Effective eProcurement can shift transaction processing to the end users who actually use the purchased goods or services, freeing up supply management personnel for strategic value-creation work and ensuring users see purchasing efficiency gains. So, adoption and acceptance of eProcurement systems by employees, who make purchases, is important to ensure improved organisational effectiveness.
However, although many procurement platforms exist, organisational adoption of eProcurement systems and their impact on organisational performance remains limited to mainly strategic spend categories.
Partly to blame for this, in enterprise software, is that the incentive to build products that users love can often be lost in a drive towards maximising features and minimising cost. Plus, software is typically mandated by management or IT, meaning that end users may not have much involvement in choosing their tools and simply have to use what they are supplied with. Yet, these tools often do not address the Indirect purchases that they need to make. This, needless to say, does not help adoption! And will most likely encourage maverick behaviour or engagement of strategic procurement resources to do the job for the user.
This article focuses on aspects of user adoption and the user experience, in context of procurement systems, relating to the adoption of new systems and processes. Covering factors relating to adoption that are associated with Psychology, IT implementation and Innovation, in context of seven areas that significantly impact on adoption:
- ease of use;
- system usefulness;
- system reliability;
- employee training;
- employee involvement;
- senior management support;
- and eProcurement vendor support
Factors Affecting Adoption
There are many factors that influence the adoption of new systems and processes by individuals and organisations. The following table highlights some key factors by the domains of Psychology, IT Implementation and Innovation:
We will not attempt in this article to dive deeply into the psychology aspects, given that this is a very specialised area. However, anyone who has tried to introduce a new process, system or change into an organisation will know that individual’s positive or negative feelings towards the change are a major factor in whether the project is successful or not.
Affecting these “feelings” towards a new eProcurement process/system and adjusting what might be seen as the normal behaviour associated with procurement is part of the overall transformation challenge.
Relating to the IT Implementation there are additional factors that include perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness, performance expectancy, effort expectancy, vendor support, senior management support, user training and user involvement.
IT Implementation is also affected by the previous experience of users of new systems introduced into an organisation. Poor experience of such implementations will of course impact on any new implementations.
Finally we have Innovation. Here factors are the relative advantage seen by bringing in a new innovative solution, the process compatibility of this innovation when aligned with other processes within an organisation, the complexity of the overall system, the ability to be able to observe the likely impact of the innovation on what I do and the ability to easily trial the solution.
It should be noted, that in context of all of these, that typically within an organisation it is not full time purchasing professionals that will be using the eProcurement system to make Indirect purchases: It is the users throughout the organisation who need to make the purchases. Therefore many of these factors are applying to users throughout the organisation, not to procurement professionals.
Individual Attitude, subjective norms, intention, trust & perceived behaviour control.
An individual’s positive or negative feelings associated with performing the target behaviour. Often in context of what they perceive as normal behaviour and the level of trust they are willing to place in automation.
Perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness, performance expectancy, effort expectancy, facilitating conditions, vendor support, senior management support, user training and user involvement.
Factors that affect why individuals accept information technologies can often be influenced by how these systems are implemented and the effort a user has to put in to get results.
Relative advantage seen, process compatibility, complexity, observability of impact of the innovation and trialability.
How an innovation is viewed by individuals and organisations also affects acceptance. Is it too complex, unlikely to impact what I do or hard to see how I use it?
The remainder of this article focuses on seven areas that will impact on user adoption of eProcurement platforms:
- Ease of use
- System usefulness
- System reliability
- Employee involvement
- Employee training,
- Senior management support
- Support received from the vendor of the eProcurement system
Ease of Use
To be successful, eProcurement systems must provide users with well-designed, friendly interfaces that assist them with procurement. They can be innovative in design, however not at the expense of ease of use.
Probably the most over used term in this context is the word “Intuitive.” I am sure we have all struggled with systems that are billed as having intuitive interfaces!
What does “Intuitive” actually mean in context of a user? If we are going to use the term then we should define it better. Perhaps, through a better definition we can even identify systems that are intuitive.
In this article we will be clear and use Intuitive in the context of the interface being familiar looking and enabling a user to be trained in a way that seems natural to them, with users able to readily adopt a new interaction by achieving the right balance between the familiar and the unique (or innovative.) Familiarity also comes from the process steps and the user purchase journey: for example how well do the steps and the flow through the system align to process steps I have experienced previously.
We use this definition of Intuitive, as it is to be expected that a new eProcurement system is exactly that – new. So, from a user perspective, they are experiencing a system that they have not used before. Intuitive therefore has to be associated with the user interface and process steps being familiar looking, when compared to the current manual processes or other systems a user may have experienced, and that there are obvious and clear paths for a user to start using a system and to experience new interactions.
Part of this familiarity has to come from ease of navigation and the menus associated with navigation. Keeping menus simple and ensuring that the terms used are familiar to those of manual processes or other systems in common use and that information is found in logical places within a menu structure. Sometimes simple is best and from a user perspective a menu tailored for their profile helps significantly (removing erroneous information from their screens.)
Getting users to accept and use the system can also be encouraged through access to branded e-catalogues. E-catalogues for the most frequently purchased items impact significantly on user productivity and improve ease of use by allowing employees to create their purchase orders drawn from that catalogue. Plus, of course, users are very familiar with the concept of online catalogues from personal experience, so the catalogue approach can be said to be Intuitive. Catalogues can also be dynamic, in that they present only the items that the user needs to see – those items they regularly purchase. Plus, allow re-ordering of the same items without having to generate a new form.
Catalogue branding and language is also an important aspect. A strong organisational look and feel of the catalogue is a positive re-enforcement that the system is part of the organisation infrastructure and will encourage adoption. Plus, creating language specific catalogues encourages use in non-English speaking offices.
Also, from a user ease of use perspective, access at any time anywhere is an important criteria for adoption. Hot desking users, or users that visit other offices, need to be able to access the system. The system must provide an easy way of ordering goods and services from any desk or mobile tablet at any time.
Relating to the eProcurement User Interface, there are a number of questions that can be asked about a proposed eProcurement platform:
- Clarity: How easy is it to understand what to do or what each menu item does? Is it unnecessarily complex and full of useless features? Are there clues that indicate what it is going to do, so users don’t have to experiment or deduce the interaction?
- Consistency: Are actions constant across all pages to bolster familiarity and eliminate errors? Does it deliver the expected, predictable results, with no surprises?
- Efficiency: Does the system intuitively understand what actions a user is most likely to make, and is it quick to deliver on those actions? Does it enable users to perform an action with a minimum amount of effort (clicks and data entry) impacting in an obvious way on their productivity? Does it deliver the expected results the first time, so that users don’t have to repeat the action (perhaps with variations) to get what they want?
- Engaging: Is the overall design aesthetically pleasing, or is it likely to turn off visitors and users? Can it be branded? Can users navigate throughout the menus without fear of penalty or unintended consequences, or of getting lost?
- Future-proofed: Will the basic design hold up several years from now?
- Free of distractions: Does it display only the menus and functions that each specific user needs, removing other menu structures? Is information accessed easily and displayed clearly, especially because users often have to make time-sensitive decisions based on the data shown?
- Responsive: Does the User Interface give clear, immediate feedback to indicate that the action is happening, and indicates clearly either a successful or unsuccessful completion?
- Forgiving: If a user makes a mistake, does either the right thing occur anyway or can they undo the action with ease or recover back to a previous step or version?
- Free of frustration: how does the user feel after using the system or process? Emotionally are they satisfied with the interaction and results?
The primary cause of Maverick spend behaviour is procurement processes that are locked into inappropriate systems and dogged by slow sign off processes. What is important to the user in terms of timeline to make a purchase may not be supported by the purchase process itself and for sign off, it is unlikely to be aligned with a senior managers diary, especially if the purchase value is insignificant in terms of their overall budget.
Any new eProcurement system must address this specific issue to encourage user adoption. If I am merely automating what already happens I am likely to fail in this context. To make the system useful it is essential to have quick and easy process flow, or user journey, that adds value to the user and supports automatic sign off for low value items and includes spend limits to avoid unnecessary delay. Where necessary, the process needs to support automatic routing and flagging of purchase orders to appropriate managers for approval.
The focus in promoting an eProcurement solution should not necessarily be on productivity, as this implies a lack of productivity of users and can have negative associations. However, users should experience productivity gains from the use of the eProcurement solution and if it makes it quicker and easier for them to do their job then they are more likely to adopt the platform.
As stated before, acceptance of the system can be encouraged through access to branded e-catalogues. E-catalogues, to a user, represent a useful system in that for the most frequently purchased items they can readily re-order.
The e-catalogue represents a selling power for adoption of an eProcurement system. Users can use the catalogue to promptly and correctly prepare purchase orders and identifying vendors, without always having to search and obtain quotes through manual processes. The catalogue provides a convenient way of fulfilling users purchasing needs and often the need for manual approval processes is removed and automated by the system. The approval element often being cited as a key ease of use factor on new systems, when compared to previous manual processes.
Relating to catalogues and system usefulness, where quotes are required outside of catalogues, for example for non-standard items, the system should support selection of potential vendors and methods to easily generate requests for quotations by the users. Then handle the electronic responses from these vendors in an easily user managed way, without necessarily needing procurement intervention.
Also, process chains that guide users through the stages of a procurement process, from catalogues and ordering through to receipt and invoicing, help the user to understand where they are and where they can find the information they require. The ease with which purchase orders to suppliers can be raised, expense reports obtained and invoices reconciled all affect how useful the system is from a user perspective and will impact on users adoption of the new process and system.
Where system usefulness is the focus, it is important that a user perspective of what is useful is taken. If the system is only looked at from a “use to Procurement perspective”, then it is unlikely that users will see the resultant system as useful.
Reliability drives trust in the system and process. In a manual procurement process, quite often paperwork is misplaced causing great frustration for the users. The new eProcurement system needs to be reliable, in the sense that all the electronic documents prepared by users are protected, can be readily found and can be retrieved with ease whenever they are needed.
Considerable gains can be made in adoption if the eProcurement system operates in a reliable and predictable manner; secures all the information obtained during a purchase process; and allows ease of access to information. It is extremely frustrating when a purchase order is raised and then lost at some stage in the process: all of the work just disappears and it is not retrievable. So users will be excited and engaged when they understand this will not occur with the eProcurement system.
Reliability of the eProcurement system itself also exerts influence on the acceptance of the system, since any system that is unavailable when needed or where you cannot readily find the documents you need just frustrates a user and encourages use of any alternative manual processes.
Another aspect of reliability is associated with repeatability and ensuring that errors are minimised and where they do occur that they are flagged to the user. While it’s not guaranteed, you should expect that a solidly designed user interface will reduce errors, since users will be somewhat familiar with the input fields, if not the intricacies, of the system. Plus, there will be checks made on entries. For example purchase limits set, so orders are in expected ranges, and field completion checks made, so that the user cannot proceed without completing critical information.
So, reliability is not just about the system up time. It also encompasses aspects of repeatability and ensuring that the process itself is reliable and not prone to errors being made.
Learning about a new system and process is an important step in adoption. Training of users cannot be overlooked for current and any new employees joining the organisation. Investing time in creating specific and useful training for users is important, so that they accept the system and use the system.
Basic training for all users is essential and use of Super Users throughout the organisation ensures wider adoption: these super users can help and guide new users on the relevant processes and on the eProcurement system functions that relate to their role. Most importantly, this approach introduces new users to local knowledgeable users. Who better to introduce you to features that matter to you than people who live and breathe the same successes and issues you experience at the local level.
A well-designed User Interface makes it easier to train users on the new system, since they’re already subconsciously familiar with the general layout. Consider how you use a new mobile device: It’s almost second nature, now, to move around and find what you need. How many of you resort to a manual or go on a training course for your mobile device? You use it without even thinking about it. That’s intuitive User Interface design.
Intuitive designed User Interfaces make a major difference to training requirements. Allowing an approach of basic familiarisation to be used with new users, as opposed to in-depth training on every menu item and screen. Once you are familiar with one aspect of the system you can readily explore other areas of the system.
We encourage our customers to have a training instance of the software, where users can freely explore the system and take actions in a protected environment. This builds user confidence and avoids any concerns they may have that they could “break” the system: a concern of many users when faced with something new. User profiles allow this training instance to be tailored specific to the user’s login.
Resistance to change is an aspect of any change process: or put more simply, whenever you introduce something new people always head in the opposite direction.
To avoid this, involvement of users (and especially super users) in the system prior to it going live is a good approach. Encouraging feedback and discussions on the system configuration and process flow. Basically this gives users a sense of ownership.
It is fundamental that you recognise that users are not procurement professionals and will be reluctant to change their current work habit of preparing purchase orders. As such, it is important that you work on a strategy that will cultivate this sense of ownership of the eProcurement system in the minds of the user.
Seek active user participation by eliciting information on how they would like the eProcurement system to work for them. A user centric bottom-up engagement to ensure that the system is embraced by the users and that the process flow will actually work for the users.
This development of a sense of ownership of the system will in turn help generate positive feelings towards the system and users will promote use to other users.
Senior management support
Similarly to the word “intuitive” this term is often over used. What does it actually mean when you are told that a change in process and system has senior management support?
For example, one would assume that if a company is spending money introducing a new system that it does have some level of senior management support!
So perhaps, on the financial side, we could say that Senior Management support means that sufficient budget has been allocate to ensure success of the project.
Secondly, senior management support, should mean a focus of their time and resources in ensuring that the project runs smoothly. In this context, the senior management would include users direct line management, as well as any IT or Procurement focus on success.
Management support (and engagement) from the user’s management is fundamental. To implement a successful supply management transformation, cross-functional management support is essential for success.
Typically, to ensure support across the organisation, it is necessary to have common goals relating to the changes proposed. Setting these goals from the outset is important. Plus, the communication of these goals to the users will encourage their support for the project.
Of course to implement across all areas of a business and all domains of spend may not be the best approach for a new eProcurement system for larger organisations. Focusing on management support for a specific category, say for example Marketing Spend, and working with this department’s management and users, to introduce the new eProcurement system and related processes, might be a better approach. Perhaps, initially focusing on a specific office or country level. This could then be extended to other geographies, departments and categories.
Note: cloud based systems support this roll out approach to new systems more effectively than software that has to be installed per user or site.
Support received from the vendor
You might imagine that this is a given. Surely if a vendor sold the eProcurement system then they will support the system and there will be no issues with adoption within the organisation associated with the vendor?
I am sure, however, that you have experienced many different levels of support associated with purchases that you have made: from high touch through to no touch at all support.
It is not being suggested here that high touch is necessary from a vendor to encourage adoption within your organisation. In fact if high touch support is necessary, then perhaps questions need to be asked about usability and/or reliability of the system, which will directly impact the adoption of the platform.
So what should be considered in terms of vendor support to assist with the adoption of the new eProcurement system? In this context we are only including the vendor impact post the decision to proceed with the project, excluding for example presales, discovery work and demonstrations that will have encouraged adoption.
The three domains of support to consider for adoption impact, post the decision to proceed, are implementation, training and ongoing support and SLAs.
Ultimately, your organisation is responsible for the success or failure of the implementation, not the vendor supplying the eProcurement platform. However, the vendor knows the system and will have experience of previous implementations. They are your trusted advisor in this context and should, as part of the discovery process and ultimate offer to you, have included appropriate resources to support the implementation. Their advice in this regard will ensure a smooth implementation and that will impact directly on adoption rates. A trusted and engaged supplier, involved in the implementation planning process, will build trust in the system itself.
We discussed training earlier in the article, so we will not revisit it here. However, in context of vendor support, it is important to realise that adequate training options are important from a user perspective. If they want to learn about a specific area of functionality how do they go about this. If they have access to the means, then they will adopt that specific functionality and use it. Note: this may be delivered by the vendor, through online training or help systems or by the Super Users within an organisation.
Ongoing support and SLAs
There are two aspects here where the vendor can impact. Firstly through the system itself and the way the help menus perform from a user perspective: if they guide and provide useful information that truly does help the user then the user will be more engaged with the system.
Secondly, the vendor response times to any issues that are raised will impact on the users and how they see the overall performance and support that the system provides to their daily activity. Here, consideration also needs to be given for internal to the organisation support responses to users: often issues can be related to login difficulties and permissions or to the internal processes as a whole, where the eProcurement platform is a component of an overall process flow that may need support. It is therefore very important, from an adoption perspective, to ensure that the overall support picture has been considered and how internal organisational resources will support the users.
Relating to support, the approach of using Super Users throughout an organisation will help local users and ensure that they are engaged to use the system: any user related issues associated with how to use a feature or a feature not working as the user expected can be addressed at the local level by these Super Users.
Introducing eProcurement systems is important to improve effectiveness of internal procurement related operations, especially in context of Indirect Spend where automation is essential for efficient operation. However, mere introduction of the system itself does not translate into automatic acceptance by users.
This article has discussed factors that are associated with users acceptance and adoption of eProcurement systems, that include system usefulness, ease of use, system reliability, employee training, employee involvement, senior management support and the support received from the vendor of the eProcurement system.
For all of these factors we have discussed how they impact on adoption and ways to ensure the smooth introduction of an eProcurement platform.
If you would like to understand more about Claritum and how our eProcurement solution addresses issues of adoption then please visit our website at www.claritum.com