In the fall, the Strategic Sourceror was fortunate enough to cover the Big Ideas Summit in Chicago, a truly unique Procurement conference that gathers an intimate group of Procurement’s top Executives, supplemented by a global presence of digital delegates to discuss Procurement’s past, present, and future.  The advantage of the event is its ability to transcend the concept ideation approach to topics, and provide tangible out of the box solutions aimed to empower procurement and procurement professionals.

I had the opportunity to interview Tania Seary, the master mind behind the Summit as well as Procurious, the very successful online business community for Procurement and Supply Management professionals, to unpack this idea of Empowering Procurement.

Kaitlyn Krigbaum: Tania, your mission is to change the face of procurement to more accurately reflect the dynamic and critical role the profession plays in business today.  What, if anything, is standing in the way of procurement accomplishing this?

Tania Seary: Ultimately, we are our own worst impediment.  We are too humble about just how fantastic we really are, and the critical role we play in the business.  It’s really our self-perception that’s holding us back—this pervasive lack of self-confidence in the criticality of Procurement.   

Kaitlyn Krigbaum: What you’re referencing sounds similar to the underlying theme of your keynote session from the Big Ideas Summit in Chicago in which you alluded to Procurement’s lack of self-awareness.  You opened by suggesting that knowing oneself is the root of all wisdom.  How do you recommend Procurement Groups go about this sort of ‘getting to know themselves’ step?

Tania Seary: The idea of this functional self-awareness is developed over a number of years.  I used to run an executive training program, and one of the first things we did was a self-analysis to determine individual strengths and weaknesses.  Another example is the company Beyond Group in Europe who actually ran a sort of think tank a couple years ago.  A company involved in the think tank introduced an innovative concept of conducting horoscope-type activities.  The important point was that you needed to understand your own personal style of working, and how that may impact the way you interact with stakeholders across other functions.  Procurement Groups need to invest the time and money to ensure the team understands their own strengths and weaknesses through this type of analysis to be more effective at supporting the business as a whole.   

Kaitlyn Krigbaum: In your opinion, just how wise is the average Procurement Group today?

Though some procurement organizations are more advanced, it doesn’t always mean they have the greater advantage.

Tania Seary: It’s hugely diversified; some companies are just getting started and don’t have a professional procurement organization yet, while others are quite advanced in their procurement maturity.  That said, though some procurement organizations are more advanced, it doesn’t always mean they have the greater advantage.  If a Procurement Group is a Procurement Group of one, this may mean they are a true trusted advisor with internal self-awareness and external buy-in as a result.

Kaitlyn Krigbaum: I want to segue into the technology realm. The future has arrived and many of us cannot ignore that digital disruption must be embraced by Procurement to propel its continuous evolution.  How do you suggest organizations determine whether – or maybe better phrased –when – to implement new Procurement technology?

Tania Seary: The first thing Procurement teams need to understand is where their organization is heading, as this is a commonly unaddressed gap that leads to serious misalignment between Procurement and the business at large.  The corporate direction is hardcoded by the Board of Directors and CEO.  Is the organization in acquisition mode, innovation mode, etc. – because this will determine where the opportunities are for Procurement.  Starting with a holistic picture of the corporate direction is a critical first step before evaluating any Procurement technology, but it’s important to realize that Procurement technology isn’t modularity in design.  In certain instances it may be easier, say, if an organization doesn’t have a legacy ERP system, as they can actually leap frog into the future and go straight into the cognitive and AI technologies available.

Kaitlyn Krigbaum: Is there anything you’d recommend organizations be more cognizant of as they go through this sort of discovery phase?

We need to become more robotic to become more human.

Tania Seary:  Certainly.  I’d say one element to be cautious of is comparing apples to oranges.  There are so many options available in the market, it’s important to ensure you’re evaluating based on apples to apples comparisons when assessing various technologies.  Another element to any sort of technology implementation, is the investment doesn’t end when you purchase the technology.  If an organization only plans that far ahead, they’re likely to fail.  The real investment needs to be in the rollout plan—educating on change management across the organization.  The focus shouldn’t be solely on the ‘which’ because which technology solution becomes irrelevant if you aren’t equally, if not more focused, on the ‘how’ – how to implement it, how to train the end-users, how to get a successful adoption rate.  There’s also a particularly dangerous universal problem associated with digital disruption; hardly anyone has great spend visibility, yet we have been talking about it for so long we often overestimate our progress in understanding our data.  People have checklists when selecting technology, but we need to make sure we know how our data is being managed first.  Software may come and go, but data is forever. 

The myth I also commonly dispel as organizations go through a discovery phase and begin to embrace the digitization trends is the notion that technology will displace humans, which is entirely untrue and unfounded.  Cognitive and AI technologies will continue to help us procure with purpose, but there are bidirectional systems at play.  We need to become more robotic to become more human, and technology continues to evolve to become more human, to become more robotic and automated.  Ultimately, the technology will take into account a multitude of factors to then help us make better decisions around the social, economic, and environmental impacts we have.     

Kaitlyn Krigbaum:  I really like that idea, we need to become more robotic to become more human.  This seems like an exciting time for the next generation who is so attached to technology to get into the function and make a greater impact.  For our parting question, what advice would you give to folks just starting out in their Procurement career?

Tania Seary: Enjoy the ride, it’s going to be fantastic!  This truly is an exciting time in Procurement because there is so much to learn.  If someone is just starting out in their career, they should leverage their tech skills, but really need to learn how to be human in some senses of the phrase.  It’s still really important to build the soft skills.  Technology will be almost easy for the next generation, but they should leverage the 1 billion years of evolution that differentiates us as humans to make a difference.     

This interview has been edited and approved by Tania Seary.

Tania will join 50 of the UK’s most forward-thinking CPOs and Supply Chain executives at Procurious’ next Big Ideas Summit on March 14th. She’ll share her vision for Procurement’s future and likely advocate for the irreplaceable value of the human element. Other topics of discussion will include Procurement’s role in driving sustainability initiatives, the benefits of hiring ‘outsiders,’ and the looming threat of Brexit. Can’t make it across the pond? Check out the Procurious blog for updates throughout the conference and more big ideas every day.

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Kaitlyn Krigbaum

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