When procurement looks out into the enterprise to see how its brand is perceived internally, in most cases we discover that procurement is equal to our software in the minds of distributed buyers and stakeholders. This means that if procurement wants to transform what we are capable of, our people, process and technology must be re-engineered in parallel.
When procurement was first established as a strategic function, its first step was usually to make an investment in talent, followed by redesigned processes as a close second. Once the company’s leadership realized that procurement’s savings impact and spend management potential were being constrained by the limited functionality of email and spreadsheets, they would go out and find a software package to implement.
As natural as this evolution seemed at the time, there was a problem inherent with taking a staged approach to putting a holistic procurement program in place. Solution providers would say, “Our technology is process-agnostic” and procurement leaders would say, “Our process is technology-agnostic.” What this really meant—on both sides of the equation—was that the tolerance for misalignment was far too high for long-term success using that particular combination of people, process and technology.
Today, suppliers have responsibility for a large and increasing portion of enterprise operations (not to mention receive an increasing percentage of revenues). As a result, the team managing them has a significant opportunity to impact the top line, as well as avert disruptions, protect the corporate brand, and introduce innovation.
Not all procurement organizations have acted upon these opportunities, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we are distanced from the top line by other internal teams with greater responsibility for it, such as operations, marketing and sales. Other times we assume that the only way to impact the top line is through ‘direct spend,’ or the products and services that are associated with creating our company’s core offering to customers. Although not impossible, driving innovation from our seats in procurement may seem like a foreign and a faraway target.
Fortunately, all procurement organizations – even those that do not have their own representative in the C-suite – can introduce innovation at the enterprise level. It may just not follow our usual pattern of making procurement contributions through a deliberate strategic sourcing process.
Traditionally, procurement has been more of a science than an art. Our work is data-driven, our results are measurable, and our processes are disciplined.
Perhaps this is why we tend to struggle when we are called upon to lead a procurement transformation initiative. In order to transform ourselves, our team, and our objectives, we must create something different enough from our starting point to be considered new. In fact, procurement transformation might as well be called ‘procurement innovation’ for the level of creativity it requires.
Creation is, after all, an art. Creators respond to their circumstances in an immediate way. As a result, from time to time artists must re-invent themselves to remain aligned with (or even ahead of) the trends in the world around them.
Procurement innovation requires those in leadership positions to get in touch with their creative side, starting with some careful self-examination.