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So why can't eProcurement in business be like online shopping at home?

by Owen Inglis Humphrey

When I first came across the subject of eProcurement back in the late 90s it was in an age where the internet was still a new phenomena.  Children of the day still wanted to spend their days hanging out in the shopping malls, or going around to friends’ houses.  Music was still something that came on round plastic discs and people actually talked to each other, face to face.  Working in a manufacturing and engineering business I can still remember the shelves full of paper catalogues.

It was a time of having to reach for the requisition pad to start the lengthy process of collecting signatures before, eventually, someone, somewhere would actually speak to a supplier.  Throughout the process the paper would slowly be filled with bits of information telling of where the products would actually come from, where they should go, and importantly where the money was going to come to pay for it.

Then along came on-line shopping, the revolution that swept through the houses where you could (virtually) wonder through any shop you wanted, whenever you wanted, even dressed in little more than pyjamas.  You could choose what you wanted, see details, order and pay for it without leaving the warmth of your bed.  Then a few days later a parcel would arrive and all would be well with the world.

Within businesses we started to hear about opportunities that were going to be available to us as members of staff to do the same thing, to be able to concentrate on the business and that, at the touch of a button bureaucracy would be eradicated. So what happened?  For some seemingly unknown set of reasons the simplicity of on-line shopping never really translated to simplicity in the business environment although some solution providers are starting to making moves in the right direction.

In my experience the reasons are actually fairly straight forward

– processes are invariably written by the folk that ran them before eProcurement

– there is a lack of trust, whether implicit or explicit, intended or subconscious, between an organisation and it’s staff

– buying in business setting is subtly different from buying at home

Over the following series of articles I’ll go into the reasons in a bit more detail but throughout would ask you to keep one thing in mind – it doesn’t have to be so difficult!

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