Time for action – Talent on the agenda at The World Procurement Congress

It was great to hear that Talent was as high up the agenda as ever at last week’s World Procurement Congress. We hear about supplier innovation and collaboration as the future of procurement and a potential source of competitive advantage in many industries. We ask why isn’t the profession adopting this mentality with their talent attraction?

The Procurement Leaders business always put on a great show and this year was no different with numerous high profile CPOs making presentations or joining group discussions around the central theme of “High Velocity Procurement – The Competitive Advantage”.

These presentations were typically subdivided around concepts like Procurement as an Innovator,  Procurement as a Visionary, Procurement as a Value Driver etc so there was plenty for the procurement professional on a learning expedition to consume.  

My focus is the same at almost every conference we go to, and that is to hear what is being said about people, specifically on the subjects of recruitment, development and retention. I wasn’t disappointed as we heard a lot from industry leaders about the importance of their talent.

In between sessions I took part in some great discussions with other attendees and some of the sponsors where there was a clear theme, and that was the leaders of the profession talk about their great programs offering examples of good hiring practices, career development plans and training to support them. However when you dig a bit deeper into what’s going on outside the big names, the picture is somewhat different.

So best practice in hiring and training remains rare. Many mean well and make the best of the situation but others lack resources (time and financial) whilst others don’t do themselves any favours with their approach to hiring and retention. This is something we see in our day to day work and was backed up by a very interesting panel discussion I attended on day one of the conference.

In this session, Simon Geale of Proxima talked about a severe talent shortage mentioning that many procurement departments are “light on capacity by 10-30%”.  He also commented that “there is not enough talent coming through the system” and talked about the need to equip the next generation with better skills around areas like collaboration and data.  

In response Johanes Giloth (CPO of Nokia) talked about his vision for the future of procurement and working more closely with the business to understand their goals, drivers and challenges which will then enable procurement to better understand its role in future. He actively encourages his best people to move into other departments to develop themselves and their understanding of the business, whilst continuing to hire and develop the best graduate talent he can so they can move up the organisation.

We also heard from Ruth Bromley (VP Operations & Procurement at Heineken) about their development programme for top talent which they call “Procurement Pioneers”. At the heart of their department is the need to understand and talk the language of their stakeholders, so they can ultimately sell their proposition to take responsibility for projects and develop the varied skill sets required to achieve deliver on them.

It was all very encouraging to hear what these two organisations are doing but I found myself nodding my head every time Simon Geale spoke about what he sees in the wider market and the reality is that the likes of Nokia and Heineken lead the way when it comes to developing their people. Unfortunately they are in the minority.

Another organisation that offered some real hope in this area was IBM. I’ve written about their journey to the next generation of procurement in the past and heard more evidence of it on day two when Graham Wright (Vice President – Global Procurement) and Marco Romano (Procurement Data & Analytics Officer) talked about how they are using the Watson tool to help elevate their skills and contribution to the business. The headlines were:

  • AI is enabling new skills not replacing jobs through Watson
  • It’s a valuable tool, not a threat (a common concern about AI)
  • It can help the journey from enabler to consultant for procurement professionals and elevate their skills in the process
  • It is driving a culture change in their organisation
  • At the heart of its success is education and training

IBM was amongst the very first organisations to appoint Marco at what is effectively a Chief Data Officer in procurement, and he provides the bridge between procurement and the data scientists with a key aim being to drive adoption.

Interestingly this concept of a centre of expertise in data analytics able to support procurement was raised in the session I referred to earlier, and it’s a model we expect to see replicated as more organisations finally get around to embracing the opportunities presented by the data.

Some interesting questions were asked by the audience about how it is being used. Graham talked about the importance of speed to value and using the tool when it was going to make a real difference, rather than just for the sake of it.

When asked where to start, both Graham and Marco were on the same page with the suggestion that you should “find something you can execute on and just do it, start small…. don’t go too big or address the most difficult area to begin with… just get started and don’t use lack of data as an excuse not to move forward”.

So having seen evidence from innovators like IBM we know they are using technology as a catalyst to develop their people but to reiterate the point made earlier, they are still in the minority and this practice needs to become mainstream as soon as possible. As my colleague Peter Brophy outlines in his piece on the event, the Procurement Leaders CEO Nandini Basuthakur urged attendees to take action to change and make improvements “NOW” in her closing address and included both technology and talent amongst the key development areas. I couldn’t agree more!

One point I’d like to make as a specialist recruiter in this market is this: we hear about supplier innovation and collaboration as the future of procurement and a potential source of competitive advantage in many industries. So why aren’t procurement leaders adopting this mentality with their talent attraction? In a competitive market for skills with the shortages mentioned by Simon Geale, maybe it’s time to move away from the tactical relationships that dominate the recruitment sector and start thinking a bit differently?

It’s time to back up the big words with some action!

For the record, the awards dinner on the Thursday night was very enjoyable with lots of friendly faces around. The Talent and Development award went to Turkcell, the leading mobile phone operator of Turkey. The judges praised them for their Young Talent Programme aimed at graduates which “provides end to end training programmes that harness technology to deliver the skills that the functions newest entrants require”.  

Congratulations to them. Having recruited in the local market we have seen that procurement talent is in short supply so it’s great to hear how they are developing graduate talent. It is undoubtedly the best long term strategy to address such skills shortages and something that we have been preaching to our clients, particularly in procurement technology and consulting sectors for a while in the UK.

So overall the Word Procurement Congress was a very enjoyable event. It was an intense couple of days of learning and networking where it was great to see a lot of friendly faces and meet some people in our network face to face for the first time.

One other note of interest to me was that it was noticeable that the sponsors that dominated were largely solution providers and partners. Unlike events such as SAP Ariba Live (my next conference in early June) and similar events from their competition, the really big consultancies were not exhibiting although we did see niche players like Proxima alongside the tech firms and payments providers.

I’ll be reporting back from SAP Ariba Live in early June. If you fancy joining me in Barcelona, I can highly recommend the event and the city. More details here: https://events.sap.com/aribalive-2019-barcelona/en/home

Andrew Daley

Director, Procurement Technology at Edbury Daley

andrew@edburydaley.com