ProcureCon Indirect – a Review from our Special Correspondent

As we explained at the time, the Spend Matters team could not make it to ProcureCon Indirect in Amsterdam earlier this month, but we managed to get this review from our anonymous attendee – someone who was there as a sponsor, but has a background as a procurement practitioner as well.  Many thanks to our “Special Agent X”!

  • ProcureCon Indirect was small enough (around 160 attendees, I reckon) to have good conversations with people, but big enough to attract some very good attendees.  Many were heads of procurement, or indirect heads of procurement, which meant the conversations one had as a sponsor with attendees were valuable.  There were people from the US, India, Scotland, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Poland, the UK, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg… quite diverse.  And I was surprised how many people stayed for day 3 of the event.
  • Key messaging – if you don’t align your procurement objectives to your company’s business objectives, you will fail.  One example given was when you had a procurement KPI of reducing total travel spend, while corporately your leaders want to expand in Asia-Pacific. Your travel spend will inevitably go up, not down.
  • Some of the sessions were good, others less so - does the content get vetted in advance? For example, one speaker discussed how their organisation simply decided to cut budgets, which forced stakeholders to work with procurement to achieve savings, rather than the classic “we’re from procurement and we’re here to help” approach.  That’s it?  Cut budgets and they will come?
  • Bo Dingal from Danske Bank gave a good (if slightly clichéd) presentation on disruptive procurement – “we need to do new things that make the old things obsolete”,  “procurement needs to contribute to revenue and customer experience”, “we need to change the perception of being a bottleneck,” and “companies that do the same thing are bound to decay.”  His final anecdote was about how every day a gazelle wakes up, knows a lion is after it, and starts to run from it.  Every day a lion wakes up, realises it needs to catch a gazelle, and has to run to get it.  His takeaway was that it doesn’t matter who you are, every day you have to wake up and run.
  • One of my favourite unusual quotes from Andre Smaal of Philips Electronics – “Designing for Excellence is not a lemon you have to squeeze until it is dry, but a cow you have to milk regularly.” [Designing for Excellence was a sort of zero-based budgeting approach to procurement, where collaboration was brought to a particular category to identify projects to create holistic benefits that went beyond savings.  They also changed policies for travel in an effort to drive behaviour – if travellers waited until the last minute to book, they weren’t allowed to take a direct route to their destination, but had to have connections.  This pushed more to book in advance and thus get lower costs for direct routes.  Are there exceptions?  Of course - as with any policy - but you have to obtain senior approval to get it.
  • Till Heidermann from Xylem (a water technology provider) presented on how they moved from using Excel spreadsheets (“before that, as long as the company was making money, nobody cared about procurement”) to centralising procurement with the support of GEP.
  • Most of the sessions started with an overly lengthy showcase of their company history and brands.  [One slide is enough, truly!]
  • Whilst there were good presentations, overall the topics somewhat lacked innovation.  There was still the age-old chestnut of “how can procurement be at the top table.”  Either I’m getting older and jaded or the generation behind is coming through, perhaps both, but this seemed to be genuinely new material for a fair number of people.
  • On the third day, the sponsor stands were taken down, so there was a limited ability to showcase their offerings.  The third day sessions centred around short presentations, followed by a question posed to the audience, and each table would compile plenary feedback.  Because of the size of the show, we had all managed to get on really well by Day 3.  One question asked was “how will technology change procurement in 5 or 10 years?”  My answer was that we don’t care about 5 or 10 years; I’m more interested in the 1-2 year horizon.  Technology is bringing liquidity to markets; liquidity is bringing competition; and competition is bringing lower prices.  Those who are losing out are the ones who are middlemen, which arguably procurement could be seen to be.  Uber and Airbnb were the examples given.  What will need to change is the legislation surrounding such transactions as governments struggle to adapt to the new world.
  • I am starting to think the word ‘glocalised’ is overused.

 

First Voice

  1. Paul Vincent:

    Hi Peter. I also attended the Amsterdam event and I agree with your secret correspondent – there was certainly a wide spectrum of agenda value across the 3 days. It was slightly disheartening to hear some of the same old concerns/issues being raised around the role/remit of the procurement function but will this ever change? I have written before on your pages of my personal view around this topic. Ultimately it comes down to how well procurement professionals assume situational leadership within their organisations. The more we do it and do it well, the more it is expected, the more it is requested…

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