We’ll now examine how new intelligence technologies and automation methods like robotic process automation (RPA) help global companies reduce inefficiencies, make employees happier, cut manual tasks, and streamline the entire source-to-pay process.
To learn more about the role and impact of automation in business-to-business (B2B) finance, please welcome Michael Tokarz, Senior Director of Source to Pay Processes and Systems at McKesson, in Alpharetta, Georgia. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: There’s never been a better time to bring efficiency and intelligence to end-to-end, source-to-pay processes. What is it about the latest technologies and processes that provides a step-change improvement?
Tokarz: Our internal customers are asking us to move faster and engage deeper in our supplier conversations. By procuring intelligently, we are able to shift where resources are allocated so that we can better support our internal costumers.
Gardner: Is there a sense of urgency here? If you don’t do this, and others do, is there a competitive disadvantage?
Tokarz: There’s a strategic advantage to first-movers. It allows you to set the standard within an industry and provide greater feedback and value to your internal customers.
Gardner: There are some major trends driving this. As far as new automation and the use of artificial intelligence (AI), why are they so important?
The AI advantage
Tokarz: AI is important for a couple of reasons. Number one, we want to process transactions as cost-effectively as we possibly can. Leveraging a “bot” to do that, versus a human, is strategically advantageous to us. It allows us to write protocols that process automatically without any human touch, which, in turn is extremely valuable to the organization.
AI also allows workers to change their value-quotient within the organization. You can go from someone doing manual processes to working at a much higher level for the organization. They now work on things that are change-driven and that bring much more value, which is really important to the organization.
Gardner: What do you mean by bots? Is that the same as robotic process automation (RPA), or they overlapping? What’s the relationship?
Tokarz: I consider them the same technology, RPA and bots. It’s essentially a computer algorithm that’s written to help process transactions that meet a certain set of circumstances.
Gardner: E-sourcing technology is also a big trend and an enabler these days. Why is it important to you, particularly across your supplier base?
Tokarz: E-sourcing helps us drive conversations internally in the organization. It forces the businesses to pause. Everyone’s always in a hurry, and when they’re in a hurry they want to get something published for the organization and out on the street. Having the e-sourcing tool forces people to think about what they really need from the marketplace and to structure it in a format so that they can actually go faster.
E-Sourcing, while you have to do a little bit of work on the front end, you enable the speed of the transaction on the back end because you have everything aligned from all of the suppliers in one central place, so that you can easily compare and make solid business decisions.
Gardner: Another important thing for large organizations like McKesson is the ability to extend and scale globally. Rather than region-by-region there is standardization. Why is that important?
Tokarz: First and foremost, getting to one technology across the board allows us to have a global standard. And what does a global standard mean? It doesn’t mean that we’re going to do the same things the same way in every country. But it gives us a common platform to build our processes on.
It gives us a way to unify our organization so that we can have more informed conversations within the organization. It becomes really important when you begin managing global relationships with large suppliers.
Gardner: Tell us about McKesson and your role within vendor operations and management.
Tokarz: McKesson is a global provider of healthcare solutions — from pharmaceuticals to medical supplies to services. We’re mainly in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
I’m responsible for indirect sourcing here in the United States, but I also oversee the global implementations of solutions in Ireland, Europe, and Canada in the near future. Currently in the United States, we process about $1.6 billion in direct transactions. That’s more than 60,000 transactions on our SAP Ariba system. We also leverage other vendor management solutions to help us process our services transactions.
Gardner: A lot of people like you are interested in becoming touchless – of leveraging automation, streamlining processes, and using data to apply analytics and create virtuous adoption cycles. How might others benefit from your example of using bots and why that works well for you?
Bots increase business
Tokarz: The first thing we did was leverage SAP Ariba Guided Buying. We also then reformatted our internal website to put Guided Buying forefront for all of our end users. We actually tag it for novice users because Guided Buying works similar to a tablet interface. It gives you smart icons that you can tap to begin and make decisions for your organization. It now drives purchasing behavior.
The next thing we did is push as much buying through catalogs and indirect spend that we possibly could. We’ve implemented enough catalogs in the United States that we now have 80 percent of our transactions fully automated through catalogs. It provides people really nice visual cues and point-and-click accessibility. Some of my end users tell me they can find what they need within three minutes, and then they can go about their day, which is really powerful. Instead of focusing on buying or purchasing, it allows them to do their jobs, their specialty, which brings more value to the organization.
We use the RPA and bot technology to take the entire organization to the next level. We’re always striving to get to 90 touchless transactions. If we are at 80 percent, that means an additional 50 percent reduction in the touch transactions that we’re currently processing, which is very significant.
The last thing we’ve done is taken it to the next level. We use the RPA and bot technology to take the entire organization to the next level. We’re always striving to get to 90 percent touchless transactions. If we are at 80 percent, that means an additional 50 percent reduction in the touch transactions that we’re currently processing, which is very significant.
That has allowed me to refocus some of my efforts with my business process outsourcing (BPO) providers where they’re not having to touch the transactions. I can have them instead focus on acquisitions, integrations, and doing different work that might have been at a cost increase. This all saves me money from an operations standpoint.
Gardner: And we all know how important user experience is — and also adoption. Sometimes you can bring a horse to water and they don’t necessarily drink.
So it seems to me that there is a double-benefit here. If you have a good interface like Guided Buying, using that as a front end, that can improve user satisfaction and therefore adoption. But by also using bots and automation, you are taking away the rote, manual processes and thereby making life more exciting. Tell us about any cultural and human capital management benefits.
Smarts, speed, and singular focus
Tokarz: It allows my procurement team to focus differently. Before they were focused on the transactions in the queue and how fast to get them processed, all to keep the internal customers happy. Now I have a bot that processes that three times a day, it looks at the queue, and so we don’t have to worry about those any more. The team is only watching the bot to make sure it isn’t kicking out any errors.
From an acquisition integration standpoint, when I need to add suppliers to the network I don’t have to go for a change request to my management team and request more money. I can operate within the original budget with my BPO providers. If there’s another 300 suppliers that I need added to the network, for example, I can process them more effectively and efficiently.
Gardner: What have been some challenges with establishing the e-sourcing technology? What have you had to overcome to make e-sourcing more prevalent and to get as digital as possible?
Tokarz: Anytime I begin working on a project, I focus not only on the technology component, but also the process, organization, and policy components. I try to focus on all of them.
So first, we hired someone to manage the e-sourcing via an e-sourcing administrator role. It becomes really important. We have a single point of contact. Everyone knows where to go within the organization to make things happen as people learn the technology, and what the technology is actually capable of. Instead of having to train 50 people, I have one expert that can help guide them through the process.
From a policy standpoint, we’ve also taken the policies and dictated that. People are supposed to be leveraging the technology. We all know that not all policies are adhered to, but it sets the right framework for discussion internally. We can now go to a category manager and access the right technology to do the jobs better, faster, cheaper.
As a result, you have a more intriguing job versus doing administrative work, which ultimately leads to more value to the organization. They’re acting more as a business consultant to our internal customers to drive value — not just about price but on how to create value using innovations, new technology, and new solutions in the marketplace.
To me, it’s not just about the technology — it’s about developing the ecosystem of the organization.
Gardner: Is there anything about Guided Buying and the added intelligence that helps with e-sourcing – of getting the right information to the right person in the right format at the right time?
Seamless satisfaction for employee
Tokarz: The beautiful thing about Guided Buying is it’s seamless. People don’t know how the application works and that they are using SAP Ariba. It’s interesting. They see Guided Buying and they don’t realize it’s basically a looking glass into the architecture that is SAP Ariba behind the scenes.
That helps with transparency for them to understand what they are buying and get to it as quickly as possible. It allows them to process a transaction via a really nice, simple checkout screen. Everyone knows what it costs, and it just routes seamlessly across the organization.
Gardner: So what do you get when you do e-sourcing right? Are there any metrics or impacts that you can point to such as savings, efficiencies, employee satisfaction?
The biggest impact is employee satisfaction. Instead of having a category manager working in Microsoft Outlook, sending e-mails to 30 different suppliers on a particular event, they have a simple dashboard where they can combine all of the answers and push all of that information out seamlessly across all the participants.
Tokarz: The biggest impact is employee satisfaction. Instead of having a category manager working in Microsoft Outlook, sending e-mails to 30 different suppliers on a particular event, they have a simple dashboard where they can combine all of the answers, or questions, and develop all of the answers and push all of that information out seamlessly across all the participants. Instead of working administratively, they’re working strategically with internal customers. They are asking the hard questions about how to solve business problems at hand and creating value for the organization.
Gardner: Let’s dig deeper into the need for extensibility for globalization. To me this includes seeking a balance between the best of centralized and the best of distributed. You can take advantage of regional particulars, but also leverage and exploit the repeatability and standard methods of centralization.
What have you been doing in procurement using SAP Ariba that helps get to that balance?
Global insights grow success
Tokarz: We’re in the process of rolling out SAP Ariba globally. We have different regions, and they all have different requirements. What we’ve learned is that our EMEA region wants to do some things differently than we were doing them. It forces us to answer the question, “Why were we doing things the way we were doing them, and should we be changing? Are their insights valuable?”
We learned that their insights are valuable, whether it be the partners that they are working with, from an integration standpoint, or the people on the ground. They have valuable insights. We’re beginning to work with our Canadian colleagues as well, and they’ve done a tremendous amount of work around change management. We want to capitalize on that, and we want to leverage it. We want to learn so that we can be better here in the United States at how we implement our systems.
Gardner: Let’s look to the future. What would you like to see improved, not only in terms of the technology but the way the procurement is going? Do you see more AI, ML, and bots progressing in terms of their contribution to your success?
Tokarz: The bots’ technology is really interesting, and I think it’s going to change pretty dramatically the way we work. It’s going to take a lot of the manual work that we do in processing transactions and it’s going to alleviate that.
And it’s not just about the transactions. You can leverage the bot technology or RPA technology to do manual work and then just have people do the audit. You’re eliminating three to five hours’ worth of work so that the workers can go focus their time on higher value-add.
For my organization, I’d like us to extend the utilization of the solutions that we currently own. I think we can do a better job of rolling out the technology broadly across the organization and leverage key features to make our business more powerful.
Gardner: We have been hearing quite a bit from SAP Ariba and SAP at-large about integrating more business applications and data sets to find process efficiencies across different types of spend and getting a better view of total spend. Does that fit into your future vision?
Tokarz: Yes, it does. Data is really important. It’s a huge initiative at McKesson. We have teams that are specifically focused on data and integrating the data so that we can have meaningful information to make more broad decisions. They can be made not by, “Hey, I think I have the right knowledge.” Instead insights are based on the concrete details that guide you to making smart business decisions.
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