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The Difference Between Intake Management and Process Orchestration

It's getting important to know the difference

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  • What’s the difference between Procurement Intake Management and Process Orchestration? And why is it important?

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The Difference Between Intake Management and Process Orchestration

As I covered in my recent 3-part series, Procurement Intake Management and Process Orchestration solutions are taking the ProcureTech world by storm these days, and for good reason.

My recent 3-part series on Intake Management & Process Orchestration:

Part 1: The Benefits of Process Orchestration

Part 2: Avoiding the Process Orchestration Trap

Part 3: How to Deploy Procurement Process Orchestration Tools

Most often, solution providers in this space will offer both capabilities (Intake Management AND Process Orchestration) but it's important to understand the distinction between these two things.


Well, first off, solution providers in other spaces are also starting to develop Intake Management functionalities. For example, I’ve seen Sourcing solution providers start referring to their own Intake Management functionalities lately. The meaning of Intake Management in a Sourcing tool context will be slightly different than in a Process Orchestration tool context… You’ll see why in a minute…

Secondly, it’s important to understand the difference simply from a semantic point of view. If you don’t have solid, common definitions in your organization, problems arise… People work on the wrong things. Resources are wasted. Frustration abounds!

So let’s start with definitions:

1) Procurement Intake Management: The process of gathering procurement requirements from requesters in the business and routing them to the appropriate fulfillment mechanism.

You’re doing this today… You may not be doing it well… It may not be supported by technology… You may not always be involved when you should be… But you are doing it. Requesters from the business are getting in touch with Procurement in one way or another to ask for your support. This may simply mean logging into a procurement system and creating a requisition.

The challenge all organizations face is making this process easy, seamless, compliant with policies/practices and aligned with category strategies.

2) Procurement Process Orchestration: Coordinating the execution of procurement business processes at the operational level (manual, system supported or automated tasks that needs to be executed in a given sequence according to business rules).

You’re also doing this today. You’ve got formal or informal processes. You’ve got systems. You’ve got status meetings and governance. You assign operational tasks to yourself, colleagues and stakeholders in other departments/functions.

You may not be doing it well… It may not be supported by technology… People may not always be involved when they should be… But you are doing it… You are executing procurement business processes day in, day out.

“Great Joël, if I’m doing it already, why do we need to define it?”

Well, because of the recent explosion onto the scene of dedicated software solutions to support these two activities: Procurement Intake Management and Process Orchestration solutions.

Generic Business Process Management Suites (BPMS) have been around for more than a decade (Appian, Signavio, Microsoft Power Automate, etc) with the goal of managing helping you manage HOW work gets done… The concept or explicitly defining, systematizing and supporting business processes with workflow software is not a new idea…

So why all the fuss then?

Well, quite simply, the general, all purpose process orchestration tools have failed us…

The concept that you can reorganize how work gets done to yield tremendous productivity results by itself is a proven one (e.g. process reengineering). This I know for sure because I’ve lived it myself.

BUT if you have a generic Intake Management / Process Orchestration tool (e.g. BPMS) for everyone in the organization (everyone has requests and processes to manager after all), then you have a tool that is fit-for-purpose for no one…

A procurement business process is very different from a production or warehousing business process.

The big deal is that these new Intake Management and Process Orchestration tools are being developed specifically for Procurement. They are:

  • Building the intake experiences with Gen AI (LLM) models specifically trained on Procurement context (e.g. knowing to look for goods in a catalog first)

  • Creating procurement process template libraries you can download and start using right away (if you want to start with a common/best practice process).

  • Creating plug’n’play connectors to all leading applications in the procurement system ecosystem

This bring the potential of these systems to the next level. It also reduces the barriers to entry and time to value (you don’t need to take a generic workflow tool and tailor it to Procurement, which can be a fool’s errand… The tool is purpose build for Procurement).

This is why I believe things are different this time around….

If the difference between Intake Management and Process Orchestration technology is still hazy, let’s illustrate further.

Let’s bring it back to process management language while using a good old Swimlane diagram

The good old Swimlane diagram…

If you don’t know what the above diagram is, you need a primer on Procurement Business Process Management to maximize value from your procurement applications/systems.

Check out this free deep dive guide for that primer!

𝗜𝗻𝘁𝗮𝗸𝗲 𝗠𝗮𝗻𝗮𝗴𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 is your "Business Process Trigger" (the “Start button”)

It's the tool to gather all the information needed to trigger the correct business process.

For example, you can use a Gen AI assistant or web form to gather purchasing requirements from the requester 𝗯𝗮𝘀𝗲𝗱 𝗼𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗶𝗿 𝗽𝘂𝗿𝗰𝗵𝗮𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗻𝘁!

(e.g. I'm not going to ask you the same information if you want to buy a fridge vs. have a contractor come and paint the head office walls)

𝗣𝗿𝗼𝗰𝗲𝘀𝘀 𝗢𝗿𝗰𝗵𝗲𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 is the engine that, once everything is gathered from the Trigger/Intake step, determines which business process should be launched and executed based on your business rules (the green process/activity boxes and yellow decision diamonds).

The Orchestration features coordinate the execution of the process steps (manual activities, system activities, tasks, decisions, etc.) across the relevant stakeholders and systems.

Intake is the first (sophisticated) bubble in your old Visio workflow diagram.

Process Orchestration is what makes everything else after the first bubble work….

Here’s yet another, simpler example of what that would look like:

Indirect Intake and Orchestration

As you can see, thinking through and documenting how you explicitly organize work in different procurement scenarios (e.g. business processes, roles and responsibilities and business rules) is how you will win if using these types of technologies.

You want Intake Management to be the “triage nurse” in your Procurement hospital. The nurse needs to ask all the right questions to route the requester to the right department, machines and doctor. Once the “Procurement patient” (request) is wheeled out of the lobby, that’s where orchestration begins.

This is the difference between Intake and Orchestration. It’s important because rigorously organizing work is how you win the future. And rigor starts with clear definitions.


💭 Quote of the Week

The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.


🌯 That’s a Wrap…

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Till next time,

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