An Interview with Gert van der Heijden – Dutch Procurement 101

After visiting Peter Smith (who runs our UK/Europe operations from our regional headquarters from Spend Matters Tower in Camberley, UK), I took a flight to Amsterdam to catch up with our colleague Gert van der Heijden, who edits the Spend Matters Netherlands site. I sat down with Gert in his backyard office during one of the rare sunny days in July to interview him on his progress and get an update on the latest in Dutch procurement. After all, the Netherlands is home to a number of large global companies including Unilever, Phillips, and Heineken. For the first installment of this series and further background of our Dutch site (in English), please click here. Our interview continues today.

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Gert van der Heijden, Editor, Spend Matters Netherlands

Jason: When you walk into meetings, do people comment on things they've read?

Gert: Sometimes, but especially one-to-one. We are a bit of a shy community when it comes to commenting on new things in larger meetings. This is repeating itself again and again. I also often hear from readers that "I have a different opinion, but did not want to write an answer" on the site.

To me, what I’m learning is that business blogs in Holland are mainly used as one-way news, commentary and research versus two-way dialogue. Since the beginning, I have gotten 81 comments. Not bad, but there is greater participation on LinkedIn here. That seems more acceptable as a place to comment.

Jason: What are the top areas of interest in Dutch procurement?

Gert: Analytics is a top item for many companies. A lot of companies have not installed a basic spend analysis system yet, even though there is keen interest right now. I expect significant adoption in the near future, but one hurdle is that you need to train these AI-based systems for Dutch. Early companies have found that the auto-classification levels are less than promised because they’re the ones training the algorithms in Dutch. Still, we will overcome this quickly. We are a data and consensus driven culture, and spend analysis will prove increasingly important for larger and mid-size companies in the Netherlands. I also see companies getting more interested in the linkages of big data and procurement.

Jason: Could you comment more on this and other areas of interest?

Gert: Sustainability is a very large theme in business, and it's not going away despite the EU economic challenges. It also has linkages with big data and analytics when it comes to information access. I want to cover sustainability separately when we have more time, but we are planning quite a bit here with Spend Matters NL, including a conference on the topic. Dutch companies care very much about issues of sustainable procurement and some are leading the charge globally in this area.

Procure-to-pay (P2P) is also large – and driving organizational compliance is key here. Dutch companies selected ERP early on compared with organizations in many countries, but for direct spend only. Indirect is a lot of “open free text lines” and little compliance today. Tools like SAP, SRM, and Ariba adoption, in practice, is limited.

One of the challenges is that procurement and accounts payable organizations are trying to solve this by having supplier networks and e-invoicing rather than solving the broader purchase-to-pay problem. There is nothing wrong with supplier networks and invoicing, but I think these are part of the solution vs. stand-alone fixes. We must tackle eProcurement adoption to drive savings and cost avoidance in contrast to thinking that just connected our suppliers to our systems and sending invoices back and forth electronically will drive purchasing compliance alone.

As we continue our backyard office discussion with Gert, we’ll turn our attention to top sourcing themes, talent, and risk management.

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