Making Automation Sing – What Coupa CPO Dina Ghobrial Says is the Secret to Success as a Procurement & Transformation Leader

Read time: 16 mins
Making Automation Sing – What Coupa CPO Dina Ghobrial Says is the Secret to Success as a Procurement & Transformation Leader

Coupa hit many milestones in 2018, not the least of which was hiring our first Chief Procurement Officer, Dina Ghobrial.

Born in Cairo, Egypt, Dina spent most of her childhood in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, returning to Egypt to attend the American University in Cairo, where she attained her Honours Bachelor Degree in Economics and Computer Science.

While she was in college, her family immigrated to Toronto, Canada, where she joined them after graduation.

She held a variety of positions within different companies, including the prestigious Toronto law firm, Davies, Ward & Beck, before joining Scotiabank, where she rose through the ranks over a period of 22 years, leading several key digital transformation initiatives along the way.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Dina spent 31 years as choir director in her community in Toronto—she loves orchestrating transformations, and is known for her skill in creating harmony by fostering collaborative environments, bringing together people, process, and technology to achieve the desired outcomes.

We caught up with Dina to learn more about her experiences, her approach to digital transformation, and what led her to Coupa.

Coupa: Welcome, Dina, we’re excited to have you with us.

Dina: Thank you, excited to be here!

Coupa: You have a unique and interesting story as far as how you became a CPO.

You came from a technology background and worked your way up through the Wealth Management organization at Scotiabank before switching to Global Procurement Services.

What was that journey like for you? And what advice would you give to others in procurement looking to make an impact?

Dina: I really enjoyed being a part of Scotiabank’s digital transformation.

I had the privilege of supporting the product and technology strategy for the bank’s Full-Service Brokerage and Online Brokerage businesses.

I’d say the project I’m most proud of is establishing and leading Global Wealth Management’s very first mobile development team.

At the time, we were still on Blackberry. Since our engineering team was fully deployed, I got buy-in to hire iOS developers, assigned them a strong tech lead, and made sure their efforts were synced with other key teams across IT.

The resulting output was the rollout of an Apple iOS mobile strategy across Wealth Management, a series of mobile apps supporting the broker community, followed by Scotiabank’s first mobile trading app, which allowed customers to place trades and access third-party research using mobile iOS and Android devices.

Another key project happened after I moved to Global Procurement Services. I supported the implementation of a third-party risk management program across the bank, globally, and sourced Coupa as an end-to-end Source-to-Pay system.

What I’ve learned through all these transformations is that the “people change” component is usually the hardest part.

Similar to arranging a choir group based on vocal range/talent and conducting them to present a beautiful song in harmony, organizational transformations require thoughtful orchestration of roles and activities across relevant teams.

You can’t just implement technology and drop some documentation in people’s hands and expect good outcomes.

For every project, I put an intensive change management plan in place, including soliciting and listening to stakeholder feedback throughout the process.

Also important is defining “champions” to help promote the final products and developing engaging communications every step of the way—sometimes even using gamification. By doing this, you’re presenting the change in harmony with the champions, and in-person, whenever possible. Written change documentation is then like putting a bow on what people have already internalized and, hopefully, also welcomed.

Coupa: That makes sense, dealing with change requires thoughtful strategy, but so does the decision to embark on change in the first place.

When it comes to tech solutions for business problems, it can be really hard to know what system is the right one for you.

What are some of the pitfalls that people fall into when making purchasing decisions, and what advice would you give?

Dina: I think people sometimes get hung up on the price tag, and they don't necessarily think strategically about the total cost of ownership as compared to the true value being derived, or about “hidden” costs associated with potential inefficiencies that the tool might create.

Leaders ought to think, what’s it going to take to turn that shiny technology object into tangible value to the organization, and how do you sustain that value over the life of the product? Is that tech solution really a “tool” that’s sure to simplify people’s days, or will it add complexity? Those are a couple of the first things I look at with any purchase.

For example, you go out and you find a beautiful skirt, and it may be on sale. You take it home, and then you realize, "Well, I don't have a shirt to go with that. I don't have shoes to go with it." By the time you finish the outfit, it costs three times as much, and will likely not be as elegant as if you’d bought that full-on suite that had cost a little more than the original skirt!

Leaders need to dig deeper, especially when procuring products that are meant to provide strategic value, have a potentially long shelf-life, and make a significant impact on the people who have to end up using the products.

Coupa: It sounds like you're making the case for IT to evaluate new technology purchases more holistically.

Dina: Yes, but the burden is not just on IT. It's on procurement and business leaders alike.

Decision makers need to think three-to-five years out and ask themselves, "Am I going to be able to get my organization to work with this tool?" Is the tool going to deliver value commensurate with, or higher than, the total cost of owning it?

Earlier in my career, we deployed a tool that was extremely hard to use, and everybody said, "It's okay. We're just going to do more training."

Well, we kept doing training for about seven years. In the end, we wrote off the entire thing and bought a brand-new application because nobody could use the tool.

The cost of training and support ended up being prohibitive. Not to mention the frustrations and most importantly, the fact that people couldn't actually get their work done, they couldn’t derive value. You've got a major opportunity cost there.

Coupa: What brought you to Coupa? Were you looking to get into procurement?

Dina: I was not looking for a job at all. I was VP of IT Sourcing, and everything was ticking. I literally bumped into this posting on LinkedIn, and the posting said, "Coupa is looking for their first CPO." I thought, "Hmm. That sounds really interesting." Coupa was one of my favorite tech suppliers.

I have worked with a million different tech vendors during my career. Working with Coupa was very refreshing.

I had never seen a supplier be so authentic and straightforward about what the product could and couldn’t do, or what I should buy or not buy. They said we were going to implement in seven to eight months. We were implemented in eight months. Those things are very rare in the technology field.

Though moving to the San Francisco Bay Area as a potential retirement destination had been something my husband and I had contemplated— because our two children live in San Francisco—we certainly had not planned on moving here for work.

However, when I saw Coupa’s CPO posting, I thought, "I can’t pass up this opportunity. I'm just going to put my name in the hat and see what happens," and, here I am.

Coupa: With your background in economics and technology, you clearly have a strong focus on total cost of ownership and the ability to anticipate cost factors other people might not think of.

With the lessons you’ve learned in that area, what would you say is a key, maybe sometimes underappreciated quality, that people need in a CPO role?

Dina: Given the era we live in, where the majority of business spend involves the procurement of some form of technology, I would say CPOs need to put more focus on the business value of the technology they invest in.

As trusted advisors to the business units they support, CPOs need to help their business units be more empowered to do what they do best: run their business, service their clients, and in turn, increase the organization’s shareholder value.

Coupa: What do you hope to achieve as CPO of Coupa?

My focus has always been on how to make technology deliver business results, and doing so while achieving short-term wins as well as delivering on strategic long-term goals. My ultimate goal is to maximize shareholder value by helping Coupa become the smartest spending organization in the world!

Given the power of the Coupa platform and its underlying customer community, I consider myself one of the most fortunate CPOs on the planet—being well-empowered to manage and optimize every dollar spent.

Having said that, just as important to me is being able to build upon the organization’s great culture, which invariably starts and ends with people.

The thing I’ve found truly unique about Coupa is how much the concept of “community” is truly embedded into everything, from our core values, to the products we create, to how we work together.

In celebrating successes my colleagues usually say “it takes a village,” and I’m a firm believer in that—we’re all smarter together, and achieving lasting success requires collaborating to build something greater than the sum of our parts. It’s like those individual vocalists, uniquely having good talent, but becoming absolutely breathtaking in harmony on stage together.

As part of this very special Coupa fabric, I look forward to working alongside other procurement professionals from across our vibrant customer community. I’m excited to share insights and support their efforts in continuing to be trusted advisors on Business Spend Management, while strategically advancing their organizations’ value-creation objectives, and building their own professional careers along the way.