Even in a world where data is king, IBM CPO Bob Murphy believes there is nothing so important as professional development and human relationships.
The numbers are eye-watering. IBM CPO Bob Murphy looks after a $70 billion spend – $25 billion internally and $45 billion 3rd-party. The company has around 150,000 contracts across 17,000 suppliers, with its flagship cognitive technology, Watson, reading 900 million pages in multiple languages per second.
As we prepared for our interview with Murphy, it’s understandable, then, that we expected to find him entirely focused on data analytics, automation, AI and the other tech that’s rapidly impacting so many professions. We were wrong – what comes across loud and clear is that this is a charismatic, engaging leader where people and relationships matter.
Talking to Bob, it becomes immediately clear that his personal commitment to professional development is enormous. “If you want to be a leader, you have to stay current and replenish your IQ through learning and new knowledge. Ultimately, talent development is about making sure you have excellent people to replace outgoing leadership – it’s also vital for driving innovation.”
IBM’s Think 40 program mandates a minimum of 40 hours per year of self-initiated professional development. For the procurement team, this means having the option to select from a range of internal and external courses (often online), including offerings from Six Sigma, Procurement Leaders and ISM. For Bob, it comes down to inquisitiveness and a love of continual learning.
“We look for logical, friendly, humble, smart and inquisitive people. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of supply management can be trained to become outstanding procurement leaders. Making people aware of what is possible is absolutely critical – most successful people around the world put aside time to regularly read and educate themselves. They’re inquisitive; they enquire after things.”
Two critical skills for future leaders in procurement
- Digital literacy
“Data”, says Murphy, “is omnipresent and omnipotent.” He stresses that leaders who want to thrive in the procurement profession need to develop an understanding of:
- Data analytics – we can gather data but how do you use that data to gain insights?
- Robotic processes – how can you automate tactical processes so human capital is used to the greatest effect?
- Cognitive computing – understanding how to digitise a process end-to-end so it is interconnected and insightful.
- Relationship building
Murphy tells Procurious that while leaders need to be able to use technology to get the insights and knowledge they need, their main focus should be on developing their emotional intelligence (EQ) rather than their IQ. “You need to have the ability to talk to clients in a consultative manner. We have one mouth and two ears, and that’s how we ought to apportion our time in any discussion. When we’re talking, we’re not learning.”
How can you train someone to be adept at building relationships? “It’s about attitude, not aptitude”, says Murphy. Whether leadership is innate or taught, the results are the same. You need to be able to work collaboratively with your suppliers, show them what’s important to you and understand what’s important to them. “Your relationship-building skills will ultimately enable your suppliers to drive innovation. For example, we have 17,000 suppliers at IBM. I want each one to wake up every morning and think: ‘How can I make IBM better’?”
Have you got a cognitive journey map?
Where is your organisation headed with cognitive procurement technology? Where do you want to be? How will you use people, processes and technology to get there? What can we automate?
Murphy recommends that every procurement team should have a roadmap that lays out the strategy for its data, analytics and cognitive journey. “All CEOs need a vision for their cognitive journey, and every function needs one too.”
According to The Hackett Group’s 2017 Procurement Key Issues research, only 32 percent of procurement organisations currently have a formal digital strategy in place, and only 25 percent have the needed resources and competencies in place today.
In reality, we can’t all be first-movers. But even if your company isn’t yet ready to act on cognitive technology, CPOs will be rewarded for raising the question, thinking through the issues and putting the challenge on the Board’s agenda. Most importantly, there needs to be milestones and deliverables, as Murphy warns: “Strategy without execution is a daydream”.
To end on a gem of a quote from Murphy, he spoke about how the constantly evolving nature of technology means a never-ending journey. “’Journey’ is a good description, because it is never finished. Anyone who thinks it is finished, is finished.”