How UPS automates supply chain management and gains greater insight for procurement efficiency

The next BriefingsDirect business innovation for procurement case study examines how UPS modernizes and streamlinines its procure-to-pay processes.

Learn how UPS — across billions of dollars of supplier spend per year — automates supply-chain management and leverages new technologies to provide greater insight into procurement networks. This business process innovation exchange comes to you in conjunction with the Tradeshift Innovation Day held in New York on June 22, 2016.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy. 

To explore how procurement has become strategic for UPS, BriefingsDirect sat down with Jamie Dawson, Vice-President of UPS’s Global Business Services Procurement Strategy in Atlanta. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: What are the major trends that you are seeing in procurement, and how you’re changing your strategy to adjust?

Dawson: We’re seeing a lot of evolution in the marketplace in terms of both technology and new opportunities in ways to procure goods and that really is true around the globe. We’re adjusting our strategy and also challenging some of our business partners to come along with us.

We’re a $60 billion company. Last year, our total expenses were somewhere in the $50-billion range, lots of goods and services flowing around the globe.

Gardner: And so, any way that you can find new efficiency, new spend management benefits that turns into some significant savings.

Dawson: Absolutely.

Gardner: Now that you’re looking for new strategies and new solutions, what is it in procurement that’s of most interest to you and how are you using technology in ways you didn’t before?

Collaboration and partnerships

Dawson: One of the new ways is a combination or partnerships both with third parties as well as our own internal business partners. We’re collaborating with other functions, and procurement is not something we are doing to them; we’re working with them to understand what their needs are and working with their suppliers as well.

Dawson

Gardner: We’re hearing some very interesting things these days about using machine learning and artificial intelligence, combining that with human agents who are specialized. It sounds like, in some ways, external procurement services can do the job better than anyone. Is that something that you’re open to? Is procurement as a service something you’re looking at? [See related post, How new modes of buying and evaluating goods and services disrupts business procurement — for the better.]

Dawson: Procurement-as-a-service has a certain niche play. There will always be basic buy-and-sell items, even as individuals. There are some things you don’t research, but you just go out and buy. There are other things for which you do a lot of research and you look into different solutions.

There are different things that will cause you to research more. Maybe it’s a competitive advantage, maybe you’re looking for an opportunity in a new space or a new corner of the globe. So, you’ll do a lot more research, and your solutions need to be scalable. If you create and start in Europe, maybe you’ll also want to use it in Asia. If you start in the US, maybe you want to use elsewhere.

Gardner: It sure sounds like, during a period of experimentation, that where the boundary was between things that you would buy by rote versus things you would buy with a lot of expertise or research is shifting or changing. Are you experimenting as an organization, and what is interesting to you as you look at new opportunities from those people who are in the procurement network space?

Dawson: There will always be complex areas that require solution orientation more than just price. They need a deep understanding of industry, knowledge, and partnership. There are a lot of other areas where the opportunities are expanding every day. [See related post, ChainLink analyst on how cloud-enabled supply chain networks drive companies to better manage finances, procurement.]

Gardner: As you think about what you’ve done and been able to accomplish, do you have any advice for other organizations that are also starting to think about modernizing and strategizing, rather than just doing it in the traditional old way? What would you tell them?

Dawson: Two things. One would be within the procurement organizations to be open to new ideas. And second, get the rest of the organization behind you, because you’re going to need their support.

Gardner: It seems that procurement as a function is just far more strategic than it used to be. Not only are you able to get more goods and services, but you can save significant amounts of money. Do you feel that your profile as an organization within UPS is rising or expanding in terms of the role you play in the larger organization? [See related post, CPO expert Joanna Martinez extols the virtues of redesigning procurement for strategic business agility.]

Don’t have to sell

Dawson: I’m certainly aware that the knowledge of the capabilities and the demonstrated successes are now being recognized throughout the organization. And it becomes self feeding. You actually get on a roll and can further expand the capabilities once that knowledge is out there; you don’t have to sell.

Gardner: Last question, looking to the future, on a vision level, what’s really exciting to you? What are you thinking that might be more important to you in how you do business two or three years from now? It could be technology, suppliers, ecosystems, cloud enabled intelligence, that sort of thing.

Dawson: It’s a very interesting question, because it’s almost the same answer. Your greatest fear is the greatest benefit. I listened to what we just heard on the Tradeshift Go tool, and it’s crazy how exciting that this is. You heard all the questions in the room about how to adapt that to what you already have today? The world still exists as it exists today.

So, there’s this huge transition period where we were bolting on these fantastic great ideas to our existing infrastructure. That transition into what’s new and really embracing it is the most exciting of all.

Gardner: Disruption can be good and disruption can be bad.

Dawson: It will be a challenging journey.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Tradeshift.

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About Dana Gardner

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, an enterprise IT analysis, market research, and consulting firm. Gardner, a leading identifier of software and cloud productivity trends and new IT business growth opportunities, honed his skills and refined his insights as an industry analyst, pundit, and news editor covering the emerging software development and enterprise infrastructure arenas for the last 18 years. Gardner tracks and analyzes a critical set of enterprise software technologies and business development issues: Cloud computing, SOA, business process management, business intelligence, next-generation data centers, and application lifecycle optimization. His specific interests include Enterprise 2.0 and social media, cloud standards and security, as well as integrated marketing technologies and techniques. Gardner is a former senior analyst at Yankee Group and Aberdeen Group, and a former editor-at-large and founding online news editor at InfoWorld. He is a former news editor at IDG News Service, Digital News & Review, and Design News.
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