Procurement Agility in the Age of Digitalisation - Procurement News

Career Management | by Giles Breault on 07/02/2018 01:06 | 0 comments

How can your procurement team embrace the age of digitalisation  and develop an effective roadmap that ultimately puts you in the driver’s seat?

The digital enablement field is wide open, with no single right answer on how to proceed.

However, there are ways that can help organisations plot a way forward. CPOs must define a roadmap for change and align it with enterprise-level digital transformation initiatives.

Procurement think tank 2018

This year marks the fifth year that we have held our Procurement Think Tank. Throughout our work in the procurement field, we have strived to create an environment of real learning and interaction with business peers over topics that can be investigated in a deep way in an environment of open exchange through spaced-out gatherings to discuss a singular topic.

This blog is the summary of this year’s series and an excerpt of the article published in Procurement Leaders magazine. While many of the insights, and perspectives come from a small group of practitioners and may vary from company to company; nonetheless, the insights obtained can be applied across many organisations and industries. The complete article and related graphs can be read on Medium here.

2017 Focus On Driving Efficiency And Increasing Agility

As we wrapped up last year’s discussion, the group pressed us into looking at the area of procurement efficiency in context of the coming digital revolution. Most members conceded that their ability to learn about and master digital tools was inadequate, and they needed time to prepare.

The need to improve procurement efficiency (doing more with less) and at the same time master changes in technology (specifically the impact of digitalisation) are two very different objectives. They demand different resources, different thinking and different leadership, leaving procurement teams in an untenable bind; needing to contribute more but without the capability to assimilate new technology that might be a remedy for that problem.

The 2017 EU Think Tank Series theme was “Growing Digital And Agility Capabilities To Drive Efficiency In Procurement” to investigate the following issues:

  • What is the burning platform for Procurement Agility?
  • What are the major dimensions of growing agility?
  • Does growing a digital capability answer the issue of procurement agility?
  • Deep dive on key topics in the digital sphere:

1. How will Big Data and IoT technologies impact procurement activities?

2. What is AI and how can Procurement leverage the opportunity?

3. What is RPA and will it replace most procurement operational tasks?

  • Where is procurement now on the journey to a digitally enabled future?
  • Who are the leaders in procurement digital enablement?
  • How to assemble a digital roadmap?
  • What talent is needed to drive digital forward?

Agility – Making flexibility look like the plan

We probed the issue of Agility and the key elements must procurement teams master. The deep reflection on agility reveals that it is not just about flexibility, but rather a never-ending cycle of thinking-planning-action all in a devolved approval matrix (see my blog Agility – Making flexibility look like the plan).

The group recognised that while digitalisation might be a foundation, in and of itself, digitalisation is only an enabling tool of agility. When viewed in this context, the rush to become ‘digital’ is less of a frenetic all out race to do something ‘digital’ and more of a ‘pick-and-choose’ from a menu of enabling technologies that will most help achieve a business strategy.

However, while procurement is tasked with dealing with a broad range of new technologies, it also must deal with its traditional mandate. Bertrand Maltaverne, JAGGAER’s ‘Procurement Digitalist’, challenged the group with his perfect storm analogy. As procurement continues evolving toward digital mastery it still must manage increasingly complex supply chains, reduce risk, become more efficient, expand its influence and become a trusted business advisor. The enormity of these tasks has created a conundrum for procurement teams regarding which priority to tackle first.

Depressingly, procurement teams have not taken a leadership position with respect to digital technologies, opting instead for being a receiver of whatever mandates are forthcoming from broader implementation efforts. The data shows that most procurement organisations are either unprepared or have taken a ‘wait and see’ approach to digital technologies, often adopting them in a haphazard or uncoordinated way. The sheer number of available technologies that must be evaluated for their usefulness has stymied procurement organisations from building an effective path and being able to move forward.

The issue, of course, is two-fold. First, there must exist specific knowledge within the procurement teams about the technologies that are available, and secondly, leadership awareness of those technologies and how they fit together in the strategic landscape. Then and only then can a framework be developed that prioritises how and when to implement the chosen solutions. Today, most procurement organisations are not rising to the challenge in either of these areas.

While many new digital technologies are fast becoming standard, often, the solutions that promise the quickest way of making transactional processes more efficient are no longer within the purview of procurement. These activities have been subsumed into other, often larger, Business Services functions. While we have long been advocates of moving transactional activities to other functions, one can see the writing on the wall. The continued erosion of the procurement remit combined with automating technology, could easily foretell the doom of the function as we know it. The logical outflow of this, is that procurement is evolving towards a two-tier function; one where an enhanced set of operative activities is managed largely through digital technologies and another that is much more strategic, managing issues such as supply continuity, risk management, collaborative value creation and sourcing innovation.

How does a procurement team who is embracing the digital revolution develop an effective roadmap that ultimately puts (and keeps) them in the driver’s seat as to what technologies to adopt and at what rate to adopt them?  Our membership vigorously challenged us build a real-world model of how organisations must construct a digital path forward. A particularly useful insight was that no organisation can progress purely through a technological journey without fully understanding how that technology contributes to better strategy and insights. This relationship between new technology and better insights progresses through the entire digital journey. Thus, procurement teams must be in the decision chair as to which technologies get purchased.

So What Skills Are Required To Drive Digital?

Very few Procurement organisations have a digital strategy and roadmap, partially due to the broad range of technologies available. Simply put “there are too many digital options to know which to tackle first”. Even fewer organisations have talent and leadership to run their digital transformation. It is imperative that Procurement build its own digital roadmap that addresses specific technologies in a sequential format that is aligned with the company’s over digital strategy. We need to understand, recruit and develop specific digital skills at all levels recognising that the senior leadership is often most lacking. We grew fond of The Hackett Group’s conclusions in this area, pointing to four key attributes required to adequately embrace and drive the digital transformation:

· Intellectual curiosity: To deliver faster insight and build sophisticated models for business decisions.

· Technology savvy: Professionals don’t need to become data scientists or programmers, but they do need to be familiar with new technologies so they can have intelligent conversations with their IT peers and quickly adopt new tools.

·  Business Acumen: Staff needs to have a thorough understanding of the company, its operations, its value drivers and competitive environment. The imperative for the Business Partnering capability was amply covered in the output from last year’s Think Tank in this article.

·  Storytelling skills: Data is the mechanism that makes digital business possible, but the delivery mechanism is a “story.”

The Way Forward

1)  Define a digital roadmap and vision

Strategy needs to support organization’s overall approach to leveraging digital technologies to transform its business model and ensure that each investment in a digital capability must have beneficial business outcome. Favourable business benefits will help drive a new cycle of technological investments that in turn create greater benefit.

2)    Align with organisational strategy

On their own, big data, predictive analytics, or any of the other so-called ‘digital’ enablers are not valuable as stand-alone technologies. Outcomes need to help the business make decisions and drive actions that are consistent with the overall company objectives and digital plan. Any discrepancies between the two can create “technology islands” and put procurement at odds with corporate objectives.

3)    Build a Digital competency within procurement…

…to understand, master and lead the prioritised acquisition and implementation of digital tools.

We closed out this year’s series acknowledging that most organisations are at the very beginning of their digital journey, and it also left us with a strong impression that procurement teams have an intense desire to lead this effort in collaboration within the organisation’s overall digital strategy and not be a victim of it. Ceasing the leadership of this effort is the challenge.

Stay tuned for Think Tank 2018; we will drill down from the strategic level to one where we can examine how individuals and teams build knowledge and capability to bring digital insights to their organization and wider ecosystem.

This article was orginally published on LinkedIn.