4. Up the Amazon without a paddle

This is the fourth in a series of five blogs taking an in-depth look at procurement technology and data. I started by considering the range of procurement technology that is available. This month I compare the customer experience from business to customer (B2C) systems like Amazon to business to business (B2B) or enterprise systems like SAP, Oracle/Ariba and Coupa.

If procurement professionals promise an “Amazon” type experience from their source to contract (S2C) or purchase to pay (P2P) system then they are going to have some disappointed customers. B2C systems look better and are easier to use than P2P systems. But why?

Earlier this year I completed a project to re-launch SAP for a multi-national telecoms company. Improving the user experience was a key part of the P2P scope. Stakeholders said they found the system difficult to navigate and that relevant information was not readily available. Fix the system and we could fix many of the business problems like late payment of suppliers invoices.

With the help of a large technology consultancy, we re-engineered the P2P processes and designed a new user interface (UI) to give a better user experience (UX). To give an example, we simplified the landing page, populated it with frequent tasks like approving requisitions, and created a flashing red bell to alert users when they were required to complete a task.

I’m pleased to say all the work paid off and the UX improved beyond recognition but Amazon it was not! So how did we manage to do such a good job and yet still fail to meet the expectations of many of our stakeholders?

B2C and P2P systems may share many obvious characteristics but there are fundamental differences, namely, the type of items purchased, the regulatory framework and the way the systems are designed.

  • Most B2C systems offer products rather than services. When I searched Amazon for office cleaning services, for example, I was directed to a box set for The Wire, the TV series about a drug and murder investigation in US! With the exception of manufacturing, most businesses purchase more services than products. Furthermore, services are harder to define and deliver. Consequently, P2P systems have to be able to cater for a much more variation and complexity
  • So long as the goods offered on B2C websites comply with relevant consumer legislation (e.g. the Consumer Rights Act 2015 in UK) then no further requirements have to be incorporated. By contrast, businesses have to comply with a wide range of legal and tax regulations which must be built into the system (e.g. general ledger codes are required for financial reporting)
  • Finally, B2C systems are designed to encourage customers to buy, for example, most websites offer to hold your credit card details so it takes just one click to make your purchase. By contract, P2P systems are designed to drive compliance to the company’s policies. One of these policies may be to reduce costs.

Amazon Business was launched in 2015. If it is as successful as the customer offering, then further pressure will be applied to B2B providers. That said, the P2P UX is never going to be as good as “Amazon” because there are so many more requirements to be considered.

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