The rise of cutting-edge, disruptive technologies is changing the face of procurement.
Consumer-like Experience Isn’t Everything
Lately, it had become so hard to play music at home that I’d all but given up.
It never used to be that way. There was a time when I could just go to the shelf, get a CD, put it in a machine and hit play. Oh, happy days!
Today, technology allows you to organize your music library with functionalities like playlists, shuffling, “play songs that other people had heard”, group by genre, recently purchased, etc. Yes, while all that’s very good, and though, it’s supposed to be easy, I now have to decide where to store my music and how to access it, and how I can “share” it so that the rest of my household can listen too, when I’m not around. And what about songs that aren’t available in this store or that, and music created by friends, copied from old vinyl or published by labels not connected to the music app giants of today? All this requires a separate, parallel process.
And so, I’ve been steadily listening to music less and less. The hassle of getting one device to connect to another and with home sharing being, unpredictably, available at best, and albums purchased by others not being available without a ridiculously convoluted process, listening is becoming a chore.
Technology, it seems has made a simple process extraordinarily difficult and immensely irritating despite being intended to make things easier. You can imagine, then, how excited I might be at the prospect of owning a device that I can speak to and be able to tell it to “play that song”.
I spent hours coaxing my current, well-known tech brand’s hardware and software into letting me talk to it, only to find that whenever I said, “play this artist” or “play that song”, I received the reply, “I’m sorry, I can’t play films.” Really? Is that the best you’ve got?
In frustration, I’ve swapped tech platforms and decided that what I need is a voice interface that works well with media that’s in the cloud. I’m sure you can hazard a guess as to what that is.
It turns out, though, that however slick the voice interface is, I still must put a lot of work into getting my music available — by uploading everything into my newly acquired cloud storage. No big deal, just drag and drop to the upload icon, says the instruction.
Except when I set out to do it, it didn’t work.
Having bought the device and paid extra for the cloud space, I can speak to her but she still won’t play my music, because the data isn’t there. The software designed to facilitate the process is a little capricious, it seems.
And that is where we are with technology today, especially in 2017 in procurement.
We face an oncoming tsunami of disruptive technologies — at least we’re told that. AI, RPA, 3D printing, conversational UI, all of it is coming along to fundamentally change — and improve — our procurement capabilities. But there is a flaw in this model, as I have found, in trying to get the music thing working.
If you only look at one part of the picture, user interface and automation — and ignore the bigger, more difficult, messy part which is the data — then the result could well be a backward step.
If you can talk to the machine, ask it questions about how to achieve better value from the supply chain, and the answer you get is nonsensical, impractical or just downright wrong, then what’s the point? If the underlying data isn’t truly understood or to be trusted, then this quicker and more compelling way of making decisions could ultimately be damaging.
As in the home entertainment example, the technologies we invest in to make everything better might end up making them worse, and in the same way as I’ve stopped listening to music because it’s so hard, maybe procurement pros might stop exploring sourcing opportunities because the outcomes are becoming less and less easy to make sense of.
The answer then is to not look to new technology as a “solution” — as it is so often euphemistically labelled — but to recognise that the “solution” to greater savings and value comes from whether the technology gets used — by people — and whether their experience is better tomorrow than it was yesterday.
Still optimistic of one day being able to walk into my home and play a song I want to hear, in as short a space of time as it used to take me to grab a CD off the shelf, I decided to persevere. It’s extraordinary that years after I purchased my last CD, it should take so much more effort.
Well, my perseverance paid off. Now that all my data is in the cloud, I can play any of my music, anywhere, at any time, and at home just say the name and the song will play. It’s great, once you get it to work.
But I remain mindful that as procurement software developers, we should be doing a better job than those consumer brands whose products are so often held up as the perfect example of how procurement technology should be.
So often we hear “users want a consumer brand-like experience.” Personally, I think they deserve something better. Something that really works.
In its journey of maturity, procurement has gone through dramatic changes, evolving from a tactical function to a digitalized, strategic process.
Today’s supply chain needs to be flexible and agile, capable of responding quickly and positively to sudden changes — and that cannot be achieved t