Finance and Procurement teams have found themselves in the spotlight as the world adapts to rapid technological change.
Over the past three years, the work of these teams have become more visible than ever before, as companies re-focus on streamlining operations and maximizing value from supplier relationships.
Now that finance and procurement leaders are firmly in control, they’re setting their ambitions ever higher. We saw these themes repeatedly this year at Zip Forward, our first annual user conference in San Francisco.
Live from The Conservatory in downtown San Francisco, Zip brought together CFOs and heads of procurement from companies including Snowflake, OpenAI, Discover and Northwestern Mutual to discuss where they’re focusing in 2024, and how they plan to push their teams—and their industries—into the future.
Here are some of the key themes we took away from Zip Forward.
Advancements in business and technology over the past years have been driven by disruption after disruption. As such, top leaders have learned how to be agile and proactive in the face of rapid change.
No, they’re not expecting a “return to normal.” Instead, they are navigating the ways in which to win in “the new normal.”
Mike Scarpelli, CFO of Snowflake, explained that vendor onboarding and employee experience were of primary importance when he set out to optimize procurement operations at his company.
“When I joined Snowflake, there were 1,200 people, and I had to build a procurement function. I’m a big believer in centralization of purchasing throughout the entire company—at Snowflake, nothing can get bought unless it goes through procurement,” Scarpelli said. “But over time, things become more challenging in procurement with onboarding new vendors.”
Scarpelli said he brought Zip to the attention of his procurement team because he immediately saw this pain point. Zip, he said, could give people better visibility into the vendor onboarding process.
“At the end of the day, you want people to be able to do their job. You don’t want them to waste time,” Scarpelli said. “The more you can bring the noise down, the better it is for everyone.”
In a followup panel discussion titled “What Will Happen in the World of Procurement in 2024,” Conor Murchison, Director of Strategic Sourcing at Snowflake, built upon these themes:
“There’s a huge opportunity in nailing the intake and defining your workflows,” he said. “The challenge is when end users go through the process and think, ‘oh hey look, I did the intake!’ and if any of that information is wrong, that goes towards the challenge of getting people to work with you.”
He added: “Intake: I just see it as a huge opportunity. It’s something we put a lot of time into our team just continually iterating—it goes back to what Mike said, ‘what’s the end-user experience?’ It should be easy.”
During an exclusive fireside chat, Laurence Tosi, former-CFO at AirBnB, listed the most important things he thinks CFOs should focus on during periods of volatile times.
“Number one, plan. Make the tough decisions before someone makes them for you,” Tosi began. “Number two, be creative—and the creativity that you should bring to your organization should be about efficiency. That’s where Zip comes in. These are the types of technologies you should be focused on.”
Tosi went on to suggest leaders take a renewed focus on the short-term wins that can lead to value in a difficult market, that they should be laser-focused on the ultimate impact of every decision taken, and then finished by reminding the audience that the most resilient companies take shape during the most difficult times.
“Be tough,” Tosi said. “Make your decisions. Get in front of customers and drive value.”
Visibility, however, isn’t a given in all companies. As Zip Co-Founders Lu Cheng and Rujul Zaparde drove home in their opening session, the key to unlocking visibility lies in creating an intuitive employee experience and process adoption.
“Every leader we spoke to, at the end of the day, just wanted visibility and control across the end-to-end procurement cross functional process. It became clear that all of that starts with adoption; that employees across the business are actually following and using the process,” said Zaparde. “Adoption was clearly the blocker to unlocking downstream visibility, and downstream control.”
Procurement has become more collaborative than ever before. As the types of vendors companies source and work with are becoming more and more complex across software, services, and everything in between, Zip is bringing clarity to volatility—ensuring that teams are empowered to thrive together in this new and advancing world of procurement.
A huge theme in procurement—and everywhere else—is the way we’re all experimenting with the new capabilities of AI.
If 2023 was the year where we learned what is possible with AI, in 2024 we’re all going to discover what is practical: new efficiencies, new opportunities, new ways of working—and working together.
Lu Cheng, CTO and Co-Founder of Zip, shared his prediction for the future of AI in business:
“As generative AI takes the world by storm, its transformative potential is becoming increasingly evident. In the past year, startups have rapidly adopted AI technologies, integrating them into their operations and offerings. However, larger enterprises have approached AI adoption with caution, mindful of concerns surrounding data, security and accuracy.”
He added: “Moving into 2024, this trend is set to shift dramatically. The coming year is poised to be a landmark for AI in the business world. Startups will continue to innovate and utilize AI solutions, and as a result, their success stories will pave the way for larger enterprises to follow suit. These organizations will witness firsthand the practical applications and benefits of AI, particularly in automating mundane tasks and catalyzing their own adoption of AI technologies.”
At Zip Forward, we saw cutting-edge leaders forecasting the way the enterprise will follow startups’ lead in discovering how to operationalize AI to transform business.
Hugh Drinkwater, Head of Procurement at OpenAI explained how he uses his company’s own ChatGPT internally to optimize and advance procurement operations:
“When I first got to OpenAI, the first thing I wanted to do was analyze my supplier base. You can upload documents into ChatGPT, so I put in all our vendor spend over the last 12 months and asked it to categorize the supplier base,” Drinkwater explained.
“With advanced data and analysis, I completed a dashboard of all my supplier base, the month-over-month trend on different categories—it was able to provide a dashboard that would have taken me days to build typically.”
Dr. Elouise Epstein followed with some predictions about the future of generative AI in procurement.
She emphasized that the role of AI is to operationalize algorithms in our life and work, mostly to offload manual labor and data operations to enhance workflows, rather than replace them.
“When you look at a supply chain, most are made up of third parties… I’m bullish about where procurement can go if we evolve to do less ‘putting-contracts-in-a-database’, but actually pull the insights out in an intelligent way—where we’re not fooling around with the documents!”
Dr. Epstein also discussed the ways we need to get much smarter about algorithms when nurturing and managing procurement insights from AI.
“If I’m going to launch a procurement system, we need that algorithmic hand that guides us to the outcome, to get the spend under management, to get the savings, to ensure we don’t duplicate suppliers—the users will do the right thing if you show them the right information.”
Fortunately, these types of advancements and real-world applications were top of mind when Zip launched AI capabilities within the platform earlier this year.
Felix Meng, VP and Founding Team Member at Zip, explained some of the thinking behind why the Zip teams consider AI a force multiplier in the procurement space.
“Think about how much time is spent on an annualized basis across your companies reviewing documents like penetration tests, SOC documents, manually coding POs, sifting through order forms, MSAs—it takes a lot of time!”
With the tremendous amounts of data captured during the procurement process, it can take a lot of sifting and sorting to answer simple questions, such as exactly how many vendors have Net-30 payment terms that need to be prioritized in a given quarter.
“This is the power of AI,” Meng emphasized. “You can now slice through and augment lots of the human-powered areas in your organization—help cut down cycle times, and really process your ability to de-risk the business, transact faster, save the company more money.
Learn more about how to vastly accelerate your workflows with ZipAI.
Throughout the conference, procurement leaders cited both the challenges and discoveries central to the question of procurement orchestration—why is it so important to streamline and reimagine the entire intake to procure process?
In the opening keynote, Zip co-founders Rujul Zaparde and Lu Cheng noted three big changes affecting the full procurement orchestration layer in their opening presentation, and how Zip was built to respond:
Zaparde started by describing that as organizations mature, internal buying processes become more complex, and therefore more functions are needed to participate.
“Over the years, the buying process has become entirely decentralized and distributed within organizations. With motions across cross-functional teams—Partners, Risk, Data Security, IT, Legal—procurement is now more collaborative than ever needed to be before,” Zaparde began.
“While every organization that has adopted Zip has their own story, they’ve all started with intake and seen ROI in the downstream process,” he added.
Being able to bring everyone together in one easy-to-use environment—which requires minimal, or even zero training—is the key to driving adoption in a decentralized procurement landscape.
Building upon the value of having one front door for procurement spend, Zaparde emphasized that a crystal-clear approval workflow leads to visibility, control, and ultimately leadership.
“This can add visibility for the first time into a lot of metrics, like cycle times, that are really hard to track because they're forked across so many different teams and potentially different systems,” he said.
Having one collaborative space to launch and manage spending requests allows executive-level summaries of spend insights that leaders can monitor and act upon.
It’s no secret that the industry is filled with old, outdated, difficult to use software.
In the keynote Lu Cheng affirmed that Zip is purpose-built for user experience, and committed to building the best products, in-house, with no compromises.
“There are two things that we're really investing in,” Cheng explained. “First is the platform. We're really investing in the platform and we're focused on building an enterprise-grade suite of solutions that really harnesses the power of intake and applies it to sourcing, vendor management, AP, P2P, to really drive adoption of every step of the purchasing lifecycle.”
“Second,” he added, “we're really investing in the ecosystem. With our workflows, we help you get more value and more adoption from those systems that you’re already invested in. We have over 50 pre-built connectors in all major ERPs, CLMs, and GRC systems. On top of that, we launched an open API and a native integration builder that allows you to connect any system.”
If there’s one thing to take away from Zip Forward, it’s that disruption is the new normal, and that there’s never been a better time to refocus on the opportunities ahead than now.
The way forward is to keep our customers' needs at the forefront of operations as business—and the world—continues to evolve and advance.
The first annual Zip Forward was a landmark event in our industry—we are truly thrilled by the insights, predictions, and new possibilities uncovered by the fantastic panel of thought leaders and change-makers assembled this year, and we’re already excitedly planning next year’s epic event.
Thank you for being a part of the community shaping what’s possible in procurement in the future ahead—follow Zip on LinkedIn and stay tuned for what’s to come!