New technology routinely invites business leaders to ask the important question of whether or not they are looking at an opportunity or a distraction. While there is unlikely an “off-the-shelf” application, Amazon’s Firefly feature on the just released Amazon Fire smartphone is one of these routine moments. Firefly uses the phone’s camera to recognize products and link individuals back to the Amazon storefront to complete a purchase as needed. In addition to linking to the Amazon storefront, it also recognizes audio, text and QR barcodes with the relevant evolutionary leap being the direct storefront integration.

We know that business technology tends to mimic or closely track with consumer trends. And the same is true for existing procurement technology products, many of which closely resemble the Amazon online store already. So the question we ask today is whether or not the new ordering paradigm introduced by Amazon will influence procurement technologies. As is the case for any disruptive innovation, there are at least three levels of engagement to pursue: ignore, accept, or embrace.

  1. Do nothing and wait.  Given the plethora of technologies in the marketplace that satisfy procurement ordering requirements, this may be a trend to ignore altogether. It is likely that any firm that might be able to develop or offer a similar product will be slow to react at which point. The best place to start here is to develop a roadmap and generate a cadence of recurring reviews. This recurring meeting provides a forum to initiate exploration and more clearly identify when it is appropriate to ignore a new technology or begin to react or anticipate change.
  2. Accept the possibility of off-the-shelf applications. Mobile procurement may be a part of your strategy today and Firefly may be one more tool to add to the chest. While few companies will truly fit this profile, the “bring your own device” (BYOD) culture firms front-line employees are also able to replenish supplies on the “fly “with an Amazon Fire phone might very well find cost savings benefits here.
  3. Fully embrace the technology and invest in SDK development to adapt Firefly. Amazon has opened the software to enable app developers to integrate with the Firefly features. This begs the question of whether this is a window of opportunity to explore for existing suppliers or large procurement groups to take in house. Existing procurement platforms, as you might well imagine, could easily be grown to leverage the possibilities offered via the Firefly example.

While Firefly will capture the imagination, it is unlikely to spark a transformation in the procurement world anytime soon. So at this point, it is probably most wise to observe the evolution of procurement technologies and be ready to embrace a directly applicable technology. Reactively undergoing a transformation based on the opportunities offered by a new technology without doing one’s homework is rarely (some might argue never) the right decision.

Disruptive innovation is a new normal and this is as true in the procurement world as it is in any other part of the business. Because of this, CPOs today face a pervasive challenge – how and when to embrace change. Technology lifecycles continue to shrink and effectively capitalizing on new innovations is becoming increasingly difficult. This is where a well-informed roadmap outlining when to adopt a new, sleek business platform as part of a wider strategic transformation, creates value. This strategic plan outlines the timing for when CPOs can simply layer in new technologies initially as processes, people, and technology assist in the transformative change (see Capgemini Consulting Global Chief Procurement Officer Survey) to provide indicators of when to implement. And sometimes, reflecting on how trends outside of the procurement space might leach into your world, such as the recent release of Amazon’s Fire equipped with the innovative Firefly feature, is a perfect time to reflect if the application warrants merit for roadmap or flypaper.