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Automation within the procurement function continues to be top-of-mind for many of our current and prospective clients. In fact, a recent WNS Denali benchmark survey revealed that almost 50% of respondents reported they plan to increase or introduce new investments in automation within the coming year.
One area of automation that has been repeatedly on the agenda of recent client conversations is P2P, specifically around Order Management including the purchase requisition to purchase order processes. Clients are keen to explore possible intelligent automation opportunities to support and improve speed in variances resolutions, to achieve productivity enhancements, and to maximize resource utilization.
Because of the intense interest in process automation and the high level of dissatisfaction reported in our benchmark survey, I recently sat down for a series of four quick videos on the topic with Alpar Kamber, head of procurement services at WNS.
During our discussions, we explored some common pitfalls and some key success drivers for process automation efforts. Following are two of the common pitfalls and two of the success drivers we touched on during the conversation. These areas you should keep in mind when searching for ways to better automate systems or processes within your procurement operations.
An immature procurement organization attempted a do-it-yourself solution to automation. The organization was decentralized with many regional differences in how work was conducted. Intending to improve efficiency, they introduced various workarounds, tools and modules to address specific issues. They didn’t step back with a wider lens to consider how these changes would fit with the larger operating model. The result: all the inconsistencies and inefficiencies originally present remained unresolved and, in fact, were magnified by the automation that was supposed to be the solution.
Intelligent automation, employed alone without considering the strength and health of the underlying processes, will only make things worse. That’s why before attempting to automate a particular workflow or function, it’s best to first analyze the current process. Otherwise, you will end up with a bad automated process. Talk to key stakeholders and, most importantly, the end user to determine what the current pain points are in the process. Aim to streamline processes before implementing automation. Because if the automation results in more time, effort and pain for the end user – if they don’t realize a benefit from it – it will fail.
Neglected stakeholders is the top reason why change management fails. The absence of an over-arching vision, low buy-in, lack of commitment from the top of the organization, and poor communication are further reasons for such failures.
Take the example of a large European manufacturer that made several attempts to increase the visibility of the procurement organization and increase their spend under management. Despite their best attempts they:
Had no luck in implementing a “no-PO/no-pay” program
Saw a high number of invoices from suppliers that were not registered as suppliers, even though they had invested in a supplier onboarding technology solution
Experienced a high number of no matching PO against invoices, particularly in low-value purchases; queries resolutions were a drawn-out process as there was not any track of the data
Received low cSAT score and the procurement organization was not seen as adding value to the business, but rather was viewed as a burden.
The lesson here is that technology, by itself, does not work. You need people to accept it, implement it, and leverage the technology. Too often, the importance of change management is overlooked when introducing process automation and changing established business processes. Bring your end users into the discussion early when exploring change opportunities and the introduction of automation tools. Develop a comprehensive launch plan with regular communications and trainings to help demonstrate the time and labor savings that can be realized through the new technology.
Learnings happen when you try new approaches, solicit real-world feedback, and adjust and tweak until you get it right. That’s why introducing new process automation tools in a controlled, phased approach can better lead to ultimate success. Consider implementing the process automation as a pilot within a category, region or scope. Choose stakeholder partners who are open to change and willing to provide constructive feedback. They can be the promoters of your change and help cascading it in other categories, regions or scope.
Before you get too far into researching, pricing and purchasing any technology automation platform or software, it’s smart to consult your IT department. Securing their support and buy-in early can keep you from making a disastrous purchase decision. Plus, you likely will need their clearance before installing any new technology. They can help you determine compatibility and help access security issues or concerns with any potential automation tech tools before you sign a contract.
Introducing automation, particularly for work done at the transactional level, creates efficiencies, helps avoid human error, and frees up time for procurement team members to focus on more strategic work and strengthen stakeholder and project management skills. The goal of automation is always simplification; looking to eliminate the human touch from systems where that level of attention is not needed.
To hear additional context around these ideas, and learn more from Alpar about the importance of change management when instituting any new automation technology, watch the entire four-part video series. We also invite you to download our digital roadmap handbook for insights on automation enablers to support your digital ecosystem.
Vice President, Procurement Services
Dolores Lionetti is Vice President of Procurement Services with a focus on Business Development for the EMEA region at WNS-Denali. Dolores comes with more than two decades of experience across multiple roles, in leadership, operations and business development in Business Process Outsourcing, ITO with a special focus on Banking Services, Finance and Accounting, Source-to-Pay Services and technology solutions.
Dolores is passionate about working with clients, understanding their true needs, driving impactful customer relationships, co-creating solutions and achieving business outcomes together. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Marketing, German and French from the University of Salford, Manchester, UK. Dolores is Italian, has also lived and worked in the UK, France, Switzerland, resides in Germany and outside of work she enjoys exploring the world with her family.