A lot is made of procurement software. Or, at least, the idea of it. “Our solution does A, B and C” is a regularly heard part of the pitch. It’s the euphemistic noun ‘solution’ that carries so much promise, but delivers so little in the final analysis.
Solution is a placeholder for product, of course, and we sales and marketing types do love to dress up what is essentially just software into a be-all-and-end-all answer to all of procurement’s challenges.
Of course, software isn’t that. It’s software. It’s a tool. It’s the people that count. In fact, the solution is derived from how procurement people use the software. If the product helps speed up processes, generate additional savings, achieve greater visibility and raise the profile of the function within the enterprise, only then has there been a solution.
The onus on the software provider is to build the tools that help people find the best solution for their business. Some emerging technological innovations are going to make that easier in principal, but will also challenge the status quo of software development.
Today, software vendors are in a tit-fortat feature and function arms race because the traditional methodology for selecting technology has been on a feature-count basis.
Tomorrow’s technology will be smarter and more automated, so procurement professionals should start thinking in different terms about what they need the software to do. There are three key areas of development that will affect how the function operates in future.
Fundamentally, the cloud is here to stay. The notion that anyone would specify a new system, built from the ground up, behind the firewall is now considered outré. But cloud is ill-defined. The future will see the software provider and the user at least one step removed from anything as prosaic as a data centre or an operating system. The platform on which developers will build the B2B systems of tomorrow will be as much a part of the infrastructure as power and telephony, simple services that are plugged in. This is already the case, but tomorrow it will be the primary model.
A significant factor in the next generation of procurement software will be the pull effect of the end user, rather than the push effect of emerging innovations. The latest generation of recruits fully expect technology to work, period. In any other walk of life, we are exposed to technology products and experiences that are consistent and predictable, regardless of brand or purpose. Business systems, on the whole, don’t comply with these same user experience standards. But, to remain relevant, procurement software will, in future, work just like everything else in your life – and so it should.
While it is possible that the advent of robotic process automation is nigh and, within a few short years, most procurement activities will be automated, a lot of this is just hype. That’s not to say automation will not be a component of the end-to-end procurement process: repetitive, error-prone tasks, such as data entry and order-handling lend themselves to automation. But negotiation, performance measurement and the search for increased value will require human initiative for some time yet, so we will see a hybrid system of automated transactional processing and decision support with human strategic planning and decision-making.
Future software products will still solve the same problems, but they will do so with a much lighter touch, a non-existent learning curve and an almost weightless burden on the business. Exciting times lie ahead, not least for those of us who are building towards this next generation.
Paul Blake is senior manager of technology product marketing at GEP
This contributed article has been written by a guest writer at the invitation of Procurement Leaders. Procurement Leaders received no payment directly connected with the publishing of this content.