TradeCentric sat down with Hema Sankar, Senior Director of Procurement Systems for Mars Veterinary Health, to discuss how integration with suppliers’ e-commerce systems helps with the company’s procurement automation journey.
Mars Veterinary Health is a global division within Mars Petcare, with a network of 70,000+ passionate associates across 2,500+ veterinary clinics in 20+ countries who enable more than 25 million pet visits each year. The veterinary health organization is dedicated to improving the lives of people, pets and the planet in support of its purpose: a better world for pets.
A key strategy deployed by Mars Veterinary Health is integrating its e-procurement platform directly with suppliers’ e-commerce systems, ensuring pet clinic employees can easily procure the products and medications they need to provide state-of-the-art pet care. Mars Veterinary Health strives to reduce friction from the procurement process so veterinary professionals can focus on patients rather than the purchasing process. A summary of the conversation follows.
What are your goals as a procurement team and how does integration with your key suppliers support those objectives?
Hema Sankar: We strive to create a unified process that fully supports procurement for and by our veterinary clinics. We call the whole program OrderRight. Coupa is our e-procurement platform, and we want to integrate as many suppliers’ e-commerce systems with Coupa as possible. Coupa is a great technology platform and an important partner to us. However, only our most technically sophisticated suppliers can connect with Coupa on their own. TradeCentric enables us to integrate with a large cross-section of our suppliers without requiring them to invest in technical capabilities they don’t have today. In other words, our partnership with TradeCentric allows us to meet our suppliers where they are in terms of technical capability as well as transform purchase order and invoice documents to our required technical format. For many suppliers, integration with our procurement platform wouldn’t be possible without TradeCentric.
Why is integration with suppliers important? What types of things are you automating with integration and what is the business value you derive?
Integration with suppliers’ e-commerce systems enables us to securely sign into their sites from within Coupa. That allows whoever is buying products for our clinics to access our negotiated prices, see up-to-date inventory data, and transfer the contents of their shopping carts directly back into Coupa. This secure sign-on and data transfer process is called PunchOut. Enabling e-procurement to e-commerce PunchOut promotes compliance with our procurement approval processes and allows whoever at Mars is buying products to use a one-stop shop for all suppliers we’ve integrated. We’re deriving a huge reduction in time and complexity for our clinic professionals. We want them focused on providing excellent veterinary care, not spending time dealing with procurement complexities.
Once we have an order that’s approved, we can automatically send a purchase order to the supplier and — this is key — send it in the data format that suppliers’ systems require. Once the order ships, suppliers send us invoices electronically and, again, we receive invoices in the data formats that go directly into our systems. Finally, using TradeCentric we more easily match purchase orders to invoices, dramatically reducing the time we spend on reconciliation. This ultimately gets suppliers paid more quickly.
How have your suppliers reacted to this program? Has working with them in a more integrated way had a positive impact?
Hema Sankar: A fundamentally important aspect of the program is that we do not require suppliers to undertake complex IT projects to support integrating with our processes and e-procurement solution. That’s been a key contributor to our success. If we tried to force suppliers to make big technology investments, we would not be as successful with our OrderRight program. TradeCentric’s integration platform and experienced implementation team have democratized participation in the program.
As for our relationships with suppliers, that’s very important to Mars. In our experience, suppliers who agree to participate in the program don’t fully understand the benefits immediately. However, over time they start to understand that the efficiencies of automated, integrated trade don’t just accrue to Mars, but also to suppliers. As I mentioned, we send them POs electronically that are formatted to go directly into their systems, and we accept electronic invoices from them that go directly into our systems. All that is regardless of the e-commerce systems they have implemented — and there are a lot of e-commerce systems that all work differently.
There is something I need to mention that is beyond the integration program but very important to our supplier relations. We have a lot of data on pet healthcare. That data allows us to work with suppliers collaboratively to innovate a broad range of solutions for more effective pet care, from improving diet and nutrition products, to new medications and intervention techniques. Once those innovations are available for purchase, they all flow through our automated, integrated OrderRight program.
Has the program improved any of your key financial metrics?
Hema Sankar: Our clinic teams are definitely saving time sourcing key products they need to provide state-of-the-art veterinary care. Across our systems that’s a meaningful time savings for our veterinary professionals.
Additionally, TradeCentric integration provides the functionality and flexibility that enable our Accounts Payable (AP) team to meaningfully reduce time they spend manually entering invoice data. We electronically map invoices to the appropriate supplier accounts and match invoices with POs, so the AP team doesn’t need to intervene manually. This saves time and has allowed us to redeploy FTEs to higher-value processes. We’ve consequently improved our financial controls with invoice data flowing from system-to-system, rather than via error-prone manual processes.
Any other advice to other Procurement teams that may be thinking about implementing an e-procurement integration solution?
Hema Sankar: Look for a partner that has deep expertise in the e-procurement-to-e-commerce integration space. Look for both extensive technology platform capabilities — PunchOut, PO and invoice automaton, as well as demonstrated integration support for the amazing breadth of e-commerce systems out there. Additionally, the team is critical for success. Very few, if any, systems integrators have the expertise to support custom integrations at scale. Many integrators will tell you they do have these capabilities. However, these buyer-to-supplier integrations are technically specific to implement and then they need to be maintained. Look for partners that have a platform built to support these integrations, can keep up with e-procurement and e-commerce systems changes, and have the team to help with creative implementation solutions.