Procurement has an opportunity, indeed an imperative, to transform from an enabler of cost reduction to a creator of sustainable competitive advantage.
Traditionally procurement has been the efficient workhorse for organisations, driving cost savings percentage point by percentage point, contract by contract. Yet despite the tremendous impact that strong spend management can have in value creation, the reality is that in many sectors, procurement is still primarily a transactional function with a limited scope of influence. Minimal deference is currently given to a function that, in light of the unprecedented rate of change in the world today, could in fact unlock distinctive competitive advantages for their organisation.
There are major shifts taking place globally today to which procurement must respond: value chains are becoming more complex and volatile, with increased risks and opportunities that accompany that complexity; developments in digitization, automation, and analytics that can unlock previously untapped potential; and acceleration of technological advancements and innovations are now more difficult than ever to keep pace with without external partnerships. This rapidly changing setting brings an imperative to change how procurement operates as a business function, as well as an opportunity to extend the scope of procurement’s influence in an organization.
Winning in this more complex and digital future will require a complete transformation of procurement as a function: having a broader mandate, way beyond just cost reduction; investment in digitization, automation and analytics; and rethinking the procurement organization.
So, exactly where should procurement leaders start to transform their functions? As a starting point, let’s take a closer look at the most important global shifts, and the corresponding implications.
Volatility brings risks—and opportunities
Since 1980, global inter-regional trade has increased eightfold, making supply chains more global and interconnected. However, with rapid growth across emerging markets, ever-increasing talks of trade wars, and intensifying concerns about sustainability, global supply chains are becoming more complex, more volatile, and more risky. Procurement functions need to be more adaptable as ever to respond.
Recent changes in trade policies are forcing large multinationals to rethink their supply strategies. By some projections, for example, Brexit could cost automakers in the UK billions of dollars in additional tariffs, and potentially force some to shift production elsewhere. Many other industries are also experiencing significant upheavals due to the changing nature of trade relationships between the United States and other countries.
At the same time, by 2025, emerging regions are expected to be home to almost 230 companies in the Fortune Global 500, up from 85 in 2010 (Exhibit 1). In a rebalancing global economy, procurement teams need to look beyond traditional low-cost locations in China and Latin America and explore new emerging markets in Africa or Southeast Asia, which have become attractive for new global sourcing opportunities.
Increasing corporate attention to socially responsible practices adds another challenge in managing complex global supply chains. Greater transparency—and greater expectation to be transparent—means unethical behavior in even a tier-2 or -3 supplier has reputational impacts on the purchasing organization. While ethical sourcing isn’t a new trend, the extent to which consumers are now making purchasing decisions based on this is. And companies are responding: in the 2017 McKinsey Global Survey on Sustainability, respondents across all regions reported significant increases in the adoption of sustainability-related technologies.
Take, for example, the use of blockchain for the mining of cobalt, a critical mineral for the automotive and mobile-device industries. Reports of labor abuses in cobalt mines have led producers and customers to deploy blockchain technologies: each bag of cobalt is sealed with a digital tag that ensures full traceability to compliance-accredited mining locations, creating a new source of competitive differentiation.
This article has been reproduced with permission from McKinsey & Company. It is co-authored by Tarandeep Singh Ahuja, a partner in McKinsey’s Melbourne office, and Yen Ngai, an expert in its Sydney office, and originally published here.