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Spend Control – What would you want to do that for?


spend control in africa cropped

On location in West Africa ‘analysing’ and documenting requirements for a Spend Control system


Following on from our recent feature: Spotlight on Reducing Spend in the Energy Industry, some colleagues and I were exchanging anecdotes about other favourite experiences when implementing Spend Control systems. Here is one of mine (names, locations and just about everything else changed – but the story is a true one).

The Brief


Spend 5 days on location in West Africa ‘analysing’ and documenting requirements for a Spend Control system. The current process is entirely manual, the AP Team spend extraordinary amounts of time fending off unhappy vendors who have not been paid and Finance have no visibility of commitments. Sound familiar?

We’re getting there


It still feels strange to leave the relative opulence of the Heathrow lounges and wake up to the chaos that is the drive from Lagos airport to Victoria Island. Weaving our way through a sea of early morning commuters, yellow buses and motorbike taxis is now strangely familiar, but I don’t think I will ever get used to it.

First stop is a quick stop at the staff house for a shower and breakfast before joining our colleagues in the office. TIA – I am mistaken for an ‘ex-pat wife’. The Cook/Chef (Martin) says I can have my breakfast and cup of tea after the ‘Master’ has gone to work. His reaction when the penny finally drops is priceless – yes I really am going to work with ‘Master’.  I’ve never seen a ‘Martin’ move so fast – and probably never will– as he scurries off to the kitchen to in search of tea, toast and a sandwich for my lunch.

Day one passes with a relative degree of sanity. You could almost be forgiven for thinking it was just another normal day at the office.

Fast forward a day (let’s not dwell on last night, many are still traumatised by my new friends trying to teach me to dance ‘African style’…)

The importance of Workshops


A series of workshop style meetings is first up. The plan is to ‘walk’ the process that the manual Purchase Request form takes. I note the page full of signatures that are required, and the complex DOA that is pinned to the wall, but resist the overwhelming urge to ‘challenge’ the process so early on.

You get the picture, our requisition form requires many pairs of hands and signatures before it eventually finds its way to a buyer. This is certainly a process that can be simplified, whilst keeping a close eye on retaining the required level of control.

With our requisition now safely in the hands of the C&P Buying Team, we quickly identify several more areas where the process could be improved. As things stand, the paper requisitions are separated based on product type and contract status. That decision is made by the team leader who collects up the authorised requisitions and hands them to a member of the team.  I expect we could achieve a tick in the ABC box here too as the system is routing requisitions in an auditable & controlled fashion… but again I resist the urge to say this out loud.

After the ceremonial stamping, signing and completion of the paper Purchase Order, I then note the fact it is scanned and emailed to the vendor. Of course there are multiple copies of the form which need to be filed in a whole series of ring binders in different offices for future reference.

In order to witness first-hand the Inventory and receipting functions, there is a break in the middle of the week to take a day trip out to the warehouse. A couple of car and plane journeys, and one of the loudest meetings I have ever attended later it is very clear that these departments also need our help.

A day in the life of an invoice


The AP team are doing their best, really they are! With invoices arriving in multiple currencies from hundreds of vendors theirs is by far the biggest challenge. The manual system does not cope well with GRN matching – many goods and services are delivered directly to site. Invoices are either scanned and emailed, or placed in envelopes and sent manually for ‘approval’. Either way it is not difficult to see why invoices are being paid late. And then there are the invoices that cannot be ‘matched’ to an approved purchase order – there is a special drawer for those! A manual invoice register kept in Excel valiantly attempts to keep track of commitments and analysts try to ensure contract prices have been adhered to.

The AP staff spend an extraordinary amount of time on lengthy calls with vendors who are chasing unpaid invoices. It is really not surprising that they would dearly love a system to take care of the matching and approval so that their time can be better spent looking at discrepancies and genuine mistakes.

Where do we go from here?


At the end of the visit, we presented the proposed system again. This time we used some live examples of transactions we had followed so that we could demonstrate how the process might be improved through the implementation. It wouldn’t be Africa if there was not a twist in the tale though. This presentation was delivered in a Chinese Restaurant with a hired in projector and screen – and yes there was a break for lunch to be served. It was a very good lunch!

I am happy to report that PROACTIS has been implemented for these particular clients and is used very successfully in multiple locations by a large community of users!


Sarah Davis is Service Delivery Manager of TouchstoneEnergy and responsible for bringing together our specialist and highly skilled consultancy services team and project managers.

This has enabled TouchstoneEnergy to become recognised as experts in their field with the industry-specific knowledge that is required to credibly liaise with energy sector clients. In addition to INFOR SunSystems and PROACTIS solutions, Sarah has worked on the design and implementation of our Business Process Management solution – EnergyFlow.


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