CPO Interview: MTN Group’s Dirk Karl | by Kate Ferreira

Dirk Karl 2MTN’s Dirk Karl heads up the group’s procurement and supply chain management. Based in Dubai, and servicing the broader MTN Group, Dirk comes from a mixed career background incorporating 18 countries, and capabilities such as procurement, banking and IT – at companies such as GM (General Motors) and Deutsche Telekom. He joined MTN Group officially in November 2017.

Dirk describes his role and the team’s workload as “an end-to-end responsibility for the group”, including supply chain, freight, logistics, warehousing, forecasting, demand management, planning and fulfilment, and centralised strategic sourcing.

With a year in the role under his belt, Dirk and his team have been taking on a number of key projects and activities aimed at transforming supply chain for the telco group, to be leaner, more agile, and cost-effective – and to support significant group initiatives like “Connect the unconnected” which seeks to offer products and services that will connect African communities in a more affordable way.

Focus on capabilities
The team has multiple focuses such as category management (CM), demand planning and fulfilment, and ultimately a procurement excellence focus. They’re driving an organisational change by introducing contract management as a function within procurement, looking at managing the lifecycle of contractual engagements with vendors, and a more collaborative approach with the business function.

To be more agile in this sphere, Dirk is also pushing towards an iterative approach in terms of sourcing stages with suppliers. “What I found is that we take too long in order to come to contract closure. In collaboration with the business, taking an iterative (rather than being linear) to procure faster and to get to contracting stage quicker with our vendors.”

In terms of CM, they take a one to three-year view of categories, asking what they want to achieve within a next release of a category plan, all in partnership with the business. They also aim to be much more analytical, says Dirk. “In the CM refresh, we are trying to get capabilities to understand the technical requirements, understand the future evolution of price curves, and to track the cost drivers for this supply. It is a major initiative under the CM vision. What I can‘t ‘tear down’ or dismantle into the various components, I also can’t measure in terms of price evolution.”

Going digitalMTN GSSC
Within the centre, they are actively pursuing a digitalisation agenda working towards self-service and automation “to have more efficient procurement running costs, enhancing the natural technologies for our own procurement function”.

Related to this is the need for innovation in the function. “Innovation is, of course, also part of my agenda.” “A key theme in innovation would be finding alternative ways for the market of suppliers to roll out deployments,” Dirk says. “We see procurement as a primary organ for driving innovation in our organisation.”

And this innovation will contribute to better analytical performance in the team. “We are developing big data analytics in order to allow us better decision-making on inventory stock levels, and better decision making in our forecasts through artificial intelligence (AI), through behaviour modelling and machine learning.

The automation ‘threat’

This is forward-thinking in approach from Dirk, who sees this function-specific knowledge as a key advantage of people. Asked about the so-called ‘threat’ of automation in procurement, Dirk says he anticipates that many low-level, technical skills jobs will be automated, but that will free procurement professionals up to focus on the “higher end work of strategic sourcing” – pairing creativity with computational information. “AI will be complementary to relational and creativity skill sets.,” he says.

Talent in the region
Having such broad international experience to his name, Bespoke also asked Dirk about his impressions and experience of talent and skills in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region. There is no lack of skills – “I don't see a major talent gap between here and Europe”, he says – but investing in ‘people management’ remains an important tactic.

“At MTN, we take ‘people management’ seriously, especially in procurement and strategic sourcing. As such we have accelerated training on category management, among other technical skills. We also place emphasis on certification, such as getting your CIPS certification. We are a big proponent of getting our staff certified.

“We are also doing cross-skilling, bring in people from other business functions with technical and business knowledge, which means more internal moves than hiring in external people.”

Kate Ferreira is the Contributing Editor of Bespoke Bulletin - www.bespoke.co.za

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Posted on November 14, 2018