It has been stated often in Ardent Partners research and webinars that “it is an exciting time to work in procurement.” [Sidebar: speaking of webinars… We have an exclusive event coming up this month when our Andrew Bartolini, presents a sneak preview of his annual CPO Rising 2017 study on 4/25/17 – details are here]. 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 cloud-based solutions, solution suites, and open architectures/APIs, 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 third installment in a three-part series, examines three business innovations and how they will combine to help CPOs and their teams drive procurement agility:
- Cloud-based solutions: “The cloud” has fundamentally changed the way that organizations of all sizes evaluate technology solutions to fulfill their business needs. Cloud-based software that is provided “as-a-Service” (SaaS) rather than as a traditionally-licensed on-premises solution allows even small companies to deploy robust business solutions without all of the necessary technology infrastructure and overhead (these are the responsibility of the solution provider, who build them into the licensing fee). It also allows companies to access these solutions anywhere there is an internet connection, since the cloud is essentially a web-based storage and operating platform. And cloud-based solutions typically feature shorter contract periods, allowing organizations to more easily divest from one solution and switch to another. In essence, SaaS offers powerful business tools that are easier and faster to deploy; that are accessible practically anywhere and anytime; and contract periods that are shorter and more flexible. Agility is in the cloud.
- Solution Suites: A corollary to cloud-based solutions is the rise of solution suites, which are increasingly being deployed on the Cloud. For procurement and supply management teams, solution suites often cover (and connect) the entire spectrum of the source-to-settle process – from upstream sourcing to downstream payments, and all things in between. Enterprises that adopt solution suites can experience significant agility by virtue of a simplified user experience (UX) over deploying multiple, disparate programs. Single sign-on capability, common user interface (UI), and interconnection among the tools, including data collection and transmission and automated process workflows, provide a cleaner UI/UX, time reductions, and efficiency gains. Enterprises need only manage one solution provider (“one throat to choke”), which will update the solutions remotely and possibly in waves, and maintain business continuity in the process. Solution suites also allow enterprises to incrementally adopt solutions (e.g., upstream sourcing), or as needed, rather than a “big bang approach”.
- Open Architectures/APIs: Cloud-based solution suites that are built with “open” architectures (as opposed to closed) allow enterprises to customize their solutions for enhanced feature functionality and agility. Open application program interfaces (APIs) allow end users to work with the back-end coding of a platform in order to integrate an app that is not already built onto the platform. Users can integrate custom-built, third-party, open-source, or in-house apps onto a solultion suite without having to drastically re-write the back-end coding. As a result, enterprise procurement teams can take a cloud-based platform or solution suite that was already pretty robust and customize it to further enhance its functionality to meet their specific business needs. Now, when someone declares, “there’s an app for that!” the platform can support the integration and the user can access the tools that will help them become more agile.
Agility is in the eye of the beholder, particularly with innovative but commonly available technologies in use by many sourcing and procurement teams today. Cloud-based solutions, particularly solution suites that feature open architectures, are enabling “power users” to take their procurement game to the next level. Procurement pros today do not have to settle for standard, on-premises solutions from a half dozen or more solution providers that don’t fully integrate with one another. The lucky ones are operating in the cloud, on one robust and user-friendly platform, and can “trick out” their tool box with unique apps to make them even more effective at what they do.