The Promise and Practical Potential of Intake Orchestration in Procurement

Sagi Eliyahu
Sagi Eliyahu
February 29, 2024
February 22, 2024
5
min read
The Promise and Practical Potential of Intake Orchestration in Procurement

This is a republished version of an essay published by Tonkean co-founder and CEO Sagi Eliyahu in Future of Sourcing, the official newsletter ofSIG|ORG, the premier global network for Procurement, Sourcing, and Risk professionals. To read the original version, click here.

If you work in procurement, it’s likely you’ve been hearing a lot about the promise and potential of intake orchestration software. But what exactly is intake orchestration, what does it look like in practice, and what makes it so exciting?

Intake Orchestration defined

First, let’s define intake orchestration. One way is by separating the root words. Intake, of course, refers to the challenge faced by every internal department—as well as just about every working professional—of effectively fielding, reviewing, responding to, and ultimately resolving requests that are made of them and their time.

This is much more complicated than it might seem, especially in procurement. Intake requests often come to procurement from a wide array of sources—employees, vendors, renewals—and from across an even wider array of channels. (This is especially true if people don’t follow your procurement processes as they’re supposed to, which they often don’t).

Then comes the hard part: coordinating the various requests and action items across stakeholders and systems to resolution. This entails—for each request—triaging the request to determine its relative risk, expense, and urgency; sourcing the item or service (potentially tricky if it’s a new vendor or something off the wall), handling the contract, PO, invoice—the list goes on.

In most organizations, procurement teams have to do all this work manually—manually combing through channels to find all the submitted intake materials; manually pestering stakeholders for approvals, going back and pestering requesters for more information, manually updating systems along the way, etc.

But that’s where our second word—orchestration—comes in.

Orchestration technology wraps around and accommodates all your organization’s existing databases, policies, people, and systems. Meaning, you can connect and pass data back and forth between your organization’s mix of people and tools, including ERP and P2P platforms, seamlessly and automatically. This allows you to automate the process both of triaging requests and of “orchestrating” all the moving parts required of reaching resolution.

Orchestration also allows you to create intake and approval processes that are differentiated and personalized in accordance with each team and employee’s needs and context. And that funnel all the captured data back to the procurement team.

In other words, intake orchestration is not just about automatically generating requisition and POs. It’s about tailoring automated experiences to your specific mix of process, systems, and, more importantly, your people.

What makes intake orchestration exciting?

What makes this so exciting? Well, think about how most procurement teams facilitate intake today. Most use P2P/ERP platforms. These are powerful tools, but even so, they’re not perfect. For example, some don’t easily integrate with other tools (some intentionally so). Intake and approval processes that rely solely on them remain complex and arduous, with long cycle times.

Much of this stems from the fact that, for all they’re great at, big P2P and ERP platforms are typically designed for the procurement team, not for the requester or approver.

There’s some logic in that, of course, but at the end of the day, what matters most—in terms of how effectively procurement is able to do its job and create business value—is the experience that procurement provides. When your processes require that employees use platforms that aren’t designed with their aptitudes and preferences in mind, you risk making your processes too hard to follow, which often results in low process adoption, rogue spend, even longer cycle times, and more manual work for the procurement team.

Happy employees

Intake orchestration offers a way to solve this problem, and without forcing employees to learn how to navigate yet another tool, or requiring that you rip out and replace any of the tools you already have.

For example, rather than asking your employees to learn another system, take another training, or read another guide in order to be able to follow your processes, intake orchestration technology allows you to create and facilitate automated buying and approval processes that meet employees where they are, both temperamentally and technologically.

If employees spend their time in Slack, you can enable them to submit intake requests to the procurement team directly from within Slack. The data will be passed automatically to procurement in SAP or Coupa. But the employee doesn’t have to log in to either of those big platforms if they don’t want to. (Hint: they don’t).

And this is a two-way street, too. With an intake orchestration platform, that form your employee opens in Slack to request a new standing desk can be integrated with your Coupa catalog of approved vendors and items. Meaning, employees will be guided to purchase the pre-approved item, bypassing all the heartache that comes with ad-hoc and off-catalog requests. The requester wins because they get what they want or need clearly and quickly—and procurement wins because that’s one less backdoor request or off-catalog item they need to process.

Orchestration technology works with the rest of your tech stack, in other words, allowing you to augment your use of these big powerful existing systems with dynamic, automated functionality, and in turn, enabling you to accommodate employees’ working preferences.

If employees want to use your ERP or P2P platform to engage with procurement, of course, they can. The difference in this new world is you have a choice.

Versatility and transparency for all

Integrated intake orchestration platforms can allow procurement teams to augment the buying experience with integrated catalog and non-catalog buying options. You can embed suppliers and SKUs from SAP Ariba into a guided intake experience, filter available items based on the requester’s role, department, and order history, and capture all relevant details for off-catalog requests.

You can provide a much more simplified, automated supplier intake experience, as well. Instead of endless back-and-forth communication between stakeholders across siloed systems, you can facilitate a straightforward onboarding workflow that captures supplier information and necessary documentation and routes it for approvals wherever you need it to go.

And then there’s the transparency and centralization piece. All stakeholders—be they the procurement professionals behind the scenes or the employees submitting intake requests—want transparency and some peace of mind about the status of procurement requests. An intake orchestration platform that can pull and surface data from all your disparate data sources gives users customizable, real-time dashboards so they can easily check in on the status of their requests at any time.

That’s a far cry from what intake experiences are like within most procurement organizations today. And it makes a massive difference for employees when it comes to experience. That’s important. Processes that are easy to follow result in increased process adoption. Increased process adoption translates into more spend under management.

Where does AI come in?

Intake orchestration allows you to be much more intelligent and proactive both about how you facilitate guided buying and approval workflows as well as with how quickly you’re able to resolve requests for employees. This has been true of intake orchestration platforms for years, but AI changes the game, providing that next level of quality and ease to the requester experience.  

To start, good orchestration platforms will be able to accommodate plain-language requests. Meaning, if an employee needs to purchase a laptop, they can kick off that process by simply… asking procurement how to purchase a laptop. AI will consult your organization’s connected P2P systems and policy documents and surface relevant options to the requester.

But AI-powered intake orchestration is also dynamic and context-aware. The guided buying experience you provide employees will know to only ever ask for or present employees information that’s strictly relevant to their request.

All things considered, automating procurement intake and approval experiences with AI-powered intake orchestration significantly reduces the average purchase cycle time for procurement teams. It saves procurement time, allowing procurement teams to focus more on work that creates even more business value, like strategic sourcing, negotiation, and increasing savings.

These are just a few of the reasons so many procurement industry experts and practitioners are bullish on this technology and its potential. There are more the rest of us will see when we translate that potential into practice.

Want to learn more? Click here.

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