Where Should Procurement Have the Greatest Impact?

Ivalua and Procurement Leaders recently did a study on Purpose-driven Procurement: Entering an Age of Holistic Value that was partially covered over on EPS News that ran a typical, bland, headline on how Procurement’s Value Exceeds Cost Control.

Procurement can add value beyond cost control, and should add value beyond cost control, but what stands out the most in this article, and likely in the Ivalua/Procurement study, was the highlighted figures on areas in which Procurement has made the greatest impact (by % of respondents). Of the fifteen (15) areas presented in which Procurement should be making an impact, only three areas were selected by more than 30% of respondents, and the top 2 were the same old, same old responses of delivering cost savings and cost avoidance which are, in this market, the last two areas Procurement should be delivering value. First of all, times are such that there are, or soon will be no, cost savings in any category. Secondly, it’s not “cost avoidance” it’s “need avoidance“. It’s not just about saving money. In an age where your carbon footprint may soon be more important than your bank account, you don’t want to buy anything you don’t need, and you don’t want to waste anything.

In fact, today, the top ten things that Procurement should be doing are likely the bottom 10 things on the response pyramid, which were ten of the best responses such a survey could have included! Procurement is more than savings, cost avoidance, risk management, and theoretical sustainability (as most organizations won’t let Procurement spend a penny more than necessary to meet a need, even if that penny is to a much more sustainable supplier — there’s a lot more bark in the marketing then there is bite in the implementation; the doctor is aware of many surveys and has had many conversations where, if the buyer could pay 1% to 3% more than the lowest cost, sustainability would be substantially more; the reality is that, at most organizations, it doesn’t matter if the lowest cost is from the dirtiest, most unethical, supplier on the planet — the CFO wants cost reduction, the CEO wants profit, and the buyers were told to meet the targets and make the investors happy, not do the right thing. Hopefully more countries will pass carbon caps, carbon taxes, and sustainability laws because only then will Procurement get to serve the Purpose it wants to serve).

Procurement is the enabler that can transform the organization. And to demonstrate that, let’s review the bottom 10.

  • Supplier Diversity and Inclusion (16%): while you shouldn’t have arbitrary targets (as there is no one magic number that’s the right number), you should always look for diversity that you can include to widen your horizons — you never know where the next big idea, product, or saviour (when your strategic supplier becomes unavailable as the result of an unexpected event) will come from
  • Developing Team Skills and Talent (16%): while the first line to be cut from the budget is always the training budget when it should be the last line to be cut (when the world evolves faster everyday than the day before, and the job you do today will, in some ways, never be the same job in the future), Procurement can maximize the budget you have, find the right partner to improve your skills in a fair exchange (they train you for free if you use their products or services), and even train you on better processes and practices on their own
  • Digitalisation (11%): while this is not a conversation we should be having in 2023 (when Nicholas Negroponte told us all we should get used to Being Digital in 1995), most departments in most organizations are still woefully behind when it comes to technology (and the average employee has more modern apps on their personal smartphone than on their work computer), and that’s where Procurement can help as it needs to digitize to manage its sourcing, procurement, and supply chain and has already been through (part of) that process
  • Improving Cash Flow (11%): Procurement is in the best position to optimize outbound cash flow, balancing payment terms with cost reductions with risk minimization, and can even use that knowledge of cash flow optimization to help Finance select the right terms for short term investments, loans, or even factoring on the organization’s invoices to big, slow, clients
  • Contributing to Revenue Growth (11%): Procurement’s analytics skills that it uses to predict demand can also predict the products/services that are the most popular and the ones that the organization could use to grow revenue by shifting production, marketing, and sales focus to those product lines
  • Improving Product/Service Quality (7%): Procurement can do more than just find new suppliers, they can help with product innovation and service improvement; they can identify suppliers with alternate designs that use alternate, more sustainable, materials that can build a better product and consultants with more experience and expertise to offer a better service
  • Drive Innovation from the Supply Base (6%): Procurement is the perfect partner to drive innovation; it is the first, consistent, and for better or worse, the last department to interact with the supplier, and in order for it to keep the CEO and CFO happy (and get the mythical savings which, after a certain point, don’t exist), it has to develop suppliers to an extent — no reason it can’t be helping you drive innovation
  • Support Mergers and Acquisitions (5%): let’s put it this way, if there’s no synergy in Procurement, there’s no synergy in the companies, and the company being considered should NOT be a target; so at the very least, Procurement should be one of the first sniff tests; it can also determine the synergy potential, the cost avoidance and efficiency potential, the innovation potential from an improved supply base, etc. etc. etc.
  • Demonstrate ROI to the Bottom Line (4%): Procurement NEEDS to be better educating the C-Suite on how its activities hit the bottom line across the board, not just on a few categories it finds savings in
  • Asset Disposal Activities (1%): We need to move towards a circular economy, and that means buying goods that meet as many of the R’s (refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recondition, refurbish, remanufacture, repurpose, recycle) as possible, which will always include recycling when it’s impossible to get any more value out of the asset, and Procurement, which understands the product best, will understand how best to dispose of it to ensure it is recycled and all of the raw materials reused in the most sustainable method possible

And this is where Procurement should be focussing. Let’s hope Procurement gets there sooner rather than later.