Friday Rant: Today's Procurement/Supply Chain — Thought Leadership Amid Non-Analysts (Part 1)

One of the perennial topics we've addressed for years is where we get our information and ideas to write 4-5 columns, posts and articles per weekday (more like 15-20 if you now count our multiple sites). What's most curious to me, personally, is how the "where" has evolved over the years. Without question, the most valuable source of unfiltered information comes from the dozens of discussions we have with practitioners and vendors each week. Many of these chats are "off-the-record" but they do provide us with a great general direction to cover particular topics (e.g., the impact of new business and pricing models on supplier networks, advanced sourcing/sourcing optimization adoption, and shifting geographic spends in global sourcing programs). And when these chats end up being "on-the-record", they provide us with even more actionable fodder that we can use.

Yet an increasingly valuable source of information is coming from somewhere else: the many byline columns and papers by practitioners, consultants and vendors that are making their way into the content ecosystem in the form of blog posts, reports, articles, whitepapers, podcasts and even video. And, even though I hate to admit it (being someone who is not overly into social media), we're increasingly learning about specific stories, especially if they're not published in the major online or print publications, from LinkedIn and Twitter.

This democratization of ideas in procurement and supply chain -- both in the content itself and how we're learning about it -- is truly marvelous stuff. It's the vision of YouTube, applied to broader content-based thought leadership in our sector! And the shift that supported the change has happened in less than a decade. Going back even five years, in fact, there was typically a one-way flow of information in the procurement and supply chain world. Analysts, reporters and select bloggers would write information that would then be read, distributed and shared amongst a group where those with subscriptions to various services would often "get in the know", so to speak, first. But today, things are very different.

Even though we haven't done a good job of achieving a two-way dialogue in most cases on particular topics (witness the dearth of comments on our sites, relative to other blogs with related volumes of readers in other sectors such as investing, politics and the like), the way we're getting our information has changed immensely. The quality of byline articles by those actually working in the space in major publications and blogs has increased dramatically, in our view. In fact, if you take a perennial trade favorite in our office, Supply Chain Management Review, the articles authored by consultants and practitioners typically offer far more insight than those offered by academics (at least as we read them). What a change!

But the level of improvement in reporting and authorship transcends traditional trade print publications alone. If you follow Spend Matters closely, for example, you'll see daily contributions now from consultants and analysts from firms such as Vantage Partners, NPI, Archstone, and Mintec, all of which go into a level of depth and analysis often with an opinioned edge that traditional reporting and blogging (outside of a few select sites) have never approached. It's our view that those actually engaged in activities for companies -- or as consultants and advisers on their behalf -- are those most shaping the agenda today in terms of general thought leadership in the market.

As participants in the ecosystem rise up to share their knowledge and drive the thought leadership agenda in the market, we argue that it's the traditional sources of influence that have become less and less important in shaping the conversational agenda. Industry analysts, while still playing a role in covering technology and influencing short-list decisions in certain cases, simply don't have the same following as they did among larger companies a decade ago and before. Granted, they matter. But their voices and what they choose to focus on in their coverage are just one part of the orchestral symphony bringing new ideas to the world of procurement and supply chain.

Vendor contributions and quality are increasing as well but there's a lot more that providers could be doing to shape and contribute to the evolving thought leadership climate. Stay tuned as we tackle this and related topics in Part 2 of this series next Friday.

- Jason Busch

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