CPO interview: MTN Group’s Dirk Karl | by Kate Ferreira

Dirk Karl 2Last year we spoke to Dirk Karl, group CPO for telecoms giant MTN. At the time of our interview, Dirk had been with the organisation a year, and was shaking things up considerably, but he still had ambitious plans for change. A further year on, and Dirk tells us "digital procurement has gone live at MTN”

“We know we are a frontrunner on this, even compared to our global competitors,” he adds.

Supporting sourcing

Dirk is supported in this endeavour by Andrew Savage, who heads up the operational excellence function within MTN’s global sourcing and supply chain division. One of the main strategic areas within his domain is sourcing and supply chain solutions.

"One of the key areas within our team is to deliver digital transformation within procurement,” he says. “We have made considerable headway in terms of that. We now look at a broader talent pool with a wider range of skill sets. Traditionally we would focus on hiring people with a procurement or telecoms background, now we are recruiting people with key competencies in data science or advanced analytics. We are interested in working with people who are shaped by data and numbers and can help drive fact based decision making through the masses of data we have available to us.”

"That change is fundamental, and indicates where we are going. It is a workforce change,” he adds.

Transformed workforce

Dirk says, as a direct update to the previous discussion [link], that he has been able to find the right talent and the UAE team is now made up of 29 nationalities, which indicates how they have been able to access global workforce talents.

As a result, he says, ”procurement skill in itself has become of lesser emphasis. We are often more interested in the business knowledge of a candidate, or if they have performed in another area. we are hiring much more based on business skills because we believe that the procurement expertise we can train, we can build that up. It is critical that our procurement teams talk the business language and can engage with their peers across the group to add true value.”

Data gold mine

As an organisation, MTN is well aware that they are sitting on - what Andrew calls “tons and tons of data”. “To a certain extent, we were on the right path, but now with added IT skills, business analysts, and data scientists, we really have a much better idea how to utilise that data. And we are now much clearer on the different types of data we want to look at, from both internal and external sources.”

The team are using robotic process automation (RPA) to structure and clean this data, and “put it into a format we can work with”. Andrews adds: “We also introduced some robots to the back office functioning. Of course I am not talking about a physical robot like you see in the movies, but we have bots which work within our systems, processing information, taking care of manual tasks and delivering operational efficiencies. Robots don’t make mistakes, get tired, or clock off at 5pm.”

This approach frees them up from manual, time-consuming work and allows them to focus more on delivering against their strategic priorities.

Furthermore, Dirk says, one of the most exciting things they delivered this year is a system called BoOM, their ‘Business prOcess autOMation’ (BPA) system. Andrew explains that this was an "off-the-shelf system” that they “very heavily customised in house", to their needs. "This is a way of getting as much information as possible from across our operations, in the best structure format possible. This is allowing us to do real advanced analytics,” he says.

So the team are capturing sourcing information in real time from across the organisation, all of which feeds into a central sourcing and supply chain unit in Dubai.

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Insight driven

This digital transformation gives them the ability to have deep insight into operations, and secondly, Andrew says, “it provides visibility to our stakeholders”. This a way of addressing the old criticism that "procurement is a black hole". The tool allows the stakeholder community access to a dashboard where they can see all their requests, throughput times, expected closure dates etc. “It is opening up a window into procurement activities which is something that our business stakeholders are really looking for,” he says.

“We are passionate about being a true value-add to the organisation, not just the execution arm of the business. We want business to think of us when they have a problem that needs solving, because we now have that category and procurement knowledge to aid them”

This might be how long an RFP has been “stuck” in legal for example. “It is opening up a window in procurement activities which is something that business stakeholders are really looking for,” Andrew continues.

Region leading the way

All of this also required refreshing the tools and systems at the core, Dirk says, and this has been rolling out in African and the Middle East.
“This is supporting functions like demand forecasting and planning, global trade management, sourcing and contract management.,” he says. It was driven by ambition, and need. "Our supply chains in telecoms, especially in the region, are very complicated and these tools make this better.”

Advanced business analytics

The end goal that they are working towards is a procurement cockpit. This is a single system that would offer a user absolutely everything they need for 'decision support' across the regions and categories, Dirk and Andrew explain. This will be supplemented with external data, including market insights.

And it is cloud-based, mobile-accessible, and capable of natural language processing. “All of this is helping us procure better and smarter, and at the right time,” says Dirk.

Kate Ferreira is the contributing editor of Bespoke's Bulletin - www.bespoke.co.za

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Posted on September 25, 2019