Is “Mobile Approval” An Oxymoron?

Duncan Jones
Vice President, Principal Analyst
May 24, 2016

I’ve recently been studying what a customer-obsessed operating model means for Purchasing functions and the software they use. I've concluded that Purchasing needs to transform its approach to visibility and control, due to the tradical impact that Mobility has on procure-to-pay (P2P) processes. I've been warning ePurchasing software companies for years about the potential impact of Mobility, but while a few visionaries have heard and acted on the message, most are lagging behind. That may be OK while their customers – mostly Finance and Procurement professionals – are similarly behind the times, but they may be unable to catch up when the market finally starts to demand fully mobile solutions. And customer-obsessed organizations will demand mobile P2P solutions, because they need to enable employees to quickly and easily buy the goods and services they need, so that those employees can get on with their main job, which is winning and serving customers.

What the laggard vendors miss is that Mobility is not about a user interface that works on iOS and Android; its about making the software so smart that it works well in a mobile context. Many product managers tell me proudly “our software works the same on a mobile as it does on a PC”, but that completely misses the point; mobile apps needs to work completely differently from the way traditional PC-based software works.

Take requisition and invoice approval as an example. One leading P2P vendor claims that over 70% of approvals are either performed in its mobile app or via its email response feature. I would argue that few of these approvals are worth the paper on which they are rubber-stamped. A manager can check many aspects of a transaction on a PC because they can see a lot of information on their screen and can drill down to investigate potential problems. They can’t do that on a phone, because:

  • There isn’t room on a phone’s screen to tell approvers everything they need to know. They can’t exercise due diligence on the transaction even if they wanted to. I havent yet seen a mobile P2P app that highlights potential exceptions, so managers know what question they are answering when they click "approve", nor one that provides sufficient data to make an informed decision.  
  • Mobile managers don’t have the time to study transactions properly. They have the time to drill-down when they’re at their desk, but “mobile” usually means “in a hurry” and “distracted. So they press the big green button and move on.
  • Finance swamps them with superfluous demands for their sign-off. Ask managers privately and they’ll admit that they don’t look at 95% of what they ‘approve’ by phone. They know that they don’t actually need to scrutinize everything that Finance sends their way.

What this means is that not only is mobile rubber-stamping providing little financial control value, it is actually undermine compliance. Overlong approval chains reduce oversight, because everybody thinks somebody else will check the transaction, so in fact nobody does. Transaction limits that are set too low distract managers from the real discrepancies hidden in the forest of unexceptional transactions. Even worse, the associated delays prevent employees getting work done, and force them outside the P2P system to unapproved sell-site B2B eCommerce apps.

Bottom line: Customer-obsessed organizations need to force their Finance and Procurement departments to make the mobile mindshift. Empower employees to buy the goods and services they need, by replacing stupid policies and inappropriate spend limits with smart business rules and algorithms. Minimize in-line approvals, which merely delay and distract, by shifting your control regime to automated validation and post hoc analytics.

What do you think? Has anyone started to do what I advocate and radically transfrom their P2P control framework? Or maybe you strongly disagree with me; if so, tell me why.

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