Building a Successful Remote Procurement Process

How COVID-19 Impacts Procurement

As the challenges of COVID-19 continue to make its impact around the world, supply chain and procurement teams face new and uncertain challenges of their own. According to a recent survey from the Institute for Supply Management®, nearly 75% of companies surveyed report “supply chain disruptions in some capacity due to coronavirus-related transportation restrictions, and more than 80% believe that their organization will experience some impact because of COVID-19 disruptions.” 

The sudden transition to remote work for all business departments is challenging for all companies. Your teams, vendors, and customers are all experiencing change and frustration right now. Not to mention yourself! As a procurement leader, it’s critical to ensure people stay safe, empowered, and stress-free as operational processes shift across the board.

As we’ve stated before, we believe that procurement teams can mitigate the worst effects of a recession on their broader organizations. With the right strategy, a business can even gain market share and profitability, while some CPOs see downturns as procurement's "time to shine."

“The importance of digital transformation has always been understood, but until now, we haven’t seen it in action quite so clearly. Organizations further along in their transformation have fared well as they are being forced into remote work environments, while others are playing catch up quickly. It is essential for procurement to focus on becoming agile and digital to ensure continued success through the pandemic”
Laura Gibbons, Senior Director of Research, Procurement Advisory, The Hackett Group

How do remote procurement teams work effectively from home?

Teams can successfully weather the storm and use this transition as an opportunity to improve their processes and transition to an e-procurement system. These are four essential components we believe will help any procurement team successfully transition to remote work.

4 Ways Procurement Teams Can Successfully Transition to Remote Work

We’ll cover these components below and provide ideas for questions that may help procurement teams continue to move the business forward.

1. New Remote Processes for Procurement Teams

Building the right e-procurement process steps start with identifying the potential challenges associated with working from home, which include:

But, every challenge offers opportunities to improve what was done at the company before.

“By using digital technologies and safe personnel practices to lock down key components of your procurement strategy now, you can protect yourself against the more serious disruptions that might be coming your way”
Peter Daisyme, Cofounder, Hostt

First, start from the beginning with identifying the crucial requirements your company needs during a pandemic. Develop new e-procurement steps in the cycle that are immediately impacted. With entire workforces working from home, procurement needs may also change.

How to identify key procurement priorities for times of uncertainty

Questions to ask yourself

  • What necessary supplies and materials do we need in the short-term and the long-term?
  • Which of my vendors are essential services to me? Can we defer any of our contracts, payments, or services?
  • What recurring spend (such as office expenditures) do I have automatically set up with my vendors?
  • What are my options to pause and reschedule this spend once operations return to normal?
  • What’s our budget? As noted in our Control in a Crisis guide, many organizations will adjust spending and budgets. This has a direct influence on procurement, as you may need to find alternate suppliers to meet your needs.
  • Which suppliers are going out of business, have put production on hold, or have switched their production to serve the pandemic and no longer offer the product you usually buy from them?
  • What suppliers do I have the most pricing risk with?
  • Do I need to purchase any supplies in bulk?
  • How will travel and transportation restrictions impact the delivery of what we need?
  • Are my lead times different than before?
  • Am I considered an essential service? If yes, do I need to apply for expedited shipping or preferred delivery?

As you run through these questions, timeliness is crucial.  The rate at which you can successfully adopt remote work functions have a significant impact on the business. Whenever possible, speed up the purchasing of remote equipment for employees such as laptops and monitors, and prioritize the development of new processes.

It may also be more difficult for remote teams to make business decisions around spend when people are distributed and working asynchronously. Ensure approvers and decision-makers have insights into actual spend and budgets so they can have full visibility when deciding what essential goods and services are needed during a crisis. Developing communication policies that work for everybody on the team ensures that people can be reached when needed. We’ll cover this in section three of this guide.

ProCURIFY Tip:

Don’t forget that full visibility into real-time budget tracking is available in Procurify. See what portion of your budget has already been spent, and what is left. Understanding your budgets in real time will help your team make more informed decisions and lead to better budget management.

Digital supplier identification, negotiation, and selection

After identifying the critical requirements, the normal step that follows is the authorization and creation of a purchase order. For Procurify users, these e-procurement steps can all be done remotely in our system.

Next up: the search for appropriate suppliers. Your process may consist of a formal process for inquiries or a formal RFP. After receiving quotations and proposals, steps may include a vendor review, negotiation, and final selection of the vendor.

ProCURIFY Tip:

Remind users to upload all vendor documents to their purchase request in Procurify. It’s easy to do remotely: simply upload a file, or take a photo of any document. This will help approvers make strategic business and spend decisions while giving the procurement team the information needed to make smart vendor choices.

Reach out to preferred suppliers to understand how they have been impacted and what has changed in their supply process. Timelines should be top of mind. Many companies are operating with less team members than before, and this will impact their delivery and service times. If your company relies on goods to be delivered on time, be proactive.

“The suppliers you normally work with are most likely experiencing their own challenges as well.”
Mackenzie Oakley, Content coordinator, Una

It’s important to ask yourself strategic questions before heading into any vendor conversation.

Questions to ask yourself

  • If I cannot rely on my previous vendors, how do I find new suppliers?
  • Are there industry and category risks I should keep in mind?
  • How can I quickly qualify new suppliers?
  • How can I perform assurance and quality checks with new suppliers if in-person visits are restricted?
  • What risks impact the supplier’s ability to produce and deliver goods on time?
  • Can I diversify my risk by working with different suppliers?
  • Will demand for this material increase? How can I decrease pricing fluctuations that may be coming soon?

If you’d like to test and quality check materials before committing to a purchase, ask to receive the goods at your home if the items are small and manageable. Although government postal services and private courier companies are still operating during the lockdown, delivery schedules are taking longer than usual, so allow for more time to receive the goods. 

According to Spend Matters, “depending on the category, order a few, send them to your staff working at home that would be representative users, and let them test them, inspect them and beat on them.” If the goods are not appropriate to receive at home, request to receive the goods at a work location on a specific day and at a particular time so you can prepare appropriately.

Remember to inquire about online catalogs so you can incorporate these into your procurement workflow. This quickly removes any guesswork in pricing and speeds up the process.

ProCURIFY Tip:

Don’t forget users can bundle catalog items together to streamline the ordering process for requesters. Pre-populated information saves everybody time. Looking for other ways to save time? Procurify CheckOut is a tool that uses a Google Chrome extension to connect you with the catalog on a vendor's website and allows you to order items directly from a vendor's website.  Our PunchOut integrations also allow for the purchasing of supplies through intermediary purchasing systems, such as Amazon.

Schedule online video meetings to run through the questions above before making a selection. As Spend Matters suggests, “...with all this data, you can easily have a meaningful discussion over a web video conferencing platform and compose a counter-negotiation through a modern cloud-based contract management or document management platform.” When it’s time to finalize contracts, use a collaboration tool to work through redlines and use the esignature systems we recommend below to sign final agreements.

There will be shifts in how you manage your vendor relationships, but there’s a silver lining. As vendors and companies learn how to work remotely, submit and receive digital quotes, evaluate proposals, and manage contracts online, the process becomes more and more fluid, automated, and efficient.

Receiving goods as a remote procurement team

After selecting the right vendor, the purchase order and approval workflow can continue seamlessly through Procurify. Some vendors may send an advanced shipment notice at this stage through email. As soon as you receive a notification, it’s time to start planning for the safe receipt of goods. The receipt of physical goods will always require the presence of someone from your company. There are a few different ways to do this strategically, safely, and efficiently depending on the category.

In any scenario, remember to:

  • Reset delivery expectations. In times of crisis, everything takes longer to ship. Keep documents such as Proof of Receipts and Bills of Lading in Procurify.
  • Keep team members safe. If delivery of the goods occurs during a health pandemic like COVID-19, ensure that everybody receiving goods has access to safety equipment such as sanitizer, cleaning products, and protective equipment such as face shields and gloves.
  • Formalize protocols and train everyone appropriately. Everyone should feel comfortable knowing how much physical distance is required. Give employees tape measures so they can create markings on the ground of two meters. Always keep up to date with the latest hygiene practices from the CDC. Communicate any changes as quickly as possible to all employees.

After the receipt of goods, the procurement process can follow the typical flow in Procurify.

Pro Tip:

Procurify’s functionality allows for an item’s invoice to be matched to its purchase order and packing slip so you can be confident that you have been billed correctly. No surprises.

While running new workflows, remember to:

2. The Best Tools for Remote Procurement Team

Invest in the right equipment. Support people with the right supplies. As outlined in our Remote Work Guide Template, ensure people have all the necessary equipment and materials to execute basic duties at home. Refer to section 2 for a list of recommended items.

Use team collaboration platforms. If your team still uses email as the primary platform for communication, we recommend that you move to an instant communications system, such as Slack. Reliance on email is risky, especially when people work in separate locations. Emails end up in a long queue to be read and answered. Sending emails with approval requests will likely be missed. Procurious shares five ways Slack adds value to procurement teams, including improved collaboration and better documentation integrations.

Switch to electronic agreements. Move your entire agreement process online to finalize vendor contracts. Digital platforms like Adobe Acrobat, DocuSign, and HelloSign help companies say goodbye to manual signatures. Electronic signatures are facilitated on any device.

Review and revise documents on the cloud. Got redlines on the mind? Revise and incorporate contract markups on a shared collaboration platform such as Dropbox or Google Drive. Change requests can be immediately accepted, thereby saving time. What’s more, these documents keep a complete history of every revision and eliminates the need to refer back to paper documents of past changes.

Pro Tip:

Review other recommendations for cloud-based project management systems in our Remote Work Guide Template.

Scan, baby, scan. If copies of vendor contracts are not already scanned and stored digitally, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) systems will likely be your favorite new tool. These recognize text in scanned documents and even convert them to searchable formats. Try Adobe Acrobat, Abbyy FineReader, OmniPage, or another popular OCR tool.

Use video conferencing systems. Regular communication with suppliers is crucial. Relationships can still be built virtually despite physical distancing requirements. Sure, you could do this over the phone, but a video platform allows for a greater connection and allows for better interpretation of tone, context, and body language. Invest in a communications tool such as Zoom, Skype, Whereby, Webex, BlueJeans, or Google Hangouts (which is free) for virtual face-to-face conversations. Ask each vendor what their communications platform of choice is. Even if they request to use Facetime or WhatsApp video chat, be agile and familiarize yourself with all different platforms that your vendors prefer to use.

Pro Tip:

Share your screen during a video chat if you are reviewing a document. Zoom and most other video conferencing tools allow callers to share their screens during a video call. If you need to record a video in advance, try Loom or Vidyard. Both facilitate the recording of a video of your screen, and create shareable links so that you can send to others.

3. Improve Communication Flows

Successful shifts in the procurement processes are dependent on steady, concise, and respectful communication flow within the procurement team and external suppliers.

As discussed in our Work From Home Guide, the most significant challenges with remote work transition arise from inaccessibility to others, delayed feedback, lack of connection, and misinterpretation of written messages.

Communication with suppliers

Maintaining regular contact, asking the right questions, talking to various suppliers, and building honest relationships are a few risk management strategies during the lockdown.

“Communication is critical. Organizations with frequent, transparent supplier relationships see issues farther in advance and can develop innovative approaches to managing the crisis together.”
Laura Gibbons, Senior Director of Research, Procurement Advisory, The Hackett Group

Prioritize regular communication with vendors. Procurement needs and risks change. Stay honest and transparent about your own company too. Build trust, so suppliers feel comfortable keeping you updated with what's happening in their own production and manufacturing process. Prepare for worst-case scenarios. Vendors may increase prices above your budget, or worse, unexpectedly cancel the contract due to their own supply chain and manufacturing issues.

ProCURIFY Tip:

Include notes from vendor conversations into custom fields or notes on the PO for reference. The custom fields are also included in the PO export, so these notes can be used for procurement team reporting or tracking.

Open each conversation with a mindset of collaboration over interrogation. Everyone is trying to navigate the challenges ahead, including your suppliers. This is the perfect opportunity to elevate the relationship, build empathy and goodwill, and create a loyal, meaningful, and human connection. Facilitate safe and transparent discussions, so nobody makes assumptions.

Pro Tip:

Remember to turn on your camera and encourage your vendors to do so as well. This may require some persuasion, but the benefits are worth the extra effort. It’s easier to collaborate when there is a sense of camaraderie, which is easier to build through face-to-face virtual discussions.

Communication with internal teams

Procurement teams are of varying sizes. Your procurement champions may include purchasing analysts, buyers, category managers, purchasing managers, procurement executives, and of course, everybody involved in receivals, approvals, and payments. No matter how big or small your team is, stay aligned by clearly communicating status updates, requests, and blockers.

We recommend you take a look at the best practices in our WFH Guide for tips on how to improve and elevate communication between distributed team members.

When in doubt, over-communicate. There’s nothing worse than receiving an unclear message from a colleague that creates further confusion and leads you to make incorrect assumptions resulting in unproductive work. There’s a difference between:

“Can you send me the analysis?” and

“I’m calling the new supplier at 2 pm to discuss pricing, shipping, and delivery dates. Can you please send me the analysis of the different pricing scenarios by 1 pm so I can explain how shipping and delivery risks will impact our production schedule?”

Slack, Zoom, and the other online tools we recommend above are the best platforms to facilitate timely requests and streamline communication workflows between the team. There are also integrations in these tools that simplify workflows and elevate communication. For instance, Slack’s DailyBot app collects daily status updates from everyone. The Zoom-Slack integration allows anyone to quickly set up a video conferencing meeting by typing in /Zoom.

Pro Tip:

Slack’s integrated video calling tool makes private video chats easy. It even allows for screen sharing and marking up documents through a digital whiteboard.

Procurify Tip:

Don’t forget that Procurify also sends real-time system notifications and mobile alerts to approvers when an order needs to be approved. When procurement and supply chain is impacted by significant factors such as delayed shipping, it’s more important than ever to ensure there are no approval bottlenecks.

Refine the process until it works for your specific culture and requirements. Some procurement teams schedule a daily standup while other groups hold longer meetings at the start of the week, and the end of the week. Understand what works best in your team. Solicit feedback and suggestions for improvement from the others.

4. Build the Right Mindsets

The most challenging part of any new remote process is the difficulty that comes with embracing change and using new digital tools to facilitate a process that was done in different ways before.

“Change management is an integral part of any strategic procurement manager’s job. It ranges in scale from small changes (a change of supplier) to more significant changes such as altering the way goods and services are purchased to a major change such as a software implementation or procurement transformation.”
Kris Lance, Senior Director, Una

Kris believes it is important to manage the potential resistance to change, and provide adequate training, so everybody feels empowered in this new environment. In these situations, it is useful to remind teams of the purpose behind each process, and the benefits that will arise from the remote transformation. This could include:

The adoption of new remote workflows will usually include more steps than previous structures. That's why we also recommend defining concise processes for your team to easily follow, as this will help with mindset adjustments. Explain the purpose behind each change and why your company is implementing this shift.

Document new policies

Resistance can be a product of unclear expectations. When introducing a new technology or new process, clearly define every step of the process to champion people to do their jobs well. Communicate clear cut policies. As we’ve noted before about automated procurement, concise communication on any procurement platform is crucial: “your team should be well versed in communication with stakeholders, suppliers, and other members of the team. These conversations that will ultimately draw up contracts are an integral part of the procurement process.”

Use Google Drive, Dropbox, or one of the project management tools we recommend above to ensure everybody can stay on track and understand the new processes.

Build trust

Some people are scared when they need to adopt new ways of working. Offering a safe space for colleagues to voice their opinions, fears, and ideas will build a sense of trust during the new process. At the same time, managers need to trust their teams in times of crisis.

For instance, parents may need to split their workdays into halves if they are caregiving for children or seniors. Trust that your team will do their job well and ensure communication flows regularly and openly.

“Trust between leaders and team members starts with the leader. You must figure out how to monitor the work output, rather than the work activity.”

See the silver lining

The founders of software company Basecamp, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, have successfully run their entire organization remotely for 20 years. They’ve written best-selling books on how they’ve created a productive remote work culture.

According to Fried, the forced transition to remote work  “...is one of those unlucky, lucky moments when we get a chance to rethink the way we’re working.”

So we encourage you to look at the real opportunities and embrace the advantages. There will be obvious challenges at the beginning, but Procurify believes that remote work can actually improve productivity, performance, engagement, and company profitability.

Encourage your team to find hidden opportunities from this transition. Encourage them to test new solutions and recommend improved ways of working.

The bottom line

Procurement teams will find the transition to working from home challenging at first.

But with new digital tools, revamped processes, improved communication flows, and the right mindsets, procurement teams will soon recognize this is an opportunity to rethink the future of e-procurement.

“Not only can you do the bulk of activity virtually and remotely, but you will find that if you embrace this new normal and a new way of working and start using more of the capabilities of modern S2P tools and platforms, you will actually perform as well or better than doing it the old way”

We hope you enjoyed this guide. Read more work from home tips, strategies on how to stay ahead of a recession, and additional guides on our COVID-19 Resource Center.

Thank you to The Hackett Group and Una for contributing to this guide.

Interested in a digital e-procurement system?

If you’re not using one already, we encourage you to invest in digital spend management software such as Procurify.

‍So, how do you select the right digital procurement solution? There are many options to consider when looking into purchasing automation software. Factors vary, but the two most important considerations for companies should be user-friendliness and cloud readiness.

Why procurement teams use Procurify

Procurify is purchasing software that is intuitive, simple, and fast to set up. From our full implementation to product training to support, we focus on making things easy for procurement teams. Procurify:

One happy Procurify customer, Canal Barge, was able to cut their requisition cycle time down from 29 days to just one day. This process is now 96% percent faster!

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