Covid-19 triggers the next wave of change for procurement

posted by Keith Hausmann
26 May 2020

By now we have all experienced the initial panic and shock from Covid-19. The majority of us are settled into our new working conditions and adapting our businesses to the challenges ahead.

We have seen an unprecedented number of businesses that have adapted to these new circumstances. The shift towards automation and AI is allowing companies to manage uncertainty and ensure business continuity while building new capabilities and processes that deliver unequalled value to customers, partners and shareholders.

Businesses forced to adapt 

The pandemic’s extraordinary impact on businesses across all sectors and locations highlights that the traditional way of doing procurement no longer works. Previous crises have almost always been more limited in reach. This pandemic is different because the widespread impact is affecting B2B and B2C services as deeply as their core supply chains.

Priorities for procurement leaders and their teams have instantly shifted from running sourcing processes and negotiating contracts to partnering with business leaders so that they can immediately understand leaders’ requirements and bring in new suppliers to ensure short and long-term continuity.

Service-based firms such as those in the telecommunications industry are seeing an immediate spike in demand during this time of change, with global workforces shifting from office-based routines to remote working practically overnight. We expect long-standing implications on how companies work, making the ability for businesses to secure suppliers quickly to meet new or spiking requirements and supplement internal capabilities more critical than ever.

Exceptional disruption gives rise to exceptional innovation

Global isolation efforts aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 have exerted a secondary effect in that these efforts have fuelled rapid change in the way business is being conducted. Digital communication alternatives such as Everbridge, Zoom and Dropbox are seeing spikes of enormous proportion as business leaders, employees, workers, trading partners, students and people of all demographics are utilising new technologies to stay connected and operate in different ways.

The same is true for procurement leaders. Business-as-usual approaches are no longer enough if they want to continue operating effectively.

Technology such as AI and machine learning can dramatically change how procurement and sourcing are done in the following ways:

  • Eliminating or minimising process steps that are obsolete and out of sync with how consumers have come to experience commerce

  • Automating the procurement life-cycle and workflow using intelligent search capabilities and chatbots to process transactional requests

  • Utilising broader, richer, deeper sets of data for faster and more accurate decision-making

  • Providing visibility into a greater set of decision-making variables beyond expenses, including historical delivery, performance and sustainability criteria

  • Enabling organisations to make better, more effective decisions such as risk analytics, price forecasting and spend optimisation.

What the future holds

The first priority should always be ensuring people, operations, customers, partners and suppliers are safe. This is an opportune time to challenge how things have been done traditionally. Leaders thrive on challenge, and procurement executives are some of the most resilient and resourceful leaders. We should all to look for new and innovative ideas and ways of working that can deliver long-term value to the business — beyond the immediate crisis.

☛  Keith Hausmann is chief revenue officer at software firm Globality.

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