My local grocery store has just installed chip-reading credit card machines.
This might not sound like a particularly big-deal, although I suspect any Europeans reading this may be surprised that a shop could still function without them. But it marks a significant step-change in purchasing practices here in the north-eastern US. The cards themselves have had chips for years, but now that the readers are in place they can finally be used.
Oh, except that the chip-reading features haven’t been switched on yet, at least in this store. Oh, and when they are, the process will still be “present card, confirm amount and sign.” Yes, sign.
“Chip and PIN” is most definitely NOT coming anytime soon.
And that really is remarkable. In the UK, “Chip and PIN” has been around so long it is now on the way out, being superseded by “Contactless.” It is really quite surprising for this blogger that the USA is so far behind the curve with more efficient methods of taking your money.
The void created by this lack of progress in credit card payment is being filled with smartphone-based touchless payment solutions, and in my local grocery store I can use ApplePay, but still need to “swipe and sign” with a credit card.
But this is precisely the kind of end-user bewilderment experienced in the world of business software around corporate spend management, procurement and purchasing.
Whilst the wider world of personal spend management is becoming easier, touchless, automatic and thus free from hassle and effort, spend management in today’s complex global business remains a disjointed, disconnected set of systems, departments and decisions.
Rolling up all of the elements of money-management in a large business into a single body is not trivial. Combining procurement, finance and accounts payable into a single coherent flow is a significant challenge, and not just politically.
Nevertheless, the benefits to be derived from automating many of the spend management functions are undeniable. Touchless processing of what remain to this day fully manual document handling tasks, is appealing, not just because of the release from drudgery, but because of the improved accuracy, visibility and performance that automation can deliver.
The scope that this automation could cover may not be limited to procurement, with elements of sourcing, supplier management and savings tracking all up for grabs, so to speak. Spend management notionally extends into the AP and finance domains, and also into expense management and capital growth under a single overarching corporate strategy. Bringing all that under control for automation is desirable due to the level of control it could provide, but it is first and foremost an organisational challenge.
Just like the world of card-based retail, the technology exists, and some of it has been around for some time. But, it takes a force of will to put it all together into a system that really works. The lesson from the retail world is, whilst early-adoption may seem slightly risky, wait too long and you may end up with a system that’s so archaic that the rest of the world will have moved on by the time you take the first step.
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