If you were talking to someone whose organization is considering GEP SMART , what would you say?
How would you rate it and why? Any other tips or advice?
The biggest lesson I've learned from using SMART is that the evolution of technology can be affected by the voice of the customer. It's very powerful. We have only used the e-auction module twice since we got it. We are trying to get the team to use it, but we don't make anything. We're a hospitality company. There are some things that can be done in e-auction — I'm not saying we can't do anything there — but my team is not really experienced with the e-auction tools. We're trying to get them up to speed and figure out a category where it makes sense to run it through an e-auction tool. Their AI and machine learning features are one area that I'm highly interested in. I've talked to Tony Butler, our relationship manager, and let him know I want to learn more about it. I heard it about it at a high level. That's something that would help us tremendously because we are a little resource-constrained and we do have repetitive issues with data. I really want a detailed presentation on how GEP is using it because we'd like to potentially leverage that. In terms of integrating SMART with our ERP, we get a feed. It's not really an integration. We get exports out of those systems which are imported into GEP. It would be nice to have full integration. That would be great. But we're not there. I have one system administrator on SMART who manages the technical aspect of it. We will have about 50 people using it. The sourcing procurement managers and buyers are facilitating and setting up the RFPs and managing them. And then the stakeholders use it to score them. Those are the guys who might review the RFPs electronically before they go out, and approve them electronically. I would rate the solution at eight out of 10. I'm never that guy who always rates 10. I'm very impressed with the solution overall. With the rating of eight, there is room for growth. Maybe, once we implement those AI tools, it might be a nine. Had they not made the recent changes that they made, it would have been more in the seven range. Their tool wasn't the best out of the gate. They have worked really hard and have been really focused on becoming a best-in-class company and they've been able to do that. They've been at the top of the industry reviews for years now, and that is a result of focused effort, hiring the right resources, as well as trial and error. The main thing that has made GEP successful is being sensitive to the voice of the customer. I can definitely attest to that.
Make sure you test every element of it and make sure any problems are fixed. We communicate with some of GEP's current clients and they don't do enough testing. After they implement it they start discovering things. So do a full testing and full vetting before you roll it out. Technology-wise, I would give GEP SMART 6.5 out of 10. But the people we work with there are awesome. They understand that they're behind on certain things. They pick those things up and, because they're still a little bit small, they're a nimble organization and are able to quickly mobilize their team and fix things or provide a work-around. I would give their people a 9.5. Even if something is lagging a little bit, having the really great partnership with the folks who are working on our account makes a day-and-night difference. My hat is off to them for having such a good, strong account management team.
My advice is that it's "garbage in, garbage out" in terms of the data. You want to make sure your data is as clean as possible going in. Take the time, at first, to categorize with it in the spend module to make sure that your reporting is going to be as accurate as possible. There is always going to be clean up, things can always get better, but take the time and energy to make sure that, if you don't know what certain vendors do, and if GEP can't figure it out based on the invoices, that you go through it and do the manual work upfront. It will save loads of time later. The fact that it's a single, unified software platform hasn't really affected our procurement operations. GEP SMART doesn't integrate directly with our ERP system. We get exports on a monthly basis from our SAP team. It's a file that transfers through an FTP site. They do all the work and usually, within a week or so, it's loaded within the system. We have three spend sources. We had four when we started, but we've since moved one over to SAP. So we just have one pull for that. I give GEP SMART a nine out of 10. What comes to mind is its ease of use, having actionable data, having everything in one spot, being able to manage our contract renewal process, and being able to create visualizations of our spends which we are able to present the leadership.
We're only using two modules. My lessons learned are that this is great, but if I were able to use the whole suite it would make my life in the procurement space so much better. I actually have an individual who sits there and does nothing but key in invoices because we don't really have a good way of dealing with that. If we were able to get all the modules, that would eliminate that position, or I could use it to do something else. My lesson learned is: You actually need the whole suite. Just using one-off modules here and there is good, but it doesn't give you all of the return that would be meaningful. It's important to note that we need to spend enough time to make sure that we have the team learning how to use it. We've done a couple of different training sessions, especially when the team turns over, or if someone else is added to the team. It's the kind of tool that you might be using a lot for over several weeks, if you're doing multiple RFPs, but it's also the kind of tool that you may not be doing anything with for a week or two. If we had all the modules, it would be different. Then we would be using it pretty much every day. The piece that I would recommend, if you pick up this system, is to make sure that people understand that training is important. My team thought it was, "Oh no, you don't really need that much training because it's a simple thing to learn." And it is simple to learn, but it's also complex in that you have to understand procurement and the different parts to procurement. Some people on my team may have been new to procurement or they did it differently in a different company. So they have to know how to do all parts of it. We have three people using the solution directly and another two on another team who use the auction module. In terms of adoption of the system, the team that is doing the auctions got one set of training and they seem to be doing very well with that. The procurement team, doing the RFPs and RFIs, has gone through quite a lot of turnover so I've had to schedule a couple of training sessions for them. When we first initiated the system in 2017, it was a little kludgy, but it had the capabilities we were looking for, so we were okay with what it was. But over the last two years they have modified it and some things are much simpler. For example, it was really hard to set a time and date for when all the responses needed to come back. They've changed that so that it's much easier to set that time and date. And sometimes we might need to change the time after we've sent out the requests for information or quote or proposal. We might say we're going to extend the time by two days or three days. It's much easier to do that now and extend the time. The other area was using the questionnaires. When we send things out we're able to say, "We want you the vendor to respond to these questions." Creating those questions was a lot harder. Now, it's much easier to create such questions and for the vendor to respond. My initial intention with the solution was to make use of more modules from a procurement and invoicing point of view, the three-way match, which this tool will allow you to do. I started that effort but it got railroaded because we are going to be putting in an ERP system to handle just about everything. So I had to stop that part of the project which would have allowed the system to help me create POs and help me do that three-way match between the invoices and the PO. That would have been a great time-saver because you can create the POs. Right now, we create the POs manually in a separate system, and then we manually look at the invoice and manually look at the PO and confirm. The manual nature of that process doesn't allow me to say "I have a PO with only $10 left on it and this invoice is for $20." This system would have allowed me to do that but I wasn't able to get that. Because I'm not integrated, my spend analysis module is a lot more manual than I would want it to be. If I were using all the modules, that's when analysis would pick up information from all of them and give me that information without me telling it anything. The solutions AI and machine-learning features have not yet affected our processes in any way. Those would come with some of the other things if we were able to do them. It would be probably in the procurement space. And there is also having the vendor be able to take its POs and flip them into invoices and submit them right there. Another thing that could be done by AI is in validating or reporting, but I'm not using any of that yet. I don't have any AI or machine-learning in the modules I'm using.
In terms of the adoption of the platform in our organization, people in general are really resistant to any change. It was a lot of work. The work upfront was so time-consuming that people were really resistant to it. I don't think everybody felt like this was the answer to our issues at the beginning. Then, when we got into it and had problems with it, it was a nightmare. But with that said, once we were able to migrate our legacy documents from our old tool into this, and were able to show that, yes, in fact, the tools that we need work in this, people started to come around. They saw we were able to find what we need. We were able to connect master agreements to their amendments, master agreements to their SOWs. We were able to archive as we needed and could clear them per our retention policies. We could do everything we needed to do, right within this tool, rather than having to go through boxes of stored files. People are really becoming comfortable with this. And now, with these added modules and having everything connected and being able to actually pull valuable information about their metrics, to get their arms around spend here, it's going to be even more significant in the coming year. In terms of the solution's AI and machine-learning, a bunch of people from our organization are at the GEP Innovate '19 conference that's going on right. AI is one of the big things they're focusing on there. We have not really gotten into that. One of our attorneys actually just got back from a fraud-and-abuse conference that the American Health Lawyers Association put on, and that topic was addressed in a big way there. AI and cybersecurity were two big topics that were covered at that conference. I'm sure AI is something our organization will be exploring in the future with GEP. I'm sure it has already been brought up. I'm sure that the individuals who went to that conference this week will bring it back and follow up.
The biggest lesson we've learned is that, for customers who are looking to go down a procure-to-pay path, they really need to be sharp on their blueprinting and make sure that all the requirements are clearly defined and carved in stone. If any sort of consolidation or process improvements need to be done, they should be done before engagement with GEP, because GEP's goal, at least during our integration, is to get through it, not necessarily get it right. It is a very transactional system, and you have to be set up for it. That's especially true regarding keeping track of all the orders and invoices. Be honest with yourself on what that that staffing needs to be. In terms of the adoption of the solution within our organization, as with anything new, you get pockets of people who are resistant. But those are definitely balanced by pockets of folks who found it to be second nature; they didn't have any issues. We're definitely siding on folks who find it relatively easy. One thing about our user group is that they can be, depending on who we're talking about, relatively nontechnical and unskilled. That presents a barrier for this. But the fact that they are, in general, able to get it, speaks to the fact that procure-to-pay, in general, is meant to be relatively easy. SMART's AI and machine-learning features haven't yet affected our procurement processes, but I expect they will very soon, knowing that things like OCR are coming down the pipeline over the next couple of months. They also have what I believe are called "buyer desks" and those things are very dependent on AI. We're very eager to see how those will interface with how we do business. OCR is kicking off over the next couple of weeks, and implementation is through the end of the year, leading into 2020. I'm not sure when the other stuff is due to come online. Overall, I would rate the solution at eight out of ten. They're very strong technically. They are now set up with a very strong customer support function. There were growing pains on both our side and their side. But it's definitely workable and they've been a very good partner as we have moved into this space.
It's a huge efficiency tool and it has really accelerated our ability to drive the procurement business case in terms of cost savings. I would recommend it. We have had some challenges with the contracts module and some performance issues but they recently resolved all those. We haven't integrated it with our ERP, which is SAP. If we were to implement procure-to-pay, transactional procurement would have to integrate with that. We don't maintain the GEP solution, we just use it. They're responsible for uptime and ticket resolution. We have biweekly meetings with our customer account manager to review all the enhancements, issues, and improvements. They do all the work for us. We have about a dozen end-users of the solution.
We have found it to be a beneficial program with a lot of different resources that we still have yet to explore. I don't think we've tapped out yet on what it offers. Through using GEP, we've been able to gain respect. The other departments in our company have come to rely upon us even more. We have become a more trusted department within the company, among our peers, because we can speak to their spend at greater depth. It is not currently connected with our ERP system, but that's something that we have discussed with GEP as a possibility in the future.
It's very important to have people who understand the depth of the technical aspects of their processes and how their systems work. Also, there needs to be a keen understanding and awareness of what the regulatory requirements are of their processes, what their key controls are. If those members are not on that team, there can be some real problems within a year if there are regulatory requirements that are not addressed in the day-to-day operation of those systems. As for the adoption of the platform in our company, initially, we were pretty hesitant and resistant to change. But when people started to use it they really started to like the tool. It has taken a while, and the contracts module is probably the very last one to really get adopted. We've been pretty attached to it for the last two years and it is generating momentum to become the corporate-wide contracts repository for all of our corporate contracts, not just those created to work in supply chain. So that is a tremendous win, culturally, for adoption with the tool. The experience is probably different for every single user, but I like how fast the tool is. The response time is great. It is so fast through the cloud. They've really been able to maximize that. The spend module is just fascinating with how fast it is. Inside the procurement functionality of supply chain, we put our purchase orders to our suppliers through the portal, through GEP. We can write contracts and approve and execute those contracts through the GEP system. But SAP is where we would create the purchase order and release it in SAP. So we do not create purchase orders or do goods receipts or service entries in GEP. We do that in SAP. The fact that the GEP solution is a single, unified software platform for our company has had a positive effect, but it is not our single solution because we interface with SAP. An example of how it has affected our company is that our spend analytics are all in one place. My director sent me a message at something like 6:30 in the evening, when he was at a dinner, and asked me our spend with a certain supplier. I was able to get onto GEP and send him a snapshot of the spend in a matter of moments. The difference between GEP and our previous models is that, back then, he might have asked three different people and gotten three different answers. With GEP, it's going to be the single answer that is correct, because it's consistently pulling from the tables. The solution's AI and machine-learning features have not affected our procurement processes at this point. We're looking at that from an accounts-payable standpoint, managing and processing invoices, but not on the procurement side.
The biggest lesson we've learned from using the solution is around the thinking through of the implementation, having support for that, and doing better planning for it. Most companies have an implementation team and that's definitely the way to do it. If you have to initially, with any program, start manipulating the system by using dummy information, that's probably a red flag. One of the enhancements that just came out is an idea that came from our group several years ago for a contract and spend integration — bringing in contracts and spend together for reporting. They have always been reported separately. We could report in contract or in spend, but not contract and spend together. They liked this idea, and it's taken them a couple of years to roll it out, but they wanted to roll it out for all their clients. They reprogrammed that into the system and that actually just finally came into production about a week ago, so we haven't had a chance to really use it at this point. But hopefully, we will be able to use it for what we need. Only supply management is actively using the system here in our Canadian office. We have about 15 to 20 users, mostly on the spend side, and a handful using the contracts side of things. And about three people using it in our US office. Deployment and maintenance of the solution pretty much all falls on me. I'm the admin of our GEP system. Our IT does have admin access as well, but we don't use them, for the most part, for adding or deleting users. It all comes through me. I don't know how many vendors we have in the system but I would estimate it at 1,000. However, once they do their profile and registration, I would say they don't use it. Overall, I would give the solution a seven out of ten. It does need some work and there needs to be more flexibility. The big reason we used it was the fact that we could customize a lot of things to fit our needs. However, the system still seems very rigid in how it works, so we've had to do a lot of workarounds. There's definitely room for improvement.