Faster ordering, reduction of maverick spending, bids that are easier to compare -- the benefits of e-procurement accrue quickly. It's inevitable that senior management and the finance department will take an interest in the purchasing and supply chain management function. e-procurement doesn't just save money, it also has the potential to push a company into new market segments and customer groups, as well as generate customer data that convey rich competitive advantages.
"By simplifying and optimizing processes, you can flatten your organizational structure. Pushing the processes down the chain allows for a smaller direct-report organization," said David Lucas, a manager for KPMG Consulting, Dallas, and a former procurement specialist at Raytheon. "You may lose headcount within the purchasing department, but you're increasing purchasing people in your company by enabling controlled user self-service procurement."
While the executive suite may take greater interest and seek more insight from purchasing and supply management professionals, other challenges may arise. Can purchasing staff be counted on to embrace change that pushes their functions closer to end-users? And what happens if longtime suppliers balk at such changes?
"eSourcing bridges the divide between traditional functional silos and distributes purchasing authority across the organization," says Ramachandran. In the process, it empowers purchasers and reduces the record-keeping and administrative aspects of purchasing. That in turn requires purchasing and supply managers to be more expert at strategic negotiation and commodity allocation, he adds.
"The Web can alleviate the clerical functions but it's not going to replace human intelligence for strategic sourcing and supplier relations," says Stallkamp. "You may be able to auction off mops and brooms online, but no one should auction off a company's relationships with its suppliers."
For Gray and Loll, fresh from the brick-and-mortar environment, it was an obvious choice. They wanted to leverage their purchasing and supply management intelligence on behalf of the dot com world. How many will follow is fodder for another e-commerce study. More importantly, their example reflects the exciting opportunities available in the profession.
By embracing online procurement directly, purchasing and supply management professionals can not only participate in change but also use it as a catalyst to reorder their career and its trajectory. Dot com-itus, as it turns out, is rarely fatal and is completely treatable. Like any other acquired skill, it just requires the right training and mindset.