Welcome to the Executive Data series.

DXC created this new program to provide advanced insight into the data domain. In a series of conversations, DXC experts will explore data-driven decision making, and offer their perspective about what it takes to be successful in data, information and knowledge activities.

Mohammed 'Khal' Khalid, global advisory director at DXC Technology, will moderate our series. Discussions will draw on research conducted by DXC and upon our executives' experiences working with customers.

In this second conversation, Khal welcomes Data Consulting Lead (UKI) Andrea Bolden. We invite you to listen to their full conversation or, if you don’t have time now, to a short extract about how data segmentation can help identify where to begin to derive the greatest business value from procurement data. You can also find a full transcript of the discussion below.

The conversation

Q.  It's my absolute pleasure today to introduce Andrea Bolden. Andrea, would you like to introduce yourself? 

A. I, like Khal, have had a long career in data. I guess the role that I've performed over those years would be described as the "data translator," working with business customers. So, trying to really understand the data and insights that they need, and then working as a bridge with the technology colleagues to put pragmatic technical solutions in place, and to answer the questions they need to help them make the decisions that they make. 

I've been fortunate to build very long-term relationships with customers and really to get very intimately involved in understanding what it is they need to know. Over the last 18 years I've worked with procurement professionals, and I guess, in that respect, I've become an accidental spend analytics expert with a deep domain knowledge in spend- and procurement-related data, but also in understanding the types of questions that need to be answered and the decisions that need to be made. The "glue in the middle" is where I would describe myself.

Q.  Thinking about spend analytics and the economic environment we're in today, what's the business need that you're hearing about and talking to customers about? And what are customers saying about why they're investing in this area, and what are they looking for from you?

A.   Whether I'm talking to customers in the public or private sector, it's really the same. As you talk about in the DXC research paper about data metabolism, most of the customers that I talk to are still unable to provide data and insights to the people that need it at the right time.

Whether they've invested in technology data solutions (as most of them have), or in data teams and data scientists, the problem is still the complexity of bringing the data together from all of the different source systems that they have. That's the same for any customer, regardless of whether it's spend and procurement analytics, or any other type of analytics. Specifically in this area, large, complex organisations have many enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. They've quite often grown through acquisition. They have different contract management systems, purchase cards, expenses data, e-procurement systems that have been developed and implemented. The investments in those technologies have helped with the improvement in efficiency of the transactional process, but very often they haven't – as was expected – improved the quality of the data. 

Again, as you say in the data metabolism research, the issues are that the processes are not generating good quality data that is well managed. It really is a struggle for many organizations even to answer simple questions like “What's the total spend with a supplier?” when there are many versions of the supplier record across those different systems, with different spellings, different addresses, and no unique identifier to bring them together. That makes it really difficult for them to manage supplier relationships, to add value, and to reduce risk in the supply chain. Similarly, the complexities of trying to bring together the different ways that the spend is classified across those systems in no consistency, really poor quality, in many cases – not in all, but really inconsistent across the whole piece – makes it very difficult even to answer the question “What have we spent our money on?” The data quality is the real problem and challenge they have and what they come to talk to us about.

Q.  Thinking about the work that you've been leading, what does success look like for organizations when you've implemented and supported them through some change?

A. It's quite simple. Most organizations really want their procurement professionals to be able to self-serve with data that's safe. Whether that's strategic planning, and they're putting a 3-year procurement strategy together; whether it's operational, because they're trying to implement efficiencies in the procurement process; or whether it's tactical, management of a particular supplier – they really need to be able to have the information they need at their fingertips, when they need it, and they need to know that it's right.

An example of that would be where a supplier relationship manager is going to have a quarterly meeting with a supplier, or they're going into a negotiation with the supplier and they don’t have the information they need at their fingertips when going into those conversations: what they spent, who they've spent it with, when they've spent it, which departments have spent it, whether the spend is under contract or not. And so they're really at a disadvantage, they're really on the back foot when they're going into those conversations. And it's not uncommon when an organization is large and fragmented to have to go to the supplier and ask the supplier those questions, so really disadvantaged in trying to negotiate. Having the information they trust at their fingertips, being able to self-serve at the point that they need it, is absolutely critical.  

Q.  For most organizations, when they're embarking on either improving on their current investments in this area, or looking just to invest for the first time, how do you help them figure out where the biggest and best opportunities – the low hanging fruit – might be? In other words, how do we help them prioritize where to start?  

A.  Firstly it's really important to give them that visibility over the supply chain and their spend. We need to understand what information they need right now, and we need to be able to fix that situation today to enable the future.

We analyze the available data, because they very often don't have the data available that is able to take them all of the way to answering the question or helping them make the decision. We understand what's possible from the data. We deliver complex automated data curation that iterates over time. We bring in external data sources where we need to, and then we classify the data to appropriate procurement taxonomies. We cluster all of the supplier record instances and, in doing all of that work, it allows us to support the segmentation of the data into a supplier management framework. That's how many of our customers use the data. They have organized themselves around category management with specialist buyers who understand particular categories and the supply chain in those particular categories.

But in segmenting, they can identify where to put their resources and what to do with the categories and with the suppliers that they have. Whether that's a strategic supplier or a strategic category where there are key products and services, they would prioritize the close management of those suppliers in that segment in order to reduce supply chain risk – and to add value to the organization through those relationships.

In the leverage category, where there's an abundant supply of standard commodities, they'd be leveraging buying power. So that will direct them on where they need to have centralized contracts in place, and that's really where they deliver the savings.

In the bottleneck category, where there's limited source of supply, they would want to be actively developing and collaborating with new or niche suppliers, and all of the analysis will help them direct their efforts in each of those areas.  

Q.  Working with procurement professionals who often own this space, and highlighting that maybe they need to do things differently, possibly isn’t the easiest thing to do. In undertaking those conversations, what approaches work best?  

A.  You've talked about this a lot in the past, but "humble inquiry": Really seeking to understand the business decisions and the business questions that they need to answer, and then trying to get to the bottom of the data deficit, the data quality issues, the data that is trusted and that which is not – but without creating tension.

We want to work in partnership with our customers: Leveraging what they've already invested in, making sure that they get the value out of that, and that we improve what they already have, or to help them replace that with something that will deliver what they need into the future.

But we work through pragmatic iteration: We focus on (1) delivering today –  quickly – so that we can deliver value focusing on the business outcome, and then (2) making sure that the solution and the data and insights evolve over time. One key part of this is transparency. While organizations are looking to automate and industrialize the data curation, it's really important that they trust it. So, understanding how human-machine teaming must work in order to be able to deliver that trust: how far we can automate it, where the customer would want us to validate or would want to validate the data themselves. They retain the data stewardship, and we're enabling that improvement to continue to evolve over time – this is a really important piece.

Q. I know you've been working closely with one customer for a number of years, and that journey has been incredibly successful. Can you please tell us a little bit more and talk us through the wonderful example of the work that you've led with the Scottish Government?

A. Scottish Government have been a customer of DXC’s for 17 years, and it has been an ongoing co-creation and continuous evolution of a national spend analytics solution. It's a true partnership, where the technology solution and the automated data curation have always been informed by the data and insights that are needed. And that has evolved in line with the changing needs of the nation's procurement community, and also the change in the availability of data, the quality of data, the volume of data and the available technologies. It has really evolved over time. 

The really interesting thing about the Scottish Government is that they knew from the beginning that, while they needed a national picture of spend to be able to make those big decisions about where they should have national contracts in place – where they should focus on, in terms of common and repetitive spend areas, to make savings – they also knew that the delivery of those savings would happen at ground level. Not only did they put in a national spend analytics solution that would give the central government view and the national view, every single one of the over 100 public sector bodies that participate in providing data have the data back, so that at a local level they can implement the strategies that have been put in place centrally. Every single individual organization is served and interprets the data as relevant to their level.  

Q.  Some would see the same approach working in a similar way with a large complex organization that wants to understand its group-wide spend versus a specific line of business spend.  

A.  The interesting thing I have found working in this area for such a long time is that, whether I work with large private sector organizations or groups of public sector organizations, exactly as you've said, it's really no different.

The questions that they are trying to answer, and the decisions that they're trying to make, are the same. And by and large – particularly in the indirect spend area – the suppliers, and the things that are being bought, are very often the same.

Q.  Final closeout question for me today is, as you look back on this tremendous career and the impact that you've made, what advice would you give your younger self? What might you do differently going forward?

A.  I think I would tell myself to relax and that I don't need all of the answers. I need to ask and listen and try to understand, and that it's OK to be the glue in the middle because that's needed just as much as the specialist components and expertise. 

About the speakers


Mohammed 'Khal' Khalid is global advisory director at DXC Technology, working with customers to make real change happen. As a coach and experienced business leader, Khal previously spent 9 years with Gartner as regional vice president of executive programs, leading a team of highly experienced former CIOs and IT executives in the Benelux region. A former chief knowledge officer and CIO and now a business advisor, he is passionate about helping organizations exceed their objectives and goals. Read his most recent research paper Boosting data metabolism to improve decision making. Connect with Khal on LinkedIn.

Andrea Bolden is the UKI Data Consulting lead at DXC Technology. As a 6 Sigma Black Belt, she has been a team builder and leader at DXC, playing a critical role in defining business needs for our customers and translating them to objectives, technical architectures, data curation and advanced analytics solutions. From national governments to multinational companies, Andrea's passion for customers, product, quality and efficiency has made her an expert in delivering the right solutions in even the most complex projects. Her drive to make a difference makes her a mentor, motivator and leader. Connect with Andrea on LinkedIn.