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The new year is well underway and many businesses within the supply chain are trying to set themselves up for success in the months ahead. After a 2020 that was filled with ups and downs, to say the least, some firms may now feel as though they're in a better position to make strategic investments in technology that allow them to take an all-important next step.

When utilized and implemented properly, tech can be a great way to insulate yourself from some financial risk, even if it comes with some obvious adoption costs. The following suggestions could help you find a new type of technology to invest in and help ensure your long-term financial success in what's sure to be a year full of uncertainties:

1) Widespread digital real-time tracking

At this point, most companies within the supply chain have at least some kind of digital accounting of all the items coming into and leaving their facilities, but they may need to consider how modern those systems are, according to the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply and Supply Chain Digital. In 2021, more companies will likely move to track everything under their roof — and beyond — in more or less real time, giving them a bird's-eye view of their past, present and future inventory. That may require more collaboration with partners, but the benefits should be obvious to all.

2021 is the time for your company to put all your data to better use.2021 is the time for your company to put all your data to better use.

2) Edge computing

Along similar lines to keeping track of inventory in real time, edge computing allows your workers to quickly and easily scan and process information into your system as soon as they make that first or last touch, according to Gartner. Using the internet of things, there's no need to wait for data to be uploaded once a device is docked with a computer or similar device, and you get rapid updates on an ongoing basis.

3) 5G-enabled tech

In addition to all that, the proliferation of 5G could bring even more processing and updating power to your real-time data, because if you can keep everything visible no matter where it is on the map, you can make more informed judgment calls on all kinds of issues, Gartner said. The fact is that there is a lot of promise in 5G, and we likely don't even know how much it's going to revolutionize business processes; that may be is especially true when it comes to the supply chain sector.

4) Machine learning

Finally, once you are processing and tracking data in real time, it's important to put that information to use, according to Haslam College of Business. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can enable you to examine whatever data you collect and identify potential snags before they arise, so you can act quickly to keep all your processes as smooth as possible. The beauty of this technology is it continually improves on its previous improvements, meaning you continue to gain increasingly more efficient insights as time goes on.

Working within the supply chain seems to always bring more uncertainty than any organization would like. Sometimes that uncertainty can turn into a major problem for yourself and your partners. The key to avoiding those issues, as much as is possible, is to count on the fact that things aren't always going to go your way, and increase your ability to adjust on the fly and respond more effectively to roadblocks.

How can you do that? The following suggestions could help:

1) Leverage technology

First and foremost, now is the time to utilize as much new and emerging technology in your various supply chain processes as you can, according to Spend Matters. The more you can do to make sure processes are automated and you have visibility into everything you do, the better off you will be in identifying potential issues before they can truly wreak havoc.

Don't get crunched by an avoidable problem.Don't get crunched by an avoidable problem.

2) Scout for more options

While you no doubt have great relationships with most of your supply chain partners, you can't necessarily rely on them 100% of the time — that's just the nature of the business, Spend Matters added. As such, you should always have fallback options for obtaining the goods you need when existing arrangements fall through. In fact, building contingencies for those contingencies, including what you might do if no suppliers can meet your needs, is probably a good idea.

3) Be more engaged with your partners

It's absolutely vital to have insights into not only your own processes, but also those of your supply chain partners, whenever possible, according to SupplyShift. That way, it becomes even easier to identify challenges on the horizon and work together to come up with workable solutions for all involved.

4) Incentivize data sharing

Sometimes, partners may be resistant to sharing some kinds of information, and that can be understandable in certain situations, SupplyShift noted. To get them more onboard with your vision, it might be wise to offer them incentives for hitting goals and otherwise setting you up for success. When they're given a financial stake in helping you, you probably won't be shocked to find how much other organizations are willing to help.

5) Get better at collaboration

As you're improving your efforts to improve collaboration with your supply chain partners, it's also important to make sure you're doing more to boost effective collaboration in-house, according to the Harvard Business Review. Something as simple as putting together a master list of agreements that multiple stakeholders can refer to when talking to supply chain partners can go a long way toward helping you work toward a singular goal.

6) Consistently tackle potential problems

You ought to know by now that there's no such thing as a set-it-and-forget-it, one-size-fits-all solution to ongoing supply chain success, but you may not be doing enough to ensure you're able to meet your goals continually, the Harvard Business Review advised. You should be scheduling regular meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page and are well-positioned to succeed individually and, of course, collectively.

Experts have long highlighted potential issues where the supply chain and cybersecurity intersect, and it seems that the threat of an attack catching organizations unawares is on the rise. A recent hacking attack shows just how much of a problem this may be, and how unprepared both the private and public sectors may be to truly handle these issues.

For instance, a recent attack against software developed by the SolarWinds Corp., shows just how much work needs to be done for companies at all stages of the supply chain to be better prepared for potential intrusion attempts, according to Bloomberg News. The extent of the damage caused by this hack is not yet fully understood, but there is evidence to suggest that it's quite significant and far-reaching.

The reason why is relatively simple: Since so many aspects of the global supply chain are interconnected, even a relatively narrow-focused attack can have a massive impact, the report said. Again, experts have been ringing this alarm bell for some time, yet preparedness seems to be lacking.

Cyberthreats may increasingly target the supply chain.Cyberthreats may increasingly target the supply chain.

Caught in the lurch
The federal Government Accountability Office recently issued a report on the effects of the SolarWinds breach, because it affected a number of government agencies, and it's more than fair to say the findings were not encouraging for the industry, according to Nextgov. Many of the issues that led agencies to be affected are considered "foundational" — and therefore more than a little difficult to sort out.

The GAO found that industry best practices for data security, recommended by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, are broadly not being followed, Nextgov reported. Of 23 civilian agencies the GAO examined, none had implemented all seven NIST recommendations, and 14 of them — more than 60% — had not implemented a single one.

"NIST came out with their guidance back in 2015," Carol Harris, director of GAO's IT and cybersecurity team, told the site. "In fact, they had updated their cybersecurity framework and their risk management framework to include supply chain risk considerations in 2018. So, the guidance was out there."

The private risk
With the above issues in mind, it's quite likely that similar vulnerabilities are lurking for private organizations that have not conducted an audit of their own preparedness, according to the Forbes Technology Council. Therefore, now is  the time for companies to look at the software they use, the data they share with their partners, and what they might be able to do to tighten up their unique security concerns.

That will undoubtedly require all significant stakeholders to look at your operations, the kind of software you use, data you share and so on, to determine what vulnerabilities could exist. This is hardly a set-it-and-forget-it effort, and you should be prepared to regularly conduct this kind of audit to make sure you are as prepared as possible for any threat that might arise.

In just about any aspect of business, to be truly successful, you have to be proactive about planning for both the short and long term. That's certainly true when it comes to your procurement strategies. While it's not always easy to account for every possibility in your plans, it is nonetheless important to have strategies and contingencies laid out on an ongoing basis. With that in mind, it's time to consider what your procurement plans are for 2021.

For the most part, a lot of this work was laid out (at least in part) over the final few months of 2020, and that's instructive, according to ProcureAbility. After all, the majority of last year was more or less unprecedented in a globally connected business world, and supply chains were repeatedly shocked by the various developments around the novel coronavirus pandemic. Consequently, companies have plenty of time to strategize for operating in a world still gripped by the outbreak, and potentially in the second half of the year, a post-COVID world.

A recent online poll the company ran found that 34% of respondents prioritized building a pipeline for saving money in 2021 over the final months of the year, while others worked on efforts like hitting remaining goals for last year, implementing technological and process-related improvements and renewing contracts with supply chain partners.

Get ready for the entirety of 2021.Get ready for the entirety of 2021.

What does it take?
When you're putting together any strategy, for any aspect of your company, you need to have the best possible data at your disposal, and that information should inform whatever decisions you make, according to Kissflow. That means compiling data from your own business operations, information about your supply chain and the economy, as well as your company's finances, then synthesizing it all into action items and projections.

For instance, you should have a fairly clear picture of procurement costs, business needs, and market conditions all at the same time, and those data points should inform realistic objectives for the next month, quarter and full year, the report said. After that, you can craft all the right policies for your employees to follow and tailor your workflows and software utilization to help you achieve those goals on an ongoing basis. It's not necessarily an easy task, but it is relatively straightforward.

Getting everybody onboard
Once you know what the objectives are and how you will reach them, it's vital to communicate them effectively to not only the people within your organization, but also potentially relevant stakeholders outside it, according to HCMWorks. Think of it like a trickle-down effect: Your executives put the plan into place and communicate it to managers, who then pass it along to staff, who then pass pertinent information to your supply chain partners. In this way, everyone is on the same page and able to act and react in a way that helps you meet those short- and long-term goals.

This is certainly a process that should be continuous and ongoing, but if you haven't laid out your entire roadmap for 2021 quite yet, now is the time to start.

The novel coronavirus pandemic, along with the various shutdowns and slowdowns it caused, taught a lot of people whose jobs rub up against the supply chain some valuable lessons in 2020. As millions of businesses worldwide look to the new year, one thing procurement experts believe will happen as a direct result of the pandemic is more companies will bring as much of their supply chain operations as they can back to the U.S.

To be fair, this was a process that was largely already in place before the pandemic hit. A 2019 survey from the Reshoring Institute found that more than half of companies in the supply chain were at least considering reshoring as an option even prior to 2020, according to Material Handling & Logistics. Moreover, nearly all respondents believed they should at least consider a domestic supplier if they were competitive with foreign companies in terms of price and quality.

Those that hadn't yet looked at the efficacy of reshoring said it was because of concerns around things like higher labor costs, lack of extant facilities within the U.S., finding skilled workers and so on, the report said. However, it seems that more recently, many of those concerns have been overtaken by the shortcomings laid bare by the COVID pandemic.

Are supply chains shifting back to the U.S.?Are supply chains shifting back to the U.S.?

Striking the right balance
At the same time, some within the industry would caution that they've seen this song and dance before, and it didn't necessarily go well, according to The Economist. When there was a H1N1 swine flu outbreak in 2009, many companies rushed to reshore various aspects of their supply chain. When demand shifted back to its pre-outbreak state, many were left holding the bag — and suffered major financial losses as a result.

Of course, COVID has been a much bigger issue than the swine flu, for a lot of reasons, and even if companies are a little gun shy about reshoring as a result of the problems suffered more than a decade ago, some may now be strengthened in their resolve to shift back to American operations, the report said. Even if estimates on the lower end of industry surveys — on the order of 15%, give or take — come to pass, that's still about 1 in every 7 U.S. companies saying they will give reshoring a hard look.

Beyond the supply chain itself
That having been said, the fact is that some of the issues discussed above are outside the hands of supply chain professionals, according to IndustryWeek. Surveys conducted in early 2020 (here too, before the outbreak gripped the U.S.) showed that reshoring for the manufacturing sector was already heavily underway and that likely didn't stop when China and other foreign nations effectively shut down to control the spread. As such, existing supply chains had to be shifted, and new ones built from whole cloth, to accommodate the "new normal."

Will that continue even after COVID has largely dissipated? The smart money is likely on at least a slow trickle of reshoring, even if there won't be a massive wave of such activity. Nonetheless, supply chain professionals would be wise to prepare for either scenario.

In recent years, many companies in the supply chain business have had to at least consider ways they can make their internal processes more efficient and their entire organizations better partners. Increasingly, these firms are identifying and following through on a great way to do both simultaneously: by hiring a chief procurement officer to oversee their efforts.

For some companies, this may seem like "a hat on a hat," just another hire that does the job someone else has been doing — without the fancy title — for months or years. However, the following benefits could help even the most skeptical companies see the light on how vital a CPO can be:

They continually gather insights

One of the reasons a CPO whose only job is to streamline and improve procurement processes can be preferable to just making it part of another manager's duties is self-evident, according to CFO magazine. When even the most attentive managers are tasked with just another thing on their plate, other issues they're overseeing can fall by the wayside. By making this one person's job, nothing will slip through the cracks.

Understand what a CPO can do for you.Take the time to understand what a CPO can do for you.

They can whip partners into shape

It's not just internal efforts that can improve when you hire a CPO; it's those of your partners as well, CFO said. When you have someone dedicated to finding internal efficiency, you may often find that problems aren't necessarily your problems. Once that's happened, it's easier for a CPO to work with partners and get you all on the same page.

They will typically have a lot of technical skills other execs don't

While it's a relatively new job description, CPOs are already developing some characteristics as a group, and that includes the fact that they tend to have a lot of technical training or degrees, according to Ardent Partners. That can help them tackle issues other mangers — even those in the C-suite — aren't equipped to deal with, especially those unique to the supply chain.

They've trained for the job

Along similar lines, you may have promoted some managers up the ladder from an entry-level job to overseeing a department, and that often means their long-term focus has been specifically on improving procurement and supply chain obstacles, Ardent Partners advised. That kind of added attention to detail and specialization can help them identify issues that even other supply chain veterans might miss.

They can lead to long-term sustainability

Finally, if your company is balking at the idea of adding another potentially high-paid executive position, you might be wise to look at it in terms of return on investment, according to the Future of Sourcing. Tightening up even a few areas of inefficiency can lead to tremendous savings in time and money, which in turn, means the CPO position is effectively paying for itself in relatively little time. Then, as months or years go by, those benefits only continue to build as your entire supply chain operations become more sustainable.


If you have a fleet, you have a need for tires. With a limited life and a key component to driver safety, procuring tires wisely can make a big difference in the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of your fleet. Tire pricing is typically based on volume and negotiating discounts is difficult at best. So how do you control costs if you do not have a massive fleet? There are a few simple avenues that can help your company save time and money procuring tires.

As a fleet manager, or a procurement professional purchasing tires for your organization, there are a few upfront decisions to make. First, you must decide what tier of tires you are searching for. This is a loosely defined rating on quality, engineering, price point, and markup. Although slightly arbitrary, typically, a tier 1 tire has the backing of a large organization. They have built up a lot of trust to get to that level, so their product can be trusted. Tier 2 tires will typically be lower in quality, price, or markup, and so on for Tiers 3 and 4. Finally, will you want to buy direct or through a distributor? Both have their pros and cons. Distributors will mark up the price but may have better service options. OEM tires often are cheaper, but the manufacturer may not have locations to install the tires you purchase. Be sure to consider what is most important to you.

Now, on to how to procure them!

1.      GPO’s (Group Purchasing Organizations)

Perhaps the simplest way to get high quality tires for your fleet at a fair price is through a GPO. A Group Purchasing Organization leverages the buying power of many organizations by combining the spend of multiple fleets to negotiate better pricing. This can especially benefit small and mid-size fleets. With a lower volume, negotiating pricing is very difficult as the scales are tipped against you. With a GPO, many small and mid-size fleets are combined to tip the scale back to your side. The best part is the work is already complete. Simply signing up with the GPO warrants you all the benefits with none of the work. It is the easiest way to receive a quick win and can save your company a surprisingly large amount.

To put this in perspective, Corcentric has over 160 group purchasing programs. With an 800,000-unit fleet under management, the pricing within these GPO’s is much better than a small or mid-size fleet can obtain. Tires are just one of the programs that we offer. Many different maintenance parts and fleet related products, including fuel, can be purchased using this buying power. We also offer multiple tire brands. You can choose form Goodyear, Michelin, Continental, Bridgestone, and more! Whomever you choose, GPO’s are the quickest way to get immediate savings on your tire purchasing.

2.      Back-End Rebates

Another simple and effective way to save on tires is to negotiate back end rebates. A simple explanation is you spend so much with the supplier, you get a specified percentage back. The lower the spend figure and the higher the percentage rebate, the better the savings. Rebates may be difficult if you do not have a large enough fleet. However, if you do not have a large enough fleet, you should be purchasing through a GPO like we spoke about earlier.

3.      Maintenance Mindset

Do not let your tires bald before replacing. It may sound counter-intuitive but replacing on a specified schedule is important. In the long run it will save your business money. The costlier repairs for damage that can occur if your tires tread or blow are not worth the risk. Replace them before they cause the larger issue. Also, the consistency of spend can help with negotiations and spend commitments to supplier partners. Finally, you will change fuel consumption and put your drivers in potential danger. As a side note, maintenance parts of all kinds can also be purchased through a GPO!

4.      Outsource

If the analysis, contracting, negotiation, and many other tasks that come with wise fleet procurement are more than you care to take on, outsource the work. Corcentric, for example, can manage your whole fleet. We not only source the suppliers, but we also take care of the maintenance, lifecycle management, and even remarketing. This may be the simplest way to avoid the vast amount of work that comes from fleet management. The best part is you can afford it! You will actually end up saving money in most cases.

Hopefully, this will help in purchasing tires for your fleet. These suggestions also apply to other maintenance related parts. Fleet management is one of Corcentric’s bread and butter. We have been working in this space from the very beginning of our company. With many subject matter experts, we can give you the advice and service your fleet requires!



When you work in the supply chain and have dealings with your company's various partners and other stakeholders, you are taking part in a sometimes delicate relationship that is contingent on collaboration and long-term success. Occasionally, it's easy to maintain a strong, happy relationship. Other times, the road is considerably rockier.

The question, then, is how to maximize the good times and keep the hiccups to a minimum. The following suggestions should help:

1) Keep communication channels wide open

Your primary focus in any supplier relationship should be to never leave one another in the dark, so communicating on a regular basis is key, according to the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply. Whether it's being prompt when you reply to emails, being able to get someone on the phone quickly or convening meetings on short notice, all involved need to be flexible on this front.

2) Don't act like you're the center of the universe

On the other hand, you also have to recognize that, in the vast majority of cases, you will not be another company's only partner in the supply chain, and cannot make unreasonable demands for time or attention, CIPS said. Odds are good that everyone is working to solve problems to the best of their abilities, so you can't expect — let alone demand — immediate fixes.

Make sure your supply chain partnerships never get contentious.Make sure your supply chain partnerships never get contentious.

3) Get on the same page with technology

To prevent those kinds of hang-ups from happening in the first place, it's a good idea to be sharing data and working on the same platforms as much as you possibly can, according to Paramount WorkPlace. That way, you have more transparency and collective vision, allowing you to make all your communications and collaborations easier to get through.

4) Know what's on paper — and what isn't

Often, over the course of lengthy relationships, you may come to understandings about better ways to work or meet each other's needs, but sometimes those expectations can't be met, Paramount WorkPlace added. As such, you may need to keep in mind what's actually included in the contract you signed initially, and what has been tacked on to that agreement over time.

5) Look at how you're performing

As with any partnership (i.e. like what your company has with its own employees), you would be wise to sit down and review how your supplier relationship is going, Paramount WorkPlace further advised. Take a look at what's working, what needs to be tweaked, and where you're headed next, and you may find better ways to stay on the same page.

6) Conduct regular risk assessments

Along similar lines, you should also look at how risks have evolved over time that could create problems for your partnership, and move to address them, according to PurchaseControl. Here, too, it's just about being able to respond appropriately to any potential emerging issues.

7) Always strive to pay on time

There's often no better way to keep supply chain partners happy than to ensure cash flow is predictable and on-schedule, Purchase Control warned. Just as you expect your partners to pay you on time and in full, you should always strive to do the same in the other direction.

For as long as I have known, procurement organisations have been measured by its efficiency - this could be determined by the savings they produce, quicker turn around times and efficiency in approvals ("Where is my PO stuck?", "When will my goods arrive?", "When will my supplier get paid?" are terms everyone is familiar with).

As described in my previous article, Covid-19 has changed the way procurement functions and works! After all, what's better to do in the aftermath of a crisis than to learn from it and change the way we work. Resiliency is the need of the hour.

In July 2005, I was working for a large company in Mumbai that was in the process of implementing a data center for its customer. Everything was going great. Goods were being delivered by the suppliers on time, the installation and implementation was in full swing. We had ordered tape drives (DL-380 if my memory serves right) from a supplier in Finland. The tape drives arrived at the customs office on 25th. We cleared them from customs (there are a billion forms involved) and brought them into our warehouse on the 1st floor of our facilities in the outskirts of Mumbai - which also housed warehouses and logistics facilities for a lot of companies. The installation was scheduled to take place on the 28th (as there was some pre-work - cabling etc. that needed to be completed). If you are familiar with what happened next - it was a nightmare that one couldn't have fathomed. The Mumbai floods impacted each and every inch of Mumbai like never seen before. By the evening of the 26th, the tape drives(along with a lot of other equipment and most of Mumbai really) was submerged in water. 

So we now had procured a tape drive that was expensive, not delivered to the customer and hit not only the looming data center installation deadlines but as anyone in supply chain is painfully aware, the insurance did not cover natural disasters and hence it hit our costs as well. As luck would have it, the supplier did not have another one ready for shipment either. Not surprisingly, we quickly then had to fold the costs within the margin of the whole project leaving us with absolutely no more room for error or delays. Needless to say, it ended up being a project where the cost was higher than the sale!

In the aftermath of this event, we quickly went about building more strategic long term relationships -ones focussed not just on the money aspect and efficiency(SLAs) with our suppliers that were just collaborative in nature.

I think the Covid-19 situation has brought about a number of similar challenges. How can we ensure resilience in the procurement organisation that will help meet the challenges if and when the next wave of Covid-19 happens or in the aftermath of this pandemic? What about resilience in wake of Brexit? 

Focus on long term relationship fostering with your suppliers - Treat them as partners. Remember that great relationships are built are trust - this applies to your suppliers too. What this means is that you are no longer measuring your suppliers on efficiency alone but you create meaningful gain share contracts that lets them play a strategic role in the way you do business. Contracts are not just about how much savings you can deliver, but what is the right price to do business at which keeps the supplier motivated equally.

One of the key changes that we see taking place in the aftermath of Covid-19 and rightly so - is organisations taking stock of their risks and assessing if it is indeed wise to have single source supply bases for critical items especially when you consider:

1. Due to companies having focussed before on reducing costs and building efficiencies, the single source suppliers more often than not tend to be based in Asia or other low cost countries. 

2. For those suppliers based in such countries, deliveries are still delayed and challenging considering not just the amount of restrictions on trade per se that have been imposed by individual countries but also the logistical nightmares in terms of transport that Covid seems to have created.

The pandemic also seems to have created a volatile demand of goods - for instance, there was a spike in toilet paper purchase, which we all know will lead to a lesser than expected demand in the coming months for toilet paper and other such commodities. Costs for raw materials are also increasingly volatile owing to region specific shutdowns.

The point I try to make is this: Sometimes, it is not easy to to balance efficiency and resiliency. But the cost of doing nothing will also be very significant. In summary, here are some of the steps an organisation can take towards being resilient:

1. Build a strong partnership with your suppliers.

2. Diversify your partner ecosystem.

3. Ensure sufficient capacity buffers in your inventories/stock/forecasts.

4. Take stock of your procurement function, now!!!    

It goes without saying that the world has changed quite a bit over the course of 2020, but further upheaval is expected in 2021 as well. In some ways, life and business alike will start to get back to something resembling normal, but in others, issues that have become common will continue to evolve and change. That is certainly true of the supply chain, and companies are (wisely) already strategizing for what it all means for them in the new year and beyond.

Perhaps the foremost change many companies are looking to make to "future-proof" their operations is by automating more aspects of their normal practices, according to a recent industry survey from Honeywell Intelligrated. This was true for more than half of executives polled, and likely indicates an area of significant growth for the year to come, at a minimum. However, as with past efforts to follow through on automation, it's not likely to be easy, especially due to maintenance costs.

There's plenty to consider when it comes to future-proofing the supply chain.There's plenty to consider when it comes to future-proofing the supply chain.

While companies are certainly conscious of the impact this could have on staffing, especially for lower-skill jobs in their warehouses, they also say adding automation means hiring new professionals who can work with these machines and systems, the report said. With that in mind, it should come as little surprise that 43% of respondents listed improving automation processes as being among their top three business priorities for the next year-plus.

Still grappling with the novel coronavirus
Of course, it's worth noting that while vaccines are rolled out to millions of Americans and to people around the world, the likelihood is that COVID-19 will still have a big impact on regional, national and global supply chains for at least the first half of 2021, if not more. To that end, 90% of companies in the retail and consumer goods sectors say they are still enacting plans to change their supply chains because of the pandemic, according to Bain & Company.

In fact, more than 40% of respondents said they plan to increase investment in the supply chain so they can become quicker, more agile and more resilient overall, the report said. That was true even if it came at greater expense; the share of companies listing cost efficiency as being among their top two concerns slipped 13 points, while increased agility jumped by nearly double that amount.

Sustainability is the key
Whenever changes are made to companies' processes, those making the ultimate decisions have a responsibility to ensure whatever changes they put into place are built to last, and ferry them through any new challenges that may emerge, according to Supply Chain Digital. Often, that comes through in the need to simultaneously operate with greater efficiency and transparency, but also require a rollout of technological solutions that give them larger quantities of more accurate data on an ongoing basis.

Whatever solutions companies arrive at in the new year, and throughout the coming decades, cannot be viewed as "set it and forget it." As the pandemic has shown, even the best-run supply chains are vulnerable to outside factors that cannot be accounted for, making agility a critical goal for any supply chain organization.

 We find ourselves today at a crossroads in how Procurement operates. The battle between rigid, manual, paper-based procurement processes and the “new-age” of procurement is coming to an end. The “new-age” of procurement can be simply defined as: Automation, from sourcing to payment.  COVID is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is the nail in the coffin for labor intensive, legacy procurement processes.

It’s quite easy to come to this conclusion when you look at the direction of our society. We want instant gratification. We complain when our new coffee maker takes more than 24 hours to land on our front doorstep from 2,000 miles across the country. Technology is replacing retail and changing service delivery at a rapid clip. The future of business and procurement is following shortly behind.

Think just 10 years back. It’s 2010 and you have a list of to-do’s before the upcoming work week. Your list includes a trip to the bank to cash a check. A trip to the vehicle repair shop for an estimate. A trip to the doctor for your annual check-up. A trip to the grocery store to stock up for the week. A trip to Home Depot to pick up cleaning supplies. A trip to Office Depot store to pick out school supplies for your children. A busy day! Then you plan to cap it off with a trip to the Movie theater to see a new film.

Today you could complete that entire list of tasks simultaneously while sitting in your pajamas, sipping coffee so long as your thumbs work to operate your iPhone. Take a picture of your check for mobile deposit. Snap some pictures of the dent on your vehicle and submit through the Geico mobile application. Press “order now” on your Whole Foods grocery order and Amazon shopping cart with all the cleaning and school supplies. Enjoy your virtual doctors visit. Then fire up Netflix to watch the new movie after an exhausting day. COVID has certainly added fuel to the dissipation of retail stores and rise of services able to be completed remotely. Tech is now replacing things we never though it could. Just look at education and learning. We’ve moved almost exclusively to eLearning since the rise of COVID.

So how is this indicative of change in the world of Procurement? You must look within the inner workings of fortune 1,000 companies today. Processes that you think would-be long-gone 15+ years ago are still happening. Folks are still faxing, mailing and calling-in orders. Procurement managers are filing away contracts to hopefully pull out on the right day prior to auto-renewal or missing a commitment. Suppliers are still processing orders and generating paper-based invoices. Accounts payable is still manually coding and reconciling invoices for payment. This is partly due to the fact that this is what some Procurement people and suppliers know and are comfortable with. It’s also in part because procurement technology which could automate all these processes has always been thought of as too expensive or complex to implement.

Buyers and suppliers entering the workforce today were born with a tablet in their hands. They had their first smart phone at age 10. Procurement software can now be easily integrated with existing ERP solutions making it easier to implement and less expensive. You don’t need to spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours to implement and benefit from procurement software.

The future state of procurement is upon us. Corporations need to invest in technology and the right level of services to make sure the technology is enabling the right process. Automation of Procurement is going to happen, so why not hop aboard now?

In recent months, procurement professionals and executives have paid considerable attention to how their efforts may not be up to modern standards when it comes to operating efficiently. As with many other things in society, it appears as though the novel coronavirus pandemic laid bare some of their shortcomings, and spurred them to action to address those concerns sooner than later.

Many have already identified the areas where they need to take a step forward to meet their modern needs, led by the ability to save money on their operations, according to the 2021 CPO Planning survey from Procurement Leaders and Bain & Company. That was also the top concern seen for 2020, but ranking second on the latest survey — and not previously even in the top five — was managing supplier risk. That, in particular, likely reared its head for many in the purchasing sphere thanks to COVID shutdowns and the like, and companies are now scrambling to make sure those risks are minimized in the future.

How will procurement pros power out of the COVID slowdowns?How will procurement pros power out of the COVID slowdowns?

Also in the top five priorities cited by CPOs for 2021 were developing team skills at third, up from fourth a year earlier, the poll showed. Ranking fourth was improving and growing operating margins, rising one spot. Finally, dropping by two spots was increasing efficiency with new technology investments. The better news for the industry as a whole was that 84% of execs surveyed were at least slightly optimistic about their chances of achieving those goals in the year ahead.

The right investments
As the global rollout of 5G technology continues over the course of 2021, companies may need to do more to make sure they can take advantage, according to The Economic Times. Currently, about 72% of larger businesses plan to invest in this technology by 2025, and 1 in 3 say they are worried they will fall behind the competition if they fail to do so. However, there are some potential stumbling blocks, including simply not knowing how beneficial 5G could be to their operations (cited by 36%) and a lack of substantial government investment in 5G infrastructure (33%).

An in-depth look
When it comes to procurement efforts in one particular market — conference planning services — decision-makers have set themselves up for success in the next few years, according to a report from SpendEdge. Despite lingering problems due to the pandemic, it's expected that there will be an average annual spending growth rate of 3.6% each year from 2020 to 2024. That amounts to total spending over this period of $52 billion, largely because suppliers in this realm are projected to enjoy bargaining power and the industry is largely in growth mode.

With all this in mind, it's vital that those within the procurement sector make sure their efforts are helping them keep up with industry standards in 2021 — and beyond. Failure to do so could lead companies to fall far behind their competition and potentially lose out on opportunities that would have otherwise been available to them.