06 March 2020

The digitalization of purchasing is still in its infancy in many companies. A few basic steps will help to master the seemingly Herculean task.

Market inquiries with suppliers can be made automatically and orders can be placed afterward. Artificial Intelligence can help to identify new suppliers. Despite such technological possibilities, even in large companies buyers often still order by e-mail and fax. Often they remain undecided in view of the large selection of tools and solutions.

Determining the current situation: processes, structures, people

Companies should be aware that they do not have to completely digitalize everything at once. A pragmatic approach is to prioritize individual fields of action in purchasing. In addition, processes and the initial situation with regard to data and application landscape should be evaluated. In addition to investing in new IT tools, the main focus is on the rollout and broad use of the tools.

In order to start or further develop a digitisation process, it is helpful to be guided by the following questions:

  • What processes are there in purchasing?
  • Which tools support these processes?
  • Which data basis is required?
  • Are existing tools actively used by the employees?

Here, a human being plays a central role. If employees do not understand the benefits of software or are not sufficiently trained in its use, they will not use it.

In addition to the processes, the general structure of purchasing is important. In companies with several locations, the purchasers may be distributed regionally, but need access to the entire IT infrastructure equally. Such structural requirements must be mapped by the system in order for it to function.

In particular, interfaces to ERP systems or other tools and databases already in use must be available and function smoothly. This ensures the exchange of data and the automation of processes. Once the processes are known and the structural framework conditions have been clarified, the next step in determining the location is a precise analysis of the most important product groups.

Finally, questions need to be clarified which the purchasing department cannot answer itself, but which have a direct impact on what and where is procured:

  • How exactly does digital purchasing create value?
  • What are the strategic goals of the company?
  • Are innovative products, the reduction of costs or sustainability and transparency of the supply chain in the foreground?

Setting the Roadmap

From processes, structures and value contributions as well as the analysis of the current tool and system landscape it can be derived where there is a need for digitization. In addition, opportunities for further development can be identified. The pilot project should start where costs and benefits offer the best relation.

Once the priorities have been set, it is time to get an overview of the solutions available on the market. In the meantime, software is available for every process in purchasing. The decisive factor in the selection process is that the tool can cover individual needs and can be integrated into the existing technical environment.

During implementation, it is important to break down complex tasks into individual steps. These should then be digitized pragmatically, at their own pace and in a clearly defined sequence.


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