$1 million is wasted every 20 seconds collectively by organisations around the globe.
Yes; you read that correctly – organisations are losing money to the tune of $1 million every 20 seconds due to poor project management practices, according to a recent survey from Project Management Institute (PMI). This same survey also reported that 52% of projects in the last year experienced scope creep, with one of the main reasons being erroneous requirements gathering.2
Seeing these stats and given my profession, I immediately thought of purchase-to-pay projects and how procurement and finance professionals can ensure they have what they need when evaluating purchase-to-pay solutions against their requirements document. With over 7 years in the business, I’ve seen prospective customers led astray by solution providers making them unsure of exactly what they’re looking for in terms of functionality, and more importantly what they need to solve their business challenges.
Sometimes cleverly crafted demos can gloss over important nuances or mask inadequacies, which can cause major problems later during implementation – and the dreaded scope creep. So, here are some areas that I recommend digging into and questions to ask during a purchase-to-pay demo.
10 questions to ask in a purchase-to-pay demo:
Does the e-procurement solution do line item requisition approval workflow? That’s a mouthful, so let’s break it down. Imagine you have a user that wants to buy three items requiring three separate approvers in the e-procurement solution. This person fills the virtual shopping cart with these items, just like on Amazon. But unlike Amazon, these items need to be approved and POs issued before ordering happens. And because you want your users to get the items they need quickly, you want to make sure the e-procurement solution automatically issues POs and places orders as each individual request is approved without waiting for the other approvals – this is line item requisition approval workflow. The alternative is a linear approval workflow where each step is dependent on the previous step, meaning all the POs are held up until that approval workflow is complete. This means all POs are reliant on the final approval in the linear chain and the entire process slows way down. Ultimately what happens in the latter scenario is your users get fed up with the slowness of the system and start purchasing outside the system – often referred to as maverick spending – so they can get what they need faster and more easily.
Will I be able to create complex workflows? Related to the first question is the ability to create complex approval workflows. While the goal should always be to streamline approval processes, certain business scenarios and regulations call for more complexity, and you should not forgo that requirement because the system isn’t sophisticated enough to accommodate. Don’t let the solution provider try to oversimplify matters or sway you with a sharp user interface – what you need is flexibility. The tool should give you the flexibility to create comprehensive workflows that address all your needs – not create multiple work-arounds that you must maintain. You also should be able to configure the workflow once and leave it mostly intact – which is better from a compliance standpoint – instead of having to constantly adjust to meet business needs.
Will I get budget visibility during the requisition or approval process? This is a biggie. Perhaps the greatest advantage of automating your procurement and accounts payable (AP) processes is the visibility you get across the entire buying process. But here’s the key – you need that visibility proactively, not reactively with month-end reports. A proactive approach gives managers the visibility to see how purchase requests impact budgets as the requests are being made in real-time, so they can make informed decisions as to whether to approve or deny the requests based on their budget amounts. If managers can only see how purchases impacted budgets at month-end after the money has been spent and budgets used up, that’s a reactive approach and it’s not good enough.
Is the sourcing tool easy to use? Most purchase-to-pay solutions now offer sourcing as part of the full suite. In terms of value, this helps streamline more of Procurement’s job so they can focus on suppliers and other strategic procurement initiatives. If you’re adding on this functionality to make someone’s day-to-day tasks easier, it should be user-friendly and not more cumbersome than manual sourcing activities.
Can the system perform partial returns? Say you get a shipment of 10 laptops and one is broken. You want to be able to acknowledge receipt of ten laptops in the system and note the return of the one broken computer. And, you want to be able to track that broken item through the return process. Returns and tracking returns should not be an all-or-nothing process.
Can the invoice automation solution truly process ALL invoice formats? Remember those cleverly crafted demoes and nuances I was talking about earlier – invoice automation is a landmine for hidden inadequacies. I often hear of solution providers try to mask solution shortcomings by harping on getting more PO-backed invoices, when in reality driving a higher PO percentage is not going to solve your problems. So, let’s be clear about a few things here: you will always have a certain percentage of non-PO invoices and paper/email invoices are not going away just yet, but there’s no reason you can’t automate the processing of those invoice types anyway.
Therefore, you should choose a solution that can truly ingest and process any invoice type automatically (paper, electronic, EDI/XML, PDF, etc. – covering direct, indirect, PO, Non-PO spending) and convert these documents into true e-invoices (i.e. – invoices with structured data formatting for machine reading without human intervention). Your suppliers don’t need to change how they operate today – if they send paper invoices, they can continue doing that – but you can still get an electronic invoice. Automation of this process is key. Leveraging automation should eliminate the need for your AP staff to key invoices into the solution. It should also automate approvals, handle exceptions like extra costs, create all book-keeping information automatically and map the spend accurately to correct categories, regardless of invoice quality and with zero change management for suppliers. This means there is no disruption in the supply chain and you can get 100% of your supplier on-board.
This was a lengthy section of highlighting nuances, but it’s key to understand why this is so important. The point of achieving this level of automation and sophistication in your accounts payable department is to capture 100% of your enterprise spending data by automating all invoices – not just some – so ultimately you get 100% spend visibility.
Can the invoice automation solution do split coding on invoices at the line and header level? Let’s say you have a tradeshow coming up. The event is an investment for three departments: marketing, sales and pre-sales. When you’re coding invoices for the event, you want to have the capability to take the sum amount and split it between the three departments. If you can only split at the line level, you will have to split-code each line three ways and that gets to be time-consuming and inefficient.
Does the analytics solution offer out-of-the-box reporting and customisable reports? You don’t want to reach out to a customer service representative every time you want to see your own financial data in a certain way – that’s time-consuming, annoying and can be costly depending on your service agreement. Make sure the analytics tool offers configurable dashboards and reports that have standard views to provide a starting point for your analysis, allowing you to drill into the details when necessary, and also gives you the ability to easily create, configure and export your data in the format you need. Analytics should make your life easier – not more complex.
How are upgrades handled? The advantages of using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) technology are plenty, but to reap those benefits you have to be receiving upgrades regularly. Ideally, you want to be on a multi-tenant SaaS environment (if you want the real techy stuff, ask the head of your IT department – this person will know exactly what that means). But in short, this enables every customer in the environment to upgrade at the same time to the newest version. Other environments stagger upgrades for customers, meaning that not everyone has access to the latest functionality and bug fixes (including features that ensure compliance) and worse, they fall behind on their upgrades. This begins to pose real problems due to fragmented support across various versions, some customers opting to skip upgrades and falling further behind and challenges maintaining the solution.
What happens to custom fields during upgrades? The custom fields you create and the data associated with those fields should remain intact when upgrades occur. You spend a lot of time and energy defining custom fields during implementation; there is no reason your solution administrator should have to go back in and do re-work every time an upgrade happens. This is a waste of time and you risk loss of data capture if those fields are not re-activated in a timely manner.
Hopefully these questions will help you get what you want and deliver on your requirements document, so you don’t suffer scope creep and waste money by the second during implementation. For more reading on what to look for in a purchase-to-pay solution, check out our blog post: How to Make Sure You're Not Being Sold Smoke & Mirrors for a Procure-to-Pay Solution.
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2 PMI’s Pulse of the Profession 2018 Survey