Dialogues

Procuring a Passion

Interview with Michael Koh, Regional Head, Procurement of T-Systems

Although many supply chain professionals grew passionate about their jobs, not many actually dreamt of a career in the supply chain industry before entering the workforce. Mr Michael Koh, Regional Head of Procurement of T-Systems, however, may be the few lucky ones.

“When I was serving my National Service, I was not sure of my career choice. In the end, I picked Engineering simply because it was the sexy line of work to get into then. I figured I could always change my major after a year if it does not suit me. Instead, I ended up staying for six years and received my Masters degree at the same time. The subject truly fascinates me. For example, when we put a piece of steel and a piece of plastic on water, we know that the former will sink while the plastic will float. Yet, ships are made of steel. Why is that? It is just mind-blowing,” says the Singaporean with over 16 years of experience.

In this issue of Supply Chain Asia magazine, Mr Koh shares his thoughts on the upcoming technology trends, favourite projects and winning a trophy at Supply Chain Asia Awards 2015.

1. Can you describe your role at T-Systems? What is your top priority as head of procurement?

I am responsible for all third-party purchases of product and services in Asia Pacific. In other words, I support internal purchase and customer project procurement locally and regionally for our global and local customers.

Many of the operational procurement tasks, such as requesting of quotes and purchase order generation, have either been moved to a shared service centre or are automated. By doing so, my teams are able to reduce time spent on operational routine tasks and invest time in the stakeholders by truly understanding their needs and being involved early in the sales cycle. We work with our requestors in joint efforts to ensure smart purchases, eliminate unnecessary costs and maverick spent. This is especially important for service and system integration providers.

My top priorities are year-on-year cost efficiency by ensuring a lower baseline cost with technology advancement and workflow optimisation, personal growth and development of the team, and partnering with innovative vendors.

2. What is it about being in procurement that captures your interest the most?

After graduating from Nanyang Technological University Singapore with a Masters in Materials Engineering, I started my career in procurement. I was successful in providing neutral vendor specification for plastic materials and green manufacturing efforts. Thereafter, I moved on to sourcing, programme management, business process improvement (six sigma), factory quality and supply chain.

Each new role brings new excitement, experiences, and challenges. These roles help me understand how organisations work. In 2010, I moved into project procurement. In project procurement, we connect the suppliers to internal stakeholders. We engage suppliers in complex project together with project managers to optimise the supply chain and ensure smooth delivery.

We participate in “make or buy” decision to create awareness on what can be outsourced and what are in-house. To me, being procurement is the most interesting in the world, there are so much dialogue rich and crucial conversation happening every day to enhance the outcome for the project as a solutions purchaser.

3. What is the project that you like the most?

In T-Systems, we ensure that the company makes smart purchases for goods and services from design and build, to implementation stages for our customers.

Drawing on a global infrastructure of data centres and networks, T-Systems operates information and communication technology (ICT) systems for multinational corporations and public sector institutions.

We have offices in over 20 countries and global delivery capability. This means that T-Systems provides above support to companies in all industries.

I think it is important for everyone to find a purpose in their line of job. For example, I take special pride in projects that are in the healthcare sector. It is very rewarding to see how our services have an impact on the lives of others. When I accompanied my parents to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, I witnessed how much technology has changed healthcare over the years. Waiting time has shortened, inefficiencies have reduced, and billing as well as invoicing processes have improved.

Applying the right procurement strategies help the organisation make healthcare more affordable, sustainable and safe with right suppliers. Procurement reputation is no longer built on justcost savings.

Another project that is close to my heart is the Singapore Sports Hub. It is a world class, integrated sports, entertainment, and lifestyle hub delivering top sporting and entertainment events. Established under a 25-year Public Private Partnership agreement between Sport Singapore and Sportshub Pte Ltd, this visionary project is one of the largest sporting infrastructure projects in the world. My team has received two awards recognitions from T-Systems executive management for successfully managing the cost situation, re-negotiating cost efficiency, and optimisation of the values from the services rendered by providers, which contributed to the overall success of the SEA Games.

4. In your opinion, which technology trend will make the most impact by the year 2020? Why? (e.g. IoT, drones)

Sophisticated artificial intelligence will be forefront. With mobile devices, technology has zero distances with the users. Once every piece of technology is wired up and connected through IoT, I anticipate that disruptive technology would change many industries. As such, I think it is very crucial that we capitalise on this potential quickly and claim the driver seat.

With artificial intelligence, devices can make itself the best Go player by watching the best human player. The catch here is the artificial intelligence needs massive amount of data to work its miracle. In my opinion, robot is the tool, IoT is the connectivity and big data analytics is the artificial intelligence.

I would like to reference The Straits Times article published on 9 March 2016 with the headline “All ready to Go: Top player v Al machine”. That afternoon, South Korean player, Lee So Dol, 32, pitted his mind against a Google developed artificial intelligence programme in a widely watched Go match. Mr Lee is a nine dan player with 18 international titles under his belt. He turned pro at the age of 12 and is currently ranked top in the world. Mr Demis Hassabis, chief executive officer of Deepmind Technologies, wanted to create an artificial intelligence system that can use “unstructured” information from their surroundings to make independent decisions and predictions. By 2020, with the ultimate combination of robot, IoT and artificial intelligence, how we live and work as a society will change.

5. What is your take on the current supply chain landscape in Asia in terms of technology adoption? Is technology adoption growing at an acceptable pace?

Conversations about adoption and pace are taking place all over the world.

While driverless vehicles and drones are relatively new, automation has been used in materials handling for years, and many related systems have evolved or used in other industries. It is more crucial to grasp the upcoming opportunities and challenges as more devices join IoT.

While IoT makes collaboration across boundaries easier, trade and economic policies continue to have impacts in the form of market access. Henceforth, we need to tailor our supply chain to suit the market we are in. The supply chain ecosystem includes both private and public partnership. It is a challenging journey to continue winning over competitors.

We have to become affordable, better in quality, quicker in delivery, and more reliable than our competitors. Procurement has to leverage our suppliers supply chain capabilities to scale across the value chain.

6. How would you encourage SMEs in Asia to look into adopting big data analytics?

I think for most small business owners, the concept of big data analytics is still a mystery. Big data and IoT are buzzwords with costs attached. It is a complex network of hardware, software, colocation, connectivity, devices that enables collection and exchange of data.

To encourage SMEs to look into adopting big data analytics, it is vital to prove the concept works and the underlying cost is reasonable for investment.

7. In your opinion, is there sufficient supply chain talent in the region? Why or why not?

If corporate leaders focus on talent management and successful planning, they will find more than sufficient talents in the region. I believe that talent is likened to gold mining. No one is born a supply chain talent without exposure, opportunities and passion. Instead of citing lack of experience, skill or knowledge as the reasons, it is more meaningful to work closely with educational institutions to create curriculums that close the knowledge gaps.

I also believe that only you can take charge of your personal development. Never stop learning new skills and practicing basic ones. I invest my time doing different roles and speaking with procurement leaders from different industries. Success does not stop at learning. It starts with failures and how to be better in your next chance.

8. What does winning the Individual Award for Supply Chain Professional of the Year (Technology) in SCA Awards 2015 mean to you?

It was such a great feeling being awarded the Individual Award for Supply Chain Professional of the Year (Technology) in SCA Awards 2015. At the same time, I felt a great sense of responsibility. With the responsibility, I like to encourage and hope to inspire more of our young to embark on this rewarding and fulfilling career. I believe our industry needs to do more to groom the next generation of leaders to lead and continue the transformation.

Winning the award has been very, very special for me.

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