A Fresh Approach For Monitoring Procurement
Mary Siegfried is a freelance writer based in Chandler, Arizona.
June 2007, Inside Supply Management® Vol. 18, No. 6, page 28
Alltel's Workflow Management Tool helps its procurement group monitor the buying pulse of the company.
Managing, tracking, prioritizing and reprioritizing the flow of work in supply management is crucial in a cutting-edge organization. That fact was clear to Scott Searls, senior vice president of the procurement and logistics group (PLG) at Alltel Wireless, who saw the need for a tracking tool that would help his organization better use its time and resources.
Over the years, Searls says his organization created spreadsheets and databases for workflow, but only one survived the test of time and became the foundation for its Workflow Management Tool. The tool, which was developed entirely by PLG employees, without IT involvement, has won the R. Gene Richter Award for Leadership and Innovation in Supply Management in the Technology category.
Searls says before the Workflow Management Tool was designed, it was difficult for his organization and its internal customers to get the visibility they needed to assess the status of an order or see the flow of needed supplies. "Of course, every requester believes in their heart that what they need is the most important thing," Searls says. "What we found was that in many cases we would try to prioritize based on what we were hearing from customers. And, at the end of the day, we were not using our resources optimally."
All that changed when the workflow tool was designed because it quickly became the organization's "supply funnel where you can literally feel the buying pulse of Alltel," Searls notes. Through the tool, senior executives at the Little Rock, Arkansas-based company can easily view the sourcing in which PLG teams are engaged, who the internal stakeholders are and the forecasted spend and savings associated with the projects. Such visibility, Searls says, is powerful because it helps the entire organization plan better.
Simplicity Is Key
A key feature of the tool is its simplicity. It is basically a point-and-click tool for users and a point-and-fill-in-the-blank tool for supply managers. The screen shots are simple and easy to navigate, making it a welcome addition for business partners because learning was quick, Searls explains.
The Workflow Management Tool initially was developed by PLG employees in response to the organization's need to offer more visibility to its business partners. "We had folks in our procurement group who were attentive to our needs and understood the problems because they were part of our organization," Searls recalls. "They were trying to quickly get to the bottom of an issue and then found that every time we did something to the tool, we found more and more value and broader acceptance."
One of the first big tests of the tool came in late 2005 when Alltel decided to spin off its $3 billion wireless business. What this meant for Alltel's procurement and logistics group was that more than a thousand supplier agreements had to be split, replicated or removed from its system. "We had to cut that business loose from ours, and we realized that the visibility and tracking this tool provided was a real linchpin in making sure we got everything done on time," Searls says.
Financial planners "enjoy the tool the most," he adds, because it gives them the ability to forecast expenses, look ahead at large capital acquisitions and view the committal dates for capital spending.
Some of the benefits of the Workflow Management Tool include:
- Project tracking and management, and status updates;
- Workflow management;
- Single-source reporting for PLG savings and metrics reporting;
- Visibility into all sourcing projects at a macro level;
- Deal summaries and savings funnels by group;
- Ability to forecast gross margin impacts;
- Ability to recommend changes to the financial planning/budgeting process;
- Increased integrity in savings reporting.
"If you want to know what new technology or product is going to be launched at Alltel, just visit the PLG Workflow Management Tool and you can gain insight into what tomorrow might look like across the enterprise," Searls says.
Some of expanded reporting capabilities that have been added to the tool are:
- Summary of spend by supplier;
- Supplier/buyer mapping table;
- Savings quarter-to-date radio button;
- Savings year-to-date radio button;
- PLG deal funnel canned report;
- PLG deal funnel report for the group president;
- Deal summary by supply manager.
Searls says supply management professionals often believe they have to go outside their own organization to find technological solutions to help them gain greater spend visibility or workflow management. "I believe you just have to be curious and you have to want to work out a solution," he says. "We found that with a couple of thoughtful, helpful people who were handed a problem, a tool was developed to track everything we are doing. These solutions don't have to turn into gargantuan projects."
The next step for the workflow tool is to move the database tables to a SQL server to allow for continued growth and flexibility, Searls says.
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