August 26, 2021

About the Digital Transformation of Procurement – interview with Alexis de Nervaux

By Patrick Chabannes

“Chief Data Officers (CDOs) are the allies of Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs) in the digital transformation. Making data talk is everyone’s business.”

Patrick Chabannes : What does Digital Transformation mean to you as Chief Digital Officer (CDO) in addition to your role as CIO?

Alexis de Nervaux : In my opinion, the digital transformation of companies can be seen from two different and complementary angles: external and internal.

  • Externally, it’s all the new offers and new services that digital solutions can create, acting on the Go to Market, visibility on the net, eCommerce. It is therefore everything that enables a company to access markets and position new value offers.
  • Internally, it is the achievement of operational excellence. In fact, by using the various levers offered by digital, it is possible to desilute the business departments to improve the experience of employees, the efficiency of processes and the automation of repetitive tasks.
  • Let’s add that in the industrial sector, digital transformation is associated with what is known as Industry 4.0. The aim is to achieve industrial excellence by improving productivity, rationalising costs without cutting back on quality, speeding up automation while optimising planning and placing human and environmental aspects at the centre of this transformation.

Patrick Chabannes :
What about the digitalisation of processes?

Alexis de Nervaux : A digital transformation consists of implementing tools and software to improve and simplify the management of business processes. Without neglecting the difficulties, today, implementing tools is relatively simple and well-tried. SaaS applications, for example, are generally secure, reliable and meet established business needs.
In comparison, the structuring of the data captured by these tools and processes is much more complex to manage effectively. This is a territory that is often little or not explored enough and, in my opinion, it is one of the sinews of war.

“Digital transformation only makes sense and is only interesting if it allows us to respond to clearly identified business problems based on concrete use cases.”

Patrick Chabannes : Capturing data… Purchasing, like other departments, has been doing this for a long time, right?

Alexis de Nervaux : Of course, the various departments in a company have been collecting data for a long time and are now trying to structure it to make it usable. Often the departments have undertaken this work in silos and to a greater or lesser extent. The objective, in the end, is to manage to aggregate the data from each business unit to produce more global information. Thus, the implementation of a cross-functional Master Data Management system, for example, to break down silos and enable the consolidation of data from sales, purchasing and production is a solution that should be considered. As always, the implementation of a tool, however good it may be, is not enough. It must be accompanied by a real change management programme, the creation of a dedicated team and the implementation of global data governance.

Patrick Chabannes : What is the role of Procurement in this digital transformation?

Alexis de Nervaux : Purchasing is an important part of the digital transformation. Who better than Purchasing knows our Suppliers, those external collaborators with whom we build value for our customers? Purchasing is the key contact for supplier data, both for risk and cost control.

“Digital transformation is intimately linked to the exploitation of data.

Patrick Chabannes : Could you come back to this notion of “making data speak” that we see written all over the place?

IAlexis de Nervaux : f you listen to the promoters of Big Data solutions, it would be “enough” to entrust them with our data for “magic” algorithms to automatically propose intelligent recommendations. The communications on the subject are, in my experience, relatively embellished.
Don’t put words in my mouth, Big Data tools are extremely useful and powerful, but it is only possible to make data speak if you have first identified the problems you wish to address using this data! Digital transformation is only meaningful and interesting if it allows us to respond to clearly identified business problems based on concrete use cases.

Patrick Chabannes : What would be the ideal approach in your opinion? From vision to execution

Alexis de Nervaux : As you put it so well: vision and execution.
Digital transformation, like digitalisation, needs a vision, a course, a goal. It is a path to this ideal world embracing a wealth of data and parameters. This is what is happening today. Everyone has masses of data and what do you do with it?
Execution is then paramount. The first step on the path: zoom in on a case carefully selected with the business on a given perimeter and with a manageable volume of data and number of parameters. Then start again, multiply the cases and the experience gained will make each step easier. The consolidation of all these zooms will make it possible to obtain a “big picture” and thus to exploit this data globally, in the service of the company’s strategy.

Chief Data Officers (CDOs) are the allies of Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs) in the digital transformation. Making data talk is everyone’s business.

  • Alexis de Nervaux is Group Chief Digital & Information Officer of Terreal,
  • Interviewed by Patrick Chabannes, Cyrenac Conseil, for the Barometer on the Success of digitalization of Procurement