Wednesday, July 11, 2007 / Technology - E-procurement: From chaos comes the ‘eBay for business’ / Technology - E-procurement: From chaos comes the ‘eBay for business’

E-procurement: From chaos comes the ‘eBay for business’
By Andrew Baxter

Published: July 11 2007 12:23 | Last updated: July 11 2007 12:23

The rapid pace of development in consumer technology has made some enterprise IT look clunky. This is certainly the case with corporate e-procurement – the purchasing of workplace goods and services online.

At home, online shoppers buy quickly and easily from a range of websites, all of which have invested heavily in making their sites as simple and intuitive as possible. The corporate world has largely missed out. But now there is growing recognition that enhanced user-friendliness could be the key to increasing the usage of e-procurement systems and extracting more benefits from them.

“If you ask any of the e-procurement vendors today for a demonstration you can guarantee it’s going to look like an eBay shopping experience,” says Sharon Crawford, principal analyst at Quocirca. “There are going to be shopping baskets and clicks and so on – everybody has built that into their software to make it easier for any end-user to participate in purchasing.”

Because the process increasingly resembles an online consumer purchase, organisations can devolve the buying process much more effectively to end users who are not purchasing professionals. It could also mean companies can keep a closer eye on who is buying what.

One of the companies in the vanguard of this new approach to e-procurement is UK-based ProcServe, which has developed a commercial e-procurement system of the same name and also led a consortium that is delivering a programme called Zanzibar for the UK public sector.

The interface for Zanzibar, launched last year, was modelled on consumer sites such as and eBay, says Veera Johnson, ProcServe’s chief executive. “We tried to relate it back to what experience I would want if I was a public sector employee, so the debate was about usability and not about procurement language,” she says.

This challenges long-held assumptions about e-procurement – for example, that it requires huge amounts of training because of its complexity. “The user interface is absolutely crucial for getting people to use the system based on their own experiences,” says Ms Johnson. “Training and driving the adoption of the system become easier.”

If properly implemented, corporate e-procurement should be like “eBay for business”, says Lyn Duncan, business development director at @UK PLC, a company that works with businesses to enable them to trade online quickly with their customers. Once purchasing professionals have sorted out issues such as contracts with suppliers, and who is allowed to buy what from whom, the clicking and buying for the rest of the organisation should be simple, she says.

“There are lots of people with enterprise solutions who want to make this stuff complex, because it is expensive,” says Ms Duncan. In contrast, the @UK system uses the same interface for public sector e-procurement as it does for consumer purchases. “You can set up favourites – it works just like a Tesco [online] shopping list.”

One target market for ProcServe, a PA Consulting Group company, is schools, which need a simple e-procurement system that can be used by bursars, teachers and secretaries rather than e-marketplace professionals. By last month, 600 UK schools were using the system, and a national roll-out is planned this summer.

Another cherished assumption with e-procurement is that, to increase efficiency and control, it makes sense for organisations to restrict the number of users. But once a system becomes as simple as a home shopping website, more employees will try to use it if they can.

The UK Department of Work and Pensions, one of the earliest Zanzibar customers, will probably have 30,000 users on the system once it has reached the next stage of its implementation, says Ms Johnson. That sounds a recipe for chaos, but all the purchases are made via a central collaborative contract and the entire process is electronic, from sending the purchase order to receiving the invoice, so the number and size of orders becomes largely irrelevant, even to suppliers.

As systems such as this devolve buying throughout an organisation, however, there is a need to prevent the free-for-all that the modern, intuitive home shopping website represents. This explains why corporate attitudes to user-friendliness have often been ambivalent.

Brett Mauser, director of global procurement at NCR, recalls a comment from the company’s chief purchasing officer several years ago when the US retail systems, ATM and IT services company was considering a web-based e-procurement system: “Why would we want to make it easier for people to spend money faster? What we want is for the right people to buy the right things at the right price.”

Without wishing to make web-based procurement deliberately cumbersome, says Mr Mauser, companies need a balance between user-friendliness and control. “We’re not an L.L.Bean or a Lands’ End, which have been given awards for their usability. It’s very easy to shop and buy stuff from them – they want it that way so people spend more.”

The big fear for organisations has been that employees would use the web for “maverick spending” on items that do not conform to their standards or – as often occurs with online travel – deals that look like a bargain but result in the company losing out on a discount for multiple or bulk purchases.

“One of the challenges is that there are always nice things that people will try to find a way to buy, or suppliers will find a way to users,” says Mr Mauser.

NCR, along with many other large companies, directs its buyers of indirect materials, such as office supplies, to various approved suppliers’ websites. The supplier will host an NCR page with special prices, and everyone from the company pays the same price. The supplier will then send a summary bill electronically.

Many organisations, however, want employees to go to one online source – what Ms Crawford calls a “central backbone” – which handles all the relationships with suppliers and from which purchasers can draw down what they need. This is the approach taken by ProcServe.

As employees from across the buying organisation gain access to the catalogues that have been loaded on to the system, and make purchases, their managers achieve visibility, at a very detailed level, of what is being bought by whom.

The St Mary’s National Health Service Trust in London is one of a group of hospitals introducing the Zanzibar system and Andrew Holden, the trust’s finance director, is impressed by the greater level of control over maverick purchases that the system will give.

“In the past, a catalogue might arrive on your desk and you are a doctor in orthopaedics, and you say: ‘I like that, I’ll buy one of them,’ but now you won’t see it,” says Mr Holden. “The ability to make sure people stick to buying what you want them to is much greater.”

The hope is that a user-friendly interface will encourage more employees to go through the right channels when they buy items online at work, reducing organisations’ worries about indiscriminate web-based purchasing and ensuring that companies make the most of the deals they have made with suppliers.

“Because e-procurement systems have improved, people are less likely to do their own thing, they can browse catalogues and see pictures, and that has reduced maverick spending,” says Ms Crawford at Quocirca. “This is one place where, because of the importance of purchasing and the control of it, it is recognised that the user experience at work needs to be as good as it is at home.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007 / Technology - What’s new: SMEs offered business intelligence from Oracle / Technology - What’s new: SMEs offered business intelligence from Oracle

What’s new: SMEs offered business intelligence from Oracle
By Geoff Nairn

Published: July 11 2007 09:43 | Last updated: July 11 2007 09:43

Oracle is bringing business intelligence to the masses with Oracle BI Standard Edition One aimed at SMEs and departmental users.

Oracle did the same with its flagship database to produce a cut-down version called Oracle 10g Standard Edition One, which this lies at the heart of the new BI offering and includes tools for creating dashboards, ad hoc reporting and publishing. The BI SE One software costs $1,000 for each user, minimum five, maximum 50.

Asset management
Infor, the fast-growing US enterprise software vendor, has unveiled Infor EAM Enterprise Edition, a new version of its enterprise asset management (EAM) solution.

The product aims to help businesses in the fleet management, manufacturing, facilities and life sciences industries track their capital assets.

Future releases will include more industries. The product was previously known as Infor Datastream and stems from Infor’s 2006 acquisition of Datastream, an EAM specialist.

Searching the abstract
Xerox says its new search technology, FactSpotter, goes beyond the limitations of traditional keyword-based searches.

FactSpotter looks not only for keywords in a query but also the context of the document containing those words. It can also handle abstract concepts.

Xerox plans to target FactSpotter at the legal and regulatory compliance market and possibly other vertical applications, but there are no plans to compete with the likes of Google in consumer search.

Power saver
Hewlett-Packard offers green storage with a trio of mid-range disc arrays named EVA4100, 6100 and 8100, which improve power efficiency by up to 45 per cent over their predecessors.

HP claims a big data centre with a monthly storage electricity bill of $3,000 could save as much as $18,000 a year in power and cooling costs.

Social integration
IBM’s Lotus software hopes for a new lease of life thanks to social networking technologies such as wikis and blogs.

IBM claims Lotus Connections will make it easier for businesses to integrate social networking into their existing IT infrastructures and commonly used applications.

Lotus is best known for Notes, once the leading business e-mail application before Microsoft’s Exchange took the top slot. Lotus Connections costs $110 per user.

Google and Linux
Google has finally released a version of its popular Google Desktop search application for the Linux operating system. The free program is already offered for Windows and Mac OS X users and now there is a Linux version, although in a typical Google move, it is currently only a beta version. The software was developed by Google’s Beijing engineering team. As well as two Chinese languages, it comes in English and eight other tongues.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

Wednesday, July 04, 2007 - IT+Telekommunikation - Nachrichten - Imageschlacht der Software-Giganten - IT+Telekommunikation - Nachrichten - Imageschlacht der Software-Giganten

SAP startet im Rechtsstreit mit Oracle um die amerikanische Tochter Tomorrow Now die groߥ PR-Offensive. Es geht um Schadensbegrenzung.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Look Behind the Numbers at Oracle's Earnings

Look Behind the Numbers at Oracle's Earnings

Oracle's earnings call for 4Q07 posted impressive gains in all segments. But clients must understand what the numbers mean for market momentum in their respective areas as they consider Oracle's solutions.