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Operational excellence in procurement

Uniper redefined procurement to provide operational excellence for the energy customer WRIT TEN BY



Photo © Uniper w w w. u n i p e r. e n e r g y

Through an extensive transformation of its procurement operations, Uniper can answer tomorrow’s questions today. We speak to Uniper’s Susanne Thöle, Director of Procurement, Spot Buy and Indirect and Philip Höchstödter, VP Spot Buy/Operational Procurement…


procurement function can be defined by two key components: the customer and the supplier. How an organisation, through its procurement

process, engages and works with those two factors is crucial. The procurement industry is transforming as more and more organisations begin to recognise that what has been historically seen as a support function is now becoming far more aligned to the core business strategy, enabling growth through efficiencies and innovation. However, Uniper, a leading international energy company, realised this at a very early stage and has already prepared for the future by implementing a large-scale transformation of its procurement and supply chain process. Ultimately, procurement is about engagement with the suppliers and engagement with the customers or end users in order to deliver the best possible service to both parties. Uniper, tackled the challenge by asking one simple question: what is it that suppliers and customers really want? We speak to Uniper’s Philip Höchstödter, VP Spot Buy/Operational Procurement and Susanne Thöle, Director of Procurement, Spot Buy and Indirect.

Photo © Uniper


Uniper is a leading international energy company with operations in more than 40 countries and around 12,000 employees. Uniper’s business is to provide a reliable supply of energy and related services. Its main operations include power generation in Europe and Russia and global energy trading. Its headquarters are in Dßsseldorf, Germany.

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Grow with SAP’s Business Network With SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass, you address a company’s source-to-pay processes. What exactly is your contribution? SAP aims to support companies with solutions that streamline working processes and allow employees to concentrate on the important work that not only makes their businesses run better, but improves the world around them. Together, SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass, provide a set of cloud-based source-to-pay solutions that companies can use to manage all of their spend – from direct and indirect materials to contingent labor – from end to end in a simple, compliant, contextual and conscious manner. SAP Ariba covers the procurement side of things – so everything from sourcing and orders through invoicing and payment. And SAP Fieldglass helps to manage contingent labor and SOW (Statement of Work)-related activities. The key here is that the solutions are fully integrated. Procurement is not a discrete activity that can be performed in silos, but a connected one. And the solutions used to drive it need to be too. With SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass, companies can seamlessly connect their procurement systems and the people and processes used to drive them and manage everything through a single interface. And they can gain the transparency and insights needed to make better buying decisions that positively impact their business. SAP Ariba is unique in the market with regards to its breadth and depth. With more than 3.4 million companies transacting more than $2.1 trillion on an annual basis, the Ariba Network is the largest business network on the planet. And when you combine this scale with our cloud-based source-to-settle applications that have been ranked as market leading by the likes of Gartner, Forrester and IDC, and use them alongside things like SAP S/4HANA, you can very quickly unlock real value. How do these solutions integrate into a company’s IT landscape? Most Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs) are looking for ways to manage goods and services in a more simple, consumer-like way. But the process still has to be compliant and fully integrated. Our approach is to natively integrate SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass into SAP S/4HANA as well as other ERP solutions. With S/4HANA as their core, companies can master massive amounts of data digitally in real time, enable instant insight and predictive analytics to guide critical decision making and eliminate risk. With the integration of solutions from SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass, they can extend this simplicity, power and speed outside their four walls and collaborate with customers, partners and suppliers in new and innovative ways that transform the supply chain. No business is an

Marcell Vollmer Chief Digital Officer (SAP Ariba) island. To make things go in today’s global economy, businesses need to work with thousands of suppliers, partners and customers across supply chains that have become increasingly complex. With the integration of S/4HANA and SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass, companies can simplify this process, connecting with all of their partners and managing all of their procurement activities in one place. They can share forecasts and sales to facilitate better planning. They can gain visibility into potential risks and mitigate them before they cause any disruptions. What are the specific challenges for the energy sector and why do companies such as Uniper choose SAP to tackle them? Energy companies face challenges unlike most other companies in that every day, millions of people depend on them to power their lives. They must be able to consistently deliver with a high degree of reliability and maintain the integrity of their supply to keep pace with growing demand. They also have to contend with new players entering the market and keep up with the dizzying pace of innovation that all companies face in today’s digital economy where things that used to take months can now be done in hours and even minutes. And in many organizations, procurement is leading the charge on all of this. Uniper is a great example of a company that saw the sign of the times and started to drive their digital transformation. Under the visionary leadership of CPO Jan Taschenberger, Uniper is building an exceptional procurement organization with an integrated and highly automated source-to-pay process. The main challenge with most digitization projects is getting people on board with them. You can have the best solution in the world. But unless your employees use it, it won’t deliver any value. And I think Uniper saw out of the gate that with SAP, they could create a consumer-simple, yet enterprise-strong process that would meet their people where they were at and bring them along in the journey at the pace they want to go.

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“Ultimately, customers want speedy execution and seamless interaction,” says Susanne Thöle. “The way we achieve that is through understanding the market and identifying opportunities to enable cost savings, or technologies that can accelerate that. We then look at our engagement with existing suppliers and how we approach new suppliers.” This journey started back in 2016 with Uniper looking at how it can create far greater supplier relationship management, incentivising suppliers to unlock more value and potential within those relationships.

“We attend bootcamps, workshops and training talks to ultimately find easier, better solutions to reduce complexity. The idea was to exercise methodologies that we had learned previously to solve issues in our day-to-day business” — Susanne Thöle,Director Procurement, Spot Buy and Indirect for Uniper

For Thöle, this starts from within and

innovative ideas to the business. We

Uniper develops their Operational

are looking at where we are as a fun-

Excellence capabilities to challenge the

ction in the business, challenging the

status quo, to look at the company’s

status quo and finding new pragmatism.”

workforce and continuously strive for

Ultimately, the Operational Excellence

ways to improve and approach new

project epitomises the entire transfor-

or existing challenges with fresh ideas

mation and growth journey of Uniper’s

and more innovative approaches.

procurement as it answers a demand

“We attend bootcamps, workshops

identified by Thöle. As an international

and training talks to ultimately find

company, serving customers all around

easier, better solutions to reduce comp-

the world, Uniper needs to have a level

lexity. The idea was to exercise method-

of proactivity, reactivity and, most

ologies that we had learned previously

importantly, flexibility.

to solve issues in our day-to-day business,” Thöle says.

Thöle believes that by continuously supporting staff in developing their tal-

“For me, it’s been a real game changer

ents and skills through targeted KPIs,

as it has helped foster a culture of uncon-

personal development strategies and of

ventional thinking, bringing fresh and

course by valuing their staff and their


Susanne Thöle Susanne has spent nearly all her professional life in procurement functions in the pharmaceutical, automotive and energy sector. Before starting at Uniper, she was responsible with her team for setting the frame, ensuring compliance and harmonizing the tools for the procurement function of E.ON.

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capabilities, Uniper possesses a work-

We put our staff on a path where they

force that is extremely focused and

get the right insight and the perfect


training to take into supplier engage-

“Growing and empowering my team is my focus here. Backing up the dec-

ments and bring back innovations and learnings into our business.”

isions of my colleagues and providing

Another important aspect of striving

flexibility in the daily work are important

for excellence with a team is the appre-

cornerstones of providing a work envir-

ciation of diversity Thöle thinks.

onment that motivates my team to strive

“At Uniper we drive a diversity initiative

for success. We have developed a very

that puts emphasis on the opportuni-

solid framework to challenge our empl-

ties that pluralities bring which I highly

oyees and enable their development so

support. I see a big value in a diverse

that they can understand exactly what

workforce and also in an inclusive culture,

their strengths are and where they can

because obviously: the happier our peo-

continue to push their capabilities,” she

ple feel in their teams, the more value

says. “What it also does is help us

they are able to bring to Uniper.

concentrate on the things that matter.

Part of the development plan, and

We can focus on areas of improvement

a cornerstone of the company’s transfor-

or development that will drive true value.

mation, is digitisation and technology.


Philip Höchstödter Philip has worked in different functions like Controlling, IT and Organizational Development for different companies before he joined Procurement in 2011. All these organizations were undergoing large strategic transformations, so the common theme of his career was acting as a Transformation Manager from different functional perspectives. Today he is responsible for the groupwide operational Procurement of Uniper and drives procurement digitisation. Photo © Falk Gustav Frassa

Technology is redefining industry sectors

Procurement, has experienced first-

all over the world, with more and more

hand the need to adapt to technology

businesses investing heavily into tech-

and to bring a new innovative approach

nology to embrace the digitally enabled

to the business.

customer and marketplace. Uniper’s approach to continuously

“When looking to implement technologies like Robotic Process Automation

developing its workforce extends into

(RPA), naturally it is met with some

the digitisation sphere and Philip

scepticism because people feel their

Höchstödter, VP Spot Buy/Operational

role or their work is becoming redun-

Photo © Uniper

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“What we learned very quickly was that if we applied new technologies to repetitive and somehow boring tasks, those fears were allayed and actually people started appreciating and embracing new technologies, because it makes their lives easier” — Susanne Thöle, Director Procurement, Spot Buy and Indirect for Uniper

Photo © Uniper

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Photo © Uniper

dant,” he says. “What we learned very

framework provided by our IT colleagues

quickly was that if we applied new

to ensure the right prioritization. Today

technologies to repetitive and some-

our virtual workforce consisting of

how boring tasks, those fears were

robots and a chatbot supported by A.I.

allayed and actually people started

is a well perceived standard and a fully

appreciating and embracing new

integrated part of our processes. These

technologies, because it makes their

technologies among others have ena-

lives easier.”

bled us and our staff to focus on higher

“Soon we were receiving so many ideas and ways that people felt we

value tasks,” Höchstödter says. Another key way in which Uniper

could continue to push further that

is embracing technology is through

we had to use a proper assessment

data management which in turn allows

the company to better serve its customer base. Through its very nature, the procurement function needs to know

8.2 bcm

Gas storage capacity

and understand the demand, the market and the suppliers to deliver insights to the business and capitalise on the market. Höchstödter points out that the procurement team has to accurately capture supplier data, contract data, material master data and operational process data, but more importantly the company has to be able to extract value from it, because all future analysis and development


Year founded


Approximate number of employees

strategies within procurement are built from this data. Working in an integrated environ-

ACD solution provide us with incredible amounts of operational data,” says

ment is key to enable these activities.

Höchstödter. “When communicating

So, in addition Uniper decided to renew

with our requesters or a supplier, we

their Procurement platform to SAP

pool the information we receive and

ARIBA until the end of 2018 to create

can now use that information to target

a new and user-friendly experience for

the key areas where we can develop

their requesters, their suppliers and

and we can do it far quicker and more

their purchasers. This will reduce the

effective than ever before.”

administrative effort and workload con-

As a procurement function, Susanne

siderably. In parallel SAP Fieldglass

Thöle recognises that it can only be

has been implemented as a contingen-

successful and can only achieve any

cy workforce solution, which provides

real growth with a strong network of

additional process stability.

suppliers and key partners like SAP.

“Our systems like SAP ARIBA or SAP Fieldglass, our chatbot and our

“Procurement is a strategic function and, simply put, we’re trying to improve w w w. u n i p e r. e n e r g y

the profitability of the company, so our

from German energy provider E.ON,

key to this is our supplier relationship

Uniper can already point to consider-

management,� she says.

able successes and cost efficiencies

“We are very clear on who our strategic partners are, how we identify them, and that we really put effort into developing

that represent the company and its procurement heading in the right direction. Eyes inevitably turn to the future: with

these relationships and grow the

technological advancements and an

business together.�

ever-changing market and customer

Having started this transformational journey back in 2016, after the split

demands, procurement will continue to evolve further and Uniper will stay agile

to be ready for the challenges of

“And we will continue to work with our

tomorrow so it can keep shaping the

supplier base and our customer base

energy world.

and use that knowledge to help solve

For Thöle though, the future challeng-

the questions of the future.”

es will be tackled by greater collaboration with the customers and the suppliers of today. “Procurement has brought and will continue to bring innovation, new solutions and cost savings and efficiencies to Uniper,” she says.

Photo © Uniper

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Uniper — Brochure 2018  

Uniper — Brochure 2018  

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