As my colleague Mike Mitchell pointed out in a previous blog, there is a lot of talk about the notion of user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) lately. Where enterprise business technology is concerned, source-to-pay technology in particular, this quest for improving the UI/UX today is often considered only in the context of what we can see and feel. I even wrote an entire blog series about this as it related to Google’s influence of material design on our platform.
But part of UI/UX, while counterintuitive, is about improved UI/UX as it relates to what is unseen, or what we don’t need to do now. Perhaps the best way to explain this is by analogy; A few years back, I bought a new car that provided me the benefit of keyless entry and start. By way of the chip in the key, I no longer had to physically unlock the car doors or turn the key to start the car. I could now keep my keys in my pocket or on the dash, and simply hit the start button. This has become so second nature for me, I often forget about it. Now I am only reminded when I get to an older car expecting to to do the same, and then realize I actually physically need the keys to get in and start the car.
Process Automation: Forgotten, but not gone.
The evolution of technology highlights the importance of understanding UI/UX in the context of the “forgotten” by way of improvement through process automation. This will only be accelerated by the development of areas like robotics, machine learning and natural language processing. It is more than likely that many, if not most, of the things we do in source to pay today will be completely changed over the next several iterations of innovation. Not only will this translate into a better experience for users, but more efficiency and lower costs.
A recent article by McKinsey touches on this and how emerging technologies can add significant savings to source to pay. It is argued in the article that automating source to pay (i.e. the end-to-end value stream that encompasses all the activities required for an organization to obtain and pay for goods and services from other entities) could reduce spend by up to 3.5 percent through improved compliance, control and efficiency. Moreover, the automation opportunity is the highest in the more transactional parts of the process: 88 percent of tasks in placing and receiving orders can be automated; the figure rises to 93 percent in payment processing.
Release 17.3 and next-generation workflows.
While some of the technologies addressed in the McKinsey report are still in their early stages (i.e., robotic process automation, natural language processing), one that we at Determine have been hyper-focused on is smart workflows. That is, the way of easily linking tasks with well-defined handoffs, particularly those with more complex transactional activities. Here are two examples from the latest release of the Determine Cloud Platform:
Automating Blanket Contracts: One area that often gets overlooked is the ability to create blanket contracts for particular areas of spend such as marketing. Using blanket contracts allows users to cover a wide range of products and services that are identified by the counterparties in a contract. Since this type of spend is usually for a fixed period of time, there is a benefit to skipping the “traditional three-way match” associated with typical purchases.
With improved functionality for managing this type of scenario, Determine users are enabled to create a pre-approved PO that can be sent directly to the supplier. The blanket contract feature allows users with the correct permissions to ignore all approval workflows for requisitions and POs. For this reason, this type of contract is generally only available to a restricted group of users. Moreover, a PO created against a blanket contract is automatically created in an approved status, decreasing the approvals necessary for a typical purchase order workflow.
Automating Blanket POs: Another complex transactions-oriented area is the blanket PO. A preferred method for placing orders that often demands multiple payments over a period of time, blanket purchase orders are commonly issued for standing orders, maintenance/service contracts, and open orders.
On the Determine Cloud Platform, once a requisition is approved within a blanket PO process, a PO is created and sent directly to the supplier. With the PO in place, there is no need to create a receipt for every call-off order attached to the blanket PO. When the invoice is received from the supplier, it just needs to be matched to the blanket PO and the system automatically deducts the invoiced amount from the total amount.
In addition, when a new supplier invoice is entered and submitted for automatic matching and no PO has been selected in the header, the system can check for automatic processing rules. If a rule matching the invoicing company and the supplier exists, the system will automatically set it as a “No-PO” invoice and progress the invoice through the purchasing lifecycle flow.
Get more done by having it done for you.
With procure to pay processes having the most potential for automation, the idea of “forgetting about what you need to do now” resulting from the automation being provided becomes clear. From our perspective, improvements in UI/UX are translated into enabling organizations to skip extra steps. This generally applies to the transactional parts of source to pay that are no longer necessary for managing specific types of categories, including direct products (raw materials, supplies and packaging) or services (marketing, events) because of automation improvements.
For specific industries, such as manufacturing that relies on direct spend, or banking/financial that relies on services, these enhancements can save tremendous amount of time and effort. Just as important, they demonstrate the benefit ROI – of the UI/UX.
Learn more about how to improve transactional automation in these two recent webinars hosted by Determine:
In Part 2 of this series, we will address the more difficult areas of automation in upstream, the less transactional areas, where UI/UX plays a role.