The intake problem
Intake is a crucial part of the procurement process. It’s also an area ripe for innovation.
Many “requesters” aren't familiar with procurement’s standard procedures, and so most procurement requests come in from a variety of sources. Procurement intake management systems by and large haven’t been adapted to accommodate this reality, so procurement professionals are left to compensate, mostly with lots of manual work.
This can prove quite costly to an organization. At the very least, ad hoc intake management greatly lowers efficiency.
But a poor intake experience can also introduce vulnerability and volatility to procurement processes, fomenting rogue spending and increasing risk.
Moreover, cumbersome intake processes can be a serious obstacle to procurement process adoption, in part because they create a negative employee experience. They can be complicated and unintuitive. (The fact that most people in your organization don’t even know where to go to make a request is itself the beginning of a poor user experience.) Many employees just give up and work around them. Humans tend to follow the path of least resistance, and if working around a process is easier than slogging through it, that’s what they’ll do.
That’s where things get bad. Poor process adoption doesn’t only lower efficiency, but hinders performance and accuracy, lowers visibility, and heightens risk.
This is something lots of procurement teams are already intimately familiar with. Fifty percent of organizations don’t have high visibility into their tier-1 suppliers. 69% of organizations blame process adoption for increasing rates of maverick spend.
But, increasingly, procurement teams are fighting back. Specifically, they’re investing in and innovating with intake management systems that are more intelligent, more intuitive, more dexterous, and more dynamic. In Gartner’s recent Procurement & Sourcing Solutions Hype Cycle report, the firm laid out where various intake management solutions (including Tonkean) lay in the “hype cycle” matrix. Intake management is on the rise, Gartner says, with mainstream adoption predicted to mature within 2-5 years.
Procurement teams are coupling investments in intake with investments in process and procurement orchestration—which can be understood as the ability to better execute, monitor, and manage entire business processes across teams and existing systems.
“We are witnessing a critically important innovation happening right now…the Intake/UX/Process Orchestration layer at the top,” Dr. Epstein, Partner at Kearney, has written.
This investment, experimentation, and maturation is shifting the consensus around what exactly procurement and sourcing teams need out of their intake processes—in order, for example, to create more value as partners to the business. This is changing intake—and, with it, the practice and science of procurement—as we know it.
One of the biggest improvements procurement leaders are making to the way they facilitate and manage intake is by unifying their intake channels, such that all requests sent into procurement are funneled into the same unified portal on the back end.
Modern intake systems simply must enable employees to submit requests to procurement from a variety of entry-points. (As in, employees can submit POs to procurement from Slack, Teams, email, and a webform.)
But providing employees multiple entry-points does little good for procurement on the back end, at least when it comes to efficiency gains or transparency, if procurement teams have to trawl lots of different sources to triage those requests and take actions on them.
Rather, to easily ensure all requests submitted to procurement are easily tracked and addressed, those requests must seamlessly be funneled into one unified back-end location.
Intake management platforms provide this functionality by integrating with and wrapping around your organization’s various communications systems. The most valuable of these platforms will then employ AI to automatically triage inbound requests for you—automatically resolving simple requests, correctly prioritizing requests in accordance with your own internal policies and context, and providing totally transparent visibility into the state of the request from the moment it hits your portal to the moment it’s completed. Speaking of which…
The role of AI in intake management
The potential of AI in procurement is varied, but among the most exciting and important applications of AI in the context of intake management is its ability to help procurement teams resolve employee requests more rapidly.
AI-powered intake tools can be used, for example, to provide employees and requesters personalized, context-aware support with a plain-language user experience that instantly delivers resolution.
The Tonkean AI Front Door, for its part, monitors data sources and abides by your organization’s preset internal policies and requirements to proactively provide employees what they need when they need it—this in addition to reliably filing intake requests with the procurement team on the back end.
Everything entered through the AI Front Door is funneled back into and tracked via a unified dashboard, which itself is available both to procurement teams and end-users, so that all stakeholders can see the status of each request; auditability is baked in.
Such functionality greatly increases the value that procurement is able to provide organizations, in that it makes exponentially easier and more enjoyable the simple experience of interacting with procurement teams. It also encourages process adoption, as it guarantees greater visibility into the status of requests—whereas, in the past, requests entered black boxes until resolution was delivered.
Application-agnostic intake channels
Increasing process adoption must be a preeminent priority of procurement teams, because any and all efforts to increase efficiency, maximize compliance, or lower risk stem from the confidence born of knowing employees will abide by the policies you set and process improvements you make.
The first step to increasing process adoption, however, ultimately has less to do with unifying intake on the back end—or even with improving your own ability to proactively or rapidly resolve employee requests on the front end—than it does with simply making employees’ lives easier.
At the most basic level, that means your procurement intake processes must be capable of meeting employees where they are.
Which is why every intake management solution worth its salt moving forward will give employees the ability to submit requests via whatever applications and communication tools they already spend time in: Teams, Slack, email, etc.
The future of intake is now
It’s more important than ever for procurement teams to be able to execute on their mission to create and provide regular business value quickly and accurately, while ensuring high process adoption from requesters. That starts with facilitating a great, seamless procurement experience for end users. And that, in many cases, starts with intake.
So that’s one reason why procurement teams are already hard at work ushering this new future into existence. But there’s wind in the sails of intake regardless. Gartner believes that innovative tools such as predictive analytics and conversational AI—that is, large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT—are at the “peak of inflated expectations.” In other words, they’re hot right now, with big expectations attached. But intake management systems are not far behind.
The present, then, is precisely the right time for organizations to begin thinking about innovating around intake practically and strategically.
Start your procurement orchestration journey now with Tonkean’s ProcurementWorks. And check out this in-depth primer about how to use ProcurementWorks to power up your procurement processes.