Can procurement transform the way to post-Covid recovery?

Mark Ellis, Managing Partner at 4C Associates, award-winning European procurement consultancy, on procurement’s role in transforming the way to post-Covid recovery.

Over the past few months, how many times have you heard “we are living in unprecedented times” or “living in a different normality”? We are experiencing global factory labour shortages, supply chain disruptions due to travel and transport lockdowns, Force Majeure disagreements, suppliers running out of cash, realisation of our dependencies on global supply chains that we cannot control, disruption to ways of working due to lockdowns and the uncertainty over the length of current restrictions making effective forward planning extremely difficult.

Fortunately, for many, technology has enabled people to work from home and continue working and provide some normality to their day to day lives through the Covid-19 epidemic. However, even though many organisations have digitalised their customer front end services, sadly back office services have been woefully underinvested in (hardware, software and technology products) and many organisations have primarily spent time, effort and money to ensure that staff can continue to work during these difficult Covid-19 times by providing the tools and infrastructure to support home working.  

Supporting the global challenge

Over the last few months, procurement as a function has stepped up to support this global challenge. Not quite like the NHS, social care staff and the millions of health workers across the world, however they have listened to the ‘call to arms’ and mobilised their teams and their supply chains. On the other hand, unfortunately, many supply chains have failed, and business continuity plans have not delivered, as the procurement function has simply not been able to cope. This is after those organisations’ procurement functions invested heavily in sophisticated systems for tracking and managing their supply chain.

When Covid-19 hit, many UK based Utility organisations found out that their business continuity plans were not resilient against the unprecedented challenges it faced e.g. accommodation changes, systems switch over and consumer interface. Furthermore, many offshore BPO organisations struggled with home working due to bandwidth challenges of everyone on the internet and fitting for connection.  Whereas some ‘Challenger’ banks had invested in understanding and mapping their supply chains, and were able to instigate a quick and comprehensive review with their suppliers concerning financial viability, delivery capabilities and capacity during these challenging times.    

Did the technology fail or was it the ability of individuals and teams to take the data and make valuable insights to ensure they could deliver for their organisations? As a procurement professional, I am constantly reminded that data for data sake is not enough, you need to be able to use that valuable information to move the conversation forward, to support your organisation to innovate and, in the current crisis, to save lives.

As a function, we know that technology and understanding of the organisation’s needs is powerful and that we should utilise it to drive strong bonds with the individuals that work within our organisations and how this can deliver through our supply chains. Procurement technology combined with human knowledge is the mandatory combination to an effective classification and segmentation process and ensures businesses can quickly collate, visualise and action insights from existing data sources.

Connecting procurement technology and people

Connecting people and information guided by intelligent procurement systems can fundamentally change how companies buy and sell and can open broad visibility into the interconnected operations of buyers and suppliers. This also means reduced operational uncertainty as businesses can prevent bottlenecks in the supply chain before they arise. In the long term, it also enables procurement professionals to increasingly focus on strategic priorities as automated procurement solutions can take over their day-to-day tactical activities.

What these times are showing us is that we must do more to work on building better understanding of our own organisations’ demands, build sustainable relationships and appreciate new and innovative product and service development. It will make organisations stronger and ensure continuous service and reliability within the supply chain.

Now is the launch pad for great things for the procurement and supply chain function. We need to take the technology, data and insights to build strong and long-lasting relationships that can survive through the good and bad times.  We need to stress test our internal and external relationships and drive value and not cost, deliver new products and be the vanguard for change.

Ultimately, what Covid-19 is highlighting is the good that can be done, and we shine a light on the poor performances, poor process and inability to work collaboratively with people.  I sincerely hope that Covid-19 can make us stronger and build on some of the great and good that has been done over the past few months – as this proves we are all human.

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