How Do We Drive Technological Advances? Part II

In our last post, which noted that an organization must master the three T’s to excel in Supply Management, we lamented that an average organization has not yet mastered any of the T’s, with technology often being the T in which the organization is the furthest behind in (as most organization’s have people, which is a talent foundation, and process, which is a transition foundation). We then lamented on the lack of advice on what to do to drive organizational advancement and adoption in the organization. Certainly training and incentive will help, but it obviously isn’t enough in the average organization as an average organization in Supply Management is still way too far behind the curve. (So far, in fact, that Wile E. Coyote comes closer to catching the Road Runner than an average Supply Management organization comes to obtaining a technological advance that is still relevant.)

SI’s proof? The extreme low rate of adoption of supplier performance management (SPM), S2P project management, and decision optimization in an average Supply Management organization — technologies that help to deliver large savings opportunities that have been around for over a decade and that are still sparsely adopted in an average organization. (And while many organizations may claim to have spend analysis, especially according to the Zycus report, the reality is that most of these organizations are only using old-fashioned OLAP-based spend reporting technology — and that’s NOT spend analysis.)

As a result, SI is still very interested in Chief Executive’s classic piece on Seven Strategies for Driving Technological Advances. Not only is any piece of advice that can help spur technology adoption useful, but the apparent lack of heed paid to such articles makes SI ask Why? But the question is, was the advice good, and is it still good?

Chief Executive had the following pieces of advice, which will be discussed one by one.

  1. Be a student of technology best practices.

    The article notes that leaders should strive to understand their industry’s best technological practice, so that they can combine their knowledge with that of the CIO for greater impact and decision making, but this is not going to drive technological adoption. While this may lead to better technology selection, this is not enough on its own. So it was okay, and is still okay, as advice, but you need to be more than a student. You need to be an adopter, and implementer.

  2. Connect weekly with the CIO.

    This will definitely help the Supply Management leader to understand the impact of business decisions throughout the technology lens and, in turn, the impact of a poor technology decision on the business, but, as with the first recommendation, all this will do is lead to better technology selection, not adoption, which is the key to advancing technology in the organization. (Similarly, Procurement will need to connect regularly with the CTO to understand potential impacts from a support and utilization perspective, not just information and insight perspective.) So this is another good start, but just the beginning.

  3. Encourage constant IT learning in the Department.

    This is a good start, because, once a Supply Management professional understands what a new piece of technology can do, he or she may be more open to trying it, but if it doesn’t work right away, it might be labeled as junk or inappropriate and left on the technology shelf. But again, just a beginning. That learning must be put into practice.

  4. Communicate and share best practices through technology.
    This is a good practice, as it will increase the organization’s overall comfort level with technology, but unless the organization understands that modern technology is a best practice, the extent of technology adoption in your organization might not go beyond Twitter (which makes you stoopid) and Facebook (which is ruining society). So, evaluate, modify, and adopt as appropriate.
  5. Think benefits, not features.

    This is very good advice, because organizations (that use supplier-generated RFPs) that fall for the feature buffet typically end up getting software solutions that don’t do what the organization really needs them to do, which is enable talent to manage transitions that result in cost reductions and avoidance. However, just selecting the platform that will theoretically provide the organization with the most benefit does not guarantee that the platform will be used. It’s all about adoption. (And SI’s recent paper on how Higher Adoption is Where True Value Lies will help with this. [registration required])

  6. Prepare to invest.

    The article notes that it’s important to be realistic about how much investment is required to drive beneficial technological advancement within your business, but doesn’t indicate what the investment needs to be in — leaving you to believe the investment needs to be in the technology. Typically, this is not the case. Even enterprise software systems are very low cost these days compared to the investment that was required a mere ten years ago. The necessary investment, which could be significant, will be in the training and transition programs required to secure the adoption necessary to make the technology investment a success.

  7. Establish meaningful metrics for your CIO and yourself.

    Measure the technology in a meaningful way and hold your team accountable to the results. Well, the technology should certainly be measured, and the team should be accountable for what they do, but the reality is that until they can use to do their jobs more effectively than they are doing their jobs today and feel comfortable with the technology, they’re not going to use it. Until their trepidations are overcome, the team will assume it’s just a fad and wait a week to see if you forget. Or a month. Or whatever it takes. So give them the tools they need, the training to use them, and the knowledge to continue to improve.

The verdict? Any advice in the right direction is good, but we need acquisition and adoption to get results. So make sure anything you get is not only modern, but adoptable.

This is a revised version of a post that originally ran five years ago, because not much has changed in the average Procurement organization.