ProcureTechSTARS with Sagi Eliyahu, Co-Founder & CEO of Tonkean

March 13, 2024
March 13, 2024
min read
ProcureTechSTARS with Sagi Eliyahu, Co-Founder & CEO of Tonkean

Earlier this year, Tonkean CEO and co-founder Sagi Eliyahu sat down with Lance Younger, CEO of ProcureTech, for a discussion about the origins of Tonkean, the future of procurement, and the role of AI-powered intake orchestration in that future’s formation. The interview is available now on the ProcureTech SOURCE platform. We’ve reproduced the content for you below. To read the original version and sign up for SOURCE, click here

Tonkean is an AI-powered intake orchestration platform for enterprise procurement teams. 

It seamlessly wraps around organizations' existing policies and systems to enable internal teams to create and orchestrate process experiences that are seamless, efficient, and easy to follow.

Sagi Eliyahu is Tonkean’s co-founder and CEO. During the conversation, Sagi shared his thoughts on the future of AI in procurement, the importance of embedding intelligence into process experiences, attitudes, and building digital approaches that feel ‘natural’.  

1. What is Tonkean’s mission?

Tonkean started almost 9 years ago. The mission, from the get-go, was always to transform how businesses operate. Specifically, how we leverage technology in our day-to-day. The core belief in Tonkean is all about people: technology is supposed to serve people (versus people spending their time working for the technology). 

“Unfortunately, 50% of people’s time is still spent on bureaucracy and filling forms and data, because really, the enterprise software of today is about data and not about people. But, business processes are about people.”

We believe that this can be solved with technology, if the technology is designed and optimized in the right way. Our approach to that end has always been one of orchestration, and determining how you can build a layer that really adapts to the different policies and systems that are in place. We believe process design and execution must start with identifying what people actually care about, what they do and don’t need to be involved in from a process standpoint. So, instead of expecting the people to fill the Last Mile gaps, we use technology to fill the gap between different stakeholders and the policies and systems that are in place.

2. What do you think differentiates Tonkean in the market?

We focus relentlessly on helping enterprises provide process experiences that are simple and that deliver rapid resolution. Which is actually very hard to do.  The three things we focus on to do it: 

  • Our ability to integrate with everything - and really wrap around your existing policies and tools. For us, if your employees need to change their behaviour in order to follow a process, then you’re really missing the point. I don't want to force you to a new UI (unless you want the new UI). So, it’s about not only integrating with existing systems, in order to automate things, but also to embed ourselves in the natural experience. For example, if a team likes to send emails to procurement, then let them send emails, I don't want to change that. 
  • Intelligence technologies, and how they’re embedded in every part of the platform - whether it's NLP and our ability to use other technologies to understand people, or the way that the platform is built, the processes engines are not directed for data transfer, but actually for how people operate. So, it dynamically changes depending on how people react. It knows to handle exceptions in a way that other process builders do not because they assume ‘1,2,3,4’, whereas we believe in people, and so our approach is that people are unpredictable. Exceptions are part of the rule. 
  • Who owns it? - aligned with the first two points is the differentiator that the people who actually understand the policy are in the line of business and are not IT or system integrators. They’re the actual team. No-code has become a very popular term, but we've been saying it for almost a decade now. For us, no-code is a philosophy and not a feature. So for everything in Tonkean, you can't write code even if you want to. Everything is really built for the business operation teams. 

So for the procurement line of business, an analyst is the one we expect to own the process and be able to really personalize it to their specific company culture. Then, when the other two points - which are intelligence that helps make this real, and the integrations that wrap around everything - are added, this represents a very core tenet of our approach and our platform. 

3. What have been the most significant milestones in the Tonkean journey so far?

For the majority of the time - really up until a couple of years ago - we have been providing our platform as a platform, helping a lot of different lines of businesses, and focusing on the connection of the operation teams (like procurement, legal, sales, IT, HR and customer service), and providing the capabilities in the concept of intake opportunities. 

We have a lot of experience around all the different permutations and flavors of how to get adoption high and how to get different departments, tools and stakeholders to work together.  

In the last two years, we really double-clicked into the procurement and legal space and launched Legal Works and Procurement Works, and really increased our depth - in both knowledge and in capabilities - in the platform, to support those use cases in a deeper way. We found that this is where our value is being realized very quickly and, especially in the enterprise segment, there's a big gap in these areas. By bringing all of our knowledge and experience from all the different departments into these areas specifically, we’ve been able to help enterprises not only more rapidly land on key process solutions, but better understand what their underlying process problems are. 

4. What do you look for in the perfect customer?

When we think about procurement specifically and the support of that, two things come to mind. One is understanding that they are a service provider, that they have customers, and their end customers are the rest of the organization. Then, the maturity in understanding that if the first is true, then just like any other customer service providers, ‘The customer is always right’.

“So, the solution that you build is irrelevant unless people are using it. I think that's a maturity curve, because some procurement teams start with the baseline of wanting to organize their information, digitalize things, and be able to manage their own work. As a result, they invest a lot of money and time in tools, policies and processes to try to do that. But, they don’t consider the experience or leverage points enough, which their customers will need to use.”

So, if you follow the first step but not the second, then you end up with a very low adoption of your process and policies, and you realize that the impact that you were trying to make is not being realized as a result. From my perspective, following both steps is the sweet spot, because that's where the impact and the ROI is immediate, and where there is the appetite to actually grow into it. I think there are a lot of growth opportunities for procurement professionals once they understand and leverage that point. 

A lot of people know that - it's not news to most - but they actually need to act on it and make the internal relationship more strategic. You want to be at the table, and you’ve got to be a partner early. You have to understand what your customers actually care about. What are their processes outside of procurement, and how are they integrated into procurement? Then, investing the mindshare of the team to think it through and determine points like: what is the individual ROI of the different stakeholders in following our process? What are they getting out of that? Then, helping to bridge that together. Tonkean is perfect for helping users bring this to light and bring it to life.   

5. What are the foundations of growing a great team?

I think it comes down to attitude for me. 

“You can teach skills, you can teach knowledge, but it’s very hard to teach attitude or change someone's attitude. With the right attitude, a lot of the different struggles or challenges can be seen from a different point of view, and you're able to find solutions.”

For example, our number one core value in the company is, ‘There's always a way’. This speaks a little bit to that, in my mind. We also hire for that too, and select people based on how much we feel like, in the interview process, they demonstrated that quality.

6. How are you innovating, and how will you incorporate GenAI into your platform?

With the GenAI wave of this year, we have really been beating the drum on this, and I think we will all see a lot more of that next year. I think what’s key to this is the focus on the individual that is interacting with your system, versus focusing on the scheme and structure of the system that is behind it. 

I think what ChatGPT did more than anything else is have an impact on the way we work. With its box, in which you can write whatever you want and it will understand you and generate whatever you ask it to, it’s almost like a crystal ball. This is one of the things we've always dreamed of, even in pop culture. 

It will lead to a lot more consumer upgrades, particularly upgrades in experience, in the next year. That will then naturally lead to an expectation shift internally, and in relationships generally. For two decades now, we really pushed people to move away from what's natural for them, which is just to speak and use words, tell me what you need. It quickly moved from just picking up the phone, to sending an email. Then, as the tech industry in general, we pushed everyone to a structured format, with forms, and asking people to, ‘Fill in those 20 questions’. The reason for that is not because that's good, it was because the technology was not strong enough to handle the natural way of how people would approach it. So, we forced the people to adopt the format that the machine can understand, only for that to be then consumed by other people.  

“I think in the future - both in our platform and in the industry in general - we will continue to move more towards aligning with what is natural for people, versus navigating the limitations of the backend or of the infrastructure, which should not be covered by requiring people to do manual work.”

It should be covered by technology, and I think that GenAI and solutions like Tonkean will lead to a big shift in what we are expecting, what interacting with software looks like and, eventually, what does it mean to do so.

7. What is the vision for Tonkean? What does great look like in five years?

Tonkean is going to play a big role in a larger shift regarding how enterprises operate. The first part of this is something I've talked about in the last couple of questions, and it's really the personalization aspect of it. When it comes to internal enterprise experiences, the norm will be it's an individual adventure for each person: if you try to do something versus if I try to do something, we'll get the least resistant experience, for whatever it is that we're trying to do. Tonkean is going to play a big role in making that a reality.

 The second part of it is, considering what great looks like, if the industry will embrace the concept of deeper is better, I think we'll be in a good place. 

So I think SaaS as a whole has been fighting for attention in the last 10 years, with the debate of, ‘How can I have more people watching my UI?’ But, that's not what this area is good at, that's not what you're trying to do if you're performing spend analysis, for example.

“You shouldn't be fighting for people's eyes, you need to fight for better analysis.”

We will do a lot of good for the industry if we have operating systems that allow for specializations in depth.   

Then the third one, which a lot of people are talking about, is moving from reactive to proactive. Intake is a very reactive concept, but the magic really happens in the ability to be proactive and to be predictive, and to change how we think about the process.

“So, for me, I don't like to call it intake-to-procure. At Tonkean, we call it intent-to-procure.”

What's interesting for me is to find the people and help them when they have an intent, before they even know whether they want to purchase. They just have a question, or a thought. 

There are a lot of things that can proactively drive value, and that is where we are focused, and we'll launch additional solutions around these three areas. This is what, I think, the next 3-5 years will look like, and the sooner the better, for the industry as a whole. 

8. How are you doing good for the planet?

Practically speaking, we've been working with non-profits for a while, with several non-profits having the option to use the platform for free (if they qualify for certain things). 

We've also been doing Changemakers for several years - we sponsor that and run it - which is literally matchmaking between non-profits that don't have operational skill sets and makers (folks adept at process innovation and design). It might be like a procurement expert spending a week with a big non-profit that doesn't have that skill set. It's amazing what you can do for those people, and that's been great. 

Then, I want to believe that what we do in general, by reducing unnecessary work, allows people who are doing good work to do more of that work, and to spend more time on things that better both their organizations and the world. That's more of a philosophy call. 

Instant Inspiration

1. What is your favorite book or blog?

 I love biographies in general, biographies of innovators and big names are what I read. Recently I read the new Elon Musk biography.

2. Who is your favorite inspirational leader? 

Elon Musk and Steve Jobs.

3. What is your favorite piece of technology?

Has to be the iPhone.

4. What is your favorite cocktail or guilty pleasure?

Old fashioned.

5. What’s your favorite way to celebrate success?

A dinner with my family.

Key Takeaways

  1. Technologies need to be leveraged in a way that is natural and intuitive for humans to use. AI will be a huge enabler of this aim.  
  2. Technology is meant to serve people, rather than people having to bend their approaches and dedicate their time to working for the technology. Enterprise software needs to be adjusted to limit bureaucracy, and orchestration should create layers that seamlessly adapt to the organization’s policies and systems. 
  3. Focus on the individual that is interacting with your system, rather than focusing on the scheme and structure of the system that is behind it. 
  4. Technologies offer an invaluable opportunity to deepen and strengthen the connection between different functions. Not only can this unlock greater collaboration between procurement, legal, sales, IT, HR and customer service, but also with key stakeholders. 
  5. It is critical that more focus is placed on user experience, and this knowledge needs to be leveraged to improve the adoption of processes and policies.  
  6. The internal relationship needs to be made more strategic, with procurement striving to be a partner early on. 
  7. While you can teach skills and knowledge, the attitude of an individual is hard to change. As such, there is a huge advantage to choosing employees who naturally have an attitude that aligns with the organization’s stance.

About Tonkean 

Tonkean is a first-of-its-kind AI-powered intake orchestration platform. With Tonkean, internal teams can build processes people actually follow. 

To fix compliance issues, reduce cycle times, and increase spend under management, internal support teams like procurement need higher adoption of their processes. The only way to get higher adoption is by optimizing the process experience for stakeholders.

Tonkean seamlessly wraps around your organizations’ existing policies and systems, allowing you to do more with what you already have. Tonkean enables users to build process experiences that are personalized for each requester and approver, and empowers you to intelligently orchestrate the intake, triage, coordination, and resolution of every request, thereby maximizing adoption, compliance and efficiency. 

About ProcureTechSTARS 

ProcureTechSTARS are the digital Procurement CEOs and Founders who are transforming Procurement and the enterprise. 

In an open conversation with these leaders, Lance Younger  discusses the highs and lows of building the future, the challenges they’ve faced, their perspective on the latest developments, and what motivates them.

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