Linda Chuan, Chief Procurement Officer at Box, discusses the value of delivering effective and long-lasting change management in procurement.

Being at the forefront of change requires a specific type of person – it’s not for everyone. 

But for those that are equipped to deal with the volatile and at times, disruptive, nature of change, that’s where the rewards can be uncovered. 

Knowing this all too well is Linda Chuan. She is a seasoned sourcing and procurement operational excellence executive with a public accounting background and a strong ability to execute from vision and strategy. Her innovative experiences with organisations large and small have culminated in a unique, but practical end-to-end view and understanding of business processes. Chuan’s approach to problem-solving is holistic, mixed with a blend of discipline, creativity, agility and resilience. She has demonstrated successes in her execution and delivery with real results time and again, while also leading successful transformational digitisation strategies.

Procurement’s transformation

The industry she serves has undergone quite an evolution in recent times. Having transformed from a back-office function into a dynamic, exciting, enterprise division at the forefront of change. Procurement and its professionals have been on quite the journey in recent times. As such, Chuan explains that the space is, in fact, so unrecognisable that even its definition has changed. “Procurement started out as purchasing for primarily manufacturing companies decades ago,” she discusses. “Then it evolved from purchasing to procurement where the practice and the profession required more skills around understanding contract verbiage and how the commercial terms would impact the business. There was a little bit more skillset required, legal terms, understanding contracts, all the way to what we know today as strategic sourcing.”

Fast forward to 2020’s Covid pandemic and procurement was forced to shift again amid significant disturbance to supply chains. As a result, procurement was swiftly elevated to the c-suite and became front of mind for most CEOs globally as businesses looked to tighten their belts while urgently finding alternative methods of supply.

“Following Covid, I think we, as procurement professionals, are now mandated to be even more than strategic sourcing and add value to the company,” affirms Chuan. “We’re asked to look ahead and think about the macroeconomics as well as the microeconomics and how it could impact the company and get that translation to direct company impact earlier. This is all while being able to help either prevent large risks or promote opportunities within the company so they can then maximise what’s happening out there in the marketplace versus where everyone was reacting to what has already happened and trying to be prepared for what was coming.”

Tech disruption

Disruption has meant procurement was propelled to become even more strategic and forward-facing following a recent surge of black swan events as technology takes a firmer grip on the space. “The whole profession has evolved, especially over the last 10 or 15 years, where we’re becoming increasingly more strategic and important to a company.”

The company Chuan serves is a cloud content management company that empowers enterprises to revolutionise how they work by securely connecting their people, information and applications. Founded in 2005, Box powers more than 115,000 businesses globally, including AstraZeneca, JLL, Morgan Stanley, and Nationwide. Headquartered in Redwood City, CA, Box has offices across the United States, Europe and Asia. Chuan joined Box over four and half years ago and was recruited to help with establishing the firm’s procurement function and building it from the ground up.

“Any engagement or relationship with a third-party provider, whether it’s buying widgets, purchasing services or even SaaS across the entire company is under my scope,” she explains. “Box has grown globally to reach new regions such as Japan and Poland to UK and Australia. We’ve continued to grow even throughout the pandemic. It’s my third role to establish and build out a sourcing and procurement organisation from the ground up. I find that to be so rewarding and every company’s a little different. What might’ve worked in my previous roles may not work at Box. I love having to tailor and think about which processes and what systems could work that would fit each company’s specific and unique culture, executive level preferences as well as the employees. It’s very exciting.” 

Blank canvas

For Chuan, her passion is to make things as easy as possible for the end user. She likes to think about a procurement organisation as a service firm. “We’re like a small entrepreneur company within an enterprise,” she tells us. “Our customers are our internal employees. As the company and the employee base grows, the customer base increases too. To me, it’s really imperative that we think about the user experience because every company has policies to check off, but who really ensures that we are compliant to those policies? A lot of other larger companies find it’s easier to make the policy a mandate where employees must follow, but I find that with high-tech companies, it’s more of a case of “influencing” rather than “mandating” in that kind of environment.

“In order to establish more of a centralised process where all of the employees would have to come through this one system and one intake, it has to be so user-friendly or else people are not going to want to come to you. If you make it easy for them and design the process in such a way that the policy is already incorporated, then employees will want to utilise the process. It should feel like they’re just going through the process, but they’re walking through the actual compliance policy and ensuring that we’re doing all the right things to protect the company, but they shouldn’t have to feel the burden of it.”

The Box Advantage

According to Chuan, unless she can show her people a new process or system that’s guaranteed to be more efficient, she understands there will be a degree of reluctance to accept change initially. “I’m already thinking about the whole change management programme at the beginning of when I need to select a solution, especially if there was an RFP involved, rather than waiting until we’ve selected a solution and are in the implementation phase. To me, that’s too late,” she explains. “Change management happens when a project has been approved for you to go find a solution or when the project has been initiated by your senior executives through an investment committee meeting or via a software review committee. That’s where change management actually starts.”

Chuan is passionate about harnessing a positive company culture. She stresses within Box operating with a mentality of collaboration, transparency and inclusiveness holds the key to success. Chuan explains that one of her best strategies is to imagine herself as an owner of a company as it leads to better decision-making. “It’s about always trying to think about doing the right things by the right people,” she discusses.

Secret sauce

“The culture is so special and it’s truly about walking the talk versus just talking the talk. It’s about making that culture real and living every single day like our two founders, Aaron Levie and Dylan Smith. The culture itself makes it easy to collaborate and build that relationship and that trust with my fellow employees, knowing that the procurement sourcing organisation is there to help protect them and make the company better. Doing it together is so much easier than trying to push through by yourself, and I call it with every deal that ‘it takes a small village’. We have a really, really good relationship with our legal department and with our vendor trust department. I am enjoying a level of engagement and utilisation of my function more than any other company I’ve been blessed to be a part of. The culture at Box is our secret sauce.”

Given the speed at which the procurement function is shifting, being proactive to the latest trends in transformation could be the key between success and failure. Indeed, one of the most highly anticipated innovations of the past few years ChatGPT has captured the imagination of procurement professionals globally. The race to explore the technology and examine how the natural language processing tool could be introduced into processes is already underway. However, its arrival brings with it fresh fears that AI is here to replace humans.


According to Chuan, that couldn’t be further from the truth. “I don’t see it as taking jobs away, I see it as improving our job and work life,” she explains. “Most people don’t want to do those mundane, low-level data entry, tactical tasks anyway. But if you don’t have people or the right system checking that the data going in is of good quality, then you can’t count on the reporting and the analytics on the backend. But the problem is that people don’t want to do it. Wouldn’t it be perfect to have a replacement with AI, robotics and machine learning that could do all of the things that people don’t really want to do anyway?”

Looking ahead

Having said that, Chuan is clear that there must always be some form of human influence and oversight over AI. One of procurement’s biggest challenges in 2024 and beyond is making new tech work for each respective organisation. Chuan believes procurement, and indeed the world, isn’t to be ruled by technology, but instead used as a tool. “There has to be some kind of monitoring and human judgment to QC/QA the results,” she says.

“I don’t think we’re at the point where machines can replace judgemental thinking. I think we need to have an eye on ensuring we’re doing the right thing ethically by people and making sure that we’re using technology responsibly. Let’s say we do all of that, the increase in the level of job productivity that AI could bring to many people should outweigh people’s fears. I don’t think we should be fearing it. I think we should be looking at it from an analytical and strategic view and get excited about the prospect of having all the time to be more innovative and forward-thinking. To me, that’s where the fun and rewarding work is.”

Hear more about Linda Chuan’s passion for delivering change management in procurement in our CPOstrategy Podcast.

From shared responsibility to “blackmail”, an array of relationships exist under the umbrella of “partners” in the source-to-pay value chain.

Whether in earnest or just in cynical pursuit of a hot new buzzword, it seems like no one in the procurement and supply chain sectors actually buys things anymore. Instead, goods are sourced from a strategic partner—implying a simple transaction has been replaced by a closer, more meaningful and, supposedly, beneficial relationship.

For example, in the fashion industry—traditionally one of the most transactional industries for buyer-supplier relationships—McKinsey’s 2023 CPO survey found that even between fast fashion brands and their suppliers, relationships are becoming more strategic, long-term, and mutually beneficial.

The number of transactional relationships reported by CPOs in the fashion industry reportedly fell by more than 50% between 2019 and 2023, from 22% to just 10%. That number is predicted by McKinsey’s analysts to drop to just 3% by 2028, as more than half of relationships in the industry evolve into “long-term strategic partnerships with volume commitments”.

The future of strategic partnerships?

According to McKinsey, the future of strategic partnerships between procurement teams and their supplier ecosystems looks bright in the fashion industry. This should be good news across other fields like medical supplies, consumer goods, food, and industrial manufacturing—as fashion is perhaps the industry with the most historically hostile relationship between buyer brands and the suppliers who manufacture their clothes, often for no guarantee of purchase, at rates so low they often result in untenable labour conditions. If some of the most predatory supply chains on the planet can grow into thoughtful, considerate strategic partners, then it surely bodes well for the rest of the world.

Or it would, if any of that were particularly true.

I’m not saying McKinsey or the CPOs that took their survey were lying. I’m sure they truly do believe their transactional relationships are evolving into strategic partnerships. But, as Maliha Shoab pointed out in a piece for Vogue Business this week, while “Those in charge of contracting suppliers for fashion brands say they are investing in longer-term strategic partnerships,” their suppliers “tell a different story.”

The reality is that research conducted by Fashion Revolution found that just 12% of brands publish a responsible purchasing code of conduct (virtually the same as last year and the year before that), and data gathered by Sanchita Saxena—visiting scholar at the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights and senior advisor at human rights-focused consultancy Article One—points to truly collaborative and strategic partnerships between procurement teams and their suppliers being much rarer than procurement executives would seem to believe.

Reimagine supplier relationships

Some suppliers Saxena spoke to even characterised their relationships with fashion buyers as “blackmail”, revealing to Vogue Business that one supplier in particular recalled: “The company was threatening [us] saying, if we don’t agree on a reasonable discount, maybe next season [our] business volume might be affected. We were also told that if we don’t give the discount then there might be cancellations coming, and that kind of pressure… I wanted to give them a $20-25,000 discount, but eventually with the pressure I have to probably agree on almost double that amount… we didn’t want to offend them by any means.”

Other relationships were more mutually beneficial, and it does seem as though there is some action behind the partnership rhetoric in some areas of the fashion industry.

The point is, however, that procurement professionals’ imagined relationships with suppliers may be a whole lot more strategic than they actually are. There is a fundamental power imbalance between supplier and buyer in many industries, where small organisations farther up the value chain struggle to dictate terms to large corporations looking to cut costs more than build meaningful long term relationships.

By Harry Menear

Blockchain promises added transparency and security for the procurement process, but are the benefits worth the price of admission?

Blockchain—the decentralised ledger technology that powers cryptocurrencies and NFTs—could be an immensely disruptive force in the procurement and supply chain management sectors. We’re going to take a look at how blockchain might impact procurement, and whether it represents a meaningful innovation or if the costs outweigh the benefits.

Blockchain: the hype

Using a combination of different technologies, including distributed digital ledgers, encryption, asset tokenization, and immutable record management, blockchain creates an unbroken and tamper-proof (in theory) chain of information.

For example, storing the entire service history of a vehicle, the transaction history of a house, or the provenance of a piece of art on a blockchain theoretically renders it trustworthy and incorruptible. A potential buyer could review the timestamped information included on the blockchain and be confident in its accuracy. In principle, blockchain could reduce or remove the need for intermediaries in highly regulated and complex transactions—like real estate, for example.

“Have you bought a house lately? Imagine if you could have transacted with the seller directly, even though you had never met, confident that the deal would be recorded in a way that neither of you could change or rescind later,” write Gartner analysts David Furlonger and Christophe Uzureau, suggesting that “You wouldn’t have to reconcile rafts of personal information with a real-estate agent, mortgage broker, insurance agent, property inspector and title company” if you were making a transaction using the blockchain.

Furlonger and Uzureau suggest that record keeping and verification is just the beginning and, once developed and combined with other technologies (characterised by lots of hyper and limited real world applications) like artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, and the Metaverse, the real potential of the technology will be unleashed, creating “whole new social and economic constructs in the peer-to-peer age of Web3.”

Blockchain: the reality

In actuality, Blockchain outside of applications for cryptocurrency isn’t actually… very interesting? It’s certainly not new. Blockchain technology not used to underpin a cryptocurrency is just a distributed append-only data structure. Often there are some users that are allowed to make additions to the structure. In the real estate example used Furlonger and Uzureau, that might include the homeowner, a surveyor conducting an appraisal of the property, the utility company providing electricity and water to the house, and professionals hired to perform maintenance on the property. A private blockchain could collect and verify the history of a property like rings on a tree, and provide an authoritative account that is, in theory, free from tampering. The thing is, that sort of verification is called a consensus protocol, and they’ve been around since before the 1960s—as have append-only data structures.

The reality is that the new, shiny applications for blockchain aren’t actually very useful. Supposedly, Blockchain technology offers up a way to verify information (or conduct a transaction) without relying on an intermediary, or blindly trusting a third party. “Trust-less” is the phrase that gets thrown around a lot. However, the result is often that you’re just trusting the technology underpinning the blockchain over a human or a public institution.

Building trust

As Bruce Schneier pointed out in an article for WIRED, “When that trust turns out to be misplaced, there is no recourse. If your bitcoin exchange gets hacked, you lose all of your money. Your bitcoin wallet gets hacked, you lose all of your money. If you forget your login credentials, you lose all of your money. If there’s a bug in the code of your smart contract, you lose all of your money. And if someone successfully hacks the blockchain security, you lose all of your money.”

One glaring example was the 2019 case of cryptocurrency exchange CEO Gerald Cotten, who died while being the only person with the password necessary to access US$145 million worth of other people’s Bitcoin. Far from being trustless, it would seem the people who lost access to their money were placing their trust in a single individual who died, leaving them no physical or legal recourse to get their money back.

There’s also the very valid criticism of blockchain-based technology that it’s an environmental disaster. NFTs caught most of the heat for this over the past few years, but all blockchain-based technology needs to be stored somewhere in a constantly active server. As noted by the NASDAQ in a report from earlier this year, “The energy consumption of blockchain technology results in significant greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.”

So, blockchain is bad?

Not necessarily. I, personally, will stake what reputation I have on the fact NFTs and cryptocurrencies are misguided and valueless gimmicks at best and insidious, cynical techno-cults (that burn fossil fuels more enthusiastically than the UV lights at the Bored Ape convention burned out crypto bros’ retinas) at worst.

However, remember the boring version of blockchain technology? The append-only data sets we talked about before may not be new or especially sexy, but they’re an element of blockchain technology that could be incredibly useful for the procurement sector.

Blockchains in procurement

The procurement sector has traditionally struggled with opacity. Sourcing goods—especially from overseas markets—through networks of distributors and middlemen can muddy the waters and conceal vital steps in the source-to-pay process. The origin of goods, labour practices, contact with modern slavery or deforestation, can all be concealed in a murky supply chain.

Tracing the progress of an item from its raw materials through to a finished product is “often a challenge for today’s supply chains due to outdated paper processes and disjointed data systems that slow down communication. The lack of data compatibility exposes supply chains to problems like visibility gaps, inaccurate supply and demand predictions, manual errors, counterfeiting, and compliance violations,” notes an AWS report. However, with blockchain, procurement and supply chain management organisations can “document production updates to a single shared ledger, which provides complete data visibility and a single source of truth. Because transactions are always time-stamped and up to date, companies can query a product’s status and location at any point in time. This helps to combat issues like counterfeit goods, compliance violations, delays, and waste.”

Global network

If the documentation of, say, a shipment of EV batteries, can trace a direct line from a lithium mine in Australia to a factory in China through a global network of suppliers, all the way to their arrival at a factory in Ohio, the procurement department sourcing those batteries can scrutinise every piece of the value chain much more effectively for quality control, potential counterfeiting, and ESG compliance. 

It’s not as flashy as Dogecoin, but it’s actually useful, especially as corporations make efforts to divest major polluters or other parties with poor ESG practices from their supply chains in an effort to reduce Scope 3 emissions and stop propping up reprehensible practices like modern slavery and deforestation.

By Harry Menear

How Big Data can increase resilience, mitigate disruption, and help procurement teams spot danger before it’s too late.

In the procurement sector, successfully managing risks while achieving your other strategic objectives is what sets a successful procurement function apart from those that can expect to experience disruption. Today, however, procurement teams face greater risk than ever before as supply chains become more complex, ESG goals become more ambitious, and the parameters for compliance get narrower. 

Technology—powered by artificial intelligence and big data analytics—is radically digitalising the procurement process. While this has the potential to increase efficiency, revenue, and accelerate the procure-to-pay process, it has also driven complexity. Luckily, digital transformation also holds the key to managing this complexity. Digital tools, powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, can tackle larger and more complex amounts of information than ever before. These analytical tools and their more powerful capabilities in turn have seen viable data sets balloon to include vast quantities of structured and unstructured data from throughout the supply chain, gathered together under the umbrella of Big Data.

Data source

Big Data, in gathering together vast amounts of information about every aspect of the source-to-pay process, in addition to broader contextual information ranging from economic instability to weather patterns, can help procurement professionals build up a more comprehensive, nuanced understanding of their procurement process than ever before. The level of visibility is unprecedented, even in a sector where supply chains are more complex than they’ve ever been.

Complex supply chains are more prone to disruption. More moving parts and longer distances to travel mean higher likelihoods of things going wrong. Michael Higgins, founder and CEO of Clutch, wrote recently that “risk is inherent at every step of the supply chain, from moving raw materials to manufacturers and between manufacturers and the distributor,” adding that “The added value of big data analytics is predicting potential disruptions, giving procurement managers time to make intelligent decisions.”

Procurement transformation

Advanced analytical tools can be used to track the weather, potential disruptions to agricultural or construction operations, political unrest like demonstrations or riots, and changing legislature that may affect everything from compliance to price. Because Big Data analytics are increasingly capable of collecting and analysing all of these factors and more, procurement professionals have the capacity to counteract sources of risk that traditionally would have seemed as inevitable as an act of divine wrath.

The risks to a supply chain are really representative of risks to your suppliers and their networks. Big Data analytics is also granting insight into the workings of—allowing a huge number of variables tied to each supplier to be tracked and used to make decisions. The result is a more agile and reactive procurement process that can analyse and respond to data analytics in real time, as opposed to trying to make best guesses based on past results and limited human judgement.

Procurement is truly transforming from the back office to the boardroom—becoming more strategic, digitally empowered, and complex than ever before—and Big Data analytics are increasingly a vital part of the function within the modern source-to-pay process.

By Harry Menear

Efforts to address climate and social issues in the procurement process don’t have to be siloed, argues a new report from Business Fights Poverty.

With more than 90% of a company’s environmental impact originating within its supply chain, not its internal operations, corporations are under greater pressure than ever to divest and draw down their Scope 3 emissions.

At the same time, other Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) issues concerning gender disparity, minority representation, and workers’ rights are also more clearly in the spotlight than ever before alongside climate change. 

However, a report published on 5th December by social impact-focused network organisation Business Fights Poverty, argues that while there is “an urgent need for transformative action on environmental and social issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, poverty and inequality,” there exists a tendency in the corporate sector to tackle these “complex and fast-moving challenges by simplifying them and breaking them down into separate, smaller issues”.

The result is often that solving issues of climate, social, and ecological justice becomes a zero-sum game, with one issue neglected at the expense of others, because of a siloed approach manifesting itself beneath the ESG umbrella. The report argues that, not only is this approach antithetical to the ideals of ESG initiatives, but “an integrated and systemic approach that recognises the interconnectivity of the challenges across environmental and social issues” is more effective at tackling these issues.

The report, titled Supply Chain Decarbonisation with a Gender Lens: Practical Guidance for Global Businesses, notes that vulnerable groups, especially women, are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. It goes on to provide guidance for corporate procurement strategists and leaders, describing how to ensure that “women are both unharmed by decarbonisation strategies, and that their participation in any benefits generated in the process is secured.”

Four Gender-Sensitive Routes to Procurement Process Decarbonisation

  1. Supplier incentives: Recognise and co-brand with suppliers who are emerging as leaders on decarbonisation and/or gender.
  2. Procurement policies and choices: Source from and encourage women-led businesses that are providing low carbon solutions
  3. Product and services design: Switch to renewable energy and upskill women to participate in the switch.
  4. Business model innovation: Promote a circular economy that includes women, for example decent work for waste and recycling pickers.

The need for decarbonisation in the procurement process is pivotal. As of Q4 2023, nearly 40% of Fortune 500 companies have now set Net Zero targets. It’s not good enough, and the actual meaning of Net Zero is being eroded and worked around by corporations looking for ways to continue harming the environment and damaging the global social fabric while making record profits. But it’s a start. 

“Whilst a growing number of companies are investing resources to better understand, account for, manage and reduce their supply chain emissions, little attention is being devoted to the role of, and impacts of interventions on, the people working in those supply chains,” urges the report. “The decarbonisation strategies of large multinational companies with complex global supply chains have impacts on workers around the world, both positive and negative.”

By Harry Menear

Our cover story this month reveals how Dr Roman Salasznyk, Senior Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton, and his team are driving innovation at the IT services specialist to deliver digital solutions supporting federal agencies in their quest to drive mission-critical programs

This month’s cover story charts how IT services specialist Booz Allen Hamilton is delivering digital solutions to support federal agencies in their quest to deliver mission-critical programs.

Welcome to the latest issue of Interface magazine!

Technology is changing lives; from banking to transport and manufacturing to healthcare, the scaling of digital transformation journeys across global industry sectors is enabling and enhancing our lives… Harnessing the power of tech, to manage everything from the evolution of our supply chains to our response to medical emergencies like COVID-19, is changing the game.

Read the latest issue here!

Booz Allen Hamilton: innovation in public health

Our cover story this month reveals how IT services specialist Booz Allen Hamilton is delivering leading edge solutions to support federal agencies in their quest to deliver mission-critical programs.

“We’ve made a concerted effort to invest and provide leading-edge capabilities to support some of our client’s most pressing public health challenges across the federal government space,” says Salasznyk. “Technology must add value, solve a business problem, and deliver measurable improvements in efficiency and effectiveness.” That efficiency is driven by over 29,000 experts around the world driving digital journeys, developing analytics insights, engineering, and cybersecurity solutions while working shoulder-to-shoulder with clients to choose the right tech to realise their vision and transform.

Nuffield Health: digital transformation for a healthier tomorrow

Nuffield Health is the UK’s largest healthcare charity (independent of the NHS) operating 37 hospitals and 114 Fitness & Wellbeing Centres. IT leaders Jacqs Harper and David Ankers describe the organisation’s incredible digital transformation and how its people-first attitude runs deep. Nuffield’s beneficiary-centric approach means “driving experiences” to be optimal and best-in-class is paramount. “What was really compelling when I joined Nuffield was how much of a difference this business can make to the nation in terms of improving its health,” says Ankers. “And equally, how we as a team can make the lives of practitioners so much easier. There’s a huge amount of value IT can add.”

Also in this issue, we hear from Celonis on why process mining can help companies stop wasting money on tech they don’t need, and we present the latest analysis from consultancy giant McKinsey’s Technology Council highlighting the development, future uses and industry effects of advanced technologies across 14 key trends.

Enjoy the issue!

Dan Brightmore, Editor