Difficulties with buying within your organization are often associated with the use of inappropriate user-facing technology. Fundamentally it is because there is no Buyer Portal. There is a “purchasing system” and a “process”, however, there is no user-centric access to this. This is what a Buyer Portal provides – it is the user-friendly way of presenting a buying process.
If you don’t have a buyer portal, then you can be sure that one of three things will happen with your users. They will:
- Try to find a way around the current system
- Use the system badly, trying to shortcut information entry
- Dump their problem on your category managers
- What about the other users, who are trying to buy using your systems?
- Shouldn’t you also be investing in systems that will help the wider organization easily buy goods and services?
Of course, you are investing in digitization of procurement processes. However, ask yourself the question: are you focusing too much on the issues of the Procurement and Finance departments?
If your systems and procedures help these people or groups to do their job more efficiently and effectively, then these people are on your side and there is no barrier. However, if your systems and procedures do not, then there is a poor perception of Procurement and an opposition within your organization to using your systems and procedures.
Whether you already have an ERP or not, you can use a buyer portal to enable your users to make hassle-free purchases. Automating transactional processes in a way that the user actually wants to engage!
- Category buying
- Catalogue buying
- Project buying
- And Bespoke buying
2. System usefulness
Where system usefulness is the focus, a user perspective of what is useful must be taken. If the system is only looked at from a “use to Procurement perspective”, then it is unlikely that users will see the resultant system as useful.
What is important to the user in terms of timeline to make a purchase may not be supported by the purchase process itself. Plus, for sign off, it is unlikely to be aligned with a senior managers diary, especially if the purchase value is insignificant in terms of their overall budget.
Any new eProcurement system must address user issues to encourage user eProcurement adoption. If I am merely automating what already happens, I am likely to fail.
The focus in promoting a procurement portal solution should not necessarily be on productivity, as this implies a lack of productivity of users and can have negative associations. However, users should experience productivity gains from the use of the solution, making it quicker and easier for them to do their job.
Acceptance of the system can be encouraged through access to branded catalogues on the portal. Catalogues, to a user, represent a useful system in that for the most frequently purchased items they can readily re-order:
- Users can use the catalogue to promptly and correctly prepare purchase orders and identify vendors, without always having to search and obtain quotes through manual processes.
- The catalogue provides a convenient way of fulfilling users purchasing needs and often the need for manual approval processes is removed and automated by the system.
- Where quotes are required, outside of catalogues, for example for non-standard items, the portal should support the selection of potential vendors and methods to easily generate requests for quotations by the users.
- Handling electronic responses from vendors in an easy user managed way.
- The catalogue represents a selling power for the adoption of a procurement portal.
Also, process chains that guide users through the stages of a procurement process
from catalogues and ordering
through to receipt and invoicing,
help the user to understand where they are and where they can find the information they require.
The ease with which purchase orders to suppliers can be raised, expense reports obtained, and invoices reconciled all affect how useful the system is from a user perspective and will impact on user’s adoption of the new process and system.
3. Factors that influence User Adoption
Relating to the adoption of procurement systems and processes, there are several generic questions that can be asked about any proposed investment in technology:
- Clarity: How easy is it to understand what to do or what each menu item does? Is it unnecessarily complex and full of useless features? Are there clues that indicate what it is going to do, so users don’t have to experiment or deduce the interaction?
- Consistency: Are actions constant across all pages to bolster familiarity and eliminate errors? Does it deliver the expected, predictable results, with no surprises?
- Efficiency: Does the system intuitively understand what actions a user is most likely to make, and is it quick to deliver on those actions? Does it enable users to action with a minimum amount of effort (clicks and data entry) impacting in an obvious way on their productivity? Does it deliver the expected results the first time, so that users don’t have to repeat the action (perhaps with variations) to get what they want?
- Engaging: Is the overall design aesthetically pleasing, or is it likely to turn off visitors and users? Can it be branded? Can users navigate throughout the menus without fear of penalty or unintended consequences, or of getting lost?
- Future-proofed: Will the basic design hold up several years from now?
- Free of distractions: Does it display only the menus and functions that each specific user needs, removing other menu structures? Is information accessed easily and displayed clearly, especially because users often have to make time-sensitive decisions based on the data shown?
- Responsive: Does the User Interface give clear, immediate feedback to indicate that the action is happening, and indicates either a successful or unsuccessful completion?
- Forgiving: If a user makes a mistake, does either the right thing occur anyway or can they undo the action with ease or recover back to a previous step or version?
- Free of frustration: how does the user feel after using the system or process? Emotionally are they satisfied with the interaction and results?
- Helpful: does the system have online help screens that are relevant to the page a user is viewing?
4. Process Reliability
Reliability drives trust in the system and process. In a manual procurement process, quite often paperwork is misplaced causing great frustration for the users.
A user procurement portal needs to be reliable, in the sense that all the transactions and electronic documents prepared by users are protected. That is they can be readily found and can be retrieved with ease whenever they are needed.
Considerable gains can be made in adoption if the system operates reliably and predictably; secures all the information obtained during a purchase process; and allows ease of access to this information.
Another aspect of reliability is associated with repeatability and ensuring that errors are minimised and where they do occur that they are flagged to the user. You should expect that a solidly designed user interface will reduce errors, since users will be somewhat familiar with the input fields, if not the intricacies, of the system.
Repeatability, also, includes the ability to copy and reuse critical forms and information. Readily placing repeat orders or requesting quotations for common specifications.
Reliability of the eProcurement system itself also exerts influence on the acceptance of the system, since any system that is unavailable when needed or where you cannot readily find the transactions and documents you need, just frustrates a user and encourages the use of alternative manual processes.
So, reliability is not just about the system up-time. It also encompasses aspects of repeatability and ensuring that the process itself is reliable and not prone to errors being made.
5. System Robustness
Any portal should also be robust enough to handle a huge volume and a wide variety of transactions. Including:
- small value or volume transactions
- project purchases (purchasing multiple items within a single project)
- support for custom sourcing (i.e. RFx)
- Bespoke purchasing activity
- support for last-minute and urgent purchase requirements
Placing all quotations and orders through a portal can result in high volumes of traffic and the portal must be designed both to scale and respond under load.
Placing the portal in the Cloud helps with this scalability and response, plus offers several additional benefits:
Cloud-based systems have many advantages:
- reduces the duplication of investment costs for multiple on-site servers and management
- low entry investment and ongoing investment
- access anywhere at any time
- disaster recovery
- speed of deployment and roll out across an organisation
- keeping up to date. Innovation and future enhancements to the platform are available to all users
- on-demand procurement. Flexibility based on-demand
- access speeds across a global deployment
- reliability and security: significant investments by cloud service infrastructure providers
- access services anytime anywhere
- mergers and acquisitions. Easier to deploy systems across groups
- environmental impact. Shared computing resources have less environmental impact
6. Not all buyer portals deliver
Key for any buyer portal is an ability to be able to support four methods of purchasing and be able to combine these as appropriate:
- Category buying
- Catalogue buying
- Project buying
- And Bespoke buying
Plus, to support the transactional activity that will occur, for different currencies and languages (for organisations operating in multiple countries) an easily scalable solution is required. This includes being able to add and subtract office portals quickly and as needed.
Best of breed portals have the flexibility to allow users to buy the way that best meets their needs, in their language and currency.
Whether you already have an ERP or not, you can use a buyer portal to enable your users to make hassle-free purchases.