Procurement & Supply Chain Technology Trends – Accelerated Digital Transformation

When the Covid crisis first hit Europe everyone was faced with an unprecedented set of circumstances. Understandably there was an initial move away from major transformation projects as more short terms measures were prioritized.

Franck Lheureux, General Manager EMEA at Ivalua told us that: “2020 saw CPOs have two dominant areas to manage as the focus shifted towards a short term emphasis on savings and analysis of where and why you spend.”

That latter point was echoed by Nadia Law, Client Director at Rosslyn. She said: “The major issues for our clients last year centred around cash flow. There was a shift from ‘what are we spending and from whom? ’ to ‘what and when are we paying?’

Fundamentally, the objective is to understand the future commitments of the business and to prioritise supplier payments to maintain the integrity of the supply chain. For example, some SME suppliers may need more urgent support than others and our solution is able to provide vital insights to support business critical decisions in this area.”

So, it’s clear that companies who had already adopted some of these tools successfully had an advantage through the efficiency in their systems and/or the value of having accurate data to support their decision making. This is supported by Deloitte’s recent CPO flash survey where they reported that “organisations that are thriving (in the pandemic) had higher visibility into both tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers and were twice as likely to prioritize digitization in their day-to-day operations.”

For those that didn’t have the data that gave them the supplier visibility, the events were acting as a potential catalyst for change within their organisations and this resulted in the market becoming much more active in the third quarter of the year as conversations about how to solve these problems with better use of technology really started to increase with customers.

We asked Mo Ahmad, Vice President, Alliances and Channel, EMEA/MEE, at SAP Ariba & Fieldglass what he’d seen change in 2020 from a customer perspective. He told us: “We have seen two particular trends in our market develop over the course of 2020. Firstly some CIOs have taken the view that they need to embrace the transformation agenda more than ever and this has accelerated the process.

“At the other end of the spectrum, you have companies that are fearful of such a big commitment whilst they are fighting for survival. In this community the tendency has been to start small with a solution that can deliver real value, effectively pay for itself and help build the business case to go to the next level.”

SAP has had success offering solutions like Ariba Discovery and Start Sourcing for free or significantly reduced cost to help organisations out and show what they can achieve when they adopt these solutions.

Other solution providers who offer a full suite solution like Ivalua have also had success with the “land and expand” philosophy encouraging customers to start small and build the business case to take the next step by delivering meaningful return on the investment. Mo told us: “In 2021 we expect the market to talk more about this philosophy and SAP will be driving this model as a core part of our business strategy going forward. This will mean agile solutions, delivered faster with a quicker ROI but at the same time connected into the Intelligent Enterprise which gives you the room to expand your operations in the areas where you need business transformation the most.”

Much of Mo Ahmad’s role focuses on working closely with SAP’s key partners who support the implementation and adoption of tools like Ariba. When we asked him what the partner organisations were experiencing, he said: “In terms of Partners, companies need more help. They are leaning on the advisory businesses more than ever to get the results they need. So it’s not just about the solution, they need the advice and experience to reap the benefits and deliver the value that justifies the investment.”

This is a view shared by consultancies themselves. Speaking to a senior leader from one of Coupa’s key transformation partners, we were told that companies generally fall into two brackets when it comes to adoption: “There are those willing to embrace the full transformation agenda and adopt a full suite solution like Coupa and others that are more risk averse, or possibly have smaller budgets, who are adopting the solutions module by module, ideally justifying the investment by demonstrating value before moving to the next step. Either way, there is certainly some stimulation to digital procurement and supply chain from the events of 2020.”

Fred Akuffo of specialist Supply Chain planning consultancy Olivehorse offered a similar view. “What we’ve seen in 2020 is an acceleration in organisations moving to the cloud, particularly for solutions that support integrated business planning (IBP). One reason is the simple practical problem of employees accessing old, clunky on premise systems from home but the others are more around speed, agility, efficiency and opportunity to drive profitability from superior systems.”

Covid hit at a time when there’s been a revolution in the capability of systems to address issues around supply chain maturity and resilience in a more proactive fashion enabling people to ask, ‘how can we do this better?’

That thinking has pushed more companies to explore alternatives to their current systems and whilst they probably would have gone this way eventually, the unique problems caused by Covid have accelerated the process for many organisations.”

Besides the practical benefits of cloud over on premise, what has driven this? In some cases it’s fear of getting caught out by this sort of crisis again in the future. For others it’s the need to stay competitive in the face of changing market conditions and possibly more agile competitors gaining competitive advantage over them. As Fred Akuffo said: “Procurement and supply chain leaders can’t wait days to make decisions whilst planners evaluate hundreds of lines of Excel information and different potential scenarios. They need accurate information that can be interpreted quickly to support better decision making and this is what IBP solutions can offer.”

At the other end of the market, Paul Heron of specialist vendor Claritum offered the view that the trend was away from ‘static’ ERP packages or those difficult to customise to those with high levels of functionality.

His clients want to see value and real benefit so off the shelf solutions are not enough and many customers want a tailored solution that is flexible and adaptable. They also need a partner whose strengths are a willingness to listen with the capability to adapt their solution to their needs.

Recently he has found clients are approaching them, often from old projects that never progressed beyond the RFP stage.

They also have created a new BRIGHT by Claritum solution which is aimed specifically at SMEs and provides capabilities that to date have only been available to larger enterprises, usually at a higher cost.

Regardless of scale, their clients want to know if their software solution can help them do more with either fewer people or with constrained headcount and enable them to work smarter with transactional work done automatically and easily.

It is our view that these events have driven an increase in demand for both solution providers and transformation consultants’ services. That has resulted in greater demand for people in client facing roles for both sectors late in 2020 and already in 2021. This is driving relatively buoyant job market conditions compared to many other sectors and particularly compared to the second and third quarters of 2020.

This article is an excerpt from our Procurement & Spend Management Insider Report for Spring 2021.

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised, please email