Buying Tech – Your Ticket to the Top!

No, I haven’t misspelt “BioTech” in the headline here – I genuinely mean that experience buying technology could fast-track your career to the Boardroom.

I wrote yesterday on Procurious that IT procurement professionals are best-positioned to become the next generation of CPOs (Chief Procurement Officers) or CIOs (Chief Information Officers).

But one hour ago I decided to upgrade this career trajectory to Board level.

Why? Because I just heard first-hand how some of the world’s largest industrial companies are turning their businesses on their heads, to focus not so much on the goods they make, but the services they can provide to complement those goods.

At this week’s ProcureCon IT conference in Amsterdam, banks, car companies, engine makers and other industries all made their way to the stage to tell a similar story. You see, they’ve all finally come around to Michael Porter’s way of thinking. It’s all about delighting and owning the customer – or, more specifically, the customer data.

Even the most traditional sectors represented at the conference made it clear that they are banking their futures on technology. Yes, of course they’ll still offer their core products, such as making cars or managing money, but their key competitive advantage will be in the CX they create through understanding their customers’ needs and habits. The data they capture when customers use their products and services is essential for this understanding.

So – to be successful into the future, these bricks-and-mortar businesses will have to start adding some very different (and expensive) topics to their Board meeting agendas.

Decisions might include:

·     whether to store all their precious customer data in the cloud or in data centres,

·     how to protect their IP and their customers’ privacy from hackers,

·     how to comply with privacy legislation, and

·     which technology vendors to tie their futures to (or not!).

These issues have existed in business for a long time, but they now come with such significant expenditure and risk profiles that they will warrant serious Board contemplation and approval.

But who on the Board will have the experience and knowledge to provide useful and constructive insights for making these critical business decisions?

Enter stage left – the Technology procurement leader.

I’ve been reading and writing about the seismic shifts in the world of Industry 4.0, but today the penny finally dropped. I now realise what a huge opportunity the next Industrial Revolution is for procurement. It is indeed a brave new world, and to my delight it has became very clear to me that the fastest career ticket you can buy yourself to the Boardroom (via the c-suite) is to become a commercially savvy technology buyer.

Whether you are in IT procurement or not, you should be focussing on developing these four key skills to secure your ticket to the top:

Big Data Analytics

There is going to be a lot of customer data collected over the coming years. The companies that can extract the best insights from that data and adapt their products and services to meet customer needs will secure their competitive advantage. Executives with a proven track record in complex analytics will be a valuable addition to the c-suite.

Data Security

Cyber security is already one of the most concerning issues for CEOs and this will only be amplified in the future as more and more proprietary information is created. The executive team will need leaders who know about global privacy laws, the pros and cons of the cloud vs traditional data centres, and how to outsmart the latest human or robotic hacking capability.

Dissecting the Digital Landscape

Companies are already in dire need of directors and executives who understand the difference between the Ethernet and the Internet (hint: it’s like comparing a glass of water with the ocean). A whole new universe of technology options are forming as the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 explode. Boards desperately need digitally native, tech-savvy executives who can quickly analyse opportunities, understand the competitive landscape and engage first-mover start-ups in a commercially astute manner.

Busting the Big Guys

This isn’t a competency description that you would typically see listed on a corporate job description, but from what I’ve heard over the past two days, every company is going to need a group of strong, strategic commercial leaders who can ensure the organisation doesn’t become captive to one of the big technology suppliers. Without naming names, there are a handful of global players who dominate the infrastructure, hardware and software space.

Whilst IT procurement professionals genuinely want to engage the niche players, requirements around scale, scope and compliance inevitably lead to the large technology providers. These are somewhat symbiotic relationships, but (as we all know) there are huge inherent risks to any monopoly supply situation.

So, if you’re ambitious, my career advice to you today is this – do all you can to get yourself into a role where you’ll learn these sought-after skills. A role in technology procurement would be perfect; procurement second-best (because every procurement professional learns essential commercial and negotiation skills). If you’re not in procurement at all, the IT profession is another place where you’ll be able to gain the experience required to tick some of these boxes when it comes time to be interviewed for the c-suite – or hopefully, the Board!

See you at the top!

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