Data science

Procurement Evolved: The New Characteristics of Post-Pandemic Procurement

The pandemic challenged every business function to change how it operates and adapt to a new normal. For some, those changes have already been reversed. But for procurement, there’s no going back.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced virtually every business function to change how it worked, step into new roles, and adapt to extremely challenging market and operational conditions. For many of those functions, those changes – while significant – were short-term, and designed to help them weather the storm.

But, for procurement teams, the pandemic has accelerated evolution for the function – one that was already well underway before COVID-19 hit. It propelled the function’s journey from ‘back office spend optimizer’ to ‘strategic value creation all-star’. And now, there’s no going back.

Over the past 18 months, leading procurement functions have stepped up to deliver business value far beyond simple cost savings and margin optimization. Not surprisingly, their organizations want them to keep delivering it.

As a result, we’re seeing a new kind of procurement function emerge from the pandemic. It’s a stronger, more empowered function, characterized by three key evolutions:

Evolution #1: From reactive damage mitigator to proactive risk expert

Procurement has always been strong in times of crisis. But, in the past, teams have been restricted by the historical pricing, demand and trend data available to them. That retroactive insight meant that procurement teams were always looking for the best ways to react to a crisis, rather than sidestepping emerging threats proactively.

Thanks to recent advances in analytics and intelligence capabilities, as well as the emergence of sophisticated insight-delivery solutions, the crisis events of the last 18 months have given us our first real opportunity to see the power of proactive crisis insight in action.

Procurement teams empowered with these capabilities were able to identify the early indicators of major supply chain disruptions and take proactive actions to safeguard against them. They shifted between suppliers, sourced from new geographies, and rebuilt entire category strategies to ensure that their companies could continue operating as conditions worsened.

But business continuity was just the beginning of the benefits seen by these teams. Because they were able to watch these trends emerging, leading procurement teams were able to map and understand the potential impacts of each crisis on the business and provide valuable input for crisis management and risk mitigation.

Evolution #2: From supply administrator to strategic innovation driver

During the pandemic, supplier relationships have been more valuable and important than ever. At the peak of the disruption, the right relationship with a strategic supplier could mean the difference between business as usual and completely halting operations.

Leading procurement teams have been building high-value relationships with suppliers for decades, but the events seen in 2020 and 2021 were a powerful opportunity to showcase their value to the rest of the organization. As a result, organizations are now more interested than ever in the other great ways that procurement teams can create value from these relationships.

Exclusive contracts negotiated with suppliers, for example, are a valuable asset for supporting innovation. Through the contracts they help create, procurement teams can build partnerships that have a huge impact on overall business strategy, bringing new USPs into the organization.

As the first point of contact for suppliers, nobody in the business knows what’s happening with those suppliers better than your procurement team. That means they’re exposed to things like new products, new materials, new capabilities, and new offerings before anyone else, all of which can be used to drive commercial, product, and innovation strategies.

The leading teams of today aren’t just filling orders and signing invoices for suppliers – they’re partnering with them strategically. Now, businesses are waking up to the implications that have for innovation, and harnessing procurement teams’ potential as innovation drivers.

Evolution #3: From data comber to action-oriented all-star

Procurement experts can spend hours sifting through data to identify trends that might impact the commodities, markets, and suppliers they depend on. That’s admirable and has delivered immense value to businesses. But today, it’s not necessarily the best use of the procurement team’s time.

In recent years, sophisticated insight and intelligence solutions have transformed how procurement teams gather, consume, understand, and act on commodity and market intelligence. And once again, the pandemic has proven to be a powerful test of how those capabilities support teams and enable value creation in times of crisis.

At a time when every second counted, procurement teams saw immense value from those solutions and put them to use to act faster and stay ahead of competitors who were facing the same challenges and choices.

Take Nomad Foods, for example. When the pandemic first struck, it used intelligence solutions from The Smart Cube to quickly understand the potential impact on key categories and adjust its supplier portfolio to keep the business on track. But, because the team was able to act so fast, they were also able to look beyond ensuring continuity and identify an opportunity to create value and reduce waste amid the disruption.

The team identified that the closure of many restaurants and hospitality businesses would have a massive impact on many food categories and create significant short-term oversupply of many ingredients. By spotting this opportunity early, Nomad Foods was able to act before competitors and optimize its category strategy at a time when many other businesses were struggling to keep their doors open.

Numerous stories like this have emerged from the pandemic. Together they’ve helped organizations understand that the modern procurement function is able to deliver the greatest value when it’s empowered with timely, actionable insights enabled via the right tools and technologies, rather than having to generate those insights manually.

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Omer is a co-founder of The Smart Cube and leads the firm’s business across The Americas. He works with Procurement and Strategy leaders at global organizations, transforming their teams to become value-driven and insight-led. Omer has more than 30 years of management consulting, global corporate and industry experience across North America, Europe and Asia. His prior roles include A.T. Kearney (North America), Warner Lambert (USA) and The Perrier Group (Asia-Pacific). Omer has an MBA from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, USA, and a BBA from the University of East Asia.

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