WPC preview: The challenges and opportunities ahead from supplier-enabled innovation and automation

This year’s World Procurement Congress (WPC) will focus on risk, innovation, people and technology. Why are these issues so crucial to procurement and how will they shape the function? Solving the challenges presented by geopolitics, innovation, people and disruptive technologies is something that businesses all around the world have to deal with. Procurement functions that can move at speed, understand change and take advantage of the opportunities it presents will succeed.


In this increasingly complex world, partnerships and supply chains are even more important. Consequently, procurement has a critical role to play in advising businesses, solving problems and making connections. It is also important that procurement thinks about how to optimise supply chain ecosystems that extend beyond the traditional relationships.


Additionally, technology will drastically change procurement’s capability and processes over the next decade. Companies are starting to explore how emerging technologies such as blockchain, augmented reality, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and robotic process automation can be applied in the procurement context.


Scott Wharton, executive general manager at Commonwealth Bank of Australia will be chairing the World Procurement Congress. Here he shares his thoughts on the key topics up for discussion.


Procurement Leaders (PL): What is the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) doing to mitigate the risks related to such challenges? How will you capitalise on the possibilities they present?


Scott Wharton (SW): Disruptive technologies and innovation are part of what CBA depends on to remain competitive – but not the only things. We have positioned ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities by:

  • using technology to continuously improve the customer experience;
  • being actively involved in the innovative community around us (including start-ups, universities and suppliers);
  • using design thinking and agile development – where relevant – to deliver better, faster and more customer-centric solutions;
  • creating teams dedicated to the rapidly evolving technology landscape; and
  • using technology to drive efficient use of suppliers and services.

PL: How should procurement be measured in terms of supplier-enabled innovation (SEI)?


SW: There are many logical measures for SEI, such as the number of supplier proposed ideas selected and innovation return on investment. In practice, the best way to measure the outcomes of innovation is often more qualitative. For example:

  • the depth and quality of dialogue and relationships between suppliers and companies;
  • being proactive in bringing new concepts to explore or invest in;
  • joint investment in quality resources and research;
  • how suppliers and companies react to innovation project failure, and what they learn from it.

PL: How do you see the role of procurement changing?


SW: In our increasingly complex world, the same priorities we talked about for the role of procurement a decade ago remain true today. These include:

  • becoming trusted, embedded partners who understand business challenges;
  • understanding the environment, market trends, financial pressures, possible solutions and options for businesses to remain competitive;
  • responding to change and embracing innovation across the procurement life cycle; and
  • understanding the risk, security, enterprise architecture, as well as the legal and regulatory issues that relate to suppliers, solutions and technology.

The current environment necessitates that procurement teams “double down” and demonstrate value in these areas. Ensuring we have the right talent and capability to deliver is, therefore, more important than ever.


PL: Will technology result in automation taking place within the function and what will that mean in terms of what procurement focuses on?


SW: All the emerging technologies that we hear about are as applicable to procurement and the supply chain as they are to other business areas. The challenge is that some of these are still being understood, so it is essential to find the right time and approach to explore each opportunity.


Over time, through these new technologies, we will see greater automation within functions. Procurement teams will progressively have more time to focus on value-added activity, innovation and the broader supply chain ecosystem – how they adopt these capabilities and their mindsets will be enablers of their future success.


PL: What lessons are you hoping to take away from the Congress?


SW: As always, WPC will be a great forum in which to share perspectives with colleagues around the world and across different industries. It is a valuable opportunity to understand how other organisations are tackling the pace of change, responding to global trends, innovation and emerging technologies, and playing a deeper and more dynamic role in advising businesses and solving problems.


Scott Wharton will be chairing the World Procurement Congress. To find out more about the event or to book your place click here.


This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.