Procure-To-Pay Best Practices: Cut The Approval Levels, Improve The Monitoring

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. :( 
http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/world_cup_2010/matches/match_05

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?

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Golf, World Cup Tickets, And Other Ethical Dilemmas

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).

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The Ariba Commerce Cloud: Stratus Or Cumulus?

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, Straus cloud cover

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So Where Were The Best Run Businesses Then?

In addition to my software pricing and licensing research, I also study use of technology to improve procure-to-pay (P2P) processes; so, I'm always interested in customer presentations at software company events, in case I can spot some new best practices or interesting trends. This week I’m at Ariba LIVE in Orlando, but last week I was at SAPPHIRE NOW in Frankfurt, where I attended a presentation by a project manager from a large German car manufacturer talking about his rollout of SAP’s SRM product. Given that it wasn’t in his first language, the presentation was very good, and quite humbling to an anglophone, even a relatively multi-lingual one. (I can say “two beers, please” in eight other languages, but wouldn’t dream of presenting in any of them).

However, the overall case study was disappointing. I won't name the company, but I’ll just say that the SRM implementation didn’t look to me like as good a “leap forward through technology” as I expect to see in a showcase presentation. In particular, I was disappointed to see that this company is:

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SAP’s Co-CEO Answers Forrester’s Questions At Sapphire

Here at the European half of SAP’s global customer event, I had a chance to ask some questions of one of SAP’s co-CEOs, Jim Hagemann Snabe. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to ask for some advice to my country’s leaders on how to manage a two-party government, because it seems like he and Bill McDermott are very happy with their own coalition.

It's very encouraging that Hagemann Snabe, along with other SAP executives I’ve met here, acknowledge that SAP has made missteps over the last year or so, although they are still very confident that they know how to fix the company’s problems. There’s a thin line between positive spin and misplaced over-confidence, so hopefully, in private, he recognizes the challenges he faces. Still, I’d like to see more willingness to accept that SAP doesn’t have all the answers and to get advice from outside the organisation, to help it become customer-centric instead of sales-transaction-centric

Both CEOs want to talk only about new revenue opportunities: increasing SAP’s addressable market, the potential of new on demand products including Business ByDesign, and mobile solutions based on the proposed Sybase acquisition. I asked Hagemann Snabe to explain how he’d improve the value for money that existing customers will get for their maintenance revenue. He mentioned the introduction of customer choice between the Enterprise and Standard support offerings, although that isn’t much of a choice since CPI increases on the latter make it cost almost as much as the former. He also stressed the importance of the ‘Innovation without disruption’ enhancement pack system, which will now be delivered in one simultaneous release each year, across all product lines. 

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“If You’re Not Getting Shot At, You’re Not Doing Your Job."

Source: Maggie Gyllenhaal, as Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight, © Warner Brothers, 2008

Recently two large software companies separately complained that I was biased against them in the other one’s favour, which was sufficiently ironic to amuse my British sense of humour. “Biased” is one of the worst accusations you can throw at an analyst, because we strive to be scrupulously fair, and ensure that what we write and say is balanced, and evidence-based. So it started me thinking about fairness, and prejudice versus analysis.

I hear a lot of horror stories from clients about outrageous treatment by software sales reps, so one might think that software marketing execs would be shame-faced and contrite. But, actually, they love their companies and believe that analysts are merely stoking up resentment that wouldn’t exist without us, or that it’s the other guys giving their industry a bad name. “You only hear from the minority of unhappy customers,” they say. “Clients don’t ring you up when they are delighted with us.” This is true, but I speak with hundreds of clients every year, so I think I’d have found more evidence of a silent majority of delighted buyers, if it existed. The problem is that the good corporate intentions don't always translate into sales' behavior, when it's a question of spiff or rif.

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“Noughty” Software Licensing — Is The Obituary Premature?

My colleague Andrew Bartels just published this interesting take on SAP’s recent results:

Software License Revenues Roar Back In Q1 2010 -- And Why Licensed Software Will Co-Exist With SaaS Beyond 2010

Liz Herbert and I will be speaking on this theme at Forrester's IT Forum on May 27 in our session: "Noughty" Software Licensing — Is The Obituary Premature? Andrew is absolutely right. In addition to the points he raises, there are other reasons why perpetual licenses aren’t dead yet, such as the financial results they generate. The new models haven’t yet shown they can generate both high levels of re-investment in R&D and high profits for investors. Many SaaS providers have to spend a large share of their income on sales and marketing to retain existing customers and renew subscriptions. That leaves less money left over to fund innovation or fewer profits than their old-model rivals whose entrenched installed bases guarantee high maintenance renewal rates.

But perpetual license vendors mustn’t be complacent. The SaaS model may prove equally remunerative to the license-plus-maintenance alternative when the providers get bigger. Software buyers can encourage the established companies to learn from their SaaS competitors by insisting on some of that commercial model’s advantages in their own contracts, such as low up-front commitment and cost flexibility. 

Spiff Or Rif - The Key To Effective Negotiation With Software Vendors

I haven’t been blogging or tweeting recently because I’ve been on an unprecedented two-week vacation, but didn’t want any potential burglars to know that. Now, thanks to Eykanmuckyourlifeup or whatever its called, that vacation has turned into an extended business trip states-side (see #ashtag). So I’m taking the opportunity to meet more clients on the smoke-free side of the pond, to help them with their software negotiations.

This is a busy time of year, particularly for Oracle and Microsoft deals in front of their financial year-ends of May 31st and June 30th respectively. One of software buyers’ frequently asked questions is, “what extra leverage does a vendor’s year-end really give us?”

The answer is in the title above. On the one hand, if your deal would give your sales rep a Spiff, an extra bonus for selling specific products, then he’ll be very keen to prevent your order slipping into next quarter, when the spiff may not be available. Even better, he’ll be desperate to close your transaction now if he needs it to make his annual target, to avoid becoming part of next quarter’s reduction in force (RIF) program.

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Pay-per-use Software Pricing? No Thanks!

I get a lot of input into my research from speaking with software buyers and sellers, which I analyze and process to come up with firm conclusions and recommendations in my published research and forum speeches. I'm going to use this blog to air some work-in-process analysis, to solicit additional thoughts and information from you. Just recently, Ive been considering why people are talking about 'pay-per-use' a.k.a. 'utility pricing' for software, and to me, the disadvantages to buyers and sellers outweigh the benefits.

Software pricing should be simple but fair, value-based, future-proof and published (see The Five Qualities Of Good Software Pricing). Yes, a one-price-fits-all 'per user' fee isn't fair or value-based, but that doesnt justify the potentially horrendous complexity of tracking detailed usage. Role-based user pricing, such as SAP user categories, is a much better way to reflect diverse usage profiles.

Im not arguing against flexible, on-demand services, particularly for temporary needs, such as renting some CPU power for a few hours. I'm concerned about pay-per-use pricing models for regularly used applications. To me they would be:

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Microsoft Select Agreements Due For Renewal? Convert Them To Select Plus

Microsoft announced on Friday that it will stop selling new Select licenses from 1 July, 2011. Customers with existing agreements can renew them for another 36 months, as per their agreements, but the replacement Select Plus program is likely to be a better option. Microsoft launched Select Plus on 1 July 2008, and I wrote at the time that it was an improvement on the basic Select structure: Microsoft Simplifies Its Volume Licensing.

However, Microsoft's pricing team struggled to persuade its LARs to promote Select Plus over the more familiar Select agreement, and customer adoption was disappointing. So the decision to drop the older program makes sense for Microsoft, because it will force its channel partners to embrace the new model. And its no bad thing for buyers - you've one less choice to make, and there's little negative impact.

The biggest advantage of Select Plus for sourcing managers is that they no longer need to submit a three-year spending forecast - this is extremely difficult for central teams buying on behalf of autonomous business units that won't havent planned Microsoft technology adoption that far out. Instead, pricing works like an airline loyalty program, on the current and previous years' actual transactions, as the figure below from my report illustrates. My report explains some more  advantages, such as the flexibility to opt tactically for software assurance on individual purchases.

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