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The Talent Behind The Data
Christophe van Riel, Vice President Procurement, Ecolab Europe
Thanks to digital, the profession of procurement has become smarter, better, and faster to be able to accelerate the business decision making. At Ecolab, I’ve been leading the procurement function in an extremely complex business environment. We operate across three regions: Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa. Our complexity increases as we manufacture products for a diverse portfolio of industries, from food & beverage, energy services to healthcare or water management. This diverse reality requires a high level of efficiency and coordination, to ensure we can align all our 47 ERP systems and offer the best strategic support to the business. Digital has become the gamechanger driving more efficient ways to operate.
The procurement function is evolving as quickly as we adopt new technologies. We must be agile and strategic, which requires a combination of powerful tools and efficient processes.Like many other global companies, we have invested in new technologies to deal with the complexity of our business, build our ability to gather big data, and strengthen our analytical capabilities.
The minds that can handle the technology make the data meaningful and unleash its real power
We don’t have to mine for information anymore, it’s accessible at the click of a button.
We use Azure, a cloud-based solution developed by Microsoft, our technology partner through this digital transformation. It has enabled us to collect big data from multiple entry points, align our systems, and enable a team of analysts to sort through the gathered intelligence and provide strategic insights. With access to this data, our function can bring added value outcomes and develop the ability to predict what comes next, how the sourcing of goods and services will be impacted, and prices will be influenced while ensuring the most stable and transparent business environment possible.
But as we adapt and change our systems and processes, our industry needs to invest in talent. While we have gained new access to information, the market needs now smart and strategic profiles to tell a history to bring real data insights. We have turned procurement analysts into data-storytellers. Through their acute readings of the data, they support decision-making by developing the best strategy and knowledge into a powerful tool of negotiation. But this type of “new” talent is currently running scarce in the industry. No curriculum is currently teaching the knowledge and skills needed in procurement to combine analytical and negotiation skills. It means companies have to develop their own in-house team and grow them to retain talent in the long term.
At Ecolab, we have invested heavily to attract a diverse team of talent. With about 90 associates of more than 25 nationalities operating across 3 hubs in Barcelona, Krakow, and Zurich, we pride ourselves on our development program. We have come to realise that the role of procurement diverges from what it once was. In the past, it was essential to be a strong negotiator. Today, we have to teach the next generation more soft skills, that include emotional intelligence, collaboration, agility and stakeholder management on top of the ability to read and gather insights from data. Given we rely heavily on very specific skills and we invest in the development of our people, we have to ensure we create the right environment and can engage the employees on all levels. That is why we have launched a Procurement Academy and the Procurement Council to attract new people to Ecolab, but also develop the team and export the talent to other regions or roles in different parts of our business.
While systems everywhere might evolve, they will also start to offer the same benefits to any company. Data mining, dashboards, trends and predictive analytics, the name of the software might change, but the outcome should be very similar. What will really create a competitive advantage to any procurement function is the talent behind the data. The minds that can handle the technology make the data meaningful and unleash its real power. The future success of procurement depends on our ability to balance a perfect combination of digital tools, transparent and seamless processes, and insightful teams.
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