The Future of Procurement and the Shifting Supply Chains: Reflections 2020

The future has to be about possibilities to reshape our supply chains.

With the passing of the year, 2020 became more than a hindsight. We saw the emergence of human resilience and world leaders stepping up to shape a sense of leadership in young minds – be it in the area of politics, entrepreneurship or grassroots movements. 

Many equate the COVID-19 pandemic to the 1918 Spanish flu. I see the similarities, but the impact today is much larger. Some basic statistics: Worldwide population in 1918 was ~1.8b, compared to ~7.8b in 2020 (4x larger). On mobility, estimates place ~23.5m travelers arriving on U.S. shores in 1918-19, compared to ~79.3m in 2020. Travel and military embankments were at close quarters in 1918, with distancing, tracing and lockdowns more the norm in 2020. On communication, wireless communication was the novel technology in World War I, limiting civilian communication to letters, postcards, newspapers, and some telephone and radio. Today, social media and the internet are primary communication modes today, with hand-held devices now reaching the farthest corners of the world.

With all this evolution in the area of mobility and communications, one would expect the mobilization of essential goods and services, inter- and intrastate communications, interlaced with the very basic of humanity, would be the norm of trade policies and corporate goals. 

When the 2020 World Economic Forum took place in Davos, the core theme that emerged is cross-stakeholder partnerships to combat climate change, given its projected financial impact is finally melting the resistance. The sentiment is summarized well in this article by Huw van Steenis, Chair of the Sustainable Finance Committee at UBS. Familiar buzz words: inclusion, change-makers, gender parity. Initiatives with growing momentum: green new deal, global goals, reskilling. Gavi, the vaccine alliance pitched as one of the most successful public-private partnerships, shared its successes immunizing 760 million children, saving more than 13 million lives in 20 years.  

And then the pandemic struck. The true tests of the world order began. Global supply chains crumbled, logistics stressed. Healthcare systems were and still are under immense pressure. The strongest of global and cross-stakeholder partnerships showing signs of breakdown. 

The Great Reset was launched in June 2020, urging the “need for global stakeholders to cooperate in simultaneously managing the direct consequences of the COVID-19 crisis.” The Great Reset agenda would have three main components:

  • Steer the market toward fairer outcomes
  • Ensure that investments advance shared goals, such as equality and sustainability
  • Harness the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to support the public good, especially by addressing health and social challenges

In the humble shadow of this lofty agenda, and as we reflect on 2020, the future has to be about possibilities to reshape our supply chains, with lessons from the past unifying ideas to accelerate the recovery and reset needed – for defining the future of work, a thriving planet and equality for all. The power is in our hands – or is it? When my teenager chimed in on the topic of climate change, “you cannot fix it, you can only slow it down” – I cringed. Is this the world our generation created? One that cannot be fixed? 

On January 13, I have the privilege of hosting an Executive Roundtable with heads of Procurement and Supply Chains on the topic of Sustainable Procurement as a Strategic Imperative. I look forward to a lively discussion on supply chain resilience and looking beyond cost savings to value creation – talent, ecosystem, innovation and sustainability. There are multiple predictions on the future of supply chains and procurement’s role in value creation. Any prediction that holds true really looks at human life, economic and social stability, technology with a purpose, and shared rewards as an optimistic and holistic approach to sustainable business.

Padmini Ranganathan, Global Vice President, Product Strategy, SAP Procurement

Padmini Ranganathan is Global Vice President, Product Strategy, SAP Procurement solutions.  In this role, she leads a team of experts focused on watching emerging trends and helping shape the future of digital and sustainable procurement.  Prior to this, Padmini led an incubation role, delivering SAP Ariba Supplier Risk – a data-driven microservice innovation that enables risk-conscious business decisions.

Padmini has a post-graduate diploma in computer science from UC Berkeley, California, and a bachelor’s degree in commerce with a major in Cost & Management Accounting from Bangalore University, India.