Dear Procurement: In coronavirus era, carpe diem with tech from your sofa!

Cloud-based solutions — and I’m not just talking about Zoom — can help turn your sofa or kitchen table into a mobile procurement command center.

For example, while you have always done the following at least partially in person and on site, you can tackle these from your barcalounger:

Activity Historical Approach
Category Planning Conduct category planning sessions in-person in the office
Vendor Site Audits On-site vendor audits in person at a supplier site
User Groups and Workshops Participate in training, user groups and workshops at the office or offsite
Internal Category, Supplier and Market Intelligence Meet with key stakeholders to identify relevant market intelligence and insights

All of these activities can be done using modern technology (and source-to-pay solutions).

That is, provided you've embraced technology and, ideally, have a second monitor/screen as your tech control tower at home. They're super cheap, and they even make portable laptop monitors now.

Let's explore each briefly.

Category Planning Sessions

Generally this is a small group sitting around a table while someone drives a collaborative plan on the projection screen though a software application on a laptop. What's the difference between sitting at a conference table vs. sitting around a shared video-conferencing application on one screen (where you can talk to each other on video and another where you are viewing the category plan being constructed on a web-based document / program / category planning management application)?

None really, except the distance between you and your team members. If you have a source-to-pay platform that supports category planning, it's easy-peasy. If not, use Google Docs or some other shared document, and someone can make the fancy presentation after the meeting.

Vendor Site Audits

OK, someone really needs to go on site to make sure the vendor has a real factory, appears to be following local health and safety regulations and other codes, meets any requirements you have to enforce for fair worker treatment and is not using child or slave labour, and is generally aboveboard. The production line technology has to be inspected against claims and maintenance requirements. Random samples of materials from the plants have to be inspected against claims (since the prototype sent to you for review could have been made from different, better materials, in hopes your organization will not do detailed quality assurance tests on received products after the contract has been signed).

But who says it has to be you?

There are third-party organizations that have people all over the world set up to do just this. Not because they saw this day coming (and with risk management expertise, they probably did), but because it is really expensive and onerous for you to travel halfway around the world every time you want to bring a new factory on board and 10 to 100 times as onerous for the supplier if they have to deal with a time-consuming on-site inspection from every potential customer.

For starters, in the CSR area, you can subscribe to EcoVadis, which already has detailed sustainability data for many suppliers in its database and on-site evaluation data for a significant percentage. And since it, along with organizations like it, already have people on the ground in every major production zone in the world, you can always pay them to do an on-site audit — which is a lot cheaper than doing it yourself if you allow them to share any audit data not particular to any proprietary products or processes you might be querying against.

User Groups and Workshops

The same way you can conduct category planning sessions, you can participate in training, user groups and workshops. Now, you can't necessarily pack 60 people into an online working group, but you can pack 10, and if you're willing to hold six focused sessions over three days, you can get the same input.

Plus, if you wanted to give every user an opportunity to provide deep feedback, it would take three days anyway. This also gives you incentive to break the user group up into different industries, areas of concern and application interests to get really focused feedback, etc.

Furthermore, if you need to precede these working groups with a presentation, most online web-conference platforms have a professional presentation mode where you can define presenters, panelists / moderators, and attendees and control who can speak when, how questions are asked, how chats are logged and control the dialogue to the extent necessary.

And the speaker can be assured quiet as you can mute every mic. You can also mute those you don’t want to hear from (yes, we’ve done that internally here at Spend Matters 🙂 ).

Relevant Market Intelligence and Insights from Key Stakeholders

First of all, you can meet online the same way you meet online to do category planning or user groups, but let's be honest, key stakeholders don't know everything, and in some cases, even anything of relevance.

However, real experts, market intelligence firms and up-to-date / real-time data feeds often have all the information you need. And even better: A new breed of modern analytics / trend mapping platforms — some backed with proven and trained AI/machine learning for specific domains — can make it quite clear what the relevant data points and insights are and, in certain cases, what you should do about it!

In short, now is a great opportunity to take advantage of market data feeds, expert third-party intelligence and modern platforms to get more insight than you ever would the old way.

Shameless plug alert! If you’re a manufacturer buying/sourcing metals and metals categories (e.g., forgings, castings, machinings, etc.) check out MetalMiner Insights. MetalMiner, the other half of Azul Partners, Spend Matters’ parent company, built just such a platform for its namesake category.

In Summary

In fact, not only can you do all this virtually and remotely, but you will find that if you embrace this new normal and a new way of working and start using more of the capabilities of modern S2P tools and platforms, you will actually perform as well or better than doing it the old way.

So you can look at this crisis as a huge challenge and a stop to business, or an opportunity to do business better than ever and lead your organizations out of this troubled time.

Carpe Diem!

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