It has been stated often in Ardent Partners research and webinars that “it is an exciting time to work in procurement.” And this is no less true today than it was last year or the year before. Whether it is because of the fast pace of business, the increasing scope of procurement’s responsibilities, or because the quest to spend smarter and save more never truly ends, Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs) and their teams are always on point to drive enterprise performance and deliver more value.
Another reason why it is exciting to work in procurement today – and will be in the future – is the unprecedented innovation available in the business technology market today; and it grows daily. Innovative technologies, like self-service solutions, improved user interfaces and experiences (UI / UX), and mobility, are fostering a more responsive, flexible, and effective procurement workforce that is better suited to adapt to the increasing uncertainty and evolving business needs of today and tomorrow. In short, business innovation is driving procurement agility, and will come to define the prototypical 21st century procurement team.
Today’s article, the second installment in a three-part series, examines three business innovations and how they will combine to help CPOs and their teams drive procurement agility:
1. Self-Service Applications: A trend that has accelerated since the beginning of the 21st century is that as technologies evolve and become more advanced, they (eventually) become more accessible to technology neophytes. Thus, line-of-business users and business units are less reliant on internal partners, like IT, to provide them with raw data, business tools, and information and intelligence. Surely, IT still plays a major part in selecting, implementing, integrating, maintaining, troubleshooting, governing, and securing IT infrastructure and business solutions (although tech innovations are driving business changes for CIOs – click to read our recent analysis).
But for everyday business transactions, like data pulls, information refreshes, and reporting and analysis, procurement teams are increasingly in the driver’s seat. Self-service procurement and sourcing applications, like spend analytics and eSourcing tools, empower procurement with powerful but user-friendly business solutions that allow them to operate without much involvement from IT, save for initial installation and regular maintenance (although this is changing as more enterprise go to the cloud).
2. Improved UI / UX: A natural extension of self-service applications is the improvement of their user interfaces and experiences (UI / UX). Intuitive and seamless UIs and UXs contribute greatly to high user adoption among business units — in this case, procurement and supply chain. Conversely, if a system is clunky, not well mapped to business processes, crashes frequently, or simply fails to deliver on the utility and value as advertised, then users are probably going to abandon them in favor of manual albeit tried and true methods.
Business tools that look and feel like common commercial platforms (e.g., Amazon for sourcing and procurement, Expedia for business travel booking and management) tend to be popular with the line-of-business. Many users, particularly Millennial and Gen-X workers, have had experience with these kinds of tools for more than 20 years. As touch-screen functionality, natural-language processing, and artificial intelligence capabilities increasingly become integrated into business tools, UI and UX will continue to improve and likely drive further adoption.
Solution suites are also improving UI and UX by virtue of their common platform, look and feel, and interconnectedness. Source-to-settle (or source-to-pay) suites that link upstream and downstream solutions and workflows make it easier to think and act holistically. They use each other to link business processes, workflows, data streams, and inputs and outputs. Users need not log into six different programs to do their jobs; they just have to log onto one platform and transact across the whole spectrum of solutions – from spend analytics to eProcurement.
3. Mobility: This is the essence of agility – being able to pick up the phone, respond to a late-breaking, fast-burning situation (or even just an after-hours inquiry), and move on. Mobile-first or, at the very least, mobile-ready business applications put the power of cloud-based, user-friendly business applications in the palm of one’s hand literally anywhere there is an internet connection, at any time of the day. Now, being out of the office does not mean being out of the loop.
For example, business travelers can receive alerts and updates on canceled or delayed flights, and then submit their expenses and receipts electronically and business leaders can track and manage/approve their travel expenses. Another example – CPOs can review and approve contracts after hours or while they are away from the office, and category managers can receive news and alerts on their suppliers or sudden events putting their categories or suppliers at risk.
Technological innovations are increasingly putting robust business applications and solutions in the hands (literally) of less tech savvy practitioners, requiring less hand-holding and enabling them to be more agile and deliver more value, faster. Self-service business tools are combining with improved UI/UX, and mobile-first/ready applications to create a more agile, responsive, and effective procurement workforce than at perhaps any time in the history of the profession. The exciting thing is that it’s only going to get more advanced.