Is Blockchain The Next Big Thing For Supply Chain?

What does blockchain mean for your supply chain?

By Oleksandr Nagaiets/ Shutterstock

Few people working in supply chain roles have a clear understanding of how this fledgeling solution called blockchain is, or could be, applied in their organisations. There is much hype and misinformation in the marketplace and much of it is due to the unproven nature in practice and unknown long-term costs of blockchain applications.

So what is blockchain?

Without getting too technical, the underlying principle of blockchain is to provide a secure environment where encrypted business transactions between buyer and seller can happen without the need for third parties such as banks and clearing agents to intervene. According to McKinsey,

blockchain is an internet-based technology that is prized for its ability to publicly validate, record, and distribute transactions in immutable, encrypted ledgers”.

Immutable, in this case, means that each link in the blockchain is completely secure and unbreakable. Blockchain’s format guarantees the data has not been counterfeited and that information can be read by any authorized party.

There are two main types of blockchain applications, one private and the other public. In the commercial environment, the networks are mostly private, this type of operation is sometimes referred to as “permissioned”.    Read more detail about how Blockchain works here.   

The world before blockchain

This diagram below is typical of a traditional sales transaction with many intermediaries.  Currently, these intermediaries process, verify and reconcile transactions before the ownership of the goods or services can pass from seller to buyer. How many people does it take to move a container of avocados from a Kenyan seller to a UK buyer?  At least thirty, but more importantly, there are over 200 individual transaction events and communications involved. 

What traditional buyer-to-seller transactions look like today  

What supply chains could look like tomorrow  

The world after blockchain

In a private blockchain network,  the procure-to-pay process is streamlined so that documents are matched triggering payment and creating a verifiable audit trail.   Nestlé is breaking new ground in supply chain transparency through a collaboration with OpenSC – an innovative blockchain platform that allows consumers to track their food right back to the farm.  The initial pilot program will trace milk from farms and producers in New Zealand to Nestlé factories and warehouses in the Middle East.

What does blockchain mean for your supply chain?

How can this fledgeling technology be beneficial? According to McKinsey, there are three main areas where blockchain can add value:

  1. Replacing slow, manual paper-based processes.
  2. Strengthening traceability which reduces quality and recall problems
  3. Potentially reducing supply-chain IT transaction costs  (maybe?).

The answer seems to lie in its potential to speed up administrative processes and to take costs out of the system while still guaranteeing the security of transactions.  Blockchain has the potential to disrupt or create competitive advantage, but the biggest barrier to its adoption is that so few have a good grasp on how it can be of use in their operations.

The potential benefits

  • faster and more accurate tracking of products and distribution assets, e.g. trucks, containers, as they move through the supply chain  
  • reduction of errors on orders, goods receipts, invoices and other trade-related documents due to less need for manual reconciliation 
  • a permanent audit trail of every product movement or financial transaction from its source to its ultimate destination.
  • trust is created between users through using a transparent ledger where transactions are immutable, secure and  auditable

What are the obstacles?

1.The cost

Implementing a blockchain solution may require expensive amendments and upgrades to existing systems which is both costly and time-consuming. Who pays and what is the return on investment?

2. Change management

There will be a need to convince all involved parties to join a particular blockchain and collaborate for mutual benefit. More openness will be needed, the old ways of protecting information won’t work. There is likely to be some mistrust initially especially around market share and sales data.

3. Rules and regulations

Legal advice is essential to understand what regulatory frameworks must be complied with. There are no accepted global standards for Blockchain that align with maritime law, international customs regulations and the various commercial codes such as Incoterms that govern the commercial transfer of ownership.  

4. Security

Is Blockchain really unbreakable?  Hackers would not only need to infiltrate a specific block to alter existing information but would have to access all of the preceding blocks going back through the entire history of that blockchain, across every ledger in the network, simultaneously. Even with encryption, cyber-attacks are a concern and cybersecurity costs money.

Transacting using “smart” contracts

Blockchain can be used to create “smart” contracts that execute the terms of any agreement when specified conditions are met. The “smart” part is a piece of computer code that predefines a set of rules under which the parties to that smart contract agree to interact with each other. Not recommended for beginners.

What industries will benefit most? 

Industries with the greatest potential are those that deal with extensive paperwork such as freight forwarding, marine shipping, and transport logistics. 

Tracking ofautomotive parts as they move between manufacturing facilities and countries is an attractive application as interfaces between motor manufacturers and their 3PL transport partners are complex and often not well-integrated. Toyota is venturing into developing blockchain solutions for its core parts supply chain operations.

Vulnerable and highly regulated supply chains such as food and healthcare

can benefit due to their need for transparency. Real estate has great potential due to the mass of records and documents involved such as transfers of land titles, property deeds, liens etc.  

Avoiding the hype

Gartner says that although blockchain holds great promise, often the technology is offered as a solution in search of a problem. They advise that “to ensure a successful blockchain project, make sure you actually need to use blockchain technology. Additionally, much of what is on the market as an enterprise “blockchain” solution lacks at least two of the five core components: Encryption, immutability, distribution, decentralization and tokenization.”  Gartner’s long term view is that blockchain will only move through its Trough of Disillusionment by 2022. 

Will it work in your supply chain?

The jury is still out on whether blockchain will really create a competitive advantage. Also, the cost of running a blockchain in time and resources is the unknown factor. For companies thought to have efficient supply chain operations with trusted partners and reliable databases, such a complex solution may not be needed. A supplier portal that is housed in the cloud may be more than adequate when coupled with an established ERP system.   

5 Ways To Achieve Marginal Gains In Procurement

By Eugene Onischenko / Shutterstock

At the Big Ideas Summit 2019, Justin Sadler-Smith, Head of UK & Ireland, Procurement & Supply Chain at SAP Ariba shared his view of procurement in an insightful and thought-provoking presentation.

Among the issues that Justin talked about was an ever-decreasing time for procurement to react to the changing market environment and put actionable strategies in place. Because if procurement isn’t fit for purpose, not delivering against stakeholder expectations, then there is the potential for huge, negative impact from a brand and shareholder perspective.

There is a whole mix of uncertainties which are causing people to reassess how they are doing business and then ultimately doing it in a different way. Organisations, and procurement as part of them, need to be looking at what we are doing tomorrow and reinvent ourselves to become more competitive than they have been in the past.

As part of this Justin talked about an issue that is fast becoming a key for procurement to take account of and account for in its day-to-day operations. And that is leaving behind a positive legacy. Here is Justin explaining it in his own words:

Faster Reactions, Greater Purpose

When it comes to procuring with purpose, procurement professionals around the world need to be able to react quicker to changes in order to set the foundation for the legacy we should all be leaving behind.

Justin argued during his presentation that it’s almost as if procurement is in a race. In simple terms, those who are fastest to react, fastest to respond to changing demands are those who will win. It might not even be procurement who are the ones triumphing in the race, and that could spell the end for procurement as we know it.

The issue here is that many procurement professionals just haven’t been trained to do this. Without adequate training, much like an Olympic athlete, or Tour de France rider, there is no chance of being able to meet these demands and deliver what is required.

How do procurement professionals get trained up then? There’s no use knowing that there is a need to change unless there is willingness to do so, as well as more support to implement it.

Help is at hand, however, from an unexpected source. When Sir David Brailsford became Performance Director at British Cycling, he came up with the idea of breaking down the individual aspects of a race and then improving them one by one. The notion of ‘marginal gains’, was that a number of small, 1 per cent, improvements would collectively add up to a major competitive advantage.

It was this thinking that helped British Cycling dominate on the track at successive Olympic Games between 2004 and 2012, and then Team Sky/Ineos win seven of the last either Tours de France (not to mention other events and Grand Tours).

How then do we take this concept and apply it to procurement? Justin has shared his thoughts on this, helpfully broken down into five key areas.

Marginal Gains in Procurement

  1. Data – Where is data stored within your organisation and how easy is it for you to get it? How is HR data incorporated in your function? You need to look after people – those who own the data – as this is the life-blood of the organisation and you need to make the breadth and depth of your data valuable and usable.
  2. Productivity – procurement can drive this in an organisation by looking at different areas of automation that probably haven’t been looked at before. For example, how many people are really looking at AI as a way to change their organisation, without worrying about the spectre of job losses?
  3. Innovation – this is the concept of co-innovation by working in collaboration with suppliers to building differentiation. For this you need to get closer to your supplier base and remove any barriers to working closely with the right suppliers.
  4. Purpose – what do we mean by purpose? It’s the idea of driving social responsibility through supply chains at multiple levels. This is well beyond a tick box exercise now – it’s a must for good business as well as for making a better world. The idea runs beyond risk mitigation and focuses more on building value through sustainability.
  5. Well-being – people are living in a much more stressful period globally. However, by driving these needs and having a purpose, it can change the game when it comes to how people operate and feel. For procurement, this means attracting, retaining and caring for their top talent and nurturing their people.

Procure with Purpose

Procurious have partnered with SAP Ariba to create a global online group – Procure with Purpose.

Through Procure with Purpose, we’re shining a light on the biggest issues – from Modern Slavery; to Minority Owned Business; and from Social Enterprises; to Environmental Sustainability.

Click here to enrol and gain access to  all future Procure with Purpose events including exclusive content, online events and regular webinars.

How To Design An Interview Process That Predicts Performance

Interviews are a useful tool to build rapport, and even start a relationship, with candidates after their skills have been validated.

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First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Traditional interviews don’t actually predict performance. Rather, the best way to predict performance is to test job-related skills in context. Nevertheless, there is a place for interviews in the hiring process. Interviews are a useful tool to build rapport, and even start a relationship, with candidates after their skills have been validated. They can, and should, also be used to answer unanswered questions from the hiring process. 

Interviewing is often used as a synonym for candidate selection, but it shouldn’t be. Interviews should only comprise a small part of the candidate selection process. In fact, if an “interview process”, a.k.a. a selection process, is designed properly then traditional interviews only need to play a minor role.

Rather than dealing with hypotheticals, I’m going to share a real blow-by-blow story about a recent hire we made. The process included a recruitment agency, marketing, online skills assessment using our own platform, interviews and reference checks. I’ll explain how each step worked and why we did things in a very deliberate order.

Role definition

This is arguably the most important step. If you don’t define the role correctly the entire process will be flawed because nobody will have clarity about the kind of person you’re looking for.

A helpful starting place is thinking about the purpose of the role. Why does it exist? We wanted to hire someone who could help our largest customers get maximum value from their investment in Vervoe. That was our “why” for this role.

We wanted someone who had expertise in assessment and I/O psychology, was a natural with enterprise customers and would thrive in a startup. 

Recruitment agency appointment

We don’t usually use agencies and I’m not advocating for, or against, the use of agencies. It depends on the situation. In this case we were looking for a candidate with a very specific skill set and we were almost certain that we needed to attract passive candidates. The people who met our criteria weren’t necessarily looking and, more importantly, they were probably working with a big company and therefore not looking for roles with startups.  

So we wanted an agency to help with candidate sourcing, particularly market mapping ad outreach. In other words, we wanted the agency to find people and convince them it was an exciting opportunity.

First contact

This fact we were tapping passive candidates on the shoulder influenced the rest of the process. We had to convince candidates to talk to us rather than the other way around. So throwing them into an assessment wasn’t going to work. We had to sell to them

So the agency approached them and had an informal conversation. After that the hiring manager met the candidates. Is this the most efficient use of time? No. But it was necessary given the calibre of people we were trying to attract. This wasn’t a high volume situation.  

The purpose of the conversation with the hiring manager wasn’t to determine whether candidates can do the job. It was to sell to the candidate, get a feel for their motivation and give them visibility over the remainder of the process. It was about buy-in. 

Skills assessment

After speaking to the hiring manager candidates were invited to complete an online skills assessment, known as a Talent Trial. They had to opt into this stage.

We positioned the skills assessment stage as a two-way street. An opportunity for us to see how they perform job-related tasks, and an opportunity for them to get a realistic feel for the role and the product they’ll be working on.

It made sense. Every single candidate we invited to this stage successfully completed their skills assessment.

The interview

Then came the interview. It was a discussion with me and I only interviewed one person, whom we ultimately hired.

I didn’t focus on skills because I already had evidence the preferred candidate could do the job. She performed very well in the skills assessment, which was carefully crafted to reflect the role.

We discussed how we’d work together, including her preferred working style, how we can invest in her, some of the quirks of our team and what she can expect if she joins. It was lighthearted and fun, at least for me.

Reference checks

I’m a big believer in reference checking, but not for the reasons you might expect. References are almost always positive. It’s a rigged game. But, if done correctly, reference checks can be very effective in setting candidates up for success. They help understand what it would be like to work with the candidate, how we can support them and how we can get the best out of them. 

They’re an employee onboarding tool of sorts.

We asked the recruitment agency to conduct two reference checks and send us detailed notes.

Meeting the team

We wanted one more conversation with the hiring manager and the team. At a startup it’s really important to bring existing team members into the process. In fact, I believe it’s important in any company. It increases the chance that existing team members will welcome the new hire, and gives the preferred candidate an opportunity to see who they’ll be working with. It reduces the risk for everybody. 

The offer

A quick offer is a good offer. We didn’t make the offer after the final discussion with the hiring manager and team. We made it during that discussion. After meeting the team, and after everyone gave the thumbs up, the candidate spoke to the hiring manager privately and got the good news. She accepted.

This article was originally published on Vervoe.

How Prepared Is Procurement For The Arrival Of The Tech Disruptors?

If A.I. can’t tell the difference between an apple and an owl, can it really take over our jobs?

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The future has arrived. Technology trends have moved from being forecasted, to disruptors to being, well…here! But how prepared is procurement to step up to the challenge? Will procurement evolve to incorporate and embrace these technologies or will we miss the opportunity to be the next Spotify or Uber.

In this article we take a look under the hood at some of the “it” crowd and see how tech disruptors can be repositioned to be enablers.

Automation

Automation has often been referenced as the reason for mass job losses and replacement of people in the workforce. Is this a realistic view of what automation is?

Automation refers to the systemisation of processes to create efficiencies. It is a programme that executes a particular task that is typically something that is repetitive and monotonous (as opposed to A.I. which is mimicking multiple tasks and is attempts to apply causation responses).

Automation can be used to replace menial tasks and ultimately release people to do other things that are more worthy of their time. Automation can help people to repurpose their time and spend it in other areas of their job that can add more value to the business, like stakeholder engagement for example. This repurposed time enables people to focus on the strategic aspects of their role rather than being purely reactive and task orientated.

Blockchain

Blockchain is effectively a filing cabinet in the cloud. It records transactions (a “block”) and each block forms part of a chain. The chain becomes a valuable information source and creates a collective environment where everyone can access everything. It is this network that can revolutionize how we experience things as it can connect previously unconnected parts of a supply chain.

Some examples include customers being able to trace coffee beans used in their morning brew from plantation to cup. Or the ability to trace the cacao plant to a single chocolate bar.  Procurement could utilise this technology to link supply chains like never before and provide true customer centric solutions (be it internal or external customers).

The applications are endless, but are we ready for it? What steps are procurement taking to ready themselves for potential new ways of working?

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.)

This is perhaps the biggest tech taboo of all, the ultimate fear mongering scenario. The term A.I. can imply to some people that technology will be able to create its own intelligence and that the intelligence may keep on evolving – ruling humans obsolete. This is not correct! A.I. technology requires humans to tell it what the world is. Humans are required to create the codes, algorithms and software that make it work.

There are many things that A.I. automation algorithms can’t always get right, like the infamous owl vs apple fail. A.I. requires a human to tell it what is an owl and what is an apple but there are certain subtleties of being human that simply can’t be trained.

While this provides a hearty belly laugh at the expense of the technology, it helps to demonstrate the gulf that exists between A.I. being able to realistically replace humans. A.I. is not a threat to all people in the workforce.

A.I. can be used to enhance the customer experience for example chatbots. It can also be used to programme population of key contract information instead of someone having to manually type it out. The application for A.I. in procurement would create huge efficiencies to enable us to get on with the real work.

Cryptocurrency

The advent of bitcoin changed the basic concept of how we view money. It combined an old world concept with new wave technology. It didn’t burn out or fade away it is still going strong.

The advent of cryptocurrency helps to pose the question of what could be the bitcoin of the future?

Will procurement be able to trade online for goods and services? Why not! It was impossible to imagine bitcoin taking off many years ago and look where it is now. Will contracts for goods and services be required? If the divide between the supply and buyer side of the fence is dissolving then what purpose will contracts serve in the future.

Sore head?

If you have tech overwhelm, don’t worry. This is all you need to remember:

  1. Humans won’t be replaced any time soon
  2. Technology is here and if you haven’t noticed, you’re probably about to be bypassed
  3. Procurement needs to up its game with the incorporation of technology and see it as an enabler
  4. Creative thinking is the precursor to adopting and utilising technology effectively. Release people from menial tasks and engage them in different areas of the business

The Best Procurement – Not Spending Money?

When it comes to getting the most out of your budgets, it’s not enough to just minimise your spend any more. The best approach may actually be trying not to spend any money at all – an anachronism to any procurement professional.

By Fernando Cortes/ Shutterstock

It was the great philosopher, Ronan Keating, who once sang of procurement, “You spend it best, when you spend nothing at all…”. This may be a gross exaggeration (sorry, Ronan!) but even if the words aren’t necessarily true, the sentiment is. Particularly for procurement professionals in the current age. 

We’ve talked ad nauseam about the ‘B’ word (no, not Brexit, the other one), about the issue of budgets (or lack thereof) in the public sector. Not only are budgets shrinking, but for many public bodies it’s become a matter of prioritisation of spending, which is opening up a whole new can of worms. 

In Scotland between 2013-14 and 2017-18, revenue funding from the Scottish Government for Councils fell by 7.1%, compared to the overall decrease of 1.8% for the Scottish Government itself. Surprisingly, for 2018-19, funding has actually increased by 0.3%. 

However, due to the nature of the services being delivered by many Local Authorities, there are still substantial budget holes to be filled. Maintaining, and improving, public services is only the start. In most cases it’s about delivering the same, and often a greater number of, services and all the new ‘one-off’ projects that are becoming prevalent, while managing the same, or smaller, budgets. 

In light of this, professionals have to invest wisely to help future savings targets. It becomes a matter of not only saving at the bottom line, but working hard to add value at the top line. 

Essentially what procurement is trying to do is to squeeze every penny – just maybe not like this…

Spend to Save 

So what are procurement doing in the short-term, or what could they be doing better? One thing that procurement might want to consider is the concept of spend to save. It might seem a bit backwards, but it’s a concept that can work. Let’s put this all in context with an example we will all recognise and be able to relate to. 

Unless you are working for the most progressive organisation in the world, you probably don’t have the latest IT hardware or software in your office. And, as much as you go on about day after day, you realise that this is unlikely to change in the near future. After all, the outlay on new IT equipment looks like a really expensive investment when looking at the bottom line figure. 

And who wants to be the Local Authority on the front page of the paper spending, say, £1 million on new IT when services are being cut, or Council tax is being increased? 

But consider the total cost implications. How much is being spent on maintaining legacy systems? Are browsers and software even supported anymore? And how much time are employees losing to logging in in the morning, programmes hanging or browsers not supporting key websites and applications? 

Consider the time it takes to complete a simple task like creating a spreadsheet, or uploading documents to a web-based portal. It’s hard to quantify how much time this takes over a day, but if this is a repetitive task then that time can start to add up. Lower productivity, lower efficiency and unhappy staff – all as a result of poor IT.

Then consider the efficiencies you could find with better hardware and software. You can give employees the option to work more flexibly and could potentially reduce the onward costs of contracts such as printing, annual maintenance and support services 

All of a sudden, that £1 million investment doesn’t seem so big any more… 

Don’t Spend…to Save 

But if making that outlay is a step too far for your organisation, then what you might need to do is to step all the way back to the beginning. After all, the best saving procurement can make is to not spend any money in the first place. Obvious and not exactly revolutionary, but still a solid strategy when it comes to spend management. 

How do we do it? It requires a strong will to say no and probably a fair amount of senior management buy-in and support. After all, you’ll be saying no to clients and end users and it’s nice to know that your managers and heads of department have your back if it’s taken above your head. 

What it boils down to is separating the wants from the needs, the nice to haves from the must haves. It’s a process procurement can lead on, but it needs support from all stakeholders to make it work. At the outset procurement can create and manage a User Intelligence Group (UIG) within the organisation, getting all the necessary people in the same room to thrash out the details and scope of requirements. 

This not only makes the process more efficient (and saves time and resources), but gives everyone an equal say, a chance to have their voice heard and, at very least, no chance to say they weren’t consulted! From this you can get your baseline specification and then engage with the market to assess the feasibility and see what goods or services are out there that could do the job for you. 

And finally, to link us all the way back to the beginning, you still have the power to not spend if you don’t think the solution is fit for purpose. Because if procurement are going to be the gatekeeper for the organisation’s spend, we should have the power to close the gate before the horse bolts once in a while. Don’t you think? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

4 Steps For Sourcing Pros To Win The Hearts Of Marketers

There are four steps sourcing professionals can take to win the hearts and minds of their marketing colleagues…

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“Once upon a time, Martians [men] and Venusians [women] met, fell in love, and had happy relationships together because they respected and accepted their differences. Then they came to Earth and amnesia set in: they forgot they were from different planets.” “And since that day men and women have been in conflict.” 

These passages from John Gray’s best-seller “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” could be applied to procurement and marketing. It can seem at times as if they are from different planets.  And the result is a relationship that is often tenuous at best. Marketers see procurement as an overbearing watchdog that must be kept on as tight a leash as possible. Meanwhile, many sourcing professionals view marketing as the poster child for undisciplined spending. This disconnect exists because of fundamental differences between the two functions. They have different goals and objectives, different mindsets and different business cultures.  So, is there a way to bridge the gap between procurement and marketing? Improving the relationship ultimately requires the commitment of both sourcing professionals and marketers, but there are four steps sourcing professionals can take to win the hearts and minds of their marketing colleagues.       

These passages from John Gray’s best-seller “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” could be applied to procurement and marketing. It can seem at times as if they are from different planets.  And the result is a relationship that is often tenuous at best. Marketers see procurement as an overbearing watchdog that must be kept on as tight a leash as possible. Meanwhile, many sourcing professionals view marketing as the poster child for undisciplined spending. This disconnect exists because of fundamental differences between the two functions. They have different goals and objectives, different mindsets and different business cultures.  So, is there a way to bridge the gap between procurement and marketing? Improving the relationship ultimately requires the commitment of both sourcing professionals and marketers, but there are four steps sourcing professionals can take to win the hearts and minds of their marketing colleagues.       

1. Make the Goals and Objectives of Marketing Job One  

The starting point for sourcing professionals is to recognize that marketing is all about revenue growth. Marketers live and breathe revenue growth and other growth-related objectives. As a result, they tend to value effectiveness over efficiency when thinking about marketing programs and investments. This creates a potential flashpoint with sourcing professionals, who are trained to focus on cost efficiency.  So it’s critical for sourcing professionals to position their role in the right way. They need to make it clear that they understand that marketing’s goals and objectives are paramount to the company’s survival, and that the role of procurement is to support marketers’ efforts to achieve those goals and objectives.  

2. Focus on “Optimizing the Budget”  

Marketers often believe that the primary objective of procurement is to cut costs, regardless of the consequences. In contrast, the objective of conscientious marketers is not to spend less, but to spend better. Therefore, it’s important for sourcing professionals to emphasize that their purpose is to help marketers optimize the marketing budget and obtain the greatest possible value from every marketing dollar that is spent.  In fact, it’s a good idea for sourcing professionals to drop the terms “cost cutting” and “cost savings” from their vocabulary entirely when dealing with marketers.  This approach is more than a communication tactic. Most marketing expenditures should be viewed as investments, not as “garden variety” operating expenses. Therefore, they should be evaluated by the return or value they produce, as well as their costs.      

3. Recognize that Marketing is Different 

As a sourcing professional, the second key to building an effective working relationship with marketing is to recognize that the marketing spend category is different from almost every other category that you encounter. Then you need to make sure that your marketing colleagues know that you know they’re different. What separates marketing from most other spend categories is the degree to which intangible and subjective factors play an important role in purchase decisions. When marketers are selecting an agency, for example, two of the most important factors in the selection process are how well each prospective agency understands their company’s brand and the quality of each prospective agency’s creative work. Both of these factors are intangible, and they must be evaluated subjectively. This is a case where proposal cost and the results on a vendor scorecard are less important than other factors in the ultimate purchase decision. There are also, however, some types of marketing purchases that are suitable for typical procurement processes. One example is the purchase of printed marketing materials. Advances in print production technologies have transformed printing from a craft to a manufacturing process. So it’s now possible to obtain work of comparable quality from several commercial printing firms. It addition, the specifications for printed products can be defined in detail, which makes it easy to compare proposals from multiple printing firms. Under these circumstances, obtaining competitive bids from a group of pre-vetted printing firms is just good practice and helps ensure that marketing is buying printed materials at competitive prices. The important point here is that sourcing professionals must recognize that many marketing purchase decisions will not follow typical procurement norms, and they must be prepared to adjust their expectations and processes accordingly.       

4. Land and Expand  

In any relationship, it takes time to develop trust and confidence, especially if some level of skepticism exists when the relationship begins. Therefore, when sourcing professionals first begin to work with marketing, it’s important to take a “land and expand” approach.  By land and expand, I mean that sourcing professionals should first seek to work with marketing on “low risk” purchases. Marketers may perceive purchases as low risk because of the dollars involved, or because the transactions don’t have major or long-term strategic importance. Once the working relationship is established – and once trust and confidence have developed – sourcing professionals will have a better chance to become involved with larger and/or more strategic purchases.  Sourcing professionals and marketers can build a productive working relationship if they make the effort to understand each other. If they are willing to respect each other’s legitimate goals and objectives, the four steps I’ve just described will enable sourcing professionals to jump start the relationship and build a successful joint outcome. 

This article was originally published on Future of Sourcing.

Procurement Experts Outlook 2019

An interview with the Senior Research Director at The Hackett Group, Jimmy LeFever.


By Billion Photos / Shutterstock

Welcome to Zycus Procurement Experts Outlook 2019. In this interview, we have Senior Research Director, Procurement Advisory Practice at The Hackett Group, Jimmy LeFever.

Zycus: What is the most prominent trend visible in 2019?

Jimmy LeFever: Digital transformation is the ruling trend which Procurement has to continue focusing on to develop strategic roadmaps. While some organizations have significantly outperformed others, some organizations have are fast gearing up for digital transformation.

Zycus: As you mentioned, digital transformation does give an organization an edge over others. What is it that best-in-class organizations do differently to stay ahead of the curve?

Jimmy: Best-in-class organisations have a focus on talent and skills. They are rethinking their approach to attract talent, invest in development, and plan better retention strategies. Some organizations are even beginning to create new roles, e.g., procurement-specific data scientists and digital specialists. Many organizations have implemented advanced data, analytics, and visualization tools. The focus on digital skills is as strong as the focus on storytelling and explaining complex concepts helping businesses find the right market solution.

Zycus:  Do you mean that along with attracting the right talent pool, organizations should also focus on talent retention to benefit in the long run?

Jimmy LeFever: Absolutely! I can see more and more companies focusing on stakeholder experience. This means Procurement is going beyond delivering primary responsibilities to the stakeholder and moving towards improving the stakeholder experience via streamlined processes and promoting the wellbeing of the business.

Zycus:  Most people consider procurement, tactical and technical. But when you talk about stakeholder experience, it is beyond technology and strategy. Do you think Procurement requires rebranding?

Jimmy LeFever: The brand perception that Procurement has is myopic around savings and savings alone. Such knowledge holds people back from seeing the strategic impact procurement can have in the organization’s overall objective. The function can play a massive part in making the organization more agile during times of unpredictable changes. However, to change this perception of a rigid, slow, and tactical function, Procurement needs to take a few steps in the direction of rebranding itself.

Zycus: Procurement’s scope of work is changing and expanding, but the image transition hasn’t been proportional to this. What are some things Procurement can do to rebrand or reinvent its image in an organization?

Jimmy LeFever: First and foremost, organizations should strive to build a strong brand identity, brand value, and brand goal. Then, all the teams should work in sync to deliver the goal. For example, many organizations are moving towards more sustainable ways of doing business. As supply-chain and procurement professionals, we can provide that brand value by adopting a sustainable procurement model. Such a change in behavior will significantly impact both the global economy as well as the environment.

Zycus: Since we are talking about sustainability, what suggestions do you have for procurement teams when they look into the market for a source-to-pay provider?

Jimmy LeFever: My suggestion will be that they should select a vendor who can make a difference by employing rigorous standards. They should look out for providers who can assess the way they operate and do business, and affect their local communities and the environment. Many organizations are also looking to grow their supplier diversity programs to be more inclusive of underrepresented groups within their supply base.

A provider with stringent practices and standards will be impactful when measured consistently. Benchmarking is another way, a systematic method of regular monitoring to discover best practices and improve continuously. As you’re probably aware, The Hackett Group is the leader when it comes to process and technology benchmarking. For Procurement, it is to critical benchmark and measure to identify problem areas, weak links, and modification and debugging of the current strategy.

Zycus: What are procurement benchmark metrics that a procurement leader should track to measure his team’s performance effectively?

Jimmy LeFever: The two primary measurements that have long been at the forefront are the cost of Procurement and the cost savings that Procurement can achieve. For procurement leaders, those should continue as great metrics.

Zycus: We often see Procurement Leaders focused on just savings as a holistic parameter to measure performance effectively. Do you think the result garnered would be the complete picture? What other things can we consider?

Jimmy LeFever: Yes, organizations overlook two other metrics. I have already discussed stakeholder experience, and the second one is ROI. ROI is an excellent performance measure because it looks at cost and cost savings holistically. Stakeholder experience is a little tricky because it isn’t easily quantifiable. What can drive value for the business is to acknowledge Procurement’s role aligned with business objectives. Focusing on cost savings alone will rarely line up to meet the broader goal.

Zycus: As we conclude, what are the three things procurement leaders should start/stop doing in 2019 to achieve the goals you have informed us?

Jimmy LeFever: First, stop pushing out information that nobody cares. Second, stop focusing on just savings and widen your scope. Third, for an organization to value Procurement’s efforts, staff should be aligned with the business objectives.


From this interview, we can conclude that if Procurement has any directive this year, it is to widen its horizon! And to do so, organizations need to-

  • Move from tactical to strategic, which is more value-based
  • Align goals with their brand value
  • Adopt sustainable Procurement

Following these three will not only rebrand Procurement’s image as a strategic partner but will also increase its impact and value within the organization.


Read our latest eBook “Procurement Experts Outlook 2019” to gain more insights into what eight other experts predict for the procurement future.

Captain Planet, Power Rangers, Voltron … and Procurement

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s time for procurement to consider a procurement strategy angle it has never thought of before.

By Sean P. Aune/ Shutterstock

“Earth. Fire. Wind. Water. Heart. Go Planet!” “By your powers combined, I am Captain Planet!”

If you were a child of the 80s or early 90s, there’s a fair chance that you are familiar with these words. They are, of course, the words used to summon Captain Planet, via the power of five magic rings wielded by his “Planeteers”. The cartoon acted as an advocate for environmentalism and even spawned a charity.

What, I hear you cry, does a distinctly average 1990s cartoon have to do with procurement strategy? It’s not about how procurement can help to promote environmental sustainability. Need another clue?

Cast your mind back to settling down in front of your TV on a Saturday morning in the 1980s or 1990s. Did you ever watch Voltron? How about Power Rangers? If you did, and remember how our mighty heroes defeated their nemeses, you might be beginning to get the idea.

For the Power Rangers, it was creating the “Megazord”; in Voltron it was the combination of 5 robot lions (or 15 smaller vehicles depending on which series you preferred…). As we alluded to in our introduction, when people or organizations operate alone, they can be ignored or out-maneuvered. When they team up with others, then they wield much greater power that can be leveraged to create great benefits.

From Purchasing to Strategic Sourcing

Procurement may not face overwhelming opposition in the form of giant dinosaurs or evil polluters, but it faces its fair share of challenges. Elements such as maverick purchasing and non-compliance with processes serve to undermine procurement’s position as a strategic sourcing partner to the organization.

There is also the issue for small organizations that their procurement teams are seen by suppliers as non-strategic. Through this they may lose the opportunity to negotiate better terms in a contract, or end up being so far down the supplier’s priority list that they will never be viewed as an important customer.

A wealth of literature exists on why procurement should be creating better relationships with suppliers. Why shouldn’t procurement be looking to create closer relationships with other procurement departments and work together to improve their own strategic buying potential?

Think of your procurement team as one small part of the Voltron robot. If you join together with other small parts to create a procurement mega-bot, there’s little that will be able to stop you from achieving your goals. It’s no coincidence that we often refer to Group Purchasing as procurement’s “secret weapon”.

Here are the some of the benefits that can be reaped by combing your (purchasing) powers with other procurement organizations:

  • Scale or Spend Leverage: Probably the most obvious benefit based on using greater, combined volumes to drive a better price. Also known as “buying power”.
  • Price Alignment: Where one organization is paying more for a specific product than another organization, but then align their prices to the lower one. By working together and aligning prices, Police Forces in the UK have saved over £237 million ($339.5 million) in 3 years.
  • Collective Negotiation: Similar to the idea of Collective Bargaining between organizations and employees, but in this case, procurement with other procurement teams. It extends the idea of leverage, giving even the smallest organization presence at the negotiating table.

The Power of Many

Centralized procurement is usually focused within a single organization, but who is to say that you couldn’t have centralized procurement activities as part of an overarching procurement strategy? The options are there that could make this a reality and turn your procurement team into the organizational equivalent of a power ring.

If you’re not sure where to start, then you don’t need to look much further than the potential for outsourcing procurement via one of the many procurement consulting houses. Or, if you are after procurement solutions that enable your organizations to keep more control, you may choose to investigate the option of a Group Purchasing Organization (GPO).

A GPO can offer organizations the benefits outlined above and can back up all of this with hard facts too. Savings on direct and indirect sourcing, access to pre-negotiated contracts and linking up with other organizations to really leverage scale and volume to create tangible savings.

As Captain Planet said at the end of each episode to the viewer at home, “The power is yours!” Now it’s up to you to decide how to use it and if you’ll join forces to overcome the myriad challenges facing procurement today.

Want to know more about GPOs? Contact UNA to discuss the benefits of Group Purchasing.  

The 4 Fundamental C’s of Success – Part 4: Consciousness

How do you thrive in the new world where we need to be in control of our mind and embrace technology as it becomes more powerful. In a new article series we explore the four fundamental C’s of success.

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How do you thrive in the new world where we need to be in control of our mind and embrace technology as it becomes more powerful. In a new article series we explore the four fundamental C’s of success. In this final article, Charlotte de Brabandt explores the importance of consciousness.

When people talk of consciousness, they also mean awareness as they are more or less the same thing. But what exactly is awareness? It’s the ability to know and perceive events around you. When you are in a state of awareness, you are alert, understand why things are the way they are and are able to come up with solutions

Of course we all have awareness to a degree, only some people use it for their good and some people let it slip by. If you want to improve your awareness of things and use it positively, you must first be clear on your intentions with what you’re looking to achieve. Then secondly you must focus on these things and learn as much as you can about them.

Everybody has unconscious thoughts and actions as well as conscious ones that hold us back from improving our lives and reaching the next level. Take a look at your life as if you were somebody else looking inside your brain. Think about what thoughts and actions you do automatically every day. Some will be positive and some will be negative. These negative thoughts and actions are the ones holding you back and they need to be stopped. Whereas the positive thoughts and actions you have and do every day need to be magnified and multiplied. This will then help you improve your life in a positive way and reach your next level. The more positive thoughts and actions you use daily and the less negative ones will mean the more you are capable of achieving no matter what your goals are, whether they are financial, physical or any other type of goal you want to achieve.

Sit down and think about what you really want to achieve then write down some positive phrases that will help you make positive steps towards your goal. Think about what positive thoughts and actions will help you. Think about any negative thoughts or doubts you may have and write down positive ones to counteract anything negative. Say to yourself from now on you will only think about positive thoughts and forget about all the negative ones.

If you want to make more money, then think about what you are going to do to achieve this goal. Understand ways how you can make more money. Write down the ways and positive phrases that you will use to make more money, get clear on exactly what you are going to do and every day start reprogramming your mind by repeating the ways and positive phrases that you have written down.

Eventually you will learn off by heart the ways you will use to make more money. You are now starting to change your life. Next imagine that you are implementing those ways you have chosen to make more money and you are already being successful in making more money. You are installing positive conscious thoughts into your mind even before you’ve done those tasks. In effect, you are normalising the act of being successful and making money. This will enable you to achieve your goals of actually making money without backing down or having doubts and settling for less. You will learn to believe that these are your goals and you can achieve them and you will not back down until you are successful.

You now know you will be successful. There is no doubt and no room for failure. Close your eyes and visualise yourself having been successful in making lots of money. You are able to afford the things you desire such as a big house or a nice car. Visualise yourself driving that shiny new car or living in that spacious new house. Keep visualising it until it seems real. Eventually your mind will not know what is real and what is not and you will really believe you have a big house and new car. It’s what you deserve because you are so successful and anything less is not an option.

Now you are in the correct state of positive consciousness your vibrational frequencies will shift and you will find that you start attracting the right opportunities and people to help you attain your goals and achievements. You will have the correct consciousness for success and it will come to you.

5 Favourite Supply Chain Job Interview Questions… And Answers

There is no limit to the types of questions that can be asked at an interview for a mid-level role in supply chain management (SCM).  We have selected five of our favourites which come up regularly…

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There is no limit to the types of questions that can be asked at an interview for a mid-level role in supply chain management (SCM).  We have selected five of our favourites which come up regularly but first, let’s pause for thought about what employers are looking for and why.    

Supply chain careers of the future

According to Unilever, a big global employer with complex supply chains, future opportunities are in:

  • Manufacturing
  • Data analysis 
  • Procurement
  • Transportation
  • Customer service

The accepted way top employers assess your specific skills and technical competencies and your future potential is by conducting a behavioural based interview.  You may be asked to describe situations or tasks you were involved in, your exact role and the results.  They may say “tell me about a time when ………” The skill here is to steer the answers to the best work you have done. Aim to demonstrate how you understand the challenges of today’s complex supply chains, especially theirs. This should lead the interviewers to outline their current problem areas. 

What competencies are employers looking for?  

Problem-Solving

Day-to-day supply chain management involves facing unexpected problems, failures and disruptions. Interviewers need to find out if candidates can identify issues and establish root causes. You may be asked to explain how you resolved types of situations or if you did not, what lessons you learned.

Analytical Skills

To stay competitive companies have to find ways to reduce costs, move goods more quickly and manage supporting operations. You will need to demonstrate your ability to find solutions and implement process improvements using available data.

Communication

Interviewers want to know how you can manage difficult situations such as an angry customer or unhappy service provider.  They will try and establish whether there is likely to be a communication barrier between you and others, both internally and externally.

Global Perspective

Businesses are becoming increasingly global; online connectivity is available 24/7. Interviewers are likely to try to establish your grasp of economics, cultural differences and current world events that may impact their business. 

Five favourite supply chain interview questions

Q1. What is supply chain management? or  What are the key elements of supply chain management?

A.   There is no one correct answer. Basically, the purpose of SCM is to make goods or services readily available to fulfil customer demand. One possible answer is “supply chain management encompasses the planning and management of all activities involved in sourcing and procurement, conversion, and all logistics management activities.” (CSCMP’s definition). Consider adapting your answer to suit the employer; its business may be more involved in services than goods.   

Q.2  What experience can you bring this role?

A.   This is where you can shine. Using what you know from the job specification, be prepared to explain what you have achieved in similar circumstances.  .The key is to be specific and factual when describing projects. Include actual values such as savings achieved, processes improved and size of teams. Go on to describe how these project s benefitted your employer.  Interviewers use the STAR technique:

  • SITUATION  you were in
  • TASK performed
  • ACTION you took
  • RESULT of this activity.

Important: do not overstate your level of experience. It is possible that the interview will dig deep. 

Q 3 How can you add value to our business?

A.  Your research into the current financial and operational status of the company and its place in the market is useful here. Listen carefully to any additional information the interviewer gives you on what’s important to them so that you can respond directly to their problem areas in the supply chain.  Explain about your ability to use the new tools and technologies available, how you would improve supplier relationships and what you would do to save them money, (e.g. reduce inventory, eliminate wastage, procure better).  The aim is to demonstrate your understanding of the role on offer and how you are a perfect fit for their needs.

Q.4 How much do you know about our company and our supply chain?

A.  Organizations expect you to know what they do, where they fit into their industry hierarchy and who their main competitors are. You have to demonstrate that you have done the required homework. They may ask for example: “what do you know about our products and services” or “what is our approach to sustainability?” Fast-moving consumer goods manufacturers and retailers are particularly expert at this. Interviewees at L’Oréal and Diageo have been asked for detail about product ranges, customer bases and global sales figures.

Q.5 How are you keeping up with the new developments in supply chain management?  

A.  Explainwhat you are actively doing to understand the new developments in processes and technology, especially as it affects their operations. However, be honest and realistic when you express how you will use this new knowledge to further their goals. The interviewer is trying to assess your future potential. Consider your answer to an imaginary question such “ what do you think we can do to improve our supply chain agility?”

A hot tip

Many inexperienced interviewers ask silly and irrelevant questions. Some questions are just pointless such as “what is your greatest weakness?” or “how would you describe yourself in three words?”  Read up on these inane questions beforehand and be prepared to address them with stock answers.

At the end of the interview

Ask questions about any areas that you feel have not been adequately covered to your satisfaction. Remember, they may be interviewing you but you are also considering whether you want to work for them. After thanking the interviewer, ask about the next steps in the process and a possible time frame for an offer. This is the point at which you have the opportunity to close the deal. 

If you’d like to read additional related content or get involved with thought provoking discussions check out the Supply Chain Pros group – a one stop shop for all your supply chain needs.