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Around 15 years ago, a well-known pastor named Rick Warren published a book called The Purpose Driven Life. Of course, you didn’t need to be religious to pick up a copy. In fact, 30 million people, religious and otherwise, did — making it one of the top ten sellers of the century so far.

The book had its critics. But it also changed many lives. The reason is that, amid the bustle of work and family and our daily routines, people yearn for a purpose greater than themselves.

You may be unfamiliar with the name Katie Swingle. But at SAP Ariba, she’s a superstar. She doesn’t write our code or organize our cloud architecture. In fact, she doesn’t even work here.

Katie is a stay-at-home mom from Florida. And she inspires us all.

She sends her son Gregory, who has autism, to a specialized private school thanks to Step Up for Students, a scholarship fund that runs on SAP Ariba. The not-for-profit organization administers a marketplace enabling parents to choose from scholarship programs that match the unique learning needs of their children.

It changed her son’s life, Katie says. “Gregory has gone from not being able to read, write or focus to being on the honor roll in fourth grade in all his subjects, which means he’s above 90 percent in all proficiencies,” she says. Katie credits Step Up for Students and the SAP Ariba technology behind it. “You are changing lives in ways you don’t even know. It’s already touching thousands of Floridians. The number one thing I’ve learned is how much value technology offers, more than I ever thought possible.”

Working with Step Up for Students, SAP Ariba helps to connect families with educational resources to which they might not otherwise have access. Yet Katie’s story is only one example of our technology put to a higher purpose. In our quest to help the world run better and improve people’s lives, equally impressive stories play out in countless ways.

By opening up transparency for buyers and suppliers into their interconnected operations, SAP Ariba enables them to evaluate each other not only on the basis of traditional criteria such as inventories, cycle times and contracting terms, but also on whether a potential trading partner has brand values that align with their own.

Does a potential partner have in place the governance structures necessary to root out forced labor or human trafficking from its supply chain? Or to certify responsible stewardship of natural resources? Or to ensure that women- and minority-owned businesses receive equitable consideration in requests for proposal? A procurement network can illuminate all these factors and hundreds of others.

What it provides, ultimately, is accountability. And this accountability needs to be personal and resonate deeply with everyone involved.

Customers and investors alike demand nothing less. They expect the brands they support to adhere to ethical and sustainable businesses practices. But that’s only a first step. Businesses also need to ensure that their suppliers do likewise. So too their suppliers’ suppliers. Only the broad visibility offered by a procurement network can mitigate exposure to both operational and reputational risk.

But the benefits to risk management extend still further, to the environment as well.

Here in the San Francisco Bay area, the waterways and parklands are practically my playground. My family and I make our home here. (Go Warriors!). Over the years I’ve watched as hi-tech companies put down roots here, just as I have. It’s well-known that the Bay area has been a very favorable environment for hi-tech.

But only in recent years has hi-tech begun to return the favor.

Through cloud-based networks like SAP Ariba, we’re now seeing businesses dramatically reduce the waste they produce by collaborating closely with suppliers on inventory and production levels. Real-time analysis of changes in supply and demand, made possible by the cloud’s ability to process large volumes of data across organizational boundaries, helps to improve forecasting, reduce overproduction, and limit carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, the digital transformation of procurement reinforces sustainable business practices in other ways. Automated sourcing tools can identify local suppliers of raw materials, validate the provenance of precious minerals, and steer clear of regions associated with documented patterns of inhumane working conditions.

If purpose-driven supply chain management sounded a bit dull or jargony before, does it still?

To us at SAP Ariba, it’s incredibly motivating. Amid our travels to customers sites we’ve seen first-hand the positive impact on people’s lives — and on entire communities — when people and technology, guided by purpose, inspire and equip organizations to run more efficiently, more ethically, and more sustainably.

The author is the chief marketing officer of SAP Ariba, the world’s largest business network, linking together buyers and suppliers from 3.1 million companies in 190 countries.

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