With demand for consumer packaged goods, healthcare equipment and other product categories skyrocketing in the initial wave of pandemic disruption, many companies throughout the world stood to benefit from what is otherwise a global catastrophe. Organizations that embraced business model flexibility, optimized their digital commerce channels and achieved a high level of supply chain digitization found themselves in an opportune position to redefine operational efficiencies in a time of volatility.
But many firms — particularly those in the travel, hospitality, education and restaurant arenas — faced unprecedented and seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Speaking with PYMNTS, Gary Conroy, chief product officer of TransferMate, offered the example of a world-renowned university that was challenged to issue refunds to international students no longer able to travel to campus.
"The challenge for businesses has been, where do you find the opportunity in that?" he said.
Conroy, along with Rajiv Ramachandran, vice president of product management and engineering at Coupa, explored why supply chain digitization presents a significant opportunity for even the most troubled firms. Through optimizing their procure-to-pay workflows, they said, businesses can not only survive the volatility, but can also elevate their financial management strategies and strengthen B2B relationships throughout their global supply chains.
Beyond Supply Chain Digitization
Despite years of discussions over the value of digitization, many firms without automated solutions struggled through pandemic-fueled market disruptions, because they continued to rely on paper and manual processes.
Everything from employee productivity to factory production and logistics were hit by the disruption, said Ramachandran, who described the coronavirus crisis as a "perfect storm" for global supply chains.
"It brought forward and highlighted certain key vulnerabilities and pain points — vulnerabilities which, I believe, businesses have known about all along," he said.
For these firms, the biggest opportunity today is to take action. Yet optimizing the supply chain goes beyond adopting digital and automated technologies.
"The opportunity is not just to replace manual processes, but also to reimagine the supply chain process from the ground up," said Conroy.
That means everything from enabling teams to work remotely to expanding visibility across a company's entire inventory. It also means an enhanced spend and supplier management strategy, including diversifying vendors to disburse risk and expanding supplier data collection beyond tier-one partners.
The data component of supply chain optimization is essential today. It can enable businesses to obtain a holistic view of all aspects of their supply chain operations, from sourcing to payment and beyond. At the same time, an optimized data integration strategy can bridge any gaps between buyers and suppliers.
Transforming B2B Payments
Payment strategies are a key piece of the supply chain optimization puzzle, and must similarly work in favor of all parties involved. Once again, Ramachandran noted, B2B payments must go beyond just payment execution to bring a holistic experience and value to buyers and their suppliers.
Take, for instance, the dependency on paper checks. Around 50 percent of U.S. corporations still use paper checks for supplier payments. When the pandemic hit and offices were shut down, supplier payments were directly affected, as finance teams did not have access to check-printing resources.
“Paper checks are part of the problem,” Ramachandran said. “The real problem, however, goes beyond a payment rail. It is around the visibility and auditability of the entire payment process. You'd be surprised at how many corporations have manual processes for payment approvals, and the financial authority who releases the payment has no real-time visibility into the details of the transaction for which they are making the payment.”
Conroy similarly pointed to the challenges of cross-border B2B payments that, even when digital, rely on the sluggish and opaque interbanking system. For a corporate buyer, high fees and a lack of visibility can create cash flow management challenges. For the supplier, a lack of visibility into when a payment will arrive, and whether it will be in the correct amount for an invoice after fees are taken into account, creates its own financial headaches. Collaborating with a platform like Coupa can tackle these friction points through access to same-day payment capabilities.
Optimizing B2B payments requires not only the adoption of electronic payment methods, but also solutions that can support end-to-end transactional visibility, auditability and data integration to enhance overall cash flow management and to strengthen the buyer-supplier relationship. Enhancing that relationship, noted Ramachandran, requires benefiting both ends of the B2B transaction, with Coupa unifying the experience for all business partners involved.
B2B Collaboration Through FinTech Cooperation
Though opportunities for organizations to independently obtain more and richer data about their supply chains continue to grow, Conroy and Ramachandran emphasized the value in cooperation between B2B FinTechs like TransferMate and Coupa. The companies, which first struck a partnership in 2019, allow for direct integration of TransferMate's payment capabilities within the Coupa BSM (business spend management) management platform, bringing global transaction efficiency as well as elevated insight to pull transaction data into the broader context of corporate procure-to-pay workflows.
On top of nixing the friction of siloed back-office platforms, the integration also enables joint business customers to remain compliant and secure, even when operations spread across borders. When service providers can support a deeper data integration strategy for businesses, their supply chains can benefit from optimized financials and strengthened B2B partnerships.
"It's about simplification, control and transparency," both Ramachandran and Conroy agreed. "This is what that our integrated platforms offer customers when it comes to managing and transacting with a global supply chain."