Why Spend Management Requires an ‘Accelerated’ Approach

Rob Bernshteyn
Rob Bernshteyn
CEO & Chairman, Coupa Software

Rob Bernshteyn previously served as part of the executive management team at SuccessFactors (now part of SAP), running product marketing & management for this leader in HCM SaaS software. He also worked in product management at Siebel Systems, management consulting at McKinsey, and SAP systems integration consulting at Accenture. Bernshteyn holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Information Systems from the University of New York at Albany.

Read time: 15 mins
A for Accelerated

coupa a only lgThe ‘A’ in C-O-U-P-A stands for Accelerated.

At Coupa, we are pursuing a vision of delivering a comprehensive spend management platform, with a foundation of openness and unparalleled user-centricity. We’ve been building toward leveraging big data and our technology to deliver prescriptive recommendations to help our customers create a competitive advantage for themselves in their respective industries. It’s fitting that ‘A’ is the final letter, because accelerating the journey toward value is the final piece of the puzzle.

The Fashionista

Speed and value are not things that the enterprise software industry is known for. In the 1990s, the heyday of big ERP suites, the typical approach was for the customer to define all of their business processes during the early phases of an implementation, and then use an enabling technology to automate them. Customization of the software to fit the defined processes was the norm.

The time to value with this approach was typically measured in years. That’s much too long. When you’re working in increments of years, processes change. Personnel changes. Business models change. Companies get bought, sold or merged, and for one reason or another, the software never gets properly deployed, or deployed at all. It becomes what is known in our industry as shelf-ware.

Imagine bringing in a personal fashion consultant (enterprise software sales professional) to analyze your lifestyle and help advise you on an entire wardrobe makeover (massive software purchase), with coordinated shoes and accessories (modules upon modules of goodness). You get super excited about your “future state” as a dressed-for-success professional rising in your career (winner against all competitors in your industry), and you buy everything the consultant recommends (enterprise license agreement).

A year later, you’ve gained a few extra pounds, and you’re now working at a company where the dress code is jeans and t-shirts.

This is the situation that best represents what a lot of enterprise software projects looked like in the 1990s. The software proved too rigid to accommodate business processes that changed over time, and the only way to then make it really work was spend more on consultants (tailors) who often charged an exorbitant amount for customization (alterations). Or, they just told you that all was fine (you look great!) and found other things they could advise you on (sell you).

Cloud Saviors?

A decade and half later, the cloud swung the pendulum in the opposite direction, but in the early days, sometimes went too far. People collectively said, “Well, the old approach didn’t work. Let's try another way. Let's buy cloud technology, because we can get it up and running quickly, and all the best practices are built in. We’ll just deploy it vanilla.”

This accelerated time to value in functional areas where the use cases were simple and common across industries. Sales force automation and employee performance management are a couple of examples that come to mind.

But what about a more complex universal business process such as spend management? How could we bridge the gap between the painfully slow custom implementations of the 90s and the ultra-fast but limited out of the box functionality of simple cloud software? We believed that a different approach would be required.

A Mindset Shift

Instead of business processes being customized into the software, or the software forcing an over simplification of business processes, our approach has always been to put business goals first, and cast process and software in supporting roles.

This is why we begin every one of our projects by working with our customers to agree on measurable success criteria. We don’t simply map our software to their existing process. We collectively try to think bigger. What are we ultimately trying to achieve? Maybe we need to make some process changes. Maybe we need to make configuration changes.

It's a simple shift in mindset, but it's at the core of how we help our customers succeed. Anyone who can make this shift can unlock value so much faster. All it takes is clarity: Why are you developing processes and deploying technology in the first place? When you evaluate your business processes, what are the constraints that are holding you back? What actually matters, that makes you unique as a company? What could be changed, perhaps for the better?  

And then, how flexible and configurable is the tool? What parts of your process can you handle with it, what can't you handle with it, and what can you do that perhaps you haven't even thought of before? Ultimately, how do you marry process and technology to achieve your desired outcomes?

The Perfect Marriage

As we built our software, we structured it to enable this perfect marriage. We wanted to decrease the likelihood that technology would be the constraint to delivering measurable outcomes. For example, if you have a change in your organizational hierarchy, and roles shift, you can quickly re-designate people.

If you need to track additional data on any element in the system, it’s a simple as dragging and dropping new fields onto that entity. Or, if top-line numbers don’t come in as anticipated and you need to rein in spending, you can add another layer of approval, and/or decrease the minimum amount required for approval, and you can do so instantly. You can slow down company spending on a dime. Your process is never set in stone.

In traditional software, if you needed to change a workflow, you would have to call someone. If you wanted to vary from the attributes offered, you would “hijack” a field in that data model and relabel it. Then you would have to change it at every level of the technology stack: in the data model, in the business logic layer, in the user interface, and in parts of the code.

These are the kinds of things that can take weeks and cost tens of thousands of dollars as a consulting project in some software, so you have to think pretty hard about whether it’s worth it to make these kinds of changes. Effectively, your business process is set in stone because the software is not built for speed or agility. Coupa is.

The Wardrobe Problem

But what about the “wardrobe” problem? Do you really have to bring in the fashion consultant for a total lifestyle analysis, figure out how the clothes and the shoes and the accessories all go together and buy the whole wardrobe at once?

This kind of thinking is the other obstacle to accelerating the time to value in enterprise software. With a business process such as spend management, which touches on several functional areas and comprises multiple, linked, steps, even if you have the right mindset, and the right technology, it can be hard to know where to start. It can be tough to get buy in and budget to do the whole transformation at once.

That’s why we designed the software in a way where you can begin your Coupa journey via any one of the capabilities in our suite. Wherever the value is the greatest for your company, you can—and should—begin there. Once you deploy one module, the incremental effort to get other capabilities turned on is less, because much of the baseline work is done. Your users are set up. They're used to the interface. Your reporting is already generally configured. Of course, you could subscribe to everything up front, but you certainly don’t have to. This is how we set things up for accelerating value.

Scaling Acceleration

Today, we are a public company that's saved organizations over $15 billion. Companies all over the world are running hundreds of millions of dollars in spending with over three million suppliers on this one unified cloud platform. As we scale, we're now training internal and external consultants around the world on our accelerated value delivery playbook, as opposed to the old, map-to-your-business-processes way.

How are we doing that? The traditional way to train technology consultants is to teach them all the ins and outs of how the software works. Then they go to the customer and say, "Okay, what would you like me to do? Yes, I know how to do that." That is not what we want to do.

Of course, we want our consultants to know how the software works, but our training is oriented towards working with customer to get to agreement on the outcomes first, and then figuring out how to combine process and technology in the most opportune way to deliver measurable value.

We’ve deployed more than five hundred customers this way, and in our Salesforce software, in the account record for every one of our customers, we have those measurable success criteria, with data fed in every night to see whether we're hitting those criteria or not.

This is the journey that we’ve been on, in partnership with our customers. We have deliberately oriented our software and our company toward a future where we can talk less about process and features and functions, and more about the outcomes our customers want to drive at their organizations. Once this happens, then the technology selection is simply about finding the best and fastest way to achieve these outcomes. It’s about a new mindset. It’s about well-developed technology. It’s about partnering for success, and it’s about hustling hard at every step to drive value in an accelerated way.

It’s no longer about Software, or the cloud, or Software as a Service. It’s about what we call delivering Value as a Service.