Determining the true cost of running a business can be challenging since there are many hidden costs that do not appear on the balance sheet but can significantly impact profitability. These costs can include things like employee turnover and lost productivity due to outdated equipment or inefficient processes. It's crucial to identify and track these hidden costs, as they can add up quickly and have a significant impact on the bottom line.
One of the most significant hidden costs associated with the Purchasing Step of the 7 Steps of Procurement is the time required to process purchase orders. These costs may not be immediately apparent, but they can add up quickly and have a significant impact on the overall cost of procurement.
Have you ever calculated how much it costs your company to process just one PO? Knowing your cost per PO is a crucial indicator of how efficient and effective your purchasing team and processes are. Industry leaders have already calculated this figure, and they use it to identify opportunities to optimize their procurement operations and reduce back-office overhead.
On average, it costs $68 to process a single purchase order, and that's just for the back-office overhead expenses. Imagine the full cost at thousands of POs per year! With such a significant cost associated with processing POs, it's no wonder that smart contractors are always looking for ways to streamline the procurement process. By optimizing your purchasing process, you can cut down on these expenses and help ensure that your business stays competitive and profitable.
(We’ve built a spreadsheet template that you can download for free to help calculate how much your company spends every year on your procurement process and how much you could save by leveraging technology.)
We’ve also provided a quick example below using averages for a contractor with ~$25M in annual revenue.
Purchasers Avg. Hourly Rate: $30
Time per PO (min): 20
POs Processed Per Year (est.): 2,900
TOTAL COST PER YEAR: $29,000
Why is the purchasing process so expensive? To better understand why, you need to break down all that goes into it. This is what best-in-class contractors do. They proactively assess their processes to identify where inefficiencies exist to make improvements.
To gain a deeper understanding of where opportunity costs occur in the PO process, we'll walk through each step involved. Additionally, we've created a comprehensive guide that can help you identify areas where you can reduce overhead costs. Check out our book on reducing overhead for more information: [LINK].
1. Gathering what needs to be purchased
To ensure that your purchasing team orders the right materials while staying within budget, they need to gather information from various sources in a streamlined and efficient process. By effectively gathering information from these various sources, purchasing teams can improve their decision-making and reduce costs.
Field: Field requests from contractors often come in different formats, such as phone calls, emails, and even written down on pizza boxes. These requests may be urgent and require prompt action, leaving the purchasing team little time to make informed decisions. According to a survey by the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), a non-profit organization that conducts research to help organizations improve productivity and quality performance, 68% of companies reported that they struggle to manage ad-hoc requests from the field.
Vendors: Purchasing teams rely on quotes from vendors to determine the cost of materials. However, if vendors are holding materials already purchased by the contractor, this can lead to double buying and unnecessary costs. A study by CAPS Research, a non-profit research organization that focuses on supply chain management and strategic sourcing, found that double buying can account for up to 4% of a company's procurement spend.
Warehouse: If the contractor has a warehouse, the purchasing team needs to track inventory levels to know what materials are on hand and what needs to be ordered. Poor inventory management can lead to unnecessary purchases and waste. According to a study by Wasp Barcode Technologies, 46% of small businesses with up to 500 employees either don't track inventory or use a manual method.
BOM: The Bill of Materials (BOM) serves as a central location for tracking necessary and approved materials and their consumption. By starting with the BOM, the purchasing team can determine the budget and schedule status to make informed purchasing decisions. However, managing the BOM can be a challenge when it requires manually updating information on a regular basis.
2. Creating the PO
Levvel Research, an advisory and research firm that focuses on technology, digital transformation, and payment strategies, reports that 44% of companies still rely on manual processes for purchasing, with only 15% having fully automated processes in place. This is consistent with the purchasing processes we’ve observed in most contractors, where creating POs can be a time-consuming and error-prone task. After gathering information from various sources, the purchasing team must organize and make sense of it to determine what to purchase. This involves drafting individual POs for each vendor and ensuring that the correct materials and quantities are ordered. Unfortunately, this manual work can introduce errors such as typos, ordering the wrong parts, leaving out key delivery information and incorrect data entry.
Furthermore, contractors who rely on outdated technology may have to manually enter the PO information into their accounting system, which is an additional task that’s prone to errors. It's important to note that this step of organizing, making sense of the information, and drafting the POs is crucial in ensuring that the purchasing team stays within budget and orders the right materials. Best-in-class contractors have recognized this and have invested in modern technology to eliminate manual tasks, giving their purchasing teams more time to make better decisions.
3. Accepting an Order Acknowledgement (OA)
Just sending a PO to a vendor doesn't necessarily mean that the order has been confirmed. Vendors need to acknowledge the order by delivering an Order Acknowledgment document (OA), which may have different pricing or availability quantities than found in the original PO. Then, a contractor might need to update their accounting system on the new pricing and item information, leading to more data entry. However, some contractors skip reviewing the OA altogether, considering it too time-consuming to do double data entry. This inefficient and error-prone approach can lead to significant accounting and bookkeeping errors, as well as throw off job spend and material usage numbers when analyzing a job's progress. It also increases the risk of paying an incorrect invoice, as discrepancies may go unnoticed until an invoice arrives later in the procurement process.
4. Updating records
Once a PO is sent, it needs to be kept up to date. Different materials might have different PO lifecycles from first send to being fully fulfilled. As an example, POs for system hubs [e.g., large air conditioning units or switchgear] and fixtures [e.g., sinks or lighting fixtures] often last for many months. These orders, along with hold for release POs and blanket POs, live for a long time, and change over the lifecycle of a job. As a result, accounting systems need to be kept accurate and vendors need to stay up-to-date with the latest version.
But most don’t have an easy way of creating order drafts and versions, or tracking changes between POs. As a result, much of that time per PO is spent on a few very time-consuming POs that need more intensive management and require office staff to create new versions of older records in the accounting system. There’s no doubt that updating versions across the lifecycle drives up the processing cost.
The Purchasing step is a critical component of any construction project, but it's also a process that's rife with inefficiencies. From creating a PO to updating records, there are multiple points where errors can occur, leading to expensive tasks that drive up the cost of processing an order. It's crucial to assess your current process and identify areas where you can streamline and optimize to reduce overhead costs and material expenses. By doing so, you can improve job profitability and ensure that your project stays on track.
Effective purchasing is key to the success of any project, and best-in-class contractors understand the importance of automating and streamlining manual tasks to optimize the process. By identifying inefficiencies and making changes to their purchasing process, these contractors have seen reductions in overhead costs associated with purchasing by up to 75%. When considering that the average cost to process one PO is $68, a 75% reduction would bring that cost down to $17. That adds up quickly when processing thousands of POs every single year.
In this section, we will cover some of the best practices implemented by leading contractors to enhance their purchasing process. These include optimizing the collection of necessary information to determine their purchasing needs, creating electronic purchase orders (POs), automating and tracking PO data, seamlessly updating OA data, and keeping PO data up-to-date. By adopting these practices, contractors can increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve overall procurement effectiveness.