The lab supply ordering process has evolved since the days of paper requisitions and purchase orders that slowly meandered from desk to desk. If an approver was on vacation, the paper in question sat in on their desk until they returned. Incorrectly routed requisitions were at the mercy of the interoffice mail system to get to the right person.
So, the approval process is much better these days, right? Well, yes and no.
Early-stage biotechs often utilize a manual approach that is similar to the old days, albeit not paper-based. Their procurement process relies on spreadsheets and emails, perhaps combined with an accounting software like Quickbooks. When the lab is small and scientists are few, this approach is feasible. However, as the lab scales, a purchasing cycle marked by many manual touchpoints stifles growth by distracting scientists from experiments, limiting spend visibility, and leaving volume discounts on the table, among many other drawbacks.
Late-stage biopharma and pharma companies usually rely on a more digitalized approach through use of a procure-to-pay (P2P)/source-to-pay (S2P), and/or other invoice approval workflow product. While such tools partially automate the process, they are not without their problems due to the complexities of the R&D space. In a recent ZAGENO study of scientists, lab operations, and procurement professionals in the life sciences industry, respondents reported experiencing experiment delays due to approval-related bottlenecks.
“Any order that requires higher approvals often gets delayed for days or weeks sitting in someone's inbox.” — Scientist, Pharma
“It's frustrating to have to approve every order in [P2P platform name withheld] before it gets placed, even with approved vendors. It's also frustrating to require management approval before orders are placed.” — Scientist, Pharma
With a multi-layer approval matrix, workflows are often bloated with too many checkpoints. At times, the workflow itself is incorrect, with approvals or other purchase order-related documents routing to the wrong person or department.
“I have received several order invoices which are not related to me.” — Scientist, Pharma
“Unpaid invoices and bounced back purchase orders come to us to sort, we do not work in procurement or know how to find the right codes, contacts etc.” — Scientist, Pharma
In addition, approvers may want to see certain data first, such as inventory usage or budget utilization, which requires extra time to obtain. During these delays, the necessary item(s) might go on backorder, become unavailable, or go up in price, forcing the scientist to start the process all over again.
Respondents on the front lines of lab supply ordering shared features of the ideal lab supply ordering process:
Organizations whose purchasing process consists of spreadsheets and emails should look into implementation of a P2P/S2P platform immediately. Companies already employing a form of digital workflow approval should audit their approval matrix, update outdated approver contacts, remove layers where possible, and explore supplementing their procurement strategy by joining a self-service digital marketplace.
Use of a private e-marketplace such as ZAGENO enables scientists to build carts from over 30m+ product SKUs across over 5,000 suppliers. With custom approval workflows and consolidated ordering, procurement and the lab can apply budget restrictions, set up multiple approvers, and quickly access order history and spend data. Streamlining approval workflows reduces purchase order cycle time, speeding procurement of the lab supplies that enable scientific breakthroughs.