eCatalogues are Just Spreadsheets, What’s the Big Deal?!

How many times have you heard someone compare eCatalogues to spreadsheets? It’s time to clear up the differences!

eCatalogues on Tablet

This article was originally published on Suppliers Matter.

That’s what the owner of a small office supply company asked me back in 1999. I was an independent supplier enablement consultant, and it was taking me longer than he wanted to create his first electronic catalogue in Ariba for his largest customer.

Here are the ten things I wish I had said as to why electronic catalogues aren’t “just spreadsheets”. I’ve also added a handful of insights that some newer eProcurement solutions now have to offer when it comes to eCatalogues.

The end result may “simply be a spreadsheet”, but it’s ensuring what’s in this spreadsheet that requires due diligence.

1) Appropriate Selection

eCatalogues need to contain all things that the customer buys from you, and none of the things you’re not supposed to sell.

If you have the contract to sell office supplies, and you’ve been given explicit instructions to only include office supplies, then you can’t include the kitchen sink.

When it’s time to export item information from the back end system, it should be just for your customer’s desired items.

Some larger suppliers have been known to insist their eCatalogues can’t be filtered, in an effort to sell more stuff. You don’t want to play those games.

2) Accurate Pricing

Obviously the prices for these items has to be accurate. Sometimes the calculation of the sell price can get complicated. For example, if it’s X per cent off list for one type of item, but Y per cent off for another. Or if there’s a list of most commonly ordered items that are more highly discounted than the rest.

If your customer finds one item that is priced higher than it should be, they’ll lose trust and question all other item prices.

Newer eProcurement platforms now support tiered pricing, bundles, configurable/custom options, etc., which can help when if you sell more complicated products or services.

3) Consistent Names

The item names are the first thing that a customer sees in their search results, so it’s important that they are strong and also follow a consistent naming convention, for example: Widgets, Small, Pack of 20.

Looking at a long list of items that are consistently named makes it easier for the customer to select the right item.

4) Rich Descriptions

This is one area where the initial effort up front can really make a big difference, but it takes investment. If you want to have your items found in search results, and also help your customer make the right choice the first time, you need rich item descriptions that thoroughly describe your items. You should take advantage of as much space as the customer can support. If they allow 255 characters, use them!

Some suppliers simply export the bare minimum item information from their inventory, which is often hard to understand. And what’s frustrating for buyers is that the supplier’s B2C site has often got great rich content. However, suppliers frequently have two separate item databases – one for B2C/marketing and one for B2B/eProcurement.

If you happen to sell items from popular categories, there are now rich content providers that you can use to enrich your information.

5) Granular UNSPSC codes

There are so many reasons to make sure that the UNSPSC codes assigned to your items are granular and accurate.

Granular meaning that you can’t just assign the ‘Office Stationery’ code to all your items, even the office furniture and computer accessories.

And accurate, meaning that if you’re selling a standard office scissor then you need to use the correct code, and not just the first reference to scissors you see when searching the UNSPSC database.

The customer may have purchase requisition approval rules reliant on the codes to determine who should approve the request. IT may need to approve the computer accessory, and facilities may need to approve the furniture. Plus, your customer’s reports will be much more accurate in terms of spend reporting.

A new consideration is eProcurement systems now have browsable category trees that rely on the UNSPSC to assign the item to the most appropriate category. You want your items to fall under the right bucket and not all get clumped into one.

6) Images for Every Product

This is a no-brainer. You have to make sure as many of your items (if not all) have at least one, nice looking image. They should be professional looking, high resolution, hosted on a publicly available webserver, and assigned to the right item.

And if your customer’s eProcurement system supports multiple images, then give them more. Many suppliers don’t take advantage of this, however, and just do the minimum (if that). Make your items shine!

7) Valid Units of Measure

You don’t want to do all this work and have the catalogue not load because your internal unit of measure is “Each” and the customer’s system needs it to be “EA”. You need to ensure that all your items are using the UOMs that your customer supports.

8) Internal Part Numbers for Automation

If you want to automate the fulfilment of the corresponding electronic purchase order and have it flow seamlessly into your system, the part numbers have to be perfect.

You can’t manually create an item in the catalogue file called WIDGET and expect it to work. You need to export the part numbers out of your system, and only use those part numbers in the eCatalogues.

9) Properly Formatted File

All this has to be exported into a properly formatted file that matches the customer’s file format requirements.

  • XLS vs. XLSX vs. CSV vs. XML vs. CIF vs. ETC.
  • Field titles with correct names.
  • Not exceeding each field’s maximum length.
  • Ensure all their required fields are populated properly.

This is where it can get a little technical, but it’s a one time effort.

10) Automating the Update Process

Fortunately, we didn’t have to update static eCatalogues very often, so doing this once or twice a year was acceptable.

New eProcurement systems now support simple CSV files, and allow suppliers to upload securely. This means suppliers are now in a better position to automate the export, any mapping, and upload using relatively simple scripts or product information management (PIM) tools.

Suppliers, what else would you have told him? (Apart from go do it yourself!)

Uber: The Great, Untold Procurement Story

Addressing 800+ delegates at SciQuest Next Level 2016, Stephen Wiehe’s enthusiasm for design, disruption and innovation is infectious.

Overcrowded Uber

Stephen Wiehe, CEO at SciQuest, is clearly a man who likes to ‘make stuff’. A tinkerer, a designer, an ideas-man, maybe a little bit of a tech-head.

Opening Next Level 2016 with a take on ‘Procurement’s Future in the Era of Disruption’, Stephen starts with some alarming, if increasingly familiar, facts and stats:

  • We are experiencing the fastest technological change the world has seen
  • Interest rates are at their lowest since records began
  • Market volatility has doubled
  • We are seeing unprecedented, rising geo-political instability
  • 40 per cent of companies will be extinct in 10 years

It’s not long, however, before he pivots towards his passion for design, innovation and customer connectivity.

Stephen points to GE’s First Build R&D facility as an example of how businesses are going straight to the customer for their next great innovation.

A darling of the corporate crowdsourcing movement, First Build aims to invent new home appliances by creating a community of home enthusiasts, designers, engineers, and makers who share ideas, try them out, and build real products.

“Once upon a time, R&D facilities were hidden and process driven,” says Stephen, “Today, GE have flung open their doors to anyone who has a good idea. Customers with an idea can quite literally walk-in, use the machines and GE will help you build it.”

No Industry is Immune to Disruption

As a London local and 4.8 star rated Uber user, it still comes as a surprise when I meet someone who has never used this global phenomenon before. For me, Uber has transformed the way I move about the city, track payments, and even the amount of cash I need for a night out.

So when Stephen flicked up a slide of yellow taxi cabs, I must admit my first thought was, “Ok, here we go, Uber. Heard this before.”

But Stephen takes the analogy much further: “Uber is not a technology story, it’s a procurement story.

“The whole process of getting an Uber is really a procurement process. First you request an Uber – not dissimilar to filling out a requisition form. Next, there’s a sourcing event – Uber drivers, armed with your passenger rating, your location and destination, bid to win the job.

“Then, the passenger accepts the job, confirming they are happy with the driver’s rating and location. A contract is formed – we accept the job and the mode of payment is agreed. And finally the AP process occurs seamlessly and conveniently with your stored credit card details.”

Uber in a Traditional Procurement Lens?

Uber even provides a handy Spend Management Tool allowing the user to see their complete driving, payment and ‘performance’ history. Particularly handy for parents of teenagers, as Stephen points out!

The penny drops. I’ve not thought of Uber in this way before – a fully automated Source-to-Settle process.

But Stephen pushes us to go one step further. “Imagine if Uber had approached their business from a traditional procurement lens.  We’d have the lowest vehicles, more passengers per vehicle and cheaper drivers.”

True – Uber’s open network has flipped the transport industry on its head. Stephen explains that Uber looked at the cab industry from the customers’ perspective and wondered what total transparency, real time data, and an open and connected network could deliver.

And I for one am thankful they did.

disruption
Stephen Wiehe – CEO, SciQuest

The Disappearance of the Back-Office

Just like Uber, which has automated the entire administration process of booking and paying for cabs, Stephen predicts the concept of procurement administration will disappear in coming years.

The issue for most businesses is that they are trying to do the same things over and over, and (not surprisingly) seeing only incremental value delivery.

Stephen told delegates that businesses will only see a step change when they start to simultaneously use procurement automation, collaboration and insights to drive decision making.

When it comes to procurement, our customers want a simple, straight forward way to connect with suppliers, get what they need, and make a payment. Fairly or not, Procurement is all too often accused of being slow, cumbersome and hard to deal with. Not the ideal adjectives for a ‘Business Partner’.

Maybe Stephen is right. Maybe the key to unlocking innovation and value will come from the customer. Just like Uber and GE, is it time to put sourcing in the hands of the customers and people who need the products? It’s certainly time to think differently.

SciQuest Next Level takes place from August 21 – 24 2016. For more information on procurement and disruption please visit www.sciquest.com or Tweet SciQuest via @SciQuest.

Lisa Malone, General Manager Procurious, is reporting live from SciQuest Next Level 2016 this week.

Has Procurement Dehumanised The Sourcing Process?

It’s only a matter of time before the procurement profession realises that it’s dehumanised the sourcing process, a move that will negatively impact the industry.

Sourcing Process Relationships

Procurement needs a new measure of success that reflects its impact, not its output. This is according to a Melbourne-based procurement coach, and self-proclaimed procurement disrupter, Matt Perfect.

Procurement with Purpose

Just as conscious businesses are learning that profit is a by-product of business with purpose, so too savings will be a by-product of procurement with purpose.

Perfect argues, “What have we really ‘saved’ if we drive down our suppliers’ pricing to unsustainable levels?

“Levels where they are forced to compromise on service and quality, or worse, safety and ethics? Procurement needs a metric that reflects the exponential impact of its decisions throughout the supply chain.

“The impact on suppliers and their employees…and suppliers’ suppliers and so on. This metric must measure real human value. Not just economic value,” Perfect says.

Cost at Any Cost

The Melburnian has carved an enviable niche in the Australian procurement landscape. Perfect has worked in numerous procurement roles, including for FreeMarkets, National Australia Bank, Toll and The Faculty.

Now as an independent coach and facilitator, he advocates the importance of supplier relations, and feels that major disruptive change within the procurement industry is only a matter of time.

Perfect writes about the disruption of the procurement sector in white papers. One, titled Supplier Love and Why You Need More of It, published in July last year, explains that as much as 70 per cent of revenue now goes to third parties (according to Proxima Group). Never before have suppliers been more important stakeholders in an organisation’s success.

Yet, despite significant investment in procurement capability and strategic focus over the last few decades, many supplier relationships remain transactional at best and at worst, adversarial.

Businesses continue to prioritise shareholder value above all else, sometimes even at the expense of customers, employees and the environment, but almost always ahead of suppliers’ interests.

One might be forgiven for thinking that ‘cost at any cost’ is the primary operating model for these businesses.

Conscious Business

Conscious businesses understand that this is not sustainable. Fortunately, there is a better way, but it requires a fundamental shift in the way we define stakeholders and value.

“We need to be looking at ways to win the hearts and minds of suppliers, rather than purely relying on negotiation tactics. When you look at the mindsets of procurement professionals, relationships just aren’t playing a big enough part at the moment,” Perfect says.

“You need to look at supplier relationships and help improve those relationships to get better outcomes. I work to improve that level of trust in a relationship, with the view of generating greater impact. I also look at the broader impact of relationships, which comes down to how it affects the lives of people.”

Perfect says that procurement is ripe for disruption, and is in fact on the cusp of a major shift. Part of this shift should include the consideration of whether procurement accurately sums up the role – supplier relations could be closer.

“There will be a shift to a new age. A human age, which is a process that procurement doesn’t have its head around yet as a profession. We need to be more engaged with vision and purpose moving forward as a profession.”

Perfect believes the younger generation will drive the changes as they strive for a more human-centred career.

Remembering the Human Element in Sourcing Process

A focus on supply chain issues, and the human elements within supply chains, is another driver for change.

Other industries embrace change more readily than procurement has to date. Marketing, for example, understands that to be really effective and cut-through, it has to touch the lives of people.

The human relations industry has also moved away from seeing staff as a number and has improved the way it operates within the business environment by focusing on the people. Procurement hasn’t made this leap yet, he says.

“We’ve also got to be thinking about how to appeal to the hearts and minds of consumers. We need to head into this space as a broader industry if we’re ever going to survive. I urge my clients to be the change they want to see in the world.”

At the moment, the industry is narrowly focused on shareholder value, rather than a broader stakeholder orientation, which is drawn from the realm of conscious capitalism.

“There needs to be an interdependence that creates value without trading off one another,” he says.

People Over Process

Matt Perfect
Matt Perfect

Perfect has an undergraduate degree in economics from Cardiff in the UK, and pursued a consulting career before landing an analyst position, specialising in e-sourcing and online technology. This kick-started a procurement career spanning multiple consulting and management roles in a variety of industries.

He left The Faculty a couple of years ago to focus on coaching. He works to help his clients create better and more conscious relationships with their internal and external stakeholders.

“This is where I focus my energy now. Looking at all spending in procurement and how that impacts on people. I believe we all need to have a greater focus on people than process.

Since working as a procurement coach, Perfect has worked with Social Traders, CPA Australia and The Trusted Negotiator, among others.

You can follow Matt at mattperfect.com or on Twitter at @m8ttperfect.

Construction Supply Chain Skills Shortage at Breaking Point

An acute skills shortage in the construction supply chain is impacting both budgets and the quality of projects. 

Construction Skills Shortage

A new survey from the Scape Group has highlighted the impact of the skills shortage in the UK construction industry.

The ‘Sustainability in the Supply Chain’ report surveyed over 150 contractors, subcontractors and senior managers at public sector organisations. It also examined supply chain stability, the tendering process and reliance on the public sector.

The report suggests that the skills shortage has impacted quality and budgeting of projects across the UK.

Skills Shortage at “Breaking Point”

One of the key concerns raised in the report was in the quality of the workmanship being seen projects. 58 per cent of contractors and suppliers cited a negative impact on quality.

However, when assessed in the public sector, a staggering 85 per cent of managers said they had seen a drop in quality in their projects.

Beyond quality, many respondents also saw the skills shortage as having a negative impact on budgets. Both public sector (80 per cent) and contractors (40 per cent) highlighted the difficulty of keeping within budget. The shortage of skilled workers has led to many bricklayers earning up to £1,000 per week.

Mark Robinson, Chief Executive at Scape Group, commented that although the impacts of the skills shortage were clear, there were basic steps that could be put in place to mitigate it. This could include the introduction of apprenticeships schemes, something that many contractors in the construction industry still do not have.  

The Private/Public Juxtaposition

The report also highlighted the huge division between public and private sector definitions of a “healthy” supply chain. Private sector organisations stated that long-term operational stability was their core aim (72 per cent), as well as with minimising waste and recycling (63 per cent) and supporting local economies (58 per cent).

However, only 63 per cent cited stable employment patterns as key to having a healthy supply chain.

This is in stark contrast to public sector organisations, where 70 per cent felt that long-term benefits for the local economy needed to be the highest priority. Furthermore, 67 per cent believed that local skills and suppliers were core to a healthy supply chain too.

Another key finding in the report was the challenge of communication between the public and private sectors. Both sides (75 per cent of suppliers; 80 per cent of public sector managers) believed that the public sector needed to do more to engage with its supply chain.

This included giving greater visibility of upcoming projects, and enabling contractors to start bidding up to 18 months in advance of contracts starting. SMEs in particular felt they needed to be more informed about projects. It was felt that this could be addressed by using digital platforms, and setting up regular forums for communication.

Report Recommendations

The report concluded by making some recommendations on what needed to be done in the construction supply chain.

1. Addressing the Skills Shortage

The skills shortage was seen by the vast majority of respondents as the most serious barrier to growth and efficiency within the industry. While there has been a drive to increase apprenticeships, it was agreed that more needs to be done.

Diversity and the gender gap was also highlighted as a barrier. Many felt that more needed to be done to ensure that more opportunities were made available to young men and women, from a range of backgrounds. These could be communicated via education programmes, support by social media.

2. Forward Visibility of Projects

SMEs face a challenging environment in the construction industry. It was felt that this could be helped by making tenders public more than 18 months in advance. This would allow SMEs to plan ahead, form relationships, and would ultimately allow for more stable employment patterns.

3. Greater Collaboration

Greater public sector engagement with suppliers, especially SMEs, will create a stronger supply chain and support efficient delivery. However, there is a mismatch between what the public sector believes to be important, and what the industry believes is necessary.

Consistent and forward looking digital communications, driven by government, would make it easier for the public sector to engage with SMEs. It would also help to make information about opportunities more accessible.

4. Local Spend & Social Value 

The public sector, by its very nature, must deliver greater social value through its supply chain. This is balanced alongside the increasing pressure to deliver savings and achieve more with less.

The supply chain is the vehicle through which the public sector can deliver this extra value, and there are greater opportunities for those who understand this key aspiration.

Do you work in the UK construction industry? What needs to be done to alleviate the skills shortage? Let us know in the comments below.

Need a conversation starter for Monday’s tea break? Here are the top headlines from procurement and supply chain this week.

Californian Wildfire Cuts Off Key Freight Corridors
  • A fast-moving wildfire has engulfed 30,000 acres in a single day across the state of California.
  • The “Blue Cut” fire has closed the main highway connecting Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and shut key freight rail routes.
  • Road and rail shippers moving goods through the area have experienced disruptions and forced detours, with delays of 36 to 48 hours.
  • More than 80,000 people have been ordered to evacuate the region, and 34,000 homes are threatened by the fire.

Read more at JOC.com

Spotlight on the Seafood Industry
  • A study of seafood served across 700 stores and restaurants in the US has found that one out of three fish are mislabelled, with unethical suppliers substituting lower-cost fish for pricier ones.
  • Once filleted, it is extremely difficult to tell different species of fish apart, meaning customers can easily be misled.
  • Federal regulators in the US have launched the Seafood Compliance and Labelling Enforcement program in response, using a genetic database to test imported fish.
  • The seafood supply chain is acknowledged to be one of the most complex and opaque supply chains in the world, with very little visibility of illegal fishing, country of origin or even species of fish.

Read more at The Daily Meal 

Nike Alliance Purchases Apparel Suppliers
  • Nike Inc. has formed a supply-chain partnership with private-equity firm Apollo Global Management.
  • The partnership comes in response to ongoing logistics issues that have seen product delays for Nike.
  • The alliance has purchased existing Nike apparel suppliers operating in the USA and Central America to create more “vertical integration” in the supply chain.
  • Last year Nike opened a distribution centre in Memphis, and the new alliance has purchased the warehousing and logistics business ArtFX.  

Read more at Market Watch 

Patagonia Rebuilds Wool Supply Chain
  • Apparel company Patagonia is rebuilding its supply chain to ensure the highest animal welfare standards.
  • The company has spent a year with suppliers and experts writing its own supply chain standards, in order to ensure that suppliers follow them.
  • Meeting with farmers and suppliers helped to ensure that the standards were both robust, but relevant too.
  • The company is expecting to ensure both quality and welfare standards in light of increasing public scrutiny of supply chains.

Read more at The Wall Street Journal

Indirect & Direct Procurement: Right Tool for the Right Job!

Too often organisations use the same tools for direct procurement as they do for indirect. It’s time to start using the right tool for the right job.

Direct Procurement

This post was first published on POOL4TOOL.

Let me start by saying what this post is not about.

It is not about Direct vs. Indirect. It is also not about what is more critical and strategic between Direct and Indirect.

Things are more complex than a Manichean division of Procurement into two categories. If category management was just about that split, we would know it. Wouldn’t we?

This post is simply about common sense!

Serving Different Markets

All the above does not conflict with saying that there are specificities to both components of the Purchase spend. Especially when looking at industrial companies.

One area of differentiation between Direct and Indirect Procurement is related to the market they serve.

  • Indirect serves mostly internal needs, a.k.a. the employee
  • Direct serves external needs, a.k.a. the customer or the consumer. Though, of course, the difference between B2B and B2C is becoming increasingly blurred.

Both markets have their own challenges.

In indirect, the diversity of internal customers is quite important (travel is an example) and that makes stakeholder management quite difficult.

In Direct, stakeholders are more easily identifiable as they revolve around the product (this would typically be R&D and manufacturing). But consumers are more diverse and volatile, which requires special attention as, in the words of Peter Drucker, “the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer”.

Product Lifecycle

Another difference is the  relationship to the product lifecycle.

R&D and New Product Development (NPD) are intrinsic to Direct Procurement. This is a bit less of a reality in Indirect, even if some indirect parts of the spend are related to complex projects very similar to NPD, for example, real estate and facility management.

Some companies like Apple have very complex projects to manage in that area, for example their new headquarters or their retail spaces. As retail spaces contribute to the overall customer experience, is that Direct Procurement or Indirect Procurement?

Supply chain management and execution is also an area of differentiation, as direct supply chains tend to be more global and complex.

Right Tool for the Right Job

This post is about using the right tool for the right job!

Each area has specificities, so you have to use specific tools and processes for the job. In terms of Direct Materials Procurement, some of the specificities translate into specific capabilities that modern platforms should have, as Michael Lamoureux from Sourcing Innovation explained in a recent post.

The thing is that none of the Indirect tools have all these capabilities. And neither they should, as most of them are irrelevant for a great part of indirect spend. As Lamoureux puts it in the conclusion of his white paper available for download here.

“The fact of the matter is that you wouldn’t use a Chihuahua to herd sheep, so why are you trying to use a mouse to herd cats (which is mission improbable anyway)?”

Big Ideas Summit 2016: Big Idea #10 – Procurement as a Change Catalyst

Dirk Van De Putte argues that procurement should embrace its role as a change catalyst in organisations, helping to break down organisational silos.

At the Big Ideas Summit 2016, we challenged our thought leaders to share their Big Ideas for the future of procurement.

From ideas that have the potential to change the very nature of the procurement profession, to ones that got the assembled minds thinking about the profession’s impact outside of the organisation, the response we received was amazing.

Procurement – A Change Catalyst

Global CPO, Dirk Van De Putte’s Big Idea discussed how procurement could act as a catalyst for change in organisations, due to its unique position at the crossroads of internal and external stakeholders.

Dirk gave his thoughts on how to successfully achieve this, with procurement breaking down organisational silos, as well as building a diverse function.

Catch up with all the delegates’ Big Ideas from the 2016 Summit at the Procurious Learning Hub.

Want to find out more about Big Ideas 2016? And maybe what we have planned for 2017? You can visit our dedicated website!

If you like this (and you haven’t done so already) join Procurious for free today. Get connected with over 16,000 like-minded procurement professionals from across the world.

Your Must-See Agenda Picks at Next Level 2016

In a packed conference, you need a cheat sheet, a list of must-see keynotes and sessions. Here is the pick of the pops at Next Level 2016.

SciQuest Next Level 2016

Before attending a conference, I like to put together a “cheat sheet” so I can stay on track and use my time efficiently to fully maximise my conference experience. And Next Level is no different!

With such an extensive role-based agenda, top notch featured speakers, plus fun Nashville activities, there is something for everyone, from the CPO to administrators.

To help you make your choices, here are some of my must-see Next Level sessions to include in your itinerary!

Next Level – Monday, August 22

Spend Analytics in State Purchasing: The Georgia Experience (Hermitage E, 11:00-12:00pm)

Join the State of Georgia, who will take you through real-life Spend Radar experiences, and how to get to those golden nuggets of spend wisdom.

Walking through the purpose behind the analysis, the panel will explore massaging the data to be more useful, how to find meaning, and what the end results can accomplish.

Reverse Auctions in Sourcing Director: The What, Why and How (Cheekwood GH, 1:30-2:20pm)

Reverse Auctions let buyers conduct fast-paced competitive bidding events where multiple suppliers place bids on one or more items.

During the auction phase, suppliers receive feedback on the competitiveness of their bids in relation to bids submitted by other participating suppliers.

This session will review when a reverse auction should be used, the configuration details critical to the construction and administration of the event, and how a buyer can track key bid data while conducting a Sourcing Director reverse auction event.

Putting it all Together in the Real World: A S2S Case Study (Tennessee B, 2:20-3:30pm)
Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center
Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center

Inspired by business process optimisation concepts used in the military, Mark Burch, Director of Materials, has applied them to procurement at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where they are waging a war on cancer.

In a nutshell, materials management is about getting everything that’s needed at the right place at the right time. Whether you’re fighting a disease or just the inefficiency gremlin, Mark’s ideas and processes can help.

Come see how the implementation of SciQuest’s full source-to-settle suite is helping to optimise processes, gain insights into the organisation’s spend and deliver a high return on investment.

People, Process and Technology: A Real-World Case Study (Tennessee B, 4:00-5:00pm)

Georgia Institute of Technology procurement team will discuss their approach to managing both spend and spend systems by following this mantra: people, process, technology. They’ll discuss challenges and processes around initial roll-out, expansion into new modules and growing users.

They’ll share key performance metrics used to determine ongoing system performance, as well as to measure overall return on investment.

Tuesday, August 23

NAEP Innovators Forum: Strategic Supplier Relationship Management (Tennessee A, 1:30-2:20pm)

Procurement and supply chain teams invest considerable time and energy negotiating exceptional contract terms with key suppliers. Many teams consider their work complete when contracts have been executed.

However, there is evidence that much of negotiated value will leak away unless it’s carefully managed over the contract life. This places a premium on the ability to manage supplier agreements. But who has this responsibility and what goals and objectives should be pursued?

NAEP Director, Doreen Murner, and University of Colorado’s CPO, Sandy Hicks, examine this topic, which was first presented in the NAEP Innovators Forum: Strategic Supplier Relationship Management White Paper.

Real World ASO War Stories (Cheekwood ABC, 2:30-3:30pm)

Illinois Tool Works

Illinois Tool Works (ITW) is a Chicago-headquartered diversified manufacturer with 49,000 employees and 90 divisions in 57 countries.

In this session, ITW’s Strategic Sourcing Center of Excellence team will discuss their journey from a single-person pilot to a powerhouse for sourcing events with more than 200 events and hundreds of millions of spend competitively bid through Advanced Sourcing Optimizer (ASO).

If you’ve ever wondered what makes or breaks a COE in global, multi-business unit organisations, this session is for you.

Analysing eProcurement Business Success – Building Your Business Case & ROI (Hermitage B, 2:30-3:30pm)
Pierre Mitchell
Pierre Mitchell

No-one recognises the need for a strong business case and ROI analysis when considering large dollar purchases more than procurement professionals.

Whether you’re considering the purchase of a full source-to settle or P2P solution, or simply want to demonstrate to your leadership the value of your existing solutions, you will find this session to be beneficial.

Pierre Mitchell, Chief Research Officer and Managing Partner at Spend Matters, will explore several facets for building successful business cases. This includes knowing your approval process and audience, key items for consideration in the business case, and methods for demonstrating success following implementation.

P2P and Beyond (Hermitage B, 4:00-5:00pm)

PayStream Advisors Research Director, Jimmy LeFever will moderate a panel featuring representatives from Florida International University, University of Colorado, Ball State University and Liberty University.

This all-star panel have implemented a procure-to-pay solution and are looking to go beyond eProcurement and accounts payable. The session will start at the beginning of their journey and discuss the individual drivers that ultimately led to implementing a P2P solution.

Topics will include panelists’ experiences before, during and after implementation, benefits achieved, ways to benchmark goals and tips for achieving post-implementation procure-to-pay excellence.

The second part will focus on the future roadmaps of these innovative organisations. Panelists will discuss what their organisations are planning in terms of strategic initiatives, including:

They will focus on planning for strategic change, increasing stakeholder buy-in and ensuring success in change management.

What sessions are you looking forward to at Next Level 2016? Tweet us and use #NL2016!

What Procurement Needs to Know About Robotic Process Automation

Just what is Robotic Process Automation? And what should procurement know about it before putting anything in place?

Robotic Process Automation

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) vendors emphasise their product’s capacity to replace human operators, using phrases like “digital workforce.” In simple terms, RPA is a software application that runs on an end user’s computer, laptop or other device, emulating tasks executed by human operators.

Its purpose is to integrate or automate the execution of repetitive, rule-based tasks or activities. RPA does not require development of code, nor does it necessitate direct access to the code or database of the applications.

Current Robotic Process Automation Use

Most current RPA implementations are in industry-specific processes such as claims processing in insurance, and risk management in financial services. These processes, and their associated tasks, are usually high-volume, structured, repetitive and implemented on old technology.

Normally, the processes are extremely stable. There is no technology migration or modernisation roadmap involved, and IT-led integration would be difficult and expensive.

At present, the leading non-industry-specific RPA application is the financial close and consolidation process. According to our purchase-to-pay research, 23 per cent of companies are at the earliest stages of adoption, i.e., either in a pilot or with the technology partially rolled out (Fig. 1).

Robotic Process Automation
Fig. 1 – Robotic Process Automation Trends in Purchase-to-Pay

The remaining 77 per cent have no immediate plans for Robotic Process Automation adoption. Despite the low take-up level today, 45 per cent of purchase-to-pay organisations believe RPA will be one of the areas with the greatest impact on the way their work gets done in the next decade.

The Best Processes for RPA

It is not the type of business process that makes for a good candidate for RPA, but rather the characteristics of the process, such as the need for data extraction, enrichment and validation.

Activities requiring integration of multiple screens, as well as self-service inquiry resolution, are also ripe for RPA. The key is that RPA is best deployed in a stable environment where no changes to the systems are on the horizon.

Other possible choices include processes requiring multiple software applications to execute different, but repeatable, activities and tasks.

RPA Pricing Trends

The pricing model for RPA is still evolving. Today, vendors are pricing RPA based on the cost of the full time equivalent (FTE) staff member it is replacing. For example, an RPA vendor may quote a price per robot that is one-third the cost of an offshore resource doing the work.

Onshore FTE pricing is being quoted closer to one-ninth, or 11 per cent, of the cost. This pricing model, developed to compare the cost of outsourcing a process versus automating it with RPA, essentially positions Robotic Process Automation as a service, not a software solution.

In our view, this model is inconsistent with industry standards governing the way software is typically priced. Therefore, we encourage buyers to seek an alternative gainsharing model where possible. This will both mitigate the risks of early adoption, and provide a strong incentive to the supplier to deliver results.

Patrick Connaughton is the Senior Research Director, Procurement Executive Advisory Programme at the Hackett Group. He has published groundbreaking research in areas like spend analysis, contract life cycle management, supplier risk assessments and services procurement. You can contact him via email or on Procurious.

You can also learn more about Hackett’s Procurement Executive Advisory Program here.

Throwback Thursday – Eat the Frog…and 6 More Tips for Boosting Personal Effectiveness

How have you found your personal effectiveness in 2016? Why eating the frog might be able to help revolutionise your daily routine.

Eat the Frog

We all struggle sometime with our personal effectiveness. We start the week with grand plans for our time, but by Monday lunchtime, the plans are in disarray.

If you’re still struggling with your personal effectiveness (or want to boost it after the summer holidays!), we have the Throwback Thursday article for you, from our own Lisa Malone.

Start Right, End Right

You’ve survived your first day back in the office! You’ve cleared your inbox, written an alarmingly long To-Do list and even written your name and phone number (neatly) in a brand new Moleskin notebook. You’re practically smug with a sense of organisation and readiness.

Fast-forward one week: 213 unread emails, endless meetings, doing ‘real work’ after 5pm, and back to scribbling on loose-leaf.

Many years ago, I sat next to the Executive Assistant for the Chief Marketing Officer at a very large bank. To me, a person calm in the face of 1,352 unread emails, Ali was something of a mystery. Alarmingly organised, a spreadsheet navigator-extraordinaire, and always ready with colour-coded sticky notes, Ali’s idea of heaven was a Scandinavian Container Store.

Although I can’t pretend that proximity to Ali transformed me into a Type-A Goddess, she did share some great, practical tips for increasing personal effectiveness. I now bequeath these to all fellow Type Bs today.

Eat the Frog

Most of us have a limited amount of willpower that decreases steadily throughout the day. Anyone who has ever planned to go to the gym after work, only to never actually get there, will be able to attest!

For this reason, professional coaches like Brian Tracy recommend getting the hardest, most important task done first.

According to Tracy, your ‘frog’ should be the most difficult item on your to-do list; that ugly, distasteful, difficult job that you’re most likely to procrastinate about.

Rather than delaying, dreading and allowing your frog to sit there, staring at you while you do other less important things, eat it up first and feel energised for the rest of the day.

You probably already know what your frog is, but if you are in any doubt, look through your list of tasks and rate each one according to:

  1. Things you don’t want to do, and actually don’t need to do.
  2. Things you don’t want to do, but actually need to do.
  3. Things you want to do and actually need to do.
  4. Things you want to do, but actually don’t need to do.

Your frog will fall into Category 2. The best way to ensure it doesn’t fall victim to procrastination is to subordinate it to habit.

Eating your frog at the start of the day is just such a habit and will leave you free to do things you’ll actually enjoy.

Meeting 101: Spend less time in Meetings

Getting out and meeting stakeholders and suppliers is a critical part of any procurement professional’s job. But what about the myriad meetings that go round in circles, without any clear outcomes, sucking energy and time from your day?

In this world of instant messaging tools (we have a fondness for Slack at Procurious) that make file-sharing, getting answers quickly, and making introductions easier, it should be possible to cut back on a lot of those meetings.

Where only a meeting will suffice, here are some hints for improving their effectiveness:

  • Only accept meetings where the organiser has sent through a clear agenda. Even then, think about halving the allotted time to create a sense of urgency.
  • With 10 minutes of the meeting to go, review the objectives and clearly agree what action items have come out of the meeting and who will be responsible for completing these. Set a clear date for completion of next steps.
  • If appropriate, try scheduling a walking meeting. A change of scenery and the action of moving in the fresh air can help clear the head, stimulate creativity and can be particularly effective when having conversations that you don’t want to.

Don’t Skip Lunch

The 80s might be long gone, but Gordon Gekko’s “Lunch is for wimps!” philosophy still is alive and well in some firms.

While its possible to mistake ‘busy-ness’ for importance, evidence shows there are significant cognitive benefits of allowing our fatigued brains regular downtime.

So what’s the perfect work/rest ratio?

DeskTime App monitored employees’ computer use and found that the most productive 10 per cent of employees tend to work hard for 52 minutes, then take a break for 17. If this seems short, it is – our brains can in fact focus for up to 90 minutes, but then need roughly 20 minutes rest.

Strategic breaks equal more efficient work. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your 17 minutes should be spent online shopping – there are a multitude of more valuable (and less costly!) things you can do to refresh and reset:

  • Most gyms offer express classes at lunchtime. Consider taking a 45-minute yoga class to reset your brain and energise you for the afternoon.
  • Watch a 2-minute eLearning video or stretch your mind with a Big Ideas video or Ted Talk.
  • Prepare a list of easy 2-minute tasks. These are things that won’t stress your grey matter but need to get done, and you can tick off in your down time.
  • Embrace a creative pursuit. Stimulate your brain by doing small creative exercise daily. This might be a little sketch, writing a blog, or making a video. Share your habit daily on Twitter or Instagram – it builds accountability. Check out #yearofcreativehabits for inspiration!

Silence

Silence!!

The constant stream of chimes, pings, flashes and emails, Whatsapp and Facebook alerts is impossible to ignore – it’s designed to be that way!

Schedule at least 3 x 30 minute sessions into your day where you close Outlook, shut all your browser tabs and turn off your mobile phone.

It might sound scary at first, but it will help you power through those difficult tasks without interruption and at the end of the day, you’ll feel real satisfaction knowing what you’ve completed.

Harness the Power of Habit

We know that social media can eat up hours in the day. How often have you kicked off with a valid Google search, but end up aimlessly clicking through old school-friends’ baby photos, or reading click-bait articles like 21 Life-Changing Lessons From The Dalai Lama’s Twitter Account”. 

At Procurious, we talk about establishing a ‘social media daily habit’. This isn’t only to limit the time you spend online, but to ensure you spend it wisely.

We suggest you dedicate approximately 20 minutes every day to ticking off value-adding tasks:

  1. Build your network: Expand your global contact network by connecting with stakeholders or peers you’ve met at conferences. Or find colleagues who look after similar categories in other geographies or industries.
  2. Scan the news: Using Google Alerts or Twitter hashtags, find out if your company, your category, your suppliers, or even your competitors, have been in the headlines. Login to Procurious and check out what’s happening.
  3. Share the intelligence: If you find something interesting, chances are someone else will too. Share the URL on Twitter, Procurious and/or LinkedIn.
  4. Ask a question: Scan the Discussion Board on Procurious and share your knowledge. If you’ve got a burning question, post it and make the most of this global brains trust!
  5. Learn something: Brush up on your skills and challenge your thinking by watching a 5-minute eLearning video, or listening to a Podcast,

And Before You Go…

Rather than working frantically right up until the last minute of the day, slamming your laptop shut and dashing for the train, stop working 30 min before you need to leave.

Use your last half an hour to review your day’s plan, transferring items that are still relevant, and adding any new priorities that have emerged during the day.

Categorise these tasks according to the Eat the Frog principles so that your first task tomorrow is ready and waiting to go.

And, unless you’re fortunate enough to have a Personal Assistant, review your calendar and print out any documents that you may need to review ahead of meetings. Spending the first 30 minutes of your morning fighting with a printer is not the way to productivity!

Can We Agree to Stop Calling Them “Soft Skills”?

How did soft skills become to be known as this? And does calling them this underplay their importance in the modern procurement world?

House - Soft Skills

The English language is full of misnomers. Just ask the killer whale (actually a dolphin), or the horny toad (actually a lizard). Once a word or phrase has entered common usage, it’s near-impossible to change it, even if the population generally understands that the term is misleading.

Which brings me to “soft skills”. I work for an organisation that provides training for procurement and supply chain professionals. As such this is one of the terms that I hear bandied about many times a week.

My argument is that defining this skill-set as “soft” actually devalues an essential part of every procurement professional’s toolkit.

To quickly summarise, soft skills are those used in dealing with other people. These include skills such as communication abilities, language skills, influencing skills, emotional empathy, and leadership traits. In contrast, “hard” skills – such as tendering or IT competencies – are readily measurable and (importantly) easier to train.

How Did They Come to be Called Soft Skills?

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has been able to pinpoint the first usage of this term.

The concept has been applied to business environments since at least 1936, when Dale Carnegie’s famous self-help book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People was published. Carnegie’s work, which has sold a phenomenal 30 million copies to date, is essentially the definitive guide to soft skills. However, it stops short of actually using these words.

Recently, there seems to have been an explosion of articles and training courses focusing on soft skills, particularly in procurement. My theory is that procurement – having moved from back-office to business-partnership status only a decade or so ago – is, in effect, late to the soft skills party, and is currently playing catch-up.

It’s possible that the term “soft skills” simply came about as an antonym to hard skills. Perhaps it reflects the “softly-softly” approach, where managers choose to influence, rather than confront, and to make suggestions, rather than issuing orders. Whatever the reason, I believe it’s a misleading term due to the other connotations of “soft”.

These Skills are Anything But Soft

To my ear, “soft” means easy, pliable, or yielding readily to pressure. Yet a procurement professional with excellent communication abilities, who is adept at reading people, will be a “harder” opponent in negotiations, than a colleague lacking these skills.

Similarly, the connotation with “ease” is deceptive when it comes to trying to train for skills like change management or leadership. And quantifying the results of that training is more difficult still. Hence we’re hearing more and more that employers are hiring people based on their attributes (cultural fit, communication skills, willingness to change), recognising that hard skills can be easily picked up later on.

This has changed the approach recruiters are taking in job interviews. There is now less emphasis on hard skills, and more behavioural questions about how you would react in certain situations.

It’s worth considering whether, in the future, soft skills will become so vital, they’ll become a requirement for procurement roles. That situation already exists in some professions. Look at Medicine, where aspiring doctors are interviewed for qualities including maturity, communication, the ability to empathise and collaborate. Hugh Laurie’s Dr House, with his acerbic bed-side manner, would in reality never have gained entry into medical school, no matter how brilliant he was.

There’s a school of thought that when it comes to soft skills, you’ve either got it, or you don’t. Soft-skills training, therefore, is ineffective because you can’t change someone’s personality. Personally, I disagree because I’ve witnessed colleagues who have worked hard to develop skills like effective listening. There’ll always be hard cases, but the days of people dismissing these skills as “fluffy” or otherwise useless are over.

Three Alternative Names for Soft Skills

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, it’s nigh-impossible to change a term once it’s in common usage. However, if professional organisations, training providers, and the like, were to phase out the words “soft skills”, and call them something more accurate instead, we might see this phrase begin to disappear.

Here are three suggestions for a more accurate description of “soft” skills.

1. Essential skills: I’ve borrowed this one from ISM CEO Tom Derry, who also isn’t a fan of the term “soft skills”. Tom used the term “essential skills” when launching ISM’s Mastery Model to describe the many interpersonal attributes required on the journey to achieving accreditation.

2. EQ: “Emotional intelligence quotient” is the technical term for soft skills. I like this term simply because it contains the word “emotional”, which pretty much sums up what soft skills entail. Calling it a “quotient”, however, raises the argument that EQ, like IQ, is something you’re born with, and can’t be improved upon.

3. People skills: The simplest, and possibly the most accurate alternative for soft skills is “people skills”. After all, every one of these skills involves dealing with people, while hard skills can generally be put to use sitting alone at your computer.

If you have other suggestions, or already use a different terminology in your workplace, please add a comment below!

Need help with your people skills or EQ? Want to get your procurement career in shape? Stay tuned on Procurious in September for our Career Bootcamp. More information coming soon!