An Interview with Dr. Marcell Vollmer

For Enterprise Africa Summit 2019 session 2.5 “Digital Transformation: Making it So” distinguished thought leader, Marcell Vollmer, leads a discussion regarding successful digital transformation of procurement, supply chain, finance, and shared services with select industry experts.

Anticipating this event, we asked Marcell to answer some key leading questions in this regard.

Enterprise Alliance: Thank you for your time, Marcell. You have been working the realm of finance; procurement and shared services for over 15 years and most recently, you have been Chief Digital Officer. As you look forward to addressing an audience of business leaders in need of insight into how to get their arms around emerging and tempting technologies. What barriers to their understanding have you observed in recent years?

Marcell Vollmer: In my role as Chief Digital Officer, I am often called upon to discuss the current state and ambition to define a digital strategy. Basically, that is the core of my role.

In a nutshell I see three barriers to digital strategy for most clients:

1. An organizational lack of understanding of disruptive technologies and an insufficient guidance in this regard.
2. A need for more executive level focus and buy-in to drive change supported with a compelling business case for doing so.
3. Insufficient talents to execute necessary change activities.

Everyone has heard about the buzzwords around emerging technologies with Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Cloud, Drones, Autonomous Vehicles, Blockchain, and more. While most business leaders tend to agree upon a need to do a digital transformation, many are hesitant or unprepared to define a viable strategy and pursue its execution.

These business leaders often presume that someone else is supposed to start with the digital transformation and that they are in a kind of holding pattern waiting and looking for proven use cases ready to implement.

Enterprise Alliance: What do you do to help get past these barriers of understanding?

Marcell Vollmer: I help customers to understand how fast business models are changing. I point to Uber, Airbnb or Tesla as positive examples of successful transformation. At the same time, I also use examples like Nokia, Kodak or Blackberry, all of whom failed to transform and thus withered.

The moral of the story is: “Uber yourselves before someone else does.”

After setting the stage and creating a sense of urgency, my job is to define a digital transformation strategy and to execute that strategy with a key on two core elements:

1. A strong focus on value generation and how to impact the overall business model by focusing on

a. supplier innovations: make your products more compelling, better and more competitive than your competition does;
b. keeping an eye on risk management to ensure that you secure all goods and services needed for your production or service delivery and finally,
c. focusing on a sustainable supply chain

2. Free up financial resources to fund the investments needed in the future business model by leveraging the purchasing power to the highest possible extend, but also bring down the transactional, operational costs by automation. In the future, most of the administrative, operational and tactical tasks in the back office will be fully automated. This allows people working in these functions to evolve and work on value added tasks instead.

Enterprise Alliance: There is always a lot of vendor and analyst hype surrounding emerging technologies. What brief advice can you give to prospective attendees of our event that will help them set the hype aside and concentrate not on what they can do but how to approach their adoption and eventual deployment?

Marcell Vollmer: From hundreds of strategy meetings, executive conversations, and digital transformation workshops, I have learned of the need to define a clear vision and clear objectives in order to effectively define and implementation transformation strategies.

A digital transformation has the following three core elements:

1. Develop and implement your future organization to best meet the stakeholder set-up and the global supplier markets you are in. Consider Shared Services for all operational, tactical and probably also some strategic tasks, like market research, supplier evaluations, risk analysis
2. Define and change the processes until a level everyone can understand on how to run simple, have a great user experience and ease-of-use
3. Implement the technology and systems needed – today I would see this in the cloud only – for your processes

To move our SAP Procure-to-Pay business process into the cloud, we implemented a global category management organization and procurement shared services, all co-located with our global finance, HR, IT and marketing shared services organization globally.

After the organizational setup and the definition of Procure-to-Pay as one global standard process from sourcing to payments, we were positioned to implemented cloud solutions. The key was a future-ready organization with a standardized process and a cloud landscape to process all activities with a great user experience “Apple simple and Google fast”.

Enterprise Alliance: Specific to the African continent, are there aspects to the market that you consider to be beneficial to client organizations seeking technology evolution?

Marcell Vollmer: I think Africa has shown us how impactful a digital transformation can be and how you can turn around a late start into a compelling advantage. Look at how the early and widespread adoption of mobile businesses has benefitted great parts of the continent. While Africa has previously lagged in the use of computer and laptops, their deployment of mobile phones and smartphones has been both creative and wildly effective both in commerce and in governmental and social arenas. African banking processes such as secure (micro) payments and mobile banking are particularly advanced.

So, I see Africa as very competitive in adapting new technologies, like mobiles and I see the continent as a huge market with potentially four billion people in the future which has a tremendous potential to grow and prosper.

Enterprise Alliance: You are a leading light in the realm of finance, procurement, supply chain and digital transformation. What one nugget of advice can you offer to prospective attendees of this event?

Marcell Vollmer: Don’t miss it!

Dr. Marcell Vollmer Bio

A thought leader in procurement, supply chain, finance and shared services, Marcell Vollmer is well known throughout the industry. He is a frequently requested speaker at industry events, author of books and a popular blog.

Marcell is Chief Digital Officer for SAP Ariba and his expertise lies in defining digital transformation strategy for global customers and consumers by delivering high cost and additional procurement savings.

Previously Marcell successfully led global business development, procurement, go to market, sales operations, and enablement. He has also held various leadership roles involving restructuring, improving project efficiency and execution of global programs in finance, procurement, sales, human resources and post-merger integrations.

Marcell has a PhD and Masters Degree in Economics from University of Hamburg.

Dr. Marcell Vollmer

Chief Digital Officer, SAP Ariba