Q&A on Digital Procurement’s Role in Sustainability, Ethics and Compliance [PRO]

As supply chains get increasingly externalized and globalized, the broad scope of operations is subject to equally broad regulatory oversight and supply risk. Meanwhile, as consumers increasingly demand transparency and ethical behavior by value chain brand owners, supply chain organizations at those brands (and also at their suppliers), are having to increasingly respond to these demands. Procurement organizations, for their part, are trying their best to support this externalization on all fronts, but they are so busy with strategic sourcing and P2P execution that even the “basics” of supplier qualification, certification and on-boarding are suffering — never mind having time for more strategic activities in supplier innovation, advanced risk management, digital transformation and other areas.

So, what’s the solution? Well, procurement must first practice what it preaches by tapping supply market innovation for itself, and this innovation is taking many forms. In an everything-as-a-service (XaaS) world, procurement must not only take a leadership role in robustly contracting for these diverse cloud services, but also:

— identifying how various providers beyond cloud applications can help procurement execute much more efficiently — at the cadence of the business.

— embedding the best digital supply market innovations into its own service delivery in order to expand its own influence and brand within the enterprise.

— enabling and empowering functional partners in GRC, IT, Finance, Legal, HR, Risk/Audit, etc. to enable their own service value (increasingly in a cross-functional GBS environment) and integrate the disparate services together much more coherently.

For example, consider the question: Who is responsible for establishing the single face to the supplier when we digitally on-board and manage them to not only transact with them in a compliant manner, but also ensure that they’re operating securely, ethically and transparently more broadly? It’s not just procurement, but rather a combination of procurement, IT, GRC and various centers-of-excellence that should be working tightly together. Unfortunately, misalignment is the norm, but not because of outright conflict or malfeasance, but because functional folks are too busy just trying to execute within their own silos. And they’ll never extricate themselves from that situation unless they have drastically new capabilities to deploy.

This is where procurement organizations need to make smart choices on how they apply digital strategies and tools/services to this area of sustainability, ethics and compliance.

I was recently catching up with an industry colleague of mine named Tomas Wiemer on the topic (he’s a former procurement transformation leader from Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent). He is very deep into this area and typical of leaders at European firms who are definitely in the vanguard here. Tomas is considering some career changes right now, primarily with some emerging tech players who can have a dramatic impact in the industry. Tomas reminds me a bit of a European version of Roy Anderson, who just joined Tradeshift (here’s part 3 of an interview that I did with him), and I think that Tomas will do similarly well when he lands somewhere. He’s doing some interim work for a client, and I agreed to let him interview me for my inputs, but given my role, I asked him for the questions in writing so that I could fully respond in kind and publish it to our subscribers. The questions are below:

How do you view topics as compliance and sustainability in the procurement digitalization landscape?
Do you foresee a convergence/harmonization of sustainability/compliance requirements toward suppliers thanks to the rise of S2P platforms/marketplaces?
What do you believe is the greatest added value of procurement digitalization / AI for compliance and sustainability?
What do you think are the key conditions/requirements to enable the emergence of sustainability/compliance topics in digital procurement?

What’s interesting is that this topic is very hot right now. My business partner Jason Busch just attended the recent EcoVadis conference in Paris, and the buzz (beyond the buzz from the sustainably grown coffee that was undoubtedly served there) was palpable. Part of the reason is that the topic is giving many procurement organizations new ways to engage the business and the suppliers alike in a way that drives much more meaningful value across the value chain beyond just price-centric cost savings. And it also engages a new generation of procurement professionals who want to have a meaningful impact on value chains rather than just being deal-makers and “firefighters.”

Anyway, the questions above are big ones, and require very thorough answers, so without further ado, let’s get to answering them …

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