Tag Archives: purchasing

Procurement Process Technology: 3 Keys To Adding Clarity Post Covid-19

Here are three keys to conceiving, deploying and using technology to elevate the performance of your procurement process operations from IBM’s Chander Vashistha


Procurement organisations depend on technology to manage their source-to-pay (procurement) functions most efficiently and effectively. Technology also provides exceptional services experience to their requestors, buyers and suppliers. However, organisations often find the process of selecting, implementing and using technology platforms and applications challenging. While procurement technology provides many benefits, organisations that do not select the right technology, integrate the technology to create a connected ecosystem and create processes to use the technology often do not realise the full benefits.  

Clarity is the cornerstone of successful procurement practices, and procurement technology must support and enable clarity between both parties. When organisations do not receive full value from technology systems, the issue often comes down to clarity. However, it’s essential that clarity exist before adding in the technology. Technology doesn’t create clarity, but improves and enhances clarity already present in the process.

Organisations with good clarity in their procurement practice see significant competitive advantages, business continuity, resilience and digital transformation. While these aspects are essential for a successful business, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting business disruption significantly increases their importance.

Here are three keys to conceiving, deploying and using technology to elevate the performance of your procurement process operations:

1) Align the purchasing strategy with operations and vision

When organisations lay technology on top of disconnected strategy and vision, the new platforms and systems often magnify the misalignments. Before focusing on technology, organisations should review their current strategies to ensure alignment. A well-connected procurement strategy and vision drives implementation of a frictionless technology ecosystem rather than a patchwork collection of discrete point solutions.

The purchasing process works within both your procurement process and overall company operations. On an even more granular level, the purchasing strategy tightly connects with procurement operations’ vision and procurement operations strategy. Before making changes, especially in processes and technology, practitioners must step back and consider strategic alignment.

After understanding your organisation’s purchasing strategy, procurement vision and procurement operating strategy, the next step is ensuring they all align with one another. After making any necessary changes, your organization will have the foundation to begin looking for technology that supports all three.

2) Understand the four types of procurement technology

Procurement professionals often assume — incorrectly — that all procurement platforms and systems fall into a single category. By understanding the different types, organisations can ensure they are researching and purchasing the best type of technology for their needs. Without clear understanding of the different types of procurement technology, organisations may purchase multiple technologies performing very similar functions, which creates waste and redundancies, not to mention wastes funds.

Procurement organisations use the following four types of technology:

  • ERP software and blockchain equivalents – SAP-MM, SAP-FICO, TYS blockchain, IBM Temp labor blockchain and RSBN blockchain
  • Commodity or process-neutral procurement technology – SAP Ariba Solutions, Coupa, Tradeshift, Sourcematrix and IBM SpendIQ
  • Commodity or process-specific procurement technology – IBM Oniqua, SAP Concur, SAP Fieldglass, Amazon Business, Alibaba 1688, Uber for Business, Service Now and JIRA
  • Cognitive e-procurement applications with intelligent workflow platforms – IBM Procurement Service Desk, IBM Watson Virtual Buying Assistant, IBM B2B Marketplace and IBM Direct Spend IQ

Organisations often invest in one or two types of procurement technology, which does not typically enable achieving their procurement strategy and vision. Often these organisations assume they fell short due to the technology implemented. By deploying relevant technology from each of the four types, organisations achieve the clarity needed to meet their goals.

3) Focus on cognitive e-procurement applications

Organisations find a wide range of choices in technologies, especially in cognitive e-procurement applications, which use artificial intelligence to open procurement transformation processes. This type of technology helps organizations transform the procurement process experience for buyers in direct, indirect, MRO and capital purchasing.

Because cognitive e-procurement applications are relatively new and come with a large amount of hype and innovation, organisations should fully understand what features they need as well as the features offered by each solution. By selecting the right application for your specific needs instead of the most feature-rich product, you’ll significantly increase your ROI and strategy improvements.

For example, Trust Your Supplier blockchain, which came to market in 2019, helps procurement professionals automate and digitize supplier information like a “digital passport.” The application also provides the immutability and trust that comes with processing transactions through blockchain. Because the application shifts the process out of procurement operations, the technology reduces cycle time, lowers transaction costs and improves reliability of supplier information management operations. Additionally, suppliers streamline their process by only submitting information to a customer once and can share the same information to other customers using a digital key for record access.

Making the move to integrate technology

As organisations continue to manage change and disruption due to the pandemic, creating clarity in your procurement cycle remains a high priority. Through using cognitive technology driven by intelligent workflow platforms, in conjunction with the three other types of technologies, organisations can create the most effective and efficient processes that drive business value. By aligning strategies, understanding the types of technology and implementing cognitive e-procurement applications inclusive of the technology ecosystem, organisations can improve performance, maturity and outcomes.

Chander Vashistha is the source-to-pay practice leader at IBM.

How P2P will Become the Technology of the Future

Discover the value that a procure-to-pay (P2P) system can deliver to your business today and over the next five years.


The evolution of procure-to-pay (P2P) has accelerated dramatically over the past few years. And we can expect the pace to pick up further over the years to come. Originally, procure-to-pay / purchase-to-pay technology was seen as a way to connect procurement to finance via accounts payable, and as such it started life in the form of expensive and rather inflexible bolt-ons to on premise enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. No wonder that for many years, P2P did not have the greatest of reputations, even among procurement professionals.

In the early 2000s, dedicated eProcurement systems emerged. Yet, many large enterprises still do all their purchasing and accounts payables through their ERP systems, even though this leaves much of the process highly dependent on paper in the handling of purchases orders, requisitions, goods receipts and invoicing. Or, in one word, routine. Many ERP implementations even lack a requisitioning facility and a means to communicate electronically with suppliers.

As to accounts payable, in many organisations that do not have a dedicated, built for purpose procure-to-pay solution, vendor invoices still arrive by mail or email and the data must be keyed manually into an ERP or other finance system. If the benefits of touchless invoicing were not already apparent, they have certainly become so in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The other major issue that continues to plague many organisations is our old friend, maverick spend (or off-contract buying), which is especially likely to occur when anyone looking to purchase items needed for everyday use is confronted with bureaucratic obstacles. Shopping online and submitting an expense report is much easier than submitting a requisition or purchase order that takes ages to process. Without a dedicated P2P system, maverick spend is difficult to monitor effectively. It results in lost money as employees buy at retail prices when you should be securing handsome bulk or wholesale discounts.

(Although worse than that, it forces happy-go-lucky procurement professionals into the role of jobsworths …)

And heaven knows, after years of online shopping with the likes of Amazon, corporate buyers expect the option to order online and enjoy an e-shopping experience comparable to the one they enjoy as private consumers. They expect an experience that is user-friendly, intuitive, and frictionless. Running low on stationery? Simply pick items from a catalog, review the shopping cart and place the order. And maybe pay with a V-card (single user account) number.

This can all be done via a procurement department’s P2P solution – against contracts negotiated with preferred suppliers. The P2P solution allows end-users to shop and track orders as easily as if they were shopping online, with the added benefit that all the information the procurement department needs is captured too, giving greater transparency. Plus, if the P2P solution is integrated with upstream processes such as contracts management and sourcing, the ability to monitor supplier performance against negotiated terms and non-price terms and conditions.

What you should look for in P2P now

A few years ago, people were still asking if procure-to-pay automation is worth it. I think that case has now been definitively answered. Especially if you wish to demonstrate the value of procurement – your value – to the business.

A P2P software suite integrates and automates the entire back-office lifecycle of requisitioning, purchasing, receiving, paying, and accounting for indirect goods and services. By creating standard workflows between buyers, procurement and accounting departments, a P2P solution should provide more transparency into, and control over, indirect spend and should create a more congenial relationship between all stakeholders. SaaS technology accessed in the cloud, such as the JAGGAER ONE suite, has made affordable, flexible and technically versatile solutions P2P available. A major advantage of SaaS is the ability to update functionality and innovate continuously without affecting the normal day-to-day operation of the core solution.

What you should look for in future 

Over the coming years P2P will increasingly leverage artificial intelligence, natural language processing and robotic procurement automation to deliver an even better buying experience on the one hand, while further cutting costs, increasing efficiency, reducing risk and improving governance and insight on the other. Generally speaking, you can expect P2P solutions to be more open, network-oriented, autonomous, collaborative and intelligent.

Here are seven trends that I think you can reasonably expect to reshape P2P not in some distant future but between now and 2025.

·   It will be a more collaborative environment for all stakeholders (internal and external) with full compliance, validations and approvals. P2P and MRP systems will collaborate through direct material order and fulfilment; P2P and corporate treasury will collaborate to support cash flow planning and optimize working capital

·   It will be more autonomous by taking charge of routine tasks such as all forms payment management and processing, improving the productivity of the payment process and the financial health of the supply chain

·   It will empower open business networks bringing together the entire community of buyers and suppliers, integrating and accessing external services and market intelligence feeds

·   It will be interactive with smart assistants assisting you through guided buying, vendor management and other chores

·   Enhanced intelligence will enable P2P systems to act proactively on behalf of users learning from and using all data sources and knowledge to make improvement recommendations to all stakeholder activities and the P2P process

·   It will deliver win-win finance programs to buyers and suppliers, for example dynamic discounting and supply chain finance programs

·   The focus of P2P will shift further from savings to value, reinforcing procurement’s profile as a strategic partner to the business

Conversational systems for guided buying and vendor management

Let’s stop calling them chatbots! Digital or smart help organizations will increase efficiency and achieve high levels of P2P user adoption because of their easy interfaces and clear answers. AI combined with natural language processing (NLP) has opened the door to new, more natural, and more intuitive interfaces that stimulate conversation with humans. There are many uses for digital assistants in procurement – too many to list here. However, the central issue is that procurement specialists are increasingly dealing with vast quantities of data, which means that a lot of their time is spent looking for information rather than using it. They will enable procurement specialists to converse with their AI-powered procurement software, which will do the heavy lifting involved in finding the relevant information and making intelligent suggestions as to what actions need to be taken in specific situations.

Through machine learning the digital assistant will be able learn about your preferences and your organisation’s policies and procedures. A good example is guided buying, whereby a person who needs to buy something will interact with procurement via a conversation conducted by a digital assistant. Based on the procurement strategy (preferred suppliers, preferred items, contracts in place, history of purchases, etc.), the digital assistant will propose solutions, perhaps looking through huge volumes of catalog entries to identify specific products or suggest alternatives.

Digital assistants can also be deployed for handling queries from suppliers, avoiding a lot of back-and-forth correspondences. I think they will become more engaging and human-like in their interactions with you. That, after all, was the original promise of artificial intelligence. But nobody’s perfect, so if the digital assistant cannot find the right answer, it can of course direct the user to a genuine flesh and blood procurement professional (you, for instance).

What innovations would you like to see, or expect to see, in procure-to-pay over the next five years? Let us know in the comments below! Keep up with the latest innovations at the 2020 Global Big Ideas Summit.