Procurement pros rise to the occasion at Big Ideas Summit Chicago

Lumachain CEO Jamila Gordon talks about growing up in Somalia, fleeing civil war and eventually starting a business to help curb human trafficking. She spoke at Procurious' Big Ideas Summit in Chicago on Sept. 18, 2019. (JP Morris photo / Spend Matters)

When the city of big shoulders hosted the Big Ideas Summit last week, the procurement executives at Procurious’ event in Chicago generated a lot of excitement and a powerful list of insights.

Tania Seary, founder of the UK-based professional development organization Procurious, assembled an array of speakers whose thought-provoking sessions imparted plenty of big ideas — from the latest in neuroscience to how procurement technology and policies affect issues like human trafficking and forced labor in supply chains.

Amanda Prochaska, founder and CEO of High Performance Procurement, did a fabulous job of moderating the sessions and sparking conversation about the topics. She challenged the nearly 50 attendees to make sure they came away with at least one great idea that they could take action on when they went back to work.

Sharing ideas

Some of the highlights of the sessions included Professor Moran Cerf’s discussions of neuroscience and the technological advances coming from that research. A question that drives his research also seems fitting for improving procurement: “How can we use how the brain works to make better decisions and be more efficient?”

Dawn Tiura, the founder of SIG (Sourcing Industry Group), kept the discussion moving most of the day with her input as an audience member and as the leader of two sessions.

Tiura’s session on procurement personnel noted that successfully deploying digital transformation requires that companies realize that people may not adopt technology at the same rate or the same way. As an example, she suggested that we think of how different generations — working in the same office — communicate with one another and what the implications of that style is.

Her four generations of workers are:

  • Write to me — the oldest set
  • Call me — older
  • Email me — younger
  • Text me — the youngest

Tiura also had a session on third-party risk and the need to learn more about your suppliers. She summed up the theme of it with this big idea:

“You’ll be appalled at what you don’t know about your suppliers.”

Dan Adams, from the CLM specialist Icertis, talked about a  procurement-specific trend — contract-centric sourcing. The idea is that technology is at the stage now that contracts can be put at the center of all transactions. Doing so will pull contracts from dusty file cabinets and make them dynamically connected to the business. (It’s a concept that Spend Matters’ Chief Research Officer Pierre Mitchell has been exploring in his PRO subscription series on “Commercial Value Management.”)

In a poignant session, Lumachain CEO Jamila Gordon told her story of surviving Somalia’s civil war but struggling in Kenyan ghettos. Many of her siblings fared worse, being forced into the human trafficking system that spread them across the Middle East and Europe.

But Gordon eventually made it to Australia. There she married, learned English, furthered her education and started a procurement career. After working for several companies, including Quantus, she decided to start Lumachain, a technology company that increases visibility into supply chains — and also has the goal of rooting out human trafficking.

She showed that having a positive attitude can help overcome hardships.

“I was depressed all the time,” she said about living alone in the ghettos, “but the happier that I acted, the more people wanted to be around me.”

That attitude helped her met people who assisted her, including an Australian who became her husband.

Crowd-sourcing ideas

Between each interesting session, Amanda Prochaska acted as a “tour guide,” facilitating discussion and helping crowd-source ideas from the professionals in the audience. That led to a powerful list of ideas, not just one takeaway that audience members had been asked to find.

The Big Ideas are:

  • Invest in your procurement teams.
  • Procurement technology should be easy to use.
  • Your different solutions should be integrated to each other.
  • Transparency of costs
  • "Why isn’t it possible?" is a great question. (Amanda asked: “How often do we ask our staffs that, our suppliers, our stakeholders???”)
  • “We are dinosaurs.” (Said in relation to the wave of neuroscience technology that’s coming.)
  • “Status Go!” (Grant Thornton LLP’s mindset for technology and change, quoted by Rick Clark, Senior Director, Strategic Sourcing and Procurement Services, at Grant Thornton)
  • It’s a misconception that doing good costs more.
  • Procurement data isn’t just for procurement, it’s for the whole business.
  • Be aware and share ideas.
  • Get success stories that you can share with the C-suite execs. Tell stories, and that becomes the brand of procurement — not the traditional cost-cutting role or PO pushing image of procurement.
  • Have a comprehensive talent strategy to get the right personnel with the right skills to run the digitally transformed business.
  • Improve your AQ: adaptability quotient (akin to IQ and EQ emotional quotient, emotional intelligence)
  • Procurement is a value-creating machine.
  • Need more storytelling
  • Be more curious about life and work.
  • Soft skills are often overlooked.
  • Know risks and how to mitigate them.
  • Talent shortage requires employers and employees to be diligent in finding right fit.
  • Make yourself useful and dream big. (Advice given to Lumachain CEO Jamila Gordon by her dad when he sent her away from the civil war in Somalia.)
  • And, finally: Find out how all of these Big Ideas relate to the digital transformation being offered to solve procurement’s problems and propel it into the future.
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