Take Control Now

In a few years, e-procurement may have so permeated society that your office will be reverse-auctioning filters for the Mr. Coffee. But that doesn't mean every company will be an e-procurement winner


O'Malley continues, One of the things we concluded very quickly as we interviewed our clients was that many of them know they need to do something, but they just don't know where to get started. Although KeyBank's program is still in pilot mode, with full launch scheduled to take place in the late third quarter of this year, their experiences in becoming a market-maker, rather than a one-to-one e-procurement buyer or supplier; their middle-market client base have shown them that at times businesses have to be prodded into action. That's been the biggest challenge helping them [their clients] understand that if you get hung up on where to get started, you'll never get started. The bottom line? It's never too late to make or save money. So, get started.

Axiom 3
Start, but don't over-commit
Maybe this should be Axiom 3a. Whatever the number, this is a critical axiom. Even if you're sold on e-procurement, you still need to ask yourself if it's right for your company and to what degree you should implement it. According to O'Malley, I think the idea of moving to an e-procurement process is something that is critical to a business in the long run, but it doesn't sound to us as if every company out there is going to be able to do this in the next three or four years. Maytee Aspuro, assistant administrator, division of administrative services for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, puts it this way, I think you have to take a look at what you're trying to accomplish and what the transactions are and then in some [transactions], e-procurement may dominate, in others, e-procurement may play a supporting role.

Aspuro is a believer in general caution when it comes to e-procurement. Establish your base, establish your presence and then catch up with maybe a little bit more fancy technology or fancy look and feel, but you have to balance those cost benefits of time, of dollars as well as investment in relationships.

Axiom 4
Be willing to experiment
Maybe you're one of those people who never changes a single setting on your computer desktop. You're running that same starfield screensaver, same cursor blink rate and the same irritating warning beep as you were the day you pulled it from the box of packing peanuts. That's fine for your personal use, but the Don't disturb it, they designed it that way for a reason approach won't fly when it comes to making e-procurement initiatives. Sure, you can start with a turnkey system, but continually massaging that system to fit your company's individual needs is critical to making your company a prime e-procurement mover.

KeyBank, which positions itself as a market maker for its middle-market clients, has experienced many configuration issues. Their efforts quickly revealed the necessity of adapting a flexible attitude to problem solving. Paul O'Malley says, We're writing the book as we go. We keep telling ourselves that when we run into a challenge here or there, there's really no track record for the right solution. We make a decision, and feel our way forward.

While your company's situation is probably easier to handle than KeyBank's (there are places to go for solutions, as we'll see in Axiom 5), their adoption of an experimental approach is one worth mimicking. No software, no system, no business plan is so good that it can't be improved upon. It just takes some mouse muscle to improve upon it. As George Patton once said, If everyone is thinking alike, no one is thinking.

Axiom 5
Be a thief
Not a literal thief, of course, unless you like the concept of spending a few years with a state-supplied uniform. There's something to be said for constantly scouting new strategies. (Call it aggressive networking if you want to.) Aspuro states, I can say that I'm an advocate of being a thief, in the sense that the technology is moving so fast and furious that it is really unrealistic (I also don't think it's prudent) to expect to invent [all solutions] within the confines of your organization. There is just so much going on there, so you have to really keep your eyes and ears open to literature, to newspaper articles, to what your buddy just told you during bowling about what his company is doing and find those pieces of information and constantly take them in to see how you might use it, in e-procurement or in any other organizational context.

Don't be fooled by the thievery terminology. This is far from an easy solution. According to Aspuro, it's vital that you be an intelligent thief intelligent in what sources you use and where you go to search for that information and then how you filter that information for the purposes of your organization. And again, this is not off-the-shelf or right-out-of-the-page kind of taking, because then you have to incorporate it into your culture, into your processes. You still have to have a creative process here, and a managerial process to be successful.

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