• E-Content is King for E-Procurement Success

Opinion

As electronic procurement continues to see the public sector reach for efficiency savings, it is paramount that organisations ensure they are getting the best content possible to enjoy the true added value of a better purchasing process says Peter Robbins.

E-Content is King for E-Procurement Success

In the Net-speed world of modern business, arguably the most important link between an organisation and its suppliers is the ability to peruse and exchange relevant and constantly updated information, or content. Without informative standardised content how can a buyer make a best value judgement call towards a transaction?

Within the e-procurement mantra, high quality content is paramount for efficient product selection, effective user adoption and meaningful analysis, which is where e-procurement solutions add real value through enhanced spend visibility. If data quality is poor and irregular, users will return to the paper office and hard copy catalogues translating to wasted investment and inefficient processes.

With the pressures of efficiency at the forefront of current moves towards electronically managing procurement and its content between parties, it is becoming ever more apparent that implementing technology that offers granular levels of content consistently is very important.

This means rich content far beyond simple electronic 'punch-out' catalogues showing price information of products from individual suppliers. We're talking total aggregation of multiple supplier feeds automatically converted into one standardised format to provide daily updated price, availability, warranty, and even product lifecycle information for thousands of lines all displayed on a product-by-product basis. This is all achievable within one central and secure online procurement hub.

An e-procurement solution that promises hard added value must offer product rich descriptions, images and information that is easy to find through user friendly categorised product menus with minimal abbreviations. Users need to be able to view products instantly on a like-for-like basis to empower them with the knowledge to make a best value purchase decision.

To that end, the solution's content must be regularly updated and consistent in its approach as well as providing a seamless payment process and delivery schedule. Ultimately, dynamic content combined with tightly managed transactional services equals more control of the procurement process to deliver time and money savings through reduced duplication of effort.

As an example, by using Probrand's Marketplace Cheltenham Borough Council has managed to enhance employee job satisfaction and operating efficiency by releasing over a day a week in time that used to be spent calling suppliers to procure IT. This time is now spent on introducing new suppliers to the system and managing its IT system more closely to ensure the organisation is better serving its community. Without such robust, content driven technology that daily lists over 96,000 IT products by best price and availability from mover 1200 vendors, the Council would not have enjoyed a 15% saving on its IT budget.

For the specifier or provider of e-procurement technology, it is undoubtedly a challenge to get it right, but the ability to manage and deliver dynamic content is of supreme importance for an equitable supplier relationship and an efficient purchasing process. It could therefore be considered central to an organisations long term sustainability.

The Aberdeen Group recently published 'The e-Procurement Benchmark Report' and its findings reflect the importance of quality content for e-procurement returns. On average the 150 enterprises surveyed reduced prices by 7.3% - without regularly updated pricing on a like-for-like product basis this is not possible. Requisition-to-order cycles reduced by 66% - not attainable without regularly updated accessible content and a seamless transaction process.

With the importance of content high on the list to make e-procurement savings a reality, the prospect of managing and developing this data in-house on a client server model might appear daunting. The daily conversion of inconsistent supplier data feeds that day-to-day may change format from Excel spreadsheets to Access databases and back again are often the bain of the public sector's life, as iterated at a recent Government IT conference.

Indeed, an outsourced and managed service is considered the preferred route for the very best content in combination with quick deployment as well as service and support on tap all for minimal investment. There is no recruitment and training of technical support staff or purchasing of internal servers. In fact, this type of model exists within the private sector and is tried and tested.

Furthermore, as an outsourced function, specifiers could unlock valuable consultancy support and the potential for customised reporting, analysis and planning functionality. An area that the private sector has developed to a large degree, integrating product databases, workflow and editorial tools to enable content to be stored, retrieved, edited, updated, controlled, and outputted in a variety of ways.

With quality content comes quality reporting and planning. Beyond bottom line savings, this is perhaps the zenith of e-procurement functionality. Like cashflow in a small business, content is king for e-procurement success.

Peter Robbins, Probrand Ltd