- Create a successful user experience. The best technology solutions focus on three things: the user, the user, the user. Technology solutions must be designed from the very beginning with the user in mind. How will the solution be used? What problems will it help solve? How do users like to work? How easy and intuitive can you make it? Similarly, the technology training needs to be simple. Any solution that requires numerous training sessions and thick user manuals will face major resistance.
- Focus on the processes. It's critical to have good processes in place before implementing a technology solution. Consider your organization's needs and determine how your processes can be improved. Instead of focusing on workflow technology, which supplements existing manual practices with computerized ones, focus on technology that offers true automation to streamline practices. Automation applies technology to design rules-driven processes to make operations more effective and efficient. It enables companies to work smarter as well as faster, and it provides a better, more satisfying user experience.
- Create a culture that enables change. Starting with the design phase, create cross-functional teams to address your organization's process and technology needs in purchase-to-pay. Cross-functional teams involve business users in finding solutions to their problems. Truly listen to and consider what these subject matter experts are saying about their requirements. Include the chief financial officer (CFO), procurement professionals, accounts payable staff and, most of all, business users, and involve them early and often throughout the process. This will help ensure that the solution reflects the needs of the various stakeholders, and it helps establish ownership.
- Develop a solution that is both easy to use and complex. The more complex a product is, the easier it should be. While this may sound like a Zen paradox, it is the crux of successful product development. A robust product that offers a high degree of automation will handle the complex tasks that users don't have the time or desire to address. Who wants to view thousands of accounting codes when making a purchase? A robust, rules-based system will do the heavy lifting in the background and only present users with the accounting codes that are appropriate for their roles. The ultimate goal of automation is to make the user experience as effortless as possible and enable the system to automate complex bookkeeping standards and general ledger rules — as well as company business rules and policies — so users don't have to.
- Build flexibility into the solution. When it comes to procurement, offer users opportunities to purchase using catalog and non-catalog tools such as Yellow Pages, free text and purchase plans. If you don't offer what users want, they won't use it. Also, be sure that your solution is agile enough to adapt to changing needs and business priorities so it can continue to provide value without missing a beat as your organization changes.
- Don't try to do everything all at once. Instead of attempting to change all purchasing or accounts payable processes at once, create a larger blueprint, but focus initially on the quick wins. By thinking big, but starting small, you will avoid long and costly reengineering projects that delay bringing value into your organization. Instead, create clearly defined key performance indicators (KPIs) that enable you to measure progress against current methods. In addition to realizing immediate improvements, you will continue learning about the needs of your users and your organization, and you can incorporate these lessons into your KPIs to promote continuous improvement.
- Break down the silos. Solutions that only impact one silo or department not only are extremely limited and inefficient, they are also frustrating for users who need to interact with other areas of the organization. The most powerful solutions encompass the entire area of purchase-to-pay, from purchasing to invoice processing. Not only do holistic solutions make the most business sense as they provide benefits throughout the financial value chain, but they also give users the visibility they need throughout the entire purchase-to-pay process so they can fix bottlenecks and ensure they are achieving desired results.
Generating user adoption is not a simple feat. It involves a great degree of organizational commitment to process improvement and change management. To support best practices, companies need to implement automated solutions that have complex, robust functionality but are simple to use. Creating a successful user experience is the penultimate challenge, and if organizations can achieve buy-in and broad adoption, they will gain visibility and knowledge into their spend. They will be able to more effectively manage cash flow, supplier relationships and spend to achieve a whole new level of savings, control and continuous improvement.
About the Author: Jari Tavi is chief technology officer of Basware Corp. (www.basware.com), a provider of software solutions that automate the Purchase-to-pay process for enterprises around the world. You can reach him at first name.last firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 203-487-7905 for more information.