My thoughts on the World Procurement Congress

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The event is organised by Procurement Leaders and is perhaps the biggest collection of the professions senior managers. The delegates truly were a wide of range of genuine functional leaders from around the world with a significant percentage of them from Europe. It felt like a real leadership get together.

The sponsors and exhibitors were a broad mix with technology as the dominant theme rather than consulting. Given the large number of people carrying the CPO job title from big organisations it surprised me that non of the major consultancies, SAP Ariba or Coupa were exhibiting although SAP Ariba did sponsor some of the categories at the World Procurement Awards dinner on the Thursday evening.

This left a number of the other key players in the procurement technology market like Jaggaer, Barware, Determine, GEP and Ivalua to get themselves in the mind of the audience alongside some of the supply chain finance companies (C2FO, Taulia) and niche players like PRGX and Risk Methods. Here’s a full list of the partners.

There were some excellent presentations which presented what was probably a very positive view of the achievements of the speakers procurement functions, but it was clear to see why several of these people had been asked to speak. They offered a fascinating insight into what they had achieved and/or the initiatives that they are working on.

I particularly enjoyed listening to Walter Charles of Biogen talk about how his people are using AI on supplier discovery and analytics. His team is clearly at the forefront of really using technology to change the value the profession can bring to his organisation as is Tom Linton of Flex. His demonstration of how his team uses data science is the best example I have seen at the many events of this type that I attend. His team get access to what are effectively huge iPads of useful data offering meaningful insights that are shaping how they deliver value to the business.

Barry Parkin, Chief Procurement and Sustainability Officer at Mars was also hugely impressive and gave some great examples of how their investment deep into their supply chain is paying dividends for them. He talked about various initiatives with smallholding farmers including one with basmati rice growers in Pakistan.

Mars have taught the farmers to use less water in their process yet still increase their yield. When they used this as part of their marketing campaign to promote their Uncle Ben’s brand it resulted in an increase in sales of over 40% for the duration of the campaign. Barry described this as a Win Win Win and it’s hard to argue. Here’s some more info on that.

Thomas Udesen, Global Head of Procurement at pharma giant Bayer delivered a great presentation on the second morning. I’m sure many of the audience were envious of his position when he talked about being able to re-design his procurement function from scratch to suit the changing needs of the business.

He was able to quote his CEO stressing the importance of procurement to the entire business and could demonstrate the words are backed by action with the range of resources available to him. He talked about various initiatives that I’m sure many of the audience will seek to replicate when they get back to their own businesses. They included:

  • A dedicated team of AI specialists working in innovation projects
  • A Supplier Enabled Innovation programme
  • The “Procurement Kickbox” programme designed to encourage innovation from within his core team
  • A “Rapid Deployment” Team ready to commit to urgent, business critical projects – he mentioned this being a great talent incubator and that particularly got my attention.
  • The support of a team of dedicated professional mentors and coaches within Bayer who are challenging his people the think differently

I also enjoyed listening to Katrina Thorogood of Xylem who gave an interesting insight into driving cultural change in the team she inherited whilst Alpar Kamber, (founder of Denali and now part of WNS) offered some thoughts on future procurement operating models in his session.

I left the event with the impression that the leading CPO’s really are making an impact at board level in their organisations by delivering real value that goes way beyond savings. This is something we talked about in the skills section of our most recent report on the procurement job market.

It was also clear to me that these visionary leaders have really embraced the power of procurement technology solutions and that’s been a key factor in the momentum they have established in their teams. I’m sure many of the delegates will be keen to follow their lead.

From a personal perspective, the event offered lots of valuable networking opportunities to supplement what was another useful learning experience.

I chose not to attend the awards dinner that concluded the conference on the Thursday evening, but judging by the pictures on Twitter and Linked In it looked like a great night for all those that attended. Maybe next year.

Next up for me is The P2P Transformation Summit in London on the 5th June.

My Thoughts on SAP Ariba Live 2018

As I write this I am sitting in Schipol airport waiting for my flight back to Manchester. I am pretty exhausted after three busy days (and evenings) at SAP Ariba Live in Amsterdam.

The event offered another demonstration of SAP’s huge investment in Ariba, its commitment to developing a market leading range of solutions across procurement and now supply chain. There was also evidence of their products geared towards both enterprise and what they are classifying as mid-market customers with the introduction of new tools like Snap.

Tania Seary of Procurious with Andrew Daley at Ariba Live

The event was significantly bigger in scale than last years equivalent in Prague. The venue itself, the RAI Exhibition Centre, was big enough to easily accommodate what some estimated to be nearly double the number of attendees compared to last year (SAP have since said delegate numbers were up 47% on last year at 2088). In addition to the SAP representatives from all the various business units from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa there were, of course, a huge number of current and potential clients. However what was the most noticeable change from last year was the increase in the number of partner/sponsor organisations who are part of the ever expanding Ariba ecosystem. It’s actually quite an interesting list and I’ve posted a link to it below along with a link to the videos of many of the presentations.

I felt the overall sales pitch was toned down from last year, with most sessions I attended being a bit more understated, particularly on the main stage. I don’t know if that is a style thing coming from Barry Padgett (who took over from Alex Atzberger at the start of the year) or a change in marketing approach. This year’s marketing push centred around “Procurement with Purpose” with a lot of talk about visibility across supply chains offering the ability to promote agendas like sustainability whilst eradicating problems including child labour and modern slavery.

Personally I think this is a clever play given the importance of these issues and the potential for procurement to be a positive influence in this area (we’ve covered it ourselves in our recent Insider report). It also nicely promotes the potential of their relatively new capability across the supply chain.

Last years “Let’s Make Procurement Awesome” theme supported the more salesy demonstration of the new solutions that Ariba had in the production pipeline at that time. It was also a clear message that the investment from SAP was going to raise the bar.

At this event we were able to see what these solutions can really do now that they are available or about to become so. For me the big game changer for Ariba could be their move into direct spend and supply chain, not least because so few of their competitors can offer much in competition in this area.

Perhaps my favourite presentation was “Procurement In A Digital World” from the charismatic Dr Martin Kotula of SAP Ariba’s Value Engineering team. He spoke about his future vision for procurement and made it feel almost inevitable. He talked about the increasing pace of change in the modern world and how that applies to procurement and supply chain. Here’s one of his slides


The Muziekgebouw was the venue for the celebration party on the Tuesday evening. In my opinion it was a better layout than last years in Prague and made for an excellent atmosphere. The food was good, the beer and wine flowed and as a consequence there was even the sight of some procurement people dancing! Other delegates chose to record the evidence of this on their phones.

Not everything ran as smoothly as the organisers would like. Certain Amsterdam coach drivers responsible for ferrying delegates to the evening events could benefit from using Google maps, and some of the sessions in smaller rooms were full meaning that some delegates missed out. I was disappointed to miss the first IBM presentation entitled “IBM’s Cognitive Procurement Journey with SAP Ariba” but these issues were rare exceptions to what was another excellent event.

I did make a second presentation by IBM about building a Cognitive Procurement Strategy and these photos of some of the slides will make for interesting reading for anyone working in this area.

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I’ve been to a lot of these events recently including several hosted by the other solution providers. They each have their strengths and weaknesses but all offer an insight into the company cultures and objectives which are fascinating for those of us who are interested in these things.

As I’ve said in previous articles if you get the chance to go to these events grab it with both hands. You’ll learn loads about the technology that’s shaping the future of procurement and meet some great people. You’ll also get some valuable insight into areas that could have a very positive influence on what you do for your company, and how you develop your own career.

If you want some guidance on the latter please get in touch directly, or watch out for me in the networking areas at any of these events – my next stop is Procurement Leaders in May. Hope to see you there.

Here’s that sponsor list –

Here are the videos of many of the presentations –