Pushing the agile agenda in Asia Pacific

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Agile and procurement

Like many other procurement functions across the Asia Pacific region, those located in Hong Kong are applying agile methodologies in an effort to drive their businesses forward.


Over the last few months, Procurement Leaders has been embarking on a roadshow around Asia Pacific looking at the topic of agility. In Singapore we gauged the appetite for local companies in exploring new project management methodologies. In Sydney we discussed approaches to implementing agile in highly regulated environments while in Auckland we debated the difference between Agile project management and agility in procurement.


For the majority, the future is relatively clear: There will be a streamlined function, consisting of internal consultants and business partners, who are supported by highly advanced technical capabilities. This picture, from Asia to Europe to North America, is a consistent one.


The question that consistently crops up however is how you get there? How does a CPO convert a transactional, back-office function, into this central decision-making team at the core of modern business? A large part of the answer comes from agile procurement.


Sadly, the profession is characterised by a somewhat cumbersome approach when it comes to engaging in business projects. This reputation – deserved or not – repels people from working with procurement, which lessens future success stories and compounds the reputation. But, by being able to work with partners, fast-track priorities and engage in a more intelligent application of the purchasing process, buyers can become part of the solution. And, in that sense, although many dismiss agile as a buzzword, companies are using the method behind it to rebrand procurement.


Another part of the solution comes from a deliberate application of modern technologies, which can enable buyers to act faster on more accurate data. We got a sense of this from an impressive case study from AIA. CPO Ernie Tan outlined a four-year transformation, starting from a function of modest technical capabilities, which saw the function converted into the sleek, modernised team which has at its fingertips information about suppliers and spend.


Few organisations in Hong Kong are at this stage, but many executives acknowledged the need to stay abreast of modern management practices. All the participants across all our discussions have been unified by a mission to create more agility among their colleagues.


We also heard that many functions here are interested in automation. This was highlighted by the AIA case study, but also a forecast that the function will grow into a technology-enabled internal consultancy function.


Lastly, and most importantly, we heard that the lack of talent is hampering progress in these areas. Technology is undoubtedly vital to modern procurement, but bringing in the expertise to deliver value on sourcing projects is a real challenge for CPOs here.


Agile is a methodology that is clearly starting to take hold in the Asia Pacific region. While there will be challenges along the way, the aim of many CPOs is to have their functions acting and operating quicker. With that they will win the respect and praise of the business.


This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.

Jonathan Webb
Posted by Jonathan Webb

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