Guy Hubball at SAP Ariba Summit – Skills, Tech and the Future of Procurement

Guy Hubball has been around. He was one of three CPOs at BP, but also CPO at ABN Amro  (OK, we won’t hold him responsible for the 2008 financial crisis, not totally anyway) and previously worked for Caradon and others. Indeed, when I first moved into consulting, he rejected my tender response to an ABN opportunity with a withering and probably fair assessment of my firm’s capability. But we’ll forgive him for that!

Hubball spoke at the recent SAP Ariba Summit and started off with some pretty non-controversial material around where we are in procurement currently, focusing on people, process, and systems. In terms of process, people are comparing work experience with home life – buying from Amazon or similar websites, for instance.  But we must remember in procurement that we do have corporate policies to apply. However, we can improve processes and simplify. He wished that he had spotted sooner that the BP process was too complex, he said - “it took me too long to improve that.  One problem is everyone agrees we should have a standard process - as long as it is theirs”!

On people, he observed that we are in the war for talent – and he focused on the lack of capability to implement technology, as identified in the Deloitte CPO survey. We need to segment the capabilities required to help us find those scarce people and skills.

On systems, it has been tough historically to get what procurement needed, as a lot of the “procurement” systems were built around finance and control, not our requirements. We should be more demanding, but procurement has not always delivered on our promises.  He was surprised to see the winner of the CIPS SM Technology award talking about a saving of £99,000 in the first year – he thought they must mean £99 million!  (Funnily enough, Supply Management didn’t report that part of his speech). But he hopes we are on the cusp of real improvement here.

This was all good stuff, but then he really got me interested. He talked about the future, and how we will “engage by voice”. I hadn’t thought of this angle – the “system” will recognise our voice, and automatically know who we are, what spending and budget authorities we have, which suppliers we prefer, what we have bought before. An engineer will just take a picture of the valve they want, and the system will identify what it is, produce the spec and source it or check whether it is already in stock somewhere in the organisation.

Data will feed back into the category teams, some will be embedded in the business, or even with suppliers. He believes there will be 3 organisational elements for procurement in the future; procurement operations, which is a tech play. Category management, a core competency for procurement. and finally, the data team, which is a new competency. He sees this as separate to the CatMan team – a level of independence is vital, he thinks, but this capability / function doesn’t really exist at the moment.

There are, he believes four building blocks for success – the right operating model, a talent management strategy, digitisation of the end-to-end process, and a robust medium-term technology roadmap.

BP had already started going down this route, with the operating model for instance blending people in lower-cost areas for low-value spend, and higher-value / high-skill folk close to the business. Category leaders need to be high-status; they need to be able to talk confidently to the Board, and need people who are good at collaborating. He talked briefly about future technology too, like Blockchain and AI, and said that BP was engaged in digitisation too, moving more processes to the Ariba platform.

And one of his most important messages was this – executives need to think more deeply about their role in terms of working with technology, and procurement leaders need to be more engaged with technology than ever before. “Be bold, engage with your business and engage with technology”.

And amen to that – a good and interesting session from Hubball.

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