For Procurement Heads' latest Big Interview, James Dobbin, Director - Financial & Professional Services, caught up with Veronika Strausova, Associate Partner at IBM Consulting to hear more about her career and what she is most passionate about when it comes to procurement.
How did you get into procurement?
At university, I followed a few classes on procurement and supply chain, loved it and decided that was the career path I wanted to take.
What I really liked about procurement back then, and still love about procurement today, is the mixture of analytics and data-driven skills that you need, coupled with interpersonal skills, commercial acumen and negotiation.
These two different sides of your brain that need to work to be good at procurement are what I really enjoy.
What are the challenges you and your team currently face?
Where do I start?
There is a war on talent.
Digitalisation is a fantastic opportunity but a big conundrum as well.
There are so many new, innovative solutions and you can’t have them all, so advising my clients which are the best fit for them is a great challenge.
Increased digitisation also drives changing operating models that are required to capture the benefits of digital.
A predominant feeling in the market is that digital transformations haven’t delivered yet to their full potential so there is so much more value to go after.
What are you most passionate about when it comes to procurement?
I am very passionate about how the function has changed in the last 20 years since I have been in procurement and the impacts it has had.
It is probably the business area that has evolved the most.
There has been a complete transformation of what good looks like, what the required skills are, the operating models that are needed, and the technology that is available – I could keep on going.
Procurement has been on a fantastic journey.
What do you think are the key focus areas for procurement right now?
People, sustainability, digital transformation and the right operating models to deliver incremental value.
Increased use of artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT are definitely areas to watch that will come to revolutionise how companies work, in the same way as PCs or the Internet had done in the past.
What do you look for when hiring consultants for your team?
So, obviously, the traditional skills are still required but are not good enough to shine through.
What I mean by traditional skills is analytics, communications, stakeholder management, and commercial acumen – these are the basics.
But on top of those we are looking at people who are curious and literate in new technologies.
What are your team and organisation doing with regard to sustainable procurement?
It is a massive topic and one of the key challenges.
At IBM we have been at the forefront of sustainability, we have set ourselves strong targets: Be it on the scope 3 carbon emission goals or on sustainable sourcing.
We have recently acquired Envizi, a software provider, that has developed a fantastic end-to-end sustainability platform.
We are using blockchain as part of our ethics solution which looks at the provenance of major commodities and checking that there are no ethical issues (e.g. modern slavery) or any hidden concerns.
These are just a few examples.
What do you think are the current procurement trends or hot topics and what emerging roles do you think we might see as a result?
It is definitely sustainability and ethical procurement on one hand, with digital transformation, artificial intelligence and managed services on the other.
What brings it all together are the evolving operating models and skills that underpin all of these trends whilst focusing on stakeholders, added value and impact on the environment.
We spoke about the focus on digital.
A lot of my clients feel that digitalisation hasn’t delivered on its promise, so I think it is about taking the digital capabilities and making them work for the organisation to deliver an outstanding customer experience.
What skills do you consider essential to be a procurement leader?
Speak plain business language.
What are your thoughts on blockchain in procurement?
Blockchain is a strong addition to the procurement toolbox.
I work with several solutions, based on blockchain, that focus on sustainability, provenance, dispute resolutions, accounts payable, and contingent labour – these are just a few examples.
What I would say is that it is not about the technology, that is just an enabler, it is about the value and the experience the technology brings.
One has to always ask, what do I need the technology for, which business purpose is the technology driving and, based on that, make the right choices.
How do you see AI and robotics affecting procurement?
AI and robotics have been incredibly strong in advancing the traditional procurement backbone.
There are emerging software providers who developed solutions entirely based on artificial intelligence capabilities.
I see a huge amount of specialist solutions (that answer a specific need/within a specific sector) based on AI and robotics.
These solutions, what makes them different, is the quick learning and the quick adaptation that makes them outperform their “traditional” competition.
They are user-friendly, intuitive, and touchless.
The other use of these new technologies is in harmonising existing data and process flows: How can I connect different parts of my business to get a seamless end-to-end flow that is going to enhance my experience and allow me to harvest information to create superior insights for my decision-making?
How is fintech technology shaping the procurement and supply chain landscape?
It is a revolution, I work very closely with ProcureTech where we look each year at 4,000 different procurement solutions, some of them established players, and some of them start-ups.
A panel of around 60 CPOs then select the top 100.
These solutions are completely revolutionising how procurement is done, what kind of results procurement teams can achieve, how much procurement costs are, and also the type of skills procurement professionals need to excel in their field.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to spend as much time as possible with my family.
We are very sporty and outdoorsy, you might see us on our bikes, out in our camper van, surfing in the summer or skiing in the winter.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be brave, be confident, don’t be afraid to stand out.
Follow your instincts and be patient.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself…
I was in a German movie when I was 10 years old, it is called “Martha and I”.