Transforming UX in procurement | Genpact
  • Point of view

Transforming user experience in procurement

How personas, design thinking, and technology can bring more spend under management

Procurement touches every part of a company. Dedicated experts usually manage direct materials, whose focus allows them to develop expertise in using specialized, and sometimes complex, systems. But for indirect purchases, purchase requests can be made by anyone in an organization, most of whom don’t have much experience with the procurement system. If the system is hard to use, it can cause a long list of issues that make external spend-related operating expenses hard to control.

Solving these issues requires taking a step back from the system itself and reflecting on the overall procurement user experience (UX) the organization wants to deliver.

The much-quoted Amazon effect, by which self-service technology enables frictionless online ordering, has heightened employees’ expectations of B2B purchasing systems and driven an increased focus on UX.

The rise of UX in procurement

There are three key factors driving the democratization of tools and systems that can automate the end-to-end procure-to-pay process:

  1. The evolution of tools such as Ariba and Coupa, plus dozens of smaller competitors, accelerating the development of better technology
  2. The changing demographics of the workforce. Most millennials, who now make up 35% of the US workforce (and will make up 75% of it by 2030, according to McKinsey), have grown up with technology. Generation Z, which makes up 11.6% of the US workforce, are true digital natives
  3. The current demand for talent means employee experience has become a crucial factor in recruiting and retaining staff. Procurement systems, which most employees use, need to be intuitive, not frustrating

A positive UX encourages employees to follow the correct processes and frees procurement professionals to focus on more strategic activities.

Improve procurement UX with design thinking

The starting point for improving UX in procurement and bringing more spend under control is to apply design thinking. This means thinking about the use case, the user journey through the digital process, and how the system responds to it. There are three elements to getting this right:

  1. Embracing personas
  2. Developing journey maps
  3. Following the facts

1. Procurement personas

Personas are archetypal users whose goals and characteristics represent the needs of a large group of users. They reveal the behavioral traits, common behaviors, tasks, and interactions of your different users. A persona tells us what motivates or frustrates an individual, what they’re trying to achieve, and their general attitude toward the channel they are using.

Truly understanding a persona involves doing your best to walk a mile in that person’s shoes, asking:

  • What is that person’s motivation?
  • What knowledge and experience do they have?
  • What is their typical day like?
  • What do they care about?
  • Are they mobile, analog, or web oriented?

2. Journey maps

A journey map is a view of the entire process that a persona goes through to complete a task or objective.

A procurement journey map can start from when a user first thinks they need to buy something, all the way through to payment or the use of the product or service. It attempts to expose the process from the user’s perspective by defining the key moments that matter in that process and what is happening during those moments. Specifically, it should highlight where there are gaps in the current technology or deployment of a particular tool, asking:

  • What are those moments that matter?
  • What are the high points?
  • What are the points of friction?
  • What are the points of uncertainty that solutions need to address?
  • How do we better navigate a person through those points?

From a procurement perspective, it can raise questions such as:

  • Have you tried buying something through your organization’s processes?
  • How do users find out which systems to use for purchases?
  • Are policies clearly written and easy to find?
  • Where do requisitions typically get held up?

3. Follow the facts

Creating personas and journey maps may seem straightforward, but doing it properly requires research and fact-based decision-making. This is the hardest part of the process.

As you go through the design thinking process, some key questions to ask include:

  • Do we know which personas are important?
  • What information do we need to truly understand those personas?
  • Are the journey maps we have built reflective of the typical user experience?
  • Do we have enough information to identify the key moments of truth?

Plenty of material exists online to research the methods that facilitate this discovery and investigation. Service providers such as Genpact are useful sources of expertise as well.

Optimize and embrace technology

Often, procurement problems are not caused by the technology itself but by poor underlying data or technology-first implementations. It is crucial to re-evaluate how current systems and tools have been deployed and are being used. Go back to the research stage:

  • Who are your typical users?
  • What do they find especially frustrating?
  • How easy is it to find the products or suppliers they typically use?
  • Is the system designed to optimize the needs of the procurement, finance, or analytics teams at the significant expense of the user experience?

Case study: Category taxonomies

A large retail client asked Genpact to simplify its category taxonomy. It was using about 3,600 categories from the UNSPSCtaxonomy, all of which were presented to a user when creating a requisition. This decision was made by its analytics team, whose goal was to get very granular data to perform detailed analyses. Clearly, this overlooked the human factor. Choosing from so many categories was difficult and time-consuming, even for an expert. For an occasional user who wasn’t motivated to choose the correct taxonomy, the data collected was guaranteed to be inaccurate. This not only frustrated users, but the data provided was also of no use to the analytics team.

There are some key questions you can ask to avoid this scenario:

  • Realistically, what can you expect your average user to know?
  • What motivation do they have to provide accurate data?
  • Are there other ways to achieve your goals aside from putting the ownership back on the end user?

Many technologies now provide a much more intuitive user interface and experience and are key enablers of improving UX. There are two broad categories of technologies to consider: procurement applications and procurement platforms – both of which have their pros and cons.

What we mean by procurement applications are those systems designed specifically to support the procurement function (for example, Coupa, Fieldglass, and Fairmarkit). These applications can elegantly solve specific use cases, such as services procurement or vendor onboarding. But each additional application is an additional user interface for users to learn and use to determine which system is for which specific activity. The UX design needs to take place upfront using the personas and journey maps. These insights can then be built into the selection criteria for the software.

Platforms, on the other hand, are more general-purpose tools that may put power in the hands of the end user but require some design or customization. Examples include ServiceNow and Power BI. These platforms are shifting power closer to the business function, but there is a hidden danger in using these tools. The professional-looking visuals can give the impression that the data is accurate. This isn’t necessarily the case. Previously, if a company invested in technologies to develop slick dashboards, they also typically invested in the data architecture and maintenance to ensure the accuracy of the data behind them. These new technologies fundamentally change that paradigm so that users must consider the sources of data, and procurement departments have a responsibility to manage and disclose this on any applications.

But these platforms provide a significant opportunity to transform UX by:

  • Filling in gaps in the technology landscape, such as for vendor onboarding or requests to the procurement team
  • Providing users with real-time status updates to avoid being perceived as a black hole
  • Improving the guidance provided to end users using AI and other decision support technologies

Experience first, then technology

High-performing procurement organizations leverage UX in the design and selection of their processes and technologies. Their users are more productive, stay at the company for longer, and have more job satisfaction. Plus, these businesses are more profitable. Procurement organizations should think about employees in the same way a marketer thinks about customers. What they measure may be different, but how they solve the problems is not.

The starting point for a better experience needs to be agnostic of technology, focusing instead on the best way for a user to participate in the procurement process. Technology can help accelerate the solution to a business problem, but the solution to a business problem starts with human behavior and interactive design.