27 August 2014 | Peter Kinder
Unlike some of the other technologies we’re looking at in this series of blogs such as the internet of things, collaboration tools are perhaps less high profile and are being accepted and utilised in many business environments today.
That said, the world of collaboration has exploded recently; there are many different tools and opportunities out there. Some of the more interesting applications include Convo, which allows diverse teams to communicate in a Facebook style environment – sharing discussions, images and files in a newsfeed with threaded chats. Platforms such as Slack work well for document collaboration, making it easier for people across a large geography to avoid cumbersome email trails when sharing comments on important documents.
From a procurement perspective it’s easy to see many uses for collaboration tools. From working with the business on tenders and pushing innovation into the supply chain necessitating in-depth global conversations, through to sharing information with suppliers or even updating an entire workforce on recent procurement or supplier developments.
The list of benefits is endless and collaboration tools also help to create formalised and audited processes, which can reduce the pressure of communicating with suppliers in an open and transparent manner. They can also work well as mechanisms for gaining group feedback on products and services from suppliers. For example online focus groups could glean wholly different information than you’d get from web surveys.
So considering that a key trend for the procurement function is to become more of a strategic service to the business, anything that makes it more connected to its many stakeholders should add value, shouldn’t it?
Well, there are potential pitfalls to avoid too. While collaboration connects people in a virtual sense, there’s also an argument that too many tools and technologies take the personalisation out of business relationships. Would you conduct an in-depth final relationship meeting with a key supplier via video chat or messaging for example? Key information could be lost in translation.
So there’s a need to get the balance right between the instances where tools can make processes more collaborative and those where face-to-face personal contact is essential. Ultimately, the old adage that people buy from people still sticks – but collaboration tools can help you improve the outcome or efficiency of working with those people.
Another key challenge is the creation of data and where that data is kept. Adopting standalone collaboration tools creates a whole new layer of information for procurement to manage, and there’s real merit in that information sitting within core P2P systems rather than being separate. Take for example the advantage of integrating feedback into product catalogues, or the ability to message other buyers from within the catalogue for a more in-depth view.
Supplier implications should also be taken into account. If major customers impose different collaboration tools on their suppliers the poor supplier could end up more confused. One way around this would be the development of a supplier hub that interfaces with different tools so that suppliers have an easy single sign-on process and everything in one place.
In my view collaboration tools are here to stay and the merits outweigh the pitfalls for a profession like procurement which is increasingly working with diverse stakeholders.
☛ Peter Kinder is chief technology officer at Wax Digital