Generating Big Ideas Through Hackathons

Generating tangible big ideas within organisations can be a difficult activity. More and more organisations are using ‘hackathons’ to facilitate big idea generation.

Picture of Tech Hackathons

It’s interesting how language evolves to turn a word with negative connotations into something positive. The word “hack”, for example, has traditionally put fear into the hearts of the staunchest CEO. Just ask the management of hacked dating website Ashley Madison, or any of the big banks that channel a significant amount of their budget into building hacker-proof systems.

Yet large corporations all over the world are now embracing the concept of the ‘hackathon’. It’s something of a deceptive term, because rather than actual hacking (subverting computer security), the activity involves organisations making enormous amounts of data available to competing teams of analysts who then brainstorm solutions to specific problems.

Why Call Them ‘Hackathons’?

There are three possible reasons. Firstly, the word ‘hacker’ has come to symbolise a generation of intelligent and disruptive young people who know how to leverage technology to create meaningful change. Secondly, the activity itself usually involves a significant amount of data mining.

Finally, the phrase “there’s a hack for that” means that someone has come up with a smarter way of doing something, demonstrated by the increasing usage of terms such as ‘life-hacking’ or even ‘parenting hacks’.

Hackathons generally take place over a whole day or even longer, usually in a big space buzzing with engineers, analysts and other boffins. Participants leave their corporate attire at home and come dressed for comfort rather than style, prepared for a long and exhilarating day fuelled predominantly by coffee and sugar.

Every organisation runs hackathons in their own way, but the concept usually remains the same. The participants (hackers) are organised into teams with mixed skill sets, then are given a list of key technical challenges that the organisation currently faces.

The organisation then gives access to any data or information required to solve these problems, and the hackers get to work. At the end of the hackathon, the teams present their solutions and the organisation picks the winners.

Corporate Hackathons

One of Australia’s major corporate hackathons, Unearthed, is a 54-hour event run by some of the region’s largest resource organisations. Competing teams are given access to Big Mining data – specifically, transport, logistical, geospatial and geological proprietary data.

At the most recent Unearthed event, one of the teams worked out a way to integrate technology into tray trucks that detects when boulders are too large for rock crushers and sounds an alarm to prevent potential blockages. The organisers estimated that this idea alone would save millions of dollars for the sector, with the problem analysed and solved in a mere 54 hours.

Perth-based CPO Jackie Harris is hosting an internal hackathon in her organisation to solve some key challenges for 2016. “It’s all about understanding the barriers to innovation and stimulating ingenuity in the team. There are so many small-scale changes we can make in our supply chain that will have a huge impact on our bottom line.”

Harris gives the example of the complexities involved in working out the optimal deck space utilisation on a cargo ship. Through a hackathon-type event, there is now a piece of software that maps deck space and provides the solution for you. “Our organisation is lucky in the sense that we are data-rich and have a strong analytics team”, says Harris. “Hackathons are a fantastic way to showcase this team and bring their ideas to the fore.”

In the Procurement space, a hackathon is a fun and effective way to engage your suppliers and generate innovative solutions. Invite your suppliers to send their best and brightest to compete ‘live’ against their peers, come up with the most innovative solution to your operational challenges, and win the contract.

Not convinced? What you need to know is that hackathons:

  • create solutions to ‘unsolvable’ problems.
  • are fun, engaging and social events.
  • provide a focused environment to solve operational challenges without any distractions.
  • encourage a culture of healthy competition.
  • (most importantly) stimulate innovative thinking in your organisation.

Hugo Britt is a Research Consultant at The Faculty, helping to support The Faculty Roundtable, an influential group of Australian procurement leaders, who gather to share their experiences and insights. The Faculty will be hosting their ninth Asia-Pacific CPO Forum, the region’s premier procurement event dedicated to accelerating commercial leadership at the highest level.

For more information on The Faculty Roundtable or CPO Forum, contact Program Manager, Belinda Toohey.​

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Big Ideas Summit on April 21st, visit www.bigideassummit.com, join our Procurious group, and Tweet your thoughts and Big Ideas to us using #BigIdeas2016.

Don’t miss out on this truly excellent event and the chance to participate in discussions that will shape the future of the procurement profession. Get Involved, register today.

Big Ideas 2016: Meet Our Speakers – Paul Markillie

The Big Ideas Summit is just a few weeks away! We caught up with Paul Markillie, Innovation Editor at the Economist, to talk about the megatrends transforming manufacturing.

Big Ideas Summit - Paul Markillie

Paul Markillie is Innovation Editor at The Economist. He has covered the automotive and aerospace industries globally and was the magazine’s first Asian-based business correspondent, writing about the rise of China as a manufacturing superpower.

Paul now writes about new technologies and their implications for businesses. He has authored a number of special reports, including “The Third Industrial Revolution” in 2012 and “New materials for Manufacturing” in 2015.

At the Big Ideas Summit, Paul will take us through the megatrends that are transforming manufacturing. He will explain how manufacturing is going digital and how that will disrupt the conventional economics of production and overturn established supply chains. He will give examples of how some companies are responding. He writes:

“I am particularly looking forward to the Big Ideas Summit because many of the things I talk about attract interest and curiosity. That can lead to some lively interaction, from which I often learn things from people who are already having to confront profound changes to the way they will do business in the future.”

According to the WEF, we are now in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – where does that leave businesses?

Four, three or some say half-a-dozen industrial revolutions have occurred. But however you measure these things, this one represents a fundamental shift because, as has happened in other industries – publishing, music, films, electronics, etc – the move to a digital world in manufacturing changes the rules comprehensively.

Developments like new materials, robotics, 3D printing and computer-aided design and simulation demolish the old notions of economies of scale, changing not just where companies locate factories but also how they organise themselves and arrange their procurement and supply chains.

What are the key impacts of new materials science for manufacturing organisations?

A good example is carbon fibre, already common in aerospace and now becoming more widely used in automotive industries. For example, BMW’s i3 electric cars start life in a Japanese rayon factory as a spool of plastic that looks like fishing line. This is carbonised at a plant in America and then shipped to Munich, where it is woven into carpet-like sheets on what appears to be a giant knitting machine.

When the sheets arrive at BMW’s car plant in Leipzig they are cut into shapes, stacked into multiple layers, injected with resin, cured and glued together by robots. That factory is unlike any other car plant I have seen, and so is its supply chain. And there are many other new materials coming that could change other industries just as dramatically.

These developments have increased the pace at which new products are developed – do you think supply chains can keep up with this demand?

If they do not, new supply chains will be developed. Or none at all: Tesla, for instance, is a new carmaker and quite vertically integrated. What suppliers need to remember is that many of these new manufacturing technologies allow a number of components to be integrated into one part.

So, for instance, a company making ceiling panels may decide to integrate thin-films of LED lighting into their product, thus offering a customer a product that no longer requires light fittings to be purchased.

What major changes do you think there will be in procurement and supply chain processes in the next few years?

First-tier suppliers will need to work much closer with companies in the development process. We already see some of this co-development. But there will also be huge opportunities for companies further down the supply chain to innovate. Second-generation robots are more affordable for medium and small companies; 3D printing processes are less wasteful of raw materials and allow greater production flexibility at lower volumes.

I think we will see some companies grasp these opportunities, which could re-order supply chains and lead to some companies that were previously suppliers of components making the leap to become producers of final products.

Paul Markillie will go into greater detail on all of these topics during his keynote at the Big Ideas Summit 2016 on April 21st.

If you’re interested in finding out more, visit www.bigideassummit.com, join our Procurious group, and Tweet your thoughts and Big Ideas to us using #BigIdeas2016.

Don’t miss out on this truly excellent event and the chance to participate in discussions that will shape the future of the procurement profession. Get Involved, register today.

Planning Procurement’s Response To The Millennial Generation

Understanding how procurement can cope with, and ultimately benefit from, the disruption brought into talent management by the Millennial Generation.

Millennial Generation

Hackett’s 2016 Procurement Key Issues Study shows that talent management remains one of the top 3 of objectives as a critical or major area of focus for virtually all procurement organisations.

Looking deeper, organisations are targeting three specific areas to transform talent: improving leadership skills, honing business acumen, and building specialist procurement skills. The two perennial favourites, category management and strategic sourcing, make up the other top reported objectives.

The research also showed that the Millennial Generation represents one of the greatest potential impacts and challenges to managing talent in the next year or two. Additionally, most procurement organisations (especially those in Europe) continue to experience higher levels of staff churn and difficulty attracting great talent.

What do we mean by Millennials?

When we refer to the Millennial Generation, we are referring to those born in the 80s and now moving into management positions, or early 90s who are leaving graduate school to join the workforce. This workforce demographic is characterised by different attitudes, desires and motivations than earlier generations. Generations X and Y came to be known for their independence, interest in work/life balance, technical proficiency, and measuring success in both financial and social terms.

Millennials, on the other hand, are the first generation of digital natives – i.e. they’ve truly grown up with the internet and social consciousness.  They have high career expectations, desiring both immediate and high impact opportunities, flexibility in terms of schedules, embracing remote working and diversity in assignments (e.g. culture, fun and collaboration).

They plan for rapid advancement as well as frequent job changes. Case in point: 90 per cent of Millennials plan to stay in their job for less than 3 years. They are high touch, and expect frequent feedback. In summary, the millennial generation wants more from work than just a career at a good company.

How can procurement address the critical skills gaps?

Research conducted by the Hackett Group in the past on procurement talent management, has shown clear gaps in the essential business skills required for most procurement jobs. These are: strategic thinking and analysis, group facilitation, and relationship management skills.

When considering specialist skills, enhanced SRM and market intelligence expertise were identified in need of development for most roles, with supply risk, innovation and SCM expertise needed for specialist roles.

How do we respond?

As procurement leaders this situation poses challenging questions:

  1. What procurement value proposition will be the most appealing?
  2. Will higher attrition become the new normal for procurement?
  3. Is now the time to invest in knowledge capture and transfer?
  4. How can we create flexible work schedules and collaborative environments?
  5. Do we need to rethink the importance and type of training we provide?

In all cases, training strategies need to be modernised to reflect this accelerated reality, as well as changing learning styles and preferences. Strategies that get people up to speed faster, use more interactive, workshop and team based formats should be preferred. The 70-20-10 approach to learning is based around the idea that 70 per cent of learning comes through experience, 20 per cent from social learning with colleagues, and just 10 per cent through formal learning involving training or online courses.

This framework will see larger elements of learning being on-the-job, collaborative and workshop based, action orientated to better align to leaders and manager day jobs and current issues, and complemented with self-directed learning elements and social learning (e.g. LinkedIn, Yammer).

Hackett's Framework for Training to Integrate Millennials into the Workforce
Hackett’s Framework for Training to Integrate Millennials into the Workforce

Course materials need to be user friendly, but at the same time to support multi-tasking and access to on-demand, on-line tutorial content. Course design should incorporate the themes seen as important to younger generations – how procurement connects into CSR and sustainability, work/life balance, and career advancement.

The older generations of Baby Boomers and Gen X will need support and even training to adapt to this shift in to mentality and culture.

About Hackett’s Procurement Key Issues Study

The results of this annual study are gathered from executives from over 180 large and global companies operating in the US, Europe and rest of the world, with annual revenue of $1 billion or greater.

Find out more by visiting the Hackett website.

Chris Sawchuk is a keynote speaker at the Big Ideas Summit on April 21st. Chris will be talking about how procurement is applying key agile capabilities in the areas of leadership, talent, service placement and information-driven performance.

If you’re interested in finding out more, visit www.bigideassummit.com, join our Procurious group, and Tweet your thoughts and Big Ideas to us using #BigIdeas2016.

Don’t miss out on this truly excellent event and the chance to participate in discussions that will shape the future of the procurement profession. Get Involved, register today.

Showcasing Your Big Ideas – Procurement-as-a-Service

Ahead of the Big Ideas Summit 2016 on April 21st, we’re on the hunt for your Big Ideas. Philip Ideson discusses his Big Idea of procurement-as-a-service models.

At the Big Ideas Summit 2016, which takes place on 21st April,  we will be asking our speakers and attendees to record their ‘Big Ideas’ live on camera for the whole of our Procurious community to see.

But we also believe that every single procurement and supply chain professional has a unique vantage point in the industries, communities and businesses they work in. You have been submitting your Big Ideas to us, and so far, we think they have been great!

Philip Ideson, Host, The Art of Procurement

Philip believes that procurement-as-a-service delivery models will transform the procurement value proposition. Companies will be able to access procurement talent and technology “on-demand”. This means the cost of accessing procurement expertise becomes a variable cost rather than a fixed cost.  

The result? Organisations of all sizes can now access specialist domain expertise which allows us to pull value levers that over and above cost savings that elevate our role and transform our value proposition. 

Philip elaborates on this big idea further here. You can connect with Philip on the Art of Procurement website, or on Twitter at @aopshow or @pideson.

How to Submit Your Big Idea

We don’t mind if you film your submission on your phone, tablet, laptop or PC. However, to help you out we’ve compiled a list of some of our recommended methods for reaching out.

Once you’ve completed your film, you can reach us by email (Procurious@Procurious.com); on Twitter (@procurious_) or via Google Drive or Dropbox (using Procurious@Procurious.com).

You can find all the information you need on recording and submitting your Big Idea here.

Want to know more about Big Ideas 2016? Then visit www.bigideassummit.com, join our Procurious group, and Tweet your thoughts and Big Ideas to us using #BigIdeas2016.

Don’t miss out on this truly excellent event and the chance to participate in discussions that will shape the future of the procurement profession. Get Involved, register today.

Overcoming Gender Bias in Procurement

Jackie Aggett, Regional Commercial Manager at Laing O’Rourke, discusses the gender bias she has come up against in procurement, and how she has overcome it to get to where she is today.

Overcoming Gender Bias

Jackie Aggett hadn’t been in procurement long when she needed to spend weeks preparing a major annual report about the procurement of earth moving tyres.

She handed it over to the site manager and watched him hurl the report angrily across the room. It hit the wall and fell apart.

“What would you know about earth moving tyres?,” he bellowed?
The slight blonde 28-year-old calmly walked over and picked up the report, and told him again that there were going to be changes. Like it, or not.

“Every part of me wanted to turn around and run out the door, but I’ve always found ways to overcome challenges in the workplace and turn them into opportunities,” Aggett says.

Finding a Voice

The experience did nothing to dampen her conviction. She has worked in male dominated roles for 25 years. She started out in a supply cadetship at BHP Billiton and then went on to work in rail, construction, marine services and a seawater desalination plant.

“I learned a lot in that cadetship. My boss at the time gave me the cadetship because he saw me as being very courageous, which was part of my upbringing. He sent me straight to Port Headland, where I was the only female.”

Her colleagues weren’t used to working with women. The only uniform available to her was the men’s trousers and shirts. “They were ill-fitting and very uncomfortable. Procuring some clothes to wear to work was high on the list in those early days,” Aggett says.

If anything, her presence among the male workforce was seen perhaps only as a novelty. But that all changed once she began finding her voice in the business, and began offering new solutions to old problems.

“I had a good work ethic and believed in what I was doing, and hit the ground running. But the team weren’t engaged when I started to suggest change, and that was a difficult process to go through. However, I didn’t give up. I continued to speak up and stand up for myself.”

Creating Trusted Advisors

Aggett’s depth of experience covers roles in commercial, contractual and financial management from project start-up through to close-out. This includes all facets of tender preparation, negotiation, contract award and subsequent on-site contract administration, claims, project controls, forecasting, financial reporting and risk management as the client asset owner or contractor.

Six months ago, she was tapped on the shoulder and offered the role of procurement head with international engineering enterprise Laing O’Rourke, which took her across the country from Perth to Sydney. She jumped at the chance.

Her focus in her role has been creating a vision – working to transform the procurement function from spend managers to trusted advisers, firstly among her team of 35 people.

“It is imperative we move beyond being seen and acting as a governance compliance function. We need to understand the business strategy and align our objectives to deliver sustainable value,” she says.

Challenging the Norm

Aggett has implemented a supply relationship management programme among other initiatives, which has been a big step forward for the procurement function within the business.

“A key part of this has been challenging the way in which we engage with the supply chain. The supply chain has a wealth of knowledge and capability which, if tapped into, can provide value creating solutions for our clients, ourselves and our supply chain partners.

“Unfortunately, the construction industry does not often afford the supply chain the opportunity to bring their knowledge and capabilities to the table. Our supplier relationship management program seeks to change this.”

Aggett wasn’t specifically chasing roles in such large corporate organisations, saying one thing just led to another.

“It certainly wasn’t planned that I’d work in male-dominated industries. I had four brothers and a working mother, and was raised to believe that girls can do anything.”

Overcoming Roadblocks

She admits that early on in her career, she came up against road blocks, but didn’t for a moment consider that had anything to do with gender bias.

“I definitely came up against a lot of unconscious bias in my early roles, and at times doing my job took some courage and self-belief. Being female has definitely been a challenge in the roles I’ve held.

“I’d wonder why someone wouldn’t listen to me, or how I could better showcase my skills. I’d work very hard to win someone over, and go through the problem solving process to try and work out why I wasn’t getting the result I wanted. The fact that I was a woman was always at the bottom of the list. Now, after 25 years working in the industry, I arrive at that conclusion a lot quicker and obviously have a lot more confidence in the role.”

Aggett hopes times have changed and that young women entering the procurement industry don’t come up against the gender bias she experienced.

“Saying that, I have been fortunate to work with individuals and organisations that have encouraged me to take opportunities, to believe in my abilities and to reward me for my efforts. I have experienced many organisations that have allowed flexibility in my working week, as I’ve raised two daughters as a single parent.”

While there are no requirements to do so, she advocates the importance of having a degree behind you for anyone working in procurement. Her law and finance degree has stood her in good stead, she says.

“It has absolutely served me well to have the formal qualifications behind me. When people are passionate about procurement and they’ve got the formal education, it gives them a seat at the board table in any situation they’re in.”

Jackie Aggett
Jackie Aggett

Jackie Aggett was one of the keynote speakers at the second annual Women in Procurement 2016 event. Catch up with what happened at the event here.

The Procurious Big Ideas Summit is Back!

The Procurious Big Ideas Summit is back and it’s bigger and better than ever before!

Procurious Big Ideas Summit 2016

We had a fantastic experience, and great fun, last year at the Big Ideas Summit, the world’s first digitally-led conference for the procurement profession. And it’s almost time to do it all over again at the Procurious Big Ideas Summit 2016.

If you aren’t familiar with the event, the  Big Ideas Summit gathers together 40-50 of the world’s brightest minds, such as established thought leaders, senior decision makers and industry experts, to discuss the future of the procurement profession.

What’s the Big Idea behind it?

The event is a unique opportunity for professionals to gain insights into the evolving global space of procurement. It connects senior executives, thought leaders and CPOs with digital delegates on a live platform.

Big Ideas 2016 aims to get current and future procurement leaders thinking about and discussing the key trends, risks and issues in the profession, and giving them tangible outcomes they can use to drive innovation and change in their organisations.

The key themes our speakers will be addressing this year include:

  • The technological “megatrends” impacting procurement
  • The True Cost of doing business in the fashion industry
  • How social media breaks boundaries for innovation and collaboration
  • Attracting and retaining the best Millennial talent
  • Creating and sustaining organisational agility

The face-to-face component of the event will take place in London on 21st April 2016. However, as with last year, we’re inviting over 12,000 procurement and supply chain professionals (co-incidentally, the same number as the Procurious community!) to join us as digital delegates.

This will amplify ideas and content through Procurious, as well as give our global delegates the chance to submit questions to speakers in advance as well as tune in, learn and participate in real time. 

Who will be speaking?

We’ve secured a high calibre of thought leaders and keynote speakers, including:

  • Tom Derry, CEO, Institute for Supply Management
  • Christopher Sawchuk, Principal & Global Procurement Advisory Practice Leader, The Hackett Group
  • Gabe Perez, Vice President of strategy and market development, Coupa
  • Elizabeth Linder, Politics & Government Specialist, Facebook EMEA
  • Lucy Siegle, Journalist and broadcaster, The Observer
  • Peter Holbrook, CBE, Chief Executive, Social Enterprise
  • Lucy Harding, Partner and Head of the Global Procurement & Supply Chain Practice, Odgers Berndtson
  • Martin Chilcott, Founder and CEO, 2degrees
  • Dapo Ajayi, Chief Procurement Officer, AstraZeneca

How you can take part

The Big Ideas Summit is open to all Procurious members. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, we want you to help shape the agenda. Register your attendance in our Procurious Big Ideas 2016 Group.

On Twitter? You can also submit your questions by tweeting us @procurious_ using the hashtag: #BigIdeas2016

For more information about the day head on over to our bespoke event site at www.bigideassummit.com.

Why take part?

As savvy social networkers you’ll already be of the mind that social media can be used to create a global stir. We want to amplify these Big Ideas throughout the global procurement community, connect with one another, start meaningful conversations, and ultimately drive change.

All keynote sessions will be captured on film and offered exclusively to registered attendees. As a ‘digital delegate’ you’ll also be able to access a rich collection of supporting material including articles, interviews and video content following the event.

Who Is Sponsoring It?

For an event that explores the biggest trends impacting procurement we thought it only necessary to bring onboard similarly hot-ticket sponsors. The Procurious Big Ideas Summit 2016 is proud to be sponsored by the The Hackett Group, The Institute for Supply Management, IBM and Coupa.

We are delighted to be working with such great organisations and look forward to joining with them on the day to produce a fantastic event for you all.

If you’re interested in finding out more, visit www.bigideassummit.com, join our Procurious group, and Tweet your thoughts and Big Ideas to us using #BigIdeas2016.

Don’t miss out on this truly excellent event and the chance to participate in discussions that will shape the future of the procurement profession. Get Involved, register today.

Procurement Software – Weighed Down by Unnecessary Ice?

Is the procurement software created to make jobs and lives easier actually doing the opposite? Is it all weighed down with a glut of unnecessary features?

Procurement Software - Unnecessary Ice

Paul Blake leads the technology product marketing team at GEP, a leading global provider of procurement technology solutions.

Have you ever wondered how many power stations are needed to make all the ice that no one uses? Or how about this: what does the internet weigh?

These are the sort of questions that I have found coming to mind on long journeys. I know, it’s sad, isn’t it?

Another one was, what is the quickest way to transfer a really huge amount of data from one place to another?

Answering the Abstract

You’d be forgiven if such questions fall into the category of “things I never think about,” but increasingly the answers to seemingly abstract questions might indicate the kind of thinking we’ll have to do to solve more complex problems that really matter.

The journey that brought our opening question to mind was one homeward bound after a procurement conference, one where I had engaged in a fascinating conversation with some specialists in procuring energy. We all know that one firm’s indirect can be another’s direct category, and energy is a perfect example.

The power appetite of some businesses is simply staggering and the strategising and planning effort that go into managing what, for us, is such a trivial everyday concern is equally impressive.  More on energy in a moment but…

How DO you transfer a vast amount of data in the quickest way possible? The answer may surprise you. FedEx. (Other global courier firms are available.)

100 terabytes of data is a large, but not unimaginable, amount. Given that you can buy a card today for your camera that can store 960GB, then you’re pushing a terabyte (more or less) into something the size of a thumbnail. Stick a hundred of those in a padded envelope and you can have it anywhere within a 25 mile radius within the hour or anywhere on the planet within 24.

A 500-megabit broadband connection would take you the best part of three weeks to send that much data to your neighbour, let alone to your colleagues 7 time zones away.

As the complexity of business information increases and subsequent data volumes explode will we begin to see a hybrid solution to data transfer? SneakerNet 2.0?

Combatting Waste

Equally, as energy becomes more of a limiting factor, businesses may look for novel methods to combine traditional and emerging technologies into a solution that works for a new era. Some years ago I was surprised to find, in my local DIY store, a display of low energy compact fluorescent light bulbs on sale for, if I recall correctly 30p (50¢) each.

As I puzzled at how they could be sold so cheaply, a fellow shopper pointed out that they were branded with the logo of a major utility and his comment was, “which is cheaper, give these away at 30p each or build another power station?”

When you do a bit of scratch mathematics on the back of an envelope, and realise how much energy is spent putting ice in places where it doesn’t need to be (a couple of kilos, for example in every hotel room in the place I’ve just stayed as part of their “turn down” service), then you start to think about a whole host of other seemingly trivial things, which add up to huge profligate waste.

Cocktail umbrellas? Sachets of salt and pepper served with in-flight meals that nobody ever opens but which all get discarded? The printing of the words “allergy advice: contains mustard” on jars of mustard (it’s true).

Makes you think doesn’t it?  All that energy adds up to a vast amount of fuel burned for no really compelling reason whatsoever. In solving one small apparent problem (like the inability to get through a night without some ice nearby), we can create another that is much trickier to solve, and they require us to be creative and develop different, perhaps non-obvious solutions.

Perhaps nobody would immediately think of using a traditional parcel service to move data about, or giving away energy saving devices instead of producing more energy.

The Foibles of Features

When it comes to developing procurement software the obvious path is to develop features and functions. Capabilities if you like.  The tools to let you do stuff.  This is natural for developers, it’s what they do.

What they may actually be doing is attempting to solve small problems that aren’t necessarily real in any significant sense (the operational equivalent of running out of ice while you sleep), and at the same time creating a much bigger, more intractable issue.

In trying to deliver every bell and whistle in order to reach feature parity with a competitor, technologists end up building monstrously complex systems that actually hinder the very process they were intended to facilitate.

But perhaps there is a different approach. How about, instead of developing an ever more elaborate set of features in some kind of arms race, we look at developing processes; processes and the means to shape them to suit a business?

What would that mean in real terms? Perhaps the future of business and procurement software is about making connections between people and groups work better, instead of creating more and more levels of complexity in the tools they use.

Shifting Thinking

My contention is that one way to dramatically improve productivity in the modern work place would be to outlaw email. Heretical, perhaps, and probably impossible to implement. But I bet most of you reading this are both shuddering in horror at the thought and, at the same time, recognising the truth of the situation – that email is the static that swamps our day, the noise that is disrupting the signal, so to speak.

Technology has the capability to drive improvements in business but it has also the capability to tie us down in thrall to evermore complex tasks and activities. When looking to what we might develop next, we should not lose sight of the human aspect that is central to what procurement is all about – establishing and managing relationships across an entire supply chain for mutual benefit.

Whilst not proposing a sudden panacea to cure all ills, this approach might start to move us towards better, more natural productivity, and away from being weighed down by increasing complexities.

But that new idea would require a shift in thinking in the customer too. The process of procurement software selection has for too long been dominated by an almost obsessive compulsion to assess suitability by ticking boxes against features and functions, instead of an examination of how a company’s problems might be solved.

Enlightened procurement pros are starting to “get” this idea. They are looking to their own operations to see what the really big problems are, and getting to grips with how to solve them using procurement software as an enabler, rather than as an end in itself.

Time to Lighten the Load

So how much does the internet weigh? Not the server farms or storage devices, or drives or memory chips involved, but the data itself? It might seem like an utterly meaningless question. Surely an acre-sized data centre weighs the same whether it is full, or as empty as the day it came on-line? Well, apparently not. Data requires energy to exist. And every megabyte of data you add to your cloud corpus, adds just a little more energy.

The world’s most famous equation tells us E=mc2. Therefore, every unit of energy you require to store a unit of data, equates to a corresponding unit of mass. A full data centre really does weigh more than an empty one, but of course only by a tiny, tiny amount.

Correspondingly, every email we receive, and every feature we add to our already complex systems, adds just a little bit more mass, literally. We’ll never notice it, of course, but every time we feel weighed down by an information overload, or stymied by ridiculously complex procurement software, at least we can comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we’re not imagining ALL of it. And one day we might work together to lighten the load.

For more high-energy thinking on procurement software, visit the Smart by GEP website.

BBC micro:bit Launches to Generation of UK Students

In a landmark moment, the BBC are delivering up to one million micro:bit devices free to UK students to encourage more young people get creative with technology.

BBC Micro:bit

Every Year 7 student in England and Wales, Year 8 student in Northern Ireland, and S1 student in Scotland will receive a micro:bit. The device, launched as part of the BBC Make it Digital initiative, is a pocket-sized, codeable computer that allows young people to get creative with technology, whatever their level of experience, and aims to help develop a new generation of digital pioneers.

Students can program their BBC micro:bit to become anything they want – from simple games to smart watches and even fitness trackers. This is done by using one of the code editors at www.microbit.co.uk, or the mobile app, and by connecting it to other devices and sensors. The website also features a range of resources and tutorials to help teachers, parents and students take advantage of the BBC micro:bit’s vast potential.

It’s the BBC’s most ambitious education project in 30 years and builds on the pioneering role of the BBC Micro, which helped introduce the nation to computing in the 1980s. It has been made possible only through a ground-breaking partnership between the BBC and 31 organisations, including ARM, Barclays, element14, Lancaster University, and Microsoft.

Open-Source Technology

BBC micro:bits will be delivered nationwide through schools and made available to home-schooled students over the next few weeks, but they will be the students’ devices to own. This allows students to keep their device as they move up through the school, and to continue bringing their ideas to life outside of school and term time.

Some additional BBC micro:bits have been included in the rollout to enable teachers to extend their BBC micro:bit lessons to students in other year groups, giving the BBC micro:bit partnership an even better chance of inspiring an entire generation.

Following the nationwide rollout, the BBC micro:bit hardware and much of the software will be open-sourced, and BBC micro:bits will be available to buy from a range of retailers. Money generated from these commercial sales will be used to further encourage as many people as possible to join the coding revolution. Further details will be announced soon.

British Innovation

Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, said: “This is a very special moment for us, our partners and most importantly for young people across the country. The BBC micro:bit has the potential to be a seminal piece of British innovation, helping this generation to be the coders, programmers and digital pioneers of the future.

“Only the BBC could attempt a project this ambitious, on such a large scale, and I’m thrilled we’ve persuaded so many people to get behind this and make it happen.” 

Sinead Rocks, Head of BBC Learning, said: “The BBC micro:bit has seemingly limitless potential, especially when paired with other hardware, and we can’t wait to see what students will do with it. They’ve already come up with all kinds of ideas during testing and at events around the country – some ideas help solve some of life’s daily challenges, some could have business potential, and others are just great fun. Teachers have been quick to embrace it too, which is so important to the success of the project, and they have already made valuable additions to our online resources.”

Jessica Cecil, Controller, Make It Digital said: “BBC micro:bit represents a major milestone in our bid to inspire a new generation of digital innovators. As part of our Make it Digital initiative we want everyone to discover more about the digital world. We’re offering easy-to-use devices like the BBC micro:bit, up to 5000 Make it Digital traineeships across the UK, and shows on the BBC such as Girls Can Code and Calculating Ada, to achieve just that.

“Working with our many partners to create opportunities for children to code, make and to discover, together we aim to build the chances of the next generation.”

The BBC micro:bit is the result of a ground-breaking partnership on an unprecedented scale. The BBC micro:bit’s product partners have led on the software, hardware, design, manufacture and distribution of the device. This includes:

  • ARM: The BBC micro:bit was created using the ARM® mbed™ hardware and software development kits and compiler services. The project builds on the organisations’ collaboration on the original 1981 BBC Micro computer.
  • Barclays: Supporting the distribution and manufacture of the BBC micro:bit by incorporating it into their digital education programmes
  • BBC: The BBC micro:bit project has been conceived and convened by the BBC, bringing together partners to deliver a digital literacy project on an unprecedented scale.
  • element14: element14 manufacturers the BBC micro:bit and has worked closely with all partners in areas such as component selection, cost optimisation and design for manufacture. In addition, element14 has leveraged its manufacturing, logistics and packaging capabilities to safely deliver the first 1 million units into the UK.
  • Lancaster University: Designed and developed the BBC micro:bit runtime; the essential core code that makes the BBC micro:bit do all the amazing things it does. The University will continue to support the micro:bit community as it grows.
  • Microsoft: Developed the BBC micro:bit website (www.microbit.co.uk) to host code editors for all one million micro:bits and has also supplied two coding languages.
  • Nordic Semiconductor: Supplied the ultra low power Bluetooth® chip that integrates the micro:bit’s computer brain, and allows the micro:bit to both wirelessly communicate with other micro:bits, and sync to or be updated from smartphones, tablets, and computers via Bluetooth.
  • NXP Semiconductor: Provided the micro-controller that manages the BBC micro:bit’s USB connection, the accelerometer and magnetometer that enable the micro:bit to react to motion and the direction it’s facing.
  • Samsung: Developed the Android app for the BBC micro:bit.
  • Technology Will Save Us: A London-based start-up that designs ‘Do It Yourself’ tech kits that spark the creative imagination of young people. Tech Will Save Us led the BBC micro:bit design, producing the distinctive look & feel that encourages kids to get hands-on with technology.
  • Wellcome Trust: Through direct initiatives to schools, Wellcome Trust will provide exciting real life contexts for teachers and learners around the UK to use the micro:bit.

For more on the BBC micro:bit, the project partners and product champions, visit the ‘Make it Digital’ website.

Easter Supply Chain Set for Record Year

You may not realise the complicated Easter supply chain that exists in order to cope with increasing consumer demand.

Easter Supply Chain

Whether your Easter delicacy of choice is the humble egg, sweets like jelly beans and marshmallows, or something more like a Spanish torrija, you are contributing to the enormous spend on confectionary and other Easter-related items.

In the UK, Easter sales of chocolate make up 10 per cent of the figures for the entire year. According to the National Confectioners’ Association in the USA, around 70 per cent of the Easter sweets purchased are chocolate, which works out to a whopping $2.2 billion spend.

All of this puts pressure on the Easter supply chain plans that businesses have in place. And 2016 is expected to be a bumper year for consumer spend.

Highest for 13 Years

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF) in the USA, total spending on Easter this year is expected to hit $17.3 billion, the highest level for 13 years. To put it into perspective, that’s a spend of $146 for each person in the USA.

According to some statistics, this will put spending, particularly on sweets and chocolates, at a higher level for Easter than it is for Halloween. The NRF have estimated confectionary sales will total $2.4 million, surpassing the average of $2.1 million for Halloween sweets.

Possibly not good news for the 81 per cent of adults who admitted to stealing chocolate from their children’s stashes over the holiday period…

Retail Sales

And it’s not just the confectionary market that sees a huge spend at this time of year. With adults planning on spending on average 50 per cent for Easter than they did on Halloween, the money is being spread around.

According to the NRF survey, spending will see high figures in the following areas:

  • $5.5 billion on food
  • $3 billion on clothing
  • $2.7 billion on gifts
  • $2.4 billion on confectionary
  • $1.2 billion on flowers

And with over 40 per cent of shoppers visiting department stores to carry out their shopping, and 21 per cent shopping online, organisational supply chains will be working flat out to cope with demand.

Easter Supply Chain Optimisation

Delivering all this chocolate, sweets and other items to stores requires a mammoth effort from logistics organisations around the world. Shipping efficiency, customer location, order quantities and supply chain management all have to be reviewed in order to keep up with the demand.

In the USA, Hersheys opted to optimise their supply chain around the elements of customer geographical location and grouping stock-keeping units with product groups. It is estimated that by doing this, and using off-the-shelf software, the organisation has saved itself in excess of $15 million per year.

Just Born, a confectionary manufacturer who are responsible for America’s favourite non-chocolate treat, the Peep, changed their Easter supply chain strategy in order to cope with the huge demand for their products over the holidays.

The organisation now uses distribution centres and 3PL to break bulk orders for more efficient delivery to retailers. Just Born also shares these centres with other organisations, with this collaboration further reducing the costs associated with deliveries.

An increasing use of technology for inventory management and planning is making life easier for organisations too. Barcodes can be used to manage inventories more efficiently, while also allowing for real-time tracking of stock at both distribution centres and retail outlets.

Further advancements in technologies such as ERP and MRP systems will allow organisations to further increase efficiencies, while increased collaboration will benefit not only the whole industry, but also the consumer.

So just remember, the next time you crack open that chocolate egg, there’s more than a simple process required to get it from manufacturer to shelf (and that’s before the Easter Bunny gets involved!).

Big Ideas 2015 Flashback: Building a Supply Chain Wiki

We’re looking back at some of the most popular ideas from Big Ideas 2015. Gordon Donovan examines the concept of a Supply Chain Wiki.

Gordon Donovan, Procurement and Supply Chain Manager at Metro Trains in Melbourne, shared his Big Idea last year around the concept of creating a Procurement and Supply Chain Wiki.

Gordon believes that there is a dearth of good information for procurement organisations around the full supply chain. This isn’t just the Tier 1 suppliers, but Tier 2 suppliers and subcontractors, and further down the chain.

This Big Idea focuses on harnessing the power of the community to build a centralised knowledge base for all.

Gordon admits that his Big Idea is quite daunting, but as he points out, it all has to start somewhere!

See more Big Ideas from our 40 influencers from the Big Ideas Summit 2015 on Procurious.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Big Ideas Summit 2016, visit www.bigideassummit.com. You can also join our Procurious group, and Tweet your thoughts and Big Ideas to us using #BigIdeas2016.

Don’t miss out on this truly excellent event and the chance to participate in discussions that will shape the future of the procurement profession. Get Involved, register today.