Why You Should Consider Carefully Before Hiring Temporary Labour

Examining your demand costs for temporary labour may make you think twice about bringing in extra help during busy periods. Jon Milton, Business Development Director at Comensura, explains.

Temp-Staffing

The use of temporary labour to bolster a permanent workforce when needed is a no brainer, but have you ever stopped to examine the bigger picture? Have you ever considered whether you really need that extra pair of hands, or if there could be an alternative option? Or, have you thought about the objectives the temporary assignment will deliver or how to make sure this spend comes in on budget?

Demand for temporary labour can be caused by a multitude of factors: the need for extra support during particularly busy periods; short-term planning creating the need for a ‘quick fix’ or ‘firefighting’ solutions; or even temporary workers remaining on assignment even after the original reason for their hire has now gone.

Know Your Demand Costs

Before committing to hiring temporary staff it’s important to consider your demand costs. These costs are the direct result of hiring managers from within your business ordering temporary workers without first justifying the need for the worker, or not fully assessing alternative approaches. In many cases, an understanding of demand costs may mean the full cost can be eliminated, which has the potential to deliver significant savings on temporary labour.

For most businesses, the realisation that demand for temporary labour exists is when the hiring manager asks their line manager to approve a temporary hire or when an internal request for a purchase order is made.

But the starting point for any business case evaluation should be to assess the need for non-permanent extra staff and if justified, how much the business is prepared to spend. It’s important to be clear from the outset and agree an approach to evaluating the internal demand for temporary workers rather than just reacting when requests are made.

Evaluation and Consideration

The process for evaluating the business case for temporary workers should take the following into consideration:

  • usage of temporary workers in different business units
  • the seasonal demands placed on the business unit and its capability to meet demand via its permanent employee headcount
  • the business unit’s workforce plans and how critical a flexible workforce is to deliver an efficient, lean operational performance
  • the complexities of your organisational structure and your approach to decision making, is it centralised or devolved?
  • your priorities as a business – for example, those that need to keep tight control of costs should centralise the approval and assessment of the business case

For those hiring managers and business units with a relatively low or infrequent demand for temporary labour, presenting an informal and individual business case will help ensure temporary labour assignments are appropriately planned, scheduled and authorised.

However, for those that regularly use a large number of temporary workers, it makes sense to create an annual business case for each temporary worker category. The plan should assess the historical usage patterns and expected future demands on the job categories so that the workforce can be appropriately planned, scheduled and authorised. For example, in a warehousing scenario there could be one business case for warehouse operatives and another for fork lift truck drivers.

Essentially, the business case for hiring any temporary workers should consider customer demand and the cost of temporary resources. Also, ask yourself what the measureable outcomes from the additional resources are and whether your business objectives will be met. And finally, consider other employment options, and if other projects or tasks can be put on hold to reprioritise resources.

Are Supply Chain Audits Bad for Good Business?

The line, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”, first appeared in Satires by the Roman poet Juvenal, and literally means “Who will guard the guards themselves?”. The question now being asked is, “Who audits the auditors?”, and the answers don’t look good.

Modern-Day-Slavery

Research from the University of Sheffield released last week claims that supply chain auditors are actually “‘working’ for the corporations”, and ultimately failing both the supply chain workers and the environment they are supposed to be protecting.

“Ineffective Tools”

SPERI, the Sheffield Political Economic Research Institute, conducted 25 interviews over a 2-year period with auditors, business executives, NGOs and suppliers around the world, as well as visiting factories in China, before publishing their results.

The report argues that “audits are ineffective tools for detecting, reporting, or correcting environmental and labour problems in supply chains”, and that many of the problems that ethical audits were created to solve are actually being made worse by the process. This is in part down to the organisations carrying out the audits working towards the interests of businesses.

One auditor was quoted in the report as saying, “we will audit as far down as the brand wants to go”. As stakeholders and organisations, such as ISM and CIPS, focus more on the concept of the end-to-end supply chain, including all supplier and subcontractor practices, it appears that in some cases, the full chain is not being assessed.

The Auditing Industry

A quick Google search for the term ‘supply chain audit’ throws up a vast number of results. Included in these results are a considerable number of private companies who are either supply chain auditors, or offer it as part of their services. The increasing market for ethical audits has led to the creation of a booming industry.

It should be pointed out that these firms are not being accused of falsifying results or deliberately misleading the organisations who are employing them to audit supply chains. The accusations lie in the fact that some practices within the supply chain are being missed.

Apportioning blame, even taking the findings of the SPERI research into account, is not as black and white as people might think. If the organisations carrying out the audits are providing misleading findings, then action must be taken.

However, much as procurement may be bound by a specification when purchasing goods and services, auditors will be bound by what they are requested to do by the employing organisation. The auditors may be culpable for not going far enough, but the blame should be shared if organisations are seeking to limit their activities.

Governmental and Public Input

And perhaps this is part of the issue, in having auditors as commercial enterprises. These organisations will be operated as businesses with the aim of meeting customer demand, but, as a business, still need to make enough money to remain operational and satisfy investors.

The SPERI report argues that ethical audits need greater governmental involvement, both from the point of view of conducting audits, but also in enforcing the required standards for working conditions and the environment. Governmental enforcement of these regulations can be difficult, especially where organisations operate global supply chains and fall under a diverse set of jurisdictions.

Many national Governments are tightening regulations around modern slavery and the environment. The UK Government has announced a set of measures aimed at combatting modern slavery in the supply chain. The newly formed Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority will be able to use the measures to force organisations to take action, where there is belief that offences have occurred.

However, in order for the issues to be tackled effectively across global supply chains, similar measures need to be in place for all countries, or there will always be areas where practices will remain unchecked.

You can find a full copy of the SPERI report here. We’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this issue. If you work for an auditing company, let us know your experiences of this too.

In the meantime, you can check out the major headlines in procurement and supply chain this week…

EU to Scrutinise Large Company Big Data Use

  • The European Union is considering whether the way large Internet companies, such as Google or Facebook, collect vast quantities of data is in breach of antitrust rules
  • Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, speaking in Munich over the weekend stated that the EU would step in if Big Data usage was negatively impacting competition
  • Some experts have warned that with a few large companies controlling the data, it becomes harder for new organisations to enter markets, being too far behind to compete effectively
  • Ms. Vestager also said the EU would look into why some companies can’t acquire information that is as useful as the data that other competing firms have.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal

Wholesale Energy Prices Hit 5-Year Low in UK

  • The mild winter in the UK, combined with falling commodity prices, has led to the price of wholesale energy in the UK falling to a 5-year low
  • Electricity prices fell by 23 per cent against the previous year, while gas prices fell by 34 per cent for the same period
  • Increased production capacity in 2016, milder temperatures and increased usage of liquefied natural gas (LNG)in the UK are also thought to be part of the issue
  • However, energy companies have been accused of overcharging their customers by not passing on the reduction in the wholesale prices

Read more at Supply Management

Indian Government to Assist Start-Ups

  • The Modi Government in India has announced plans to assist start-ups in the country by only requiring the businesses to pay statutory fees for getting started
  • In a move designed to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, the Government will cover the costs of filing of patents, trademarks or designs
  • The Government has also agreed to relax public procurement regulations for start-ups, not requiring the businesses to meet current regulations for prior experience/turnover found in the manufacturing sector
  • The Government hopes that this scheme will eventually lead to the development of start-up organisations in sectors such as agriculture, healthcare and education

Read more at Business Standard

ECHR Rules Companies Can Monitor Employee Internet Usage

  • The European Court for Human Rights has ruled that companies can monitor employees’ internet usage, providing they have given warning beforehand that personal use of facilities is forbidden
  • The ruling comes after a Romanian engineer took his employer to court after being fired for having private conversations with his family on a Yahoo Messenger site
  • The ECHR, finding in favour of the employer, noted in its ruling that “it is not disputed that the applicant’s employer’s internal regulations strictly prohibited employees from using the company’s computers and resources for personal purposes.”
  • This prior warning given to the employee played a large role in the decision, as the Court could rule that it was not a breach of his human rights

Read more at Ars Technica

Reusability – Getting to Space Just Got a Whole Lot Cheaper

Take a fresh look at the consumables in your supply chain.

SpaceX Falcon9

On December 21, 2015, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 made history. After successfully delivering 11 communications satellites into low-Earth orbit, the nine-engine booster rocket returned safely to Cape Canaveral, landing dramatically on a jet of fire.

Less than a week later, SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted that the Falcon 9 was “back in the hanger … no damage found, ready to fire again”.

Reusability the Key

Placing satellites into orbit is no mean feat, but the astounding, history-making part of this operation was landing the booster. It’s all about reusability. Until now, putting a rocket into space has been prohibitively expensive due to the single-use aspect of launching. In his detailed explanation of Musk’s vision, Tim Urban of the website Waitbutwhy compares single-use spacecraft to air travel:

“Imagine the current air travel industry with one key difference: an airplane works for one flight only. Each flight is on a brand new plane, and after the flight, passengers exit into the terminal and the plane is broken down into scrap metal and possibly-reusable parts that are sent off to be refurbished for use in a future plane.

An airplane costs around $300 million to build. So in this new model, in addition to paying for the crew’s time and fuel, airlines have to spend $300 million extra each flight to build a plane. How would that change things?

First, there would be very few flights available—the schedule would be limited by the pace of plane production. Second, the price of a round-trip ticket between Chicago and San Francisco would now cost about $1.5 million per person. For economy.”[1]

Musk himself has stressed that reusability is the key to making human life multi-planetary:

“If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred.  A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.”[2]

Here’s how they did it: https://youtu.be/sSF81yjVbJE.

Reducing the Costs

So how will SpaceX’s achievement affect the costs of getting to space? With a human mission to Mars as the ultimate goal, back in 1989 NASA estimated it would cost $450 billion to send 4-6 astronauts, about $100 billion a seat. This was upgraded in 2004 to $50 billion, or $10 billion a seat. Musk has a per-seat goal of $500,000, 20,000 times less than NASA.[3] That’s less money than an average home loan in Australia.

The huge reduction in costs will be brought about through a combination of revolutionary improvements, including low-cost propellant, making the return propellant on Mars,[4] and having approximately 100 paying passengers per flight. The biggest saving, however, will be through the rapid reusability of rockets, where the only costs involved are maintenance, life-support and refuelling.

The closest NASA has come to reusability was through the now-retired Space Shuttle program, which was able to land the spacecraft itself but not the booster, costing over $200 million per astronaut.

What About Your Supply Chain?

The Falcon 9 story is inspirational in the sense that SpaceX has achieved something that the world’s best aeronautical engineers said could never be done. The single-usage problem has been unsurmountable for decades, but SpaceX solved the puzzle and other organisations will soon follow suit.

The message here for procurement professionals is to take a fresh look at the consumables in your supply chain that could possibly be reusable. Whether the article is as expensive as a rocket booster or as cheap as office paper, it’s worth reconsidering whether items really are only suitable for a single use. Reusability is good for the bottom line, good for the planet, and will help put humans on Mars sooner than we think.

[1] http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/08/how-and-why-spacex-will-colonize-mars.html/4#phase2

[2] http://www.spacex.com/news/2013/03/31/reusability-key-making-human-life-multi-planetary

[3] http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/08/how-and-why-spacex-will-colonize-mars.html/4#phase2

[4] Propellant can be created using Mars’ CO2 atmosphere and the H2O frozen in the soil.

Procurious Big Ideas Panel Discussion #2 – Where Are Procurement’s Blind Spots?

What risks does procurement face in the coming years? And what are the profession’s major blind-spots?

This was the question for the second panel discussion at the Big Ideas Summit 2015. There was plenty of passion on display, and at some points the conversation got a little heated, but there were also some fantastic points raised.

With a panel containing Tim Hughes, Olinga Ta’eed, Chris Lynch, Giles Breault, Nic Walden, Jason Busch and Lance Younger, the discussion took in hot topics like social value, procurement transformation, procurement moving away from Finance and leveraging external innovation. This is one not to be missed.

Watch the full discussion here.

See all the keynotes and panel discussions from the Big Ideas Summit, plus Big Ideas from our 40+ Influencers.

Like this? Join Procurious for FREE and meet like-minded procurement professionals from across the world.

Is ‘Free’ a Dirty Word in Procurement?

How can you resist something that is free? Even when something is genuinely free, there’s still that voice at the back of your mind that sounds a warning. 

free-stuff_0

If someone offers you something for free do you automatically say no? Do you sometimes get curious and wonder why it is free? If you ask more questions and find out that it is truly free, do you still say no? Or do you wait until you find out that there aren’t any strings attached either before you take a chance and say yes?

It doesn’t matter what walk of life you are from, or which profession you work in, there is something that has changed in the human psyche that has made us all inherently suspicious of the word ‘free’. And in procurement, this suspiciousness only appears to get worse.

Something for Nothing?

We now live in a very skeptical society. Long gone are the days where you took someone at their word, without question. Now, recommendations and references are gladly accepted, but further research and checking is carried out before anything is done with them.

It’s probably true to say that there are few things that can be offered that are truly free or come with no strings attached. Entering a competition or signing up to a ‘free’ service online puts your e-mail address on a mailing list, to allow you to be sent future opportunities. Even ‘free’ products are likely to be being used as a loss leader to make you think about spending real money.

Perhaps the reality of it is that we are no long as trusting in nature as we once were, and trust has to be earned, rather than being given until proven otherwise.

Trust me, I’m a Procurement Professional

Trust comes in a variety of guises in procurement and supply chain, two of which we can look at here. First there is the trust between the buyer and supplier, the buyer and end user, or between any two links in the supply chain. This trust is based on the idea that what has been ordered or requested is what is delivered, at the right time.

This is trust that needs to be earned, and is a particularly fragile form of trust, which can be shattered by one missed delivery, one failed quality inspection, one wrong phrase in a negotiation. What is key though, is that this trust is crucial to the smooth operation of a supply chain.

Trust can be built in the supply chain through providing great, consistent service, and delivering on promises. Transparency in operations is a good tool to build trust – many organisations are building consumer trust in this way by making their supply chain operations transparent to the public.

 Everyone Likes a Freebie

The second type of trust is between the procurement or supply chain professional and their stakeholders, such as their employer, shareholders or the public. The trust in this case is based on the professional doing their job in an ethical fashion, and not being in receipt of ‘free’ things in return for contracts and business.

The ‘free’ items on offer could range from being taken out for dinner or being taken for hospitality to a sporting event, to kick-backs and bribes. There have been numerous reports of bribery and unethical behaviour in procurement, all of which have succeeded in eroding trust in the profession, as well as giving the word ‘free’ negative connotations.

However, it could be argued that not every ‘freebie’ is given with strings attached or with ulterior motives. In fact, giving and acceptance of gifts can help to create goodwill in the supply chain, or show appreciation for a job well done, or a successful relationship.

While strong governance regulations help to ensure transparency and ethical behaviour, requiring endless forms and registers to be filled in for low value gifts is potentially punishing the honest many, for the actions for the dishonest few. Now that procurement has begun to earn that trust again, maybe it’s time for the profession to be trusted more.

After all, free isn’t such a bad word, is it?

We would be interested to know what you think? Have regulations gone too far? Or are they entirely justified in light of past events? Is there such a thing as a ‘free lunch’ in procurement?

Zero savings? Thanks, that’s perfect!

In this article, the fourth in a series of five, I consider the level of credit granted to projects which deliver substantial savings, and whether, from the perspective of the business, this is appropriate.

zero-dollars

As procurement professionals our time is often consumed by savings targets. Delivering, seeking approval and recording savings. Big savings are good news. No savings is bad news – really bad news. The type of bad news that gets you sacked.

For those of you who have followed my previous articles you know that I like to turn things around a little – to view things from the perspective of a business owner rather than a procurement professional. This article is no different.

The Savings Process

Let me first paint a picture which represents countless procurement activities around the world, I think it will be familiar to you:

After months, sometimes years, of effort the cross-functional procurement team signs the contract with the new supplier and implementation commences. The business signs off the savings which satisfies the agenda of the procurement leaders. The procurement personnel step back to allow the business to implement the new contract and manage the contract thereafter. “See you in three years” is the agreed message.

The newly contracted supplier, who may be the incumbent working on new contractual terms, sets about a “seamless” implementation (Ever seen one of those? No, nor me). Ever constrained resources of the procurement team and the business mean that effective Supplier Performance Management (SPM), (being very distinct from Supplier Relationship Management (SRM)) becomes a luxury too often performed by personnel unskilled at perpetual jousting with a hardened supplier account executive.

The inappropriate flow of information commences, which, in turn, will detriment the value (cost, service quality, innovation etc) retained by the buyers organisation. Suppliers work hard to find loopholes in the carefully negotiated performance clauses and claim to be meeting their contractual obligations even though the satisfaction levels of the buying organisation may remain low or decreasing with time.

Before we know it, the causes of the dissatisfaction which caused the buying organisation to test the market a few months ago are back on the agenda. Inevitably, at the end of the contract term, perhaps before, the market will be tested again. The result of the repeated procurement activity? Savings. Again, savings.

A Perfect Zero

How about we turn this around? How about we strive for zero savings? That’s right. You heard me correctly. Procurement could strive for zero savings. Before you question the level of my delusion please read the last paragraphs of this article, but first let me paint another picture.

In this picture, the same procurement activity took place as before, but the post-contract SPM was fully executed by adequate and skilled personnel. In this case, the innovation and continuous improvement clauses that were written in to the contract are realised. Suppliers are not able to wriggle out of the spirit of the previous negotiations. An appropriate period ahead of the expiry of the contract – long enough to switch suppliers should the need arise – the buying organisation commences its procurement activity only to find there are zero savings. A disaster? No. Let me tell you why.

We all hear the newsreaders’ tone change if the Dow Jones, FTSE, or Nikkei, or whatever is your favoured index, has fallen that day. Their tone drops portraying a sense of negativity. We are indoctrinated that a falling market index is bad news. Instead, however, what if the event of the indices dropping was accompanied by a cheerily delivered message of “great news folks, tomorrow you’ll be able to buy those blue chip stocks at a price way cheaper than today!”

Such a statement would be true; the stocks would be available at cheaper prices, but we never hear this message, even though we each take advantage of the falling index via our pension funds managers who are continually investing our hard earned cash.

Analogously, with procurement savings on repeated contracts – is a saving, a saving? I contend that those numbers which are repeatedly cited as savings by procurement teams could alternatively be merely a measure of the buying organisations ineffectiveness in managing its suppliers during the last contract term. A high saving means a poorly managed preceding contract.

A robustly managed supply contract, followed by a professionally implemented procurement project which delivers zero savings could be (stress, could be) demonstrative of a very well run contract where value has readily flowed to the buying organisation throughout the contract term, leaving non-incumbent suppliers with nothing further to offer.

Theory and Reality

Do I really believe zero savings are aspirational for most procurement projects? Well, no, actually I don’t. There are always some inefficiencies that can be eliminated, market developments and innovations that can be exploited, and organisations simply do not have the resources to execute the theoretically perfect procurement and contract management that I have set out above.

My message is simply that procurement leaders should carefully consider the causes of significant savings numbers, including the degree, and success, of post-contract supplier management – the news may not all be positive. Offering reactionary congratulations for projects delivering big savings numbers or an automatic chastisement for projects delivering small savings may be ill-advised.

By the way, I also need to be abundantly clear that I am not suggesting managers chastise personnel who report significant savings with a short-sighted, inflammatory question of how their staff previously spent their time. To do so is sure to lessen future efforts.

So, it may then be advantageous to allocate the scarce resources of the organisation toward contract management rather than repetitive RfX-style procurement. Readers of my earlier article “Buyers under the Duvet” may recognise a need to stretch practises outside the normal comfort zones of buyers, with the possible result that effective contract management actually reduces the level of savings from RfX-style negotiation.

In itself, this is not a problem so long as (!) organisations have already secured the value during the contract management phases of the procurement cycle.

Jim WillshawJim Willshaw (MBA, MCIPS, MIIAPS) is an experienced procurement professional acting as a consultant, speaker, coach and trainer to leading organisations all over the globe.

Is Brand Paranoia Stifling Debate on Social Media?

More and more people enter the world of social media every day, each with their own thoughts, opinions and values. Surely this is a recipe for open debate? Perhaps not.

Digital-debate-007

True, you see plenty of heated conversations on social media – people airing their views on a host of subjects, from television programmes to films, restaurants to products – but all too often they descend into arguments, instead of a proper debate.

Argument vs. Debate

Take the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 as an example. Social media was full of posts from both sides’ supporters, but in many cases these posts only contained campaign rhetoric, rather than hard facts, and frequently resulted in personal insults being thrown around.

When we talk about debate, we mean what you might have learned at school or university – two sides with structured, well-informed and well-supported arguments for or against a topic, which were presented and listened to respectfully, even if you didn’t agree with it.

Social media platforms seem to be set up perfectly for this to happen. Take the concept above, add in a global audience, all with different facts, figures and experiences, and you should have the recipe for quality, informative debate.

But this sort of debate is so seldom seen on social media. Why?

Personal and Professional Brand

The rapid growth of platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, et al., have enabled people to have a publicly visible account of their CVs and career histories, likes and dislikes, thoughts and opinions and pictures of their favourite things.

From a personal point of view, this is great. Our most meaningful social networking interactions happen within a group of friends, most of who will probably shares these interests in some way.

However, taken from a professional point of view, you have a diverse group of users and stakeholders, all of who have access to this public information, and who are able to link you as a person to all of these accounts.

Try as you might to remain anonymous, or limit your public exposure, as soon as you have a social media account, you are there for everyone to see. And in a professional sense, this means your peers, colleagues, managers, right up to the CEO and owner of the organisation.

Brand Paranoia

Like it or not, your public digital face represents your organisation. What you post, Tweet or share could potentially be attributed to both you and your employer. Even the ‘magic’ words, “My views are my own”, used as an attempt to separate individual and organisation may not stop people making the connection.

And there are plenty examples, like this one, of an employer taking a hard line if they think their brand is being misrepresented or negatively impacted by association.

The key here is brand. Whether it is personal brand, something that has taken on a much greater relevance in the digital world, or organisational brand, people are very (and rightly) concerned about how their brand is perceived by the public.

For organisations, it could mean the difference between retaining and losing customers. For individuals, it could damage their chances of landing their dream job, thanks to an errant post on a social network.

A friend recounted a story to me about how she had been contacted by a colleague regarding a post of hers that was “out of the norm”. It turned out it was her son who had posted, while logged into her account. No harm done, but an object lesson on the reach of social media.

Bringing Debate Back

However, I think this has all gone a bit too far. For sure, I would expect to be hauled over the coals by my manager if I insulted someone on Twitter, which was then associated back to the company.

But engaging in a real debate with one or more other parties, where an argument is built around facts, and everyone is treated fairly, where’s the harm in that?

Procurious has over 9000 members in its community, with another 20,000+ followers across its various platforms. The chances are high that not everyone will agree with me (even about this article), and that’s great.

We want to stimulate debate – it’s one of the best ways to learn and develop as a person and a professional. The Procurious Discussion forum is a great place to start, and everyone can get involved.

So the next time you see a point that someone has made on social media that you don’t agree with, and you can back up your opposing point, don’t shy away, post and start a dialogue. You never know what will come of it.

Big Ideas in Technology: 2016 and Beyond

We’ve rounded up some of the biggest disruptive technology trends we expect to see in workplaces the world over in the next twelve months.

Drones and drone lanes

Drones and drone lanes

What: As drones have begun to take over our skies in 2015 concerns have grown over the fight for airspace.

Currently the FAA only prohibits drones from flying near airports and their associated airspace, but is this enough?

How: As we peer into the future we expect commercial delivery services from Amazon (and others) to begin rollout, as well as increased numbers of hobbyist pilots carving out lanes for themselves.

Tighter regulations will likely divide the sky with pilots of commercial and business drones utilising the 200-400 ft zone, while those using drones for recreation are limited to 200 ft and below. This will not only better promote safety in the skies but keep lanes clear for priority transport. This advantage will come into its own for those looking to improving logistics solutions in disaster zones, battlefields or delivering aid to inhospitable terrain.

Despite being used for good we should also remember that drones are already being used to the detriment of our profession. Drone surveillance is increasingly on the rise and advancements in camera technology mean drones are capable of spying on factories, warehouses and ports from afar. Thus firmly putting the threat of corporate espionage, competition and imitation back in the spotlight.

Bots

What: Chances are if you’ve been active on the Internet since the late 90s you’ll already be familiar with one of the surprising new trends for 2016: Bots. But while the bots we’ve likely grown accustomed existed solely to frequent chat rooms or perform basic monitoring tasks, the bots of the future are intelligent and much like us, learn with each interaction.

Not to be confused with the likes of your Siri or Cortana (smart virtual personal assistants) living on our mobile phones and tablets, those in the know believe that bots capabilities are now so advanced they could quietly boost our productivity levels and help transform time-consuming processes.

How: In business press offices and newsrooms bots will be poised to automatically sort and tag articles, as well as actively monitor and react to social media. While we’re not a point where bots can realistically replace your social media teams, automation could be used strategically to help manage the strain. Elsewhere bots will be utilised to manage stocks and HR teams will rely on them for getting new employees up to speed. We can also expect to see more automation in services like Slack, making the organisation of meetings and status updates a thing of the past.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality

What: Virtual reality (VR) has been the word on the lips of tech tastemakers since the sixties, now it looks like 2016 will finally be the year to usher in the VR dawn.

VR is best described as a computer-simulated reality. Modern technology grants us full immersion within the imagined environment through the use of a head-mounted display.

How: With backing from some of the biggest names in interactive technology (Oculus VR, Sony, Valve and Google to name but a few),

Unlike Augmented Reality (AR) which uses text, graphics and sound to add a useful extra layer of data to your immediate surroundings, VR transports the user into a carefully constructed world.

Although synonymous with gaming, virtual reality also offers-up an intriguing wealth of uses in the manufacturing, health and transport industries. Dassault Systemes – a European software company that specialise in 3D design and product life cycle management, works with organisations to ensure that costly mistakes are confined to virtual reality and the products rolling off production lines are perfect. Vehicle designers can explore the chassis of a car (both inside and out), food and drinks manufacturers can see their products on shelves, while advanced 3D modelling techniques have even recreated the Pyramids of Egypt and the Normandy D-Day landings.

Wearables

What: Despite wearable titans like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Fitbit, Pebble, Garmin, Xiaomi and Jawbone sewing the market up in the last few years, wearable tech is only just beginning to deliver on the promises teased at its inception.

How: Fitness bands, sports watches and smartwatches are clever pieces of kit for sure but we’re on the cusp of welcoming wireless body area networks, neuroenhancers and earables which will shift wearables away from the wrists of the consumer and into real-world applications.

Think of earables as little computers that sit in your ears – according to patent reports, Apple is working on earbuds that are capable of both monitoring and relaying temperature, perspiration and heart rate. Head gestures could also be used to control electronic devices paired with the earable.

Wireless body area networks will also share similar recorded data with medical servers, computers and other interested parties. Utilising data from body-mounted sensors or ingestible devices, they will be able to keep tabs on every minutiae of employee wellbeing and the monitoring of trigger points like stress.

Plus location-aware services will be able to track movements – as manufacturing.net has noted, think of the improvements in efficiency such technology would mean in production lines: “The wearable device tracks their location, “knows” that they have moved to a new production line, creates a job transfer, assigns a new work order, and automatically starts tracking their work. There is no need for employees to interact with a computer or time clock. The technology has already taken care of that for them so they can focus on what’s really important — the work at hand.”

Neuroenhancers will monitor your brainwaves through electrical activity and over time collect data and make assumptions based on its recordings and observed patterns. Crucially this will allow it to pinpoint those times your concentration is at its highest, when you’re at your most productive and when you should take a break.

Such innovations in wearable tech could help to lead a revolution on productivity and effectiveness in workplaces across the world, no matter what the field.

Cost Control and Consolidation in Consumer Goods Supply Chain

A lack of growth in key markets will lead global players to seek opportunities in the developing world. Developing Economy

Forecasts show that 2016 will continue the trend of minimal year-on-year growth in consumer goods spending, both in the UK and across Europe. In this environment manufacturers will carry on looking for opportunities to consolidate and pare down costs, focusing on developing world markets with higher growth potential.

However, competitive pressures are substantial: manufacturers based in the developing world are leveraging their low cost base and local knowledge to win both in their home and international markets.

Slow Global Growth

2015 saw a continuation of the effects of the ‘Great Recession’ that started in 2007, with historically low revenue growth, margins and shareholder returns. In the eurozone for instance, growth slowed to 0.3 per cent in November, with growth in Italy as low as 0.2 per cent.

China has also experienced significant slow-down, with economic growth at a six-year low of 6.9 per cent in Q3 2015. The impact of the slow growth has spilled over into 2016, with continuing falls in the Chinese stock market and slow demand for commodities having an impact on the wider global economic market.

Nick Miller, head of FMCG at Crimson & Co commented: “Seemingly as a result of this growth, some of the largest acquisitions and takeovers in 2015 have focused on cutting costs in supply goods and services to market. Kraft and Heinz’s merger last July has led to multiple cost cutting measures, as has the more recent take-over of SABMiller by ABInbev.

This trend in the supply chain is surely set to continue, with larger companies merging to create greater economies of scale to further leverage low cost methods in order to reach their target audiences.

In this way, supply chain innovation will also be driven by a need to curb costs and expenditures. Small companies, that are more flexible than larger corporations, are able to react to market developments faster, changing their strategies to bring fresh ideas for supply chain excellence. Larger players, unable to invest in this dynamic way of working, have tended to buy innovation by acquiring smaller companies. Coca Cola has already purchased Innocent drinks with this aim in mind.”

Global vs. Local

Given the lack of growth in Europe and China, many organisations are looking to the developing world for growth opportunities. However, these opportunities can be difficult to tie down, with organisations typically losing out to regional players more comfortable with the local environment.

The smaller companies in the developing world have significant advantages over global organisations seeking to expand in the region. As these companies are already present in the area, they will have an existing customer base, as well as an in-depth knowledge of the market, giving them an edge over external players.

In addition, they have immediate proximity to this rapidly expanding customer base, with naturally greater flexibility to be able to react quicker to market developments. 

Miller added, “Just as with innovations in the supply chain, large businesses will likely look to purchase small companies in developing areas to speed their time to market, instead of building their own on-the-ground agencies. This will be a more cost-effective way of speeding growth in these regions, as well as providing immediate expertise into valuable areas.”

Extreme Procurement

With growing focus on emerging markets, ‘extreme procurement’ will become more common.

camo-business-suit-640x533I was at an airbase in the desert when the call came in on my satellite phone: my regular security detail was stranded in Northern Iraq and wouldn’t be able to meet me when I arrived in Baghdad. My firm had won a tender to re-establish banking systems after the war – a great opportunity for us, a great contribution to rebuilding the country – but dangerous work. Western contractors like me were being kidnapped, tortured and beheaded on a regular basis. To travel without security would be suicidal.

Fortunately, a quick call to another of our suppliers established that they had a team available that could stand up at short notice to meet me on arrival. All that was left to do was to call the office in London to have the work order put through…which I did, to be told by a purchasing manager that as I hadn’t followed the firm’s required processes, that couldn’t possibly be done.

On that occasion, a fairly direct suggestion that he join me on the trip and see if he felt the same resolved the matter. With the anaemic performance of Western economies driving more and more businesses to seek growth in increasingly exotic locations, however, the challenges of what might be termed ‘extreme procurement’ are being faced more frequently by the profession and line staff alike.

In extreme environments, procurement is more important than ever

So should procurement butt-out and leave the people on the ground to get on with it? Far from it. In the more exotic emerging markets, procurement is more important than ever:

  • The reputational – and legal – risk from engaging with suppliers who don’t meet the right standards, for example of workforce welfare, is significant, and this can be more common in less developed economies;
  • Strict transnational laws on bribery and corruption require supply chain assurance – you need to know not only that your staff are not involved, but also that no one acting on your behalf is either;
  • Costs can be far higher, and much more varied: the potential for savings is greater than in more settled supply chains;
  • The rate of economic growth may require your business to move fast to capture the opportunity, in a fast developing market vital materials may be in short supply – effective procurement can make the difference between failure and success.

Rules are still needed – but they may need to be different rules

The requirements behind your organisation’s policies and procedures – compliance with law, good governance etc. – will remain. If it hasn’t operated extensively in emerging markets before, however, the way those principles are applied may need to adapt.

Reviewing the supplier landscape at an early stage will provide the best sense of this. If you make exceptions to some requirements due to, say, there being only one appropriate supplier in a category, make sure to insert a ‘sunset’ clause so the exception is revisited as the market develops. 

Check the practicality of your procedures

Having defined policies suitable for the circumstances, double check their practicality. If costs are significantly higher than in your home market, approval levels may need raising. If you have an exceptions policy, make sure those who can grant them will be readily available when needed – bearing in mind both time zones, and that Saturday and Sunday may be working days.

Get familiar with different cultures 

Understanding different cultural norms is crucial to understanding how business gets done – and how you can do business effectively. This isn’t just about the new countries with which you may be dealing: expats can also be a breed apart, those who open up the riskiest locations especially. Spend some time getting a handle on how all involved think and act – and you’ll be able to work out the most effective ways to get them on side.

There’s no substitute for first-hand experience

To be truly effective – especially if this is to be a major part of your business – you need to experience the markets involved for yourself. It may be a hard sell to your boss, the finance department and even the frontline staff to fly a ‘back office’ person out, but the case should be clear: procurement is more important than ever in these markets, for you to understand the supply landscape, you need to see it for yourself.

Exotic emerging markets are challenging, difficult, often dangerous and invariably highly demanding. Both for you and for your business, they can also offer unparalleled opportunities: for growth, for profit, for developing skills fast and for demonstrating your worth.

Now, where did I leave my flak jacket…

Brockle

Stuart Brocklehurst is Chief Executive of Applegate Marketplace. His past roles have included Group Communications Director of Amadeus IT Group SA and Senior Vice President for External Relations at Visa International CEMEA.