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In the past, managing purchase orders was a detailed and cumbersome process, but it was also essential for protecting your company's interests and ensuring accurate invoicing. These documents were critical for delineating order specifications and securing proper payment, but they often involved a tedious, paper-based system with a lot of back-and-forth communication.

The introduction of purchase order automation software has dramatically changed the landscape. By transitioning to digital purchase orders, businesses can eliminate paper and manual efforts, leading to substantial savings in both time and cost.

This guide will introduce you to digital purchase orders and how they can simplify your purchasing process. These systems improve communication, increase visibility, and streamline workflows. Approving or rejecting purchase orders is now just a matter of a few clicks.

Importing and Matching Purchase Orders (POs) on Ramp Bill Pay – Ramp

What is a digital purchase order?

A digital purchase order (DPO) is essentially an electronic version of the traditional paper-based purchase order. It is used to request and authorize the acquisition of goods and services from suppliers via specialized software or an online platform. Unlike its paper counterpart, a DPO allows you to manage the entire procurement process electronically, enhancing efficiency and reducing the potential for errors.

Each digital purchase order includes crucial details such as:

  • The description of the goods or services requested
  • The quantity needed
  • The delivery date
  • The agreed-upon price
  • Any relevant terms and conditions

How the purchase order process works

The process begins with a sales requisition or a request for purchase from within your organization. Once this request is approved, a digital purchase order is generated. This document serves as a formal agreement between your company and the supplier, outlining the terms of the transaction. It is then sent to the supplier to request the necessary goods or services.

Digital purchase orders streamline your company’s procurement process by automating what was once a manual and time-consuming task. By moving away from paper, the system eliminates the need for physical storage and data re-entry, speeding up the purchasing process and ensuring a more accurate record of transactions. This automation significantly reduces handling time, allowing for a quicker response from suppliers and faster order fulfillment.

Why should you use a digital purchase order system?

  1. Cost reduction

Using a digital purchase order system can significantly reduce the expenses associated with paper and postage. Integrating eSignature capabilities further enhances cost control by eliminating the need for physical document handling and storage. Consolidating documents in one accessible online space prevents lost paperwork and allows orders to be accessed from anywhere, enhancing efficiency and accuracy.

  1. Enhanced security

Digital systems offer superior security compared to traditional paper-based methods, which are vulnerable to loss or theft. Digital purchase orders ensure that your data is securely stored and accessible only by authorized personnel. This secure environment safeguards sensitive information and provides a detailed transaction record, enhancing accounting accuracy and facilitating easier audits.

  1. Improved communication

A digital purchase order system streamlines communication throughout the procurement process. Changes in orders can be communicated instantly, and the approval process is transparent, allowing buyers to track progress until final approval. Once approved, orders are sent directly to suppliers with all terms and conditions attached, ensuring clarity and compliance.

  1. Faster order processing

Digital systems expedite the entire order process, from creation to approval. This swift processing saves valuable time and money, with automated reminders ensuring that approvers review and approve orders promptly.

  1. Reduced errors

Automated processes replace traditional methods prone to human error in a digital system. This minimizes mistakes related to prices, quantities, or dates, which are automatically calculated, reducing the burden on accounting staff to verify details manually.

  1. Improved tracking and monitoring

A digital purchase order system makes tracking and monitoring orders and invoices effortless. This visibility into the procurement process ensures timely receipt of goods and services, maintaining operational flow and compliance with purchasing terms.

  1. Better collaboration

Digital systems facilitate better collaboration between buyers and sellers by providing a unified platform where both parties can access the same updated information. This shared access helps quickly resolve issues and streamline negotiations.

  1. Eco-friendly practices

By eliminating the need for paper in the procurement process, a digital purchase order system also contributes to your company’s environmental sustainability efforts, reducing your carbon footprint.

  1. Increased productivity

Digitizing the purchase order process frees up time spent on manual tasks, significantly boosting productivity. It’s estimated that companies can save about 20 to 30 percent of lost revenue annually due to inefficiencies associated with manual processing.

10. Flexibility and customization

Digital systems offer unparalleled flexibility, allowing you to make adjustments to orders on-the-fly and access your data anytime, anywhere. Furthermore, you can customize digital purchase order templates to align with your company’s branding and operational needs, ensuring a seamless fit into your existing workflows.

11. Greater visibility and control

With integrated approval workflows, a digital purchase order system enhances your ability to manage budgets and spending effectively. This visibility ensures you can maintain financial control without compromising operational needs.

Get started with Ramp Procurement – Ramp

How to set up a digital purchase order system

  1. Craft a compelling argument for digital purchase orders

When introducing new technology, such as a digital purchase order system, for your business, it's crucial to present a solid business case to convince stakeholders and decision-makers of the investment's value and necessity.

Emphasize the criticality of automation

Explain how automating the purchase order process streamlines operations, reduces errors and delays, and leads to more efficient procurement processes. Highlight strategic benefits like increased accuracy, enhanced compliance, and improved supplier relationships.

Calculate potential cost savings

Analyze your current purchase order process by determining the average number of orders issued annually and the typical cost of processing each manually. Demonstrate how switching to a digital system can lead to significant savings due to increased efficiencies and reduced manual labor.

  1. Streamlining vendor evaluation for your digital purchase order system

Selecting the right vendor for your digital purchase order system is crucial, but it doesn't have to be extensive or time-consuming. Adopt a targeted approach to identify the best solution for your business needs.

Pinpoint key business requirements

Identify the primary issues your business aims to resolve with the digital purchase order system. Create a focused list of the top three to four critical challenges for your operations to guide your search and comparison of potential vendors.

Outline high-level use cases

Develop high-level use cases that capture your business's most urgent needs from a digital purchase order system. Use these as benchmarks to assess each vendor's capabilities. Consider the following essential functionalities:

  • Central Dashboard for easy management and real-time cash flow tracking.
  • Configurable Approval Process with a customizable approval authority matrix.
  • Detailed Reporting for enhanced visibility into spending and informed decision-making.
  • Lifecycle Tracking to monitor and track each purchase from requisition to payment.
  • Catalog Support for faster requisition processes using pre-approved catalogs.

Assess vendor solutions

Considering your specific needs, review potential vendors that offer systems aligning with your high-level use cases. Focus on a few (3-4) that best match your criteria. Verify vendor reputations, user reviews, and case studies to ensure their solutions have been effective in similar business scenarios.

  1. Tailor forms to your business's needs

Once you have approval from stakeholders and have selected the appropriate digital purchase order system, the next step is to customize forms to fit your organization's specific requirements.

Create a standardized purchase order template

Set up a universal purchase order template to standardize the format and information required for all purchase orders. This customized template ensures consistency across transactions and helps maintain control over the procurement process. Include the following in the template:

  • Purchase Order Number for unique identification
  • Item Name
  • Detailed Description of the item or service
  • Unit Price
  • Date of purchase order issuance
  • Necessary Contact Information (name and phone number)

In addition to the purchase order template, create other essential documents that facilitate the purchasing process, such as purchase requisition forms. These forms are used to formally request the procurement of goods or services before issuing a purchase order and help maintain a clear and approved procurement pathway.

  1. Craft the ideal purchase order workflow

After selecting your digital purchase order system and customizing your forms, the next crucial step is to design the workflow that your purchase orders will follow based on your business needs. This process involves several key stages:

Migrate existing data

Begin by importing all relevant data from your existing or legacy systems, including:

  • Chart of Accounts affecting the entire purchase order process
  • Comprehensive Supplier List and Locations
  • Details of Current Projects requiring procurement
  • Classes, Department Codes, and other organizational data influencing purchasing decisions and financial reporting

Ensure the new digital purchase order system integrates smoothly with any other systems you plan to use, such as your accounting software (e.g., QuickBooks Online).

Assign roles and permissions

The final and critical part of designing your workflow involves setting up roles and permissions within the system. Assign responsibilities based on the roles individuals play in the purchasing process, such as:

  • Initial Requesters: Employees who initiate purchase orders may need access to input detailed information about requirements.
  • Managers: Supervisory roles may only need permission to review and approve purchase orders rather than edit them.
  1. Implement an effective purchase order approval hierarchy

Setting up an effective approval hierarchy within your digital purchase order system is essential for controlling spending and ensuring proper authorization for each purchase. This setup clarifies who can approve purchases and to what extent.

Select an approval matrix structure

Choose between two primary ways to design your approval matrix:

Maximum Control: If senior executives, such as C-suite members, need to oversee every purchase to ensure tight spending control, set up the approval matrix to require their approval on all purchases. This setting suits organizations with high-level oversight to align purchasing activities with strategic business goals.

Maximum Accountability: If mid-management is trusted with more authority and expected to manage day-to-day purchasing decisions, configure the approval matrix to empower them with greater accountability. This approach allows for faster decision-making and is often appropriate in dynamic environments where managers are closely involved with operational needs.

Ensure that the approval hierarchy is tailored to current organizational needs and flexible enough to accommodate future changes. This might include adding new levels of approval as your business grows or adjusting the thresholds for existing roles based on evolving financial strategies.

  1. Simplifying purchasing with effective catalog development

Developing a well-organized catalog system within your digital purchase order software is crucial for simplifying the purchasing process. Catalogs serve as a central repository of frequently ordered items, making managing and streamlining procurement activities easier.

Consider the following strategies when setting up catalogs based on your purchasing needs and vendor relationships:

Utilize vendor-provided punchout catalogs

A punchout catalog is a custom link the vendor provides that connects directly to their website, where you can access your specific pricing and product availability. This setup is ideal for larger vendors with extensive product lists, ensuring access to current pricing and stock information without manual database updates.

Create internal catalogs

Setting up an internal catalog is more sensible for businesses that make occasional purchases from a vendor or require a limited number of items with stable pricing. An internal catalog, maintained by your business, includes a select list of frequently purchased items with fixed pricing.

This catalog type helps control costs and streamlines the purchase of standard items by avoiding repeated price negotiations or adjustments to purchase orders for commonly bought goods.

By effectively developing and managing catalogs within your digital purchase order system, you can enhance the efficiency of the procurement process, speed up the purchasing cycle, and ensure that your business maintains accurate and up-to-date information on required goods and services. This reduces the administrative burden and allows a greater focus on strategic purchasing decisions.

  1. Monitor system adoption for continuous improvement

Once your digital purchase order system is fully operational, the focus shifts to ongoing maintenance and continuous performance improvement. This final step is crucial for ensuring the system remains effective and continues to meet the evolving needs of your organization.

Begin by establishing key metrics to monitor how the system is being used, such as:

Volume of Purchase Orders - Track the number of new purchase orders created weekly to gauge overall activity and consistent usage across the organization.

Approval Timelines - Monitor the average time taken for purchase order approval to identify potential problems in the workflow or approval hierarchy.

Vendor Adaptation - Assess how well vendors adapt to the new system, as their adaptation directly affects the efficiency of your procurement cycle.

Review Performance Metrics Regularly

Review the metrics and usage data you have been collecting regularly. Look for trends in the data that indicate strengths and areas for improvement. Pay special attention to any bottlenecks in the approval process, user engagement levels, and the accuracy and timeliness of purchase order processing.

Gather Comprehensive Feedback

Continuous feedback from users is vital for iterative development. Gather input from end-users and managers, IT staff, and vendors who interact with the system. This broad perspective can provide a more comprehensive understanding of the system's performance across different touchpoints.

Make Targeted System Updates

Use the insights gained from performance data and user feedback to make targeted system updates. This might involve refining the user interface, adjusting workflows, enhancing security features, or expanding integration capabilities with other tools and platforms. Small, incremental changes can significantly enhance usability and efficiency.

Evaluate the Impact of Changes

After implementing changes, measuring their impact on system performance and user satisfaction is important. This validates the effectiveness of those changes and guides future improvements.

Why Digital POs Over The Manual Purchase Order Process

Despite the emergence of digital solutions, many businesses still rely on manual purchase order processes. Here are some key issues commonly associated with manual purchase order processes:

Excessive Paperwork: Manual systems inherently involve a significant amount of paperwork. Additional paperwork from purchase orders can complicate organization and efficiency for businesses already burdened with administrative tasks. Reducing this paperwork can streamline operations and help maintain a cleaner, more organized workspace.

Operational Bottlenecks: Manual processes are prone to bottlenecks, which can arise from the simplest issues. For example, a shortage of printed forms, misplaced documents, or key personnel being unavailable due to illness or vacation can all disrupt the workflow. These bottlenecks can delay purchasing activities and affect the overall efficiency of business operations.

Compliance Challenges: Manual systems make ensuring compliance with business or regulatory standards more difficult. The lack of a transparent, traceable process makes it hard to verify that all procedures are followed correctly, potentially leading to compliance issues.

Human Error: Manual processes require extensive human involvement, from creating and approving purchase orders to managing vendor communications. Each step introduces the potential for errors whether it's data entry mistakes, miscalculations, or miscommunication. These errors can delay the entire procurement process and impact business operations.

Visibility Issues: Without an automated system, tracking the progress and status of purchase orders is challenging. Paper-based systems lack real-time visibility, making it difficult for all parties involved to stay informed. Documents can easily become misplaced, sit unattended on desks, or even get destroyed, leading to significant information gaps.

Digitalize your purchase orders with Ramp

Ramp provides a comprehensive solution for transforming traditional purchase order and procurement processes into a streamlined, digital system. By implementing Ramp, businesses can gain significant control over their spending right from the outset, automate critical procure-to-pay processes, and eliminate approval bottlenecks that typically slow down operations.

Centralized Request Management: With Ramp, the need for lengthy email threads is eliminated. The platform centralizes procurement discussions, enabling stakeholders to comment, tag team members, and get notified within the system. This ensures that everyone involved in the procurement process can access the same information, reducing the need for repetitive communications and speeding up decision-making.

Enhanced Collaboration Tools: With Ramp, the need for lengthy email threads is eliminated. The platform centralizes procurement discussions, enabling stakeholders to comment, tag team members, and get notified within the system. This ensures that everyone involved in the procurement process has access to the same information, reducing the need for repetitive communications and speeding up decision-making.

Automated Approval Workflows: Ramp's procurement software supports the creation of automated approval workflows that align with your business's unique processes. It integrates seamlessly with tools your team already uses, such as Slack or Teams for approvals, and Ironclad for contract reviews. This integration facilitates a quicker, more efficient approval cycle tailored to specific business conditions.

Visibility and Control Over Spend: Ramp automatically generates purchase orders from approved requests, providing a clear view of committed spend and upcoming invoices. It offers a consolidated dashboard for tracking all requests and purchase orders. Additionally, the ability to code purchase order line items and synchronize them with accounting software like NetSuite or QuickBooks enhances financial oversight. The system also matches invoices to purchase orders, ensuring added control and accuracy in spend management.

With Ramp, businesses can not only digitalize and optimize their procurement processes but also achieve greater accuracy, efficiency, and compliance across all purchasing activities. This leads to improved operational workflows, better spend management, and ultimately, a more robust bottom line.

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Group Manager of Product Marketing, Ramp
Chris Sumida is the Group Manager of Product Marketing at Ramp, located in Ladera Ranch, California. With almost a decade in product marketing, Chris has a knack for leading successful teams and strategies. At Ramp, he’s been a driving force behind the launch of Ramp Procurement, which makes procurement easier and more efficient for businesses. Before joining Ramp, Chris worked at Xero and LeaseLabs®️, creating and implementing marketing plans. He kicked off his career at Chef’s Roll, Inc. Chris also mentors up-and-coming talent through the Aztec Mentor Program. He graduated from San Diego State University with a BA in Political Science.
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