AI-Driven Analytics for Modern Procurement Teams – Interview with Suplari’s Nikesh Parekh
DPW sat down with procurement’s rising star and tech entrepreneur Nikesh Parekh, CEO and Co-founder of Suplari. Suplari fills an important niche in the procurement industry to help procurement teams interpret their data to gain new business insights.
Why did you start Suplari and what problem were you looking to solve?
Parekh: When we started Suplari, our key insight was that businesses waste a lot of time sifting through data. And even when they’re able to get their hands on the data, they end up missing a lot of opportunities that are buried like needles in a haystack. Their data silos don’t have the ability to connect the data or in many cases they just don’t have access to it. My co-founder, Suplari CTO Jeff Gerber, and I – we looked at the market and we saw these two massive trends. One was the cloud. It no longer makes any sense to have any sort of data on premise. And the other trend is rapid advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. So you combine these two trends with the problem – that there are a lot of folks who could be more productive and way more strategic if they could combine their information – and that led to Suplari. Computers and software can actually tell you where you should focus and make very specific recommendations for you on how to solve problems. We focused on the concept of managing a company more efficiently and then being able to take those savings and invest in their people or R&D or innovation.
All great companies are about people. The greatest companies empower their people to make better decisions.Nikesh Parekh, CEO and Co-founder, Suplari
We realized that procurement and finance teams were most focused on operational efficiency, cost savings and risk management. What’s more, these operational areas, Procurement especially, had been historically underserved by tech investors and entrepreneurs who didn’t or couldn’t imagine a big upside financial win to funding innovation in procurement and spend management. But in fact, those were natural use cases for data analytics, the cloud and artificial intelligence. It is an area that is way behind and ripe for disruption.
You talk a lot about spend agility. What does that mean and how does a company implement it?
Parekh: Spend management has historically been a process game. In some ways, it’s traditionally been about how you can prevent people from spending. The more you can make it harder for people to spend money, the more successful you will be at reducing your expenses.
Now think of the modern enterprise. The millennial who is 25 to 35 – do they want to go into an organization where they’re limited to buying the one blue BIC pen that’s the cheapest option? You have to empower them. Yes, you need control over spend. But with modern spend management, it’s also about being able to move quickly and with agility, such that you’re enabling your people to do more through data instead of through process. You’re able to help people make more decisions faster, not to mention better decisions that lead to cost savings, compliance and risk management.
In order to achieve spend agility, you have to have a system that is able to encompass all of your spend. All the original data by itself is not necessarily useful. It has to be on demand. It has to be at your fingertips. So whenever you have a question or whenever you need to make a strategic decision or analyze data, it’s readily available. You’re not road-blocked by having to go to central analytics, which runs a report and then takes 2-4 hours to then sift through the data.
In that situation, it’s about looking through the rearview mirror. It should be about looking forward – letting the data actually tell you where you should go. All great companies are about people. The greatest companies empower their people to make better decisions. Giving lots of people access to good data in order to make better decisions is the key to success in the modern enterprise.
What is the role of the modern CPO?
Parekh: The modern CPO and the modern procurement team really have to up-level from being transactional and process-focused to being strategic and seeing their activities as a way to drive the highest return for the company. Technology allows you to do that, because you can automate a lot of the data analysis, which in turn helps identify opportunities that help procurement and finance teams not only improve productivity, but also drive the bottom line. The modern CPO can and should be just as valuable to a company’s bottom line as the Chief Revenue Officer.
The modern CPO also needs to empower both their people and leaders across the company to make better decisions. The more they can enable business leaders and budget owners to have access to data and actionable intelligence to make better purchasing decisions and discover better opportunities for cash savings and investment, the more the CPO and his or her team really move the needle for the company.
What’s a fun fact about you?
Parekh: I am extremely interested in the power of biology, which is why I am really excited to partner with Roche on the DPW Scout Lab challenge around Purchase Order Analytics and Insights. I am actually a biochemist by training. In college, I researched plant molecular biology and helped discover what’s called the STUD gene, which is basically responsible for larger than normal pollen grains. I have also been CEO of a University of Washington spin-out from David Baker’s computational biology lab that used synthetic biology to create microbes that could live on seaweed and produce novel biofuels and renewable chemicals. We actually managed seaweed farms in Chile and research laboratories in California and Washington. We are just scratching the surface at the intersection of software and biology.
As part of DPW’s ScoutLab program, Suplari was recently selected by healthcare company Roche to pilot their solution as part of our PO & Savings Analytics challenge.
ScoutLab helps procurement organisations get from digital strategy to execution faster and tech companies drive revenue by testing and scaling their solutions. Learn more at conference.dpw.ai/scoutlab