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Author's profile photo Don Seward

The future of procurement maybe isn’t (just) procurement

Recently I was in a customer meeting where the latest in SAP Ariba procurement technology was demonstrated. All the discussion of guided buying, touchless purchasing and more made me think back to the days when I started in the profession and the marvel that was my purchasing system then – an IBM typewriter and carbonless forms!

Just think about how rapidly procurement, arguably the newest corporate function, has advanced. Common now are inspirational stories of successful transformations of complex procurement organizations where with the right vision, strategy and enabling technology, talented teams pulled together and accomplished the unthinkable.

Today it is common that well-run procurement organizations are prized within their companies as innovators and sometimes even industry differentiators. Yet the procurement profession continues its rapid evolution.

As stated in Procurement 2025, SAP Ariba’s perspective of the future of procurement, we are indeed in the golden age of procurement and headed to platinum. The important work that SAP Ariba’s customers are doing now will result in the foundational strategies, structures and talent required by the next generation of value creators.

So as your procurement organization progresses at Mach speed along its transformation journey, perhaps it’s appropriate to look for new opportunities for Procurement to create value. But what exactly is that next opportunity?

Maybe procurement’s final frontier isn’t solely procurement. If your company sells business-to-business, odds are that your company sells into another organization’s procurement team. Why then would your sales organization not leverage some of its best customer-facing procurement talent?

Having seen first-hand the positive behavioral change that customer procurement executives manifest when it becomes known that their supplier’s sales team includes a procurement professional, why in the name of customer service (if not increased sales) would sales organizations not alter their approach and expect procurement to expand its role to buy and sell?

Think back to a few supplier pitches that did not go well for the supplier – any chance that those pitches might have had a different outcome if revamped and pitched by someone in procurement?

You get the point.

For years, procurement professionals heard the condemnation, don’t speak to other corporate functions in the “words of procurement”, rather use their lexicon. But maybe the one exception to this rule, the one chance for us procurement professionals to indulge in the words that have become so comfortable, is when participating with our sales teams in support of a B2B customer. In an authentic, sort of a mind-melding of procurement professionals. Only we truly understand everything that we’re saying.

Certainly, procurement’s charter will always include all the typical things that we associate with procurement today. There’s no getting away from cost savings, KPIs and the pursuit of supplier innovation. But why should we limit our vision, contributions and the career aspirations of our top talent to only that which is directly associated with procurement?

Perhaps you might challenge yourself to include as the pinnacle of your transformation planning, finding the right time for the right talent within procurement to support your sales team. With their coaching and guidance, help your organization delight customers and differentiate yourself from the competition.


About the Author

Don Seward is Director of Value Realization at SAP. He has over 30 years of experience in regulated industries and a variety of related roles including VP of Procurement Transformation, global head of procurement, Federal Purchasing System administrator, Federal Estimating System administrator, and government audit agency liaison.

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