Friday, 27 May 2011

Things to consider when creating an e-Cademy

For each purchasing department there are many benefits in creating a centre for best practice which centralises all the company methodology for procurement. As Market Dojo works in the e-procurement space, we thought it wise to offer some pointers on creating an e-procurement academy – hence e-Cademy! OK, not the most thrilling play on words but it will do for now.

Should you have an e-Cademy?

I think the answer is always yes but to what extent is the question. There are many ideas below you might want to consider. An e-Cademy would lend itself to a larger organisation but even if you are a one man band, centralising and organising your documentation will always be beneficial.

So what would you include in the e-Cademy?

We can see two principal areas: support and communication.

1. Support:

Support will be at the heart of any e-Cademy and could encompass several layers.

a) Training – Any e-Cademy would need to provide some sort of training. This falls into two sub-categories – processes and systems. There is always the question over whether you bespoke the systems to your processes or bespoke your processes to the systems. The latter enables you to use off the shelf systems but might require a change in the way you do things. Hopefully, if the system has been designed by professionals then this should not be a major process change, and as with the case with our software, we would also think can be quite beneficial. Our software guides you through the best practice process for RFQs and online negotiation thus allowing for one training course which easily combines the processes with the system to guide you through the best methodology.

Obviously you will end up with the same result if you bespoke the software but the downfall with this approach is maintenance of a system which deviates from the norm. It also assumes that the processes you bespoke the system to are indeed best practice.

b) Documentation and Reports – Any good e-Cademy should have templates, guides and reports. Templates will enable an easy uptake for the commonalised procurement activities and will ensure continuity and compliance. Guides should be available to be used for reference in case the new graduates (Graduate – our name for those who have passed through the e-Cademy) get stuck along the way. Finally a good reporting system needs to be put in place. This is not just referring to a summary report from the activity which can be sent to stakeholders but one that also leaves an auditable trail as well as covering areas such as implementation. These can also be used in the e-Cademies communication on the results achieved by the graduates and the central procurement team activities.

c) Mentoring or shadowing – e-Procurement can be quite a daunting task for those new to it. We can easily relate to the fear of running your first auction; will the suppliers bid? Will my incumbent engage with the process? Have I put everything in my documentation? The fear is justified. However this fear can be allayed by good training and continued support. We find this is best given in the form of mentoring or shadowing for each graduates first foray into these activities. For example it is worth checking their documentation, liquidity and how they have set up the auction activity to keep the education moving in the right direction. This will also help with confidence and knowledge transfer.

d) Support line – Any graduate from the e-Cademy has the capability to add substantial benefit to the organisation. The ROI from activities such as auctions can be within months, if not weeks, and part of the e-Cademies remit should be acting as a support line to all the graduates from the scheme, who are out in far flung parts of the organisation.

2. Communication

Communication from the e-Cademy will be invaluable. How else will people know about it? How will the board of directors know what benefits it brings? No-one else will be blowing your own trumpet so you need to self-proclaim. This communication can also help with encouraging involvement from all parts of the organisation and to avoid surprise when you mention an auction on the more strategic items. There are many ways to carry out this activity so we will start with the easiest:

a) Newsletters – This or a simple e-mail to the procurement staff and key people in the organisation can be a great benefit. Our two top tips here are 1) keep it simple and 2) not too often, once a month would be more than enough and if it is a newsletter, once a quarter. It is also wise to send out a summary e-mail after each e-auction activity to the relevant stakeholders.

b) Web Page - This is a much more involved activity and requires a close link to the IT department with maybe a bribe of a bacon sarnie or two. Basically create an internal webpage for people to go to and see what’s going on. You could also use this page to centralise resources and documentation, although this may be better placed somewhere on the intranet. This creates an easy place to update everyone on your activities without the need to continually send out e-mails, especially if you are able to update the content yourself.

c) Internal conferences / seminars – Many people will be interested in these new e-Procurement activities. The majority may not work in procurement but may easily be affected by your activities; in other words your internal stakeholders. Internal events provide a platform for communication and knowledge transfer that will not only help promote the status of the e-Procurement activities but also encourage involvement and awareness. You could also use these events to encourage innovation in the process to ensure it fits within the organisation and continually improves.

d) Awards – For graduates of the e-Cademy, certificates should be awarded and communicated. This will help give the e-Cademy a certain professionalism and status and will also encourage pride in the graduates. This can also be rolled into professional development plans.

At Market Dojo we have sometimes drawn the parallel to cars. Auctions are just vehicles to get from A to B. Obviously there can be drawbacks as with any vehicle but the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. The way that cars get around the disadvantages is to make sure all drivers have a licence. Could you have an e-Auction licence? You could even give ‘drivers’ points for bad practice!

Also if you are lucky enough to be part of a large organisation with many teams, maybe you could create inter-team competitions to encourage success and give you another reason to hand out some trophies at the end of the year!

This just about sums up our thoughts here. Please feel free to add more via the comments and highlight any experiences (good and bad) that you have had with ventures such as these. One other thing I missed off the list is don’t forget to celebrate success with a trip to the local.

Footnote: Interestingly the name Academy traces back to Plato's school of philosophy, founded 385 BC at Akademia, a sanctuary of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and skill. Over the course of history it has been used to describe all types of institution from renaissance academies to independent state schools. It is about time we brought it into the world of e-procurement.


  1. One of the best systems for combining process, technology and communication that I’ve seen starts with the X-step process (5, 6, 7 – take your pick). A simple example of this might be Plan / Collect Data / Analyze / Negotiate / Award / Implementation. There are detailed actions associated with each of the major steps that walk you through finding suppliers, creating events, selecting a negotiation strategy etc.

    At predetermined points in the process, the project leader is asked to stop and capture a snapshot of the project. There are usually established reporting templates to be filled out. Some of the reports have to be shared and approved at the CPO level, and others are simply for the information of anyone that reads them. This makes sure that everyone is on the same page and that no one passes a critical point in the process without getting some strategic, objective feedback and input.

    The status of all projects is monitored along the reporting points, and that report is distributed weekly or monthly at different levels in the organization.

    From a training or e-Cademy perspective, this kind of process is good because you can train people on it and then let it support them over and over. One of the mistakes people sometimes make is thinking a product or service is ‘different’ enough that it requires a deviation from the established process. Some projects require more research, internal lobbying, or collaborative negotiating, but as for process, they are all the same.

    The only remaining challenge is identifying when ‘refresher’ training is necessary and what should be included. None of us should ever stop learning, and since it is hard to make time for that independently, having a group refresher is important. I would advocate for a quick review of the basics as well as a case study or two of recent team projects that highlight the kind of successes (or mis-steps) that the whole team can learn from.

    So, in summary: e-Cademy? Yes. Support training? Absolutely. Communication? PLEASE! As for the bacon sarnie, any time. (Okay, I’ll admit I had to look it up. So sue me for being an American… It does have a Wikipedia page, which means I’m not the only one!)

  2. The e-Cademy is a great idea, and one that we hope to adopt very soon. With the second Market Dojo licence on the horizon for us it is something that will be crucial to the business both from the training perspective and compliance with best practice.
    We did also think that inviting our supplier base along to the e-Cademy to give them the training and support available would also be very beneficial, its easy to forget that this is also a new process to many of our suppliers, and as it has already been proven with our business, training the suppliers and supporting them through the e-RFQ and e-Auction process greatly improves the results acheived.

    And for me... the added bonus of being the first "graduate"!!