Digital Solutions Take Wing, Lifting Procurement to the Cloud

Posted: 02/17/2020 - 00:00
digital procurement networks

“Genius is making complex ideas simple, not making simple ideas complex.” —Albert Einstein

The most enduring innovations, whether in business or nature, transform entire ecosystems by simplifying tasks and redirecting labor toward more productive outcomes.

Consider the humble feather. What could be simpler than a bird gliding through the skies to hunt, nest or migrate? Yet the feather’s simplicity is deceptive, its elegance masking a remarkably complex structure that’s at once lightweight, resilient and aerodynamic. One of Mother Nature’s most significant innovations, evolving some 150 million years ago, the feather forever altered life on every continent.

In business, buyers and suppliers may not chirp, peck or flutter to signal their intentions. But the ecosystems they nourish are every bit as sophisticated as those sustained by winged creatures.

Global procurement networks, which can comprise thousands of trading partners and just as many contingent workers or other sources of external labor, are among the most complex features of the modern enterprise. Even the most conscientious business leader cannot manage all these crucial relationships alone. So the digital platform upon which he or she relies for visibility must lend simplicity as well. For many business leaders, however, the word simplicity does not always spring to mind when grappling with the intricacies of procurement, supply chains and external workforce management. Yet that’s beginning to change. Cloud-based applications are bringing into focus a holistic view of a company’s spend, its contingent labor requirements, and its trading partners’ interconnected operations. The technology orchestrating these many moving parts may be complicated, but the apps themselves should be elegant and simple to maneuver, allowing businesses to gather thrust and outpace the crowded murmuration of competitors.

How do digital procurement networks simplify business operations? By providing transparency across the source-to-pay process and full integration with an organization’s existing enterprise resource planning systems, cloud-based solutions — aided by cognitive technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning — reveal insights and opportunities to create value that never would have been possible, let alone perceptible, even a few short years ago. Through predictive analytics, businesses can anticipate changes in supply and demand, remedy bottlenecks before they arise, and redirect transportation routes when headwinds threaten flight patterns or other distribution networks. Digital technologies also enable buyers and suppliers, whether separated by oceans or mere city blocks, to collaborate in real-time on product development, marketing strategy, and optimization of the external workforce — all through the ease and simplicity of a unified platform.

Yet, for all its importance in elevating the role of procurement, technology still needs to reduce complexity through better design, enable seamless compatibility, and improve overall customer experiences. Only when a solution eliminates redundant activities and burdensome processes through an intuitive user experience does it deliver the much-needed simplicity that procurement professionals require to unleash strategic value for their organizations, trading partners and the many stakeholders who rely on them. When a procurement platform aids simplicity, growth tends to follow a trajectory that, not unlike the arc of a bird, soars skyward.


About The Author

Pat McCarthy's picture
As senior vice president and general manager of SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass, Pat McCarthy is responsible for the go-to-market strategy, sales performance, and operations of the SAP field organization globally. On a deeper level, he leads SAP's effort to understand customers’ goals and marshal the power of digital transformation to help meet or exceed them.
Since joining SAP in 2005, he has held a broad range of executive roles, including successfully leading the SAP Ariba North American region and various teams responsible for mobile and other emerging technology platforms.
Prior to joining the technology world, Pat practically grew up in supply chain and procurement. He spent 11 years at PepsiCo and its subsidiary Frito-Lay, Inc., where he led teams in warehouse and fleet management; distribution operations; manufacturing and supply chain planning; and optimization. 
As a former practitioner turned technology enthusiast, Pat loves finding new ways to extend a customer’s competitive advantage, from funding its strategic objectives to leveraging speed and efficiency to outpace rivals.
Pat is a native Chicagoan and graduated from Elmhurst College. He sits on the board of Chicago Tech Academy, a charter non-profit for Chicago high school students, and supports global charitable endeavors through Kiva.