Vodafone Procurement Company: transforming the approach

Vodafone Procurement Company: transforming the approach

Transformation. It’s the major trend of the supply chain industry. And with good reason — it is essential to achieving sustained success long-term. Ninian Wilson, Global Supply Chain Director and CEO of Vodafone Procurement Company, has been with the organisation since 2009. He initially joined in an IT role before transitioning into his current role in 2016. 

As one of the first objectives upon his arrival, Wilson helped establish a transformation strategy for the organisation. The strategy, called ‘Our House’, was created with a clear mission statement: to be the best digital supply chain management (SCM) team in a connected world, powered by people and partnering to create value through innovation and ecosystem management. There are four main rooms of the house: the kitchen, games room, garage and dining room. “The kitchen is owned by the Chief Operating Officer. The best things happen in the kitchen, so naturally that’s where we run operations from,” explains Wilson. “In the garage, we have our innovation centre where we incubate small companies that can create value, whether that’s increased revenue, profit or taking costs out of Vodafone. The games room allows us to trial new things. For example, we try new technology to use internally in supply chain management. If it works, we scale it. If it doesn’t, then we simply turn it off. Finally, we have the dining room, which represents our supply chain management sales. We work with external clients; not just for Vodafone. We invite those external clients into the dining room to see what we’ve developed and to support them in their procurement activities.”

With that clear plan in place, Wilson believes the reason the house strategy has been successful is because it allows the different categories to be split up and looked after individually, while also enabling staff to take responsibility for their respective areas. “‘Our House’ is built on solid foundation blocks around health & safety, purpose and inspiring our people,” he explains. “When I first joined, our staff decided to renovate the house, took ownership and transformed it by changing some of the themes. It’s great when people feel that the whole SCM organisation is their house and they own it.”

Vodafone Procurement Company oversees its procurement operations in Luxembourg via a centralised procurement model. The organisation manages 83% of Vodafone’s overall spend and supports all 24 of Vodafone’s operating companies. With technology beginning to take a firm hold in the supply chain industry, Vodafone Procurement Company has become more data-focused, building inconsiderable digital visibility into supply chain operations. “We’ve built a procurement control centre here in Luxembourg that gives us a view of every single purchase order from the operating companies in near real-time. We can then map all of our performance metrics into that near real-time platform,” says Wilson. “We’ve added a tremendous amount of digital visibility into our supply chain operations, and to help create that capability we’ve employed several data scientists. It’s a truly international operation and the team helps us to remain focused on digitalising everything we do in the supply chain.”

Although Wilson recognises the value of implementing technology, he believes it’s important to not just introduce new processes for the sake of it. “There are things you should try to see if they work, because it’s important to improve your capabilities and knowledge. That’s why we ensure we have a separate budget to try new things which may or may not work,” explains Wilson. “Once we’ve seen, understood and analysed a specific technology, we then create a business case for implementation and are rigorous on how we implement that new technology and capability within the organisation.” Over the past few years, Vodafone Procurement Company has sharpened its focus on digitalisation significantly. To Wilson, operations are centred around ‘performance management and metrics’. “If you think of that transactional activity, it’s all digitalised and metric driven. The next step we’re working on is adding artificial intelligence (AI) into our processes,” he says. “In our procurement organisation, everything is digitally presented on scorecards. There’s no PowerPoint presentation. Over the past year, we’ve slowly increased our interest in AI and machine learning (ML), which is centered around category management and the tender process. It’s a work in progress and will enable us to ensure we’ve covered all the pieces of the value stream and digitalised over a three to five year journey.”

With continuous improvement a key component of Wilson’s mantra, he believes that you can’t afford to stand still. “If you win a gold medal at the Olympics, you've done very well in your particular sport, but the people who really stand out are the ones who win consistently and keep on breaking world records,” he says. “This applies to us because we want to have a mentality where it’s about being excellent at what we do and continually improving all of our metrics, costs and performance. It’s a mindset which we have here in the leadership team and in supply chain management.” While Wilson believes his organisation is in a great place, he also understands the necessity of striving to be better every year. “It’s so important that we all have the mindset around improvement and excellence, because we can always do better every year,” says Wilson. “Everyone else in procurement improves, so you’ve got to keep trying to enhance yourself, team and function. I’m a great believer in continuous improvement and striving for things that seem impossible.”

Vodafone Procurement Company values its collaboration with other companies. Wilson points to the 12 strategic partnerships which exist as key network and IT vendors. “Our partnerships are grounded in strong commercial foundations. For example, if we’re working with a technology partner with state-of-the-art technology, then we think about how we manage those relationships so that we both get mutual benefit,” he explains. “Every two months there will be a 90-minute check-in for some of the key technology partners. There are two parts to the agenda; there's a review of performance and then there’s new releases that the vendor would like to come and talk to us about.”

Looking to the future, Wilson believes that Vodafone is built for success in the ever-evolving supply chain industry over the next few years. “We have a tremendous European platform now, following the acquisitions which we completed last year in Germany and central and eastern Europe,” he explains. “In terms of future evolution of the industry, I think we’re seeing more automation of the menial tasks and more AI and ML being leveraged. Blockchain is also becoming more important in the supply chain space and that’s a really positive development for the industry. Ultimately, digitalisation and transparency will walk hand in hand together and continue to transform the supply chain over the next five years.”

Ninian Wilson