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Strategic Procurement: A CFO’s Guide To Getting There!

Ever felt like a different perspective on that age-old plea: “Help! I need to be more strategic!” would do your procurement team the world of good? Here’s what a CFO has to say on the matter…

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What do we hear from procurement professionals all the time in the industry of Procure to Pay? “Help me be more strategic” or “I want to demonstrate the value of procurement” or “Give me the tools to practice strategic procurement” or “How can I influence the big decisions being made?”

The good news is, there is a way to make these things happen – but you must be keenly focused on two things: data and analytics.

Get Perfect Vision with Complete Data

To even think about being strategic, there’s no way around it – you must tap into your company financial data and that data has to be comprehensive and clean. To build the complete data set, you must get 100 per cent visibility over enterprise-wide spending with:

  • 100 per cent of your e-procurement users funneling all indirect spending through the e-procurement solution
  • 100 per cent of invoices, both direct and indirect,  being processed through the AP automation solution
  • 100 per cent supplier on-boarding to ensure all invoices are being converted to e-invoices, regardless of supplier sophistication.

Layer this data with the power of analytics to quickly glean actionable insights and you’re ready to build your strategic procurement team, enabling everyone to see clearly to make informed decisions.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

As a CFO, I firmly believe that for both Finance and Procurement to be successful in achieving organizational goals, there must be strong collaboration between the CPO and CFO. The unique talent that exists in these functions needs to be leveraged to build and analyze the full financial profile of the company and see the possibilities for the future. From my perspective, CPOs can foster this collaboration and create a strategic procurement team that has their eyes on the prize by doing these 3 things:

1. Support Working Capital Strategy

53 per cent of organisations use payment terms as a strategic lever to manage cash flow.1 As the owner of supplier relationships, Procurement is in a unique position to support Treasury in the management of working capital by negotiating advantageous payment terms with suppliers. Procurement can help the company keep cash on-hand longer by:

    • Working with large suppliers to extend payment terms and pay later
    • Managing the long tail of the supply chain through a virtual card payment program that enables suppliers to get paid quickly, while the company pays later.

By working directly with suppliers to arrange the right payment terms for the company while benefiting the suppliers, Procurement ensures that Treasury can accurately forecast cash flow, properly invest in growth areas and optimize working capital overall. Supplier relationships also improve as financial volatility is minimized for suppliers, reducing risk in the supply chain. Additionally, a strategic procurement organization can generate a new revenue stream through virtual card payment programs that offer cash back. Read more on strategic payment programs.

2. Use Innovative Technology to Control Costs

Generating cost savings has always been a part of traditional Procurement, but now more than ever CPOs have access to innovative technology and advanced analytics to support these efforts. For example, artificial intelligence built into e-procurement solutions can continually scan procurement data to alert Procurement to savings opportunities like consolidating orders for bulk purchasing, better rates offered by different suppliers, reducing off-contract and rogue buying, optimizing inventory carrying costs and reducing other areas of wasteful or unnecessary spending. CPOs can also give approvers the ability to see how orders affect their budgets in real-time and educate other departments on ways they can make the most of those budgets – spreading the procurement talent across the company to help everyone. Suddenly, Procurement goes from being seen as the spend police to a helpful, collaborative arm of the business. Procurement professionals can also use automation tools to run strategic sourcing events to quickly identify and collaborate with the most cost-effective partners. With the right source-to-pay solution, Procurement is better positioned to quickly save costs and free-up time for more strategic initiatives.

3. Develop the Right Talent:

To achieve a strategic procurement organization, CPOs need to ensure they are developing and acquiring the right skills within the procurement department to focus on data analysis. Strategic procurement organizations steer away from a focus on squeezing cost savings out of suppliers and are moving to data-based decision-making that pivots the business one way or another to get ahead. According to Gartner, “the emergence of machine learning and AI is introducing the need for analytical skills and an understanding of data science and technology.” With rule-based and tactical activities becoming increasingly automated, the skill set needed in Procurement will involve working within that complete data set every day to derive the right insights for strategic initiatives like, right-sizing the supply base, spending smarter, reducing risk in the supply chain, improving supplier relationships and properly maintaining supplier data. Read more about the future talent needed for Procurement in Gartner’s article, Start Preparing Now for the Impact of AI on Procurement.

If CPOs stay focused on these areas, they will be able to realize their goals for strategic procurement and the perception of Procurement across the organization will change. If there’s one thing to take away from this article and my perspective on strategic procurement, it’s that you must set your sights on the data flowing through your organization in order to be effective.

See the Light

At Basware, our customers and their suppliers transact over the world’s largest open business network. That means we’re aggregating data across millions of financial transactions, creating an unmatched data set and layering that information with a powerful out-of-the-box analytics suite. If you’re ready to see how this data can make you more strategic, reach out – we’re ready to help.

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The New Age Of Procurement Technology

Procurement technology went full sail and you eagerly jumped on board. But now 90 per cent of all technology is about to become obsolete. Are you prepared for the new age? 

As the vice president of Basware’s Purchase-to-pay solution it goes without saying that I’m involved in a lot of procurement technology selection decisions. And over the years, I’ve noticed a recurring pattern in the process, across numerous organisations. It tends to play out a little bit like this:

A CPO of a large organisation is at the end of their tether thanks to a messy purchase-to pay process. It’s the age-old story with AP and procurement operating independently, maverick spend with unapproved suppliers, late payments and paper absolutely everywhere.

The easiest, and seemingly smartest, solution to the problem is the implementation of a new purchase-to-pay system, which said CPO requires, being extra savvy, to be a Software-as-a-Service solution. The CPO knows they can get a decent ROI on whichever supplier they choose.

So what’s the problem?

Unfortunately, our CPO is only looking 5 inches in front of their face! It’s no exaggeration to say 90 per cent of today’s procurement technologies will be obsolete in the coming years. And so procurement needs to start looking much further ahead!

Remember Siebel? We can’t either…

You’d be pretty hard pushed to find an organisation that uses Siebel nowadays. You might even struggle to find someone who knows what it is!

Siebel was the cream of the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) crop in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It was the absolute best at its time.  Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on licensing and implementing Siebel, with the promise of visibility, efficiency, and improved customer satisfaction.

Fast forward a mere ten years and…nobody uses it.  It turned on a dime thanks to Software-as-a-Service and, more specifically, Salesforce. An enormous technology shift took place, and suddenly Siebel and everything like it was utterly obsolete. More than a few CMO’s were fired as a result.

What can we expect from the next tech shift?

What can we expect from the next technology shift? We hear about  AI, machine learning and cognitive computing all the time and there’s a lot of concern amongst procurement professionals that it’s going to displace our workforce.

But it’s coming to procurement whether we like it or not. There’s a glaringly obvious application of AI for procurement professionals.

One word: data.

When today’s CPOs try to objectively evaluate the functionality of potential new solutions, they’re often bypassing  a crucial aspect (opting to solely measure tactical functionality); the game-changing competitive advantage their organisation can achieve through the power of the data.  There are two major considerations to be made here.

  1. Is the system architected for centralised data capture?

    The system should be able to capture your data, the data of all organisations using the solution  and, ideally, be able to connect with other solutions.  The more the system is designed for centralised data capture, the better chance you have of being able to take advantage of the latest  data-driven tech changes.

    My advice is that you eliminate anything that focuses solely on you and your data.  If it’s not central, you can be sure you’ll get stuck behind and end up like one of the organisations using Siebel.   But, of course, design alone is not enough.

  2. Does the system actually capture that data?

To capture all of this data, there are three parties that matter: suppliers, requisitioners, and AP. This is where tons of business cases fall apart.

  • Suppliers: To capture data you have to get all your suppliers on the system. Not just your big sophisticated suppliers, every single one! You have to get them connected, or you will fail, if not today then most definitely in the imminent future
  • Requisitioners: Who are the worst employees when it comes to using a procurement system? It’s fair to say that it’s often the sales and exec teams;  the people driving revenue for the company. These groups are only going to use a new procurement system if it’s the easiest and fastest way for them to get their jobs done, which means it has to fit in seamlessly with how they work.   If you don’t give them a system that they want to use, you won’t have them, and again you won’t be capturing the data from their transactions.
  • AP:  This is probably the most important part but so often an afterthought when looked at from a Procurement perspective. Consider how many hundreds of thousands or millions of invoice transactions are processed within your company. Now multiply that by the thousands of other companies out there and you’ll get a sense of how quickly that data can scale. Most P2P systems can’t process all of those different kinds of invoices. And that’s where we end up in Siebel world, yet again!

By committing to finding and using a system that captures all of this data, and does so not just for your organisation, but in a truly centralised platform, procurement will soon be able to achieve the following:

  • Fraud detection
  • Machines that know when you need something. Doesn’t it seem miraculous when Amazon knows what you need and presents it to you when you login?  Let me tell you that it’s not. It’s data
  • Dynamic discounting marketplaces
  • Exceptions handled without any human intervention, based on patterns of prior behavior in the data. This might not be behavior that humans can readily identify, but machines can with ease by crunching all of that data

Procurement would do well to remember that, In today’s world, the big value is in the data, not in tactical functionality.

Eric Wilson is the head of Basware’s Purchase-to-Pay business for the Americas and APAC.