Disruption and innovation

From the April 2018 print edition

Michael Power is editor of PurchasingB2B.

Hardly a day goes by that we’re not reminded of the ways in which technology is disrupting our industries, our businesses and our personal lives. There seems to be virtually no industry that will be left untouched and unaltered by the coming changes that these advances will herald.
That disruption can be internal to an organization. For example, working from home, flex time, open space offices, process changes and other developments have all altered how we think about work and how we fit into an organization. These changes have their champions and detractors, but many of them would have been impossible a few decades ago. No one was working from home in their PJs before email and the Internet.
External forces—again dominated by developments in technology—are also changing (or will soon) how companies operate, how they do business, the choices they make and how they see themselves fitting into the world of commerce.
Some companies have handled this well, with BlackBerry representing an excellent example. The company has reported profits over the past six months and recently extended the contract of its executive chairman and CEO John Chen through to November 2023. Chen has led the organization through its transformation from a phone-with-keyboard-maker to a cybersecurity software and services firm. In fact, software represents 40 percent of what BlackBerry sells. They also inked a deal earlier this year with Baidu, a Chinese Internet company, to co-develop self-driving vehicle technology. BlackBerry, once apparently moribund, has made an impressive about-face. Kudos to them, I say.
And while we’ve already been through many changes, and face others on the horizon, I suspect some of the most headline-catching change will take longer to materialize than many think. No time soon will we board fully autonomous, flying, connected electric- or hydrogen-powered cars to fly to work as we check our email or doze. That scenario may be on its way, but not next year. Or the next. Or for a while.
But change is coming and procurement and supply chain professionals must prepare for it. How? To answer that question, it’s helpful to think about innovation, which is sort of the flipside of disruption. The definition of innovation that I like the best comes from business and self-help guru Tony Robbins, who says: “Innovation is any way you find a way to do more for a client than anybody else does.” That perspective, procurement working to provide the kind of great service that only procurement does, can help it remain relevant and providing value to their clients.
If procurement can continue to do that, if it can act as the trusted advisor and expert that it is, then the function will have no trouble weathering the sea of disruption that we all face.