There’s a whole internet meme out there about Killer Apps for different products and different uses. Historically, I can recall Supercalc 4 being the miracle app for PC’s; the Microsoft suite took over at some point; whole sets of word processing software surfed the wave, and fell off. SMS arguably was the killer phone app before smartphones.
In all of this, what’s the killer app for procurement? It could be SAP, but it so isn’t. There’s no procurement equivalent to salesforce.com. It might be one of the multi- solution platforms combining e-auctions and eRFX. But I bet it isn’t.
Truth is, there is no killer app for Procurement that stands out. Understanding why that is the case perhaps goes to the root of understanding the challenges facing Procurement, and could guide the development of something truly useful.
To get there, we need to understand what Procurement truly does. There’s a whole set of beautifully crafted phrases, which seem to boil down to ‘helping the business get the best possible value from its supply chain (by re-engineering whatever it takes to do that)’.
‘Helping’ is perhaps the most difficult phrase. As procurement buys almost nothing for itself, it is always working for a mix of stakeholders. The best it can do is to sell a great story about why a change is a great thing. As such, a way of telling a compelling story, with simple but great visuals, is a massive part of a successful, procurement led change program. The limited capability that many organisations, and people, have in this space is sometimes amazing to witness, and is one where dramatic coaching and practice is truly necessary.
The other big area is re-engineering whatever it takes. The best procurement outcomes have always had big change associated with them. to do that, the largest stumbling block is getting brave during the creative part of the category management process. Many fall at this hurdle. Indeed, one nameless contact felt that developing innovations and options wasn’t necessary as surely the answer was clear ( before driving in another 2% price down).Leading a disparate group through the development of a change program is a big ask for many Procurement folk, and again, an uplift in skills in being able to do this bit is seriously needed.
So, is there an app for that? Both the areas identified need an approach which is personally acceptable, rather than systematically driven. Being brave in the creative part of the process is often about courage and individual comfort with addressing difficult areas, and leading others through it. So a range of both facilitation skills, and creative thinking approaches will help, together with the self possession to use them.
The communication element is tough ( and many apps are surely about communication). Seeking ways to get ideas over more powerfully, in a way that gives leaders the core ideas and issues, and stands out from PowerPoint death, is surely a killer app.
There’s nothing leaping out in the market at the moment, although new Adobe approaches to communications and better brainstorming approaches, linked to mind mapping and planning, are great.
Of course, there’s lots of other areas people need to look at: data gathering, market triggers, price movement, raw materials, rainfall in Idaho; perhaps one of these is a better target.
Procurement is a complex world; the silver bullet isn’t yet available. But we need to keep looking!
Mark Hubbard thinks about Procurement and Sales at Smart Brown Dog ltd.