Can you outline why your team embarked on this project and the problem that needed to be solved?
Our Sourcing team members continually look for ways to improve processes and knew that time was being wasted emailing documents back and forth at the beginning of the engagement process for new deals. Version control for these documents had also become an issue. Additionally, business partners were constantly asking for status updates regarding their deals/contracts, wanting to know what progress had been made. These interruptions took approximately 10 mins each for the Sourcing Manager (SM) to research and provide a response and they typically occurred two to four times per day. As a result, for 30 SMs, approximately 75 manhours per week were spent on these inquiries. Because of this, an opportunity to centralize and automate the initial engagement process as well as develop a Contract Status Tracking tool was explored with the goal to remove administrative burden, increase capacity for more strategic, value-add work, and enhance the customer experience. It was then determined that a low-cost option was available involving Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The reason this was low-cost is because members of the Sourcing team had recently received training, gained RPA experience, and formed a department-wide Center of Excellence to assist other groups with automating manual, repetitive tasks. Therefore, the technology and subject matter expertise existed within the group allowing the RPA solutions to be fully designed and developed by Sourcing, with minimal IT involvement (mainly assisted with cybersecurity) and no external consulting necessary.
How were things done originally and what was the inspiration to innovate the process?
Prior to automating the Sourcing engagement process, a Business Partner (BP) looking to hire a third-party supplier had to first contact someone in Sourcing to determine which SM they should be working with (based on the category of the supplier to be engaged). The SM would then send the BP a document containing the information needed to begin an engagement. Once that form was filled out (typically after several back and forth conversations), it had to be emailed back to the SM. The SM would then manually enter the data from the form in to our contract management system. Since these forms were often missing information, the SM would then have to contact the BP to ask for any remaining information that may have been overlooked. Once all data was entered, the SM would then be able to initiate their Sourcing strategy and work towards creating a contract.
As for tracking the status of a contract, BPs would have to contact their SM and ask for updates. There was no online system that they could access in order to see progress and/or major milestones completed.
Both processes described were inefficient and administratively burdensome. Knowing this inspired our team to innovate and we were ultimately able to make substantial improvements.
What KPIs did you use to measure success for this project? (For example: performance, customer satisfaction, revenue, sales or relevant financial gains?)
Outcomes were measured based on feedback from BP surveys, SM feedback/surveys, and usage metrics for the online Sourcing Engagement Form (SEF) and the Contract Status Tracker. In addition, we utilized Tableau to connect to our SEF data and create a dashboard to monitor bot activity, cycle times and item aging. All metrics moved in a positive direction indicating overall success of the project.
How do you plan to ensure that the new model remains relevant and adapts to the future needs of the market?
We have multiple people on the team that are very familiar with SharePoint, RPA, the SEF and the Contract Status Tracker. Therefore, as control processes or other processes change, we have been able to modify the intake fields on the SEF, adjust milestones and other information on the Contract Status Tracker, and update our Intranet site to ensure that we are always in compliance and aligned with the latest requirements.
What advice do you have for those who may want to implement this innovative approach in their own organizations?
Implementing RPA and other automation solutions can be cumbersome and costly if relying on a third party vendor or external project management that does not have a thorough understanding of your team’s Sourcing processes. Therefore, we found the greatest success and ROI after investing in the development of our own people to build their skillsets and capabilities. By training our team members and allowing them to take the lead in managing and developing our automation projects, we have saved on cost and time since these internal project leads were able to use their knowledge to ensure that the solutions they were implementing properly aligned with our goals and processes and that meaningful data was being produced.
With innovations in digitization occurring very quickly in our industry, how do you see this specific project further transforming in the future?
In addition to the RPA software being used for our processes, we’ve started using Alteryx and Tableau to streamline our analytics and the enhancements we’ve made through this project are generating new data for us to analyze in the following ways:
- The SEF allows us to monitor engagements and response times via Tableau in real time
- Alteryx is helping us combine spend data sources across our subsidiaries to produce more holistic spend analysis
The new data generated along with the time savings resulting from the reduced administrative burden will allow us to place a strategic lens on areas we were unable to focus on previously and continue to improve our processes.
Further, the success of the Contract Status Tracker led to efforts to develop other self-service reports and following the initial application for this award, our team unveiled a new online “Self-Service Reporting Center” that includes not only the Contract Status Tracker but also interactive reports showing new deals and expiring contracts that BPs can filter/customize for their needs.
The success of these projects also opened our eyes to other opportunities where RPA can help reduce administrative burden and we’ve already implemented five processes and have three currently in development. We’ve also started exploring over 20 additional ideas for potential RPA projects and thanks to our investment in developing the skillsets of our own team members, we can continue to develop these projects as internal, low-cost solutions.