Unitywater took a leap of faith when it became the very first customer in the southern hemisphere of procurement software start-up Scout.
But with great risk often comes great reward, and now other Australian organisations stand to benefit from the approach taken by Unitywater.
Unitywater, a nine-year-old water and sewerage utility that has innovation among its corporate values, simply needed to find a better way to source and contract suppliers.
“Our area was very manual,” Unitywater Procurement Manager, Namejs Kins, said.
“We used things like Word and Excel to achieve our goal and really had no tool of trade from a technology capability perspective.
“We still did what we needed to do very well, but we wanted to be more productive.”
Thanks to a LinkedIn advertisement and inclusion on Gartner’s 2017 list of “Cool Vendors”, Scout emerged as a possible solution and supplied a free test environment to trial.
“What we saw from the trial was that it was fit for purpose,” Mr Kins said.
“It didn’t automate the whole process, but it did the bulk of the work, so we put together a business case to investigate the costs, benefits and risks.
“We noted that they had no customers at the time in Australia or South-East Asia, so we spoke directly to existing, reputable companies overseas, including procurement leaders Twitter, who were already using Scout and we listened to their experience. The feedback was good.
“I was challenged as to why I didn’t choose someone in Australia. But we could demonstrate in the business case that it had the right bank-grade security, good client support and the costs were very competitive. Distance was not a tyranny.
“Then we considered that this platform is in the cloud, and it is not directly integrated to our existing systems. We’d previously seen other projects challenged on integration with IT and this was purposely not integrated.
“We deliberately wanted to be off-ecosystem, because if it didn’t work, we wouldn’t have broken anything and could go back to the pieces of paper.
“Our CFO, Pauline Thomson, was supportive of taking a risk – and kudos to her for that. We became one of the early adopters and certainly the first Scout customer in Australia.”
Since Unitywater began using Scout 13 months ago, it has seen a 25 per cent increase in productivity, a reduction in average job handling time from four days to between two and three days, unprecedented capacity to handle spikes in job demand, several compliments from suppliers and improved staff engagement.
“It’s a project management system essentially that allows us to capture requests and then manage and process them,” Mr Kins said.
“The big part we didn’t realise is it collaborates with everyone at the same time, so we have a single source of truth.
“Now, each of my staff can see what jobs they’ve got on, who’s doing what, what’s behind or on time so we can address gaps. It’s so much better than the old days of doing those manually redundant tasks.
“It can issue tenders to suppliers and manage bids. It sets up a selection panel and a scoring system, it produces a final report to allow an assessment and it logs it all as a record.
“It has triggered real engagement from our staff who now have a set of tools to do their jobs far more efficiently and effectively and has improved transparency for our customers and our suppliers, leading to stronger credibility and trust.
“This experience (engaging Scout) has showed me that Unitywater has an appetite for doing things differently and actually being innovative, versus just talking about innovation. I felt the culture shift, and it was exciting.”
FACTBOX: UNITYWATER’S TIPS FOR ENGAGING START-UPS
PLAN: Ensure your options investigation covers: business requirements, integration needs and checks for security, privacy, redundancy
CHECK: talk to existing users who are similar to your organisation, interrogate testimonials and check references
TEST AND GO: trial a real version, be pragmatic, give honest feedback that adds value to the start-up, own the implementation (don’t handball to IT)
Photo caption: Namejs Kins and Sandie West from Unitywater’s Procurement team.