Tag Archives: e-procurement

Are You A Procurement Starter Or A Finisher?

Are you a starter or a finisher? According to IBM’s Barry Ward, you’d better be both! Barry discusses the key skills most critical to procurement in the coming years.

Barry Ward, Procurement Brand Manager, Global Business Services at IBM is a keynote speaker at Big Ideas Summit 2017.  He’ll be explaining the big ideas behind Watson and the opportunities that cognitive tech presents to procurement. When we spoke to Barry ahead of the event he was keen to remind us that, despite rapid tech developments, traditional procurement skills are far from being made redundant.

How do you stay productive and current in a world of fast-paced innovation?

  • Collaborating with colleagues
  • Networking with others – using social media and other channels
  • Building and nurturing an ecosystem of organisations that are leading or developing solutions that may have or will have an impact in your function

What key skills are critical for procurement in the next 5 years?

We will always need traditional procurement skills such as the ability to be a strong negotiator, to communicate well internally and externally, to be a starter and a finisher. But, on top of this I think the importance of an open mind and curiosity in terms of the role that technology can play in the future is going to be more important than ever.

There will be an increasing need for project management skills, change management, relationship management skills. This is on top of the usual and still critical traditional procurement skills such as category expertise or negotiation skills. I can also say that there is a growing importance in soft skills: communication, teamwork and collaboration and problem solving.

How has technology, the Internet of Things and e-Procurement affected IBM?

Technology has placed a key role in IBM’s transformation over the past 20 years or so. Its importance is perhaps more critical in the the current phase of our procurement transformation. Understanding how digital technology can transform the supply chain and our source to pay activities is critical in terms both driving our efficiency and effectiveness but also to showcase how procurement can drive value throughout our organisation.

This positions Procurement in a much more strategic role than ever before. Procurement data is much more visible than ever before.  Insights through combining unstructured and structured information augment our knowledge, with alerts being posted to mobile devices instantaneously means that buyers can have much better assurance of supply continuity, of being able to understand price opportunities and to focus their time and energies on higher value activities than ever before. Lower value work will become automated or systems-driven. This is all good news for Procurement.

One clear impact of this transformation is that our key stakeholders now have very high expectations of high performance from Procurement personnel, perhaps more so than ever before, but the rewards are clearly evident in terms of the value that individuals can bring as well as the procurement organisation as a whole.

How valuable have mentors been in your career?

Mentoring is a highly personal thing. Some people need to have guidance and direction particularly in an organisation that may be widely spread and fast-moving, and if you are looking to move around different functions. Similarly for those who are in a smaller organization, mentors can bring an external, broader perspective.

Others are confident of their own abilities in charting a course for their own development and progression. I have had mentors in the past, particularly when I was in the early stages of my career. The more confident you are of your attributes and ambitions the less I have found that I needed mentoring. I spend time mentoring others mainly from within IBM and mainly from other geographies.

How did you first become interested in procurement?

I didn’t know very much about Procurement in my time as an undergraduate. It was not a profession that had much coverage when I was at University, unlike Finance or Engineering.

My first job as a business graduate was as a Purchasing Analyst running Bill of Material queries in a MRP system for a large manufacturer. This brought me into contact with many parts of the organisation including procurement. The procurement manager at the time was quite an intellectual and gave me a broad view of the role that procurement can play in an organisation.

Clearly he influenced me as I have spent my subsequent career in procurement and supply chain roles!

How will cognitive technology impact procurement professionals?

Cognitive technology will transform the role of the procurement professional and the impact that he or she can make for their organisation. It will be able to remove some of the more prosaic parts of the procurement role, such as data gathering and analysis, together with augmenting a buyer’s knowledge thus enabling them to spend more time on higher value tasks and ultimately make better decisions and be more effective.

Procurement professionals will need to understand how cognitive technology works – so they can be alert to potential mistakes that can happen from cognitive solutions, so that data input from these solutions is relevant and accurate.  It will eventually help, and force, them with their career progression as well as developing their expertise.

Join the conversation and register as a digital delegate for Big Ideas 2017

The Smart Way to Buy Your First ERP System

You might not realise it, but you could be making a common mistake when buying your first ERP system.

ERP System

When should a growing company start thinking about a formal, automated spend management program? At the same time you get your first ERP system. The two go hand in hand, but most companies put an ERP system in place and then, when they get to about 800 or so employees, they start thinking about automating spend management, starting with e-procurement and e-invoicing.

A little further down the road, they start thinking about systems for budgeting, travel, employee stock administration and maybe analytics.

The problem with thinking about all these systems separately and sequentially is that instead of thinking about the optimal way to handle each function, you’re thinking about how to solve each problem within the constraints of the systems you already have.

It’s like building a house without a set of plans, one room at a time. It’s an inefficient way to build, and you’re going to end up with a pretty funky floor plan.

You can save time and money, and gain a competitive advantage, by thinking about your finance system as a whole, and drawing up a set of plans for building it from the foundation up, starting with ERP and spend management.

It all starts with invoicing

Your finance system really starts when you start paying invoices. What most growth companies do is buy QuickBooks or some other inexpensive entry-level software to do that, and then shift their focus back to sales and revenue.

As the company grows, it becomes evident that this entry-level system is no longer meeting the company’s needs so they start thinking about an ERP system. These days that doesn’t have to be a multi-million dollar undertaking. Cloud ERPs such as NetSuite can work for businesses as small as 40-50 people, and they can scale up to work for as many as 100,000 people.

So, the CFO or Controller spearheads an effort to get an entry-level ERP system to address core financials, and then, once again, they shift focus back to sales and revenue.

The ‘flip the switch’ myth

Spend management – most notably, e-procurement and e-invoicing – are what people typically tackle next, but most postpone thinking about them until they get there. Or they think, “the ERP system has some requisitioning and invoicing functionality. We’ve got the license and we’ll just flip the switch on those when we need them.”

If only it were that easy.

Yes, many ERP systems do some basic requisitioning and e-invoicing. But their functionality will not come close to satisfying requirements for effectively managing spend, and there’s too much they don’t do, such as sourcing and contracts.

Flipping the switch will only expose those decisions you didn’t make at the outset. Don’t fall into the “flip the switch” trap. Nobody intentionally uses the requisitioning in their ERP to manage spend – they settle for it.

Or, they figure out they need more functionality than the ERP provides and launch an entirely new initiative to vet spend management solutions. But it could have all been figured out at the point where you went from QuickBooks to NetSuite, without taking too much more time, money and resources.

ERP and those first pieces of spend management should be done all at once, so bring procurement and AP to the table for that discussion. Not only will you make a better buying decision, but you’ll have an opportunity to streamline the implementation process.

It will only take fractionally longer to implement both at once, but if you do your ERP implementation and then come back later to implement spend management, you’ll end up doing a lot of the same work over.

A Biggish Bang

There might be reasons to do it that way, but those have to be weighed against the fact that when it comes to your financial management system, it’s not “if” but “when.” It makes more sense to implement ERP and spend management solutions together in a biggish bang because like peanut butter and chocolate, they’re even better together.

Spend management is a low impact, high return insertion that will make your ERP implementation better. The procurement piece can create all the purchase orders that get pushed into the ERP, where you’ve already got the right categories and accounting codes.

Why wouldn’t you want to feed your ERP good, clean data to begin with, in an easy way that people can use and understand? With the cloud, it doesn’t matter if you only have twenty people buying things, or if you’re only doing a few hundred invoices a month.

You probably won’t automate your whole financial system right out of the gate, but you should still think it through and draw a set of plans with the end goal in mind. So, think thrice before you buy that ERP system. Think about the next imminent piece, which is spend management. Think about how you build out from there. You’ll be way ahead of the competition that’s doing it the way we’ve always done it.

You’re not going to have a lot of messes to clean up because you set it up right from the outset, and you’ll be paying a lot less for transactional processing than the competition.