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.