In Spite of Ourselves: Procurement’s Curious Contradictory Behavior

Today’s guest post is by Anthony Mignogna, a Director at Source One, a Corcentric Company. He provides clients with expert, end-to-end support for their procurement software investments. Leveraging years of experience working with mid-market to the Fortune 1000 companies, he empowers procurement organizations to identify opportunities to better leverage technology, assess the software landscape, select best-fit solutions, and implement them to meet their business objectives.

“Numbers never lie.” It’s a popular saying that’s also far from true. In fact, numbers are often most interesting when they call the truth into question.

You can observe a few good examples of this phenomenon in Deloitte’s most recent CPO survey. Rather than painting a clear picture of Procurement’s path forward, the survey results suggest a function that’s uncertain of how it should proceed. CPOs, it seems, are eager to use the survey (and its numbers) as a way of lying to themselves. This is particularly true where talent and technology are concerned.

Though a majority of respondents suggest these are areas of concern, a shocking few report they’ve acted on these opportunities. Let’s take a closer look.


If you’ve attended a Supply Management conference this decade, you’ve attended a handful of sessions on the ‘talent gap.’ As more and more organizations invest in managing the cost side of their balance sheet, demand for procurement talent is far outpacing the available candidates. This is complicated further by the evolving set of skills and experiences we expect Procurement professionals to leverage. Based on the survey, roughly half of CPOs don’t believe they have the right talent in-house or the resources necessary to find it:

  • 51% of procurement leaders believe their current teams do not have sufficient levels of skills and capabilities to deliver on their procurement strategy.
  • 47% of procurement leaders found it more difficult to attract talent in the last 12 months

Alone, those numbers aren’t especially surprising. What’s interesting is the way they fly in the face of logic CPOs love to employ. Procurement often stands firmly on the buy side of the make vs. buy discussion, but that goes out the window where investing in talent is concerned. Procurement seems totally unwilling to take its own advice:

  • Levels of procurement outsourcing have dropped to 10%, the lowest level in over 5 years.

If you don’t have the talent to support your organization’s goals, and you can’t find that talent externally, outsourcing to organizations capable of scaling and focusing resources seems like an obvious path forward. It’s debatable why organizations it’s still an unpopular path. Are the nearly 50% of organizations that struggle with talent simply failing to consider all of their options, or are CPOs too focused on tactical, day-to-day operations to even consider pursuing more strategic initiatives.


If one topic trumps talent, it’s technology. Conference agendas, blogs, podcasts, and whitepapers are loaded with questions and suggestions around the incoming digital revolution. The conversation is inescapable. From eSourcing to AI and everything in between, technology is on the top of minds and tips of tongues for Procurement. Identified as a solution to inefficiency, poor visibility, low ROI, and perhaps even the talent gap, software looks like a magic bullet. Deloitte’s survey results support this. They indicate that CPOs are betting big on the promise of new solutions:

  • Two-thirds to three-quarters of organizations surveyed are leveraging digital technologies along the source-to-pay continuum to some extent.
  • The rate of digital technology adoption among organizations is highest in the P2P process, followed by sourcing and tactical buying.

Again, this is not especially surprising, particularly when you consider that most of the pain points cited in the survey are closely related to technology. Two statistics, however, jumped out. Like the talent findings cited above, they suggest the numbers don’t tell the full story:

  • Only 3% of Procurement leaders believe their staff possess all the skills required to maximize use of digital capabilities.
  • Only 6% of Procurement leaders believe their digital strategy will help them fully deliver on their objectives.

Suffice it to say, there is no amount of statistical error tolerance that can make 3% and 6% look like a significant chunk of the survey’s respondents. Juxtaposed against Procurement’s enthusiasm for new technologies, these statistics are especially alarming.

Again, the paradox could point to one of a few issues. Maybe it’s just a symptom of the talent and skills shortage. On the other hand, it might simply point to flaws in the way Procurement views technology. Expecting an antidote to cure all of their ills, they’re finding something less exciting. It appears that CPOs are good at speculating about technology and even good enough at purchasing. When it comes to building the necessary ecosystem to build a compelling business case and support implementation, however, they fall flat and realize disappointing results.

The survey results suggests that 9 in 10 CPOs are opting for the status quo – and they know it. It might be time to break the trend and give outsourcing some thought once again. Maybe then our actions will match our ‘priorities’ and the numbers will start to tell the truth.

Thanks, Anthony.