Tuesday 2 September 2014

With best practice tools comes best practice use

By Matt Gradidge

So you’ve adopted the best practice tools, now what?

You’ve bought into the idea that eSourcing is the way forward to deliver efficient, cost saving, risk procurement and sourcing activities. You’ve reached out to the market; awarded to the provider of eSourcing tools that you have the most confidence in to deliver a solution that meets your needs and your users are set up and trained to use the platform. It has been live for some time, but where are the benefits and promised savings?

As I’m sure many organisations would agree, the above scenario seems all too familiar; poor use of a best practice toolkit that is designed to deliver time and efficiency savings (along with a raft of other benefits).  A recent article suggested that UK government’s tendering processes take 53 days longer than the EU average (http://www.publicprocurementinsider.com/2014/03/11/economy-starved-of-22bn-thanks-to-inefficiency-of-public-sector-tendering-system/). The article doesn’t state whether the use of eSourcing tools has affected or caused this, however, the figure is still rather startling. If we are to believe that eSourcing brings with it time savings, then is this statistic accurate/true? My guess is that poor use of the eSourcing tool in place may be contributing to this figure.

My top five theories as to why best practice tools are under-utilised, with possible solutions:

1) Problem: End users are not on board or motivated to utilise all  the solution to its full potential; they are happy to continue as they have done for years and simply send a paper based format of tender documents “electronically” via the best practice tool.

Solution: The first issue in my view is the hardest to deal with. You can teach the benefits and train on best use, but at the end of the day, if corners can be cut, they often will be. Users who don’t believe in the benefits will opt for simplicity. Therefore a solution that is capable of web form functionality and auto evaluation becomes an upload and download offering when not used as it should; making the audit trail limited and many of the Organisational benefits vastly reduced.  Support, support and more support is required with the users who need it. Find your best users and hold master-classes or opt in for refresher courses with the solution provider.

2) Problem: Interaction with the toolkit is introduced too late into the procurement process, allowing for point one to be the most effective way to get a tender out.

Solution: Improve planning of sourcing activities. It is highly likely that there are procurement strategies in place with timelines and plans. As soon as the project kicks off, get into the system and start using it. Too often the phone ring with a buyer/end user on the line asking for support building their RFx events with 1 day or less before it needs to go live. In these situations it’s (almost) impossible to build an RFx that will utilise the core features of a tool. Get in there early; why draft the RFx on paper and replicate it in the system? Do it simultaneously or simply create the question content in the system. You can even take it one step further and engage with a workflow and process that includes template RFx’s within the solution so that core content is always available and it is simply the project/procurement specific elements that need to be added or amended

3) Problem: Key users leaving an organisation, taking the best practice use of a solution and tacit knowledge with them.

Solution: It can be tough to ensure that tacit knowledge is shared and absorbed by staff within an organisation.  Processes need to be in place to record, map out and make available the institutionalised knowledge. All good teams and strategies will have this as a core requirement in modern business; so why does it often not happen when core solutions are in place? Again, process management could be a way to reduce the risk here. A tool that holds and stores the process along with key documentation and information to support the use of the system can mitigate such risk. It may not be watertight in ensuring 100% of best practice use is transferred, but it can get pretty close.

4) Problem: Users not having the technical skills to use electronic sourcing tools efficiently.

Solution: If this is the case in your organisation my suggestion is this: The experienced subject matter experts should/could work with less experienced and possibly more technologically sound/capable users to deliver the best results. Apprenticeships are becoming more and more popular, so why not operate in a similar way? This can also only be good for organisations transferring valuable industry expertise into the next generation of procurement professionals! So as long as you are able to retain this workforce, I say trust them and give them the opportunity to prove themselves.

5) Problem:  End users not having all the information they need in one place for a truly strategic procurement exercise. They are ducking in and out of data sources in an attempt to fully understand the market, their positioning as an organisation, their spend, the relationship with the supply base or key suppliers before going back to the solution to run their tender exercise.

Solution: Well, if the solution you have in place doesn’t offer at least an insight into your spend, vendor performance, contracts etc then it looks like the solution you have alone isn’t meeting your needs. Time to change! If this is not possible then it would be worth talking to the providers you have to see if there is any integration process that can be put in place - i.e. have the web enabled or web based solution feed data to and from other web-enabled systems. With all the data in fewer places, analysis can be quicker & smarter so therefore  more efficient decision making bringing with it those benefits you have been looking for!

Does any of the above sound familiar? Let us know how you have overcome these issues or even any horror stories that you have since learned from!

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