Posted in Procurement Automation, Workflow Automation

Digital Purchase Orders: The Definitive Guide

A purchase order is one of the necessary types of paperwork that many business owners dread. The purchase order process is often long and complex and requires large amounts of back and forth communication. Too often, information gets lost in this type of disorganized communication – and even when it doesn’t get lost, it’s difficult to keep track of everything.

But this bureaucratic pain is no longer necessary thanks to the advent of purchase order automation software.

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A Look Into the Purchase Order Process

The purchase order process is the entire journey of a purchase order. It’s part of every organization’s overall procurement process. It starts with purchase order creation, its approval, dispatch, delivery, invoicing, closure, budget checks, contract management, quality checks, and anything else that is required for an order to be fulfilled.

For this process to be clear for all parties involved — the sales rep, managers, and buyers — establishing a proper flow is key.

Here is what one possible purchase order process flow could look like (yours will vary depending on your business requirements):

In this example, the process conditionally requires the approval of a VP if the amount exceeds a certain threshold.

What Are Purchase Order Processes Used For?

The main goal of a purchase order process is to manage orders and expectations surrounding this order. When a clear structure is established, all parties involved understand what will happen at what step of the flow.

This helps to clear up misunderstandings and errors in communication.

However, their use goes way beyond fixing communication. A process following purchase order management best practices also helps you track your paperwork, which will, in turn, make it easier to keep your budget in check.

For instance, imagine how your AP department would react if they received an invoice for several hundred thousand dollars due within 30 days. Without a properly organized purchase order process, the AP department won’t always be warned – this makes it needlessly difficult for them to do their job.

Having a proper paper trail is also vital when you’re audited. Your purchase order process can provide evidence of a transaction in the case of a financial audit, thus protecting you when it comes to the legal aspect of your finances. If you don’t have a proper process and tend to usually note down orders on a piece of paper, this isn’t proof enough for auditors.

What is a Purchase Order Form?

Every PO process starts with a purchase request form that’s filled in with information about the PO and is then routed around according to business requirements.

The purchase order form becomes a legally binding document once it is accepted and signed by the vendor. This document outlines everything the customer and the vendor need to know about an order.

Purchase order forms are the single point of reference in the case of a dispute or an issue in clarity. In 2014, a federal court ruled that purchase orders are an enforceable contract between two parties in the case of MidAtlantic International Inc. vs. AGC Flat Glass North America Inc. If your process requires the supplier to accept the PO, it serves as a legally binding document and can be used to address any discrepancies.

What Should a Purchase Order Include?

Your purchase order must contain everything necessary to clarify the purchasing process. This includes the items in the order, price, delivery expectations, payment terms, and so on.

A typical purchase order form might look like this:

Basic Purchase Order form.
A basic Purchase Order Form – click the image to try the form now.

Types of Purchase Order Forms

  • Standard: This is your typical PO that’s used to make one-off orders for products or services. They’re usually made when a specific need arises within your company.
  • Planned: For planned POs, everything is specified except for the delivery date. This type of PO is usually made when you can anticipate a particular need. For businesses that need to upkeep office supplies, for instance, this is a great way to make an agreement with a supplier for future deliveries.
  • Blanket: Similar to planned POs, blanket POs don’t have a specific date OR amount of the product or service. This is used to agree on terms and conditions as well as budgeting limits, but the specifics are figured out only later. Blanket POs are useful to guarantee better pricing from a supplier, since you’re establishing a need over a long period of time.
  • Contract: Contract POs are the loosest type – they act as a formal agreement between the supplier and the client, but don’t establish specifics for products or services. These are used to establish legally binding terms and conditions to create a future flow when a client knows they want to work with a certain supplier.

Try now: Check out these free purchase order form and process templates.

Pitfalls of a Manual Purchase Order Process

Using a manual approach, e.g. emailing an Excel spreadsheet around or even a paper form to process your purchase orders, leads to several challenges down the road.

Lack of Visibility

Without an automated PO system, it’s difficult for all parties involved in a purchase to get visibility to all necessary documentation at once. You also can’t tell where you are in your process unless someone happens to tell you.

Lots of Paperwork Generated

Running a business already involves too much paperwork. While some of it is unavoidable, you should aim to reduce paper where possible. A manual purchase order process just adds to the pile of paperwork and makes it increasingly difficult to stay organized.

Dependent on Human Intervention

For the process to move along, only humans can act – this requires the employee making the initial PO to send an email or walk up to their manager for a signature, then remember to follow-up with the vendor. So many details can go wrong – for instance, if the manager is traveling or the email is sent to the wrong person, the process is unnecessarily delayed.

Process Bottlenecks

The smallest details can cause a bottleneck when you’re using a manual PO process. What if you run out of printed PO forms? What if your manager misplaces the form they were supposed to sign?

This may sound kind of ridiculous, but these things do happen and waste valuable time!

Compliance Issues

You need to comply with business or regulatory requirements, but manual processing makes this difficult. You can’t track the exact process for every order, so how do you know if the process is being followed to the letter every time?

Prone to Errors and Inaccuracies

Human error is unavoidable. This isn’t because people are unreliable – it’s just a part of human nature.

Even the best employee can have an off day and make a mistake. When this happens, you shouldn’t default to blaming your employees – instead, take a good look at your process. Errors are bound to happen over time.

Financial Process Automation: 2 minute explainer video

9 Key Benefits of Digital Purchase Order Forms

Now that you understand all the challenges of a manual purchase order process, let’s see how an electronic purchase order system helps overcome them.

Purchase order automation is the process of using electronic purchase requisition and purchase order forms and routing to streamline the entire process. Instead of relying on human-driven manual steps, you rely on a solid purchasing system that automates every step.

In short, digital purchase order forms help you solve all of the pitfalls you’ll encounter in a manual process.

Here are nine of the best reasons for companies to opt for digital purchase order workflows.

1. Fewer Errors

Manually creating purchase orders can lead to errors for several reasons. Handwriting may be illegible and misinterpreted or fields may accidentally be left blank. Mistakes could result in an unnecessary back and forth that wastes both parties’ time. Digital purchase orders remove the chance of illegible text or missing information.

2. Save Time and Money

An electronic purchase order form allows all of your vendors and their information to be stored in one place. Nobody needs to waste time searching for form information. Nothing needs to be mailed or faxed. Orders can be sent instantly and a record is automatically saved. 

Since the automated procedure saves time, it allows your staff to focus on other essential tasks. Less wasted time means you save money. A study by APQC found manual purchase orders can cost companies as much as $506.52 per purchase order. Purchasing software can significantly reduce that number.

3. Improve Security

Filing cabinets filled with papers and emails are not a secure place to store confidential information. Automated systems keep your records safe and are only visible to people set up with permissions. Rather than using passwords, you can choose to integrate with your existing authentication and authorization systems.

4. Reduce Waste

Companies create way more paper waste than necessary. When existing paper forms are replaced by digital purchase order forms, you’ll substantially reduce the amount of paper your company uses. Using less paper saves you money, helps the environment, and improves your image as a green company.

5. Save Space

Say goodbye to rows of filing cabinets stuffed with copies of purchase orders. Your digital purchase order information is safe in the software’s electronic repository. You can also choose to save it to an external database, store it on a SharePoint site, save on Google Drive, or elsewhere. With multiple electronic backups in place, you don’t need your valuable workspace to be jammed with filing cabinets.

6. Unlock Productivity

For most growing companies, time is precious. There are never enough hours in the day to get things done and tasks like manually processing POs isn’t just tedious and time consuming — it’s a significant barrier to growth. Imagine how much more time your team could spend on important tasks like planning and executing rather than rote paperwork, documentation, and manual review.

7. Greater Visibility

An electronic purchase order system makes it easier to see where your money is being spent. You can quickly compare each department’s spending and if a vendor relationship seems profitable. A simple search through documents can show you pending orders, the status of orders, and any payments due.

8. Ensure Compliance

When you begin using your digital purchase order software, you’ll have the ability to set any rules you find necessary. You choose which team members are allowed to request products and who has the authority to approve requests. The software will ensure your rules are followed so you don’t have to worry about it.

9. Less Guesswork

Electronic forms can be as comprehensive as you like. You can limit purchasing to specific dollar thresholds or certain items. If you want, some employees could have higher spending limits than others. Decision making becomes faster when you take out the guesswork and you can avoid any miscommunications resulting in overspending.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Digital Purchase Order Software

With all this in mind, how do you improve efficiency for your purchase order forms? Here is a step-by-step guide for establishing a proper workflow using frevvo’s purchase order workflow software.

When an employee within your organization needs to create a new purchase order, your system should allow them to create this PO online.

The automated PO form should include vital fields that the employee can fill in.  Where possible, fields such as employee name or today’s date should be auto-populated.

Step 1: Use a Wizard to Start Creating Your Digital Purchase Order

Using frevvo, you’ll have the option to customize a fully functional, pre-built template so you can quickly get started. If you prefer, you can start from scratch and, using the workflow wizard, rapidly generate a fully functional digital purchase order including a form, workflow, and pre-built business rules.

Once the wizard has generated the workflow, simply drag and drop in our intuitive designer to create or adjust forms. No coding or design experience is required and you can easily create your exact PO form.

Workflow wizard
Answer a few questions and frevvo generates a fully functional workflow in seconds.

Step 2: Customize the Form

The wizard has generated a basic form that you can use as a starting point. However, you’ll almost certainly need to customize the form using the simple, visual designer to fit your business requirements.

For example, a standard purchase order form typically includes:

  • A purchase order number
  • Date it was created
  • Your company’s contact information
  • Vendor contact information
  • Item numbers, descriptions, quantities, inventory, etc.
  • Price breakdown, including discounts
  • Shipping address and expected delivery date

For repeat users, auto-fill can help you save time by finishing details you start to type. It’s vital to have a standardized form with all of the necessary information each party needs to see.

Here’s an example: See that all the necessary fields already exist and several are automatically filled in. When the employee inputs information, validation ensures that all required fields are filled in and the data in each field is valid.

Conditional purchase order process
Conditional PO process: click the image to try this process now.

This helps eliminate data input errors and helps the employee create the PO much faster than if they needed to input everything manually.

What About Digital Signatures?

Typically, you won’t have to worry about setting up and configuring signatures. Based on the information you provided in the wizard, the generated form already has digital signatures pre-created and configured in the appropriate sections.

The system also auto-generates business rules so that approval sections are only displayed at the right time.

Step 3: Use frevvo’s Visual Rule Builder to Add Business Logic

POs are easier to use if they perform calculations and pre-fill fields automatically.

Use frevvo’s Visual Rule Builder to add conditions and business logic as needed. It’s easy and 100% visual. If you can use a spreadsheet, you can create business logic:

Screenshots of the conditional logic builder shows how to visually create rules for your business workflow

Step 4: Customize the Workflow

The wizard has already generated a fully functional workflow. There’s no complex coding or setup required

However, you may wish to customize the routing. For example, some POs only need to be approved by company higher-ups if they exceed a certain dollar amount or involve specific products or services. With frevvo’s visual rule builder, simply point and click to define any conditional logic needed in the workflow (e.g., only POs above $10,000 require approval from the VP.)

Example of a purchase order workflow with a conditional rule

Step 5: Test the New Digital Purchase Order

As noted earlier, one of the hazards of manual purchase order approval workflow is that forms and records can easily go missing.

With frevvo, once an employee has filled out a digital purchase order and a manager and finance department representative (or anyone else designated in the chain of command) gives their approval, the form is automatically sent to all parties. This helps ensure that companies will have legible, accurate, and securely-stored purchase orders.

Let’s take a closer look at the previous example:

Employee Starts the PO

purchase order approval from manger

In this frevvo sample, you can see there is a ‘Send to Manager’ button available to the employee. With one click of that button, the PO is sent to the right person – and that’s all there is to it. The system automatically figures out who the right manager is, and routes to that individual.

Manager Verifies Request

The system automatically notifies the manager once a PO request for approval is pending.

From there, the automated process allows the manager to approve, deny, or send back the form for correction. We all know how busy managers can get so the system includes a mechanism to remind them or even escalate to someone else if the PO is not approved in a timely manner.

Manager approval of purchase order

This systems also allow digital signatures – this avoids unnecessary printing and scanning of documents. Everything is handled from the same online app.

Everything also works seamlessly on mobile devices; a manager who is traveling can handle the PO from anywhere.

As you can see above, approval takes a single click, just like the original PO creation.

It’s good practice to let the manager make comments – without this functionality, managers may decide to send comments by email, which makes it difficult to track all the information that was exchanged about the PO.

Notify Employee Upon Approval

When all parties have approved the PO, an efficient program automatically notifies the employee who originally created the form.

At the same time, the PO automatically moves to the next step.

Send to Vendor

The vendor receives an approved copy of the digital purchase order with all the needed signatures. From there, the vendor can sign the PO and prepare an invoice. This signature requires no printing since it is electronic. It ensures acceptance by the vendor and creates a legal binding contract.

signature on purchase ordr

Notify the Finance Department

Finally, an electronic notification allows the department to prepare for the incoming invoice. It also lets them know of all the terms and conditions involved in the transaction.

Wrapping it Up

Updating from paper to digital purchase order forms allows you to get rid of all the extra steps of the process that are needlessly weighing you down, whether it’s printing, data entry, tracking down lost POs, or sifting through endless email threads.

All of that paperwork can be automated for increased profits, reduced errors, and an overall higher ROI for the entire process.

To get started, try frevvo today and see how easily you can automate your purchase order processing — and hundreds of other operations tasks — with no coding required.

Automate Purchase Order with frevvo

Author:

Ashish Deshpande has worked in the process automation space for over 20 years. He has been instrumental in successfully deploying frevvo’s software at hundreds of organizations such as HBO, New York University, and Boston Public Schools. Ashish has contributed to leading publications such as Forbes, business.com and readwrite.com. Ashish received a PhD in Computer Science from Yale University, and a Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India.

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