Tag Archives: procurement solutions

The Three Laws of Robotics Aren’t. So What Now?

The Three Laws of Robotics, as created by Asimov, don’t exist. But, as we move to a more automated world, should robots and AI fall under greater oversight?

Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock.com

Download the latest GEP white paper on the drive to an automated world here

In my previous post on the subject of the coming era of robotic process automation, I mentioned Asimov’s seminal sci-fi work The Caves of Steel. In it Asimov wrote of The City as the dominant force in human lives of the future:

“The City was the acme of efficiency, but it made demands of its inhabitants. It asked them to live in a tight routine and order their lives under a strict and scientific control.”

Asimov’s suggestion that there is a cost to progress might be seen as prophetic, but I think he was just one of a long line of writers who have warned that the future might be a bit ropey if we just pursue change in the name of progress, for its own sake.

But for all his attempts to conjure a dystopian image, Asimov was fundamentally a “technoptimist” with a repeating theme in his stories that progress would ultimately always be positive. In fact, his philosophy of robotics – and his “three laws” – have been so tightly woven into modern culture that it seems we hardly give a thought to the potential threats to our way of life, and perhaps to our lives from the advent of a totally automated future.

An Automated Future

Without labouring the point too much, the Three Laws of Robotics essentially mean that, in Asimov’s world, robots are inherently safe, trustworthy and beneficial. In fact, it is simply impossible to build a robot that does not comply with the three laws, the very architecture of the robotic AI being hard-wired around them.

It is purest fiction, of course, although to speak to some enthusiasts for the subject, Asimov’s Laws really do exist.  But they really don’t, and that could spell trouble.

Life imitating art is all very well, but there is nothing whatsoever to dictate that an automated future can be assured as a “good thing.”

On the same day as I’m writing this piece, there are two news stories on the BBC website. In one, it is announced that robots will be working in two Belgian hospitals as receptionists, guiding visitors to the correct locations.

In the other, we’re told, a researcher at a university in the USA has built a robot that autonomously decides whether to inflict pain and bodily harm on a live human subject.

That the microcode for the two systems could be somehow swapped, or cross-fertilised, is the stuff of real dystopian sci-fi and, whilst highly implausible, it does raise questions about whether some progress is happening without sufficient oversight.

Robotics & Automation in Procurement

There is disquiet in many circles about the use of drones in warfare, and the step from human-operated to robotic drone is really only a matter of systems integration.

There are no Three Laws to guarantee that AI, robots and automation will be to our benefit.  Yet they may very well be.

There are grounds to be hugely optimistic about what technology can do for us, from carbon capture and storage, to non-polluting safe transportation, to dramatically improved health and longevity in the poorest parts of the world.

Even in our little corner of the world we call Procurement, the sky’s the limit if we want to pursue automation. The potential to dramatically transform how we operate is very great indeed, and only a matter of investment and a few person-years of effort out of our reach.

But in all of this, it seems to me, it is we who should direct and dictate how that progress is delivered and what it actually does.   Instead of being passive consumers and falling in line with the next developments, which may substantially change our working lives, the procurement industry has an opportunity to map out what the future could and should look like, and how we want the machines to work. For us.

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Robotics are the future, and the sky’s the limit for automation in Procurement, say GEP. For more on this, download the latest white paper research.

For more information on high-performing procurement software, visit the Smart by GEP website.

The Fear of Technology in Hospitality

Legacy systems and poor past user experiences are creating a fear around technology in the hospitality industry.

Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock.com

“I think it’s difficult for technology to get to the top of the list of things to do next” said Jane Pendlebury, CEO of HOSPA, in our recent roundtable on the topic of technology in hospitality. And with that, she nailed what I had been dealing with ever since InstaSupply started.

There is always something more pressing that needs attention before looking at a tech solution. Even if that tech solution will save you, or make you the money to pay for that other pressing something.

There’s this fear of the unknown that’s keeping a lot of hospitality businesses stuck in the past and relying on tools and systems that for a lot of other industries became obsolete years ago.

Hospitality Lacking Information

Lack of information and education is a key factor here. Peter Hancock, CEO of Pride of Britain Hotels, rightly pointed out that most people involved in the running of a hospitality business aren’t necessarily the “tech-iest” of individuals.

Experience with older systems and their tendency to create rather than solve problems has left a bitter taste in a lot of mouths. Couple that with expensive upgrades that weren’t made clear at the start of the contract and we have an added layer of mistrust.

The result of all this is an industry that’s still heavily reliant on paper, lacking transparency on spending and full of overworked staff. Front of house staff not only have to ensure their guests enjoy a great experience but in many cases handle a lot of finance and procurement tasks that are absolutely outside their job description.

Lightening the Workload

Technology is created to help lighten the workload and improve productivity, not to take away jobs or swindle businesses out of money because they don’t understand what it does.

Just as a washing machine will handle a lot more clothes and get them done a lot better and a lot quicker than you would by hand, so too will the right technology remove manual data entry, managing 145,789 spreadsheets and let you know exactly what you are spending and on what in real time.

Watch our full discussion on the fear of tech here:

InstaSupply is all about working smarter and simplifying business through technology.

InstaTalks are about bringing great minds together and uncovering where the fear of tech comes from when it comes to business operations.

Finding out what the pain points are and then educating people in plain language. No jargon, no small print. It’s time to understand that technology is a revenue generator, not a budget sinkhole. 

Why Requisitioning Must Be Part of ERP Conversations

Requisitioning (or asking for what you need) is a key part of the procurement process. So why is it frequently sidelined in ERP discussions?

This article was first published on the Coupa Blog.

Having either implemented or worked with some of the major ERP systems on the market, I think I’m on safe ground when I say, nobody chooses to do requisitioning through their ERP system. They settle for it.

ERP systems are largely built for finance and the controllership. End users are often not taken into account. Their requisitioning modules are notoriously difficult to use, which is too bad because requisitioning is how most non-finance users — aka. everyone else in the company — will interact with the ERP system.

In fact, people putting in requisitions to get what they need to do their jobs represent a large segment of non-finance users feeding data into the ERP. If you burden them with a system they won’t use, or that they’ll use in a sloppy way, your ERP will have data quality issues. To avoid having to settle for ERP requisitioning, it’s to everyone’s benefit for procurement to be part of the ERP discussion, as a strong advocate for the end user.

Advocating for Procurement

I’m not saying that will be easy. As I’ve written previously, organisations need to think more broadly about their whole finance system, which comprises multiple interconnected processes, from sourcing to the point where something is paid for and entered into the record.

The ERP system addresses the back end, and it’s designed for finance to be able to do what they need to do regardless of how the data gets in there.

So, the discussion doesn’t usually extend to the front end—sourcing, contracts, approvals, requisitioning—which is where a lot of that data comes from, because the thinking doesn’t extend that far. It’s not easy to break down these silos.

In situations where I’ve been the advocate for the needs of procurement, I’ve had to fight pretty hard to get that perspective considered and I’ve often been the lone dissenter in the room.

  • Get Real

You need to be a realist. There are always resource constraints, and there’s a hierarchy of needs within finance, and user-friendly requisitioning is never going to be at the top of the list. But when requisitioning is ranked seventh out of six fundable implementation projects, the potential for settling becomes very real. Hello, heavy ERP requisitioning module.

  • Map it out

One way to avoid that mistake is to map out the whole process, because it’s not completely linear. Data flows from one process into one, or several, others. A lot of times an ERP decision is made before these processes are mapped out. But, when you map it all out, it becomes obvious that quality and consistency of requisitioning is critical for getting finance all the data they need to make the ERP system a single source of truth. 

  • Learn the language

The main requirement for a better-than-ERP experience is that the requisitioning system be user friendly. You can’t push a heavy ERP requisitioning system on a marketing associate fresh out of college, or on a seasonal retail worker.

But usability is one of those subjective, soft terms that may not always resonate with the finance audience. To advocate effectively, understand the needs of finance and speak their language. For example, if you’re talking to a controller who is a worldwide tax authority, framing it in terms of compliance and data quality is a much better approach.

  • Not Amazon-like

You also need to break down what you mean by user friendly. Every ERP vendor is going to say their requisitioning module is user friendly. If no one is looking out for non-finance users, that box just gets checked.

How user friendly does it need to be? You’re probably expecting me to say, “It should be as easy to use as Amazon.” I would personally love it if it could be so, but there are different requirements for business buying that for consumer buying. But, it can be much easier than most ERP requisitioning modules make it.

A good system approaches requisitioning broadly. It’s not just asking people to fill out purchase orders. It should really be a way for an employee to get anything they need to do their job. In fact, I’d rather they didn’t have to even use the words ‘purchase order’ or ‘requisition.’  We’re simply helping them buy things.

Ideally, they should be able to click a bookmark, get to a portal and then get in through a single sign-in. They land on a homepage where they see relevant buying policies and have visibility into all of their transactions

There should be smart search capabilities, tailored towards a user who is probably somewhat resistant to using the system. They can’t get irrelevant results, or come up empty. They have to be able to quickly find what they want, or find out how to get it.

If it’s a catalogue item, the actual policy pops up, which will guide them how to buy it. If they need a new computer monitor, maybe it comes back and says, “OK, you have to log a ticket for IT because they do provisioning.” Or if nothing is there, it will guide them towards making a free form request. But they don’t even need to know these terms. All they need to know is what they want.

Heavy and Cluttered

In contrast, the requisitioning modules of the major ERP systems are often heavy. The home page may be cluttered with lots of finance information that’s not relevant. The email notifications can be complex and confusing.

There are a lot of fields to fill in so finance can get all the codes and data it needs – provided the would-be requisitioner doesn’t take one look at it, decide it would be faster just to run down to their local Staples store, and expense the darn thing. That’s the kind of thing that happens when you settle.

There are good reasons why requisitioning is not the top priority in the ERP discussion, but neither is it right for it to have no presence or priority. The real impact of user-friendly requisitioning is better data and better compliance.

To make sure your company doesn’t settle, somebody needs to advocate for all the people who aren’t in the room, but are going to have to use the system, and convince finance to give it the proper priority.

The ideal situation is that requisitioners don’t have to think about finance at all—or procurement for that matter. The irony is that to accomplish that, the folks in finance have to get together with procurement and think hard about requisitioning.

Resistance is Futile…Or is it?

Is resistance to automation of procurement processes futile? Or are we missing the benefits that automation will ultimately bring to the profession?

You can download the latest GEP white paper on the drive to an automated world, and why resistance is unnecessary, here.

The cannon of science fiction is full of tales of the battle between liberty, exemplified by human free will (including the freedom to screw everything up royally) and tyranny, portrayed as submission to an overwhelming force.

In many cases the “assimilation into the collective” or whatever, is not an unconditionally negative prospect. The promise of an end to suffering and provision of all human needs is often conveyed as the ‘upside’ of the deal to subjugate humanity to forces beyond our understanding.

Automation – The Dark Side?

From Childhood’s End to The Matrix, there’s a definite cost-benefit analysis to be carried out by the protagonists during their struggles to overcome the supposedly overwhelming power of the dark side of the story.

In fact, in the latter, the movie’s clichéd traitor – they even named the character “Cypher” – sells out the heroes on the promise of a return to the simulated ‘real’ world with the words, “Ignorance is bliss.”  And when asked by the agent of evil, “Then we have a deal?”, he replies, “I don’t wanna remember nothing.  Nothing! You understand?”

There is even a branch of anthropic philosophy than contends that our reality is likely to be a simulation run by an advanced post-human intelligence. As coherent and convincing as some of that reasoning appears to be, the fact remains that there is no possible way this hypothesis can be proved or disproved.

Like all matters of faith, this notion is utterly irrelevant when we attempt to construct a set of rules that will let us predict what will happen in (what certainly appears to be) the real world.

Rise of the Machines?

Recently it has been suggested at some of the procurement industry’s leading conferences that business is beginning to enter a phase that will be dominated by artificial intelligence and robotic process automation, and lead to the eventual replacement of the humans in the process.

Dissenting voices are heard to cry “nonsense,” or more colloquial versions of the same, but the arguments are nonetheless compelling. Only this time, they have a certain amount of evidence to back them up.

It is true. The technology exists today, in varying states of maturity, which – if synthesised into a single entity – could effectively do away with human involvement in the supply chain. From AI-run decision making, to automated manufacture and delivery, to fuzzy logic-based distribution of spend across a supply base, the characteristics of today’s procurement activity could, quite readily, be encoded and turned over to a software overlord.

Other sci-fi classics, the likes of the movie ‘Logan’s Run’, and the book ‘The Caves of Steel’, deal with the machine-run production of goods and services in equal measure to the imposing of external force on human freedom. And as life imitates art, there will naturally be greater degrees of this emerging.  Today’s 3D printer is surely tomorrow’s Star Trek Replicator.

The End for Procurement?

But, whatever the generations of the future will accept as everyday technology, the idea that we’re approaching a defining moment, beyond which procurement professionals will be irrelevant, must be viewed with a good degree of scepticism.

There’s no doubt automation works really, really well when it comes to replacing easily mapped and understood processes, from assembling a car from a standard kit of parts, to processing a contract-compliant purchase order through to invoice payment.

But the simple fact is we just don’t understand enough about the world, human behaviour, the markets, the climate, indeed any part of the future, to be able to encapsulate all our business rules into a single algorithm that the machine can follow to manage supply and demand for the rest of time.

The landscape in which our largest corporations operate is truly chaotic, in a mathematical sense, and deriving a simple set of rules to automate demand and supply across such organisations is, I think, beyond us today.

One of the very drivers of modern prosperity is the ability to “make a buck” and any kind of completely automated process necessarily eliminates margin at source. Negotiation between buyer and supplier AIs will not only be mind-bogglingly rapid, but likely to end in stalemate – and the same stalemate as the last time.

If we lose negotiation, then it seems to me that we will lose innovation, motivation and the result will be stagnation.

Resistance is Unnecessary

The future will be radically different to the present.  It always has been and always will be, and all predictions as to what it will look like are inevitably wrong. Including this one.

But with that uncertainty comes opportunity. Automation in procurement will certainly be a big thing in the future, but it will be complex, it will be messy and it will need human brains to make it work, and not just to write the code.

The human brains that work in procurement today are those that will guide the whole world of supply forward into a brave new world. Reports of procurement’s demise have been overstated, naturally, but we can still take control and make the machines work for us.

Resistance isn’t futile. It’s unnecessary.

GEP Banner

Automation doesn’t mean the end for procurement, and the benefits of automating processes vastly outweigh the drawbacks, say GEP. For more on this, download the latest white paper research.

For more information on high-performing procurement software, visit the Smart by GEP website.

Are Procurement Professionals Stuck in the Stone Age? – Part IV

As B2B technology companies are beginning to realise the benefits of being easy to use, what changes do we think will happen? How do we envisage the B2B tech space evolving within the next 5-10 years?

Photon photo/Shutterstock.com

Market Dojo put an article together examining what it would look like in 10 years time, and how it will have to adapt and change to remain ahead of the game.

With a focus on Market Dojo as an eSourcing company, we came up with a few conclusions, most of which can be applied not only to eSourcing, but to B2B technology companies as a whole.

The table below looks at different functions of technology and predictions on how they might change within the B2B landscape.

Function Change
Mobile Technology Whilst consumers are ever increasing their use of mobile tech, are businesses going to become more reliant on this in the workplace? The simple answer is yes. B2B companies need to be aware of becoming even more responsive, searchable and usable across the mobile technology of the future?
Google (power of the web/search) Will this develop enough and become intelligent enough to make other applications obsolete? Such as developing  more intelligent supplier search function and becoming the de-facto supplier database though their categorisation.
APIs The ability to integrate between solutions is already possible, but in the future it is set to become even more simple. We expect it becoming ever easier to integrate with any (software) component through standard connectors, so that best of breed becomes as attractive or even better than ERP solutions.
Amazon/Google/Apple B2B platform Established companies moving into other areas (E.g. developing eMarketplaces) and threatening the smaller providers with their ability to quickly develop technology. This is already happening.

Procserve, for example, have built links with Amazon for B2B purchasing. (See full article here.)

Eradicating the user interface Moving from slick user interface to ‘no user interface’, as per this Coupa article.

A rather controversial idea, but we can see some logic that instead of having to log into a tool every day, instead it fits around your life so you can interact with it outside the tool via Voice Activation such as Google Voice, Siri, Cortana, etc.

True commoditisation The final stage of the technology lifecycle is commoditisation. (See Market Dojo’s video on the four stages of technological growth taken from a TED lecture.)
Integrated market information How global news stories affect various aspects of your business and what technology can do to make companies more aware and faster.
Also how tech can keep companies updated with what’s being said about their brand. (Ref. Owler.)
More focus on AI & Automation/robotics The software could take actions when it ‘thinks’ it is needed. e.g. within eSourcing – delay an auction due to lack of liquidity, or suggest a better lot structure based on the bids received.
Public Sector Procurement A big shake-up in the public sector software market to disrupt the legacy tools with their complex workflows and procedures to be a slick tool that people enjoy using. E.g. Matrix SCM
IT involvement & Security barriers IT’s function is changing from an in-house design/build/implement function to a strategic business partner who guide business stakeholders in the selection of appropriate SaaS systems.
Marketing How will people find us in the future, compared to how they find us now?
How will the power of search change in the future?
At the minute, the focus is on Content Marketing, but what next?
More personalised, more interactive marketing?

As you can see, we expect the Market Dojo platform to become more intuitive and user-friendly over the next few years. Is this true of all business softwares? Will we (realistically) be able to prioritise usability and design over functionality and features?

The authors have pondered long and hard the question of when the B2C approach will catch on in the B2B World. We think it is progressively changing, but will, for the reasons listed in previous articles, take some time to change.

New suppliers with easy to use solutions are coming to the fore, Coupa and Egencia come to mind. But we postulate that it will be a slow change process, with perhaps another 5 years before the whole B2B solution market feels like today’s B2C environment – at which point the B2C landscape will possibly be different again!

To stay at the forefront of technology, can B2B companies look to B2C arena as a gauge of what’s to come?

What are your thoughts?

Market Dojo and Odesma have partnered to combine their intuitive eSourcing software and expertise in offering business advisory services to offer clients a winning procurement solution.

Silo Busting: Using savings management to drive collaboration

In a perfect world, savings management should follow a clear pattern: set targets, identify then prioritise initiatives, track initiatives and, finally, review the targets. However, managers know that in reality, these five steps are beset with difficulty. They have to deal with unknown targets and goals, manual inputting, approval difficulties, siloed projects, sporadic monitoring and, worst of all, focus on the wrong projects.

chompoo/Shutterstock.com

How to bust silos when nothing seems to work

Many of the woes besetting procurement professionals can be traced back to organisational silos, which hamper effective communication, hinder compliance, and impede transparency. You’ve tried everything to improve collaboration – from issuing company-wide news bulletins, increasing the number and frequency of interdepartmental meetings, and even drastically altering the seating arrangements … but sometimes, silo-type behaviour is just ingrained. No doubt, you have wished there was some sort of silver bullet that will do away with silos once and for all.

According to SciQuest’s Karen Sage, there is. Sage is excited about launching a new solution that will bring everyone on board with procurement savings initiatives. “Our new Portfolio Savings Manager (PSM) is really going to hit those organisational silos hard”, says Sage. “It encourages interaction, creating cross-collaboration within the business. You’ll have all of these different silos working together on your procurement savings initiatives, and those frustrating savings management difficulties have been ironed out into a seamless and efficient process.”

SciQuest has been in the spend management space for a long time – 20 years, in fact – and services a wide range of industries and organisations including many of the Global Fortune 500. Customers using SciQuest’s Source-to-Settle Suite wanted a way to track projects in a single interface that incorporates multiple aspects of the procurement process, whether it be savings tracking, project management or workflow management. The company responded with the creation of the innovative PSM, which can be used as a stand-alone product, but its full functionality is revealed when integrated with the existing Source-to-Settle Suite.

The cross-functionality of PSM enables team members in any department, from sourcing and procurement to finance and operations, to:

  • identify potential savings and process optimisation projects
  • approve and prioritise initiatives
  • assign tasks and allocate resources
  • track milestones and results, and
  • monitor progress against forecast and budget.

The system is a project-manager’s dream, automatically determining milestones and tasks required to complete initiatives and allocate resources. PSM replaces tedious manual processes such as spreadsheet inputting, project tracking and database updating. It captures strategies and savings initiatives from inception to realisation, forecasting, scheduling, tracking and reporting savings. Users benefit from historical project and savings visibility, without having to dig into the database or spreadsheets for lost information.

Savings management made simple in five steps

 PSM users follow an intuitive five-step process, with a focus on simplicity throughout:

1. Identification

Users are guided through the completion of a savings initiative creation with the aid of a left-side navigation section that indicates counts and completeness.

  1. Authorisation

Approval workflows are applied to the initiative based on business compliance requirements.

  1. Prioritisation

The user assigns a priority to each initiative on a scale of 1 to 10. Priorities can be adjusted to reflect current business and resource parameters.

  1. Execution

Deliverables and tasks assignees can update their tasks status, mark them in-progress, complete or reset the due date.

  1. Achievement

Reports and graphs are automatically generated and displayed on customised dashboards.

Having the right system in place enables procurement professionals to stop spending valuable time trying to persuade unwilling cross-departmental colleagues to collaborate. Concentrate instead on getting everyone interacting with your new system, see the silos melt away, and watch the savings flow.

SciQuest’s Portfolio Savings Manager will be available for purchase in July 2016. For more information, please visit www.SciQuest.com.

Coupa R15 – delivering agility and measurable value

David Hearn, former CPO Indirect Procurement at Kaiser Permanente, Sun Microsystems and Juniper Networks, talks to Procurious about how Coupa’s latest product releases (Coupa R15) deliver more value to businesses.

Coupa R15 InvoiceSmash

One of the benefits of being a leader in cloud-based spend management solutions is that you can push innovative enhancements to customers rapidly and efficiently. Coupa does so three times per year, with each release being something of an event as customers eagerly await the latest improvements to the platform.

We’re talking with Indirect Procurement guru David Hearn about which of the more than 45 new features he’s most excited about in Coupa Release 15.

Hyperlocalised Languages and Suggest-A-Translation™ (Patent Pending)

People access Coupa in over 100 countries and more than 20 different languages. Coupa has recognised that their customers have unique language requirements, and also that every organisation has a business language of its own. Hyperlocalised Languages allows customers to modify any of Coupa’s 20+ languages for their own purposes, with changes limited to their organisation only and not impacting other customers. Coupa also added Suggest-A-Translation to collect end-user translation suggestions and route to the customer administrator for real-time updates. This personalises the cloud platform in ways never before seen in this industry and is a key reason for the patent pending status.

David says: “The hyperlocalised language feature helps all users of the platform feel included in the management of the tool which is a huge benefit to getting 100% adoption. Language is important, and if an employee in Japan (for example) thinks that an on-screen word doesn’t fit their organisation’s business vocabulary, they can simply suggest a change to better suit their local business needs.”

Unified Platform Innovations and Enhanced Analytics:

Coupa has updated its sourcing recommendations engine to add real-time monitoring expenses, along with a new supplier risk recommendations engine, an inventory trends dashboard and enhanced embedded analytics functionality that adds more visibility and control. The platform embraces ‘suite synergy’, which means applications are fully unified, and the user experience improves with the use of multiple applications.

David says: “I can’t stress enough the importance of having everything seamless on one platform. Having the Coupa platform provide recommendations across all the ways an employee spends money is a game changer. The entire end-to-end process is electronically sharing data and pro-actively prompting procurement teams with new ideas for better sourcing. This enables those teams to focus on being strategic – and that’s a huge value. These latest updates help companies be more agile and make decisions faster”.

Contract Collaboration

Contract Collaboration is a new Coupa application that brings real-time authoring to contracts and extends Coupa Contract Lifecycle Management. It removes the need to use Microsoft Word for redlining documents passed around via email. The new application provides automatic versioning, captures key terms and conditions and transfers them electronically into the ordering system.

David says: “For as long as I’ve been a CPO, we’ve struggled with the entire lifecycle management of contracts. This latest application from Coupa captures the upfront authoring collaboration and links it to the actual transaction – no one has done this before in a unified suite that captures all spending from expenses, to invoices, to requisitions. There’s no longer a need to manually input the contracts terms and conditions into the system; it auto-fills the whole process. It frees up time to focus on better sourcing instead of clerical duties. It also reduces the risk of contract errors.”

Check out Coupa’s great video on Contract Collaboration (watch for the procurement professional smashing up his keyboard in frustration at Microsoft Word). 

InvoiceSmash

While we’re talking about smashing things, Coupa InvoiceSmash enables suppliers to automatically parse emailed PDF invoices so details are auto-filled into Coupa. One of the most exciting aspects of this product is its machine learning, which ensures the same mistake won’t be made twice and minimises the need for human intervention. The application is currently available in an early access program.

David says: “No one wants to use their limited headcount budget to fund clerical duties of manually entering data from invoices.  It’s archaic. Many have tried using OCR for invoice processing, but this is expensive and the human review and rework on invoices is extensive. InvoiceSmash automates this mundane data entry through accurate digital data extraction and means companies can remove most of their clerical team members and re-invest back into the business.”

Coupa released a clever parody video showing AP and AR professionals on the couch with a relationship counselor – their “marriage” can only be saved by InvoiceSmash.

And much more in Coupa R15:

For the full list of R15 updates, visit http://www.coupa.com/newsworthy/press-releases/release-15/

Are Procurement Professionals Stuck in the Stone Age? – Part III

If procurement technology is stuck in the stone age, what do we need to do to modernise? We take a look at some B2C examples for inspiration.

So far in this series, Market Dojo and Odesma have discussed whether procurement technology is stuck in the stone age, and why B2B software isn’t keeping up with its B2C counterparts. This article examines some B2C companies getting it right.

This article was originally published on Market Dojo.

Slowly but surely, not only do we see B2B companies adopting B2C ideologies, but some B2C companies are jumping in and filling the gap left by B2B providers. Granted, the complexity of B2B companies isn’t completely covered by the consumer oriented companies, so they are aiming more at the smaller companies. But all the same it still highlights a shift in the market.

By taking a couple of examples, we can see where these changes are happening and examples of B2C solutions doing it right.

Uber and Freight Brokering

MD - Uber

The transportation networking company Uber originally focussed on the B2C space by bringing together people looking to travel in the same direction, aggregating the demand and sharing out the cost of the journey to charge a lower price.

Targeting those traveling for personal reasons and commuters, they are paying special attention to the business sector with their latest development of business profiles.

More recently, focus has shifted to the freight industry where they hope to achieve similar by introducing mobile-based freight brokering technology. Not only will there be a reduction in number of ‘empty miles’ travelled, mobile-based freight brokering technology can help lower operating costs, improve fuel efficiency, boost asset utilisation and enhance resource productivity.

Benefits which Uber have been reaping since they formed in 2009.

Amazon Business

Amazon touch briefly on the B2B side with Amazon Business. With benefits like integration with purchasing systems and order approval workflows, they have adapted Amazon to create Amazon for business.

This could have extreme effects on the the current technology providers, should Amazon develop an eSourcing/eAuction aspect. It would not be that difficult for them to make the shift.

Another area in which Amazon has moved to a B2B focus is with their hosting options. This isn’t an adaptation of their B2C offering, but an entirely new market for them.

Software as a Service

MD - Airbnb

Airbnb, for example, provide a marketplace that allows one to search for and/or offer accommodation. Their sleek design, mobile-optimisation, carefully thought-out filters, and simple sign-in methods are something to be rivalled. Having relied heavily on investment, they have been able to afford the development costs and created a really neat SaaS product.

MD - ProcurifyProcurify is another such example of improved, B2C-esque usability. They aim to provide P2P technology without the presumed “boring” grey-scale colour scheme and clunky design that we have seen (and expected?) for so long. They have responsive design and mobile applications available. With their bright colours and simplistic design, they are very appealing.

Social Networks

But will this new technology, mainly adopted by new companies, only appeal to the millennials of today? Will previous generations appreciate this or seek their old faithful, familiar, providers.

Jive is also an interesting example. Marketed as “The Next Leap for Social Intranet Software“, their user interface is very similar to that of Facebook. Or, at least, Facebook 3 years ago.

MD - Jive

The concept is brilliant – provide companies with an internal social platform to share company news and collaborate. However the user interface still leaves something to be desired. Granted it’s one of the best on the market, and I am in no way criticising them specifically, but overall, there is still a lack of ease-of-use in B2B social platforms in comparison with B2C.

Is this because we expect it, because more complexity is required, or because the design needs to remain colourless and simple?

LinkedIn have recently redesigned their ‘groups’ making them more user-friendly and appealing, so increased usability is something which they pay attention to. But the creativity of design is definitely lacking in the B2B world. Why does business have to be so boring?!

The procurement community is lucky to benefit from the industry specific, social platform Procurious, which, with its bright colours and easy interface has a very B2C feel – which differs greatly from LinkedIn.

MD - LinkedIn and Procurious

In the picture on the left, you can see crowded text and pictures with no clear direction of what to look at next with a few small tabs at the top to interact with.

On the right the information on the profile page is broken down into tabs and the contact information on the left-hand side makes it easy to see details of an individual.

It seems that Procurious, being a more recent development, has taken learnings from other solutions (in its space) to create a more user friendly social media platform. Whilst LinkedIn (above left) is busy and cluttered, Procurious provides a more simplistic, clearer view. If you haven’t done so already, definitely recommend getting involved there and signing up to the tool.

Global Trading

MD - Alibaba

Alibaba provides an online platform for global wholesale trade. They launched in 1999 and attempt to make sourcing of goods and suppliers more simple for businesses, working with millions of suppliers across the globe.

Within the tool, they have a categorised search option for buyers with the ability to ‘get quotations’ from the approved supplier list within Alibaba (AliSource Suppliers).

So how will B2B software and technology evolve in the next decade? Make sure you read the final part of this series to see what we think.

Market Dojo and Odesma have partnered to combine their intuitive eSourcing software and expertise in offering business advisory services to offer clients a winning procurement solution.

Coupa Inspire: Rethinking the Possible with Rob Bernshteyn

Lights, music, action! Hugo Britt recounts his experience of the spectacular opening keynote at this year’s Coupa Inspire conference.

The Faculty’s Hugo Britt recently attended Coupa Inspire ’16, a dynamic conference bringing the Coupa community together in San Francisco, California. 

Doof, doof, doof, doof.

I’m sitting in the Grand Ballroom of San Francisco’s stunning Westin St Francis hotel and the place is packed. The Coupa Inspire ’16 conference is just about to be launched, and all the seats are taken. People are lining the walls and spilling into an adjoining hall, complete with a big screen set up to cope with the numbers.

Outside the hotel lies San Francisco’s famous Union Square, most of which is taken up by an enormous pavilion bearing the Coupa Inspire logo. This is where the exhibiters spruik their products, and also where the 2000 or so delegates gather for breakfasts, lunches and networking.

The tent itself is generating a lot of interest among the locals – I was stopped by onlookers on more than one occasion, who asked me what the tent was for and what was going on in there. You could even hear the word “Coupa” shouted by tour guides from the top decks of the red buses regularly cruising past the square.

In the tent it’s dark, with spotlights flashing around the room, and the music is turned up LOUD. I can feel my ribcage vibrating: doof, doof, doof, doof. The guy at the sound desk receives a cue and, unbelievably, doubles the volume. Into this buzzing, clubby atmosphere, walks Coupa CEO Rob Bernshteyn, and the crowd roars.

Cultural Buzz

Coupa has to be applauded for the vibrant culture it has created. The 600-strong Coupa team’s enthusiasm is infectious, and the marketing is superb, giving the whole conference the atmosphere of a celebration. This celebratory buzz can be felt in the brilliant ‘Freedom‘ video, featuring the team lip syncing and dancing around their head office and Union Square.

Bernshteyn stresses that Coupa isn’t a technology company. Rather, it’s a “value as a service” organisation. Simply put, it’s about discovering, realising and optimising the value for its customers.

The numbers are impressive. Coupa has been adopted by hundreds of businesses globally, representing millions of users, and over two million suppliers on its open business network. Together, Coupa users conduct tens of millions of transactions per year, with approximately $200 billion in spend under management.

Building on Data

All of this activity on the system generates a vast amount of data, and the developers at Coupa take full advantage of its potential. “Think about what can happen”, says Bernshteyn, “when we combine the insights around the billions of dollars running through our system”. Customers have access to real-time benchmarking that shows how you are tracking against the entire Coupa community.

Bernshteyn also takes the opportunity to launch Perfect-Fit Benchmarks, which enable users to understand savings, invoice cycle time and more by industry and by category. This vertical application means the AI can predict the right time to buy specific products and services based on historical data.

Bernshteyn circles back to Coupa’s catch-cry: rethinking the possible through measurable value creation.

The software’s popularity comes down to the platform’s simplicity, efficiency and ease-of-use, designed to gain maximum visibility of what you’re buying and who you’re buying it from. The phrase “suite synergy” (at first I thought they were saying “sweet” synergy), is used constantly at this conference, referring to the single unified platform that has vanquished the decades-old frustration of software products not speaking with each other.

As Bernshteyn leaves the stage, the DJ enthusiastically takes the opportunity to rattle our eardrums again. I walk past him on the way out, and he has an excited gleam in his eye – he knows that we’ve got a huge event ahead, with more inspirational keynote speakers (including Sir Richard Branson), more exciting product launches…and plenty more opportunities to turn the volume all the way up.

Stay tuned for more from Coupa Inspire in the coming days!

5 Keys to Unlocking Successful Integrated Business Planning

Many companies still struggle with executing a strategic integrated business planning (IBP) process that effectively integrates demand planning, supply planning, and financial planning.

Successful Integrated Business Planning

Most simply put, the process should drive decisions on how to best meet demand (customer/consumer sales for existing and new products) within supply constraints in order to optimise financial return. Yet answers to the questions of each planning component of IBP (See Figure 1) can be dramatically different, and lead to very different results if addressed in silos versus an integrated fashion.

Put more bluntly, companies that successfully execute IBP achieve greater operational and financial benefits than those that do not. A key requirement for that success is collaboration, including a disciplined, repeatable process that drives integrated decision making, and a balanced scorecard for performance measurement.

Integrated Business Planning_Slide 2

Figure 1: Components of Integrated Business Planning

Based on our experience, we at The Hackett Group believe unlocking IBP can deliver the following competitive advantages and benefits:

  • Visibility into the financial implications of decisions and actions related to demand and supply.
  • Significant cost improvements driven by a more efficient and effective supply chain.
  • Improved top-line revenue growth.
  • Inventory deployment improvements, e.g. “the right product in the right place at the right time” based on customer demand, which reduce excess deployment costs.
  • Increased customer satisfaction as a result of more accurate demand planning and inventory availability which reduce out of stocks and back order issues.

However, with all the evidence that implementing IBP leads to important benefits in an increasingly competitive environment, why do many companies continue to miss out on the potential rewards of IBP?

We believe there are five keys questions that companies can use to open the doors to an effective and efficient IBP process. The first two questions deal with the market place and competitive environment in which the business operates, while the final three questions help assess internal improvement opportunities based on best practices for process, people, and data, systems and technology capabilities tied to IBP.

  1. What are the big-picture IBP trends in the marketplace?

Here are three examples of what leading companies are doing:

  • Streamlined annual planning and budgeting processes.
  • Balanced scorecards, with cascading metrics.
  • Unified data models and better integration of technology platforms to support advanced planning and analytic capabilities.
  1. How do our supply chain cost and metrics compare to other companies?

Benchmarking can serve as a useful tool for measuring performance against the competition. Armed with valuable key performance metrics for cost, process and resources, supply chain leaders are equipped to make critical decisions and address areas of opportunity.

As an example, the metric “Demand/supply planning costs per $1000 revenue” is an excellent indicator of overall efficiency (see Figure 2):

Demand & Supply Costs

Figure 2: Demand/supply planning costs per $1000 revenue across industries. Source: APQC 

  1. Are optimal planning processes in place throughout the organisation?

Establishing a best-in-class IBP process is the foundation for maximising the efficiency and effectiveness of any organisation. Example best practices include:

  • IBP goals and objectives are clear and well understood.
  • The IBP process evaluates gap resolution and business optimisation options.
  • Materials and reports supporting IBP are exception based. 
  1. Do we have the right people at all levels of the organisation, to own the plan, make decisions, and ultimately be held accountable for the plan’s execution?

Equally as important as the right processes, is having the right organisational talent and accountability mechanisms in place. Example best practices include:

  • Adequately staffed resources with required knowledge and skills.
  • Clear ownership and accountability.
  • Discipline to adhere to decisions made as part of the IBP process.
  1. Finally, are we equipped with the appropriate technology (tools and systems) necessary to fully support integrated business?

To enhance supply chain technology capabilities that both support and optimise the integrated business planning process, best-in-class organisations successfully employ supply chain systems and tools to maximise their IBP process.

Importantly, the firm must have the tools and systems needed to bring together and reconcile demand, supply, and financial plans in order to identify gaps and imbalances.

Read the full Hackett Group Supply Chain Insight Report here to learn more trends, best practices, and metrics which help supply chain successfully transition to Integrated Business Planning

Hanna Hamburger, a Director in the Strategy & Operations practice at The Hackett Group, has over 25 years of industry and consulting experience. She has worked extensively with consumer products and retail companies as well as life sciences companies in the areas of sales, marketing and supply chain process, technology and tools, and organisation performance improvement. A longer version of this article is available on The Hackett Group’s website.