The case for a cross-functional approach to attract and retain digital talent in procurement

by | Feb 14, 2020 | Transformation

Procurement chiefs must do their utmost to boost their teams’ capabilities, data analytics and digital tools development or risk being outmanoeuvred by their competitors. The volume and complexity of supply chain data continues to increase. If procurement teams want to create value by contributing to product/service innovation, they must get their house in order around data.

To do this, leaders must recruit people with new digital skill sets (data analysts, data scientists, web developers, scrum masters etc.). They must also upskill those team members whose core strengths are in negotiation, supplier management or risk mitigation, because these tasks will take a completely different form in our era of advanced data analytics.

This is easier said than done. Finding top digital talent is not easy as the employment market is highly competitive, and upskilling people is expensive. This calls for a new approach to attracting and retaining digital talent in procurement.

We might have a solution for you. ‘We’ in this case is a working group of cross-industry experts, assembled by Procurement Leaders, who throughout last year addressed core issues affecting procurement digitalisation. Group contributors all have a wealth of experience in leading ambitious digital transformations in their respective companies and in building teams fit for the digital future. What we recommend here, however, is very ambitious even by their standards.

Procurement should get together with their peers in other teams to build a hub that caters for the whole organisation’s digital needs. Rather than hiring a handful of dedicated digital experts to sit within one function, businesses should pool demand from throughout the organisation and create a dedicated environment in which digital specialists contribute to a variety of projects.

So how would this work?

There are five elements that would make the digital hub model successful.

Scrum: Moving to a hub model enables digital specialists to cooperate with their peers more fluidly, using specific terminology and project management tools. Most importantly, perhaps, this allows agile project management to truly kick into gear, with scrum teams pushing products and insights to market at pace.

Shared tools: Hub model can enable cost savings by removing the need for duplicate software licences. Any employee who encounters a software-related problem can consult a more experienced colleague.

Overlapping processes: While each business function’s requirements of the hub will differ, teams throughout the organisation will conduct data analyses using the same methods. This doesn’t require every hub employee to be a generalist – individuals can and should build subject-matter expertise to serve different functions’ needs.

Tech culture: Mimicking the culture and working environment of technology firms in the digital hub will make it easier to attract and retain talent. This requires rather simple benefits such as flexible working, a relaxed dress code, and snacks and beverages.

Operating environment: When it comes to infrastructure, the CIO or IT team are in a good position to own the technology needed to enable the hub to run and communicate smoothly with other functions.

There are some caveats. The hub model, for instance, may put more pressure on traditional procurement talent, who will need to communicate the function’s needs to digital specialists. Some challenges may also arise in managing workflows. However, these issues won’t be insurmountable provided that the team has mapped its processes and responsibilities.