The COVID-19 outbreak has placed a lot strain—and attention—on supply chains and the procurement process. Companies are relying on software solutions more than ever to maintain their supply chains and support the procurement process.

ASUG recently sat down with Chris Haydon, president of SAP procurement solutions, to discuss SAP’s approach to intelligent spend and how SAP is addressing customer concerns and requests through its procurement offerings.

Jim: Chris, thanks for joining me. Why don’t you start by explaining your current responsibilities?

Chris Haydon, President of SAP Procurement Solutions

Chris: This is a newly formed function within SAP, as we want to take an end-to-end, full-market view of winning in the various lines of business or market segments. I’m leading the end-to-end business strategy approach and the customer-facing voice and persona for SAP Procurement Solutions, which includes SAP Ariba, SAP Fieldglass and SAP S/4HANA operational procurement. I help orchestrate our go-to-market strategies, customer success organizations, and our product and engineering organizations. My team is always looking at how we can orchestrate the best capabilities of SAP from a product, sales, and service perspective to deliver business outcomes for the customer.

Jim: You’ve been working in this particular space at SAP for some time, including in your previous role as the chief strategy officer for SAP Ariba. How has this experience equipped you for your current position?

Chris: I started studying computing in university back in the day, before moving into procurement. I worked in procurement for one of our customer organizations for nearly a decade. I’ve been an actual practitioner, whether it’s as a purchasing officer or working in strategic sourcing. I’ve walked a mile in our customer’s shoes. And that has certainly helped me. The first operating site I was at just happened to run SAP, as well.

I was working on the business network side of a company that was acquired by Ariba. This gave me a great understanding of how to manage and orchestrate the end-to-end procurement and supply chain processes from VRP to ERP and everything in between.

While working in the SAP Ariba ecosystem, I had several roles including leading product and solution management, directing strategy, and overseeing the customer organization (which includes the renewal base, adoption, services, and support). All this has given me a full 360-degree view of the technology and how it applies to the business outcome. This background, combined with the fact that I’m a fellow practitioner, has augmented me well.

Jim: How has the customer perspective assisted you in your current role?

Chris: It’s something we talk so much about. It’s not about what features and functions we offer in our products. It’s about the business outcomes the customer wants to achieve and aligning our capabilities to help the customer achieve them. I’m always thinking about things such as what a purchasing officer needs to do or how to assist a category manager. Admittedly, I’m a bit rusty in some areas. But I think the customers keep you pretty honest. Understanding what they do and putting it in context is very important.

Jim: Can you explain SAP’s approach to intelligent spend? What advantages do organizations gain by looking at these business functions holistically?

Chris: Organizations need to manage the end-to-end outcome across their whole spend base while also being very sophisticated in where they apply the resources. That translates to supply base development, learning the cost of goods sold, and boosting sales, revenue and customer retention. Our approach to spend management is ensuring we look across the four pillars of the spend that need to be managed, whether that’s indirect, direct, maintenance, repair, operating supplies, or services. It’s not just about SAP Ariba, SAP Fieldglass, or SAP Concur. We think about this as an end-to-end process.

That’s our differentiator. Our customers and partners are always encouraging that end-to-end view. They are largely tired of bespoke solutions. While bespoke solutions can drive deep into some specific scenarios and networks, harnessing that end-to-end visibility is vital.

Jim: What are some of the main customer pain points that you keep hearing about in the intelligent spend space? How is SAP addressing those pain points?

Chris: Adoption is number one. We are always considering how to make the solutions easier to use. But it isn’t just ease of use. We are also always examining how to eliminate transactions and rethink the way these processes are done to make them more efficient. The second pain point is surrounding insights. Our customers want impactful insight to help them make faster decisions, whether that’s supply chain visibility or running sourcing events. In our road map, we are focusing on the outcome experience for all our applications and procurement processes.

Jim: Congratulations on a successful SAP Ariba Live digital conference. I know it can be difficult to pivot from a live event to a digital one. What were your thoughts on how the event went?

Chris: I was excited and surprised by the basic views we had. Roughly speaking by the numbers, normally for SAP Ariba Live we host about 3,500 to 4,000 people. For our virtual event, we had more than 12,000 digital attendees and more than 15,000 views of the keynote and breakout sessions This event showed the power of digital, and I think that goes to the core of what SAP is all about: the digital network. We were able to get more partners, suppliers, and buyers than we imagined.

We also brought a lot of value to our customers. The power of SAP Ariba Live has always been customer-led and interactive. Being able to host it digitally was very well appreciated by our users.

Jim: During SAP Ariba Live, you announced that SAP was opening access to SAP Ariba Discovery to noncustomers. Why don't you walk me through why SAP made that decision and what you hope will come out of it?

Chris: SAP Ariba Discovery always been open to everyone. What we wanted to do, frankly, is remove all barriers and match supply with demand, so we dropped the fee for suppliers to respond to buyer postings until the end of June 2020. SAP is all about making the world run better improving people’s lives. Some of the early indications coming out of Asia about COVID-19 centered around trying to find and match medical supplies. That got us thinking this would be a good idea.

The response has been very, very gratifying. We just wanted to help companies match supply and demand in this critical time. As we all know now, supply chains impact all of our daily lives.

Jim: Speaking of COVID-19, this outbreak has led to substantial challenges for the procurement process. What are some of the ways you’re seeing businesses deal with these challenges?

Chris: The spirit of camaraderie and partnership, without the need for a legal agreement, is a big corporate jump. We are seeing a lot of that right now during the pandemic. It’s not about being a buyer, supplier, or competitor. It’s about being a constituent in the community.

Another thing I’ve been watching companies adopt is a day zero startup mentality. I came from a startup, back in the day. People are actively exploring the art of the possible. That’s what you do every day in a startup environment. You try one thing today and something different the next day.

There’s a mindset that the current process doesn’t work. So, maybe now it’s time to rethink the way we do things and develop a new paradigm. I’m a positive individual, so I think seeing this lean-in attitude is fantastic. We’re also seeing a lot more companies trying to understand how all this affects people and how they can help their employees deal with being remote. That’s positive.

Jim: How are customers who use the SAP procurement solutions better equipped to deal not only with these current challenges but also any future ones?

Chris: When you do business with a great company like SAP, with its fantastic customer base and financial strength, we have assurances that we can keep the lights on because we’re entrusted to run customers’ business processes.

The second thing is a large number of our procurement customers are in the cloud. The ability to deploy, ramp up, right, change, and reconfigure processes is accelerated. Now when the appetite is increased and the barriers to change management are now different, cloud-deployed systems give customers a degree of agility and continuity that is highly valued.

As the future changes, we just keep rolling. The acceleration to more digital interactions, collaborations, and infrastructure is only going to increase after COVID-19. It’s still very early and we want to make sure we focus on getting out of this crisis while helping our customers get out of it. But until there’s no doubt the repercussions of COVID-19 are going to refactor industry.

Jim: What are some of the innovations coming down the road that excite you the most?

Chris: We’re hyper-focused on changing and giving a differentiated outcome experience for our customers. I’m particularly excited about how we can start including risks and increasingly sustainability events, alerts and notifications into any segment or any portion of the end-to-end procurement process and supply chain. That’s where we can put important information and insights into the hands of the people to make better, faster, and more-informed decisions. I’m excited about that as we journey through our road map.

Secondarily, I’m very excited about how we will continue to grow out and support more of the direct materials capability. How can we make supply chains more agile and drive visibility? Driving the end-to-end intelligent enterprise approach across our customer base is a big innovation that I’m excited about. Our customers and our clients are always telling us to “unleash the end-to-end.”

Jim: As a business leader during this crisis, what’s the most important thing that you’ve learned so far that you’ll carry with you after all this is over?

Chris: I think the most important thing is having the courage to re-question every process. I can’t recall a more hectic time other than when I was working at a Los Angeles startup and I didn’t see the sun for six weeks. Seriously, I did not see the sun. I was working 14 hours a day for six weeks.

When you can get different organizations to rethink the process and focus together, it’s just amazing what you can unpack and do. If we can make use of this situation, I think we can overcome the next crisis when it comes and act in a more responsive way than what we’ve done. I don't know whether you can ever predict these things, but how you respond is the real measure.

Jim: Chris, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it

Register today for ASUGFORWARD our virtual experience June 22–25, and hear Chris Haydon speak on an Ask-the-Experts panel focused on procurement.