A Cure for Complexity: Streamlining Source-to-Contract with OneMarket’s Mark Flowers
Today’s disruptive and fast-paced business environment is putting unprecedented pressure on Procurement teams, meaning modern Procurement professionals need enabling technology that can meet the dynamic needs of their organization. Responding to that increasing need, OneMarket has made significant user experience enhancements to its Source-to-Contract solution. In this candid discussion, Managing Director of OneMarket Product Management, Mark Flowers, details why creating tools purpose-built and aligned with the way Procurement work is done isn’t just a thoughtful consideration, but essential to reduce complexity, increase adoption, and accelerate speed-to-results for Procurement teams.
What was the motivation for OneMarket’s latest user-experience enhancements?
For OneMarket, I think that’s all about a journey of continuous improvement—a constant feedback loop from practitioners, clients, and suppliers alike. From everyone who’s using the product, both internal and external, we’re continually gathering feedback on what it’s like to use because it is supposed to be intuitive. It’s supposed to be easy to use. It’s supposed to be freeing.
A lot of software in the Source-to-Pay space thinks too much and makes decisions for you. That starts limiting the flexibility. You want to use the tool your way, right? Everybody does source-to-contract a little bit differently, and so, when we design it, we’re consciously thinking about minimizing restrictions that would force someone to only do things a certain way.
The tools depend on having good data in them if they are going to deliver value. If they’re difficult to use, people don’t take time to put good data in there or if they do put it in, they don’t take the time to keep it updated. The data goes stale. The product stops getting used. It’s that cycle. And all of a sudden, the tool is useless. That’s why we want the best possible user experience.
What are the challenges associated with using tools and systems that aren’t purpose-built to manage the source-to-contract process?
There’s no centralized source for anything—it’s chaos. We constantly see an environment where there are no tools—or partially implemented, badly implemented tools— in this space. They’re maybe using Excel or Smartsheets or some other kind of project management/workflow management tool that’s not designed for source-to-contract work. And if organizations want a sourcing-specific tool, in many cases, the Sourcing tools are just too hard to use and sustain.
We find a lot of the time the technology is not owned by the procurement group. “We use legal’s contract repository.” It works well, but it’s not meant for what procurement needs to track for. “We have a project management tool, but it’s owned by the marketing team.” Too often procurement professionals are utilizing tools meant for other end users because it partially serves their needs but is already implemented. So, they just kind of pick and choose what they use, but it’s not actually built for them.
One of the other reasons that happens is so many people buying software across the business and so many software companies selling around the CIO, directly to the business. Procurement leaders who want to buy new technology have to plead their case to the CIO, and when they do, the CIO looks at the list of things they’re already paying for and says, “We already have a document management solution. Use that.”
I’d also add re-entering things into multiple different systems as a challenge. Every time people have to re-enter things, you potentially mess things up. People cut corners and don’t bother doing it right. They might do it nicely the first time and then just give up doing it. So you could end up with a situation where management thinks they’re doing it, but people have stopped re-entering information and entering data. You end up with a suboptimal environment.
Given how important broad organizational adoption is when it comes to Procurement technology, what effects does the user experience and usability of a tool have on adoption?
Usability and user experience is not just a function of a pretty UI. That’s very superficial. And when you’re a practitioner and you have to use the tool to do your job, it could be ugly as long as it’s functional. It’s all about, “Does the tool enable me to do what I need to do efficiently?” If I find the tool is limiting me, then I take my data out of the tool to do something. And then I’ve got to somehow get it back in, or I just stop putting information in the tool. I work outside of the system. Then the tool is not doing its job. It might look great, but it doesn’t let me do what I want to do.
We hear it all the time, we’ve spent all this money to implement this tool and we only have a very small percentage of users that are actually utilizing it. Well, why is that the case? It was because the system was asking too much of the users. They think, “I’m just gonna go offline and send an email because it’s simpler.”
Onboarding new people is another complicating issue. The attrition that you see in sourcing and procurement can be as bad as what you see in the sales organization. So, that becomes a real problem. We know from our clients and our market conversations, if technology is difficult to use, it’s a burden adding to the time it takes to ramp up new people. With bad systems and new people, time to productivity for new hires is a serious problem for a lot of organizations.
And this is why we implement our products for and with our clients. We go through the implementation and discovery process with them to understand their environment, the rules that they operate under and try to make the tool adapt to their process and their policy and their approach. So that the tool is naturally going to be easier for them to pick up and use – and we support onboarding and training for new folks post-implementation to ensure ongoing adoption remains high.
Can you detail OneMarket’s learning and discovery process and how that informs the direction and roadmap of the products?
I think we’ve established a voice of customer framework that makes sure we are getting input from as broad a group as possible. We’re talking to people who currently use the tool. We talked to the implementation team as well on the client-side to get feedback on how it’s working. We get feedback through people contacting support, the support organization. We get feedback from the sales process where they have conversations with a lot more people than we do on the client-side. So there’s a lot of good perspectives and feedback that come during those conversation channels.
By gathering all of that feedback, and actively sorting and analyzing the data, you learn how to prioritize the important things, put them on your road map, and build them into the release schedule. It’s an ongoing process and we are continually getting inputs that we reprioritize against. That’s how we get these new functionality enhancements into our schedule of releases. We’re lucky to have a great development team that can handle new releases frequently, so folks don’t have to wait long to see new ideas turned into new functionality.
How is OneMarket’s Source-to-Contract solution tailored to the unique needs of the various roles within a Procurement organization?
Our design is always being built around understanding the personas of the target users, not just the people we’re selling to. Our focus is on the people who are going to use the product. We want to be sure the tool is something that speaks to them so that everyone doesn’t have to train on the whole product just to do a simple thing.
I don’t need to dig through a bunch of emails or pull up a word document or have my handwritten notes. The ideal should be to go right in the system and update what I need to, either with my stakeholder, with my boss, with my coworker, with an analyst. The flexibility to be able to interact with different personas. The curious thing is how the system affects all the other roles that we’ve thought of when we went through this redesign. As a category manager, I might want to see something different than what a CPO wants to see. So it’s that ability to be that procurement professional in an enterprise system that still houses everything in one place.
Does OneMarket have advantages as a solution built from the ground-up, as opposed to competitors who often enhance capabilities through acquisitions?
I think a consistent user experience across the three modules is almost more important than making sure it looks fantastic. It’s got to be consistent. We built these three products from the ground up. What you’ll notice in a lot of products built from scratch, you have the ability to control the design and to get that consistency.
With continuous changes to the product, every time I edit something in one module is exactly the same way I edit something or search for something in another module. So consistency across the modules is key. And the reason I say that is that some of our larger competitors are buying through acquisition of small companies and involving them in that iterative process, often at the expense of consistency. They’re not re-plumbing the whole product.
Can you describe how other software solutions might limit you in what you are able to do with their tools, and why it is important to maintain flexibility?
As I mentioned before, I think the limiting piece is critical. You go into one area to do something simple and then you end up spending minutes, hours, whatever it is, getting frustrated, exit out, go back home, try again. It’s not intuitive. So, not letting the system limit you from what you can do in a very quick way is important.
I’ve been creating and using software for 34 years – since way back when. It was very different then – but those ‘limiting’ frustrations – I’ve lived with them for a long time. It’s become a kind of passion to really make a point around understanding the personas. Looking at the user experience, it should be continuously improving, and even little tweaks can make a big difference.
I think it’s something that the big companies stopped doing. Because they take for granted this success and it becomes about them and no longer about the user. There’s a point in time where software companies suddenly get very focused on themselves.