5 Reasons Your Organisation’s Travel Spend is Out Of Control

Procurement travel managers have a whole host of issues they need to take into account – from cost, efficiency and payment processing to data security, service reliability and employee safety.

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Today, corporate ground travel, both locally and globally, is remarkably complex with worsening traffic and congestion charges adding to the challenge of running a low cost, efficient operation. Meanwhile, employees, who are accustomed to the ease and efficiency of the technology they use outside of work, expect a better travel experience than ever before.

Procurement travel managers have a whole host of issues they need to take into account – from cost, efficiency and payment processing to data security, service reliability and employee safety. However, according to UK Taxi Expenses Review 2017 55 per cent of companies don’t even have a defined travel policy.

24 per cent of financial decision makers rank travel as one of the most difficult operating expenses to control. Here are five factors  that are contributing to the problem…  

1. Wasted time

Think about how many people are involved in each travel expense that an employee submits. Firstly they need to fill out the expense form, which 60 per cent of employees fill out during working hours, spending up to an hour per month on bureaucracy. In 90 per cent of cases, the claim requires approval from a senior employee before it is finally sent to another party to be processed.

2. Cost inefficiencies

That’s only half of it though. Over 50 per cent of employees round their claim up by an average of 25 per cent while a third admit to forgetting the fare before they have made a note of the charge. The subsequent expense claim discrepancies can lead to significant losses.

A number of other factors can also lead to financial losses that are hard to track, such as lack of employee punctuality that causes the overall fare to spike or unreliable travel service providers, which leads to lost business opportunities.

3. Lack of data

Only 31 per cent of companies feel that they have control over their data. This means that the vast majority believe their businesses are in the dark about their travel expenses. This can have a critical impact on productivity, costs and data security.

According to JP Morgan, for 39 per cent of travel managers travel data is necessary to enable successful negotiation with vendors. There are multiple reasons why travel information is vital, but if you don’t have an advanced mechanism that lets you know who is travelling, when and where then it is virtually impossible to manage your travel expenses. In a modern, dynamic business real time data is required to know all of this information and more, including which projects or time periods are travel intensive so you can adjust your travel policy accordingly.

4. Hidden costs

To further complicate matters hidden costs are abound, which complicates a company’s abilities to calculate expenses. This is most evident when employees are abroad. In an unfamiliar environment, employees are far more likely to hail a ride at a taxi rank, which is on average 40 per cent more expensive than doing so on the street or by calling a local service. Equally, ground travel costs are frequently folded into per diem payments so there is no clear data on travel expenses. On a local level, tips can vary widely and impact the bottom line. For example, in London, employees tip an average of 19 per cent and elsewhere, approximately 13 per cent.

5. Inadequate Security

While cost efficiency is an essential aspect of any company’s travel policy, employee safety is also a vital concern. It’s important to provide the highest standards of care to ensure the welfare of your employees. Can you guarantee they are having a consistent and comfortable travel experience? If they are abroad, can you still ensure their security and that they experience the same standards of driver safety, reliability and professionalism.

Clearly, travel can entail an array of unforeseen risks and costs and a lot of companies don’t have a tight enough grasp of what is happening in the business.

What can you do about it?

You need to identify the where and how of your company travel and to achieve this you must think about your current travel needs. The following questions are a great way to get the ball rolling.

  1. Have your needs evolved over time and are you keeping up?
  2. Do you have a defined, company-wide travel policy?
  3. How many of your employees travel and for what purpose?
  4. Do your employees just travel with the city, between cities or also globally?
  5. How are you ensuring the safety of your employees when they travel?
  6. How closely can you track your travel activities and expenditure?
  7. What reporting mechanisms do you have?
  8. Which specific projects, business units or individuals are responsible for peak spend?
  9. How many different service providers are you using and how reliable are they?
  10. How much of your expenditure is accounted for with your current reporting system?  

New Webinar: Rush Hour: High Risk, Hidden Costs and Unexpected Travel Spend

To start getting your corporate travel under control, register (it’s free) for a new procurement webinar,  which covers every aspect of how to manage the the total cost of ownership: Rush Hour: High Risk, Hidden Costs and Unexpected Travel Spend

The webinar will take place at 11am BST on 16th AprilSimply sign up via this form. You will then be added to the webinar mailing list, with details on how to access the webinar before it goes live.

If you can’t catch the live stream, you can sign up at any time and catch the recorded version later via the Procurious site.

How To Hire Someone With A Growth Mindset

Some people are on a journey of continuous improvement and, as a result, are more likely to achieve their goals. Here’s how you identify those with a growth mindset.

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The growth mindset theory was brought to prominence by Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor, and in simple terms it suggests that “we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems”.

Rather than labeling people as smart or not, musical or not, good at math or not, talented or not, and so on, Dweck argues that with effort we can learn how to improve in every area.

After failing a biology exam, a student with a fixed mindset will muse that they aren’t good at biology, they aren’t a good student and they are a failure. The only logical conclusion from here is therefore to quit and the resultant emotion is likely to be self pity. This student is a hostage to their own perceived limitations. They have become the grade from their exam. They are a failure.

Conversely, a student with a growth mindset will conclude from the failure that they didn’t study enough or didn’t use the right study methods. They do not label themselves as a failure. Rather, they see the exam as a failed effort, learn from it and adapt, thus becoming stronger.

It’s not easy being the smartest person in the room your entire life and then one day failing. This is the critical juncture. Am I a failure? Or did I encounter a scenario where I didn’t work hard enough or well enough? Do I need to change my approach?

The first conclusion – I’m a failure – is disastrous because we believe that our ability is capped and it leads to despair. The second conclusion – I can improve – leads to hope.

The world is not necessarily divided into people with fixed and growth mindsets. Even the most frequent adopters of a growth mindset can find themselves in a fixed mindset sometimes. But some people consistently approach life’s challenges with a growth mindset.

Such people are on a journey of continuous improvement and, as a result, are more likely to achieve their goals. In fact, they are likely to move the goalposts altogether. They won’t give up as easily, they will find a way to solve complex problems, they will teach themselves new methods and they will value effort, determination and improvement over any talents they perceive to have been born with.

They will find a way to win rather than believing that they are simply a winner or a loser.

Here’s four ways to hire someone with a growth mindset:

Going to the Next Level

Professor Dweck worked with a baseball team to identify draftees with a growth mindset. Prospective draftees were asked what they would have to change in order to be successful at the top level.

Recruiters were looking for people who acknowledged that they’d need to improve most of their skills because this demonstrates an understanding that abilities can be developed.


This question can easily be modified to suit a company setting.  Just ask candidates what they would need to do to be successful in a role that is one level up from their current role.

Dealing with Failure

Ask candidates about a time when they didn’t get an outcome they wanted. It doesn’t have to be linked to their careers – it can be anything like a grade at school, an application that was refused or a poor showing in a sporting competition, to name a few. Then ask what their conclusion was. Why did they fail? What did they learn? What did they do next? Look for attempts at improvement based on greater effort or a change of approach.

The Musician Test


Ask candidates what it would take for them to become really good saxophonists. This should be a multiple choice question. One answer should be along the lines of “a good teacher and lots of practice” and another should be something like “hell to freeze over, it will never happen”. The idea is to determine whether candidates think they can develop skills in an area that they previously had none.

Labelling


Give candidates a number of scenarios and for each one ask them to choose between two phrases that describe how they feel about the outcome. For example, if the scenario is “you came fourth out of eight in a race” then the two phrases could be “too slow” and “need to speed up”. If the scenario is “you got 58 is the biology exam and 83 in the literature exam” the two phrases could be “better at literature” and “didn’t study effectively for biology”.

The first phrase in both scenarios effectively labels the candidate as a success or a failure, as good or bad at something. This implies a fixed mindset. Conversely, the second phrase in both scenarios implies a belief in the ability to improve.

Hire for Growth 

Hiring people with a growth mindset means that, instead of hiring fixed talent, you are hiring people who will become more and more talented over time. Improvement in your company will therefore be continuous. Once you know what to look for, hiring people with a growth mindset is not necessarily difficult.

This article, written by Omer Molad, was originally published on Vervoe.

Is The Ageing Workforce Blocking Career Progression?

Younger workers are worried that an ageing workforce makes it more difficult for them to get a job – but just how much truth is there behind their concerns? 

By Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock

The speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, now aged 78, was once asked by an NBC reporter whether her decision to stay in the job blocks a new generation of Democratic leaders. Offensive though it is, the question makes sense to a lot of younger workers.  If Pelosi keeps working, a younger person doesn’t get a go at the job. And there are many workplaces where that question is playing on the minds of workers.  But intuitive as it sounds, the evidence says it’s a load of bollocks.

More of us are working to an older age than ever before.  In Australia for example the chance that a 55 to 59 year old is still working has jumped from 60 to 75 per cent since the turn of the century.  The likelihood that a person aged 60 to 64 is still working has similarly leapt from 34 to 57 per cent.  And the story is repeated across the globe.  Eighty three per cent of 60 to 64 year olds in Iceland still work, as do 76% in New Zealand, 68 per cent in Sweden and 66 per cent in Japan. 

This is trend that is likely to continue to accelerate with the United Nations projecting that by 2050 the number of people aged over 60 will more than double, to approximately 2 billion, representing around a fifth of the world’s population.  Better healthcare have contributed to longer average lifespans. This combined with declining real spending power for employees has resulted in strong economic and social imperatives for people to stay at work longer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, younger workers are worried that the presence of older workers makes it more difficult for them to get a job and to progress if they do get one.  Surveys like the one carried out by Canada Life Insurance group reveal that two in five employees believe the ageing workforce will make it harder for younger employees to get a start. 

Employees under thirty are the most concerned with almost of half in agreement with the proposition that older members of staff should retire so that younger workers could have a genuine chance of promotion.  Just 29 per cent of workers aged over 50, agree.  There’s only so many jobs at any given level, young workers reason, and if people are staying in work longer then their chances of progressing are significantly decreased. Only one in five workers felt that older workers should be retained so that they could benefit from their experience.

And while that logic sounds intuitively correct, there isn’t a shred of evidence to support it.  The “lump of labour” theory, as it is known by economists has been around since 1851, when a British economist argued that cutting the number of hours employees worked would eliminate unemployment.  It has been used in policy debates to justify all manner of sexist, anti-immigrant or ageist employment or retirement legislation.  In essence it maintains that any big ‘lump of labour’ suddenly hitting the workforce, such as from immigrants, women, returning veterans or, in this case, older people, reduces the employment prospects of new entrants.

But when economists went looking for proof that this actually happens, they have consistently come up dry.  One recent example is a major review of US labor statistics covering the period 1977 to 2011.  It found that the increased number of older workers in that period had not reduced employment of younger workers, reduced the wages paid to younger workers or reduced the number of hours of work available for younger workers.  Indeed the data suggested that the greater employment of older people had lead to better outcomes for younger workers in that period.

Global analysis by the US National Bureau of Economic Research says that the macroeconomic reality is very different from what intuition tells us.  From an economy-wide perspective, the presence of older workers means more people working rather than collecting pensions and being otherwise dependent on the productivity of younger workers.  This in turn drives greater and faster economic growth which in turn spurs the creation of more jobs.  The pool of available jobs is not static say economists.  It is a rapidly expanding pool that is driven by economic activity and technological innovation. 

If your plan for career progression begins and ends with waiting for your boss to retire or die in harness, then yes, the ageing workforce is going to be a bit of a problem for you.  But if you are open to lateral movement, reskilling in new technologies and embracing the new opportunities that an expanding economy presents then older workers are no threat to you.  And more than that by the time you get to be part of that cohort, you will probably be very grateful for the healthcare and lifestyle benefits they have forced employers to adopt to support an older workforce.

Sustain Me – 4 KPIs to Get Your Sustainability Project Over the Line

With your vision, drive and persistence with your corporate finance team, you will be able to define a quantifiable dollar value on your sustainability initiative…

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Getting your organisation up to speed with sustainability is no easy task.  It’s an area of responsibility for procurement and supply chain that covers a multitude of minefields – environment, social and economic etc. But also, fortunately, some daisy fields –  stronger brands, employee value proposition and a major positive contribution to a better society.

I’m lucky to have been educated on most of the sustainability areas throughout my career and via my global network.  But if you’re early on in your career, or new to the area of sustainability, it’s a lot of ground to cover!  My best advice (and this won’t be a surprise!) is to use your extensive network to get educated and learn best practice.

When I speak with people around the world, the biggest problem they have is getting off first base. The need to get budget approval from their CFO for their sustainability project.

Many companies around the world have signed up to The United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), to all of which procurement and supply chain can make a positive contribution.  How your sustainability project is going to help your company achieve its SDGs is the first and most obvious link you need to make with your C-level and your project.

The case for purpose is just like any other corporate initiative, it has to be rooted in a strong financial return – a business case.  However, many of the important benefits that come from managing sustainability are seen to be unmeasurable. Organisations have been struggling to put a value on the impact of catastrophic supply chain events that permanently scare their corporate reputation.  The value of having positive relationships with employees and the community can also be difficult to quantify. But investors and the community are putting increasing demand on companies to validate their sustainability efforts. Reporting on sustainable communities and regional spend, by way of example. 

With the vision, drive and persistence within your corporate finance team, you will be able to define a quantifiable dollar value on your sustainability initiative.  Here’s four ideas for KPIs to get the thought processes flowing:-

1. Reduce total lifecycle cost

The early part of my career was spent extinguishing media fires set by consumers concerned about the environmental impacts of disposable nappies or aluminium cans. I quickly learnt that there are indeed three sides to every story.  Industries do so much to consider their impact on the environment and often go above and beyond what’s required, but rarely get appreciated in the mainstream media. In our “sound bite” media society, consumers rarely get to understand the concept of “total lifecycle cost”. It’s important we all build total lifecycle cost models, so we quantify and measure the total impact of the products and services we produce. This will allow us to measure whether we are increasing or reducing our total impact, that can be shared with others.

2. Increase employee engagement

Sustainability projects of every kind are a fantastic way to build your employees’ engagement with the purpose of your organisation.  In my personal life I got involved in the Great Barrier Reef Research Foundation and learnt about the impact of climate change and declining water quality on the health of our reef. Until that point, I had no idea what the impact of commercial farming, water and ocean freight passage lines had on our marine ecology. As a member of their Board of Governors, I was invited to swim the reef and was briefed first hand by the world’s leading marine scientists. Employees were also invited to take sabbaticals to the remote labs.  Nothing could better build employee engagement and understanding of climate change than these experiences. It had a huge impact on employees’ concerns and actions, but also lead to an increased respect for their company’s commitment to protecting the Reef.

I’ve also supported microfinance initiatives through an organization called Opportunity International, with a focus on small women-owned businesses in India. This gave me real insight into the plight of so many women in the world and the impact that breaking out of the poverty cycle can have on future generations.  This made the plight of small female-owned business in emerging economies very real to me, which has always helped crystallise situations such as Rana Plaza for me and the obligation we have to suppliers several layers down in the supply chain.

3. Construct a Net Promoter Score for your community

Does anyone measure this? In my mining days, this was referred to as a “license to operate.” That is, that the community trusted you to operate your business responsibly and ethically. Mining companies, probably more than any other industry, understand how important it is to ensure sustainability is at the front and centre for all their decisions. One program I worked on was a local sourcing program. We qualified and engaged suppliers from the local area to help underpin the social strength of the community in which their employees worked – a very different form of sustainability!

4. Commit a single digit percentage of your corporate spend to social enterprises

About ten years ago I began working with Social Traders, a company who was building capacity amongst social enterprises to enable them to win corporate contracts. Once again, I was reminded of the multiplier effects when marginalised members of our communities are engaged and employed.  For me it’s a no-brainer. There are definite areas of corporate spend that lend themselves well to social enterprises – (hint:  look first at any category that includes labour spend).  As one CEO said “we’re going to spend the money anyway, we may as well make sure it counts.”  It was difficult to get traction a decade ago, but I’m delighted to see now how much energy there is within the corporate sector to engage social enterprises. What’s great in these commercial relationship is that everyone wins – the suppliers, the companies, the shareholders and the employees.  It’s very powerful.

I’m bringing my years of experience and passion for procurement-with-purpose and sustainability to life by providing a global platform, Procurious, for people to share their learnings and experiences with each other.

For us it’s about demonstrating to our global network of procurement pros that purpose pays and that anyone can make a difference in their organisation, no matter how small.

Get up the learning curve as fast as you can by learning from your peer network.  Join Procurious.  Join the Procure with Purpose group, start sharing your knowledge, start asking questions and start shifting the dial on these sustainability outcomes.

Become The Translator for Your Procurement Network

You may have thousands of contacts in your professional network, but how many of them are you actually influencing?  

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In the age of big data, “vanity metrics” are a plague that affect every profession. Anyone who has a website, for example, will know that page views and “likes” may make you feel good, but are very difficult to link with key business drivers.

Vanity metrics to watch out for in procurement might include measuring team activity, counting your total POs, your number of suppliers, or number of projects without actually measuring the value that they’re delivering. A team member who brags that they’ve had 100 meetings with key suppliers in the past six months is talking about a vanity metric, but if that same person provides numbers around the savings and other value flowing from those meetings, then we’re talking about real value. 

Online networking is another area rife with vanity metrics. No matter whether you have 500, 5000 or 10,000 connections across LinkedIn, Procurious and other platforms, your network risks being nothing more than a dormant asset unless you contribute. By “contribute”, I don’t mean that you “like” something they wrote or share photos of your holiday – I mean that you share your mastery, your insights and your experience. For the majority of us, it’s rare that we contribute meaningfully to our networks.    

Remove the collection addiction

I believe we have a collection addiction in the business world. In previous years we collected piles of business cards wrapped in rubber bands – which often (if you’re anything like me) ended up gathering dust on a forgotten corner of the desk. These days it’s about racking up the number of connections either online or within our databases.

Both these situations have the same outcome – a massive potential network and no influence. I would rather you have 50 people who are highly engaged in everything that you do – commenting, joining the conversation and sharing your insights among their own networks – than 5000 people on a list that have never been touched.

In other words, popularity is the wrong metric – focus instead on influence. Focus on having people engaged enough with what you’re doing – so much so that they would happily share your ideas, insights and achievements with everybody that they know. In other words influence is the ability to say ‘look over there’ and have people engaged enough to look. Your responsibility then becomes making sure that what you point them towards, what you contribute, is and valuable as possible.

Engage rather than collect

While collecting contacts is a vanity metric, engaging with contacts is a value-driving activity. The best way I know how to engage with others online is to become the ‘primary translator’ of your space.

A translator is someone who goes out into the areas where others don’t have the time, nor the bandwidth, nor the experience to go, and bring relevant information back for their network in a language they understand. If you want to stand out and build your influence, you need to become the translator of valuable information for your target audience. What does that look like? The best place to start is to make a list of the top questions the people you are wanting to influence are asking in relation to your area of expertise. If you’re not sure – ask! Then systematically go through that list and find the best way to contribute the answers. It might be in the form of articles, videos, internal presentations, checklists, how to guides, insight reports or even preparing in advance in order to contribute more actively in meetings.

Another good exercise is to take a moment to think about the translators that you follow. Whose work do you consistently follow or read? Now think about what they translate for you; the value they bring, and how they go about it – do they present the information in essay-length blog articles, or bite-sized posts? If you consistently give them your valuable attention – I guarantee you they effectively translate something important to your world.

Speak the language of the business

You’ll notice I mentioned that the first step in becoming the translator – is getting to know what questions are important to the people you’re trying to reach. For procurement professionals this means understanding what questions your business stakeholders are asking. What are their challenges? What are their opportunities? That they may or may not have seen? Then it’s up to you to access your own expertise and bring that information back to them – not in procurement technical language, but in their language – in the language they already speak.

Translators know that they need to be able to speak the language of the business, and also understand that a multitude of languages exist within every organisation. This is often referred to as ‘charismatic language’. Every group and community of people has one. Your finance function, for example, will speak a very different language – use very different and specific words – than your stakeholders in marketing. What they do have in common, however, is that neither group of stakeholders will want to hear you talk about RFPs, RFXs, or tenders.

Become the trusted authority

Take time to revisit your network of stakeholder (both online and in the office) and think about what subjects you can translate for them – within your area of expertise. Doing so will capture their attention and help build their perception of you as an influential subject matter expert. However – much larger than that. They will know that you care about – and have real value to share in relation to – the issues that are important to them.

It’s this decision – to become your organisations primary translator and contribute your mastery in a format that resonates – that will quickly accelerate you to the role of trusted authority.

Now that’s the metric of real influence.

7 Negotiation Tricks Procurement Professionals Must Know

Every procurement professional has a special bag of tricks when negotiating– let’s see if you recognise these seven tips from experts in the field…

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The benefits of countless hours of negotiation experiences is that you know what you should be doing more of and what to stop doing. We discover the key traits and tools that make us perform better and are better armed for our next negotiation.

Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner of Conti Advanced Business Learning interviewed seven procurement leaders to find out their favourite negotiation trick that played a key part in their business success.

1. Making the first proposal right away

I like to come to the negotiation table well prepared and well-aware of the market alternatives. Making the first proposal allows me to anchor conditions to a level close to the bottom of the market offer, immediately reducing the amplitude of the BATNA of my counterpart. Then I try to improve the conditions that are more valuable for me by making and requesting mutual concessions.

Francesco Lucchetta, Director Strategic Supply – Pentair

2. Preparation, Target, Value

I make sure I follow these three steps at the starting point in any negotiation where I am leading. The first is undoubtedly being well prepared. Secondly, to have a clear understanding of the desired outcome with a predefined “target range”, and thirdly, to fully understand the “value” of the business in the context of the potential suppliers being considered.

Les Ball, Chief Procurement Officer, ABB Motors and Generators

3. Profile your counterpart

Understand whom you face before negotiating! I use initial negotiation meetings to pique the interest the person I’m negotiating with – letting them discover all the potential benefits of working with my company. Then I encourage the speaker to talk as much as possible whilst showing genuine interest in their activities. I try to understand the way they work, their objectives and challenges. Having key objectives clearly in mind, I can better understand where our common interests are and how to shape the deal accordingly. From this moment onwards, I consider it the precise point where the negotiation starts.

Olivier Cachat Chief Procurement Officer, IWG

4. Asking yourself the right questions

It depends on the scenario but for mepersonally, negotiation always starts from knowing your position versus the market. You need to ask yourself ‘what you need to achieve’ and ‘what is the nature of the parties and the cultures you are engaging with’. Nothing beats preparation and being able to explain ‘what you need, why you need it and what is in it for the other party’. My go-to-guide for knowing the best methods in discussions are those from ‘Getting to Yes’ and its methods of principle negotiation. Be firm on your expectations, be open how to get there.

Jon Hatfield, Director Global Supply Management, PPG

5. Do your homework!

Preparation is the essence of a successful negotiation. Knowing your targets, your limits, and your BATNA is extremely important however it is useless if you fail to understand the other party. Put yourself in their shoes to know what they are looking for and how they would conduct research about your company. Do they really need your business? Are they looking for volume, for margin, for market share or for a combination of these? With these insights you will be able to drive and steer the negotiation to your preferences.

Christophe Schmitt, Head of Strategic Supplies, Omya

6. Make them love your vision and strategy

My preferred technique is to make the strategy attractive to the supplier and develop a common vision. Once the supplier is onboard, you can design an agreement in a very favourable direction.

Fabrice Hurel, Director Global Indirect Sourcing, Emerson

7. Questions, Questions, Questions

Asking questions, particularly the ones carefully prepared for in advance. I recall a negotiation with a professional services provider where the negotiation lasted for 3.5 hours. They started the negotiation feeling very confident about winning the business. After two hours of thought-provoking questions, they decided to substantially reduce their prices and ambitions. At the end, we reached a satisfactory agreement for both parties (good for them, great for us!)

Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner, Conti Advanced Business Learning

The following answers were collected by Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner of Conti Advanced Business Learning (www.cabl.ch), a consulting firm that specialises in negotiation & influencing. This article is part of a series aimed at collecting real-life negotiation experiences from Procurement executives.

Check out Part One of this series: Seven Negotiation Fails We’ve All Experienced

AI and Procurement: Boldly Going Where No Team Has Gone Before?

The battle of “human vs. machine” is raging in Hollywood and, increasingly, in the workplace. What does the future hold for AI?

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2001: a space odyssey… Terminator… The Matrix…

If you were to believe some of the sci-fi blockbusters, you’d think our future as humans is pretty bleak. They all offer a dystopian view of the future where, if the machines don’t kill us, they enslave us.

The battle of “human vs. machine” also seems to be raging outside of Hollywood, and we humans seems to be losing more and more ground to machines each year. Some of this ground has been lost in the world of gaming. Over the past decade, machines have been beating us at increasingly complex games more and more often. Looking back at these “wins” for the machines, we can see some key stages in the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI):

•    Deep Blue won against Kasparov at chess in 1997. It was rather dumb but powerful. With brute-force & human-created logic, Deep Blue was able to test and evaluate every possible sequence of moves at every turn and choose the best one.

•    Watson defeated Jeopardy champion, Ken Jennings, in 2011 and was smarter than Deep Blue. It had to understand natural language and find the relevant knowledge from various sources like encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauri, newswire articles and literary works.

•    Google’s Alpha Go won against Go’s world champion Less Sedol in 2016. To achieve this result, it had to learn from humans from thousands of past games. This is because, unlike chess, which has a limited number of moves, Go is one of the most complex board games in the world, with more possible moves than the number of atoms in the universe. The second generation of Alpha Go learned by itself by playing against itself millions of times to discover what works and what does not.

•    Libratus beat four expert players of Texas Hold ‘Em poker. It also learned by itself and was able to understand behavior because poker is a game of luck, deception, and bluffing!

While very impressive, these victories also show that machines are still dumb when compared to everything that people can do. Machines excel at one thing and have the intelligence of a two-year-old or less for everything else.

What we can learn from sci-fi movies and the battles being waged on the gaming front, is that AI has many faces:

Today, despite all the hype and buzz, computers are still only at the narrow intelligence level. But even at this level, the potential applications of AI are endless.

As far as Procurement is concerned, the same applies: machines are far from being able to replace Procurement teams. Instead, new technologies have another purpose: augment people to achieve better outcomes.  This is a definite shift from the last waves of technologies, which were mostly focused on automation and staff reduction.

Machines in procurement get a promotion: from admins to colleagues and consultants

AI, in short, is all about learning from data to develop new insights and using this new knowledge to make better decisions. It is also about continuous learning and improvement. AI is a master of the “Kaizen” philosophy! This makes it a precious ally for Procurement and AI should therefore be considered as a team member within the broader Procurement ecosystem. Experience shows that “people + machines” get better results than people alone or machines alone.

Of course, in Procurement and in general, it is undeniable and unavoidable that AI will impact the future of work and the future of jobs. Work will continue to exist, despite potentially significant job displacements. While some jobs may disappear, new ones will come to take their place, and most will be transformed by the imperative of cooperation with smarter machines. Procurement jobs will also be impacted and future procurement professionals will require a new set of skills. For example, data analysis and modeling will become a core competency next to more traditional business and relationship management skills. This is because the “data analyst” component in activities will grow due to the collaboration with AI in order to:

•    Train AI and ensure that data is relevant, complete, and unbiased

•    Monitor outputs (recommendations, actions, insights, etc.) of the AI system to ensure relevance, quality, take more contextual / soft aspects into account, and safeguard against AI shortcomings.

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

To conclude on a more positive and optimistic note than where this article started, I have taken inspiration from another sci-fi classic.  I believe that the future lies in a new type of cooperation between humans and machine.

The duo Dr. Spock and Captain Kirk illustrates, to some extent, how such cooperation is possible and can offer the best of both worlds. By combining Captain Kirk’s instinct and emotional intelligence with Spock’s logic and reasoning skills, they were able to successfully tackle any challenge they encountered.

New developments like explainable AI (XAI) and “caring AI” will make machines of the future even more human and will allow them to take an even more active role in our personal and professional lives. AI will continue to augment us, not replace (or kill or enslave) us.

So, Procurement people, live long and prosper!

Procurement Outsourcing – What To Watch Out For

The advantages of procurement outsourcing have been well-documented, the disadvantages – less so. In this article Elaine Porteous outlines how the trend has evolved and minimising the risks associated.

By Raggedstone/ Shutterstock

The outsourcing of procurement tasks started off a couple of decades ago when companies found ways to process orders and invoices more efficiently. It grew and got labelled as procure-to-pay (P2P) and is still a popular solution for managing volumes of repetitive transactions. Tactical procurement, where low-cost/high volume commodities are being sourced is the next favourite area for outsourcing. Lately, procurement outsourcing has expanded into a wider range of activities, even moving into areas such as strategic category management, supplier selection and contract negotiation. Non-core services are the most likely candidates for outsourcing:  HR services, I.T. support, facilities management and logistics. 

According to CIPS’ definition of procurement outsourcing, it can also include “the provision of procurement services and processes within an operation which may involve the transfer of people and/or assets to another company.  Procurement service providers (PSPs) may have a full-service offering taking over the entire procurement function of an organisation.  Other smaller PSPs may manage only one element of a procurement function such as spend analysis or contract management.

According to McKinsey, to make strategic procurement outsourcing a success, companies need to take a highly systematic approach with three basic steps:

  1. They outsource strategic buying only in categories where doing so offers clear value.
  2. They have a precise understanding of the sources of that value and how to unlock it.  
  3. They choose outsourcing partners that have the capabilities to address those sources of value, then define and implement agreements that maximise the chance of capturing potential savings

The choice of a PSP depends on its capabilities, the size and complexity of the supply market and the buying organisation’s relative influence in that market; the expertise and availability of resources will affect the decision.   Outsourcing works best when the ability to manage a strategic category in-house is low.

Trends in outsourcing

There is a growing interest within procurement about outsourcing data-heavy activities such as spend analysis, supplier performance management and tender evaluations.  Tracking of realised savings has always been a headache and a topic of disagreement due to varying methods of calculation – by outsourcing this to specialists there is less room for debate. 

Governance, regulation and compliance is an area that is increasingly becoming onerous for companies, especially in the banking and healthcare sectors and is, therefore, a candidate for outsourcing.  

The outsourcing agreement 

When a decision has been made on what can be successfully outsourced a PSP must be selected in line with in-house procurement policy. This should include normal supplier due diligence to establish the company’s capabilities, including reviewing the supplier’s financial statements to ensure that the business is profitable and the supplier is not at risk of failure.  Next, the basis on which the partnership will work must be negotiated and confirmed.  The relationship needs to be formalised in a comprehensive contract with an enforceable service level agreement (SLA) that defines the rules of the game. Key performance indicators (KPIs) need to be clearly defined. These are the metrics used to measure performance and the calculation of bonuses.   

In the SLA, risks can be minimised by defining:  

  • Minimum acceptable service levels with penalties/incentives  
  • What happens when the PSP fails to deliver? Contingency plans
  • Who owns the data?
  • The PSPs responsibility for data security and confidentiality
  • Who owns the work developed during the contract?
  • What happens when there is a change in ownership of the PSP?

Managing the outsource partner

You have a contract in place and an SLA, what next?   The PSP is like all other key suppliers, it needs to be managed through the entire contract period.  Implementation is often the stage at which the outsourcing project fails. Stakeholders, if not consulted, can be obstructive and delay the process.  The manager’s role is to deliver the service to users, monitor the PSP’s performance, ensuring delivery against the pre-set KPIs.

Advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing

The advantages have been well-documented by the PSPs themselves, the disadvantages, less so.  Among the leading full-service PSPs are Accenture, Capgemini, Infosys and IBM.  The advantages are

  • Lower costs due to PSPs’ economies of scale by aggregating customers’ requirements  
  • Outsourcing low value/high volume purchases frees up internal expensive resources
  • Access to global expertise and market knowledge in categories where there is little in-house capacity or experience
  • Time-consuming negotiations and contracting are managed by specialists

Because outsourcing involves handing over direct control to a third-party it comes with challenges.  These may be service delivery issues, a lack of flexibility and unforeseen management crises at the PSP.  Open lines of communication at all levels are vital to the success of the contract.  Whatever the function being outsourced, the aim is to create a long term partnership that is designed to achieve more than just cost-cutting.  

Answering Your Burning Procurement Questions

We put some of procurement’s top thought leaders on the spot to find out the answers to your burning procurement questions.

By Kzenon/ Shutterstock

What’s the one word you’d like to ban in procurement?

What’s the most important soft skill?

If you had to choose between experienced hire and upskilling talent, which would you choose?

What’s the least important skill for procurement pros?

How do you successfully negotiate a payrise?

We put some of procurement’s top thought leaders on the spot to find out the answers to these questions. Check out the video interviews below.

Justin Sadler Smith Head of UK and Ireland, Procurement and Supply Chain – SAP Ariba Speaking at Big Ideas London 2019

Quick-fire questions with Justin Sadler Smith

What’s the one word you’d like to ban in procurement? : Procurement!

What’s the most important soft skill? : Stakeholder management and being able to communicate effectively.

Julie Brignac,Corporate Senior Vice President Client Services and Delivery, WNS Denali
Speaking at Big Ideas London 2019 

Quick-fire questions with Julie Brignac

What’s the one word you’d like to ban in procurement? : Transformation

If you had to choose between experienced hire and upskilling talent, which would you choose? : It’s dependant on the talent market. we are currently in a market when the talent is extraordinary, lots of access to procurement and supply chain professionals. Because of that it’s important to hire for experience as opposed to raw talent.

Vishal Patel, Vice President of Product Marketing – Ivalua
Speaking at Big Ideas London 2019

Quick-fire questions with Vishal Patel

What’s the best way to negotiate a payrise? : Going beyond talking about cost savings and show the value of all the things that have been done with suppliers, with innovation and with risk.

What’s the least important skill for procurement professionals? : Tactical operational skills – basic things like approving purchase requisitions. Procurement should focus on other things

Carl Tomaszek, Sales Director – Icertis
Speaking at Big Ideas London 2019

Quick-fire questions with Carl Tomaszek

What’s the one word you’d like to ban in procurement? : Transformation

What’s the best way to negotiate a payrise? : Demonstrate success in terms of what you’ve done to benefit the organisation’s bottom line

Check out more content from Big Ideas London 2019 here.

3 KPIs for Digitally Transforming Your Business Spend: How Do You Measure Up?

If CEO predictions are any indicator of what’s to come in the business world, buckle up, because we may be in for a bumpy ride. Here are three of the most influential KPIs for purchasing, invoicing, and expenses. 

By Aaron Amat/ Shutterstock

If CEO predictions are any indicator of what’s to come in the business world, buckle up, because we may be in for a bumpy ride. According to PwC’s annual CEO Survey, there’s been a 436 per cent increase in the number of CEOs saying they expect global economic growth to decline this year. Just 35 per cent said they are “very confident” about revenue prospects for the next year.

So, what’s a business leader to do? The most popular answer seems to be “look inside-out for profitability and growth.” Faced with economic uncertainty, finance and procurement executives are increasingly challenged to not only uncover and deliver savings opportunities, but also to reduce risk, support innovation agendas, and create levers for growth.

3 Digitisation KPIs to Measure Your Procurement and Expense Process Maturity

It’s important to set measurable goals to assess the maturity of your procurement and expenses processes. By analysing the largest accessible source of business spend data (the nearly US$1 trillion that flows through the Coupa platform), Coupa Business Spend Management (BSM) experts have identified 12 Key Performance Indicators to help you gain insight into and advance your organisation’s maturity across the spectrum of BSM processes, from sourcing to procurement to payments.

Here are three of the most influential KPIs for Purchasing, Invoicing, and Expenses and how companies with digitally mature processes are performing in these areas:

1. Purchasing KPI: Percentage of Electronic PO Processing: 89.7 per cent

What it is: The percentage of POs processed digitally measures the success of eProcurement initiatives designed to reduce PO processing time and employee and supplier frustration.

Why it matters: A high rate of digital POs often means that procurement teams have time to focus on strategic initiatives, like lowering risk and optimising productivity, instead of chasing lost orders.

2. Invoicing KPI: Invoice Approval Cycle Time: 30.7 hours

What it is: The average time, in hours, from the time of invoice submission to the time of final approval measures the efficiency of the entire approvals process.

Why it matters: A short invoice approval cycle time assures that there are no unnecessary project delays due to payment delays. It also enables early payment discounts and fewer status inquiries while decreasing the risk of late payment penalties.

3. Expenses KPI: Percentage of Manual Expense Audit: 6 per cent

What it is: The percentage of expense reports that go through human audit reflects the precision and accuracy of existing controls and compliance throughout the expenses management processes.

Why it matters: A low percentage of manual auditing implies that expense policies and automated audits are effectively ensuring compliance. Large numbers of manual audits place a costly administrative burden on AP teams.

Learn More About How to Use Benchmarking Data to Drive Success

Want to find out what the other nine KPIs are and find out how your organisation measures up? Read Coupa’s 2019 Benchmark Report to learn more about how focusing on improving these critical KPIs can help you improve profitability, streamline operations, and achieve efficient growth.

For extra credit, join us at Coupa’s next webinar! We’d love to see you at our discussion about Building A Strategic Procurement & Finance Alliance to Enable Growth with Levvel Research and Coupa CFO Todd Ford to explore how business leaders can use KPIs and benchmark data to reduce silos in the back office. We’ll also take a look at:

  • New data on the state of procurement and finance collaboration
  • Procurement and finance efficiency benchmarks of high-performing organisations
  • Strategies for reducing departmental silos and creating spend management visibility

Reserve your spot today. We can’t wait to see you!