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Research & Insights
Why Procurement is Like … Probiotics?

Last week I introduced this metaphor series, which I’m kicking off on what might seem like a strange topic. But please bear with me.  

According to microbiologist Rob Knight, a typical human body has roughly 10 trillion human cells in it.  But it also has about 100 trillion cells of microbes living inside of it. (I won’t even get into the skin mites topic.)

That’s a 10X difference. And the largest group of microbes are in our gut. Our genome is made up of roughly 20,000 genes, but the collective genome from all the microbes is between 2 million and 20 million genes. That’s up to a 100X difference. So, genetically, we’re more microbe than man (or woman). Cool.

But it gets better.

What’s also cool is that there are almost 130 human genes that did not originate from within us, but rather are foreign microbial genes that have spliced themselves into our DNA. They have become part of us. Finally, although you might think that, since all humans basically share 99.9% of the same human DNA, the same situation would exist with the microbes. But it doesn’t. Only about 10% of microbial DNA is common across humans. The microbial portfolio in us is as unique as each of us is.

Most fascinatingly, there’s an increasingly strong scientific link between overall health and cognitive health with this population of microbes. For example, your kids eating dirt might not be such a bad thing, as your body responds to and assimilates to the external environment. It becomes more familiar with the environment and resilient in response to it. If you don’t get enough of the “good microbes,” such as those found in yogurt, then you might benefit from probiotics, which are healthy microbes and the opposite of antibiotics, which can kill good microbes as well as bad ones.

So, herein lies the analogy. Your company is like a human body, and your suppliers are microbes. Most are beneficial. Some are not. And they vastly outnumber your procurement people.

If you have $1 billion in spend and have roughly 50 full-time employees, you may have something like more than 5,000 suppliers. So that’s the 100X ratio we saw earlier! The big lesson here is that suppliers are part of you and infused into your overall value chain.   

Yes, we need some basic supplier consolidation in some spend areas, but we don’t want to overprescribe our antibiotic sourcing efforts. We want to bring in external DNA through supplier innovation, crowdsourcing, multichannel talent pools, managed services and so on. So, a program like P&G’s Connect and Develop is akin to kicking the kids — design engineers and procurement folks alike — outside of the climate-controlled building to play in the dirt, get their hands dirty with both customers and suppliers and bring outside-in innovation to the firm and then right back out. Yes, you’ll get exposed to some risk and might even get sick now and then, but you’ll get smarter, more resilient and healthier in the long term.

Just don’t call your suppliers microbes. They might not always appreciate it.

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