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The Sourcing Industry Group’s Procurement Technology Summit discusses diversity, sustainability and technology disruption in procurement

05/10/2021 By

Last week, the Sourcing Industry Group (SIG) hosted one of its Procurement Technology Summit virtual conferences that brings thousands of procurement practitioners together to share the latest ideas and understand the latest developments in the industry.

The three-day event featured keynote speakers addressing diversity and inclusion, more than 30 discussions, and many sessions with procurement practitioners and technology vendors covering topics like sustainability, contracting and technology disruption.

The summit marked the 60th event for SIG since its inception in 1991. Over 1,300 attendees joined from more than 60 countries, showcasing the global nature of procurement in today’s day and age. The summit focused on procurement technology transformation through the lens of a post-pandemic world.

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One common theme was a call to action: “The time is now.” This can mean anything from deploying new technologies to implementing a new diversification strategy.

Amid the Covid disruption, procurement is having a moment in the spotlight, and practitioners were eager to find out more about the concepts and technology shaping the industry.

Here are some of the highlights of the SIG Technology Summit.

Diversity and inclusion relies on a few basic principles for organizations to sustain success

In one of the keynote addresses of the event, Bernard Banks, the Associate Dean for Leadership Development and Inclusion at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, made the business case for diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts.

Banks said procurement was ahead of many businesses when it comes to diversity and inclusion efforts. Procurement teams for years have focused on using a diverse group of suppliers to promote resiliency and to prevent disruption. Now, it seems the rest of the world is catching up to the trend.

Banks said D&I efforts are imperative for businesses in any industry. There is an average lifecycle for all businesses, and it’s becoming shorter as time goes on. There are more businesses that are peaking earlier. The key for organizations sustaining in the long term comes down to their D&I efforts, he said.

“The time we have to amplify what an organization can do is getting shorter and shorter,” Banks said. “The companies that are beating the odds have two things — outstanding leadership teams that are driving innovation. It’s not about what you’re doing today but what you’re committed to developing in the future that will still have relevance. If you’re not thinking about version 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 of your business, you’re already falling behind.

“And in complex environments, you need diversity of perspectives to think about how you might contend with the rapidly changing environment. You need that diversity perspective, just like you need that diversity in your supply chain. Because complex issues require harnessing a lot of different perspectives. When thinking about why D&I matters, it’s always the moral case, the right thing to do. But it’s also the smart thing to do.”

When it comes to procurement, Banks said it’s not just about suppliers or distributors either. The real key to D&I comes at the talent of your employees. With true diverse talent, organizations can sustain their goals and find new ways of innovation that move the lever on making procurement a more holistic practice.

Sustainable procurement doesn’t just mean protecting the environment

A SIG Procurement Technology Summit breakout session led by EcoVadis, a provider of business sustainability ratings for the global supply chain, also spoke on diversity efforts in procurement in the realm of sustainability metrics.

EcoVadis’ solution evaluates suppliers on four dimensions of sustainability, including in the traditional sense of environmental impact, sustainable procurement or ethics. But it also assesses labor and human rights metrics.

Emily Rakowski, Chief Marketing Officer with EcoVadis, said there has been a convergence of forces leading to more companies focusing on sustainability efforts — things like consumer needs, generations coming up that demand companies act responsibly or the pandemic bringing supply chains to the forefront.

In the last economic crisis of the late 2000s, organizations threw out any focus on sustainability because they were so focused on price. With the crises of 2020, however, it seems more companies are taking on sustainability efforts. Rakowski said these crises have opened up the opportunity to talk about how to do procurement better, be more inclusive and support communities.

“Resilience really became key,” Rakowski said. “But also that concept around solidarity. I don’t want my small suppliers going out of business just because we’re having a pandemic, so how can forward them some financing? Or preorder for 2021, 2022? How can I do things to bolster diverse businesses. It’s this fresh thinking around ‘This really is a network. This is a stakeholder community of businesses that I’m a part of.’ Why can’t we do our part to do things better?”

Procurement technology disruption is all about the cloud

Technologies are developed every day that help advance procurement goals and processes. However, not all technologies are disruptive.

Nico Bac, a former Senior Director for Digital Procurement Procter and Gamble and current partner to Coupa, said true disruptive technologies are those that significantly alter the way that consumers, industries or businesses operate.

Basically they make all former technologies obsolete. Bac said the true disruptors in procurement technology have been cloud computing, data and machine learning. Of the attendees to the breakout session, 70% said their procurement process doesn’t run in the cloud. Bac said this is the first thing anyone should do when looking at digitizing a procurement process.

Bac said regardless of what kind of procurement technology you’re deploying, it’s important to focus on the basics. The time is now to adopt new technologies. It’s also important to consider the audience and the strategy when determining which technologies to use.

“Even in procurement, we don’t put the supplier as the primary customer to our digital efforts,” Bac said. “If you make it easy on suppliers, you make it easy on yourself. Therefore, we should focus on making it easy for suppliers. Supplier networks in the beginning had commercial models that they had to pay to be a part of. But this does not allow you to create a network effect. Luckily, they’ve been replaced by buyer-funded models. Buyers get the most benefit from digital solutions.”

Learn more about the SIG Procurement Technology Summit. All of the sessions except the CPO Roundtable are available in the platform on-demand for the next 30 days.

If you are making the case for — or are in the process of buying procurement technology — be sure to try out Spend Matters TechMatchSM.