The Story of SIM Illustrates How We Develop at Coupa
Coupa Inspire begins this week, and one of the highlights is always VP of Product Marketing and Management Raja Hammoud talking about what’s new in the latest release, and we’ll have some exciting announcements about new product announcements coming up over the next couple of days.
Today though, we’d like to take you behind the scenes with Raja as she shares exactly how we innovate at Coupa with the story behind SIM, which became generally available in January.
The story of SIM illustrates how we develop at Coupa
By Raja Hammoud
My neighbor Liz is a researcher at a biotech company. Anything that delays her and her company’s progress delays potentially life saving medical advances.
In a conversation over dinner recently, she shared with me how she discovered a new supplier for a component that goes into a lab research for drug development. She sent the supplier specifications and an RFP. They agreed on the price. All she needed was a PO number.
Because her company uses telephone, email and other manual processes to gather supplier information, Liz was waiting for weeks for her PO.
A common scenario
This situation is very common at companies worldwide, though not always with lives at stake. Companies have to have suppliers’ information in order to manage risk and compliance, and also to pay them. They typically have tens of thousands of suppliers, which makes keeping all of their information complete and current a never-ending challenge.
We’ve now solved this problem for our customers with Coupa Supplier Information Management. SIM is designed to use the power of the unified Coupa spend management platform to make it simple to gather information and ensure it remains current.
The story behind Coupa SIM is a beautiful illustration of how we develop software at Coupa.
Starting with customers, market and innovation
SIM grew out of our routine customer advisory board (CAB) meetings. Since the soul of our technology is helping companies realize value by optimizing their spend management processes, we find ourselves talking about supplier interaction in these meetings all the time.
We’ve collaborated with customers over the years on solutions to improve supplier participation in accepting POs and invoices. The next area customers were asking us to address was supplier information management.
We were also starting to see a lot of demand for it from prospects, so we decided to dig deeper and formed a CAB just to focus on this topic.
We learned that although our customers had tools for supplier information management, it was difficult to get suppliers to log in, create an account and fill out their information. Following up was endless, and not very effective.
This problem really got us excited. We have a history of being able to develop win-win scenarios that make it easy to gain adoption by all the different users involved in a given process. This problem was screaming for a similar approach. So, we set out to crack this nut.
Everything we develop begins with design thinking. This is our main source of innovation. It is not a new concept, but we were the first to bring it to spend management. With this approach, development teams start with a deep and holistic understanding of people and the problems you want to solve for them.
To give you an example of how it works, I recently had an interior designer help me design my house. I appreciate beautiful homes, but I have no idea how to create one. For the longest time, my brothers kept telling me, Raja, you’re in your thirties and your house feels it belongs to someone who just graduated from college. Please do something about it! Finally, my husband and I decided to hire a professional.
She came to our home and asked all sorts of questions. We shared with her that we like to spend our time with family and friends. We love to cook, to be outdoors and to entertain. We told her what styles and colors we liked and disliked. We explained that we don’t have time to clean and we have two boys who love to sit on the couch and eat.
She took what she learned about us, applied her expertise, and came back with an initial design that suited our lifestyle. We sat down around the kitchen table a few nights, collaborated with pencils over the blueprints together, and we ended up with a design that allowed us to accomplish what we want elegantly and comfortably.
This was possible because the designer focused on who we were as individuals and came up with unique ways to address our needs that we hadn’t even conceived of. For example, she learned that my husband loved Morocco, and designed in beautiful Moroccan pendants we never would have thought of.
What does James, the supplier manager need?
Now, in designing my home, the designer only had to understand the needs of my family. In designing enterprise software, we have to think about a larger and more diverse set of people. The way we do that is by developing personas representative of each type of user that is touched by the problem we are trying to solve.
We do so by spending a lot of time getting to know all of the different users. Our product managers and designers go to customer sites and spend days with them to watch and learn how they work. We want to understand each user’s skills and experience, and how comfortable they are with technology.
Do they work from home or the office? Do they travel a lot and if so where? And how? What are their aspirations? What keeps them up at night? Why are they putting these sticky notes all over their desks?
As we develop these personas, we give them names, and we get to the point where we can say “James, the supplier manager,” and every developer on the team knows who James is, what he does and his struggles with this particular problem.
Seeing the problem differently
With SIM, as we conducted our research, we got to know the different users and we realized there were multiple users of supplier information within buyer companies, and they resided in what were considered separate business processes—upstream and downstream procure-to-pay.
Upstream is everything that happens before you start doing business with a particular supplier—sourcing, negotiations and contracts. At the end of that process, you have the chosen supplier fill out their information so you can start transacting with them.
Downstream, the buyer sends the supplier POs, and the supplier sends the buyer invoices.
If we followed how the market traditionally solved for SIM upstream, our thinking would be limited to what would make the target market, supplier managers, happy.
We would automate their workflows, simplify how they send an email campaign to their suppliers, and create a user experience to make it easy for suppliers to give them all the information they need. But we still wouldn’t solve the problem of getting the suppliers to participate without intensive follow-up.
Instead, we approached the problem holistically. We researched all the users who participated in processes that touch supplier information, regardless of whether they were upstream or downstream. Is there really even such a thing as upstream and a downstream? Not really, we concluded. Spend management is really a set of interconnected business processes that you can enter into from various points.
In SIM for example, a business user like a biotech researcher who wants a supplier to be added to the system is an important user for whom to design. So is a person in accounts payable who wants to make a timely payment. We included both in the target personas to ensure SIM helped them achieve their goals.
We also spent time understanding the various personas within the supplier base, from small mom and pop shops to billion dollar companies.
We kept asking ourselves, if I am the supplier, what’s in it for me? Why would I fill out that profile and update it when I have hundreds of other customers to deal with?
As human beings, we are most likely to do something when we see what’s in it for us. When I receive a purchase order and I want to start work, I’m suddenly highly motivated to give you my information because I see the value of it. Great. I will do it.
As the buyer and supplier continue doing business, the buyer may reach out to update supplier information, and suppliers will put it off. But if you ask them right as they’re trying to get their invoice paid, they’ll do it very happily.
This was our big breakthrough, and is the core of a new development principle we are calling “right time participation”.
To make it easy for supplier to provide the information, we decided to apply one of our other core principles, our patent-pending actionable notifications. The supplier gets an email requesting information and with one click they’re able to get to the form to fill it out. There’s no registration needed, and it’s 100 percent mobile so they can respond to the email from anywhere.
No other solution does this.
Developing The Solution
Once we had the right ideas and the right personas, we start the detailed design process, creating prototypes and running them by our advisory board on a weekly basis for their feedback.
There was lots of internal collaboration as well. We are all about suite synergy, and this requires very tight collaboration within the various functional and platform teams to ensure we stay true to all our product principles.
For example, we designed SIM to tie in with the same users, approvers and workflows that are elsewhere in the suite. If you have the invoicing module, or the procurement module, you can turn on SIM and it will get inserted into the right workflow and linked to the right people.
Even better: Because of suite synergy, we can marry supplier metadata with all the transactional data we have in Coupa to give you a total picture of every supplier--every PO, invoice and sourcing event they’ve ever done. This requires a lot of internal coordination, alignment, and great attention to detail, but it’s much richer than just a rolodex card with name, address and phone number.
Supplier information management is a tactical function that gets in the way of strategic initiatives and slows down the pace of business. It’s a challenge for most companies to manage, and it was quite a fun challenge for us to build. By collaborating closely with our customers, seeking to understand the problem holistically, and applying design thinking, we built something we think is pretty special.
Customers and prospect seem to agree. Every time we talk about Coupa SIM and explain how it works, their faces light up, and they say, “Wow. That’s smart!”
It’s beautiful to see.