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4 Questions with Sheel Patel, Head of Strategic Sourcing & Procurement at Okta

Today’s procurement focus isn’t just about policing expenditures. Organizations are increasingly turning to procurement as a strategic enabler — serving as a gateway that supports the processes and tools that will allow an organization to scale and grow. In today’s corporate ecosystem, procurement must find alignment with both Finance and IT departments in order to help execute the company’s big picture growth strategy.

In a recent webinar, Okta Head of Strategic Sourcing and Procurement Sheel Patel shares how procurement is transitioning from a model where saying no is the norm to one where procurement teams are actively partnering with departments to create and deliver value.

1. Procurement leaders are wearing many hats and must be flexible and resilient. What are the top priorities for procurement leaders today?

Sheel: First and foremost, procurement’s goal is to enable the business. There will always be elements of compliance and risk management that fall into our jurisdiction, but when you’re looking at procurement through the value lens, you must consider how decisions will enable a business to move forward. This means being able to react quickly, act with speed and agility, and acknowledge the processes you have in place and continue to adjust and improve on those processes.

These are priorities that no procurement organization can afford to be without, especially when you’re growing 35-40% year-over-year like we are at Okta. We operate under the belief that what worked yesterday might be irrelevant tomorrow. When you have enablement in focus and can be flexible in the ways you deliver enablement, you can create tangible value.

2. Data is playing an increasingly important role in procurement. How can data ensure you’re delivering value to the organization, and how does it bring clarity to procurement as a whole?

Sheel: We use Productiv SaaS management quite a bit at Okta, and the data we get from Productiv has given us some really helpful insights across verticals. Looking at “last login” data can only give us so much detail, and because we have so many different tools and platforms, we needed a better way to dig into the data.

After using Productiv, we found a particular platform had an 80-90% engagement on the surface. But then, when you dial deeper, you can see that the utilization is directly tied to consumption, not creation. Then, when you compare it to another platform, which had a 70% engagement rate, we saw that its engagement is directly tied to creating new content.

We want to know where content is being created, not just consumed, and we could see this with Productiv. When we had to make a decision on which platform to use, the answer was clear. It removed any emotion or attachment to the platform from the conversation so we could drive our decisions purely with data.

3. Okta is known for bringing best-in-class technologies into the organization. What is your process for selecting those technologies and how are you futureproofing them?

Sheel: Bringing in a new tool or platform always comes with challenges, simply because people don’t always respond well to change. It then becomes a priority to gain trust and buy-in by reminding people we’re on this journey together. This journey has a goal, and while it might not be easy, there are certain benefits that come with implementing changes and getting outside of what we’re comfortable with.

This comes a lot easier when you can strike the balance between being best-in-breed and comfortable. If you’re chasing every endpoint solution that exists, you’re going to end up with a massive list of tools and platforms that aren’t going to serve its users to their potential.

Yes, we do go after the best of the best technologies, but we’re also mindful from an architectural standpoint about how we can scale, grow, and thrive. Our tools should enable efficiency, not create more work for us. We use data to find this balance and know without a doubt which tools are truly best-in-class for us.

4. What is the process of managing SaaS applications and vendors at Okta?

Sheel: We’re in a place now where we are re-evaluating what this process looks like. We know it’s an important priority, and now that we have a new CIO who is going to bring more order and discipline to this aspect, it’s going to become an even greater priority. We’re at a good place in our growth cycle to dig a little deeper into the data we have to see how we can create best practices that work.

On a daily basis, we leverage Productiv SaaS management as our sole source of truth. My team, as well as leadership within the IT organization, rely on it to gain data insights across the organization regarding technologies and vendors. We’ve had a great adoption rate with Productiv so far and continues to serve an important purpose for us. It gives us direct insight into the culture of the company and allows us to see what’s working, what’s not working, and what value we’re getting from our tools.

These insights play a huge role in having conversations internally regarding the tools and software we use or are considering using. We don’t have a framework for this, per se, since these conversations can vary based on the individual. What we do is try to understand what’s important to the other party. We want to know what they want to accomplish, what they have at stake, and then we try to find a workable solution.

Final Thoughts from Sheel Patel

For Sheel, procurement is not merely a compliance function or a place of negotiation, but rather an enabler across the organization. However, because SaaS has the propensity to sprawl, part of enablement means having a solid way to manage the sprawl in a way that’s efficient, productive, and able to support growth.

“It comes down to a couple of different threads for us: one is eliminating duplication across the landscape. The other is understanding what is being used, and for what purposes, so you can have the right conversations with the right people at the right time – and have the data to support those conversations.”

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