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.