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Procure to Pay Lifecycle

Procure to Pay Lifecycle

Procure-to-Pay, commonly abbreviated as P2P, is a multi-step business process that begins when an organization identifies a need for goods or services and ends with the payment of the invoice. It includes crucial stages such as requisition, approval, purchase order generation, receipt of goods or services, invoice matching, and finally, payment processing. By integrating these functions, P2P aims to optimize the procurement cycle, minimize errors, and improve efficiency.

While P2P has gained popularity for its ability to streamline procurement processes, it’s important to recognize its limitations. The procure-to-pay process has been a significant step forward in spend management and compliance. However, it often doesn’t go far enough in addressing the modern challenges that procurement departments, supply chains, and finance teams face. 

One major shortfall is the lack of standardization around intake—the very first step where a need for a purchase is identified. Because intake processes are often ad hoc and vary from one department to another, it becomes a bottleneck that prevents P2P from achieving its full potential. These issues are where Intake-to-Pay shines, but before we get into that let’s learn more about the procure-to-pay process. 

After reading this article, you'll:

  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of the limitations and drawbacks of traditional Procure-to-Pay systems, including why many such implementations fail to live up to their promise for efficiency and stakeholder engagement.
  • Be introduced to the concept of Intake-to-Pay, a next-generation solution that aims to solve many of the challenges plaguing P2P by integrating the intake-to-procure process and focusing on end-user adoption.
  • Acquire actionable insights into why Intake-to-Pay is not just an incremental upgrade but a transformative evolution that can improve stakeholder collaboration, cross-functional orchestration, and the continuous optimization of procurement processes.


The Procure-to-Pay Cycle

The Procure-to-Pay (P2P) cycle is a series of interconnected steps designed to facilitate the efficient procurement of goods and services. Below, we break down each phase of the purchasing process to help you understand what it involves.


The cycle starts with a requisition, which is essentially a formal request for goods or services. In this phase, an employee identifies a need—say, for office supplies or specialized software—and submits a purchase request. The requisition typically includes details such as the type and quantity of goods or services required, the preferred vendor, and the date by which the items are needed.


Once a requisition is submitted, it goes through an approval process. Supervisors or managers evaluate the request based on factors like budget availability, urgency, and compliance with the company’s purchasing policies. In automated systems, this can be a quick and streamlined step; however, in manual or semi-automated systems, this can often be a bottleneck.

Purchase Order

After approval, a Purchase Order (PO) is generated. This is a formal document sent to the vendor to authorize the purchase. It contains specifics like the quantity, price, and terms and conditions of the goods or services. A PO legally binds the vendor and the buyer to the terms outlined in the document.

Delivery and Inspection

Once the vendor receives the PO, they deliver the requested goods or services and goods receipt. Upon arrival, the items are inspected for quality, quantity, and adherence to the specifications outlined in the PO. Any discrepancies must be resolved before moving to the next stage.

Three-way match

The "three-way match" is a critical step that ensures you only pay for what you've received and at the agreed-upon terms. This involves matching the details on the purchase order, the delivery receipt, and the vendor invoice. If all three documents align, the invoice is approved for payment.


After a successful three-way match, the accounts payable department processes the vendor payment. The payment method, whether it be through electronic funds transfer, credit, or check, is executed according to the terms set out in the PO and invoice.

Understanding the nuances and sequential steps in the P2P cycle can significantly improve your procurement efficiency. 


Benefits of Procure-to-Pay Automations

The traditional Procure-to-Pay (P2P) process, while functional, often involves manual processes that can be time-consuming and prone to human error. Automating the P2P cycle introduces a host of benefits, fundamentally changing the way organizations approach procurement. Below are some of the key advantages.

Streamlined Processes

Process automation allows for a seamless transition between different stages of the P2P cycle. From requisition to payment, automated workflows eliminate the need for manual data entry, speed up approval times, and reduce the chances of misplaced or lost documents. This leads to a more streamlined, efficient, and faster procurement cycle that can adapt to the high-paced demands of modern businesses.

Cost Reduction

Automating the procure-to-pay process flow significantly reduces operational costs while improving cost savings and cash flow. By minimizing manual work, you not only save labor costs but also mitigate the risk of expensive errors like duplicate payments or overpayments. An automated system can also capitalize on early-payment discounts and avoid late fees, contributing to overall cost reduction and an improved bottom line.


Maintaining compliance with internal policies and external regulations is easier with automated P2P systems. Automation ensures that every transaction is logged, every approval is documented, and every process is conducted based on pre-set compliance rules. This not only helps during internal audits but also provides a layer of security against fraudulent activities.


One of the most underappreciated benefits of automation is enhanced transparency. Automated P2P systems offer real-time tracking of requisitions, approvals, and payments. This not only provides valuable insights into the procurement process but also allows for better accountability and governance. With a transparent system, it's easier to identify bottlenecks, make data-driven decisions, and improve supplier relationships.

Automation in the P2P cycle is not just a trend but a fundamental shift in how organizations manage their procurement activities. These benefits underscore the transformational value that automation can deliver.


Procure-to-Pay - Best Practices

Once you understand the Procure-to-Pay (P2P) cycle and its benefits, the next step is to implement it effectively. Below are some best practices that can help you get the most out of your P2P process.

Implementing Automation

As discussed earlier, automation is key to streamlining the P2P cycle. But it's not just about choosing procurement software; it's about integrating it seamlessly into your existing processes. Evaluate different procure-to-pay software solutions and choose one that fits your organizational needs. Make sure the procure-to-pay solution can scale as your business grows and that it offers the kind of analytics and reporting features you need for optimal visibility and control.

Vendor Management

Building and maintaining strong relationships with reliable vendors can go a long way in simplifying your P2P process. Use your P2P system to keep track of vendor performance metrics, payment terms, and compliance status. This information will not only help you negotiate better contracts but also make informed choices when selecting vendors for future transactions.

Standardized Workflows

One of the main challenges in P2P is inconsistency in processes across different departments or teams. Standardizing workflows can eliminate this problem, ensuring that everyone in the organization follows the same set of procedures. Standardized workflows contribute to efficient and error-free transactions, quicker approval times, and easier tracking and auditing.

Document Management

A robust document management system is crucial in any P2P process. Ensure that all documents related to procurement—be it requisitions, purchase orders, invoices, or contracts—are securely stored and easily accessible. This will facilitate invoice processing, make audits smoother, and help resolve disputes more efficiently.

Incorporating Intake-to-Pay as a Best Practice

While P2P best practices can significantly improve your end-to-end procurement operations, they often fall short of solving problems related to the intake process—how needs for purchases are initially identified and standardized across the organization. 

Incorporating Intake-to-Pay as a best practice can be a game-changer. It enhances the traditional P2P model by adding a formalized intake step at the beginning of the process. This ensures that every procurement request follows a standard procedure, making the entire procurement life cycle more efficient and effective.


Procure-to-Pay - Common Challenges

While the procure-to-pay (P2P) process offers numerous advantages, especially when automated, it isn't without its challenges. Addressing these challenges head-on can significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of your P2P operations. Here are some common issues organizations often face:

Lack of Standardization around Intake

Arguably the most crucial challenge is the lack of a standardized intake process. When different departments or even individual employees have their own ways of initiating a procurement request, it introduces chaos, maverick spend, and inefficiency into the system. 

This is a primary reason why even the best P2P solutions fall short of their promise. Without a uniform intake process, bottlenecks, delays, and errors become all too common, undermining the overall efficiency of the procurement cycle.

Mismatched Invoices

In a less-than-ideal P2P cycle, one common issue is the arrival of invoices that don't match purchase orders or delivery receipts. This can happen due to human error, changes in order specifications, or even fraudulent activities. Resolving these discrepancies can be time-consuming and often leads to payment delays, affecting supplier relationships and possibly incurring late fees.

Delayed Approvals

Even with automation, approval delays can still happen, especially if the system isn't set up for optimal efficiency or if there's a lack of clarity in approval hierarchies. Delays in the approval of purchase requisitions, purchase orders, or payments can slow down the entire procurement process and processing time, affecting not just timelines but also operational efficiency.

Supplier Risks

Inadequate supplier performance, vetting around new suppliers, or supply chain management can expose your organization to various risks, including poor quality of goods, delayed deliveries, or even legal issues. An effective P2P process should incorporate rigorous supplier assessments and contract management, but many companies fall short in this area, usually due to lack of resources or expertise.

While these challenges can be daunting, they're not insurmountable. In fact, they offer insights into areas for improvement and innovation in your P2P lifecycle. As you'll see in the next section, many of these challenges can be effectively addressed by evolving from a traditional P2P approach to an Intake-to-Pay model, which places a greater emphasis on standardizing the initial procurement request process.


Why Intake-to-Pay is the Next Step in the Procure-to-Pay Evolution

The traditional procure-to-pay model, while effective, falls short in tackling several procurement and financial challenges that modern businesses face. As we've seen, even the most effective P2P systems are often plagued with issues like lack of standardization around intake, mismatched invoices, and more. The solution lies in the evolution of this model to Intake-to-Pay.

Intake-to-Pay is an advanced, holistic approach to procurement that starts with a standardized intake process for all procurement requests and extends all the way to payment. Unlike the traditional Procure-to-Pay model, which often sees fragmented or ad-hoc requisition processes, Intake-to-Pay offers a streamlined, user-friendly system that centralizes all procurement activities. 

It covers the entire procurement journey, from the moment an employee identifies a need for goods or services to when the payment is finally processed, offering superior control, transparency, and efficiency.

Here's why Intake-to-Pay and Zip represent the next crucial step in streamlining procurement operations.

Consumer-inspired UX

While traditional P2P solutions were designed with a procurement-centric approach, Zip's Intake-to-Pay solution prioritizes end-user experience. By making the user interface intuitive and user-friendly, Zip ensures higher adoption rates, which is often the Achilles' heel of many P2P systems. A system is only as good as its adoption rate, and Zip is designed to be as intuitive as a consumer app.

Vendor-First Approach

P2P solutions often treat suppliers as an afterthought, leading to minimal help in digital transformation and increased administrative burden for them. Zip's solution offers a vendor-first approach, facilitating easier onboarding and collaboration. This enables a more transparent and efficient procurement process, making life easier for both suppliers and internal teams.

Advanced Analytics and Continuous Optimization

Zip’s Intake-to-Pay system comes with built-in analytics capabilities. The data-driven insights enable continuous process optimization and proactive influence on stakeholder demand. Now, rather than reacting to procurement issues, you can predict them and put solutions in place ahead of time.

Flexibility and Scalability

The world of procurement is rapidly evolving, with an increasing emphasis on services as opposed to goods. Zip's Intake-to-Pay solution is designed to handle this complexity. Whether you are procuring goods, services, or anything in between, Zip’s system is flexible and scalable enough to meet your needs.

The shift from P2P to Intake-to-Pay isn't just a change of name or a slight modification; it's an evolution designed to address the complex challenges facing modern procurement teams. With features tailored to today's business needs, Intake-to-Pay offers a more comprehensive, efficient, and user-friendly approach to procurement and financial management.

Zip's Intake-to-Pay solution is your ticket to a more efficient, strategic, and user-friendly future. So, why wait? Book a demo today and let us show you the future of procurement.

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Nick Heinzmann
Head of Research at Zip

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