21st December, 2012
As the year draws to a close, the question is – did 2012 deliver? Of course, as with many things, the answer depends a lot on who’s asking – and perhaps predictably the ultimate answer can only be one of yes...and no. Take the cloud for example. At the start of the year there was a lot of optimism around how the cloud was going to revolutionise B2B communications, and although to some extent it has, overall the uptake has been slower than predicted - mostly because of confusion over its application and concern over pricing structure and security.
However, that it’s an enabling force for change across the P2P space can’t be argued. One of the major benefits of cloud technology lies in its democratic nature – ie, most organisations can take advantage of the kind of benefits previously only available to larger enterprises. With the economy still struggling and likely to continue to do so for several years to come, SMEs will continue to be interested in the kinds of benefits and savings automation can bring, and the cloud makes this accessible for them.
On top of this, one of the biggest trends in 2012 has been an increase in the number of organisations centralising processes - something which has risen to around 60% in the UK this year. In itself this move has the capacity to leverage dramatic cost savings and increase visibility across an organisation. Couple this with rising levels of automation, and the trend towards building a repository of “big data” becomes compelling - a situation which is amplified in the large shared service centres.
The move to a more collaborative working culture doesn’t just stop with centralising processes – but will increasingly include a blurring of the lines between departmental functions. As Stefan Foreyszewski, OB10 Founder and SVP, says “despite an historic focus on AP, we’re finding that there’s a growing input from Procurement. As owners of the supplier relationship – they are the ones who can influence the drive towards greater automation and the benefits it provides.” Organisations are able to see where technology can take them – and what may once have been viewed as an essentially limited AP solution, can now be leveraged to directly influence the bottom line. As Stefan explained; “With banks reluctant to lend and with organisations not paying suppliers on time, solutions like OB10’s Express Payments, which offer suppliers faster payments in return for negotiated discounts, allow organisations to leverage cash along the supply chain.”
In fact, in the case of OB10, that’s where the recent collaboration with Coupa Software comes in. Combining Coupa’s integrated cloud-based procure-to-pay solution with OB10’s functionality and strong compliance footprint across 42 countries, the partnership offers organisations a complete end-to-end solution – perfect for those looking to maximise efficiency, savings and visibility. As Roger Goulart, VP Business Development at Coupa explained; “It’s simple, together we can reduce friction on the supplier side and help organisations get spend under control with an easy to use solution which is tight on compliance and regulations. Ultimately, organisations don’t care who or how – they just want a solution that works, and that’s what we provide.” Roger went on to say that one of the trends in 2012 that’s likely to increase in 2013 – is the growth in solutions which, at least on the face (or dashboard) of it, replicate the experience of B2C transactions.
And this is important because, as a new generation enters into the workplace, that’s exactly the kind of solution they’ll be familiar with, look for and expect. And once something becomes easy to use, the tipping point for e-invoicing and other automation technology will be breached. At this stage, and we’re not there yet, organisations will go one step further – and make straight though processing with zero manual intervention a reality. With a growing awareness amongst legislators in Europe of the benefits of automation solutions and the European commission becoming more proactive in their support of e-invoicing, it’s becoming seen as an essential element in driving cost savings in global blue chip transactions.
So for 2013 – we’re likely to see an increase in job titles like “Global Process Owner” or “Head of P2P” as organisations stop operating in the silos of the past, and wake up to the benefits of a more collaborative method of working and recognise the strength of the data flowing from their more harmonised processes. In some cases it’s likely that the metric rich data will be a by-product of an e-invoicing implementation for eg, but in the years ahead – the outcome is likely to be the driver. As Stefan says; “More and more organisations are talking about “outcomes” and how to get there, especially the big BPO guys.”
Big data is where the future lies. AP is not just paying bills, AR is not just getting paid and Procurement is not just buying things. Our world is about to get a lot more interesting. Organisations can chose to shy away from it, or embrace it – but organisations have to ask themselves – (assuming they’re not reading War and Peace..), how much can you learn from a piece of paper?