What has Procurement Learned from a Global Pandemic?

By Hugo Britt | January 26, 2021

COVID-19 has presented enormous challenges for organizations. Supply chain disruption on a global scale has seen the responsibility for maintaining business operations and risk mitigation fall heavily on procurement’s shoulders.

Challenges included factory shutdowns, shipping delays, border closures, depleted workforces, stockouts, shifts in consumer demand, and domestic restrictions and lockdowns. Procurement professionals have had to limit the fallout by maintaining supply chain transparency, safeguarding their organization’s futures, and reshaping business processes and priorities.

But, as is often the case in times of crisis, 2020 was also a year of unity and collaboration; not least for procurement professionals. If there is one silver lining to take from that tumultuous year, it’s that the profession is truly resilient and adaptive in the face of adversity – as has been demonstrated time and again in recent months.

In The Sourcing Hero podcast, several guests addressed how the procurement profession has been impacted by the pandemic and what this means as the world moves slowly forward into a post-COVID-19 world. 

How have procurement teams been impacted by the pandemic?

In Episode 6 of The Sourcing Hero, former CPO, speaker, and coach Joanna Martinez was reassured to see so many organizations come together to support one another and share knowledge at the height of the pandemic.

“I was biting my nails wondering when the states were going to start to get together as a block and act like a GPO,” she said. “I was very encouraged when I started to see some of the technology providers come together, forgetting about the fact that they are separate entities and maybe servicing very different clients. Some providers offered not just their know-how but their technology, so that got me very excited.”

Stephany Lapierre is the Founder & CEO of Tealbook, one of the technology providers that was able to help the procurement community during this time. Speaking on Episode 11 of the podcast, Stephany explained how many of Tealbook’s customers, some of whom have spent millions of dollars on procurement technology solutions, were left with no real way to respond to market changes and business needs. “They just didn’t have the information they needed to react and respond fast enough,” she explained.

Stephany’s team offered to provide supplier lists classified by geography and types of products and services to any organization that had been disrupted by COVID-19.

“In the first three weeks, 170 requests came through from all sorts of organizations that were looking to ensure business continuity, shift their supply chains to different countries, and a lot of PPE related searches. We knew we had a solution that was easy for us to be able to provide to procurement and supply chain teams that were truly scrambling.

How have procurement teams adapted and advanced during the pandemic?

In Episode 8 of the podcast, Dave Hulsen, Co-founder and COO of RFP360, observed how the pandemic has compelled organizations to quickly accelerate their digital transformation journeys. He references the legal system as an example of this rapid acceleration, which claims to have made ten years of technological progress in ten weeks.

“There’s a lot of change going on and [procurement] is not immune to those changes. Nobody should be pushing paper through this time.”

In Episode 7, Procurify CEO Aman Mann observed how the pandemic has forced organizations to make reactive decisions in much the same way as they did in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

“This time what I found was people were more prepared to react in a much quicker way than what I saw in 2008. That was really exciting,” he said. 

Aman believes that spend culture is a quickly evolving mechanism and organizations must consider the different principles of procurement, spend management, and other factors that are rarely considered. “I really believe an organization is about the people, and the people want to do the best for the organization. The systems, the processes and the ability for them to have space to think in that way is necessary for that to be a truth.”

Joanna supports Aman’s view that most procurement professionals are committed to doing their best for their organizations.

The obvious sourcing heroes right now are all of the people who dropped everything; dropped their projects, dropped the plans they had, rolled up their sleeves, and figured out ways to keep their companies going.”

What does the future hold for procurement in a post-COVID-19 World?

“Right now, procurement and supply chain is on everyone’s lips,” said Joanna. Some people had no former knowledge or understanding of the supply chain process and they are now talking about it and acknowledging the great work procurement is doing.

“Hopefully, the savvy procurement pros will seize the day, go out there and use that increased viability – making contacts they might have been hesitant to make before, getting involved with things where there might have been barriers up before, reminding people about the things their team has done to help during the crisis and leveraging that into how you help more strategically.”

Joanna believes that her most satisfying procurement achievements have come about at times when her team figured out ways to offer something the company didn’t have before.

Click here for more insights from The Sourcing Hero podcast series.

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