Joining all the dots

11 December 2012
What’s the next big thing for procurement? The 1980s saw Electronic Data Interchange, Statistical Process Control and Computer Aided Design/ Manufacturing; the 1990s e-procurement; and the noughties heralded the widespread adoption of e-sourcing. I think collaboration will be the next game-changer – for both procurement and, potentially, for business as a whole. It’s not really new: email revolutionised our ability to collaborate quickly and with multiple parties; videoconferencing (an awkward, expensive phonecall?) came and went. Audio conferences are still with us. All good for collaboration. The seemingly relentless march of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter into many of our lives outside the workplace has oddly yet to be matched at work. Even avid Facebook users are often reluctant to use collaboration technology in the office. Why? Because the business has yet to see its potential and properly get behind it. There are exemplar organisations out there – but still too few. Yet enterprise social software has, on the coat-tails of these ‘personal’ social networking platforms, started to look extremely interesting as a tool for business. And for procurement. Applications like Yammer, Chatter, Jive and Telligent have, to varying degrees, made internal and external connectivity possible to a level never seen before. From quick bids to RFPs to innovation hothouses to major project team collaborations – there now exists the potential to have a truly joined-up virtual team communicating, sharing and growing together. This collaboration can be open (crowdsourced) or within 
a defined, closed community. For me, the most annoying characteristic of many social networking sites is the need to sift through a morass of irrelevant junk content before you reach something of personal interest. Not any more. Some platforms claim to ‘learn’ iteratively what is relevant to you, and then progressively tailor what you do and don’t see. When you choose to click on something because it looks interesting, it remembers that you did – and gives you more of the same. I’m convinced that the most successful companies in five to 10 years will be those that saw the potential in using technology to collaborate more effectively with their customers, suppliers and colleagues. The capability exists today but, in many cases, not the vision. The only thing that now stands in the way of having a fully joined-up team is our own resistance to adopt the change. ☛ John Hatton is a CIPS fellow, former CPO and, currently, a freelance procurement consultant
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