Procurement can assume a leading role

Pilot Study Procurement 4.0
© Fraunhofer IML
Pilot Study Procurement 4.0

Fraunhofer IML and BME present new pilot study on the digitalisation of procurement

The digital structural change of industry will not be successful without the participation of procurement. However, opinions on its role vary greatly, ranging from “active driver” to “mere supporter”. Therefore, procurement has to intervene more actively in the discussion on Industry 4.0. As an innovation scout as well as an expert on technology and management, its voice will be heard. These are the central findings of the study “Procurement 4.0 – The Digitalisation of Procurement”, conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics and the Association Supply Chain Management, Procurement and Logistics (BME). From august 2015 through april 2016, 25 procurement managers and CPOs of renowned industrial companies, as well as representatives of two universities were interviewed.

Key findings of the survey:

A strong internal and external connectivity is crucial, if Industry 4.0 is to be developed successfully. While the connectivity within the own company affects all departments equally, the procurement department is required particularly regarding external connectedness. It is the exchange of know-how with other companies and organisations which only makes it possible to benefit from the advantages of digitalisation. Procurement is the driver of this external connectivity and, as such, bears the full responsibility. It assumes a decisive role in the implementation of Industry 4.0: It has to bring innovations and technologies into the company, so that it can successfully master the fourth industrial revolution.

Procurement has to be able to react in real-time. This is only possible, if all its processes have largely been digitised before.

Procurement has to manage an increasingly digitalised purchasing portfolio. Not only the procurement processes, but also the products that are to be procured are subject to the change of digitalisation.

Operative procurement processes can be digitised almost entirely. They do not need to be handled by an employee, as new technologies and e-solutions will take over this part. The strategic procurement department only controls and oversees these processes from then on. As a consequence, an operative purchasing agent is a discontinued model.

The challenges and expectations of the strategic procurement are increasing and with it the demand for an increased value contribution.

The occupational profile of a buying agent is changing fundamentally. His traditional role is a thing of the past. He becomes a digital interface manager, both inward and outward.

Technologies create many new opportunities for companies, but they do not replace personal relations. Particularly in the procurement department, personal contacts to suppliers and internal customers remain as an important foundation.

Procurement does not bear the overall responsibility for the implementation of Industry 4.0 – but it plays a crucial role in it.

The current study is a starting point for proceeding, more detailed examinations of the topic Procurement 4.0. For this purpose, BME and the Fraunhofer IML have founded a think tank as a provider of experiences and ideas. The assignment of this body of experts is to gather practical experience values and to determine the challenges to procurement which arise from the advancing digitalisation of economy.