Hi Emma, what do you do and what brought you to Asia ?
I spent most of my university years studying Asian languages, first Chinese then Japanese. The opportunity to live and study in China for a year was an eye opening experience and triggered my decision to live and work in Asia.
So, I just made it happen : I came to Singapore in 2003 for an internship straight after graduation and never left ! (more or less : I spent 1 year in Shanghai and I backpacked around the world with my husband for another year after we got married)
Fast forward to today, I now have 16 years of working experience in Procurement and Supply Chain in Singapore and the region.
Six years ago, after 10 years in the corporate world, I founded Optimal Cost Consulting, a Singapore-based 100% women-owned consultancy specialized in procurement, operations and IT optimization and transformation.
I wanted to set up my own consultancy to offer a very hands-on and pragmatic approach to consulting, focusing on projects with high impact, high speed and high ROI.
Procurement Excellence and Supplier Diversity are topics that I am specifically interested in.
What do you mean by Procurement Excellence?
Procurement excellence is finding strategies to increase the impact and the value Procurement adds to the organization, by delivering significant cost savings, by ensuring that the function is more efficient and more agile in the way it operates.
Procurement Excellence is also about making sustainability a priority and making conscious choices in the supply chain to reduce the organization’s impact.
Companies practicing Procurement Excellence will focus on:
- how Procurement can add value to other departments within the company;
- the skills and training of its procurement team members (focusing on both technical and soft skills);
- investing in tools that will increase the productivity of the team;
- creating real partnerships with their vendors, thus promoting innovation and reducing costs.
How do you see the procurement function evolving?
The way an organization sees its Procurement department is shifting, we are moving away from the traditional mindset of a department handling transactions with suppliers, to a value-adding function headed by a CPO (Chief Procurement Officer) that is recognized as being strategic leadership role, and that is considered as a trusted advisor to the company’s top management.
Companies like Philips have embarked on this journey a few years back and have reaped huge benefits from this transformation, including significant cost savings for the company.
The skills required by procurement teams are also evolving. Given the fact that nowadays procurement in world class organizations means automation and digitalization of processes, it is crucial to have team members who are tech-savvy and who have good digital skills.
In addition, given the increased involvement in projects and collaboration between procurement and other departments in the organization, it is also increasingly important that procurement executives have strong soft skills.
Companies need to ensure they take these new skills into account when recruiting in order to ensure they create impactful and future-proof procurement teams.
You said more tech-savvy, what new technologies are being used by procurement departments?
The primary goal of any digitalisation effort within a procurement department is to reduce the time and resources spent on administrative, repetitive and low-value / high-volume tasks.
This partial or full automation of procurement processes is not new and more and more companies are investing in Source-to-Pay (S2P) or Procure-to-Pay (P2P) solutions. There are many available solutions on the market that can help procurement teams increase productivity and cooperation with vendors.
In addition to companies adopting procurement software, we see the emergence of new technologies being used to increase the efficiency and impact of Procurement departments:
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA) : to perform routine and manual tasks.
- AI and predictive analytics: to leverage on advanced analytics and statistical models to better negotiate with suppliers.
- Blockchain: to increase transparency and traceability.
Just recently, in July 2019, Samsung SDS, Dutch bank ABN AMRO and the Port of Rotterdam have jointly conducted a proof of concept shipment from South Korea to the Netherlands in which they tracked a container exclusively using an interoperable blockchain platform.The container was tracked via the blockchain platform jointly developed by Samsung SDS with the Port of Rotterdam Authority and ABN AMRO Bank, which allowed for the shipment to be instantly financed, fully tracked, and conducted paperlessly.
How can procurement impact positively hardware product development?
Procurement must be involved from the early stage of product development. To ensure a successful product lifecycle and an optimized “Total Cost of Ownership [TCO]” of the product (TCO looks at the complete cost from purchase to disposal including but not limited to service & repair), it is key to have R&D and Procurement work hand in hand.
Procurement will be able to tell everyone exactly how much the different options will cost and can challenge the specifications set by engineers if it thinks they are needlessly demanding and will drive costs too high. In addition Procurement will help bring suppliers onboard at an early stage and leverage on them to bring in innovations that produce savings. Supplier enabled innovation means that companies can tap not only on their own R&D departments but also that of their supply base. Suppliers, being experts in their field, will be able to bring fresh ideas and insights on other practices in the industry to their clients.
How “Dare you” be a woman in procurement?
It is true that when I started my career in Procurement & Supply Chain (first in the construction then in the electronics industry), it was mainly a man’s world. It was particularly striking when we were working on product development projects,and there were very few women in R&D teams too.
Women should consider procurement as a potential career path, especially with the increased visibility that procurement function is providing. Having a good understanding of a company’s supply chain, having experience in streamlining operations and in negotiating with suppliers can be a competitive advantage.
Look at Apple’s Tim Cook!
How do you bring more diversity?
I would like to bring more diversity in 2 areas:
- The first one and the more obvious is to recruit more women in my team. It is not always easy, especially when we look at recruiting for projects related to IT.
- The second one is to advocate for and help companies embark on their supplier diversity journey, from a procurement angle. The first step is to help companies understand the diversity of their supply base and identify procurement actions to be put in place in order to meet their corporate supplier diversity goals.
Supplier diversity is a business strategy that ensures a diverse supplier base (women-owned, minority-owned, disability-owned, LGBTQ-owned businesses) in the procurement of goods and services.
Today less than 1% of large corporate and government spend worldwide goes to women-owned businesses. All businesses should be aware of this (incredibly low) number and should take action to have a positive impact on their communities.
Companies with Supplier Diversity programs aim at developing supplier partnerships, mentoring local suppliers, and collaborating with suppliers on product innovation. For example, companies belonging to the Billion Dollar Roundtable (such as Dell, Microsoft etc) have committed to spend at least 1 billion dollars annually with minority and women businesses.
Research shows that companies with supplier diversity programs are more profitable than companies that don’t. According to Hackett, on average, supplier diversity programs add $3.6 million to the bottom line for every $1 million in procurement operations costs.