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"How can procurement make a difference?" That was the question Eva Wimmers, Deutsche Telekom’s CPO and SVP DT procurement, put to a room full of global procurement chiefs. The answer, she said, wasn’t as simple as it once was – functions need to change.
Wimmers’ organisation comprises over 1700 people, managing €22bn spend, and her challenges are global, rapidly changing and, given her position on the board of directors, vital to the business.
But while she was quick to acknowledge that the pressure of economic volatility, particularly in Europe, is having a huge effect on supply chains and procurement teams near and far, her argument was that even beyond meeting these challenges, change and new ways of thinking are currently essential.
"My plea," she said, "Is for all of us, in all of the work we do, to focus on the how."
What she meant by that, she explained, was that modern functions need to look at their processes and tools, and more importantly to look at their people and skillsets, and find the opportunities to change and adapt.
RFQs and the processes around engaging suppliers have the potential to not just be out of date, but to miss the point entirely. A complete change in approach to supplier relationships, to tendering, to source-to-pay – this may be the next step that procurement needs to take. If you don’t understand the processes, you will misuse them, Wimmers offered.
For Wimmers, procurement is "a listening organisation". She made the case that this not only applies to risk, but also across the gathering of information, the understanding of the supply markets and even the fundamental dealings with suppliers and internal customers. For her, two-thirds of the job is listening and she was adamant that there are many opportunities for the buying organisation to re-evaluate how it deals with internal and external partners.
For all the inspirational value of Wimmers presentation, there’s a simple message that she felt needed to be instilled deeper into each organisation: "I have to make a contribution." For functions doing what they’ve done in the past, but faster and more insistently simply won’t work, she claimed – procurement needs individuals who can stand up and change things.
The conclusion was simple and powerful. "The role has to change," stated Wimmers. For Deutsche Telekom, that’s something that’s happening now, but for any number of executives, that move from being heads of a function to true leaders and champions of change needs to begin in earnest.