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How to stay the course on the road to user-centricity

Daryush MistryDarayush Mistry

Last year, Coupa joined up with the User-centric IT movement, a group of companies dedicated to creating technology that puts the needs of end users first, allowing them to work the way they want, without getting in their way. User-centric is bit of a mouthful to say, but it’s actually a very simple concept.


We’ve all had experiences with technology that works “technically” but as a practical matter makes your life harder. Remember the clocks on VCRs? Setting the time should have been easy for anyone, but did you ever see one that did anything but flash 12:00, 12:00, 12:00? Not user centric. Or the original Xbox, which launched with a controller so big and clunky it made playing a video game frustrating. It seemed to have been designed by a committee that had heard of human hands, but never used them. Also not user-centric.





Easier said than done

User-centricity sounds great, and it is great - but it’s also easier said than done, especially as your company grows.


There’s a lot of talk about this right now – hence the movement - and a lot of the talk is by big companies who’ve hopped on the bandwagon but don’t really deliver, or by up and coming startups who still only have 10 or 20 customers and so their commitment and adherence to to user-centricity hasn’t really been tested yet. There’s nothing that tests a company’s commitment to user-centricity like growth.


Staying the course as your company grows requires three things: a broad view of who the user is, a commitment to walking many miles in the user’s shoes, and the ability to resist the temptation to keep adding on.


Coupa’s product team donned jumpsuits and hardhats and hit the oil field to better understand the needs of users there.



















Coupa’s product team donned jumpsuits and hardhats and hit the oil field to better understand the needs of users there.Coupa’s product team donned jumpsuits and hardhats and hit the oil field to better understand the needs of users there.





















User centricity versus customer centricity

First, let’s be clear: User-centricity and customer- centricity are not the same thing. Customer-centricity is much narrower and can take the shape of making the customer happy at any cost, and that can lead you down a from user-centricity.


User-centricity is broader and more diffuse. The customer is somewhat of an abstract entity. It’s a company, or a set of stakeholders in a company. Users are anyone who uses the software or interacts with the service. Those are specific people within the customer company, and they will also in many cases be people external to the customer such as suppliers, contractors, partners and others.


For example, at Coupa, a user could be an employee at the customer company who's trying buy a keyboard, someone in finance who's trying to keep track of spending against budget or someone in IT who's administering the software. Or, it could be a supplier to the customer company who is trying to invoice through a portal. User-centricity is about making sure the software and service is easy to use and focused on successful outcomes for everyone who will ultimately interact with it.


User centricity versus UX

User-centricity is also not the same as user experience. It’s broader than that. User experience can be about the broad experience or specific things like, where do you click, what is the flow through a page or pages and what color the buttons are. Those kinds of things could support user-centricity.


One of the best ways I know to stay focused on user centricity is to hang out with users – a lot. Product managers need to meet with them several times a month. If the users are on an oil rig in the gulf, that’s where the product managers need to be, gathering information to relay back to their team. The key is to be the user, in order to develop a deep understanding of the kinds of issues the users are facing so that you can look at everything you develop through that lens.


This has to become ingrained in your company culture, because as you grow larger and priorities shift, your less entrenched practices will fall by the wayside and you’ll get lost along the road to user-centricity.


Waylaid by feature-function

In my experience, what most commonly gets in the way of user-centricity is the temptation to add on a lot of features and functions. There’s always a lot of internal debate about how to build and market the product, and what the right balance is between software and API’s. Sometimes that can go in the direction of adding features and functions now and letting the customer - or an army of services folks - figure out how to use them later.


That’s the approach a lot of big companies take. Customers can become successful with that kind of software, but not without a lot of cost and time spent because you’re moving away from user-centricity and making things more complicated.


Less is more

Building using-centric software requires you to think about this more holistically and maybe, in some cases deliver less. But less can ultimately be more valuable to the user. Apple is perhaps the most widely known example of this; they stayed focused on delivering fewer models of iPhone and executing elegantly on a smaller feature set, while the competition put out dozens of versions with hundreds of features. We all know who won that battle.


The bottom line is, that model doesn't work. People’s initial excitement about a vast array of features evaporates quickly as they have to struggle to use them.


I think it’s actually easier to just cram more in; that’s why it’s such a temptation. It’s harder to boil it down to the essentials, and often harder to build something that’s deceptively easy for the user. But this is the essence of user-centricity.


It takes discipline, dedication and extra effort to build user-centric software, but this is where the value lies. User-centric applications are valuable not just in and of themselves, but they are also able to add a layer of value on top of more complex software, extending the latter’s reach beyond a small handful of power users to every user. So, if you find yourself in a user-centricity argument, remember it’s not just about principles or a point in time. It’s about staying true when the urge to deviate is strongest.


Darayush Mistry is vice president of product marketing at Coupa. He previously held product management roles at, NetSuite and Oracle.







Toner low: E-sourcing a new copier contract

Andy ChiangAndy ChiangE-sourcing is a must for the modern sourcing professional, but sometimes it falls by the wayside due to the press of business. Running an e-sourcing event is a great reminder that the time and money you save with e-sourcing makes it well worth investing in mastering the process.


Such was the case with an e-sourcing event I recently helped run for a large U.S. services company. They needed to replace the copiers in 2,000 locations across the country over the next few years, at a cost of a few million dollars.


The team there had dabbled in e-sourcing in the past with positive results, but still mostly relied on Excel and email for sourcing management. With copiers being one of their largest areas of indirect spend and the current contract about to expire, they decided to take part in Coupa’s QuickStart sourcing program. Through the program, Coupa Procurement customers get a free 30-day trial of our sourcing module, along with free expert assistance to launch their first e-sourcing event using the tool.


Cloud integration fears? That’s so 1999


jake-adgerJake AdgerWe’re about 15 years into cloud computing now, and one thing that’s become clear is that even with the proliferation of cloud solutions, on-premise software is not going away anytime soon. That means cloud solutions have to integrate with on-premise systems, especially with ERP. This has been the case since Salesforce burst on the scene in 1999, and over the years, cloud providers have become integration ninjas. Today’s cloud solutions can easily integrate with just about any on-premise or cloud solution.


However, many people continue to believe that integrating with cloud solutions is risky, expensive and unreliable. This is simply not the case. These fears are largely founded on past non-cloud integration traumas, either experienced first hand or heard about second hand. A quick search for integration failures in enterprise software turns up a litany of past failures and lessons learned, such as PC World’s 10 Biggest ERP Software Failures.  Past experiences integrating non-cloud solutions have little or no relevance to today’s leading cloud providers.


Is sequential invoice processing costing you millions?

donna-wilczek-headshot-450Donna Wilczek Sequential invoice processing—paying invoices in the order they come in--is the default practice for many Accounts Payable organizations. But is it a best practice? No, because it eliminates the ability for AP to be strategic, and potentially save millions of dollars.


Here’s why: If your AP department is processing invoices sequentially, you're operating under the assumption that every invoice is equally important to your company. That's simply not the case. Invoices with pre-negotiated early pay discount terms or dynamic discount payment offers associated with them are exponentially more important to your company. It makes sense to do everything you can to process those invoices faster so you can get those discounts.


The Coupa Fast 5: Looking ahead to 2015

predicting 2015Hello 2015! It’s a new year, and you know what that means: overcrowded gyms, discarded Christmas trees lining the sidewalks, and of course, folks looking into their crystal balls to try to divine what the year ahead will bring. Last week, Coupa vice president of product development Darayush Mistry shared his thoughts on where procurement technology will head in the coming year.


Today we look beyond our four walls at what analysts and industry leaders have to say. One thing looks certain: With the economy looking up, 2015 promises good things for those tasked with powering business processes.


Save the date for Coupa Inspire 2015

Coupa InspireIt’s January, and that means we’re getting ready for Coupa Inspire, this coming June 2-4 in San Francisco. Food is being tasted, DJs are being auditioned, speakers are being recruited and sponsorships are on sale now. Save the date because this is one event you won’t want to miss!


This will be our third Inspire, and over the past two years we’ve set a pretty high bar for ourselves, and we’re determined to leap even higher this year. Last year nearly 800 Coupa customers, partners, prospects and employees came together for two days of inspirational keynotes, learning, networking, and celebration – everything you’d expect from a user conference, but with some extra Coupa touches.


Procurement technology predictions for 2015


daryush mistryDaryush MistryIt’s that time of year again – prediction time. Prompted by these questions from Procurement Leaders, Darayush Mistry, vice president of product development for Coupa, peers into the future of procurement technology for the coming year.


Q. How do you think the expectations of customers will change in terms of what they’re looking for from procurement technology solutions in 2015?


Customers will look to take a more holistic approach to procurement with tightly integrated spend management solutions that make the function more strategic. Expectations for greater transparency and control will rise as customers become more sophisticated in the use of analytics for predictive and proactive spend control.


How to get smarter about sourcing contingent labor

In yesterday’s post, I explained why it’s become a comjack miles-headshotJack Milpetitive imperative for companies to get smarter about sourcing contingent labor. Today I’ll explain how.


There hasn’t been a lot of transparency around pricing in the past, which has made applying sourcing rigor difficult. But, that is changing. There are ways to get this information, and companies need to then take that information and adapt some of their internal HR processes to be able to compare price and quality and make smarter, more strategic decisions about contingent labor.


Getting accurate pricing

One of the reasons we don’t have transparency is that up until now companies have mainly dealt with contingent labor through temp agencies and placement services, which have mostly dictated prices. The delta between agency bill rate and worker pay rate can be considerable, and it’s tough to know what the real going rate should be, how it is trending and how much above or below market you are paying.



Why you need to get smarter about sourcing contingent labor


jack miles-headshot  Jack Miles

The market for temporary and contingent labor is growing dramatically year-over-year --  roughly 7-10%, depending on what segments you look at.  This is a trend that is likely to continue for the next five or six years. The Harvard Business Review in 2012 projected that eventually contingent labor will make up about 25% of the global workforce and we are well on our way to that. Companies that want to use contingent labor strategically and cost-effectively need to get a lot smarter about how they source and manage this category. In this two-part series I’ll explain why and offer my thoughts on a methodology for improvement.


This is a tough category to handle and historically procurement hasn’t paid much attention to it. They’ve engaged Managed Service Providers or implemented Vendor Management Systems to improve their performance and considered it handled. Or, they’ve ignored it completely, figuring it wasn’t that big and besides it’s “temporary”, so not worth the effort. Neither approach supports developing the institutional knowledge needed to manage the category effectively.


To be competitive, companies need to be more strategic about using contingent laborTo be competitive, companies need to be more strategic about using contingent laborThis needs to change. We will see more and longer “temporary” engagements, because there’s been a big shift in the temp and contingent labor market over last decade or so. For a long time, temp positions were mainly clerical or administrative. Then we saw a lot of expansion into the IT area for project-based work. Now globalization and the Internet have opened up temp and contingent opportunities for an even broader range of specialized workers.


New opportunity for companies and workers

It makes sense for companies to hire these people on a temp or contingent basis, because they get access to unique skills they don’t need all the time, and these are expensive people to have around if you can’t keep them active. But it’s not just companies that want this. The workforce does too.



Making Cents of 2014: Top ten spend management articles


Yep that’s right! It’s that time of the year - roundup top 10
time. Time to reflect on the trends and topics in spend management of the past year, and what we learned.


We're listing your favorite posts from Coupa's bloggers from 2014, based on page views and social shares. This is what our readers found interesting, relevant and shareable over the last year. 



1. Why using OCR for electronic invoice processing is like hitching a buggy to your horse by J.R. Robertson on Spend Matters


Although implementing OCR technology may seem like a time saving payments solution, it won't save you anywhere near as much time as full invoice automation, writes J.R. You'll still spend lots of time on manual processes, just different ones.


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