October 2nd, 2015

“The Cabin” – A Fable about Data Quality and Procure-to-Pay


Have you heard the old riddle about the cabin in the woods?

It goes like this:  You are alone walking through the woods and you spot a cabin in a clearing up ahead. You are tired, cold and hungry and it is getting dark.   You do not see or hear anyone in the cabin and decide you would be within your rights to show yourself inside and take shelter.  In the fading light you can see:

  1. A stove where you could cook your small ration of food
  2. A fireplace with enough wood to get you through the night
  3. A lamp with enough Kerosene to last until morning.

The problem is that you only have one single match.  So the question becomes – which among all of these things should you light first?

Pause for dramatic effect.

And of course the answer is “the match.”  (Please, no groaning.  I am building to a point, I promise.)  You see, before you can use any of these other devices you need to light the match and then apply that flame to whichever tool you have prioritized as the most critical.  In essence, without the initial spark those other items are never going to operate at their optimal levels.

Perhaps it is a stretch, but I sometimes think about this riddle when I contemplate the Procure-to-Pay cycle.  In many ways, heads of AP and Procurement are like the tired and hungry traveler from this story.  Their P2P environment is like the cabin, but instead of a stove, a fireplace and a lamp – their dwelling is populated by a host of automation initiatives.

Some of the questions that face the different agenda setters in the P2P cabin are: Should you automate payables? Should you put a contract management system in place? Should you implement a spend analytics platform or a supply chain financing portal?  Should you find a sourcing tool? and so on and so forth; the possibilities go on and on and there doesn’t seem to be one definitive answer.

With the rapid escalation of automation options in the last ten years this corner of the enterprise has become a little cloudy in terms of what to do first and how to maximize value from supplier interaction.  In the past several years, many large companies have implemented automation solutions in their P2P environment, and a strong theme has arisen.  There is a lot of value to be generated from all of these technologies, but nothing seems to be completely hitting its potential.

We hear about this theme a lot from larger enterprises that wish they could see more supplier adoption and drive more revenue or savings from their investment.  We especially hear about this from sales reps at the software companies that are selling these solutions.  Think about it… they are the one bearing the brunt; low supplier adoption and reduced transaction volume on their software often means the sales folks are not maximizing their commissions – or the value for their clients.

So what is the problem?  Nobody ever took the time to light the “match.”  And in this case the “match” (or the spark) is the data quality or Supplier Information Management (SIM).    Focus on the data first and then everything will flow from there.  Too often companies will implement a very powerful system like supply chain financing or e-invoicing or spend analytics and they settle for only 20% of suppliers (or transactions) to flow though the software.  This is crazy, and more than that, it’s very costly!  Engaging your supplier data first and then letting that perfect data flow into all of your systems is not only better for your overall operations but this will also dramatically increase the savings or the earnings from your P2P automation initiatives by a magnitude!

In reality this logic is nothing new.  The old saying used to be, “before you can automate any process… you need to optimize that process first.”  Like most things that old saying needs an update, “Before you can automate, you need to optimize, and before you optimize, you need to have quality date populating your system.”

Light the “match” first.  Data quality is the spark that ignites everything else in your P2P cycle.


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September 30th, 2015

An Expert Discussion on Supplier Portals!


Wow… just… wow.

You know how when film critics are talking about movies they say, “If you see only one movie all summer… make sure to watch ‘blah blah blah.’”  Well I have to make the same claim for the Supplier Portal webinar from yesterday.  If you sit through only one webinar all year long, you have to download the “What is a Supplier Portal Anyway?” webinar from Josh Morrison and Mary Schaeffer.

Seriously though, you will not regret it.  The link is right here:  Supplier Portal Webinar

OK, I understand that this webinar was co-presented by a Lavantine, Josh Morrison, and many of you may claim I am just hawking my Lavante bias, but seriously this was a master class in how we should be looking at supplier portals.  What works; what doesn’t; what are the pitfalls of the craze; and what is the upside of actually solving this whole “Supplier Portal” riddle.

I was merely an observer of the webinar.  I sat in for the first couple minutes with the intention of leaving to another meeting, but I couldn’t leave because the material was so good.  Josh, who spent the previous 20 years heading up AP/P2P and Strategic Sourcing for a Fortune 50 company (and he’s a member of frickin’ Mensa!),  and Mary Schaeffer, who runs one of the most highly regarded consultancies in the AP market (if you do not know her work click here) really delivered.  The two presenters struck a perfect balance where Josh laid out the ambitional map (i.e., “these are the new levels of value you can get from a portal“) and Mary outlined the cautionary tales of lagging behind.  (i.e., “adopt a portal solution to gear up for risk and to get ready for the regulations – because they are here, and more are coming.”)

Attendance was great.  We pulled in about 300 folks.  Bam!  (Marketing folks, amirite?)  That tells me the topic was on point.  Only seven attendees dropped off before the end.  That tells me the material was firing on all cylinders and kept the crowd engaged.   Probably the most telling stat was the attendee engagement we saw coming through the chat box.  This was without a doubt the most engaged crowd I have ever seen in a webinar.  We had over 30 attendee comments come in during the presentation.  (Apologies if we did not respond to you comments during the presentation – we will soon)  During the webinar debrief we realized we needed to do a follow up webinar on the comments alone.

Not every comment was of the “thank you, can I have a copy of the slides” variety; we actually saw a little emotion coming through the crowd.  For example one attendee wrote the following, “how do you ‘sell’ the portal to the suppliers?  …we get push back that they’re ‘doing our work’ and that they don’t have time or resources to go into multiple customers’ portals, much less keep track of how each portal is different.”  This is an incredible question and brings up some very important points of concern.  In reality, this question alone sparks a whole other webinar or blog or white paper.  In response to this question, I’d offer that the industry has to settle into a larger market-serving portal strategy.  Yes, the whole market can be instrumental in pushing this forward.  Think about the cell phone network analogy.  Do you remember that only 15 years ago cell phone networks were fragmented and you had to pay more to call into another network?  In more extreme cases you couldn’t even call another network.  Eventually the market demanded the solution to be simplified.  The same thing will eventually happen in the portal space as well (and I know just the firm that is doing it!).

Anyway, not to go too far on a tangent…like I was saying before, I am always impressed when webinar attendees feel welcome enough to challenge the material and pose strong questions or claims.  I feel like this webinar was a winner.  This was a balanced look at a topic that is getting a ton or air play right now and we sent in two of the industry’s best experts to discuss it.  Many people sent glowing remarks, but many others are still wrestling with the material and the mere thought of portals, portals, portals!

I invite every one of you to download and listen (for free) for yourself.  Send any questions and start a dialogue.  This is a fun topic and we are all just getting started!


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September 28th, 2015

What’s in a name? “Clients” versus “Customers”


Last week at the PayStream Innovate Conference in New Orleans, I had the opportunity to sit in on a keynote address given by William M. Cooper, Associate Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer at University of California.   Mr. Cooper is a thriving Procurement leader that has made a career as a change agent going from Read More…

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September 25th, 2015

What I’ve Learned: The True Impact of Supplier Information in P2P


As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information. – Benjamin Disraeli Over the course of the past 15+ years, I have focused my career efforts towards ensuring organizations leverage the best possible information as they manage their procurement, accounts payable, supply chain, and compliance functions. Read More…

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September 22nd, 2015

PayStream Recognizes Lavante with “Excellence Award” for Supplier Information Management!


A huge thank you to Henry Ijams and the entire staff of PayStream Advisors for hosting such a fantastic P2P Summit last week at the InterContinental Hotel in New Orleans’ French Quarter! For those that do not know, PayStream Advisors is one of the premier providers (in the P2P space) of trusted research, in-depth consulting, Read More…

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September 15th, 2015

Preventing Vendor Fraud


There is no getting around the risk of Fraud.  The threat is pervasive in the American workplace where – as my colleague Josh Morrison pointed out in a blog last month – the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimates that fraud costs organizations about 7% of annual revenues.  That’s nearly a Trillion Dollars!  One of Read More…

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September 2nd, 2015

How do Profit Recovery and Supplier Information Management fit together?


How do Profit Recovery and Supplier Information Management fit together? Lavante is the leading provider of on-demand solutions for Profit Recovery and Supplier Information Management (or “SIM”), but until our firm started tying the two products together they had never been united into the same product suite. For Lavante, Profit Recovery and SIM work hand-in-hand Read More…

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August 19th, 2015

Exploring Fraud in the P2P Environment


All Companies Suffer from Fraud Companies of all sizes across all industries are at risk of fraud from internal and external sources.  One asset in particular that suffers significantly from the risk of fraud is the master vendor file.  For most companies, the population of vendors and suppliers is so massive, complex, and multi-faceted that Read More…

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May 22nd, 2015

Conflict Minerals: It’s that time again!


In 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires companies to disclose their use of conflict minerals. Under the Act, those minerals include columbite-tantalite (coltan), casserite, gold, wolframite, tantalum, tin, and tungsten and any other mineral determined by the U.S. Secretary of State. Companies must exercise due diligence on the source and chain of custody of their conflict minerals Read More…

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April 22nd, 2015

Garbage in, Garbage out: The Importance of a Clean VMF


When it comes to eating healthy, one adage stands above all else: “You are what you eat.” As a kid, it manfests as health class trying to preach the virtues of salads right before the lunch room serves you fried chicken and mashed potatoes. As adults, the never ending battle between our taste buds and Read More…

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