2017 Rewind – Do You Have The Right Skills To Deliver On Tomorrow’s Procurement Strategy

As part of our 2017 Procurious rewind, we’re taking a look at the top blogs of the year. This piece looks at why are our procurement teams are falling so short when it comes to delivering on strategy? 

mangsaabguru/Shutterstock.com

Shockingly, 60 per cent of CPOs believe their teams do not have the skills to deliver their procurement strategy, according to Deloitte’s “Global Chief Procurement Officer Survey 2017.”

Why are procurement teams falling so short?

Originally, procurement was heavily based on process management, negotiation and basic spend analysis. But the procurement function is evolving, and professionals have to adapt to a new environment . There are new and growing expectations that require alternate skills for a more advanced job profile.

Procurement professionals are expected to be much more analytical, with the ability to perform data mining. They also must learn to manipulate and understand financial data and indicators, such as P&L and balance sheets. That’s not to mention that they should be proficient with the latest technologies.

Yet, one of the most important skills to develop is customer centricity. In today’s customer-centric world, this becomes crucial.

In my opinion, understanding internal customers,  being able to communicate in their language, knowing what they want or helping them to understand what they need, is the most difficult skill to learn and develop because it often goes against the conventional and traditional training that many procurement professionals have received.

It’s time to stop hiding behind the processes and get to know the internal customers! Given the back-office environment we are coming from, there is still a lot to do to change the mind-set and the behaviour of those involved. Procurement professionals need to develop their consultative skills and become less process focused, since excessive process significantly impedes speed and agility.

Keeping It Fresh

Another challenge for procurement involves attracting and retaining fresh talent in our industry. This situation needs to be addressed now to prevent a significant skills gap within the next couple of years. While we still have to continue to build traditional procurement skills. We also need to recognise that these skills must evolve as analytic and cognitive solutions provide more refined data and insight. The challenge is less about finding someone who is an expert negotiator and more about recruiting someone who understands data and logic.

At IBM, we are currently hiring maths and statistics majors because they can understand trends and probabilities. Although many procurement skills can be taught,  it’s hard to train someone to find trends in complex data.

Taking IBM’s example, our strategy to recruit and retain talent is reflected in how we communicate our procurement roles. “Our Procurement strategy is about collaborating with customers to ensure they have best in-class solutions, with access to the most advanced technology available on mobile devices. We partner with our suppliers to be as innovative and creative as possible.”

Presented like this, a job in procurement sounds pretty exciting!

The party ain’t over yet!

And the party isn’t over once we’ve found the right skills and talent, we also need to keep that skilled staff within the procurement function! If we help employees build on their competencies as well as add new ones, and if they can see that their contribution to the company’s mission clearly makes a difference, it will help us to keep those employees in procurement.

Ultimately, modernising the procurement profession and making procurement a “cool” place to work will help retain a talented, skilled and motivated workforce.

2017 Rewind – Help! A Potential Employer Asked For My Facebook Password

As part of our 2017 Procurious rewind, we’re taking a look at the top blogs of the year. Today’s article advises what to do when a recruiter asks for your Facebook password! 

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.

Procurious Picks: What Were You Reading In 2017?

As the year draws to a close, we’re taking a look at some of our most-read blogs of 2017…

L Julia/Shutterstock.com

The procurement people have spoken* and we can now confirm the official top five Procurious blogs of 2017.

From assessing the impact of blockchain to exclusive interviews with global CPOs; from recruitment advice to top career tips, we think it’s a brilliant sample and representation of all the great content Procurious has to offer.

*read

5. 5 Global CPOs Answer Your Top Five Procurement Questions

Wouldn’t you like to know how the best in the business feel about the value in professional certifications? Or maybe you’re keen to hear their take on the biggest mistakes made by procurement pros?

We put  five global CPOs to the test with a round of quick-fire questions. Hear what they each had to say on the value of formal procurement certifications, the biggest mistakes procurement pros make and how to stand out from the crowd!

Read the full article and listen to our CPOs answers here. 

4. 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 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.

Read the full article here.

3. Why Being Reliable Spells Doom To Your Career

Do people in your workplace ever refer to you as reliable, trusty, dependable? That’s got to stop!

Being known for getting the job done is not enough to build value and does not get you the pay scale, nor the flexibility you crave.

Defining your value and pouring your heart and soul into developing that is what’s priceless. It’s a linchpin in your ability to create the career you really want.

Read the full article here.

2. IBM CPO: You’re Finished If You Think You’ve Finished

The numbers are eye-watering. IBM CPO Bob Murphy looks after a $70 billion spend – $25 billion internally and $45 billion 3rd-party. The company has around 150,000 contracts across 17,000 suppliers, with its flagship cognitive technology, Watson, reading 900 million pages in multiple languages per second.

As we prepared for our interview with Murphy, it’s understandable, then, that we expected to find him entirely focused on data analytics, automation, AI and the other tech that’s rapidly impacting so many professions. We were wrong – what comes across loud and clear is that this is a charismatic, engaging leader where people and relationships matter.

Read the full interview here.

1.The Impact Of Blockchain On Procurement

Blockchain technology will not only impact procurement and procurement professionals but is expected to be more pervasive in our business and personal lives than the internet itself. To put the enormity of impact on procurement and procurement professionals in perspective picture yourself twenty years ago trying to explain how the Internet is going to change things. Where would you even begin?

Read the full article here.

‘Tis The Season To Waste Lots Of Food….

An estimated 1/3 of the world’s food is wasted along the supply and consumption chain from farm to kitchen. What can you do to help this Christmas?

NaturalBox/Shutterstock.com

This morning you may have discovered your milk was spoiled and tossed it in the garbage before trying to find something else to eat. Maybe you didn’t finish your whole breakfast and that went in the trash, too.

You’re not alone. An estimated 1/3 of the world’s food is wasted along the supply and consumption chain from farm to kitchen. How much does that add up to? A lot!

And with Christmas just around the corner and an estimated  £64 million’s worth of food set to be wasted in the UK alone, it’s the perfect time to start reducing some of that waste!

There are a lot of programs helping to combat food waste this Christmas. Some supermarkets have started to offer items past its best before date at a reduced rate and are providing food for those most in need. There are also a number of  steps you can take to help in your home as well.

How Much Food Do Humans Waste?

Via: InvestmentZen.com

Read more on food waste and sustainability in our articles on Earth Day and supply chain regulations.

How The Robots (Nearly) Stole Christmas

“Every Who down in Whoville liked working, a lot … until one day The Boss met a clever robot.” Continuing the tradition of a festive poem in the run-up to Christmas, check out this modern retelling of The Grinch from Procurious’ Content Director, Hugo Britt. 

Every Who down in Whoville liked working, a lot…
until one day The Boss met a clever robot.
It was sleek and terrific, with shining chrome knees,
and could do the work of fifteen FTEs.

The Boss called upon her executive team
and said with a grin that was grinchy and mean
“We’ll buy ten of these robots – that’s one hundred and fifty
Whos off the payroll – won’t that be thrifty?”

The head of HR gave a horrified gasp
“But the timing!” he said. “It’s a bit much to ask
your Whos to take a redundancy now!
It’s Christmas next week and there’ll be a huge row!”

The Boss’s brow wrinkled; her face set in a leer,
“Alright” said she, “Here’s another idea …
We’ll bring in the bots – my decision is set,
but we won’t dump the Whos for a little while yet.
They can work side-by-side for two weeks or more,
and come New Years Day, they’re right out the door.”

The very next day when the Whos came to work
They marched through the door and then stopped with a jerk
For sitting there, gleaming, daunting and massive
At the end of ten desks was a robot, impassive.

And then when the Whos all cried out “What’s the deal?”
They were shocked when the robots replied with this spiel:
“We’re your new metal workmates – we’re starting today!
We’re cognitive, clever, and can dance the ballet.
We’ll work round the clock and charge not a cent …
The ROI on us is 10,000 per cent!”

The Whos stomped as one to the Head of HR.
Seen dimly through the haze of his half-smoked cigar.
“What’s with the robots? ‘Workmates’ indeed –
You’re going to replace us! They work twice our speed!”

The head of HR, while stroking his beard
assured them it wasn’t so bad as they feared.
“They’re just here to assist. Fear not for your jobs.
Robots are the future! Stop being such snobs!
You’re quite safe (for now) so help them onboard
and we’ll have another discussion … moving forward.”

* * * * * * *

Two weeks passed quite quickly; the new year dawned bright
the Boss checked her calendar and smiled in delight.
“Today I’ll cut costs in a manner abundant –
I’ll tell one hundred and fifty Whos they’re redundant.”

She leapt to the lift and pressed second floor –
preparing to show all non-robots the door.
But when she arrived she received a surprise
At the hustle and bustle before her two eyes.

The head of the Whos leapt straight to his feet
and said “Thanks for the robots! They’re totally neat!
We worried that they would steal all our careers
but now it turns out these were unfounded fears.”

“We no longer need to do tactical chores –
mind-numbing spreadsheets and other such bores –
These robots are handling all of those tasks …
Now we have time to be strategic at last!”

The Head of HR stepped forward, then. “It’s true!
The robots are great, but your humans are too.
They’re thinking new thoughts; they’re stepping outside
the box we created with the tactical side.”

“Innovation is up! Relationships too!
Soft skills are unlocking new value for you.
These Whos are terrific – we never foresaw
that with time on their hands they can do so much more.”

The Boss raised her voice to address the whole throng
and shouted aloud “It turns out I was wrong!
I’d thought that these bots would make you inessential;
instead they’ve unlocked your hidden potential.”

“So just let me wish you a most festive season,
secure in your jobs, and having new reason
to be joyful about this happy yuletide:
humans and robots, at work side-by-side.”

Procurement Pudding (It’s A Trifle Complicated)

Nothing says Procurement quite like a classic trifle; it’s intricate, it’s complicated, but if you get it right… everyone wants a piece of it!

As the holidays descend upon us, it’s time to start winding down the gears to relax and – inevitably – reflect on the year that was!

Time with family and friends for me is synonymous with food! Because I almost always spend this time of year in the southern hemisphere, it’s a summer menu. It’s more about prawns and pavlova than pork and pancetta (although the latter does make it onto table anyway!) But, of course, that other p … the “p” we all love – procurement – is never far from mind and always on the menu for discussion!

During the year I have been fortunate to speak to procurement and supply chain audiences around the world about the trends we are seeing on Procurious and the impending impact of Industry 4.0 on our profession. In order to provide a framework for thinking through all the challenges and opportunities, I have been sharing a rather quirky analogy by comparing the well-loved English pudding – the trifle – to procurement and supply chain today. Putting up a giant image of a pudding on the big screen at a conference is also a great way to get your audience’s attention!

For the uninitiated, constructing an English trifle involves carefully layering sponge, jelly, custard, fruit, cream, and often garnishing with a heavy sprinkling of nuts.

Yet each layer remains distinct, and that’s how I think of procurement today – a series of self-supporting layers that feed into and out of each other. To manage our roles, we need to understand the strengths and weaknesses or the “setting points”, of those layers if we’re to stay ahead.

Let’s think through some of those layers.

Navigating the Nuts

Let’s start with the top layer of nuts. A generous sprinkling of the unexpected! This is how I think about the Black Swan events that seem to occur with alarming regularity these days. We need to be thinking about these unthinkables – hurricanes like Harvey that de-commission whole cities, man-made catastrophes like the Tianjin port disaster, not to mention recent terrorist attacks. If we can’t predict them, we can at least prepare for the unexpected, take pre-emptive action against disasters that could destroy our supply chains and analyse areas of high-risk.

Geopolitical jelly

Brexit is just one example of how our supply chain forward planning can become somewhat suspended by macroeconomic and geopolitical changes. In Europe, the UK’s decision to activate Brexit is having clear ramifications including a rise in nationalism that’s reflected across Europe. Currency fluctuation and workforce migration also impact procurement and supply chain. The costs to import goods within supply chains will increase; there could be a loss in freedom of movement both in goods and services for UK and EU businesses, and procurement talent could also be considerably affected if the talent pool is reduced.

The Fruits of Progress

We all have front row seats at the parade of new and exciting technologies that are driving the 4th industrial revolution. The rise of the Internet of Things, robotics, blockchain and artificial intelligence will create what we are calling Procurement 4.0.

Cognitive procurement & supply chains are the most exciting developments to happen during my 20-year career. These innovations will enthuse a whole new generation of procurement professionals to join our ranks, but we need to be flexible, agile and able to foster a culture of continuous invention to stay on the leading edge and avoid extinction.

The Foundation Layer

Finally there’s the layer in which we hold the power: Procurement.

Procurement is the sponge at the bottom of the trifle. No matter how many unstable layers of fruit and jelly and custard are piled on top of us, we remain intact. We successfully juggle with the events and changes over which our stakeholders and suppliers have only limited control.

Fortunately, social media helps. I don’t know about you, but when my phone is pinging through the night with texts and emails from the other side of the globe, I’m often tempted to turn it off. But I don’t, because for all the downsides of being constantly online, the benefits of being connected are immense.

Three out of four of our respondents to our Gen Next Survey believed that being well-connected online actually improved on-the-job performance. By using resources like Procurious, not only can we maintain the layers of our trifle by staying aware of these constant changes, but we can also gain access to an enormous diversity of ideas and enthuse the next generation of procurement talent.

The Cream of Procurement Talent

To meet the challenge posed by the top layers of the trifle – unthinkable events, geopolitical earthquakes and disruptive technology – attracting the best and brightest to the profession is vital to our success.

To do that, we need to think hard about how we are bringing on Generation Next, and giving them every opportunity so their impact is not just local, but global.

While we’re talking about talent, here’s another “unthinkable” to ponder – our Gen Next survey also discovered that over 70% of our 500+ survey takers intend to leave their organisation within the next five years. How can we respond to this? The worst thing to do is to keep up the pretense that every member of your team will be sitting at the same desk in ten years’ time. Instead, it’s time to throw away the retention plan and accept the reality that today’s workforce is increasingly mobile.

But this doesn’t mean giving up on developing your team. If you’re known as a supportive manager who gives others the opportunity to go on to a stellar career, you’ll become a talent magnet in the profession. Just image the level of superstar talent that you’ll attract if you develop a reputation as someone who produces future CPOs!

Cutting Through The Complexity

Change management is such an integral part of every senior procurement professionals’ role, and often involves driving change within your organisation and amongst suppliers on a global scale.

The good news is that we’re exactly the right people for the job. Procurement’s position as the conduit of supplier intelligence, our ever-growing level of influence in our organisations, and our keenly-honed negotiation and communication skills make us natural change-management gurus.

Remember that trifle?

The challenge for today’s procurement leaders to deftly cut through all those quivering layers of economic, social, political and technological complexity to serve up a slice of procurement solutions in such a way that your audience will devour your change agenda with gusto! 

Bon Appétit!

Guess The Impact: Can You Handle The Pressure?

How can you prepare when you know the worst is coming, but you can’t be sure when, where or how it will come? The Guess The Impact quiz will help!

What would be the impact on your global supply chain if a volcano exploded in the Pacific? How would your supply chain be affected? Would your business continue running as usual or would the devastation prevent access to suppliers, parts, staff?

What about a diesel shortage in France? Do you have contingency strategies in place just in case? Can you source materials or labour you need elsewhere?

Maybe you think you understand the financial implications of a tsunami wiping out a global manufacturer or what happens when a major distributor goes bankrupt.

In an increasingly volatile world, pre-empting catastrophes and assessing the bearing they might have on your business is vital. Major events and even seemingly unrelated business decisions can have a serious impact on your bottom line.

But whilst 87 per cent of supply chain leaders consider proactive risk management important, a mere 36 per cent feel equipped to manage it!

Disruptors: A Case Study

 IBM Watson Supply Chain created the “Guess The Impact” quiz to test just how well you would manage a major supply chain disruption.

Meghan Jones, Content Marketing Manager, IBM Watson Supply Chain, created the quiz to demonstrate the magnitude of disruption that these events can have in a ripple effect on people and businesses everywhere. “I wanted people who took the quiz to rethink their preparedness for disruption scenarios as they were reading about how far reaching disruptions can spread.

“As an example, most people are aware of the devastating havoc that a tsunami will wreak on a country where it happens; though people don’t generally stop to think about the worldwide implications of a disruption-taking place beyond just the physical location of where it happened.”

One of the case studies in the quiz highlights the 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tohoku, which triggered a powerful Tsunami travelling 6 miles inland. 130,000 buildings collapsed, 1 million buildings were damaged, and heavy damage was inflicted on roads, railways and dams. The Bank of Japan offered 15 trillion Yen, or $183 billion USD to the banking system in March in effort to normalise market conditions.

The World Bank later estimated the full economic cost at $235 billion USD making it the costliest natural disaster in history.

Is your supply chain equipped with the visibility you need to mobilise quickly and source from another supplier to avoid the ripple effects of a natural disaster like this?

Almost anything from a weather incident to an unexpected spike in demand can disrupt a company’s supply chain, impacting cost, productivity and the customer experience. IBM Supply Chain Insights can elevate your existing systems to provide greater visibility, transparency and insight into supply chain data and processes—so you can better predict and mitigate the disruptions and risks that threaten your competitive advantage.

To survive and thrive, supply chains must become thinking supply chains.

IBM Supply Chain Insights

Joanne Wright, Chief Supply Chain Officer, IBM, created IBM Supply Chain Insights to help procurement professionals quickly mitigate these disruptions; enabling them to build a transparent, intelligent and predictive supply chain.

IBM Supply Chain Insights leverages Watson cognitive technology trained in supply chain to provide comprehensive visibility and insights across the entire supply chain. It enables organisations to predict, assess and mitigate disruptions and risks allowing you to improve supply chain operations to deliver greater value to the business.

Take the “Guess The Impact” quiz, developed by the gurus at Watson Supply Chain, to test your ability to handle a major disruption in your supply chain.

Christmas Supply Chains and Fist Fights in the Toy Aisles

Do you remember the Tickle-Me-Elmo War of 1996? What about the Cabbage Patch Kid Riots of 1983? No amount of long-term forecasting can prepare manufacturers and retailers for the moment a product becomes the “must-have” toy of the season.

Robert Waller, a clerk at a Canadian Wal-Mart, told a harrowing tale about toy-mania in an interview with People after the Christmas rush of 1996. He was unpacking the latest shipment of Tickle Me Elmo (a vibrating, giggling plush toy based on a character from Sesame Street), when he became uncomfortably aware of a crowd of about 300 people watching him carefully. He opened a box, pulled out an Elmo – and the crowd stampeded.

““I was pulled under, trampled—the crotch was yanked out of my brand-new jeans,” Waller told People. “I remember being kicked with a white Adidas before I became unconscious.” Waller also suffered a pulled hamstring, injuries to his back, jaw and knee, a broken rib and concussion.

Tyco, the toy company behind the craze, saw its sales surge to an astonishing $350 million that year as every one of the million Elmo toys was snapped up.  Meanwhile, scalpers were buying the US$29.99 toy by the dozen and asking up to $10,000 on eBay by the end of the year.

The “hot-toy” phenomenon tends to happen  every year, with fist-fights breaking out in toy aisles over prizes such as Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, Teletubbies, Cabbage Patch Kids, Elsa from Frozen (who had been stripped from shelves by November of 2014) and – most recently – Hatchimals. Retailers respond by refusing to accept pre-orders and limiting purchases to one per customer.

Avoiding a Christmas disaster

Unless you’re a parent who missed out on getting the must-have toy of the season, none of the examples above are really “disasters” for the manufacturers and retailers involved. If a toy sells out in November, there’s certainly a missed opportunity if you are unable to get another shipment onto shelves before Christmas, but it’s still a success story.

The real disasters, these days, are taking place in online ordering and fulfilment. Customers are extremely unforgiving when it comes to a Christmas order not being delivered, as was demonstrated when Toys “R” Us first tried to take advantage of the online shopping craze in 1999. The company promised customers that any orders made on or before December 10 would arrive by Christmas, but as an unexpected number of orders rolled in, warehouses managers realised it would be impossible to keep this promise. Toys “R” Us sent an email to customers two days before Christmas, which led to the media making the toy retailer the focus for stories about shipping delays and tarnishing the brand for years. After this disaster, Toys “R” Us (which recently filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S.) handed over its logistics management to Amazon.

A similar story played out in Australia in 2015 where some customers who pre-ordered their Christmas hams online with Australia’s two largest supermarkets were told at the last minute their orders were not going to be fulfilled. While a missed delivery at any other time in the year may be forgiven, emotive customer backlash at Christmas time is particularly fierce.

In other news this week:

J. Shipman Gold Medal – ISM Calls For Nominations (U.S.)

  • The J. Shipman Gold Medal Award recognises leaders in the profession who have worked diligently to promote the advancement of procurement and supply management. Now in its 87th year, the award is the highest honour conferred by ISM.
  • Nominees are considered role models, mentors and community leaders who have helped others excel in their careers. They have had innovative ideas, and their persistent efforts have helped improve the profession.
  • View a list of previous J. Shipman Gold Medal Award winners here.

Download a nomination form . Nominations must be submitted by February 1st 2018.

Don’t be Fooled and Underestimate Blockchain

Do you find it comforting to dismiss blockchain as “flash in the pan”? Simona Pop believes you’d be a fool to do so and explains why it will live up to the hype.

There is a pattern emerging where new technologies are treated with a certain degree of skepticism. After the initial wave of excitement and expectation, many of the game changing advances are suddenly approached with a “flash in the pan” dismissal.

Is it meant to reassure comfortable people and businesses that carrying on as they are is the better option? Why risk innovation when you can draw out a tradition type stance?

But this isn’t the technology’s fault. Many of these advances are – when divorced from the Gartner hype cycle and the hashtags and actively placed in their proper context – exactly as exciting and game changing as they seem, if not more so.

Blockchain is a high-profile victim of this phenomenon: as a distributed ledger technology that promises faster, more secure payments, many industries have been exploring its possibilities and many more have been writing and talking about it.

Purchasing is no exception. And while blockchain technology may have limited application in other professions, in this one, it will live up to the hype. As a means of reducing costs, improving efficiency, controlling fraud, and boosting transparency, it has tangible, real-world benefits for procurement functions – whatever the market or business they work within.

In a recent article, Paul Clayton, Head of New Service Development for Basware, states:

”In 2017, blockchain is word of the year, it’s absolutely everywhere. But it’s not earth shattering, it’s not the third generation of the Internet it’s just an interesting concept with some obvious benefits and flaws.”

Let’s go through some of the reasons why Basware feel blockchain is not all it promises to be for finance and purchasing:

  1. “Whilst a blockchain itself is safe, an application using it remains hackable” – This is also true of your bank software, or Apple Pay or pretty much any software we are currently using for payments. It should not stop us using it or leveraging its deep transformational effects in how businesses operate.
  2. “It can be too transparent” – Technically true, but in reality the references to user wallets are encrypted key strings which, whilst easy to relate to the originating source and other related transactions, is not as easy to relate to an actual physical person. In much the same way as a credit card number isn’t easy to relate to a person without extra information.
  3. “It’s not the most elegant solution” –  Here’s where we strongly disagree. The elegance is in the simplicity. Banks have been trying to come up with distributed ledger technology since the 70s but they were hindered because they refused to be outside the transaction. By using TLS style encryption and cutting out the transaction verification at financial institution level, the whole transaction becomes significantly simpler.
  4. “You can still lose things!“ – Of course you can. You can lose your wallet too.

The argument that there isn’t really that much value in blockchain when the benefits of smart contracts and removing the invoice are tangible possibilities is nonsensical. Removing  the need for invoice processing is huge and any platform truly helping businesses handle their invoices and payments should know this. Invoice processing, and invoice fraud by proxy, are the biggest threats to company money out there today. Just look at Facebook and Google who were victims of $100M payment scam this year.

Blockchain automates trust

Trust is the cornerstone of every business relationship. On a fundamental level, you need to believe that the other person is who they say they are – and they need to believe the same of you.

In this age of phishing, malware, and general cyber security attacks, this seemingly simple principle becomes complicated. Login details are stolen and turned to criminal ends; high-level executives are being impersonated by hackers, who then persuade other parties to release vital funds; the sheer scale and variety of cybercrime is growing.

Blockchain provides a means of automating trust. By using permanently retained historical data to authenticate everyone involved in a deal, each side can be assured of the other parties’ trustworthiness: the seller and buyer alike are always who they say they are, and the product is the right product. What’s more, because prices cannot be modified, invoices will effectively be rendered obsolete.

This greatly simplifies the complicated, multi-faceted transactions that make up modern supply chains – maximising security and reducing the risk of fraud.

Blockchain is fast

Procurement functions will also benefit from the speed and efficiency of blockchain technology. For one thing, it’s fully digital: by taking the more time-consuming elements of a conventional transaction out of the equation, you immediately save time and resources that would have been spent on these tasks.

Shared access databases mean that it’s no longer necessary to manually scan invoices – dramatically accelerating the reconciliation process as all parties are allowed to view the same transaction.

Blockchain effectively cuts out the middlemen. By removing all intermediaries, it makes the processing of payments and transactions much faster: purchase order data can be exchanged on the blockchain at a far speedier pace than current levels will allow. This technology can also identify the nearest and most cost-effective vendors: decreasing lead and work time, and improving your operational efficiency.

Blockchain creates strong audit trails

Blockchain technology stores every detail of every transaction at every level of the supply chain. This will – as mentioned above – facilitate greater fraud control, and it will also offer transparency into issues of legality such as money laundering and the use of child labour.

And though it’s a digital technology, blockchain will also assist with the tracking and recording of physical items. As they are transported across local and international borders, they can be identified at each location – creating a strong and fully documented audit trail.

This kind of end-to-end visibility ensures that delays are rare and that missing items are found and allocated to supply routes more easily. This allows you to manage and optimize these supply routes with maximum efficiency – ensuring that no space is wasted and no customer disappointed.

It’s clear blockchain will have a significant influence on procurement and finance. The advantages of being able to streamline business processes, secure payments, and automate workloads shouldn’t be understated. Do the research, ensure you’re positioning your business correctly and you’ll be in the camp that benefits – today, and in the future.

See InstaSupply’s co-founders chat about blockchain and its vital role on our roadmap.