Previously in this series, we have explored examples of digital supply chain in a variety of individual areas including supplier management, contract management, procure-to-pay (P2P), field service/MRO, delivery, quality management, product information management, and item onboarding (Part Four). Here in Part Five of this series, we cover the end-to-end processes in quote-to-cash and source-to-settle.
Taking it to the Next Level: Automating End-to-End Processes
They say life is a journey, not a destination. That is certainly true about achieving a digital supply chain. However, it’s good to have a long-term vision of where you want to go and then take rapid, incremental steps to get there. After implementing automated workflows for one or more discrete tasks or processes, a company may set their sights on the more ambitious task of digitizing major company-wide, end-to-end processes, such as:
- Quote-to-Cash—Requirements gathering, quote approval, fulfillment, invoicing, payment.
- Source-to-Settle—Supplier discovery, RFQ/selection process, contract, requisitioning, PO/material release, receipt, invoice reconciliation, payment.
- Concept-to-EOL—Concept, Design, Prototype/Sample, QA testing, hand-off to manufacturing, initial production, ramp to volume, EOL planning, final run, post-EOL spares management. (Part Six)
- Incident-to-Resolution—Incident reporting, classification, action planning, resource allocation.
dispatch, root cause analysis, repair and/or remediation, testing, acceptance, close. (Part Six)
With this vision in mind, a company can methodically chip away at manual processes, replacing them with fully digital workflows that have the potential to radically transform the company’s business model, outcomes, and competitiveness.
The quote-to-cash process is the core engine of the business. All other functions in a business depend on the successful ability to win deals, deliver profitably, and get paid. For the vast majority of businesses, there are a huge number of ‘manual gaps’ compared to the ideal vision of a fully digital process that starts with receiving an RFQ or RFP and goes through to invoicing and receiving payment. These gaps can be filled with workflow processes, towards a vision of a fully digital quote-to-cash process.
Examples of areas ripe for automation include:
- RFx Response—For deals of any complexity, there are often dozens of internal parties involved in responding to an RFx (i.e. RFQ, RFP, RFI, etc.) and a chain of approval.Manual processes hamper achieving the dual competing priorities of thoroughness/accuracy vs. speed of responding. A well designed digital workflow helps achieve both objectives via instant delivery of RFQs to all responsible parties, reminders and automated escalation, auto-retrieving of required information, build in checks and verification, auto-assembly of the response package, and rules-based approval routing.
- Execution Automation—The actual work involved here varies widely depending on the type of product and service being delivered, and this is the area with the most supply chain related activities. Workflow can complement and fill in the gaps between the executional systems in the company.
- Invoicing Automation—By integrating tightly with executional systems and workflows, accurate invoices can be automatically generated and sent at the earliest moment allowed.
The more fully digitizing these processes become, the more rapid and error-free execution becomes, driving agility, customer satisfaction, and shorter time-to-cash.
One example of a progressive organization using workflow in one of their quote-to-cash processes is Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.
Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Automating Ordering, Delivery, Payment for Trees
The area is largely rural, so many of the HBRC’s services are geared towards farmers and other rural landowners. For example, each year they sell about 70,000 nursery-grown trees to farmers. The trees are subsidized, if used for erosion control in the hilly countryside. Built on a Nintex workflow platform, HBRC has an online form where farmers and landowners can select from a variety of trees and specify the use and quantity needed. Submission of that form kicks off the supply chain processes, starting with confirmation by one of HBRC’s land management advisors that the right type of tree has been selected for the stated purpose and location.
Upon approval, the workflow checks inventory to ensure they have enough in existing stocks, and if so automatically creates an order in their ordering system.
At the same time, the workflow sends an email notification to the nursery manager that an order has been placed. The manager prints that out and uses it to pull the right trees from inventory. In the future, this step will also be done via a workflow-driven mobile app. The nursery manager then arranges to have the farmer or a freight company pick up and deliver the trees.
Five days after delivery, a customer satisfaction survey is automatically emailed to the farmer, with a simple questionnaire about their satisfaction with the ordering process, timeliness and quality of the trees delivered, and suggestions for improvements. Today arranging the freight, the pickup and delivery, signature by the farmer, and invoicing are all done manually.
However, all those steps are on the roadmap to become automated within the workflow platform.
Data is collected throughout the workflow process, feeding a dashboard and analytics about the number of orders filled and still outstanding, volumes and types of trees sold and still in inventory, which trees are sold where and for what purpose, and the duration of each step in the process, enabling HBRC to see where to focus process improvement efforts.
With this new visibility, they saw that one region was doing erosion control using a different type of tree than is normally used, which prompted them to go find out why. This type of intelligence has helped them refine the varieties of trees they carry for different purposes. That was an unexpected value of the data gathered through workflow. Although they have been running the subsidized tree program for years, they never knew, until they saw the data, that this particular region was using this tree in that way.
The HBRC team pointed out that people take time to adapt to and adopt technology. That is one reason that, although they have a visionary fully digital end-to-end roadmap, they are taking it one step at a time. They said, “once we prove it saves people some time, instead of making their job harder, then they start adopting.”
Also, once they have a process in place, it’s not cast in concrete. They go back to the users to solicit ideas on how to continually improve the forms and processes.
Source-to-Settle (S2S) can be viewed as the supplier-facing mirror image of quote-to-cash. It too has many areas ripe for workflow-enablement, several of which were covered above (supplier management, P2P, contract management, etc.). Workflow is not intended to replace existing systems used for sourcing, contract management, purchasing, receiving, or payment functions. Rather it is used to digitize and automate the gaps between the manual steps outside of those systems.
Examples of areas where workflow may be used:
- Strategic Sourcing/Commodity Planning—A repeatable process can be created for gathering spend analysis results, supply analysis, should-cost modeling, commodity plan creation, and plan execution.
- RFx Management—Automating the creation and sending of RFx packages (cover letters, instructions, forms, etc.). Automated reminders and response collection. Workflow-driven selection process and approvals.
- Contract Management—As discussed above, this can include automating contract creation, redlining and approval workflows, archiving, and driving compliance in P2P execution.
- P2P (Procure-to-Pay)—Also covered above, workflow can help with catalog management, requisitions creation, and approval workflows, sending POs and receiving acknowledgments, tracking order status, and 3-way matching of invoices.
As manual work is removed and steps taken out of these processes, the procurement organization can do more with fewer resources. More importantly, their skilled resources are spending less time on administrivia and more on analytics and strategic measures to cut costs and improve performance.
Digitization also speeds up the various source-to-settle processes, providing more agility to deal with changing demand and supply conditions.
In Part Six of this series, we look at digitization in two more end-to-end processes: Automating Concept-to-EOL, Incident-to-Resolution.
Read the previous installments of this blog series:
- Digital Supply Chains: Part One – The Digital Supply Chain Imperative
- Digital Supply Chains: Part Two – Supplier Management, Field Service
- Digital Supply Chains: Part Three – Delivery Management, Contract Management, Procure-to-Pay
- Digital Supply Chains: Part Four – Quality, Product Info, Item Onboarding