Faced with the dual challenge of sustainability and growth, businesses are looking to procurement collaboration to help.
Since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, most established firms have reduced costs, focused their resources, and become more lean and efficient. Now, however, they face the challenge of how to grow. This will require the development and implementation of truly innovative products, services, and business models.
In this challenging economic climate, procurement professionals are being asked to do more with less. The efficiency of Procurement, as well as procurement collaboration, is now seen as a critical part of moving the business forward.
Research confirms the new picture
Recent research by Oxford Economics for Ariba and SAP shows that more than two-thirds of senior procurement executives and employees say procurement is “becoming more collaborative with other parts of the business”. These figures are also valid for Responsible Procurement.
According to Procurement Leaders Research from 2012 on how procurement aligns with other functions on CSR topics, 33 per cent responded that, “there is an informal communication between procurement and other functions”. 47 per cent stated that there is formal communication between procurement and other functions.
The Supplier Coach
Procurement collaboration with the supplier is also key, though it is also critical for the process, and the sustainable outcome, that procurement acknowledges its role as a ‘supplier coach’. Typically procurement is responsible for the Supplier Relationship Management part of collaboration, although there is a need for a more open interpretation of the relationship.
The relationship should build on a joint relationship with win-win approach, where both parties will be engaged in driving the sustainable agenda on an equal basis.
As a coach, the procurement professional should:
- Ensure that the supplier is motivated to work with the company’s agenda.
- Ensure that the supplier continuously improves by providing input for improvement.
- Promote the supplier’s interest within the company.
- Ensure that the supplier has the strategic capabilities, or the willingness, to contribute to the company’s long-term growth.
- Develop effective communications both internally and externally with the supplier.
Need for Business as ‘Unusual’
Typically, a supplier will encounter CSR at the very beginning of the relationship via the supplier selection and evaluation process, through the risk management process, or through the settling of the contract.
No business can escape the fact that global economic conditions, the status and future availability of affordable resources, energy supplies, and a growing global population are creating an ever more complex business environment.
The limitations and growing problems of the linear economic model, that has served organisations well for many decades, demands that ‘business as usual’ is unlikely to be a winning strategy in the future. The winning strategy lies within the circular economy.
The Circular Economy
The Ellen McArthur Foundation defines the circular economy as “one which is defined as an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by design”, essentially replacing the end of life concept with restoration.
It shifts business towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals, which impair re-use and aims for the elimination of waste through intelligent design of materials, products, systems, technologies and business models. We could call it circular innovation.
Supply chains are getting more complex every day in terms of the number of involved partners and the quality and degree of interdependency between them. One of the predictions in relation to the integration of circular thinking, is that complexity will increase.
Businesses operate in a globalised world, where the volatility of markets, the speed of technological progress and the pace of change in the economic and business environments, will continue to rise rapidly. As a result product life cycles are getting shorter and market demands become more and more unpredictable.
Collaboration with all types of partners, and their willingness and ability to share their knowledge, will be crucial and key to a successful development and integration of circular thinking.
The key question is how procurement can advance procurement collaboration with suppliers on circular thinking in an effective way? How can procurement ensure that the suppliers are willing and able to share their knowledge?
In many companies it is typically a challenge to include suppliers in the front end of the innovation process. Procurement teams are often disconnected from the functions they serve and the markets they engage with. They are not fluent in the nuances of the business and hence lack experience and authority.
Also in many companies, procurement are used to innovation being an internal capability. They are not used to working together with external partners on delivering it.
For procurement to be successful in these innovation oriented supply partnerships, I believe that it requires new models for relationship building and collaboration. It also requires procurement collaboration and integration across the whole organisation.
There is a great opportunity for Procurement to take a leading position within an organisation and transform the company approach from a linear economy to a circular economy. In order to do this, procurement has to facilitate the change of supply partnerships from a pure cost orientation, towards a strong focus on joint collaboration and innovation.