Ops Digest #13: Solving Procurement’s Biggest Technology Problem

October 16, 2023
September 28, 2023
min read
Ops Digest #13: Solving Procurement’s Biggest Technology Problem

This is a preview of Ops Digest, our monthly newsletter for operations teams. This month, we're talking about solving technology problems in procurement. Subscribe and receive this newsletter in your inbox every month!

There’s a funny thing happening in procurement right now. The number and variety of procurement technology solutions—all promising benefits and innovation across the procurement lifecycle—continues to grow. But procurement’s ability to address the most fundamental challenges of this moment—like getting employees to follow procurement processes, such that you can begin to implement operational improvements that create new business value at scale—has not increased alongside all this technical firepower.

What’s going on?

This month, we spoke with a host of experts, thought leaders, and practitioners across the world of procurement to answer precisely that question. Their responses fell generally into two camps:

1) We’re not approaching technology implementation with a people-first mindset

2) We’re not prioritizing orchestration, which is the art of using our unique mix of people, technology, and data better together.

Organizations have a bad habit of just stacking applications on top of applications. And investing in tech for tech’s sake doesn’t solve anything—and in fact, when poorly integrated and implemented, technology may even create more problems than it solves. Not the least of which is low user adoption.

Too often, we forget that technology is just a set of tools, and it’s people who use those tools.

That means you have to think about humans, and their needs and behaviors and general psychology, when you’re trying to foster digital transformation.

It’s a subtle shift, grounded in philosophy more than programming, but the investments we make in technology can really only be considered effective if they empower people and improve their work lives.

Where does process orchestration technology fit in? It’s a means, above all, of helping internal service teams like procurement deploy processes that do precisely that.

That’s an absolute necessity, in particular at a time when procurement teams are pushing for a seat at the C-suite table.

Check out procurement-insider Joël Collin-Demers’ deep-dive essay about making use of process orchestration technology within procurement below, in our featured story. Below you’ll also find an excellent Modern Business Operations podcast episode with Amanda Prochaska about how to successfully navigate the changes happening in procurement services, and Art of Procurement’s Philip Ideson’s thoughts on creating processes that are actually easy to follow. Finally, Tonkean’s own Adam Boyle presented at a SIG event about how to solve procurement operations problems with tech. It’s all below.

But first: the latest news about the industry.

Top of the Ops

  • A former employee who was responsible for procurement processes and overseeing contracts for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), pled guilty to larceny, illegal gratuity and procurement fraud schemes | Mass.gov
  • A county administration has come under scrutiny for multiple failure to follow through with proper procurement procedures, leading to unauthorized spending activity by multiple officials | YourIslandNews
  • The UK’s slow procurement procedures can’t keep pace with AI development, a manufacturers' association representative told Parliament | The Register
  • How to keep your procurement and supply chain strategy rooted in real time and in the real world | HBR
  • Pitfalls that public agencies should avoid when they’re considering using AI for procurement processes | NLC.org

Ops in the Field

In this excerpt of a deep-dive essay (sponsored by Tonkean) from Joël Collin-Demers, author of the Pure Procurement newsletter, Collin-Demers offers his take on the potential of Process Orchestration technology to help address procurement’s broader technology implementation issues—and even offers advice for building a business case for it.

In an environment where just ensuring continuity of supply is a challenge, organizations keep asking more of their Procurement teams. Procurement should aim to reduce costs, reduce risk, increase organizational resiliency, stimulate and facilitate innovation, find more sustainable and diverse suppliers, etc. However, Procurement department budgets are not growing in line with these new asks…

In the past decade, Procurement has turned to software to tackle this productivity challenge with mixed results. Solution functionalities have exploded to cover all the scenarios under the sun. However, organizations continue to struggle to meet digital transformation project objectives. Project failure rates consistently hover around 80% in survey after survey of Procurement executives. Why?

Well, the end user, your colleagues in the business, still needs extensive training to adhere to your company processes. They have to bend to the applications instead of the applications catering to their needs. Procurement applications still don’t provide an adequate user experience to produce results.

But what if we are looking at the problem from the wrong angle? Procurement should provide a great user experience across all procurement processes end-to-end. Would this deliver the results we are looking for? This is the promise of Process Orchestration.

Here are some of the remaining salient points:

  • The problem isn’t a lack of technology, nor is it a dearth of integration tools. It’s because the above only caters to one of the three pillars of the classic People, Process & Technology triad: Technology. 
  • When your tech stack is fully integrated, you will still experience benefits leakage from the People and Process dimensions. Why? In short, getting hundreds or even thousands of people to follow an application-supported process in the same way is incredibly difficult.
  • Generic processes that aren’t differentiated based on the functional context and needs of a user simply cause frustration. 
  • You are always fighting an uphill battle against the knowledge and skill of your user population to ensure they follow Procurement processes as they were designed
  • Process orchestration: It brings your static business process and Procurement policy documentation to life by integrating it directly into the applications your employees use. Employees don’t need to be trained on how to follow procurement processes because the processes meet them where they are. Process orchestration platforms allow you to tailor these kinds of experiences for employees across the procurement lifecycle
  • The only way organizations can begin to increase process adoption is by creating process experiences that are both easy to follow and that provide real value to requesters. But how can adding another system to the mix reduce complexity? The point of process orchestration and workflow automation is to help you use your existing tools better together. 
  • Employee experience matters. A positive employee experience drives user adoption of your processes. This translates into compliance with your policies and strategies which drives value and, ultimately, profit for your company. Good employee experience is simply good business.

We think his essay is an excellent resource for anyone in procurement itching to solve their own technology implementation problems. You can read the rest of the essay here, or on the Tonkean blog.

And to learn more about what process orchestration can do for your procurement team, download our updated Procurement Handbook!

Modern Business Operations

On this episode of Modern Business Operations, host Sagi Eliyahu is joined by Amanda Prochaska, Founder and Chief Wonder Officer at Wonder Services, to talk about successfully navigating the changes happening in procurement services today.

Sagi and Amanda discuss:

  • The dynamic and rapidly evolving nature of supply chains.
  • Shifting from a focus on cost savings to a more strategic and externally focused approach.
  • The evolution of procurement from a cost-saving center to a strategic and innovative function.
  • The mismatch between existing knowledge and new demands causing burnout.
  • The potential of technology as both a solution and a challenge in procurement transformations.
  • The importance of starting projects with clear success metrics.
  • Treating everyone as a person, regardless of their rank or title.

Here’s a key piece of advice from Amanda Prochaska about remembering who you’re working with:

“At the end of the day, no matter the rank, the title, etc., everyone is just a person at their core. So if you treat people like people, you’re going to go a long way in this world. We tend to forget that in business dealings. They become a supplier instead of a person […] or they become a technology founder instead of just another person […] Particularly In procurement, that can cause adversarial relationships. But if you just understand that’s another person, and treat them like a person, and build a relationship, you can get so much further.”

Maestro's Minutes

Here’s everything we did in this month’s Tonkean release notes:

Solution Studio:

  • We’ve added to the module builder with the Process Mapper, which allows you to build a detailed, responsive map of your entire business process
  • We've added a new trigger, Button Clicked, which allows you to activate workflow logic directly with a dedicated button in a custom item interface or workspace app.
  • We've updated the Date Diff formula to allow users to return a negative number as a result. The default response remains an absolute number.

Custom Item Interfaces (we added three new widgets!):

  • The Upload widget enables users to upload files to your configured storage provider. Rather than provide a file upload as a separate step, you can now include it directly in the interface, drastically improving the experience of uploading the files that are critical to your business process
  • The Process Mapper widget allows you to display a module process map, providing a clearer understanding to requesters and other stakeholders. Simply select the relevant process map you created in the module builder.
  • The Line Items widget enables requesters to input detailed invoice line items, or similar line item objects, into an interface. Requesters can add lines one by one, filling in fields you configure in the interface builder to ensure all the details are collected.

We also added Azure Form Recognizer as a data source, and we enhanced others, including Ariba, AWS Textract, Coupa, and Confluence.

Bug fixes:

  • Newly-created widgets could not be moved to the top of an item interface.
  • The Item is Added trigger was not activating as expected for inner items, resulting in inner item fields not being updated.
  • Some Collect Inner Items forms were not generating a workflow run when activated by an Action widget.
  • Some users received an error when using a Jira data action to add an attachment to an existing issue.
  • The Sort by field value could not be cleared in the interface builder.
  • Some users were unable to expand inner items on interfaces that were part of a sequence.

And all the rest: 

Thanks for checking out Ops Digest! To learn more about who Tonkean is or what we do, we have a few different kinds of trials that you can sign up for. They walk users through our most salient solutions, including Legal intake, Purchasing Approval, Invoice Intake, and Email inbox automation. Sign up for one here!

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