Procurement practices have undergone an evolution over the past two decades. Where once large organization structures spread out the category work and focused largely on goods, today’s procurement focuses increasingly on services. SaaS plays a huge role in this shift, both directly - such as the increase in need to buy SaaS software - or indirectly, through advancements in procurement technology and platforms.
While the old ways of large-scale category management don’t fit the modern procurement model, the benefits of strong procurement leadership remain.
In this month’s Vendr Fireside Chat, we had the pleasure of speaking to a procurement leader who (literally) wrote the book on the evolution of the industry.
Dr. Elouise Epstein is a Partner at Kearney and the author of Trade wars, pandemics, and chaos: How digital procurement enables business success in a disordered world. She is also a procurement and supply chain expert with over 20 years of experience in the space. Over that time, Dr. Epstein has emerged as a strong advocate for the industry, and a self-described “provocative figure” championing excellence in procurement practices.
Dr. Epstein’s current work focuses on advancing procurement practices from the C-suite down, facing the challenges of supply chain strain and economic hurdles, and embracing the automated future of procurement now emerging. She shared some of her best insights and observations of the state of Procurement, the makings of great sourcing leaders, and her vision for the future of the stakeholder purchasing experience:
The proliferation of SaaS software has had the biggest impact on procurement practices in the last 30 years. At one time, purchasing focused on on-premise licenses and hardware in a standardized “three bids and a buy” approach to procuring goods.
“Back in the day, you’d build out a complex matrix of procurement organizations with category managers. You’d have a leader for IT, Software, Network, Hardware, Cells & Telecom.”
Those purchases have been replaced by a growing tech stack of cloud-based apps and services. The old-school procurement management process doesn’t translate nearly as well to this new model of buying. While the category leader rationale was meant to create buying experts who niched into a specialty, in practice, it resulted in siloed information and inertia.
“What we found is they were inefficient, none had the data they needed… and weren’t adding to the value of the organization.”
Now with the explosion of SaaS spend, things move differently. And while the game has changed, in Epstein’s estimation many of the players have not. This old-school approach can put procurement in the way of innovation.
"I have a bias against procurement being in the middle. What value are you adding to the transaction? The answer is not much. You want to engineer it so that transaction is seamless to the end user.”
Those strict procurement controls in turn led to some of the most common issues with the tech stack: shadow IT, unmanaged tail spend, and rogue, unchecked purchasing. Again, it comes down to human nature. “If an engineer wants Snowflake, why should procurement get in the middle?”
This is where Epstein sees software taking a larger role in the procurement process. She envisions a process where a chatbot (for instance, integrated through Teams or Slack) can communicate with a new school of procurement platform and create a seamless experience for the stakeholder.
The experience would be somewhat on the line of travel procurement, where you research, book, and (for the stakeholder) the rest of the transaction happens in the background. The platform could enforce any procurement guidelines or price ceilings, allowing the stakeholder more freedom to serve themselves and get the tools they need.
For many years, procurement was focused on one thing: how do you bring down the bottom line. However, focusing exclusively on one golden metric of cost savings can actually leave a lot of money on the table.
As Epstein points out, “Anyone who studies history or human behavior knows that a single metric — or even a couple of quantitative metrics — is a recipe for failure.”
Doing so elicits a certain type of behavior from your teams, which may not drive the best outcomes.
Instead, Dr. Epstein encourages procurement leaders to think about what they add to the organization as much as what they save. A better metric to use as a Northstar, says Epstein, is revenue, with the better approach being to turn your cost centers into profit centers where you can.
“Cost savings is the minimum. That’s what’s expected. How are you going to move the needle on ESG? How are you going to move the needle on innovation? Increasingly, the really good CPOs are taking revenue targets.”
Yes, SaaS spend management is an important part of the game plan. But surfacing those opportunities to save requires companies to have reliable data. It’s a component Epstein sees lacking far too often.
“Right now most companies have historical data but it’s not very good. There are some clients that can tell you with good precision, but by and large, most companies struggle just to get the IT spend categorized.”
This is especially true of IT spend, which often comprises a large portion of the budget.
This lack of visibility makes it difficult to understand your spend or engage in effective cost-saving measures. Ineffective vendor management strategies (AKA, the dreaded spreadsheet) are often the root cause. Often, companies don’t reach out to get their house in order until a deadline looms.
“When something comes up… they reach out to consultants or companies that have benchmarks and might actually conduct market research. It’s all still very nascent and haphazard.” Epstein cites this lack of data as one of the biggest gaps facing procurement right now.
Procurement has gone through growing pains over the last two decades. Where technology holds the promise of bringing procurement into harmony with the larger org, CPOs must recognize the need for change in order to harness it. What’s needed, says Epstein, is for the industry to champion advancement in the same way that happens for other departments (for instance, Finance).
“I think procurement has struggled. There was a huge momentum in the early 2000s and then we fell back to earth.” Epstein says this lack of forward motion has resulted in flagging performance from procurement leaders.
All is not lost, however. Through the advancement of procurement and its marriage with better technology, the strength of this C-suite underdog is beginning to emerge. “We’re seeing the shift, going back up to very strong leaders coming in.”
Those who are actively looking to forward their career and advance the strength of procurement in business shouldn’t be going it alone. When looking for resources and opportunities, she says, look to your network. That's where you'll find like-minded professionals to build valuable connections and improve your understanding of the complex sourcing and supply chain ecosystem.
If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Elouise Epstein and her work, you can read more about her work here.
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At DPW Amsterdam 2022, Vendr talked with Head of Procurement Michelle Vita to cover procurement automation, agility, and ways to empower stakeholders. Check out the highlights.
With the explosion of SaaS, staying ahead of SaaS Procurement and ensuring a lean tech stack has never been more challenging. Procurement professionals work daily to tame the “SaaS vortex” and ensure they maintain value as they add complexity and license volume to the stack. This has forced an evolution in Procurement and new approaches for professionals managing the software buying process.
Michelle Vita is well-versed in this evolution. As a procurement professional with over a decade of building procurement processes for business, Michelle’s career has evolved from traditional procurement roles in private real estate development to high-tech roles in real estate technology and SaaS. Most recently, Michelle took the reins as Head of Procurement for cloud-scale monitoring and security firm Datadog.
At the recent Digital Procurement World conference, Michelle took the time to sit down with Vendr’s KR Barron to talk about taming the SaaS vortex and building a supportive, sustainable procurement practice for Datadog. She shared her insights on team-building, growing an agile organization, and empowering your stakeholders.
We’ve captured the highlights from the session below.
Michelle has spent three and a half years at Datadog evolving the Procurement team from a “department of one” into a thriving, progressive team with operational and strategic mandates.
During that time, she’s come to believe the heart of a progressive, strategic Procurement function is its people.
“There are two types of Procurement personas now,” she explains.
“Classic, traditional procurement professionals, with a 7-step process, etc. Then there’s the new procurement professional. They’re more strategic and agile, more a jack-of-all-trades. The industry, in general, is evolving toward this model.”
These young, powerful professionals and the explosion of SaaS have brought about this new breed of procurement professionals.
These new professionals are also changing the way their stakeholders think about SaaS. They’re empowering employees to negotiate on behalf of their company to buy the right tools, with the perspective of “buying as if you were the owner of the company.”
Michelle describes her own team at Datadog in these terms. Her first hire came by way of an internal candidate who already understood the procurement process from the stakeholder perspective. Michelle described this agile-focused colleague as “one of the best hires I’ve ever had.” This versatility has allowed them to grow with the team, take on new projects, and execute effectively.
Since that first hire, Procurement at Datadog has evolved into a two-pronged department, with members focused on both operations and strategy. The team includes progressive-thinking procurement and contracts experts who leverage technology to educate stakeholders, create good policy, and create a seat at the table for Procurement.
The economic uncertainty of 2022 has ushered in a more measured approach to buying than in previous years. Even as SaaS has become more challenging to optimize, being strategic about your business cases and volume has a positive impact on the software budget.
Where once the rationale was to buy “as many licenses as we can move into someday,” Michelle and Datadog stick to a strategic, “buy as you go” license approach that helps the team save money and be more conservative. Having licenses waiting on the shelf for someday “is money that goes to waste.”
The temptation is to buy the number of licenses you’ll need for a future date, incentivized by the perceived savings of a volume discount. But, “taking advantage of a discount isn’t good if they’re just sitting on a shelf unused,” reminds Michelle.
Instead, the team has become more focused on getting the licenses they need for the current team. Procurement has also focused on the best management of those tools, performing license audits, and ensuring proper utilization. They’ve also gotten more strategic about tier levels. Datadog assigns top-tier licenses for some power users and viewer licenses for others that are cheaper.
When faced with a lack of resources—be it budget, headcount, or data— Procurement is tasked with applying agility to the procurement process. Michelle is always on the lookout for places to reduce human activity.
“I’m a huge supporter of relieving the team of administrative burdens that don’t add value.”
To do this, the Procurement team looks at the end-to-end process, identifies those processes taking up human touch and time, and automates them.
The team has turned once onerous processes into touchless processes that reduce friction in day-to-day operations. For instance, vendor follow-ups used to take up considerable time for the team. Now, those processes are controlled by Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Bots now perform a follow-up workflow for outstanding items, allowing procurement to focus on higher-level tasks.
“Agility is important, but also [means] working with our partners, establishing relationships, and using them to grow.”
The contract process also slowed down internal progress, so the team found ways to reduce friction and remove human intervention from the process. By integrating their contract system with an e-signature tool, they can move contracts for review to Legal automatically, collect signatures, and speed up the contract execution process.
Agility relies on partnerships, so as part of the legal contracts automation, the Procurement team worked with vendors to use internal paper for contracts. Using an internal template that is acceptable to vendors gives the legal team more control over the review process and speeds up the time to completion.
Stakeholder education plays a huge role in creating a collaborative, functional relationship between procurement and the larger organization. The key, says Michelle, is to empower stakeholders with just the information they need to execute.
The Datadog team invested time and resources in ensuring stakeholders had what they needed to learn the ropes. While the company had some resources in place, “Sometimes you need resources for various types of people since everyone learns differently.”
The road to better stakeholder education started with a conversation. “We gathered stakeholder feedback from a survey on our processes.” The team issued an anonymous survey asking users to give their feedback about the purchasing process and the resources available to them.
“Training kept coming up and coming up.”
The team realized that even though resources were out there, the onboarding of those resources could be improved. “Our internal team feedback… kept coming up that people were starting [at the company] and not watching the videos.” Those conversations allowed the Procurement team to identify the issues and develop a plan.
Automation has a part to play in the empowerment process, as well. “We wanted to empower stakeholders to do things that don’t require procurement touch.” To help stakeholders gain confidence in buying on behalf of the company, Michelle and the team implemented a guided help service for users.
Modeled on the “Clippy” office assistant featured in Microsoft Office, the procurement assistant program sits on top of the Procurement system, providing helpful pop-ups for users as they engage with the UI and perform routine tasks. If the user gets stuck or needs assistance, the assistant robot guides them through the process with a “click here” approach. This allows stakeholders to self-service needs without relying on procurement team members directly.
Ideas such as these allow Procurement to remove itself from the areas where it doesn’t add value while still maintaining agility for the wider team. From there, they can develop stronger relationships between departments, gain a strategic seat at the table, and ensure that once they have that position, they can deliver value.
For more tips on driving an enablement, people-first approach in your Procurement practices, take the advice of Sören Petsch, Head of Procurement at CommerceHub.
After all, “If Procurement is the Cost Savings Department, we break the trust of our internal stakeholders all the time.”
A software procurement project plan optimizes the way you buy software in support of a project. Learn more about developing a solid software procurement plan.
Launching a new project is a multi-faceted process. Managing the flow of RFPs, purchase orders, and procurement documents require a comprehensive understanding of the process and commitment from all team members.
Software procurement should be a priority in any successful procurement plan. A significant portion of your project procurement might involve changes and additions to the tech stack throughout the project schedule. Managing this complexity within the procurement management plan can greatly improve the cost efficiency of your project, but how can you accomplish it successfully?
Today we’ll discuss using a procurement project plan methodology to control your SaaS buying in large-scale projects. We’ll cover the steps you should take in planning for and purchasing software, what you should include in your plan, and costly issues to avoid when planning software purchases as part of your procurement activities for the project.
A procurement management plan is a strategy for getting goods from outside vendors and suppliers in support of a project. Procurement management is one component of project management and follows a specific process for ensuring the right goods are delivered for the project, at the best price, under the right terms, at the right time.
A procurement management plan outlines all the goods and services needed and lays out a process and timeline for acquiring them. It also intersects with the budgeting process of the project to ensure software buying doesn’t overrun the total planned cost.
The more detail you bring to a software procurement project plan, the better your outcomes. When building a plan to buy SaaS software in support of a project, your procurement team should include the following information:
Establish the total software needs of the project, including categories such as:
For every app, outline the number of users and variety of user types necessary to aid productivity and optimize spending. Consider the percentage of time users will spend interacting with the software, and whether subscription or usage-based pricing might be advantageous. Consider the length of contracts necessary to fulfill the needs of the project objectives without spending money on orphaned tech products after their useful window within the project.
When managing a large-scale or multi-year project, it’s important to manage apps and services, sunsetting those no longer needed in order to avoid excess software costs. Setting up contract management for your software ensures that licenses don't auto-renew beyond their expected useful life.
Follow these steps to establish a strong, optimal software procurement plan for your next project:
Before you procure goods for a project, you must know — in detail — everything needed to bring the project to completion. So the first step in the development process is to thoughtfully outline the comprehensive list of tools and services needed throughout the contract schedule. This may include materials, services, and software. The list should be as comprehensive as possible.
Understand and outline the contract terms and conditions each supplier must meet. This could encompass departmental prerequisites, estimated cost, payment terms, contract type (for instance, annual subscription, usage-based billing, etc.), and other important components of the agreement. These contract terms will be used to negotiate for sourced goods.
Outline the potential project and contract risks to the degree they can be foreseen. Establish plans vendor risk management and establish protocols for evaluating and resolving risk issues. Evaluate the potential for third-party risks to your tech stack and where possible use proven, pre-vetted suppliers to meet contract needs. Consider the project impact of delays or inadequate contract compliance when looking at suppliers and assessing risk.
Establish the costs associated with procuring necessary equipment, services, and software during the project. Begin collecting information for an RFI, RFP, or RFQ process to satisfy the needs of the project. Consider using beneficial procurement techniques such as strategic sourcing, prequalified vendor lists, or e-procurement. Establish pricing benchmarks and standard pricing where practicable.
Consider any project constraints (time, execution, financial, or supply chain-related) that could impact the future feasibility or execution of the project. As with risk management, establish contingency plans for any likely blocking issues and consider the cost of enacting these plans as part of the project budget.
Gain approval of preliminary plans from departmental stakeholders. Evaluate the project bids and include necessary stakeholders in the decision-making process. Including all relevant stakeholders de-siloes spending and contractual data and ensures all parties begin the project with full visibility into the process. Consider a decision criteria matrix to help evaluate bidders objectively and efficiently.
Projects with considerable third-party procurement needs require a vendor management plan in order to maintain high visibility, track performance metrics, optimize cost, and ensure continuity in procurement and delivery. This is especially important for software, where a single project can still generate dozens of contracts representing hundreds of users and considerable budget allocation. Consider using a vendor management platform to ensure the smooth operation of your project technical stack.
Software procurement is a team sport. Involving your full project team in the process early will ensure a smooth implementation and optimal outcomes when purchasing software.
Getting early approval for estimated budgets makes the planning and negotiation process far easier. When included early in the process, finance can guide pricing discussions, provide competitive pricing data, and collaborate on negotiation.
Understanding how procured software will fit into the larger software structure can inform your request for proposal (RFP) process, and ensure any security requirements are considered prior to negotiations and implementation. IT may also be able to assist with supplier evaluation based on its knowledge of the company’s total technology portfolio.
Your legal team is ultimately responsible for the strength of agreements it executes. Therefore, involve Legal early in the process to ensure any negotiations integrate any legal prerequisites. Additionally, identify the Legal team contact responsible for the contract review and approval process, and integrate them into the workflow to ensure they have the capacity for upcoming legal review.
Moving too fast or cutting corners during software buying mistakes can have costly and consequential long-term effects. Avoid these three common software procurement issues:
The inclination to move quickly on software agreements can be a costly and frustrating mistake in the long term. Ensure that each software purchase gets the competitive analysis and evaluation process it deserves. This results in better pricing and lowers the potential for third-party risk.
Depending on the tool and the type of contract, underestimating usage and feature needs can result in software costs that far exceed the planned software budget. When establishing needs in the early stages of a procurement project, consider outlier scenarios that could drive up cost. Be sure to address these in the course of the negotiation. A general rule: you should never be penalized for becoming a better customer.
Tech stacks are complex and evolutionary. When establishing a procurement project plan, start your software procurement on the right foot by setting up deals in a software management platform. This ensures active monitoring and lifecycle management for licenses and usage, compliance with contract terms and SLAs, and ample research time at renewal. It enables a robust and continuous vendor performance process.
Vendr helps companies of all sizes to streamline and clarify their SaaS buying process. Using procurement software as part of your procurement management plan can give your organization the visibility and real-time reporting features it needs to successfully manage services, ensure strong relationships with project partners, and maintain budget optimization while delivering the software necessary to ensure project success.
A sound procurement strategy ensures a company stays profitable by getting the most return on its resources. Here’s how to implement an action plan.
Many moving parts come together to form a procurement strategy that upholds profitability. According to a recent Deloitte survey, reducing costs is top of mind for 76 percent of chief operating officers.
Accordingly, it’s critical that procurement teams get clear on their objectives, how they can lower operational costs, and what new, low-cost initiatives to execute to consistently hit KPIs.
Below, we go through the ins and outs of procurement, what it takes to create and apply a strategy, and how to ensure it’s contributing to your business’ bottom line.
Procurement is the process of purchasing goods and services, including software, necessary to run company operations. It’s also the practice of effectively managing resources to ensure a company gets the most value for its spending strategy.
There are many business goals under the procurement umbrella that ultimately lead to the same result: cost savings. Procurement initiatives like risk management, optimizing budget allocation, streamlining supply chain timelines, and even running different types of spend analysis are all strategies to keep a company lean yet competitive.
Additional procurement goals include:
Strategic procurement can include many business motions designed to keep company spending low while increasing value.
Three of the most important overarching categories in a sound procurement strategy are cost reduction, risk management, and quality control.
Cost reduction: Motions like vendor development, supplier optimization, global sourcing, tail spend analysis, and determining contract ROI are all direct efforts to reduce company costs.
Risk management: Risk reduction strategies like supplier optimization, supply chain management, green purchasing, and product lifecycle forecasting are procurement strategies designed to mitigate risk and streamline operations with the fewest errors or setbacks possible.
Quality control: Supplier risk scorecards, KPIs and metrics, and supplier compliance audits are built to handle quality control. Quality control processes are necessary for companies to ensure goods and services are delivered according to purchase order terms and procurement policies.
Every business is tasked with designing a procurement strategy that considers its objectives and methodologies. With the help of software, businesses can ensure smoother procurement workflows, access permission configurations, and centralize key purchasing and vendor data to make meeting desired goals easier.
Vendr can help build the SaaS procurement process you’ve always dreamed of. Learn more.
Establishing a procurement strategy requires planning and documenting before it can effectively be enforced. This way, procurement teams have clear guidelines to inform decision-making, determine how best to deal with vendors, and ensure best practices are applied.
A general procurement strategy framework is made up of—
MixPanel, a business analytics service company, established a procurement strategy that allowed them visibility into resource allocation so it could streamline its purchasing workflow. Their goals were to spend less time negotiating SaaS contracts, to shorten their procurement cycle, and to reduce unnecessary payments.
With their strategy, they quickened the SaaS acquisition process, stopped duplicate spending and overpayments, and shortened their process timeline by 75 percent. By implementing a procurement strategy, MixPanel’s procurement process went from three months to three weeks.
Check out the video below to learn more about MixPanel’s procurement journey.
If you’re creating your first procurement strategy, follow these steps:
Begin by drafting a procurement strategy statement from the ground up. Consider outlining benchmarks, procurement practices, business objectives, tools you’ll need, and your action plan to meet and possibly even exceed your procurement goals.
Outlining a procurement strategy may take weeks or months. Involving key company stakeholders ensures you’re covering your bases and getting visibility into the needs of each company department.
Today’s data-driven world requires speed, automation, and ease of use. Thankfully, there’s plenty of procurement software built to help companies create, enforce, and run their procurement strategy.
Without a digital procurement solution, companies run the risk of committing costly human errors, losing track of who owns which procurement initiatives, and having a harder time analyzing data to draw valuable insights.
Procurement software accelerates the SaaS procurement process from beginning to end. If you're buying or renewing software, a service and platform like Vendr can share valuable insights to make this process easier.
Procurement software will allow you to:
As you vet procurement software, it's critical to ensure it can scale with your company and that it’s customizable enough to mold to your existing procurement policy and its workflows.
What’s your company’s current spend culture? Is there a lot of maverick spending procurement teams aren’t managing? Can you get third-party data to conduct market analyses?
Knowing where you currently stand is necessary to improve your current procurement numbers. Data sprawl can quickly get out of control and become siloed without any efforts to centralize it. Without relevant purchasing data, it becomes harder to implement a procurement strategy that’ll lower spend, account for maverick spending, and uncover spend leakage and overspending.
Running a comprehensive operational data analysis requires gathering, organizing, and categorizing data in one platform. This takes gathering spending data from internal stakeholders, like managerial leadership, and external parties, like vendors. Centralizing data ensures accuracy and visibility, and it enables businesses to arrange and track historical data as it is added.
With a data-driven procurement strategy at the helm, determining clear business objectives becomes easier.
Here are a few examples of procurement objectives:
Data-driven decision-making requires data and analytics tools that add visibility into a company’s spending patterns. Along with different types of spend analysis, procurement teams can use data to accurately determine how well their efforts are paying off.
As you make decisions about vendor relationships, contract management, total cost of ownership (TCO), or even maverick spending, use different types of data analyses that provide relevant insights.
Contract spend analysis: Contract spend analysis draws insights from more granular data like individual item purchases. Once purchases are matched with corresponding departments, it’s easier for procurement teams to point out recurring purchases, maverick spending, or overspending patterns.
Payment terms spend analysis: This analysis helps teams use data to pinpoint vendor discounts that aren’t being used. For example, an internal invoice management system that automates payment processes and quickens transactions can be leveraged to lower expenses via early payment discounts.
Tail spend analysis: Tail spend is notorious for being an area where companies tend to overspend. A tail spend analysis looks at smaller purchases, like office supplies, to see where additional costs can be cut. Tail spend analyses enable procurement teams to manage spend leakage and control spending patterns with updated company policies.
Category spend analysis: One effective way to control overspending is to run a category analysis. Category analyses give teams insight on which categories use the majority of resources, which categories to consolidate, and where to improve sourcing strategies to uncover new savings opportunities.
Supplier spend analysis: Analyzing supplier transactions is critical to improving vendor relationships. When teams create a list of their top supplier contracts based on their cost-effectiveness, the data can point them to supplier relationships that need special attention or a better negotiation strategy.
Working closely with your finance, procurement, or IT teams, Vendr is a connected source of truth that companies can leverage to reach their business objectives. Vendr works closely with your team to create or optimize your ideal purchasing process so finance leaders can be in the loop on every dollar spent and get the fairest price available.
With Vendr, every step of the buying experience is tracked and accounted for. Once integrated with your existing system, Vendr ports in data from all connected sources so teams have one unified view of key SaaS buying and management data.
Learn how much you could save on SaaS with Vendr’s free savings analysis.