Should Procurement Technology Be Like?

The opposite of ’empty’ procurement technology, then, is that which is packed with valuable data already. Best-practice templates for contracts and sourcing, category taxonomies that match your business needs, market intelligence, category information and industry benchmarks are all examples of how procurement technology can be enriched “out of the box”.

That’s not to say that one size must fit all. Far from it. In fact, it is highly likely that each company’s definition of best-practice data will be unique. Just like the SatNav app, for which, you can choose to download maps based on your needs, smart, intelligent procurement technology should allow you to access best-practice templates, workflows, checklists, among others on demand, as and when you want.

That’s when your procurement technology will do what it’s supposed to do – drive savings and performance across the enterprise, and not become just another empty app.

Paul Blake leads the technology product marketing team at GEP, a leading global provider of procurement technology solutions that help enterprises boost procurement savings and performance.