The Future of Intake in Procurement Will Be Collaborative

Cody Deitz
Cody Deitz
April 22, 2024
April 17, 2024
min read
The Future of Intake in Procurement Will Be Collaborative

Over the last 10 years or so, as digital transformation efforts have ramped up, procurement professionals have witnessed the emergence of many different kinds of procurement tech. Among them is an entirely new procurement technology category: intake management and intake-to-procure platforms. 

The problem these tools and their providers sought to address was a real one. Intake—a crucial part of the overall procurement process—had become unwieldy and inefficient, mandating lots of manual work on the part of procurement and creating a bad experience for end-users. There was a real need for simpler and more structured means of facilitating intake experiences.

The problem with traditional intake management software 

But most of the solutions these providers offered procurement teams amounted to lipstick on a pig. They solved intake by—drumroll please—enabling procurement teams to build forms for employees to fill out. The forms were often pretty! But they were not productive. Employees tended not to fill them out, sometimes seeking side doors rather than following the intended process. Even now, adoption of intake processes in procurement remains endemically low. 

Most intake management solutions offer intake forms designed to be comprehensive lists, meaning, they encourage you to load them up with all the questions you ever could need to complete the request. If you’re an end-user, what do you do when you’re filling out such an intake form and you don’t know the answer to one of the items requested? You either manually reach out to procurement, do some annoying homework yourself, or, more likely, drop off and opt out of following the process altogether. Or worst of all, you enter incorrect information to simply get the request finished and sent off, causing confusion and delays downstream.

Tonkean’s ProcurementWorks solution, launched in 2023, represented a profound step forward in improving intake processes. It helped procurement teams intake more palatable for requesters and, in turn, drive adoption. ProcurementWorks featured an AI Front Door to help route requesters to the right workflows from plain-language inquiries; a substantially streamlined form sequence framework that takes context into account and prefills fields from data in other applications; and no-code tools that empower procurement to augment and evolve intake flows without relying on IT resources.

In the time since, we’ve worked with our customers, including some of the most innovative procurement teams in the Fortune 500, to better understand how smart technology can help to position procurement to add more value for their organizations. One recurring theme: While getting requesters to adhere to their processes for submitting purchase requests is great, to really make the kinds of contributions that procurement can uniquely provide, they need their stakeholders to involve them earlier in the process. 

Purchasing starts with intent

What are procurement professionals uniquely great at? Negotiation, strategic sourcing, facilitating innovation from within the context of compliance requirements and budgetary constraints—etc. 

But guess what? If procurement is only involved in buying experiences after the requisition stage, you lose the opportunity to leverage that skill or perspective. Intake doesn’t start with requisition. It starts with intent

Intake is necessarily collaborative

Further, when they are looped in, procurement teams don’t have the means to collaborate seamlessly with stakeholders to produce accurate, high-quality work. Often, the “collaboration” they’re able to facilitate doesn’t look like collaboration at all. 

Instead, it looks like endless back-and-forth in emails, Slacks, and hallway conversations. It looks like requesters seeking support from procurement for one thing over here, legal for another thing over there, finance for yet another thing. It looks like all the relevant stakeholders operating in contextless silos, forced into a posture of checking boxes instead of doing what’s right for the business. It looks like requests being submitted, rejected, sent back to square one, and submitted again (and again). 

Traditional intake management tools generally don’t give procurement teams and their partner functions the technological means to provide input or assistance or context for stakeholders when and where those stakeholders need it—the way editors can provide real-time feedback to writers via Google Docs. This fundamentally limits the value that procurement is able to provide, in part because it guarantees a fundamentally reactive process experience. 

Procurement is not just a linear series of handoffs. Often, it requires collaboration and some form of project management. At a base level, stakeholders and procurement should be able to chat on forms, and there should be some amount of visibility into how the conversation has flowed. That’s not something most intake management tools offer. 

The solution: early engagement and smart collaboration

So what’s the solution? What are procurement technology vendors not providing? 

The answer: intake tools that ensure procurement teams can engage with requesters early, proactively, and transparently, and that provide workspaces for collaboration that are seamless, simple, smart, and ultimately fruitful. 

Collaborative Intake

Earlier today, Tonkean introduced our answer to that question. It’s called Collaborative Intake, a new suite of capabilities in ProcurementWorks, our intake orchestration solution for procurement teams.

Collaborative Intake enables cross-functional, in-workflow collaboration and engagement across every step of the procurement lifecycle, from intent through resolution. It ensures that all purchasing interactions are relevant, targeted, and actionable. It enables stakeholders and procurement teams alike to tag and assign tasks to each other on the intake form, much like you can in something like Google Docs. 

Because all this is built on top of Tonkean’s existing intake orchestration technology, which connects any and all back-end tools and systems your organization might use, employees can respond either inside the intake form or from whatever other applications they might already be in—Slack, Teams, etc. —and then find all of the relevant discussion centralized in the request workflow.

Here’s how it works. Using Tonkean, procurement teams can configure intake processes to start not with requisition, but with an AI Front Door

Let’s say an employee has an inkling they want to make a purchase. Say, they want to buy some software. First, they open the Tonkean AI Front Door, and ask it how to purchase software. 

What employees are led down next is a personalized, step-by-step guided buying experience. For example, the Front Door might first ask employees, “Do you have budget approved for this purchase?”

Let’s imagine the employee doesn’t know. They’re trying to move fast. Before, they would have had to leave the intake workflow to go find that information. Now, they can simply make a comment— “How do I know if I have budget for this?”—and tag procurement. Procurement responds right there, and either party can loop in other stakeholders, managers, or folks from finance, IT or, legal, as needed.

All this is designed to break the cycle of reactive procurement. Now, procurement teams can make sure they’re present and involved in buying experiences from the first moment of intent until the matter is resolved. And that their presence and involvement are productive—that they’re able to bring to the process all of the unique skills, knowledge, and context they possess.

This serves to transform procurement from a transactional silo into a strategic nexus. It does so by involving procurement earlier in intake processes and by elevating the value of their contributions once they’re looped in. 

Engaging stakeholders from the very start of the intake process improves compliance, increases cost savings, and mitigates risk. Providing in-process context and timely support also guarantees more accurate data capture and more rapid resolution. There’s less need to make corrections or track down missing information. And real-time in-workflow collaboration enables faster decision-making, reduces the need for follow-ups, and ensures that procurement is able to provide real business value.

The future of intake will be collaborative

Procurement should not continue abiding by outdated schools of thought about what intake can and should be. The technology wave that’s swept over procurement in recent years isn’t stopping any time soon—especially when you factor in coming innovations in AI-powered orchestration. 

But not all new technology is created equal. Procurement teams should seek out from technology partners tools that empower them to do things they’re not presently able to do, and that are holding them back from providing the kind of stand-alone strategic value that enterprise organizations very much need from procurement teams now. 

When it comes to intake management and orchestration, that means tools that foster much earlier engagement and much easier, more effective collaboration and resolution. The promise of such tools is not only to help procurement teams reduce cycle times, increase spend under management, or improve adoption. It’s to help you transform the procurement function from a transactional silo into a strategic, collaborative nexus. 

Want to learn more? Read about our new Collaborative Intake capabilities here

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