Most businesses buy supplies manually because of problems with automated purchasing systems, according to research to be issued next month. The Capgemini report says electronic systems intended to slash purchasers' paperwork are not widely used, despite being available since the 1980s.
The global survey of chief procurement officers finds software plays a small part in purchasing, and an emphasis on cutting costs over the past year has not changed this.
Although the companies report higher IT spending, 61 per cent say less than 20 per cent of supplies are bought electronically.
Those with revenues above $US1 billion are less likely to use software to order supplies.
According to Joseph Sweeney, an adviser with Intelligent Business Research Services, the study reveals a problem with attempts over the past two decades to automate supply.
"You'd expect us to be a lot further along, considering how technology has developed," he said. "But I have not seen a huge change in the mentality of stakeholders in this area in close to 20 years."
He said automated purchasing was not widely used because systems installed over the years had left a patchwork of failed systems.
"Because we have gone through attempt after attempt after attempt, we have huge fragmentation in the way people are ordering or procuring products," Mr Sweeney said.
"The result is that the promise about centralising and being able to get bulk ordering has never materialised in most organisations."
He said there was a need for standards across industries and better understanding of IT by managers.
"The real crisis is that there is a lack of understanding in senior management, outside of IT, about the importance of standardisation," he said.
Mr Sweeney said that many bespoke ordering systems were wrongly believed to give a competitive advantage, but they were really just "cobbled together in a back room".
He suggested managers were also worried about losing staff and authority.
"Real, heavy-duty reorganisations through technology mean you can do more with less," Mr Sweeney said. "That is threatening to many managers, perhaps not on a conscious level, but there is resistance there."
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