Finding Common Ground

Using the art of community building to drive e-procurement compliance

By John Mayes and Suzanne Miglucci

In the purchasing world, user adoption is essential to gaining the highest return on your investment. However, convincing users accustomed to decentralized buying to change their purchasing procedures can be a daunting task. When introducing new technology into a well-established organization, administrators often face an 80/20 split in new process adoption. Typically, new processes and procedures fit well into the workflow of 80 percent of users, allowing the solution to be easily adopted in a short timeframe. Influencing change and driving user adoption for the other 20 percent is more difficult, often requiring trust-building and much more time.

How can you find common ground in this classic 80/20 split when driving user adoption of new technology? How do you go about effectively bringing different people and processes onto a common platform that can drive e-procurement compliance? Many organizations are taking a consultative-type approach to meet the unique needs of users in the 20 percent space, driving a higher success rate of business process redesign, user adoption and user satisfaction.

John Mayes, associate vice president and chief procurement officer at Yale University, and Suzanne Miglucci, vice president of marketing and strategic alliances at SciQuest Inc., share best practices and lessons learned on how to find common ground across your organization to increase e-procurement user adoption.

Creating Alignment

Engaging organizational leadership early in your change management process creates alignment, sets expectations and helps top leaders understand their role in supporting the change exercise. To avoid surprises, it is critical to strike a conscious balance between speed and quality of deployment. Organizational leaders must establish clear objectives and understand the impact of those objectives from the onset. In the event of a leadership change, it is important to reset objectives to make sure the entire organization is still on the same page. Managing communications also becomes important to the success of your procurement program — centralized communication results in consistent messages in terms of tone, frequency and other important factors.

At Yale, the university's leadership took a proactive role supporting the deployment of their e-procurement initiative. University leadership recognized the need to implement the e-procurement solution as fast as possible without sacrificing quality by paying attention to the details and understanding the end users' needs and objectives before pushing ahead.

Enabling Change

The basis for change in the 80 percent split is easy: More efficient business processes, optimized support, improved service to end users and greater savings secures this group's buy-in. But what about the other 20 percent who are well-entrenched in the way they've been doing things for some time and are more reluctant to embrace change? You can't just write a memo and say, "Here's your new e-procurement solution, now start using it." How do you motivate them to support the change?

In the case of Yale, it was important to create connections and build trust with the affected groups and individuals, positioning the procurement team as a partner in change. In Yale's 20 percent are some of the best and brightest researchers in the world, and they have been courted heavily by the university to do what they do best for Yale. By understanding the unique requirements of these end users, Yale created solutions more closely aligned with established procedures, ensuring those users that the ultimate solution was an improvement and met their needs.

Implementing Dual Strategies

Oftentimes it is easier to "sell" adoption of a new technology using dual strategies that include thoughtful research and engagement for the 20 percent split as well as a carefully planned marketing program for the 80 percent split. Smart research at the beginning of the process will help you clearly identify your audience and how to reach them with the right messaging. Once you have done your research, develop a marketing program that takes into consideration higher-level organizational goals and strategies for e-procurement and clearly conveys the solution's benefits and advantages to end users. This type of approach should also include support tools that empower users to make procurement easier, such as a dedicated procurement Web site and online "just-in-time" training. For example, Yale has had great success with its procurement site,, which provides a university buying guide, information on how to operate more efficiently, direct access to the e-procurement platform, and other useful news and procurement-related information.

Building Trust

Many users are skeptical of administrators trying to introduce new technologies and processes. Until that skepticism is turned into trust, some users will not be interested in adopting the solution. View your first conversation with this type of user as a trust-building session; talk with them about what they do and how the solution could meet their needs. Providing fact-based assurances regarding the new technology, saying what you're going to do, helping them understand the value they'll receive from the new solution, and actually doing what you say you're going to do lets your users know you are a trusted partner and have their best interests in mind. This approach will go a long way to integrating your 20 percent.

Mayes has had great success at Yale by running preliminary spend analysis and learning as much as possible about each unique business as possible before meeting with constituents to explore what they are buying and the procedures they're using — treating the visit as a learning opportunity. By doing so, many of Yale's users felt that the change agents made an attempt to understand what was important to them, including their unique needs and the way they do business.

Celebrating Successes

The final step in effectively integrating people and processes is to set achievable interim goals and broadly communicate those goals across your organization. Begin your implementation process with a set of goals. As you progress through the process and achieve early goals, it is vital to celebrate those successes, small and large, along the way. Give credit where credit is due: Public acknowledgement is a powerful motivating technique. Building on your successes allows users to gain a level of trust in you and your implementation team, the technology and the related processes.

Striking the Ideal Balance

By engaging end users in the rollout of your e-procurement initiative — listening, integrating their ideas and needs, and communicating openly with your community — you can dramatically improve the likelihood of striking the ideal 80/20 balance to support your initiative. Keep in mind that an e-procurement initiative is a journey, not an event. So be sure to re-engage your end-user community and leadership often in order to iterate a solution that continues to meet their changing needs.

About the Authors: John Mayes is associate vice president and chief procurement officer at Yale University. Suzanne Miglucci is vice president of marketing and strategic alliances at SciQuest Inc.