All posts by Daniel Ball

Procurement Is Everywhere But It Wears Hundreds Of Disguises

When procurement wears a mask, layers of stage make-up or one of its other many disguises, you might find it tricky to identify. But, as Daniel Ball explains, procurement is everywhere and in all of our organisations- it might just be presenting itself in a different way…

It’s fair to say that, as a concept, procurement tends to be associated with large businesses.

However, any organisation from the smallest to the largest buys things that they need from chosen suppliers. And, however small the organisation, they face much of the same procurement challenges that we all do. So why do we not consider them all to be ‘in procurement’?

The many disguises of procurement

In reality, the entry point starts when a business begins and evolves in sophistication and complexity with their growth. Although we think of procurement in terms of an established function, role or set of rules, much of the practical procurement going on out there is actually in a formative or evolutionary stage, depending on the maturity and needs of the organisation in question.

This is a vital insight for those of us working to support the procurement profession. We have to remember that we’re not dealing with a perfect procurement-badged world, nor one which conforms to all of the industry buzzwords and ‘best practices’.

In most cases, we’re dealing with people in a state of flux, who might well not call themselves procurement professionals; after all, there are hundreds of different guises in which procurement presents itself. This is particularly prevalent in high growth mid-sized businesses who are feeling the pain of change or ‘growing up’ more severely than most.

What challenges do mid-sized companies face?

Wax Digital wanted to find out what kind of challenges mid-sized companies are faced with during expansion.  We asked 200 senior business management and procurement professionals at fast-growth, mid-sized UK businesses about the pain points they have experienced as their organisation has grown.

Without giving too much away, here are 3 of the key highlights our research uncovered; demonstrating the kinds of procurement-related issues hampering their ability to support business growth.

  1. 83 per cent of respondents surveyed said they didn’t challenge their suppliers on cost or performance adequately, whilst 78 per cent struggled to control spend, citing departmental purchasing autonomy as a problem. Three quarters also said that they don’t have sufficient purchasing technology or systems in place to keep up with the pace of growth.
  2. UK mid-sized businesses have a broad range of growth challenges that are all linked back to both upstream and downstream procurement needs. Even though they’re not yet talking procurement these businesses are dealing with procurement’s problems and need a solution.
  3. In fact, mid-sized businesses are perhaps the segment of the UK economy most in need of professional procurement practice. Their reasons for, and rate of, change are so extreme they must get their house in order before it becomes too unwieldy and difficult to control.

The results of the research will be revealed in full next week via Wax Digital’s website.

What are your media consumption habits?

Wax Digital are conducting a quick survey to understand more about how procurement professionals use media for work. If you’ve got a few minutes spare to tell us how you stay on top of latest industry news and trends, we’d love to hear from you!  It’s just a few simple questions on your media consumption habits. And, to say thanks, we’ll put your name into a draw to win a £200 donation to a charity of your choice.  Complete the survey here.

What’s The Catch-22 In Procurement Technology?

From here to eternity: what does the future of procurement technology  look like? Download Wax Digital’s Procurement 2020 report here

Procurement technology has undergone a long road of change that has consequently altered procurement functions, processes and the very nature of the business itself. But while we spend much of the time understanding how technology is governing what we do today, it’s how technology is shaping the procurement role in the future that should be our focus.

There is a widespread belief that procurement ‘intelligence’ could significantly change the goalposts for the profession, and go beyond informing and processing data, to predicting, learning and deciding.

Procurement technology’s Catch 22

With analytics and intelligence comes a dilemma. Do you outline the questions you need to answer before you perform analysis, or use the data to work out the answers to ‘what you didn’t know, you didn’t know’? It’s a catch 22 scenario.

Thanks to big data and artificial intelligence (AI), this dilemma is becoming easier to manage. A procurement system using intelligence exhibited by machines can learn from users’ mouse clicks, purchases, and line of information to make its own choices, rather than requiring approval from users.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that procurement skills and knowledge will become any less sought-after. But those in demand are likely to change, perhaps even for the better, if cognitive technologies allow experts to think, consult and use their human skills more wisely.

Our panel’s three key intelligence priorities were:

  1. Anticipating supply and demand decisions

    The power of big data enables procurement systems to foresee the needs of the business, such as anticipating demand based on historical spending or seasonal demands. And the data that systems are based on will only expand as new internal and external dimensions are added to the mix, such as social media and newsfeeds, assessing demand more accurately. Intelligent systems may then begin to question human decisions, such as the validity and need for supplier orders and assessing the risk and ongoing performance of suppliers. Supercomputer IBM Watson’s ability to answer questions shows AI’s and sophisticated analytical software’s ability to surpass a human’s ability to answer high-functioning questions, and to work as an instructor to human processes.

  1. Uber-personalisation

    From marketing to IT, departments across the organisation use purchasing systems, meaning that there are different roles and backgrounds to accommodate. Through machine learning, procurement could lead the way in uber-personalisation, in which its systems are integrated with others such as ERP and CRM to determine and define each users’ preferences and needs.

  1. Intelligent supply relationships

With the introduction of AI comes a potential new landscape of supplier management, as eTendering, eSourcing and contract management have the potential to become more automated. This could see systems monitoring supplier behaviours and performance based on buyer feedback, or keeping a close check on adherence to contract terms; and possibly even interpreting eAuction behaviours and leading negotiations to make sourcing decisions on the procurement professional’s behalf. 

Even with vast use of intelligence, the procurement department will still require human involvement. While intelligence can be used to purchase everyday office products such as paper, strategic projects like building a new office will require procurement’s involvement in business planning and meetings, meaning that procurement professionals should strengthen their strategic skills in this area to ensure that they’re indispensable. But a new type of ‘colleague’, which is highly efficient and has extreme attention to detail, could well be on the way. Combining intelligence with vital people skills is how you can make procurement a strong and effective force in the business.

Learn more in Wax Digital’s Procurement 2020 report, a set of future gazing in-depth interviews with global senior procurement professionals and experts.  Integration of procurement technology in the wider business was the first topic.