Predictive Procurement Gets Real

Marcell Vollmer

The physical and digital worlds have officially collided. In the old days, we’d have the morning paper delivered to our doorsteps and read it on the way to work while sipping coffee we made at home. Today, the news stories we care about are automatically delivered to our mobile devices, and we scan them while enjoying the beverage that was ready and waiting for us at the local coffee shop after we ordered it via mobile app. In years past, we attended events after work to expand our professional networks. Now we link to our peers — and their peers — around the world, online in real time.

Connecting the dots

As a society, we are more connected than ever. Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), we can see and be seen like never before. We can learn about the future and use this information to shape it to our advantage.

There are plenty of examples of this in the consumer world—for example, refrigerators that predict when you’re about to run out of milk and automatically order and have it delivered before you even notice, and devices that know you’re on your way home and turn on the lights before you get there.

It’s happening in procurement as well, and transforming the function as we know it. Procurement is complex and involves lots of moving parts, from sourcing and manufacturing to transportation and logistics. It’s an intricate web of systems, processes, and relationships that must be coordinated and managed, both internally and externally, to ensure that goods and services get delivered on budget and on time.

Predicting the future

Over the years, procurement has made great strides, leveraging disruptive forces such as business networks and cloud technologies to evolve from a tactical manual process to a strategic digital one. Paper orders and invoices are all but dead. Electronic payments are taking hold. Buyers and sellers are meeting and collaborating online.

Yet the transformation has only begun. Aided by Big Data and the IoT, procurement is becoming smarter and more predictive than ever.

Data is the lifeblood of any organization. From structured information on production, marketing, sales, HR, finance, facilities, and operations to transaction-level data on suppliers, customers, and partners, it tells the story of a business. For years, companies have been mining data simply to figure out what it all means—essentially, to learn from the past and perform better in the present.

Now they are leveraging advances in technology such as in-memory computing, real-time analytics, and the IoT to create assumptions about what will happen in the future and take actions that drive optimal outcomes.

Eliminating risk

Supply chains are more global than ever, and as a result, fraught with more risk. Many companies are turning to the IoT to anticipate and mitigate this risk before it disrupts their business. Consider the mining industry. Trucks are the critical link to transport raw materials to either further process or sell them on the market. If one of these trucks stands still due to maintenance issues, losses to the company could run into the millions, as they only can sell what they get out of a mine and deliver.

With the help of sensors, companies can continually monitor their fleets and receive notifications on upcoming maintenance needs to prevent breakdowns before they occur. Critical components such as engines and braking systems, for example, can be connected by small IoT sensors that monitor their temperature, hydraulic pressure, container angle, position, and vibrations. The sensors transmit all data to a live dashboard, and if a key parameter such as temperature changes, it will trigger an alert for the radiator. This information is then automatically routed to the procurement system, where a replacement order for radiator hose and radiator cleaner is automatically processed in line with the company’s procedures and policies. Related maintenance service is scheduled with a qualified technician who will arrive as soon as the material arrives and perform the work before a fatal defect of the radiator causes the truck to literally stop in its tracks. Risk avoided.

Delivering value

Supply chains are no doubt complex — and the data within them even more so. But data is the new global currency. And the IoT holds the key to unlocking its value. With the IoT, companies can not only spot patterns and trends in their business but anticipate risk and changes and adapt their businesses to gain advantage.

For more on how data analysis is transforming business, see Living The Live Supply Chain: Why You Need Data Scientists.

The article originally appeared in Spend Matters. It is republished by permission.


Marcell Vollmer

About Marcell Vollmer

Marcell Vollmer is the Chief Digital Officer for SAP Ariba (SAP). He is responsible for helping customers digitalize their supply chain. Prior to this role, Marcell was the Chief Operating Officer for SAP Ariba, enabling the company to setup a startup within the larger SAP business. He was also the Chief Procurement Officer at SAP SE, where he transformed the global procurement organization towards a strategic, end-to-end driven organization, which runs SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass solutions, as well as Concur technologies in the cloud. Marcell has more than 20 years of experience in working in international companies, starting with DHL where he delivered multiple supply chain optimization projects.