Advancing the User Experience with Procurement Software
Anyone that has experience with consumer electronics knows that the ‘user experience’ is a multi-faceted concept. We encounter a device or software and form an immediate impression about its look and feel. Next is the functionality: does it do what we need it to do easily? How well does it fit into our lifestyle and how easy is it to learn how to use it?
The best designed technology requires no explanation and forms an instant and unbreakable bond with its users. There is a natural give and take between the user and the technology as they interact, one responding to the other. When this is the case, a completely new piece of technology is suddenly something we can’t live without.
And then… there is procurement software.
All too often, procurement software fails the user experience test. It doesn’t look or feel particularly great, and not only does it require incentives and explanations to get users to interact with it, their experience is rarely intuitive or pleasant. And those interactions, when they do happen, are very one sided. Users learn to use the software exactly how it wants them to – or not at all.
Historically speaking, procurement has been responsible for selecting the software that we would use for our own purposes. In a few cases, someone outside of procurement might have access to spend analysis or strategic sourcing, but we were the primary users. With the expanded use of eProcurement, whether Source-to-Pay or Procure-to-Pay, we now find ourselves in the position of selecting procurement software that others in the organization must be satisfied with.
While it might seem that procurement’s experience with selecting software would position us well to do the same for the rest of the organization, it hasn’t always worked out that way. We seem to have an exceptionally high threshold for technology-induced discomfort. ‘Of course it is lousy to use,’ we tell ourselves. ‘It’s not like procurement software has been around for decades. The first wave of adopters always has to deal with the rough edges of their technology.’
There are several problems with this mindset. The first is that procurement software is hardly new anymore. The fact that our technology doesn’t go all the way back to the mainframe computing era doesn’t mean we get to consider it new forever. The other problem with this mindset is that it causes us to have low usability expectations – and having low standards about how intuitive our software is causes us to fall out of alignment with our end users, who have much higher expectations. Not only is their cooperation required for us to be successful, users have a way of deciding how they feel about procurement based on what they think of procurement software.
Procurement software should pave the way for our other efforts by demonstrating ease of use and delivering high levels of customer service. The last thing anyone in procurement wants is to have to use our hard won internal capital to ‘sell’ people on non-intuitive solutions. You can be as high placed an executive as you like, but if you can’t connect with what users want and need it is all for naught.
It is time for procurement to start demanding the kind of user experience we want to deliver to our internal customers. Our interactions with technology should involve the same give and take that we’ve come of appreciate in consumer electronics.
Consider how the user experience impacts productivity and results.
The whole purpose of investing in the desired user experience is to get people to use your technology. The experience is designed to draw them in, not just for the sake of getting increased usage, but for the results derived from their usage of the software.
Experience and productivity are balanced when procurement software is designed by people who understand how it will function in the real world and the mindset of the eventual users. They need to think like procurement professionals and buyers to understand the relative merit of each component of functionality while still prioritizing the design elements that draw people in and keep them coming back in the future.
In addition to ensuring that the procurement software gets used, the user experience can support efforts to improve buying habits and processes. Steps that are clearly and smoothly part of using procurement software become embedded in the thinking of the users over time. When the user experience intuitively leads buyers through an item or service selection process, they learn to make better cost/benefit tradeoff decisions. When supplier pricing and performance information are seamlessly combined, procurement enhances their understanding of how the supply base comes together to keep the operation working. When technology matches how actual processes work, both satisfaction and results are improved.
Leverage the user experience to promote adoption and compliance beyond procurement.
While the user experience is important, value is lost if technology does not promote the desired behaviors. Even when there is an end to end solution in place (either Source-to-Pay or Procure-to-Pay) there are inherent stress points where software is susceptible to the sensitivity of user preferences. If it is too inconvenient – or too passive - buyers will work around the technology, completely defeating procurement’s reason for implementing it in the first place.
Procurement technology is most vulnerable at points where the users are not in procurement and when there are easy workarounds, such as corporate purchasing cards. Procurement needs to identify those process points and make additional investments in the software supporting those usage points if high levels of adoption and compliance are to be achieved.
This is where the user experience must take into consideration both the depth and breadth of procurement software. End to end coverage is important, but if it is achieved at the expense of point performance, users will be satisfied with their experience but procurement will not prevent compliance gaps or savings leakage.
The ‘human ergonomics’ of the procurement user experience must be effective for frequent and infrequent users as well as for heavily versus rarely used functionality. The cleverest technology is used by consumers on a personal level long before it makes its way into the corporate space. Even when there is no overlap of providers from the B2C space or application of specific consumer functionality, increased technology expectations expand the effective imagination of people using technology of any kind.
Procurement needs to update the technology we use today, but we also need to increase the rate of progress in the future so that procurement technology keeps pace with user expectations – ours as well as our internal stakeholders and suppliers.
The success of any technology depends on how easy it is to implement and use. A software with powerful, comprehensive functionality but complex and difficult to use can rarely drive the expected efficiency and business results. Smart by GEP is pioneering example of what the user experience in the latest generation of procurement software can be.
SMART by GEP is as powerful and capability rich as it is easy to use. Powerful, complex, fully functional procurement software that is as any consumer product, with an intuitive, attractive interface and a rewarding user experience.