Earlier this week I was in Milan, speaking at the CPO Forum event about the importance of good procure-to-pay (P2P) systems to deliver sourcing's theoretical savings into real bottom-line improvements. As England's ex-goalkeeper Robert Green showed us last week, savings opportunities aren't the same as real savings. :(
I had some subsequent discussions with attendees about P2P best practices and how you maximize adoption by business users. One tip relates to the optimum number of approval levels — my conclusion is: the fewer the better. As one procurement director put it, "We empower our people, and show that we trust them, but not unconditionally. We monitor individual expenditure closely, so each person knows that we may subsequently ask him to justify anything exceptional that shows up in the report." His firm had actually cut consumption of health & safety equipment by 20% by eliminating pre-approval and replacing it with exception reporting. He'd also streamlined the MRO procurement process. "We approve the maintenance work order, but then we used to have to separately approve the parts used to do the job. I convinced my colleagues that the second approval was a waste of time."
In contrast, what can happen if you have too many approval levels?
I once played golf with an ex-politician who ran Liverpool Council until he had to resign after being caught accepting bribes from local firms tendering for lucrative council contracts. He claimed there was no impropriety because all the bidders paid him the same amount. I remembered this story when the leader of IBM’s sell-side e-commerce program, presenting at Ariba Live this week, talked about moving selling “off the green and into the blue.” His goal is to make IBM customers’ on-line buying experience (the blue) so great that IBM can reduce the time its sales reps spend playing golf with customers (the green).
Of course, that message went down like a lead balloon at a software event packed with sales reps and purchasing managers (not to mention analysts) who regard frequent corporate shindigs as an important compensation for an otherwise overworked and underpaid existence. He is right that suppliers should integrate their order processing system with customers’ eProcurement applications, such as via a supplier network, but not at the expense of the business relationship. Moreover, though it’s a nice tag line, it confuses sourcing (deciding from whom to buy) with procurement (getting things you need from the approved sources).
Bob Calderoni and Tim Minahan, Ariba’s CEO and CMO respectively, explained their vision for the future of supplier networks at the company’s Ariba Live customer event this week. The basic concepts, of a B2B community with value-adding services for sellers, such as prospect discovery and multi-customer e-invoicing, is one I’ve advocated to network providers for a long time, including in my report of internetwork interoperability (Enterprises Should Push Supplier Networks To Deliver Interoperability). The community concept is certainly fashionable at the moment, with lots of business-to-business (B2B) technology vendors trying to match the success of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the like. The big question is whether Ariba can achieve the universal reach that the commerce cloud will need if it is to deliver value to its members.
Social media consumers don’t seem to be worried by monopolies. As my daughters tell me, people of their age have to be on Facebook to know what’s going on. There’s no point using other services like MySpace or Bebo (or, for older readers, Yahoo Groups, Geocities, Friends Reunited, and their equally overhyped predecessors), because everyone uses Facebook, and the community only works if everyone’s in it. It’s the same with B2B eCommerce — supplier-side members want to know about all the relevant parties (i.e., RFX’s), and party organizers (i.e., buyers) want to publish the invitation in one place yet still reach all their potential friends. In practice, this means the community must either be:
a) a broad stratus formation covering everything,