Tag Archives: procurement 2020

A Decade In Review: Procurement In 2020

Is procurement less, just as, or more important this decade than the last? Find out as we take a walk down memory lane…

It’s the dawn of a new decade in procurement, and goodness me, how things have changed. From the digitisation of just about everything, to the introduction of big data, 2020 looks vastly different than 2010 did. 

As a former CPO and now Principal Advisor at Procurious, I’ve been at the coalface at what I can only describe as seismic changes to our profession. 

But have all the changes we’ve seen been good changes? Are we now poised to deliver more value, or will we struggle to do more with less? And are we more relevant than ever, or is technology replacing us? Here are my key observations from the last decade – and what we need to do to stay valuable going forward:

We became captivated with compliance

The last decade started for me with a bang – I was promoted to a procurement leadership role and I was, for the first time in my career, excited to be able to effect real, lasting and meaningful change. I felt that procurement could achieve much more than pumping out stock-standard contracts and controlling third-party spend. 

Yet my excitement was short-lived. As I looked around me, I found that, as a function, the procurement community just didn’t seem interested in broader, value-adding gains. Their focus was still quite shortsighted; they seemed captivated by processes and fixated on compliance. Cost-savings, contracts and the financial bottom line seemed to be the only thing on their mind.

Data made us better advisors (but some of us are still catching up)

‘Don’t ever do a job a machine can do,’ said our grandparents, as they rejoiced at the invention of the calculator. Suddenly, this advice was ringing true in our profession – we had eProcurement, cloud computing, and AI to take away a lot of our administrative work. What came in its place was the ability to deliver new and intriguing insights to our stakeholders quickly, without having to spend hours on Excel.  

As emails replaced purchase order pads, eCatalogues replaced supplier brochures and the data started to flow through, we had the information to inform our strategies and priorities. As a result, our advice and cost savings rapidly improved. 

Not everyone was a fan, though. Many of us became concerned with job stability, and some believed that technology had created more issues than it solved.

From cost reduction to value creation

As the decade progressed, our relentless focus on cost reduction started to feel like a grind, not least for suppliers who, feeling bullied by our negotiation techniques, began to speak out and cry ‘no more.’ These changes meant that the expectations of our stakeholders started to move away from a focus purely on cost.

The good news was that our newly automated processes helped us to shift our attention from cost-savings to value creation. Before we knew it, we’d automated our entire P2P process, freeing us up to build strategic partnerships with both our suppliers and stakeholders. 

In uncertain business and economic times, the focus on value creation was exactly what our profession needed. It lifted us from a ‘necessary evil’ in some people’s eyes to a strategic partner. On the whole, though, that transformation is far from complete, and many of us still have some work to do in this regard.

It’s more about the people than ever

Behind the analysis, behind the processes, and behind the cost-savings, procurement has always been a people profession. And perhaps the best news of the decade is that with all the change, with all the uncertainty and with the new and heightened expectations, procurement professionals have shown themselves to be resilient, optimistic and future-focused. 

We’ve embraced digital disruption. We’ve welcomed, with open arms, technology that makes us more efficient, and we’ve also onboarded stakeholders and suppliers to use that technology, meaning we’re adding even more value. 

But we’ve also realised where technology stops and that is, sometimes, with communication. We now understand how critical our ‘soft skills’ are at work, and that technology can’t replace the influential conversations we need to have to convince an operational manager to change suppliers, or make a case to buy more sustainably. Technology is transformative, but then again, so is our ability to negotiate.

As for 2020 and beyond?

With digitisation and automation now happening at breakneck speed, many of us have embraced the change but fear what’s coming next. Soon, virtual assistants will abound, collaborative marketplaces will proliferate. What value will we add, then? 

The answer is plenty. One thing we’ve learnt from the last decade is that in uncertain times, human relationships prevail, and that’s where our strength and expertise shine through. Armed with our best people skills, the sky is really the limit for procurement. As a function, 2020 and beyond could see us having more strategic influence than ever before. 

What other changes have you seen in the last decade? Do you think that procurement is less, just as, or more important this decade than last? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Helen Mackenzie is a Principal Advisor at Procurious and a former senior leader in UK public procurement. Connect with her on LinkedIn and join Procurious to hear more of her unique insights.

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.