Leading the IT procurement transformation of TELUS

Leading the IT procurement transformation of TELUS

Mariam Saad, Director of Procurement, IT & Technology Services at TELUS, discusses the importance of digital transformation and partner ecosystems...


One of Canada's largest telecommunications companies, TELUS, is leading the way in terms of digitally transforming its operations using advanced technologies to drive efficiencies. In 2020 the organisation won the Digital Transformation Award under the AI-fueled Digital Transformation category from IT World Canada (ITWC). This award was presented to TELUS in recognition of its industry-leading innovation for AI chatbots and robotic process automation (RPA) solutions.

While TELUS became a national Canadian brand in 2000, its history dates back to the late 1800s when Alberta Government Telephones was founded to provide telephone lines for people in the western province. When the company was reorganised, it became part of the newly established TELUS Corporation, and sales of TELUS shares were the largest initial public offering in Canadian history up to that point, raising $896 million. 

Following a merger with BC TELECOM, and acquiring Clearnet, TELUS is today one of Canada's largest technology companies and a leading national telecoms provider. But as Director of Procurement in IT & Technology Services Mariam Saad tells us, now they are focusing on growing several new verticals including home security, agriculture, and health. 

Saad has a background in sales. After studying international business and marketing she completed a leadership certificate in the Executive MBA programme. She spent the first 10 years of her career in sales, specifically in IT sales, working for Compuware and Upland among others. Then she was headhunted by mining company Rio Tinto, who were looking for someone with commercial and business skills - Saad was a perfect match.  

This led to working in procurement, and after 6 years at Rio Tinto she joined TELUS, initially as their Strategic Sourcing Manager for IT software and hardware. Within five years she moved up to her current role as Director of Procurement, IT & Technology Services, TELUS. 

"At TELUS, my role in procurement has been heavily weighted towards transformation of our overall capabilities," Saad says. "From a day-to-day delivery standpoint I support IT software, cloud, and the technology business." 

The organisation has a clear goal: to become a software-first, cloud native organisation. Within procurement, key strategic aims are to reduce purchase order cycle time, and drive end-to-end integration across all TELUS platforms. To do this they are leveraging automation, artificial intelligence, and data analytics, all of which are helping them accelerate their digital capabilities. 

Saad explains that this digital transformation is delivering four major benefits: reducing time, reducing risk, leveraging more innovation, and creating more actionable insights. "I would say the benefits are reducing time to source, reducing risks, leveraging more innovation and driving incremental value. Also bringing our data into the Google Cloud Platform will enable us to clean the data, create actionable insights for teams, and integrate the data flow right across the organisation." 

"Reducing the time it takes to get the relevant data is our biggest challenge" Saad adds. To address this they are deploying a range of advanced technologies like NLP, machine learning, advanced analytics and AI. Deploying AI tools with hyper automation is particularly important, to enable them to automate tasks, and to aid end-to-end visibility from suppliers. 

Another important tool is smart contracting. Smart contracts are written in a digital format, in language that is readable by both humans and machines. Typically run on a blockchain, they can also contain an algorithm that automates the performance of the agreement itself - in procurement and supply chain, they are increasingly used for inventory management and the automation of payments.

The aim of these tools, Saad explains, is to do the administrative work to enable their teams to focus on leveraging relationships with suppliers, as well as innovation. 

While their priority is to develop their core competencies and enhance in-house capabilities, only using third parties when necessary, their partner ecosystem is crucial to advancing the business, as Saad says, "we've built very strategic partnerships that have allowed us to build some of the fastest, highest quality networks in the world." 

Several of these have won awards, including Best Customer Service Strategy for their partnership with Samsung Electronics, and being named Cisco’s Cloud Partner of the Year for Americas-Canada. 

Along with important partnerships with IBM, AWS, and Microsoft, in February this year TELUS announced a 10-year partnership with Google Cloud. "This will help us accelerate our digital transformation journey to become a software-first company cloud native organisation" Saad says.  

"We have these partnerships because they are mutually beneficial, and they really have a high degree of collaboration with a focus on a multi-year relationship and consistent business results. They enable our business customers to streamline their IT and network operations. These partnerships are crucial because they help us deliver on our priorities."

As part of this partnership, both companies will generate new industry solutions and strategies to drive growth in telecoms, healthcare, home security and agriculture. 

Their focus on agriculture is a great example of innovation. Launched in November last year, TELUS Agriculture has the ambitious aim of digitally transforming the global food system. Using advanced data analytics and AI, the goal is to streamline operations and improve food traceability. "TELUS is redefining the way healthcare and agriculture are delivered by increasing collaboration efficiency between healthcare providers, and providing consumers with fresher, healthier food, by creating systems that allow people to trace the origins of their food, which can lead to better nutrition and ultimately, health outcomes" Saad explains. 

Despite forming relatively recently, TELUS Agriculture already supports more than 150 million acres of agricultural land, with a team of over 1,200 experts across the Americas, the United Kingdom, Europe, China, and Australia.

It's certainly something that sets TELUS apart, as Saad says, "other telecom companies here in Canada focus on media for example, but our focus is really on helping Canadians by delivering healthcare, We are helping Canadians live healthier lives by applying innovative technologies to revolutionise healthcare. For agriculture, we are on a mission to tackle one of the most significant social challenges of our generation—feeding the world—while improving the quality and safety of our food by leveraging technology innovation and human compassion and home security, and in the future we will continue to invest in these key industries. That's how we'll become the leading company in these sectors."  

Mariam Saad