CEO Q&A: Ingrid de Doncker, iDDea

Business, Interviews | Wed 11 Oct | Author – Business & Finance ingrid de doncker iddea

Ingrid de Doncker, CEO iDDea, gives advice on procurement, understanding yourself first and foremost and recognising your challenges to tackle them head-on.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My main priority as CEO is to look after our team. If I do not do that well, I do not have a business, I would not have satisfied customers. The main focus of my team is to look after our customers. We are a customer-centric company and listening and learning from them allows us to understand and address their challenges and to support them with our expertise.

We are a collaborative bunch, we like working together and it is our goal to deliver the optimum decision for our customers’ needs and wants: buying the right product or service for the best price, for the desired quantity and quality, at the right time from the right supplier.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as a CEO?

The biggest challenge for me was becoming an expert in all areas of business. Knowing yourself should be the first lesson in any business school, knowing the other should be a very close second. It is important to recognise the skills you have and surround yourself with people who have the skills you don’t. I have worked in purchasing and procurement for 20 years. I am passionate about it. However, being good at one thing, does not make you a good CEO, in fact, to be a CEO, you must be good at many roles, such as business development, sales, finance, IT and HR. It didn’t come naturally to me and it still does feel alien sometimes but fortunately, I have support from some great mentors and I hired very good people for the roles I was not good in.

The second biggest challenge is keeping up with the latest trends. The ubiquity of data, digital and technology solutions and the changing customer demands has shortened life cycles and time-to-market targets. The current business environment is very fast paced. It feels we are constantly on choppy waters without a haven in sight. By staying true to ourselves, and staying close to our customers, by staying open-minded and interested in the future, we use these changes to our advantage.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

We’re a small team so there are many advantages. We have a family feel, people express their opinions openly and honestly. Everyone is treated with respect. There is no hierarchy and because of that, everyone has autonomy in their roles.

I don’t think the 9-5 structure suits everyone, so we take a flexible approach. If someone wants to arrive at the office earlier or later or work from home it’s no problem. Do not get me wrong, the team works really hard but goes the extra mile for every customer, they demonstrate great ownership of customer service.

When a customer sends a complimentary email or praises one of the team, we share it. When my team works very hard on a project, we try to make sure there are some extra days off so they can spend time with their families or lengthen a hard-earned holiday.

Q. What are the challenges facing your industry going forward?

There are a few and they all relate to five key areas: people, process, knowledge, technology, organisation and culture.

People – Procurement is not recognised as a profession while every company spends money. There are some 13,500 procurement professionals in Ireland but the 164,000 SMEs are spending money as well. Spending money wisely should be common sense, yet that is not always the case.

Process – The process of buying is not standardised and is sometimes over-complicated. It should be as simple and lean as possible, to get the right products and services while minimising disruption and risk. Complex maybe, not complicated, that is the mantra.

Knowledge – Procurement people are often seen as administrators rather than subject matter experts. Good procurement people add value to the company through understanding their supply base and expanding their market knowledge. Bringing this insight back to the business is a lifelong learning and a mindset that creates value for the stakeholders and the business.

Technology – Digital disruption, AI, blockchain, robots, RPA, NLP, cloud. Soon we will have business applications available where buyers will be able to focus on the value-add. Robots will do the process flow activities.

Organisations – On average, procurement spends 65% of any businesses turnover. That is significant. Such a strategic spend needs to be managed by people who are knowledgeable, skilled, experienced and able to make the best decisions. However, recognition of the strategic contribution of procurement professionals is still lagging. Top-performing buyers achieve 10% more savings, return 22% higher margin to the business, add 7% additional revenue and deliver ROI of more than 7:1.

Companies who do not understand and leverage the strategic contribution of the procurement lose valuable profits in the short term, but more importantly, risk sustainable growth in the long term.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Procurement as a function has never led the market in innovation or new trends. We gather lagging data indicators from various commodities, in different industries, from multiple categories and we forecast best-buying decisions by evaluating these trends and insights in the context of our customers.

Digital disruption and new SMART tools are high on the agenda for everyone. Here also, procurement as a function is tracking behind what is new in relation to other functions, such as finance, sales, marketing, supply chain. Soon, however, procurement also will be able to use insight from leading data indicators and by applying AI business tools, augmented by human expertise and intelligence, the strategic value contribution of procurement will be measurable beyond savings only.

Other trends pivot around new topics such as innovation, collaboration, ICT, sustainability and circular economy. Multinationals, the EU and OECD public procurement, especially, are debating and promoting these new topics as key differentiation for future procurement decisions. As buyers, we have a great opportunity to ‘buy right’ for the 3Ps: People, Planet, Profit. The selection criteria for the best decision should be the best blend of these.

“When a customer sends a complimentary email or praises one of the team, we share it. When my team works very hard on a project, we try to make sure there are some extra days off so they can spend time with their families or lengthen a hard-earned holiday.”

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

I would like to see two major changes for our profession:

  1. The procurement community itself needs to unite, work together and become more aware of the value we create for our business, and the potential that it holds. The average spend procurement manages is 65% of the turnover. We can buy innovative solutions when our market and product knowledge matches our stakeholders’ needs. We improve buying green and making sustainable decisions. We are sitting at the front end of a lot of operational and strategic decisions. We need to market our value by delivering best decisions while minimising risk. That is our role.
  2. If businesses want their buyers to have a competitive advantage in their market, they need to address the investment gap in mindset, skill set and tool set. Businesses need to understand that, once you invest in optimising and transforming your buying team or department and give them the right tools, the measurements of the benefits of buyers will quickly go beyond savings. As a matter of fact, cost savings will become a lot less important and CPOs will be able to report on strategic growth metrics rather than cost savings only. That is a short-term view. Training and development programmes need to focus on developing the skills gaps. Per role, per level of impact, these development programmes need to ensure the principles of procurement are understood and applied in the business. Not investing in the skills development of buyers will cost them a lot of money and the measurable benefits of 5% better buying to the profits can be as much as increasing sales by 50%.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

Procurement and supply chain are experiencing huge issues with skills gaps and resources into our domain. 10% of vacancies are unfilled. Recruitment agencies are robbing Peter to pay Paul with the good buyers that are in the market. There are not enough buyers and there is very little done about marketing procurement as a profession or career. With lecturing in UCC on procurement and developing a Master’s for Procurement for graduates for 2018, we hope to address this skills and resource gap in time. Key to this is to educate businesses that procurement skill sets reach further than only the professional acumen. It is also emotional intelligence and other business acumen skills that buyers need to be proficient in, so in building job specifications, I would strongly recommend hiring managers to look at both the soft and hard skills required.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

I started my business in the downturn in 2013. After 20 years as a procurement professional in various roles, various sectors and industries, I realised that the principles of good procurement are the same. The context changes but ‘doing the right thing and doing it right’ from a buying point of view, is the same wherever you are. That is still our company motto, our core belief. That is why I started this company. Knowledge transfer, peer-to-peer learning and sharing best practices is very valuable and satisfying.

Irrespective of any banking or economic crisis, ‘doing the right thing and doing it right’ is always going to support business growth.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

As a company, we did not wait for a Brexit impact to potentially disrupt us. We took the decision to review our end-to-end supply chain for services and we now have continuity in place. We did our value and risk analysis and decided to make these changes for our own business continuity and guarantee of current services. We managed this transition over the last 6 months seamlessly and are delighted that for iDDea we are well set and have all our main deliverables under control. We looked at it as part of our own business growth and continuity and in reality, Brexit wasn’t a catalyst for this.

For our customers, however, all industries and sectors will be impacted in a different way, be it currency, financial management, supply-base contingency, logistics, direct sourcing or lead-time impact. Most of the companies trading via the UK are aware of the currency conversion impact. However, anything outside of currency seems an unknown quantity and companies are reluctant or simply do not know how to critically assess various scenarios. Business continuity planning is an exercise in being able to imagine the ‘what-if’ and ‘worst-case’ scenarios that could impact their business. Brexit should not be the instigator to elevate its importance, all companies should have visibility, predictability and resilience build into their supply base.

We are working with many SMEs as well as Enterprise Ireland clients to support that scenario of planning and enable them with simple mapping tool kits, templates, and guides to ‘go do’. It will build a more resilient and proactive approach to their end-to-end supply chain and it will give confidence that if ‘worst case’ happens, they have a roadmap of sustainable solutions.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success lies in the value we create, problems we solve, relationships we develop and partnerships we deepen. At heart, my team, with their relentless pursuit of delivering their best for the customer, want to make a difference. 90% of our business comes from referrals. People recommend us to peers and colleagues who have procurement or sourcing pain points to address. We follow our own methodology of iDDea: Intent, Diagnose, Design, Execute and Augment. We measure our progress and success from the eyes of the customer. We are successful because we are people working with and for the benefits of other people. We understand, unlock and unravel their challenges and address them together. We go on the journey with our clients and together we deliver change for the better.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Ask for help. Reach out to your network, learn from others. Simultaneously pay back and pay forward, coach, mentor, share, be accessible, be available and just be yourself. I still do not do it enough, I think I am the only one having an issue or a challenge, however I cannot be further from the truth! Other people have dealt with the same challenges before and successfully so we can learn a lot from listening to them but we need to reach out.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Our business model has various strands. I lecture in Procurement Management in UCC. We coach buyers, managers and CPOs one-to one and in workshops. We manage tenders and recommend buying decisions. We provide digital platform solutions for companies who want to do all the stages of strategic sourcing themselves. Our customer base is quite diverse, from micro companies to multinationals, from private to public sector. We work with all main industries.

As you can see, our knowledge and expertise is niche. However, our reach and impact is very broad, so it is hard to answer that question. One interesting fact, and for us a highlight, is our partnership with a sales company, the other side of the same coin. Altify is a digital sales transformation business and iDDea, a procurement consultancy team, is their research partner of choice. While many think this an unusual partnership, it not only works, it augments the understanding for both sides and it shows me that we are on the right path. To work together, to unearth the common challenges we have and trying to find solutions is very gratifying. To get recognition and to collaborate with a sales team, that shares similar values, is a win-win for both. This is true co-creation. Sitting alongside them, as a subject-matter expert, to understand pain points and challenges has re-enforced our belief that ‘people buy from people, people sell to people’. When everything else is equal, trust is the only differentiator between better and best.

Q. What’s next for your company?

iDDea has big plans and in collaboration with UCC, DCU, Arvo, and 10 other European procurement competency centres, we are putting the final touches on bringing to market a centre of excellence in procurement – the Procurement Transformation Institute (PTI). PTI’s purpose is to develop procurement professionals to a best-practice framework to promote the value of procurement, create an inclusive community and improve procurement impact on business results. PTI will develop a vibrant procurement community to develop and promote peer-to-peer learning and innovation. With the asking of strategic partners in public and private sector all I can say is watch this space. For those interested in coming on board and be part of Ireland developing as the leader in Europe for procurement excellence, get in touch to join our advisory group.

We recently partnered with a leading digital company to design the Next Generation trusted procurement platform applications: with the latest digital advancements in mind such as AI, RPA, NLP, cloud, we will facilitate optimum buying decisions on blockchain technology. This is still in development and we aim that Q3 2018 we will share openly the proof of concept and first products can go to market at the end of 2018.

Q. What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2017?

We work very closely together with other partners in the procurement and business space. We truly believe that success needs to be about collaboration and innovation and already we can see steady growth coming through for 2018 and beyond. The market is actively looking to outsource key business services where there exists either time or expertise gaps in-house. Procurement is one of those services. The resource gaps that companies experience drives this demand and the ROI ensures long-term viability of our model.

We proactively plan our business and map our capacity to the needs of our customers. The plans for lifelong learning need to align with the advancements of our customers and vice versa. We create value for our customers by staying fresh, relevant, trustworthy and knowledgeable. In the last month, we have taken on two graduates to train them in procurement methodology. Our team will never stop learning. We pride ourselves on being as knowledgeable about the market as our customer and their suppliers to be able to guide them on the right path to make the best decision.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

iDDea wants to be the procurement partner of choice for any size company in Ireland and Europe because we care, because we understand the challenges and because we can deliver results. We make a difference to the bottom line of any company, our average ROI is 10:1 and when you bring it back to basics, we take the hassle out of buying right and buying the right thing. Call it old fashioned, but procurement is all about applying common sense: the decision process, the people you engage with, the context and environment that empowers or immobilises you, the knowledge and value you share… We know that sense is not always that common but we are looking forward to delivering it and with that, value beyond savings.