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Meet Karen Hodson, judge of the DEMO 2022 startup competition

26 April, 2022 | By DPW

In the latest of our series of interviews profiling DEMO 2022, we’re continuing to shine the light on our judges for this year’s edition. Here we catch-up with Karen Hodson.  

The head of CM Group’s global procurement and real estate team, Karen is passionate about driving efficiency and savings across the organization. Having worked in procurement across a range of organisations, she’s continually seeking to elevate the value the function brings to the business and its suppliers through negotiation, process improvement and technology. 

Can you tell us a bit about your own background in procurement?  

Hodson: I’ve been here for five years now, and in the last four years we’ve done eight mergers and acquisitions, so we’ve grown quite a bit. As a result, we’ve done a lot of work with vendors, as you can imagine when trying to push all these companies together. I really started my career in tech startups. I’ve worked for five different ones, all starting very small and then growing rapidly. I’ve worked in HR, operations, contracting and IT ops – the whole bucket of back-end. As the company grows, I’ve always funnelled down into procurement, it’s always that one little piece that remains, the one little piece that nobody handles. I really enjoy it, I enjoy the negotiations and trying to centralise procurement across the organisation. So many companies, especially startups in their earliest days, focus on the dollars coming in but few focus on the dollars going out of the door. There are so many opportunities for procurement in these smaller organisations to get a handle on the dollars going out of the door, to really help the growth of that organisation.

Are there any specific challenges you would like to see startups focusing on in the world of digital procurement? 

Hodson: With regard to just procurement – there are so many pieces already out there but I would be really interested in a tool that’s vendor-centric. I would love to see a tool completely focused on that vendor. If I’m working with that vendor, how am I going to track, not just the costs and the contracts but how we’re evaluating progress each year? Is there a way to track if the business unit is happy with this vendor? Is this vendor easy to work with? What challenges does this vendor present? It would be great to have an internal record of this ongoing relationship, looking at how it has developed over a certain period. It would be great to have something that captured the satisfaction you might have with a particular vendor, and if you’re able to do that each year, who are you evaluating against, who are the players in that particular area. I haven’t seen that at all. Seeing a total history of that vendor relation would be really cool. 

How key is the role of technology in solving the challenges faced by procurement?  

Hodson: Any business, no matter how small you are, will deal with a lot of engagements with other companies. There’s a lot of purchasing happening. It makes sense to utilise a SaaS tool, and it has been interesting to have seen over the last ten years, how things have changed. A lot of people will say ‘what do you do? What is procurement?’ I think technology has allowed procurement to grow its footprint within the organisation – these tools have allowed us to gather the data we need and manage on a larger scale, even when you’re a small company. Technology enables you to manage that need without hiring someone to handle that on a spreadsheet. Tech is now so important to enable you to run your business, especially within the area of procurement, and particularly as we continue to try and increase the impact on the organisation by having a seat at the table. 

Are there any areas that need particular attention?  

Hodson: The biggest one that’s failing is data. There are lots of tools that tell you how many vendors you have but not too many that show the impact that procurement is having from beginning to end – not just on dollars, but on contract terms and relationships. Some of these tools tell half the story but they never paint the whole picture. A tool that focuses on that would be great because the data is there, the data’s available – there’s just not the reporting functionality that I would love to see.  

How hard is it to get on with your regular job at such a volatile time? 

Hodson: Managing and mitigating risk is probably one of the major parts of my job at the moment but how do you monetise this? How do you say ‘this is the value I’m bringing by mitigating risk?’ It’s really hard, but if you’re able to tell a story of how your processes are making a difference in this area, then that’s a huge help. If you can say that your security team has ranked all your vendors as high, medium and low risk and can identify that none of our vendors are high risk, then that’s huge. 

Events like DEMO encourage the kind of dialogue and exchange of ideas that we need to have.

Karen Hodson, Global Procurement & Real Estate Officer at CM Group

How important is the agility and nimble nature of startups for the procurement organisation of the future?   

Hodson: I think they’re massively important to the overall world of any kind of purchase. Startups bring a better UI, they’re more innovative and the tools they bring are more intuitive – you don’t have to be an engineer to run them, that’s all at the back-end, the interface is much cleaner and offers a much easier way to handle things. All these startups coming in, also serves to force those companies who have been players in this field for a long time to start to innovate and bring better tools to the market themselves. The startups are really forcing companies to keep moving forward. 

What have your own interactions with startups been?   

Hodson: I’m always happy to speak to people, I love to hear new ideas. I’ve seen a ton of these startups come in and really start to solve the problems that they themselves have been through when dealing with procurement. These tools are allowing people to spend less time on managing processes and more time on engaging and having conversations. Startups are key across all tools – it’s that open market idea, if there’s no competition then why change? 

How crucial is a competition like DEMO for developing the next generation of startups?   

Hodson: It’s absolutely key and events like DEMO encourage the kind of dialogue and exchange of ideas that we need to have. I will always respond to people reaching out to me. The tool we currently use came about by the founder wanting to talk to me about procurement – the pain points that I have. I spent a lot of time with their product, and saying to them, ‘this is information I would love to see in your tool’. I would also tell them the areas that I didn’t think were so valuable. Again, that’s where these relationships come in. If you don’t have a relationship with the vendor then you can’t have those discussions. It’s so important to have that dialogue. I want to see what’s out there all the time – the more we get out there and discuss what our challenges are, the more we’ll see companies develop tools to solve these problems. 

Thanks, Karen. Finally, can you tell us one fun fact about yourself?   

Hodson: I actually love reading through contracts! I’m not kidding. It’s not everyone’s idea of fun but I actually love going through them to ensure that everything is as it should be. 

DEMO is the largest startup pitch competition in procurement, organized by DPW since 2019. It is uniquely designed to address the needs of early and later stage procurement startups across all domains.

DEMO 2022 concludes with the Grand Finale which will take place during the DPW Conference 2022 in Amsterdam on the 21 & 22 September 2022.

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