Bob Murphy, CPO, IBM

IBM’s Bob Murphy: ‘I would define procurement as the catalyst to get things done’

Tim Burt

The IBM CPO reveals how his team’s efforts to scout new suppliers, collaborate both internally and externally, as well as work in a more agile manner are paying off

Despite the external difficulties that swirl around his function, IBM CPO and chair of Procurement Leaders’ advisory board, Bob Murphy, remains calm and focused. This is something he, in part, ascribes to his exercise regimen. “I’m an avid golfer… but one of the things I do regularly, and it really helps me – especially in these times of turbulent change – is I practise yoga. I try and do that two or three times a week,” he tells Procurement Leaders. “I think it’s very important in the current climate that we, as procurement professionals, have a balanced lifestyle and the energy to deal with all of these crises.”

It’s a strategy that appears to be paying off handsomely, as his team has “managed to navigate all the crises and support all of our clients with minimal to no impact. That’s been truly compelling,” Murphy says.

Procurement Leaders community advisor, Tim Burt, caught up with Murphy to discuss the levers his function is relying on to navigate the crisis, the importance of relationships and the role of innovation in turbulent times. Listen to the conversation in full or read highlights, below:


Supply continuity the number one concern

Amid the difficulties caused by uncertainty, inflation and geopolitical tensions, the number one concern for the company has been maintaining supply continuity, Murphy says. “Actually getting the goods, services, hardware, to meet our end-client demands has probably been the most challenging issue among all we’ve faced.”

Searching high and low for sources of supply

To overcome this challenge, IBM’s procurement team has adopted a robust and extensive approach to ensuring the company secures the products it needs.“We’ve used some of our own technology, other people’s technology, to scour what’s out on the internet and search all of the data that’s there – whether it’s structured or unstructured, distributors supplies, suppliers available elsewhere – we’ve scoured the earth looking for new sources of supply in addition to working with our trusted suppliers, with whom we’ve had relationships for many years,” Murphy says.

Helping suppliers to help IBM by planning ahead

Murphy describes relationships as “the most important thing in procurement” and notes the importance of a win-win approach to his team. But his function goes beyond paying lip service to supplier collaboration by putting its money where its mouth is. “Suppliers have been saying to us: Yyou need to plan far in advance instead of just giving us forecasts. We actually need POs for 12, 18 and in some cases 24 months.’ We’ve done that, and committed those funds as security to the suppliers we deal with in certain commodities.”

The power of innovation

“In these dramatic and turbulent times, we need innovation and creativity. We’ve been extremely engaged with our design and development teams so, if we could not get one component but we could find others of a similar nature, our design teams would rapidly assess, qualify and integrate those parts so we could ship our products. The level of engagement, creativity and innovation from my team – and collaboration, because none of us can do this on our own – I would define procurement as the catalyst to get things done.”

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