From the Northern Coast of Alaska it is, almost, possible to drive to the Southern end of Argentina. Conceived in the closing years of the 19th Century the Pan-American Highway serves 18 nations and covers a distance of something like 48,000 kilometres.
By the 1950s, despite huge investment by wealthier American nations the Highway's route through some states was simply non-existent. The construction funds were diverted to other purposes by Governments whose priorities lay elsewhere, to put it politely.
Despite international efforts constructing bridges at strategic points, for many years they were linked by little more that dirt tracks, all but impassable except in the driest of dry seasons.
There is also the matter of the Darien Gap. Even today it is impossible to drive from Central to South America. A 100 km wide strip of marshland provides an impassable break in the Pan-American Highway's grand plan. Environmental, cultural, political, financial, technological and even epidemiological concerns have thwarted numerous attempts to bridge the Darien Gap. Despite widespread logging and serious environmental destruction it remains impassable.
The Pan-American Highway is probably the ultimate example of a project that attempts to link distant and ends of a complex world into one seamless path. Thus it is, on a grand scale, a symbolic representation of the challenges facing us when synthesising a coherent Source-to-Pay process in the modern enterprise.
It is not that we do not have the technology. Just as road building was pretty much mastered millennia ago, achieving a fluid, natural end-to-end procurement process has more to do with how the different elements are managed locally than the details of the chosen solution.
Huge, seemingly impassable gaps can occur in the process if the stakeholders simply have different priorities. Problems get compounded if there are genuine political differences and, however well-meaning the project goals are, basic resistance to change and intransigence can derail the project.
Overcoming problems can be hugely difficult once they have arisen. Just like bulldozing through rainforest, enforcing change can have dire consequences. It is better to pre-empt the problems and remove the challenges before they become intractable obstacles.
From the over-quoted Art of War: "supreme excellence consists of defeating the enemy without fighting".
Thus the issues that your enterprise colleagues will have with your Procurement-led grand scheme are far easier to handle if you are well-prepared. In IT, Finance, Accounts Payable and the operating business there will be specific priorities and concerns that have no bearing on procurement, in principle, but which could interrupt the end-to-end, source to pay, process in a manner that strips the whole project of its ability to deliver ROI.
The key to a successful implementation of a full-on S2P solution, then, is manifold.
Over time, we have identified some areas in which the application of particular attention can pay dividends.
This is no exhaustive list, but more a suggestion of how to approach an implementation with a mind-set that considers factors beyond the obvious.
Kick-off like you mean it.
The temptation may be to launch your project to a large room of friendly, supportive colleagues so that you can then get on with the hard work. But understanding the political, operational and logistical challenges in your organization should help inform how to structure and prepare your launch.
A good kick-off that includes a deposition on how you will manage the critical factors will set you up for success from day one.
People and processes are important, but don't forget data.
The world is replete with project management methodologies that provide all the weaponry needed to manage change and implement with regard to people and working practices. But few such methodologies deal in any way with the transition of data flow from current to future state. Control of the data flow is a fundamental part of the S2P project, but don't leap straight to plotting the end-state. Really getting to understand where you are starting from will make reaching the destination that much smoother.
Also you need to understand, right from the outset, whose data it is that you need to make your project work. Where are the control points? How volatile is the data? If your project's success is contingent on coding, say, for expenditure and cost centres and those codes change frequently under the control of a sceptical Finance team...then you have a problem. I'd argue that a good tactic would be to know this before your kick-off.
At what point do you think about involving the suppliers?
By now it should be clear that the answer is "from the start". It is important not to forget that a Source-to-Pay solution involves a lot of supplier interaction. Sourcing events, RFPs, contract negotiations, supplier relationship interactions and collaborative planning are all part of the bigger picture, and that's before we get to the complexities of transaction management, invoicing and so on.
You entire project exists precisely because you have suppliers. Dedicating sufficient resource and brainpower to understanding their place in the scheme of things is a must.
These are just three examples of how Source-to-Pay implementations can be optimised with the right focus on matters outside of the "traditional" remit of procurement.
The architects of the Pan-American Highway were always going to face a long hard struggle as ultimately each country was responsible for delivering its own section of the route. To use a quote from Douglas Adams (albeit completely out of context): "The remarkable thing was not that it was done well (it wasn't). The remarkable thing was that it was done at all!"
Procurement professionals have other options, however. Taking the right approach, combined with the right provider of the right software you have the opportunity to actually do it very well indeed.