Learning from the discussions that took place among delegates gathered at the elegant Biltmore Hotel in Miami for The Americas Congress has proved an enlightening experience. Reflecting on the two days of discussion, what’s been striking has been that for all the eagerness to look at the next level of possibilities for the function, the toughest questions have been ‘is there a simpler way to do this’ and ‘how do you justify the trust and investment’. Embracing change is a wonderful concept, but it means having a core concept of procurement that is sophisticated, understood in the business and lived by.
Here’s five lessons I’ve taken from two days of content and contention:
The problem with our biggest opportunities
We’re told that data will solve our problems. But what if you don’t know what to do with data, what if you invest in process upon tool upon process to try and make sense of it, what if you’re vulnerable to hacking? There is risk in making the wrong decisions in pursuit of a concept that promises to change your function. Equally, there’s risk in ignoring such possibilities – your competitors may be getting it right. The panel discussion, chaired by Joe Yacura, former CPO at Fannie Mae, brought a light to that split between embracing the wealth of technology out there and being wary of throwing money and people at an idea that we don’t fully understand.
Key to innovation is connectivity
Procurement often finds its position a challenge, but its worth looking at the unique possibilities that come from that crossover between what your suppliers are doing and what your business might value. Supplier-enabled innovation is a huge greenfield that some businesses in some industries are just starting to establish themselves in. Listening to Roche’s Clive Heal and Procurement Leaders head of strategy research Jon Webb, it was clear that seeing that connection between buyer and supplier as a tangible, mouldable, measurable, adaptable, valuable thing can unlock a great deal of creative thinking and ultimately take procurement to places it hasn’t been to before.
Growing procurement as a brand may not make you popular, but it helps guide and unite your team
A few years ago, there was much excitement about procurement as a service and a brand that was irresistible because it promised to solve stakeholders problem. That said, there was a collective concern about these kinds of efforts – do they deliver value, do they miss the point of procurement? Gregg Brandyberry and Joanna Martinez both highlighted in their presentations the dissatisfaction that often gets noted between procurement and the business and the problem of a directionless function that doesn’t know how to engage with its business
Everyone knows to focus on business outcomes, but knowing what those are…
Jayme Bombo, executive director, sourcing excellence at Bristol-Myers Squibb talked about how his team had branched into business partner teams and suggested that by having a resource dedicated to aligning with the business, he was able to create a more flexible and agile function. What stands out about this approach is that, despite its challenges, dedicating resource and marrying up goals between the business and procurement is perhaps the ultimate evolution of the function. Tactical purchasing can be automated, outsourced, or at least made extremely simple – but understanding stakeholder needs and providing a service requires domain knowledge which goes far beyond the transactional. That’s where the real value is – all other talk about understanding stakeholders is playing around the edges.
Old values point the way to the future
Trust. Values. Communication. It’s occasionally said that the messages are often the same when speakers take the stage at procurement conferences, but perhaps there’s a reason. For all the excited talk of what data can do for the function and how procurement’s influence has grown, the fundamentals still frequently need realigning. It’s no coincidence that some of the most popular discussions of the day were on talent, nor that the most difficult questions in the debates on risk and data have focused on whether procurement is locked into a change-resistant procurement-centric view that is holding it back from making a true business impact. Everyone gets the cost and value equation, but understanding how to transform procurement so that the complexity of accounting for risk, innovation, efficiency, and so on, is wrapped up into a process that’s as simple and unobtrusive. Creating that new user experience means having a unshakeable grasp on the old adages about putting the customer first, speaking the language, proving the worth of procurement and being able to adapt to change.
You can see what’s been taking place at the Congress in Miami, Florida by following our liveblog or through twitter using #plcongress.
This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.