All posts by Ian Thompson

From The Backroom To The Boardroom: Procurement & Supply Chain Leaders Step Up

Procurement and supply chain leaders are experiencing newfound appreciation and opportunity following their response to COVID-19.


COVID-19 hit supply networks hard. So hard, in fact, that 97% of organisations experienced a related disruption. Still, there’s more to the story than disruption and chaos.  

Insights shared by over 600 procurement and supply chain professionals actually paints a positive and inspiring picture: supply chain and procurement leaders were prepared – and responded brilliantly – when faced with a global pandemic that literally brought the whole world to a sudden halt. Now they have an opportunity to reset the procurement agenda.

A Look Beneath the Surface

Consider the data beyond headlines. While nearly every organisation was impacted, only 17% said the supply chain disruption was severe. On the other hand, almost half agreed the impact was minimal or moderate.

Similarly, despite the macro economic turmoil, the impact on supplier payments has been relatively modest. Most contracts and supplier relationships survived the chaos, showing the strength of existing relationships and strategies. According to our research:

  • 58% of organisations are still operating and paying their suppliers per contract,
  • 14% are speeding up payments to suppliers,
  • 6% are providing direct financial support.

When the pandemic affected supply chains directly, procurement responded quickly and effectively. The majority of organisations (65%) were forced to source alternative suppliers for affected categories. As of early June, 79% of those surveyed had already found alternative suppliers for affected categories, with 53% locking down new suppliers in less than three weeks. Amazingly, 18% were able to find new suppliers in only a weeks’ time. This response has not gone unnoticed.

The Spotlight Shines Bright

The agility shown by procurement and supply chain leaders, along with their ongoing criticality in managing the crisis, has been a boon for the function with executives and board members. 

“The crisis has put procurement in the spotlight,” commented Ian Thompson, Regional Director, UK and Nordics at Ivalua, a source-to-pay technology provider. “There are a lot of talented executives now getting the attention of the c-suite for the first time.”

When we asked how leadership leveraged procurement and supply chains teams during the crisis, only 16% of survey respondents said they were still being viewed tactically. On the other hand, 40% said their recommendations are solicited more than usual and 22% said they now have a seat at the executive table with input on key decisions.

“For as long as I remember, the question has always been how do we make the C in CPO a real part of the c-suite?” said Thompson. “It’s finally happening, and procurement needs to capitalise.”

According to Thompson, the key is taking advantage of the new platform. “Now that you have the attention of the c-suite, you need to have an agenda, and use the platform to properly set the record straight for what procurement is all about, and what’s possible. When called upon, you can fix the problem, or, you can fix the problem and reframe the conversation internally.”

The heightened attention has also led to renewed interest in procurement and supply chain careers. As a result of the crisis, nearly 62% of all respondents and 71% of millennials said their interest in procurement and supply chain has increased.

“The interest is very high. Procurement has become an essential function during the crisis, especially on the direct side. We have procurement teams that are fueling the food supply chain, sanitising the country and ensuring the flow of essential services across the globe. More people are recognising the importance of procurement and supply chain,” said Thompson.

The current dynamic should lead to fresh career opportunities for Generation Next. The function’s performance during the crisis sets the stage for increased investments in talent development and technology, a bigger seat at the executive table, and new opportunities for ambitious practitioners to make their mark.

The Coronavirus Has Exposed How Delicate Our Procurement Ecosystem Really Is

Do we need a fundamental reimagining of what our procurement ecosystem looks like? We think so. Here’s why 


For so many around the world, the experience of the coronavirus has been like waking up from a dream, only to realise you’re still in it. You knew the world around you, or you thought. But suddenly, frighteningly, everything you knew started to become unstitched. The four walls of your apartment became rather stifling, but the blue sky outside seemed more radiant than ever. You savoured your favourite pasta, you learnt to use just one sheet of toilet paper. You wrote a letter to a loved one. You realised how precious a hug can be. 

The pandemic, undoubtedly, has been about the big things. Lives lost, businesses broken, economies shattered. But for many of us it’s also been about the total inversion of the small things. Take, for example, ‘essential workers,’ the people that – let’s be honest – before, we rarely thought about. This crisis has highlighted just how important the supermarket shelf stackers, cleaners and parcel delivery people are to our daily lives. These jobs are not ones we aspired to, nor ones most appreciated. Now though, we’ve had to take a step back from our life of never-ending convenience and expectation to understand that these people are the ones that prop up everything, while we continue unwittingly. The delicate ecosystem that supports each and every one of us has been exposed, and there’s no going back – not now, not ever. 

Just as the ecosystem of life has been laid bare, so too has the fragility of our supply chains and the logistics monolith that supports it. ‘Before,’ a term that cannot be so casually used anymore, the proverbial ball was largely in our court. Our suppliers and contracts, hard-won after tough negotiations, became a feature, ever compliant, on a spreadsheet. We kept demanding, they kept producing – nothing to see here. Until of course, there was everything to see, and we were scrambling to figure out if not you, then who? The scramble laid bare the fact that our supplier represented a lot more in real life than as a piece of data on our computer. 

Yet still, for a while, it was a ‘China problem.’ They’ll sort it out, we told ourselves, after all, SARS! They know what they’re doing. We failed to own the problem as ours, we barely contemplated the potential for a global logistics breakdown. Force Majeure was there to protect our interests, not the fact that our cash-strapped supplier might be forced to shut – and may not have the ability to reopen. Overnight, it became a supplier’s market again. They knew we needed them, and badly. Their faults became our headaches – but what did we really expect?  

That supplier? That logistics trail? That global, intricately woven, incredibly complex system that supported us? That is our ecosystem. Those suppliers, we’ve realised, they’re so much more than a number on a spreadsheet; they’re a livelihood – ours. They’re complex, they’re human, our relationship is not a one-way street. Understanding them, analysing them, getting real-time data and above all, building a relationship, is the only way to keep them – and our precious ecosystem – alive. 

‘Before’ we squeezed them on price, because we could. After all, that’s our job, right? Now? Those dollars don’t count for much, if we can’t keep manufacturing. ‘Before’ we preferenced short-term gains, it just looked better. Now, we realise how little those gains counted for when we’ve had to throw our business continuity plans out the window. ‘Before’ we could afford to put process before people, we could afford to be blind rule-followers. We could afford to do what we always did, because that’s just the way it was always done. 

But now? We know. If the pandemic has done anything, it’s forced us to hold ourselves to a higher moral standard. Our suppliers are our partners, we should treat them with the respect that title deserves. Sure, monitoring tech is needed, some even say that it could have predicted the current interruption – and planned for it. But beyond the data, the AI, and all the tools we’ll soon have in our toolbelt, what we need most is human relationships. Respect. Good business practices. Efficiency, not processes. Value, not dollars.

Right now, we’re living a nightmare. But when we wake up, we’ll still be in a dream. Let that be one, procurement, where we forge new relationships, break new boundaries, and focus on what really matters – people. Let’s look to technology not to replace human interaction, but to enable us to better collaborate with our suppliers, and to do so with more of them (not just a few we’ve determined to be most strategic).