The benefits of using automation to turbocharge manual, time-intensive and monotonous business processes have been well documented. Companies of all sizes and across all industry sectors are reaping the rewards of automation, and their procurement departments can benefit significantly from these investments.
Not only does automation help people work faster, more efficiently and more accurately, but it also frees up team members to focus on what matters most: strategic, value-added projects that fall by the wayside when professionals are buried under the weight of day-to-day manual tasks and responsibilities.
Buyers operating in the evolving electronics sector are particularly well positioned to benefit from automated business processes. “Technology is changing faster than ever and not just from a software perspective, but also from a hardware perspective,” says Nathan Pray, manager, digital technology office – B2B at DigiKey. “Electronic components are also changing quickly, and the average lifecycle of individual components is getting shorter and shorter.”
Digital solutions like application programming interfaces (APIs), electronic data interchange (EDI) and punchouts all give procurement professionals the tools they need to be able to stay in front of these changes and make good buying decisions. When buyers have the data they need to quickly source substitutes and backups, for example, it builds resiliency into the actual product design, all without having to go online to hunt around for those alternatives.
Sourcing in a Fast-Moving World
In our fast-moving business environment, manufacturers must continually assess their standard processes and the designs behind them, and then figure out ways to operate even more efficiently and effectively. Engineers determine which parts or components are needed and then procurement takes over to find a source of those parts. For companies that rely on manual systems, this process can be painful at best.
“In a manual world, it means going from website to website, copying and pasting information into spreadsheets,” Pray explains. “Not only is this time consuming, but it also leaves the door open for data entry errors and other mistakes.” This monotonous work can also take its toll on team members whose talents could be put to better use working on strategic, value-added projects.
Powering Up Procurement with APIs and EDI
Electronics procurement is a complex maze of parts, prices and partnerships. From miniature transistors to complicated circuit boards—and everything in between—manufacturers need a steady, reliable flow of the right components to meet their production goals. Manual processes are inefficient, but the digital revolution has produced a wave of tools that help streamline procurement and unlock major benefits.
Application programming interfaces that act as “messengers” between two different software solutions have had a profound, positive impact on procurement departments that want to digitize. These robust tools work in the background as platforms communicate and exchange data with one another in a very standardized and predictable manner.
A steady-state technology that’s been around since the 1960s, EDI is an equally strong partner for procurement departments that want to streamline their operations. The technology not only handles many otherwise-manual processes, but it also allows departments to scale up quickly without the need for more manpower or effort.
For example, a company that’s adding new suppliers can onboard them and begin transacting quickly with the help of EDI (which does require installed software to function). Once in place, the EDI application can be used to place purchase orders, access ship notifications and receive and pay invoices.
So what’s the difference between APIs and EDI? According to Pray, EDI flourishes on the transactional side, whereas APIs are good at collecting and quickly sharing quick bits of information across systems (e.g., available quantities, pricing, etc.). “An API can do a lot of the things that EDI can do,” he adds. “It's just a matter of what fits your system best.”
DigiKey: Your Tech Partner
DigiKey has the EDI capabilities that buyers need to work efficiently, quickly and accurately and provides APIs that enable everything from the initial product discovery right up to quoting and purchasing.
“We have APIs that can also enable features and functions in enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms that go beyond the purchase point, if necessary,” says Pray. By leveraging those specific APIs, buyers can easily see order status, order history and other vital information.
“We help automate receiving processes by offering APIs that work with barcodes printed on every DigiKey packing slip, order and individual part,” Pray states. “Our APIs also help buyers manage product obsolescence and change notifications. It's about enabling the entire purchasing process from discovery to invoice to help orders flow seamlessly from system-to-system.”
Don’t Get Left Behind
We’re in a period of rapid and disruptive change, and there's no better time to stop chasing paper trails and reconciling discrepancies. Instead, use APIs, EDI and other automated tools to create a smooth, streamlined communication channel across all procurement activities. And if you don’t make the move now, your competitors surely will.
“Automation and digitization are both becoming table stakes for growing organizations, which is why companies should be reviewing and updating their processes regularly,” Pray concludes. “Any company that chooses to ignore this may soon find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. With the right processes in place, automation tools can be the accelerating factor for both growth and satisfaction for business and employees.”