How Algorithms Will Add Super-Intelligence To The Way Your Company Spends Money

As algorithms, virtual assistants, and bots infiltrate conversational interfaces across business applications, in the crosshairs is company spend tracking and control. This is the panacea we’ve all been waiting for to an age-old problem.   

Messaging services like Slack are ground zero for a new generation of integrated bots in the workplace. Most have stopped trying to trick users into thinking they’re chatting with humans while new features like message menus (dropdowns) integrated into the AI-generated text help  users make nuanced decisions.

Driving the conversational UI behind the scenes is an-ever evolving mix of machine learning algorithms for pattern recognition, natural language processing, and other associated technologies. Together, they deliver a contextual experience that helps business users make smarter and faster decisions.

One business workflow rife with inefficiencies and errors is corporate buying and expense tracking. Pointing chatbots, or the next iteration of them that we’ll call AI assistants, in that direction will benefit everyone in the requisition and approval flow, from end users to the head of finance or the treasury boss.

The appeal of AI could be even greater for smaller businesses since most lack formal spend management policies, but still need to see who charged what and when on the company credit card. AI assistants enabled by emerging algorithms can arm every purchase decision with intelligence, in effect, augmenting human judgement every step of the way.

AI assistants can add intelligence to everyday tasks

In the realm known as transactional procurement and travel and expense (T&E), solutions with AI assistants could help with general questions, such as clarifying budget status or a spend limit. A user would be able to simply ask the robot a question within the same messaging interface where they chat with colleagues and then get an instant response.

For payments, an AI assistant could learn how you buy and then make recommendations based on context, supplier or product data, budget levels, working capital, and other factors one might overlook or simply not be privy to when initiating an everyday purchase for work.

In another scenario, a user could request an approval for a purchase, but before doing so, summon an AI assistant to verify if a similar request was made by a coworker to avoid a duplicate purchase. That way the user wouldn’t have to waste time and go digging for that info herself.

Finally, AI assistants can facilitate the buying process by generating a payment method such as a virtual credit card after the transaction gets approval from a manager on behalf of the requestor. Upon approval, a user would receive an encrypted virtual card with a spend limit to use as payment against a corporate account, massively simplifying what is typically an arduous back-and-forth process.

The AI opportunity goes well beyond transactions

In time, AI will evolve to allow organizations to make strategic buying decisions and respond to changing business conditions and market variability instantly. To get there, it will first remove the bottlenecks of repetitious decisions that occupy our time, like those mentioned earlier in this article. Then, they could be programmed to help make ever more strategic decisions.

In the sphere of sourcing and procurement, that could mean super-intelligent agents sourcing the highest quality rubber from a stable region, determining which short-listed supplier is most likely to honor their contract, forecasting supply chain disruptions and make recommendations weeks in advance, and so on.

Think that level of knowledge work is impossible for algorithms? Think again. Researchers at Google Brain have already developed software that designs machine-learning software with better results compared to machine-learning software designed by the boffins themselves!

We are well on our way to developing new types of non-conscious intelligence that will be able to handle increasingly complex tasks. In his best-selling book Homo Deus, author Yuval Noah Harari, drives the point home: “The idea that humans will always have a unique ability beyond the reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking.”

With that thought, we can return to our original premise and have little doubt that the rise of AI will mean all of a business’s spending will get smarter. AI expert Stuart Russell puts AI next to the discovery of fire in terms of impact on civilization. If AI will change the world, then it certainly will change business commerce.

Christopher Jablonski is Director of Content & Communications at Tradeshift, a cloud-based business commerce platform connecting buyers and suppliers.

The Value of Social Media Voices in Supply Chain

Social media: It’s vast, it’s unstructured, and it’s overwhelming. But the value for supply chain is there to be extracted!

According to Business Insider, social media sharing outpaces some of the most data intensive B2B activities: Facebook processes 500 times more data each day than the New York Stock Exchange and Twitter exceeds NYSE’s daily data storage by 12 times.

Social media gives voice to anyone looking for a platform: consumers and corporates, individuals and organisations. By enabling the democratisation of instant worldwide communications, services such as Twitter and Facebook have created an overwhelming volume of unstructured data in a short period of time.

While the development of social media voices is dynamic and continues to evolve without pause, businesses have yet to tap into its true power. What happens to these spontaneously created bits of data? Who is listening? Is there actionable value in the voices?

Social media voices are the sum total of all the unstructured data shared around the world.

Social media data may be unstructured, but the voices within it have a perceptible tone. By establishing a baseline and monitoring changes up or down, it is possible to detect shifts in tone and frequency and leverage them as a kind of early warning system. By tracking all of the mentions of compliance and sustainability over a period of time, unstructured data forms a workable trend. With this carefully built intelligence legacy in hand, changes are easier to identify and respond to in near real time.

The challenge of extracting value in social media

The challenge associated with trying to extract value from social media voices is enormous – but so is the associated opportunity. Traditional methods of monitoring company news and developments may work for a limited number of key strategic suppliers, but the scale associated with tracking the entire supply base is prohibitive, let alone looking beyond the first tier. In the absence of a new, technologically enabled approach, it would be impossible to proactively manage risk from a fully-informed position.

Monitoring social media voices makes it possible to remotely audit the majority of a company’s suppliers in a scalable and automated way, requiring limited human resources while still providing constant ’uptime’. For companies competing on a global stage, there is perhaps no greater use case for social media voices than managing the compliance and sustainability of their supply chain.

Compliance incidents among first tier suppliers (and elsewhere in the supply chain) can lead to significant reputational damage and a loss of revenue or company value. IntegrityNext’s Social Media Compliance Intelligence Engine provides the capabilities required to examine thousands of suppliers in real time. The IntegrityNext platform uncovers a wealth of publicly available data on suppliers to better inform the business by crawling approximately 500 million messages per day, revealing key insights by tracking relevant voices and the topics trending among your suppliers.

The power of social media voices is not just for increasing the visibility of decision makers, it enables leaders to draw actionable insights using real-time analytics to manage the compliance and sustainability of the entire supply chain.

The IntegrityNext platform covers all major aspects of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability requirements, allowing companies to instantly monitor thousands of suppliers and their entire supply chain 24/7 with minimal administration. IntegrityNext brings together pre-built supplier compliance assessments, blacklist and sanction checks, and real-time social media insights in a user-experience driven platform that covers international standards and extends multiple tiers into the supply chain. For more information, click here.  

This article was originally published on LinkedIn

IIoT: Tomorrow Thinking for Supply Chain

The Internet of Things (IoT) is designed to make our data more useable. What opportunities and concerns does it present within logistics, where it is referred to as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) ?

The trends of Supply Chain technology are shaping the future of logistics management.

The common thread is the push toward hyper-interoperability, where technology, people and process collaborate to create true visibility, accurate orders, and happy customers.

It is impossible to ignore the pressure on retailers and distribution centre (DC) to re-engineer operations to meet the Omni-channel fulfilment mandate. The evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT), designed to make data more usable, is quickly becoming a reality across global supply chains.

The Industrial lnternet of Things

Definitions of IoT spin around connecting sensors, programmable logic controllers, and RFID data with the internet so that other systems or analytical software can respond to or make sense of the data. An RF gun, voice recognition, and RFID in the warehouse all provide IoT–style sensor data; it is called the “Industrial Internet of Things” (IIoT) to differentiate from consumer applications.

The order management system needs to orchestrate the fulfilment by interacting with inventory allocation, warehouse, management, transportation, and workforce scheduling systems using user-configurable business rule. The overall goal for Omni-channel is to satisfy more consumer demand with acceptable profit margins.

Logistics management in the warehouse

Many opportunities for improvement through smart forklifts, diagnostics of the equipment, speed controls, anti-slip technology, collision detection, fork speed optimisation, promoting new process flows, autonomously trip to a shipping dock for unloading, etc., are some of the applications and possibility a multi-channel system provides for the improvement of the overall process.

Transportation management

Tracking trucks based on RFID, GPS, RF scans, temperature, sensors embedded in the freight -all of these fit the definition of IIoT, the benefits being: improving network-based routing, the use of a smart phone for routing to determine congestion and better alternative routes.

Security

Security is the number one concern around IIoT, working hand in hand with public cloud solutions. It helps to detect Cyber attackers’ techniques quickly and avoid being tricked by them.

Inventory Management

This is a  hidden key to success. A major application of Omni-channel is a customer ordering a product and the retailer fulfilling the order from within their store network versus a distribution center. This introduces the requirement of advanced information systems to provide awareness of inventory throughout the store network. The omnichannel system would identify the stores with the right inventory and determine the most cost-effective location to fulfill from to provide the promised service level. Retailers challenge is the implementation of new order of management systems, to build a single view of inventory availability – foundation of Omni-channel fulfillment – and to recognize the new consumer’s expectation, the goal being to optimize inventory deployment so that the required inventory is where it should be to satisfy consumer demand at a lower cost.

Ordering

The first step is for the retailer to understand the Omni-channel strategies and how the customer’ buying patterns have changed (ordering an item online, by a mobile, from a store and picking it later, the item being shipped to the customer’s home, the customer calling to a call centre, etc. A fully-functional technology Omni-channel fulfilment operation has to be integrated according to the various selling systems.

Shipment and Delivery

Omni-channel technology, as the one IIoT provides,  plays a vital role in this environment by enabling store employees to efficiently navigate the store floor to find the ordered inventory. Once the item is retrieved, store employees utilize packaging stations to prepare order for shipment and utilize small parcel carriers to pick-up and deliver the orders. Using the same trailers scheduled for normal store delivery, however, separating these pre-ordered items on the trailer is the critical piece in this strategy. Loading these items at the front of the trailer, labeling them with special tags utilizing barcode-scanning technology, and using colored totes are a few ways to flag the inventory.

Returns processing

Returns processing is still an improvement opportunity for many Omni-channel retailers. The goal is to allow a consumer to return purchases to either stores or a central returns facility regardless of where the sale originates.

The top three priorities identified are inventory planning, fulfillment capabilities and returns processing. Retailers have to keep working on the enterprise-wide visibility of available inventory. Inventory must be deployed differently in an Omni-channel world; many retailers are beginning to address that challenge, developing flexible fulfillment capabilities that leverage stores, DCs, and vendors to fulfill consumer demand. However, store fulfillment processes are not as efficient as they are in a DC where conditions are more controlled. Omni- channel is having a profound impact on supply chain organizations-especially logistics across all levels of maturity, being better equipped to embrace Omni-channel from a people, process and technology perspective.

So what new approaches are you applying to your Supply Chain? Let us know in the comments below.

This article was first published on LinkedIn

Is Marketing A Procurement Blind Spot?

If your marketing expertise is a little below par, don’t despair! Marketers need your help and luckily there’s a lot procurement can do…

How much do you know about ATL, BTL and TTL? Learning marketing speak is the first step in gaining support of your colleagues over the fence and establishing your credibility.

The marketing services category has always been complex one and a bit of a blind spot for procurement. The learning curve is not only steep, it’s also a moving target. We have to invest considerable time in understanding their issues and concerns before we can provide any meaningful assistance. Category managers need to continuously build and refresh internal relationships at all levels; this requires perseverance, patience and stamina. Procurement veterans are fully aware of stakeholder expectations and the importance of having rock-solid relationships with marketing professionals before launching any sourcing projects.

Problems in sourcing marketing services

  • The decision makers may have entrenched relationships with advertising agencies and media houses, with or without formal contracts
  • There are often too many suppliers for the same or similar services and purchasing outside contracts is commonplace.
  • There may be little focus on achieving value for money or measuring effectiveness of the use of their limited budget.
  • Negotiation skills may be in short supply
  • Pricing models are less than transparent. Traditional agencies have pricing structures that would test the analytical skills of the best procurement professional.   

Some good news

On the upside, there is increased pressure on marketing departments to do more with less budget and they need procurement’s help, especially getting better value for money and formalising supply arrangements.

CMOs are becoming increasingly aware of the need to competitively source suppliers periodically, even if their main objective is to generate new and innovative ideas, rather than make cost savings.

Advertising agencies in their traditional form are disappearing; integrated marketing agencies are offering full-service solutions for all marketing requirements including strategy, brand management, advertising, media buying and the full range of digital and social media services. This is a real opportunity for procurement.

Where procurement can add value

Procurement is advised to pick its battles carefully, working from a firm factual base. The basic principles of spend analysis apply: collect and analyse all the data and know the landscape before tackling your target areas

Benchmarking

  • Develop a skills benchmark for each type of service. Establish what sets of skills are needed and determine fair rates for each
  • Apply supply market intelligence to determine the financial competitiveness of existing suppliers. Evaluate their rate cards and pricing against the market. Are they competitive?

Review existing supplier relationships

  • Identify incentives to improve relationships with incumbent marketing suppliers, and consolidate the supply base
  • Negotiate and improve unsuitable contractual terms and conditions, adjust pricing models and rates in line with benchmarks

Pricing of services

Many agencies use the tried-and-tested approach of consultants: billing is based on time-plus-expenses also erroneously called cost-plus. This is an open-ended billing system based on rate cards that apply hourly or daily rates per each skill level. Problems occur when lower skills are applied to the job while higher rates are billed. Where the scope of work is unclear or subject to change it can work but a cap should be set with only a small percentage  overrun of the budget allowed. Beware scope creep.

It is crucial to gain an understanding of other fees and mark-ups such as media commissions, margins on production costs and printing costs.   Where do rebates end up?

Measuring supplier performance

Managing supplier relationships with marketing firms needs to be focused on minimising bad behaviours and rewarding and incentivising those who deliver as per pre-defined requirements. Marketing departments may not necessarily have targets for upholding quality, reducing costs and measuring process improvements, procurement teams certainly do.

5 Top tips for getting along with marketing

  1. Understand important marketing concepts and terminology and recognize how marketing decisions support the company’s objectives.
  2. Invest time in building relationships and understanding the day-to-day challenges. Category managers should reassure marketing teams that they understand the value of strong relationships with creative agencies.
  3. Pick your battles. Identify areas that procurement can really influence
  4. Know your stuff – drill down into the data and understand the detail so that you can discuss issues intelligently
  5. Procurement should share stories of how they helped other functions in the business in ways that Marketing can relate to. Find ways to translate sourcing ideas into their language.

The ability to tactfully handle supplier/marketing/procurement relationships is the key to success. There are no secret tricks, just applying sourcing and contracting best practices will pay off provided that you prioritise service and performance standards over cost savings.

Do you want to be embraced warmly by marketing?   Know your numbers, respect their skills and ideas and work together to develop solutions that will work for both functions. Many marketing functions trundle along with little or no support from procurement.

Whose fault is that?

The Root Cause Of Maverick Spend

The issue of maverick spend continues to dominate the Procurious Discussion Board. Does the solution lie in systems? People? Or something else entirely?  Let’s examine some of the approaches to tackling mavericks that came up when this question was crowd-sourced to the global Procurious community.

 

We keep an eye on the most popular discussion questions here on Procurious. One topic that always generates a buzz is the issue of how to deal with maverick spend. The fact that this question keeps rearing its head proves that the problem is perennial; there’s no easy fix and it’s unlikely to be 100% solved any time soon. It’s also an area of common ground shared across our hugely varied procurement community. No matter what sector or geography you may be based in, everyone gets frustrated with maverick spend.

The value in the Discussion Board lies in the authenticity of the advice. Real procurement practitioners share real experiences, war-stories and recommendations, which is so refreshing compared to the “advice” given by agencies trying to push a product or service. There’s also an inherent acknowledgement that there’s no one correct answer – instead of being told by a systems provider that there’s a single, guaranteed fix to your problem, you might get 15 different crowd-sourced responses that you can use to cobble together your own tailored solution.

Systems or people?

Suggested approaches to tackling maverick spend tend to fall into two camps – systems vs people. A discussion started by Louise Cairns shows a great cross-section of suggestions across both these categories.

Procurious member George Thompson, for example, had this advice: “Having a good e-Procurement Portal in place, which is mandated to be used for seeking competitive quotes from suppliers, would be a great help. Simple to use, robust and efficient and very inexpensive SaaS e-Procurement Portals are available … by all means set guidelines, but ensure that there is a user-friendly e-Procurement system in place to support your policies.”

Justin Plokhooy takes the people view: “Relationships, Relationships, Relationships! … Growing your relationships with those perpetrators of maverick spend is vital to ensuring their understanding of the value Procurement can bring. The reason they are behaving like they are is because they probably either don’t fully understand what Procurement brings to the table or had a bad experience that has tainted their view of Procurement.”

Plokhooy advocates the “good cop” approach to engagement: “This is a situation where you will catch more flies with honey rather than vinegar. Heavy handed tactics won’t work.”

Scott Seymour writes that it’s about “Communication and building relationships. You also have to prove your worth to the stakeholders, which can be a daunting task, but stick with it and let them see the value sourcing can bring. Follow this up with data to show the results you are bringing.”

Getting to the root cause of maverick spend

James Ferguson writes: “I would say that maverick purchasing is normally a sign that something is wrong with the current process; people are unaware of the agreements in place, they don’t like the chosen suppliers, the system sucks, the procurement process takes too long, they can’t get the exact goods/services they need or some other issue that is stopping them. Either way, it is Procurement’s job to find out what the root cause is and solve the customers’ issue.”

Iain Wicking, a frequent commenter on the Discussion Board, agrees: “Root cause analysis is a good place to start … [companies] try to solve the problem not realising the … causes are ‘up-stream’ in terms of poor processes, hard to use systems and/or poor leadership that fails to mandate systems (providing they are easy to use) and project the value of good procurement practices (could be a combination of all of these).”

After a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the best way to address maverick spend is by using a taser, Daniel Warnock writes that “Maverick purchasing is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. People buy outside the procedure for various reasons (lack of awareness of the procedure, the existing contract does not suit their requirements etc). Identify the underlying problem and maverick purchasing should be minimised.”

“Maverick purchasing is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself.”

Cristian Martin has a similar message: “Address why there is maverick spend. Do you have the right policies in place? Has training been given to staff? Do you have the support from your senior management team? Have you given poor customer service in the past?”

And finally, this gem from Piyush Shah gives us some valuable insight into the mind of a maverick: “At a place I worked, there was a feeling [of] us (the people at the plant) versus them (the people at head office). Maverick buying was a way to assert our independence and dominance over them. It was clearly brinkmanship from both sides.”

Keith Bird, Managing Director of The Faculty, comments that the popularity of this topic demonstrates that compliance is a long-term challenge. “Maverick spend and contract leakage hamper effective benefits realisation, but a focus on compliance, effective business partnering and an understanding of the business pressure points will help CPOs make savings stick.” 

You’ve crowd-sourced your peers’ solutions, now it’s time to read the report! Download The Faculty’s “Making It Stick” research on tackling maverick spend and driving savings all the way to the bottom line.

Have A Nibble On These Bitesize Videos

Take a 2 minute  break from your hectic schedule to join Tania Seary. She’ll help you to dig a little deeper, inject some sparkle and rise to the top in your procurement career with these new videos.

 

 

Finding and keeping up with the most intriguing, and useful, procurement content online can put you ahead of your peers. But who has the time in their working day to go looking for it, or spend hours at a time absorbing it?

At Procurious, we know and understand your need to prioritise to ensure every minute you spend on social media is a minute well spent, which is why a lot of our online content is concise and gets straight to the point!

That’s certainly the case with our latest batch of eLearning videos, featuring Procurious’ founder, Tania Seary.
In this six-part series of two minute videos Tania offers some top procurement advice on networking, driving change within your team, hiring new talent  and making it to the top!
These videos are perfectly designed to be small enough for you to have a little nibble on at your leisure but guaranteed to fill you up with handy career tips.
Here’s a quick summary of what you can expect:

Network Your Face Off

Tania believes that networking is in procurement’s DNA and a key contributing factor to making it to the top! If you could benefit from a few handy networking tips, take Tania’s advice and get connected to get ahead!

The Disney Approach to Procurement

Is it possible that Disney has the magic formula for driving change management success in your procurement team? Adding a little Disney sparkle to your program might just be the solution to your problems. Here’s how to embrace the book, the film and the ride.

My 5 Killer Interview Questions

If you’re looking to hire new recruits any time soon, this is the video for you! Tania explains the importance of creating a good culture within your businesses. The best way to do that is to find people who are the perfect fit during the recruitment process by asking these five killer interview questions.

You Don’t Have To Be a Genius In Procurement

We all like to think that we’re some kind of procurement genius, that we can solve all of the world’s problems. But in truth, some of these problems are just too big for us to solve alone. Tania explains why collaboration is key.

Five Sure Fire Ways To Become A CPO

If you want to make sure you’re the procurement cream that rises to the top, you need to hear Tania’s five top tips for becoming a CPO. Start out by filling your trophy cabinet…

How To Strike Gold When Seeking A Mentor

This video is all about myth-busting. Tania explains why there’s absolutely no such thing as being too old for a procurement mentor. If you’re  yet to embrace reverse mentoring, now’s the time. Dig a little deeper and you’ll strike gold!

If you’d like Tania Seary to speak at your event, contact Olga Luscombe via olga.luscombe@procurious.com or visit TaniaSeary.com for more details. 

How To Hold On Tight To Prospective Procurement Talent

The recruitment process can be brutal. You’ve worked hard to identify and attract the best procurement talent. But,  at the last minute, the candidate pulls out leaving you back at square one.  

Everyone loves a good throwback article, which is why we’re hopping in our time machine to bring you back some of the biggest and best Procurious blogs. If you missed any of the golden oldies, look no further!

This week, we’re revisiting an article which featured some exclusive insights from Graham Lucas, Managing Director  Procurement & Supply Chain and Logistics at Michael Page. Graham suggests six ways procurement teams can hold on to new talent that they’ve worked so hard to attract. 

Procurement has come a long way and holds a position of positive influence within many organisations but there has never been a more urgent need for bigger change and greater evolution.

You need only to look at the progress over the past few years to recognise this; SRM, improved supply chains, driving both value and innovation from suppliers, and category leads shaping strategic agendas are some of the developments we have seen.

Whilst the progress is positive, the evolving shape of organisations and the disruptive nature of technology is only going to increase both the degrees, and speed of change required. I genuinely don’t believe that procurement as a function will continue to exist unless it drives a much greater breadth to its commercial influence over an organisation.

So what affect does this have on talent attraction, acquisition and retention in procurement teams?

The Procurement Talent Pool

It is clear that 80 per cent of the roles on which we are being briefed carry very similar requirements. Organisations are competing for the 20 per cent of  candidates in any potential pool that possess  the key skills needed to help procurement teams deliver that broader value. Influencing skills, communication, being able to connect with stakeholders and suppliers, and driving innovation etc. Most procurement teams will have advertised a role recently specifying many of these requirements.

Identifying the talent you want to hire is only one aspect of the challenge. You’ll also need to ensure that you are able to acquire them. Three in every  four of the offers that our clients are making are being met with counter offers, many of them substantial.  In half of these cases the counter offer is equal to or greater than the offer made by our client.

It’s important to prepare a candidate for what is to come when they resign. We would also consider what they need from the process and screen out those that are not serious. This is all part of what a good recruiter will do. And after that, it’s down to you….

What  can procurement teams  do to avoid losing talent they have worked so hard to identify and attract? It comes down to six key factors. 

Understand key motivators

Understanding candidates’ key motivators is crucial to ensuring that any chance of buy back is reduced, and to make the right hiring decisions for long-term performance and retention. If you have truly understood their motivators you are more likely to run a process that allows them to see how these can be met by you and your organisation. Where these don’t match you can save yourself critical time. This will allow you to focus on better prospects in terms of those that will actually join and, just as importantly, stay.

Get clarity on the full package

Package clarity: as with motivations, it is vital to get into the detail of a candidate’s current package at the beginning of the process so provide a full breakdown of the package and the value of it.

This will allow for an accurate comparison of a candidate’s current situation vs. the package on offer. Bonuses (likely earnings and also when they are paid), pensions, healthcare, car packages…. Not only do they mean different things in different businesses but many people don’t know the details until they are asked to look. Get in the detail early and manage expectations from day one. Otherwise you could be either under offering or underselling your own offer.

Offer a healthy balance

It’s easy to overlook the importance of a work life balance. There’s no point getting into the middle of a process only for a candidate to decide the commute is too tough or expensive. Likewise, what is the realistic work/life balance you can offer  in the new role? What are the candidate’s personal circumstances? Will this impact their final decision? It is crucial to be upfront about this from the start.

Ensure that people want to join your people!

This has a huge impact on candidates but is, strangely, sometimes underestimated. Candidates will form an attraction to a business and a team. This is separate from things like role specification, package, location etc. If you can get your prospective employee to meet people that they believe they can work with, and most importantly learn from, it makes the organisation much more desirable.

People join people more than they join companies.

A competent recruitment process

Candidates often judge businesses by their processes particularly at interview stage.  Make sure there are  clear timelines in place to manage expectations. Does the advised preparation match with the content of the interviews?

Whilst these may seem like small things, they can make a big difference. A company that is well organised, thorough and effective at recruitment, can either impress or put a candidate off. Asking someone to deliver change in an organisation that doesn’t appear able to do what it says it will do sends out the wrong signals.

Make your offer compelling

An offer should always be made based on what the hiring business thinks the candidate is worth, not just on the advertised package. For each role it is worth considering what a compelling offer would be. Both as a statement of intent to secure the candidate and also to ensure your remuneration is in line with the rest of the market. Importantly, this might not just be salary; it could be a bonus, private healthcare package or flexible working hours.

Help! A Potential Employer Asked For My Facebook Password

You’re in the middle of a job interview when the recruiter shocks you by asking for your Facebook password, citing “company policy”. Do you: A) Meekly hand it over; B) Kick over your chair and storm out; or C) Politely but firmly refuse?

Have you ever been asked to hand over your social media details in a job interview? Don’t panic – it’s probably just a stress test.

Stress tests are designed to put you under pressure and see how you handle it. They range from grilling you about your weaknesses, to subjecting you to a barrage of quick-fire questions to try to fluster or catch you off-guard.

Heineken took this to the extreme in their viral recruitment video where interviewees are subjected to a range of stressful situations, including a creepy hand-holding interviewer who later feigns a heart attack. While it’s fun to watch, there’s a lesson here – in an age where candidates often give text-book answers to text-book interview questions, recruiters are looking for ways to separate the wheat from the chaff.

“We need your Facebook login details”

Your three potential reactions:

A) Meekly handing over your password: Wrong answer. This shows that firstly, you’re desperate for this job and secondly, you’re a pushover. Is this how you would behave when representing the company in a tough negotiation?

B) Anger: You’ve fallen into the trap. Even though it’s an outrageous demand, getting angry only demonstrates that you won’t be able to remain calm in the face of on-the-job pressure.

C) Politely but firmly refuse: Correct! You were on the lookout for a stress test, and you’ve identified this one as such. This takes the pressure off, allowing you to present a calm and logical response.

Unfortunately, that’s easy to say and hard to do!

How to say “no” politely 

  1. Call them out

If you’ve read the situation correctly, then you could simply respond by saying, “This is one of those stress-tests, right?”, and then launch into a detailed explanation of how you’re able to stay calm under pressure, with examples.

If they still insist, and genuinely appear to be demanding your Facebook login (and you still want this job), then you’ll need an excuse beyond the bare fact that you don’t want them seeing your drunken photos from the big party last weekend.

  1. Privacy

“I have an obligation to protect my friends’ privacy. They have their own privacy policies set on their accounts to safeguard themselves and their loved ones and that’s their right. If I start sharing their information with potential employers then I’ll have broken my trust with them.”

  1. Work/life

“For me, work and home are two separate things. I’m careful to keep work-related posts off my Facebook page, so it’s in no way relevant to any potential employers.”

  1. Direct to LinkedIn

“I think you mean LinkedIn? While I wouldn’t hand over my login details, I’d be happy to connect with you on LinkedIn so you can see how I present myself professionally on social media.”

  1. Show me yours and I’ll show you mine

This one’s a bit more provocative! “Absolutely fine – I think this is a great idea. I’d also like to see the type of team I’m joining, so if you can share your log-in details, along with your director’s and all the team members’ Facebook passwords, then I’d be happy to share mine.”

  1. Throw the question back at them

Whatever you decide to say, it’s vital you do so in a professional, calm and reasonable way. In a stress test, how you say it is more important than what you say. The interviewer will be judging your response, attitude and manner, but you can turn the tables by asking them to put themselves in your shoes.

For example:

  • “I’m sure you would agree …”
  • “I’m sure that if you were in my position…”
  • “From a privacy perspective, my friends wouldn’t be comfortable with me showing their information to people. I’m sure your friends and family would agree.”

Asking someone to put themselves in your position makes it almost impossible to be offended by a calm and rational argument.

In the end, keep in mind that there is no right answer to a stress-test question. It’s designed to judge how you react, so be confident in whichever answer you choose.

From Pittsburgh to Paris – Let’s Clear the Air

It’s all very well putting Pittsburgh before Paris, but did you know that modern anti-pollution laws first started in Pennsylvania? Tania Seary gives the run-down on steel cities, “death-fogs” and Pittsburgh’s incredible transformation into an innovation hub.      

It’s not every day Pittsburgh hits the news, but it certainly did last week with the comment, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris”. The subtext is that there’s an obligation to protect the steel industry before the climate.

I’m not a political analyst, nor a climate change expert, but I have lived in Pittsburgh, visited Paris and worked in the metals industry. I therefore wanted to share some of my own personal learnings (and give some historical context) for those of who are trying to catch up with all the news.    

The Donora Death Fog

Ironically, Pittsburgh is only 30 miles north of a town which famously claims to have kick-started modern anti-pollution laws.

You may not have heard of the Donora Death Fog (actually a smog), where the deadly combination of an atmospheric inversion, toxic gases from the town’s zinc and steel works led to the death of 20 people and half a town hospitalised in 1948.

Comparable to the Great Smog of London and perhaps even modern-day Shanghai, the Death Fog played a big part in opening the eyes of Americans to the hazards of air pollution. The tagline at the Donora Smog Museum is “Clean Air Started Here”, because concerted political action saw the first act concerning air pollution being put into law in 1959. Pennsylvania passed legislation that afforded the state the authority to prevent the “pollution of the air by smokes, dusts, fumes, gases, odours, mists, vapours, pollens and similar matter, or any combination thereof”.

Modern Pittsburgh is a tech hub, not a steel city

The jobs that the administration wants to save left Pittsburgh in the 1970s. Since then, Pittsburgh has built itself into a great example of a city that has thrived on new opportunities.

I had the pleasure of working in Pittsburgh for a couple of years around the turn of the century – in fact, I was there during the Y2K frenzy. For those of you who weren’t in the workforce then, the “Y2K bug” caused a panic when people thought the world’s computing systems would go into a meltdown when dates changed from 1999 to 2000. The consulting companies made a fortune!

Although it was once among the most polluted cities in the country, Pittsburgh has reinvented itself from a steel town to a centre of “eds and meds”. It has become a hub of technical innovation and medical research. The city even has its own Google outpost, along with a test track for autonomous cars.

In reinventing itself, Pittsburgh has benefited from flagship universities like Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, which produce their own tech entrepreneurs and medical breakthroughs.

Pittsburgh nurtures entrepreneurs

I have to mention two of the city’s most famous entrepreneurs – both named Andrew. Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon were huge drivers and beneficiaries of the steel industry (like the U.S. itself) and then spent the large majority of their lives giving their money away.

Born in 1835, Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American industrialist who is still identified as one of the richest Americans ever. By the time he was 50, he had almost total control of steel production in Pennsylvania. He squeezed every penny out of his mills, living by a famous motto that every procurement professional can relate to: “Watch the costs, and the profits will take care of themselves.”

He sold Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Steel Company to J.P. Morgan in 1901 for half a billion dollars, propelling him to the position of richest American (surpassing even John D Rockefeller). While J.P. Morgan transformed his company into the U.S. Steel Corporation, Carnegie devoted the rest of his life to large-scale philanthropy, with Pittsburgh itself benefiting enormously with stunning libraries, a university, museums, a gilded concert hall and more.

It seems like the state governors and city mayors who are committed to upholding the 2015 Paris agreement agree with Andrew Carnegie’s quote: “Do your duty, and a little more, and the future will take care of itself.”

Or, in Andrew Mellon’s words, “Every man wants to connect his life with something he thinks eternal”.

Andrew Mellon built up a financial-industrial empire throughout the late nineteenth century by supplying capital for Pittsburgh-based corporations. He founded the Aluminium Company of America (Alcoa) and branched into industrial activities including oil, steel, shipbuilding and construction. Mellon also reformed the US Government’s tax structure while he was secretary of the treasury. Like Carnegie, he gave back an enormous amount of his wealth, with his philanthropy making possible the the building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

These days, Pittsburgh is home to one of the procurement profession’s all-time entrepreneurs, the legendary Glen Meakem. Meakem founded Freemarkets Inc., the first online auction technology, which was later purchased by Ariba. Keeping with tradition, Meakem has also invested a lot of his resources into philanthropy.

Giving back

The story of these entrepreneurs all point to a wider trend as Pittsburgh continues to evolve. Like Carnegie and Mellon, the city grew rich on the steel industry, but now it’s giving back. Firstly, by producing a new generation of entrepreneurs whose success ultimately benefits the community, and secondly, by being part of a climate alliance that is looking for future opportunities rather than trying to bring back the past.

The New Age Of Procurement Technology

Procurement technology went full sail and you eagerly jumped on board. But now 90 per cent of all technology is about to become obsolete. Are you prepared for the new age? 

As the vice president of Basware’s Purchase-to-pay solution it goes without saying that I’m involved in a lot of procurement technology selection decisions. And over the years, I’ve noticed a recurring pattern in the process, across numerous organisations. It tends to play out a little bit like this:

A CPO of a large organisation is at the end of their tether thanks to a messy purchase-to pay process. It’s the age-old story with AP and procurement operating independently, maverick spend with unapproved suppliers, late payments and paper absolutely everywhere.

The easiest, and seemingly smartest, solution to the problem is the implementation of a new purchase-to-pay system, which said CPO requires, being extra savvy, to be a Software-as-a-Service solution. The CPO knows they can get a decent ROI on whichever supplier they choose.

So what’s the problem?

Unfortunately, our CPO is only looking 5 inches in front of their face! It’s no exaggeration to say 90 per cent of today’s procurement technologies will be obsolete in the coming years. And so procurement needs to start looking much further ahead!

Remember Siebel? We can’t either…

You’d be pretty hard pushed to find an organisation that uses Siebel nowadays. You might even struggle to find someone who knows what it is!

Siebel was the cream of the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) crop in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It was the absolute best at its time.  Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on licensing and implementing Siebel, with the promise of visibility, efficiency, and improved customer satisfaction.

Fast forward a mere ten years and…nobody uses it.  It turned on a dime thanks to Software-as-a-Service and, more specifically, Salesforce. An enormous technology shift took place, and suddenly Siebel and everything like it was utterly obsolete. More than a few CMO’s were fired as a result.

What can we expect from the next tech shift?

What can we expect from the next technology shift? We hear about  AI, machine learning and cognitive computing all the time and there’s a lot of concern amongst procurement professionals that it’s going to displace our workforce.

But it’s coming to procurement whether we like it or not. There’s a glaringly obvious application of AI for procurement professionals.

One word: data.

When today’s CPOs try to objectively evaluate the functionality of potential new solutions, they’re often bypassing  a crucial aspect (opting to solely measure tactical functionality); the game-changing competitive advantage their organisation can achieve through the power of the data.  There are two major considerations to be made here.

  1. Is the system architected for centralised data capture?

    The system should be able to capture your data, the data of all organisations using the solution  and, ideally, be able to connect with other solutions.  The more the system is designed for centralised data capture, the better chance you have of being able to take advantage of the latest  data-driven tech changes.

    My advice is that you eliminate anything that focuses solely on you and your data.  If it’s not central, you can be sure you’ll get stuck behind and end up like one of the organisations using Siebel.   But, of course, design alone is not enough.

  2. Does the system actually capture that data?

To capture all of this data, there are three parties that matter: suppliers, requisitioners, and AP. This is where tons of business cases fall apart.

  • Suppliers: To capture data you have to get all your suppliers on the system. Not just your big sophisticated suppliers, every single one! You have to get them connected, or you will fail, if not today then most definitely in the imminent future
  • Requisitioners: Who are the worst employees when it comes to using a procurement system? It’s fair to say that it’s often the sales and exec teams;  the people driving revenue for the company. These groups are only going to use a new procurement system if it’s the easiest and fastest way for them to get their jobs done, which means it has to fit in seamlessly with how they work.   If you don’t give them a system that they want to use, you won’t have them, and again you won’t be capturing the data from their transactions.
  • AP:  This is probably the most important part but so often an afterthought when looked at from a Procurement perspective. Consider how many hundreds of thousands or millions of invoice transactions are processed within your company. Now multiply that by the thousands of other companies out there and you’ll get a sense of how quickly that data can scale. Most P2P systems can’t process all of those different kinds of invoices. And that’s where we end up in Siebel world, yet again!

By committing to finding and using a system that captures all of this data, and does so not just for your organisation, but in a truly centralised platform, procurement will soon be able to achieve the following:

  • Fraud detection
  • Machines that know when you need something. Doesn’t it seem miraculous when Amazon knows what you need and presents it to you when you login?  Let me tell you that it’s not. It’s data
  • Dynamic discounting marketplaces
  • Exceptions handled without any human intervention, based on patterns of prior behavior in the data. This might not be behavior that humans can readily identify, but machines can with ease by crunching all of that data

Procurement would do well to remember that, In today’s world, the big value is in the data, not in tactical functionality.

Eric Wilson is the head of Basware’s Purchase-to-Pay business for the Americas and APAC.