On the Court of Business, Intelligent Spend Management Determines Champions

In regions hit hard by the coronavirus, sports arenas are silent. Crowds of cheering fans no longer fill the stands. Instead of gathering in stadiums, many of us now watch the game on television; rather than painting our faces with our team colors, we cover them with masks. As a basketball fan, I miss the days when the most serious thing to “go viral” was a personal foul or a courtside collision.

Yet beyond professional athletics, teamwork carries on all around us. In the enterprise software industry, I see it every day. As businesses take steps toward recovery, I can feel the court shifting.

I was recently back at the office, meeting with a customer face-to-face for the first time in months. Though we were seated apart by 1.5 meters, it felt good to be back in the same room with others again. It was strange at first, with our socially distanced interaction feeling like a staged game play, where we had to stay within our zones. But as the meeting went on, it began to feel more natural. This is when it clicked for me that success in the procurement business, particularly during a pandemic, can draw valuable lessons from basketball.

When a basketball team wins on the court, credit often goes to the coach. Even though he or she may never dribble, drive, or dunk the ball personally, the coach directs the team and choreographs the complex interplay of events that add up to victory. Coaches act with urgency, display flexibility, and reward agility. As events unfold, they need to be able to revise tactics and call another play. The ability to anticipate events and adjust in real time comes from knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each player. A coach who understands everyone’s unique capabilities sets a team on the path to success.

Unlike a basketball team of 12 to 15 players, a business can have thousands or even millions of suppliers. But the coordination required among them — from sourcing and contracting to purchasing and payments — is no less meticulous. Even the most knowledgeable, experienced business leader cannot single-handedly orchestrate the dynamics that exist among so many participants.

That is why successful business leaders turn to cloud-based technologies for the full range of procurement needs, from direct and indirect goods to contingent labor and services providers to maintenance, repair, and operations spend. Digital solutions enable organizations to extend their visibility across the breadth of their supply chains, unlocking insights, furthering collaboration, and delivering real-time data in the process.

Cloud-based applications also streamline operations and equip buyers and suppliers with the tools they need to manage risk amid volatility and disruption. When the pandemic took hold, many companies without digital solutions ceased operations temporarily. They lacked the visibility and flexibility made possible by cloud-based platforms connecting buyers and suppliers.

By contrast, a strategic, an intelligent approach to managing all types of spend strengthens an organization’s responsiveness to unforeseen shifts in supply and demand and sharpens its competitive edge in uncertain times. Resilience, whether in business or in basketball, is essential for winning the long game. Whether shoring up a supply chain or coaching a team to victory, visibility determines champions.

Chief procurement officers, chief information officers and other corporate leaders who leverage cloud-based technologies to forge transparency, both within organizations and among interconnected buyers and suppliers, stand tall on the court of business, where teamwork and agility win every time.


Salvatore Lombardo is senior vice president and chief product officer for SAP Procurement.