As is very frequently cited, the housing sector needs to deliver more with less, yet without impacting the quality of services to tenants. One’s thoughts therefore turn to the back office and how can you drive both bottom line and efficiency savings while still delivering a quality service.
Enabling controlled and accountable buying, removing paper and manual processes, and having the ability to forensically analyse your spending will enable the quick wins that the housing sector needs to be focused on until 2020.
So what have you been waiting for?
The majority of e-procurement and e-marketplace solutions are cloud-based, so that the reliance on ICT resources or knowledge to implement or support such a solution is minimised. And being cloud-based means you can embrace both centralised and field-based working by those that need to access the solution via just a simple internet connection.
Integration with the main ERP solutions for the sector generally comes as standard either for an e-marketplace or a wider e-procurement solution, meaning that you don’t need to spend money on creating or maintaining bespoke integrations and can leverage the solutions you already have.
Having a supplier engagement model that allows you to engage with suppliers of all sizes and complexity is now something that can be achieved with the right support from your provider.
Supplier on-boarding is a key factor and having technology that supports you through this process to make it as painless as possible for both buyers and suppliers now accelerates the time to value for housing providers.
Being able to trade with your suppliers, large and small, via the same platform also gives efficiencies around areas such as electronic trading with e-invoicing and solutions to suit all sizes and technology capabilities (XML, PO Flip, PDF / XML, etc).
Ease of use
Ideally, you want to be able to roll something out that requires very little (if any) end-user training and encourages your users to purchase via the contracted route, giving you more visibility over spending on categories, contracts and suppliers as well as driving compliance.
An easy-to-use search facility is key but features, such as the ability to very quickly filter by price, pack size, category and supplier, will also help users navigate quickly to what they need and not source via alternative methods. Advanced e-marketplace solutions offering the ability to easily compare products is also a feature to look out for so you can help users make informed buying decisions.
Not everything fits in a catalogue
There are some things that your users will need to order that just don’t fit well in a traditional catalogue. Advanced solutions can now offer you the ability to capture more complex areas of spending, such as plant/skip hire and estate services, as well as all of the standard catalogue items, such as furniture, office supplies, equipment hire and electrical. Now you can capture more spending information and again realise more value and savings from an integrated solution.
To punchout or not punchout?
There are some very good reasons for having ‘punchout’ facilities directly from the e-marketplace (typically using the .cif data format). For example, where items are highly configurable (e.g. IT equipment) or where real-time stock updates are needed.
When e-marketplaces just become a series of punchouts, then their ease-of-use suffers because end-users have to navigate different websites and the ability to compare across suppliers becomes much more difficult, so that end-users tend to go for what they find first rather than looking across the available suppliers.
An e-marketplace that can provide the right mix of supplier- and buyer-managed catalogues and provide punchout where needed can accelerate both the initial savings and drive longer-term efficiencies.
Analyse that spend!
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is now becoming mainstream and integrated into spending analytics solutions to help you organise, validate and categorise large volumes of potentially disparate data sets. This would allow a housing provider, in as little as six weeks, to have a forensic view of their supplier profiles and spending, thereby identifying potential areas of spending consolidation, immediate savings and also alerting them to potential risks around supplier engagements.
Richard Porter is the business development manager for Science Warehouse.