5 Big Procurement Challenges Addressed by Enterprise Contract Management Software

This article was originally published on the Icertis blog.

Procurement is a complex part of global business that carries serious commercial and regulatory risk. These risks are especially pronounced when a company does not have an effective way to centrally manage its contracts.

In a recent survey conducted by ProcureCon, leading procurement officials were asked about contract-related challenges they’ve faced that caused revenue leakage, increased cost or financial penalties. Here were the results:

A critical component to tackling each of these issues is enterprise contract management software, which sees contracts as live documents enshrining all risks and obligations incumbent upon an organization.

Indeed, good risk management begins with good contract management. With enterprise contract management, you can identify and manage risk throughout the contract lifecycle with proactive insights. A configurable risk model helps track risks across different categories, such as financial, contractual, performance and third party.

Let’s look at how each of the above challenges is addressed through contract management software.

Challenge: Higher operations costs

Finding: 43 per cent of respondents said higher operations costs have hurt their procurement organisation.  

Because contracts are the foundational element of modern commerce, they govern every procurement action and transaction a business undertakes. With the power of a modern contract management system with an ability to seamlessly integrate with procurement systems in place, an enterprise can gain unprecedented control over spend.

Through full visibility into all their commercial relationships, contract management software ensures that cash flow is complying with corporate plans, and allows executives to continually monitor money moving in and out of the business at all levels of the supply chain.

Challenge: Slow contract creation and approval

Finding: 46 per cent of respondents cited slow contract creation and approval as a challenge.

With enterprise contract management software, users can accelerate and optimize the contract authoring process. For example, users can self-service contracts with pre-approved clause libraries, eliminating the need for legal to get involved at every level of the authoring process but still control contract language.

Configurable notifications alert relevant stakeholders for revisions, redlines, and approvals, ensuring nothing gets missed. And robust, highly configurable rules increase flexibility while driving quicker approvals and execution.

Challenge: Unclaimed entitlements/lost or untapped revenue

Finding: More than half of respondents cited unclaimed entitlements or loss of untapped revenue as a challenge.

Best-of-breed contract management software draws on artificial intelligence (AI) tools that index and “interpret” every entitlement in each contract across the enterprise, allowing users to achieve the full potential of negotiated contracts through better enforcement of commercial terms.

The software captures the terms of products and services, prices, discounts, rebates and incentives in a structured form after interpreting the entitlements. You can then integrate the data with enterprise systems and help enforce terms for better savings and revenue performance.

You can also avoid missed entitlements or revenue potential. For example, sourcing organizations can automatically check purchase orders against agreed upon contract language to detect incorrect billings issues with regard to slabbed discounts or other innovative payout models.

Challenge: Missed obligations

Finding: 55 per cent of respondents said missed obligations have been a challenge.

Contract management software gives unprecedented insight into these contractual commitments, ensuring nothing gets missed. The same indexing and reporting capabilities used to surface entitlements also capture a business’s obligations to third parties, preventing leakage caused by lost business or penalties.

Challenge: Regulatory enforcement actions

Finding: This emerged as the most common challenge for procurement leaders, with nearly 3 in 4 saying they’re concerned with regulatory enforcement due to noncompliance.

It’s no wonder this was the number one concern, given the serious financial penalties and lasting brand and reputational implications of regulatory violations.

A robust library of clauses and templates goes a long way to reducing ad-hoc, or maverick contracts. Readily accessible templates, combined with a rules-driven workflow engine, helps support compliance throughout every stage of the contract management lifecycle.

Contract management software can cross-check country- or region-specific rules with relevant contracts. Compliance, down to the smallest supply subcontract, can be continually monitored through integrations with external software. Contract management software can even take a preventative role in compliance, via innovative contract creation tools.

Sophisticated contract management software can identify such regulatory enforcement and compliance obligations not just from their own contracting policy and authoring rules but also from customer specific contracts and cascade them to buy-side contracts used for fulfilling commitments. This makes the whole supply chain subject to internal regulatory enforcement and compliance actions.

To learn more about how a modern CLM solution can improve procurement at all levels of the supply chain, download this report from ProcureCon.

Vivek Bharti is general manager of product management at Icertis

Would you Change Your Accent to Appear More Professional?

Credit – Markus Spiske/Pexels

When you landed your first professional job, did you change the way you spoke? 

Perhaps you thought you’d sound more professional if you talked with a slightly more sophisticated accent or littered the conversation with a few long words – or maybe, you just wanted to fit in and speak like everyone else.  

Or did colleagues continually ask “What did you say?”, which made you realise that you needed to tone down your dialect to be better understood. 

You might have hoped that no one had noticed. However, when you went home, your family probably did – and perhaps they were not shy about pointing out that you were talking differently.  

One in ten people with a regional accent even say they were accused of speaking “posh” when they went back home to visit. 

The Class Divide – How You Speak Can Count Against You 

The issue is that every time you open your mouth, you could be ruining your career chances.  

In fact, even if you don’t have an accent you believe this to be true with more than half of people saying that having a regional dialect would rule them out of the top boardroom jobs.  

London accents that are considered the worst. So you probably won’t be hearing many people who sound like Dany Dyer heading for the executive offices. 

So it’s probably no surprise that nearly a quarter of professionals say that in order to be successful in their career, they’d have to alter the way they speak at work according to a survey by the Equality Group

The Brass Ceiling – Why We Hide Where We Come From 

It’s not just how you speak that matters. It is shameful that in this century, professionals still feel they cannot be honest about their socio-economic background (or how much brass they have). 

One in ten has even gone as far as hiding their hometown for fear of judgement – saying they have not been forthcoming about where they grew up because they worry that they will be unable to access particular professional/social networks if others knew their background. 

Along with gender, age, race and religion, your background this is yet another example of how we are discriminated against at work. 

However, you might not have a leg to stand on if you complain – because the Equalities Act of 2010 does not cover socio-economic class.  

It’s a big issue according to the Equality Group, a consultancy that helps businesses attract, develop and retain diverse talent. 

Three quarters of us believe that professionals with higher socio-economic status have increased access to better careers and job opportunities regardless of their experience of qualifications. Yet six in ten of the UK workforce identifies as coming from a working-class background. 

So, until things change, professionals are purposefully hiding their hometowns and regional accents for fear they will miss out on a better job.  

Better Off Do Better – Just Look at Boris 

The Social Mobility Commission backs up these findings, revealing that those from better-off backgrounds are 80 per cent more likely to end up in professional jobs than their working-class counterparts.  

This partly down to confidence. Professionals from lower socio-economic classes are less likely to ask for a pay rise and promotion due to a fear about ‘not fitting in’.  So, could your own self-perception of class be influencing your employment status? 

This even influences our choice of careers according to a report from Debut. It found that more than a third of graduates say they were put off joining a business whose workforce was perceived to be made up of mainly middle and upper-class employees. Two in three also said they had to change who they were, including how they look, to get a job. Debut calls this “professional exclusion”. 

Unconscious Bias – You are Guilty Too  

If you think it is grossly unfair to discriminate against someone just because of their accent or where they come from, then take a good look at yourself. 

Unconscious bias is something we are all guilty of. It is natural human behavior. We may rule someone out of a promotion or even our team because we perceive them to be too old (which we often equate with being unable to adapt and learn new skills). Or we may assume that a young female employee is not as bright as a middle-aged man. This list goes on…. age, gender, race, religion or even size, can all influence how we view others.  

However, it can also work the other way – we are often drawn to people or treat them more favourably if they look like us, sound like us and have a similar background. If you went to a particular university (or did not go at all) you might unconsciously favour someone who followed the same educational path. This can lead to us working with people who are not up to the job – and it could damage our own careers. 

So which category do you fit into – and how can you tackle your own unconscious bias? 

  • Perception bias: This is where you believe on thing about a group of people based on stereotypes and as a result you make assumptions that may not be true. 
  • Challenge yourself to get to know someone first. 
  • Affinity bias: You like people because they are like you. In recruitment this can lead to “mini me” hiring. Diversity is good for business so this can stifle innovation and creativity.  
  • Challenge yourself to reach out and work with people who are different to yourself. You might learn something new, change your point of view and become more open minded. 
  • Confirmation bias: None of us likes to be proved wrong. So, we try to confirm our assumptions about groups of people (or even ideas) rather than making objective judgments.  
  • Challenge yourself by stepping back and judging someone on their behaviour, merits, achievements – not just how they look or sound. Look for ways to prove that you are wrong in your assumptions. 
  • The halo effect:  A white, well spoken, well dressed, good looking man walks into the office and you automatically assume that this person is honest, capable, intelligent etc… without knowing a thing about them. That’s the halo effect. 
  • Challenge yourself to delay making judgements. Anyone can buy a nice suit, it does not mean they are good at their job.  

Navigating the Choppy Waters of the Future – An Expert’s View

Photo by Garrett Sears on Unsplash

The US escalating a trade war with China by imposing additional tariffs on Chinese goods. The ongoing debacle of European trade policies over Brexit. The perennial Middle East crisis over oil. 2019 has not been easy for global businesses and their procurement professionals.

But given that it is only one-quarter of the exhaustion, could we benefit from an expert’s insights and frame strategies such that procurement can navigate successfully through the rest of the waters?

Sure! Zycus got in touch with the CEO & President of SIG, Dawn Tiura soliciting her point-of-view on how procurement professionals can navigate through the uncertain times ahead. Dawn, a former partner in a CPA firm, focused on early-stage Silicon Valley enterprises and high wealth individuals, kindly agreed to explain her actionable list of do’s and don’ts that every Procurement leader can benefit from.

Zycus: What elements should be central to our conversation on procurement in the coming year?

Dawn: One of the important conversations that procurement teams all over the world should reflect on at the moment is their understanding that every dollar-saved might not directly translate into company’s eventual revenue objective but they do improve the bottom line when the focus is consistent. We have the unique ability to impact not only bottom-line savings but also top-line growth. We have insight into all lines of business as they are making decisions, not in the rearview mirror. And, we have relationships with suppliers who are incented to bring innovation to us. If that is not enough, why not use equivalent revenue? That will get the attention of the CFO, CEO, and Board.

Zycus: Most organizations majorly use hard dollar savings as the primary parameter to measure procurement and sourcing performance. Would it be safe to say it is a dated method of measuring current performance?

Dawn: Absolutely. We have to stop using savings as our sole barometer for measurement. Let’s look at an example:

The spend of an organization is $500 million; the cost avoidance from sourcing efforts at 12% comes to $60 million. Net profit margin is 7.5%. The equivalent revenue to generate the same value from sourcing efforts is $800 million (or $60 million divided by 7.5%)

The amount of energy required by the company to generate $800 million in revenue is massive and clearly understood by all members of the C-suite. Therefore, reporting results in terms of “equivalent revenue” instead of “savings” positions the sourcing organization in a more impactful and compelling way.

While you would assume that others will make this calculation and realize this is the case, they don’t, or can’t make the analogy to give us the credit we deserve. We must step up and change the dialogue to get the respect we have earned. 

(Read Dawn’s complete blog that talks about this issue and a lot of others here)

Zycus: So the first focus of a procurement and sourcing professional is getting the C-Suite to shift focus from savings to equivalent revenue, what would you say would feature next in their “things to keep in mind” list?

Dawn: Third party risks. Procurement and Sourcing professionals should be particularly mindful about these threats and therefore should have a foresight aided by technology that would mitigate the potential of loss. A take charge approach towards risks is what the current environment demands. Procurement and sourcing teams all over are responsible for managing goals and key relationships for the organization. It becomes vital for them to work on these objectives while taking into consideration the various risks they might be exposed to. Strategical planning and readiness will help not only tackle these risks better but also ensure the routine operations and performance doesn’t get disrupted.

Zycus: From what we’ve seen, these discussions seem much underrated, what can organizations do to ingrain this line of thought across the team?

Dawn: You make a valid point. However, that is changing. Organizations are becoming more mindful that this change in mindset is long due, and they need to adapt. This is why we’re seeing more and more people investing in education and certifications, so they have the necessary skillset to tackle these changes better.

Zycus: Artificial Intelligence has created a lot of buzz. How do you think that is changing procurement today.

Dawn: There is a breakthrough using Artificial Intelligence to manage risks in tail spend. A lot of companies are still new to the idea of AI, but the use of AI will be a game-changer.

Zycus: Gartner’ predicts, “By 2022, 75% of all B2B tail spend goods will be purchased in an online marketplace.” Do you agree with this?

Dawn: Indeed. As legacy systems continue to phase out, it is only AI that can redeem procurement an improved balance sheet.

Another aspect of change that people might miss out on is accounting regulations changing concerning leases and procurement people need to be aware of the changes and impact on their companies.  While the implementation of the new lease accounting guidance will fall within the accounting department, procurement needs to be a part of this review to provide its perspective on any proposed changes to agreements and to do the cost/benefit analysis.

Zycus: Moving forward, one thing that has always been a concern is how procurement can have a facelift from being a more tactical function to a strategic one. So what steps would you recommend teams take for this significant makeover?

Dawn: A strategic mindset is crucial to this rebranding of procurement. This transition is what will make other functions value procurement’s take on importing sourcing decisions. For this procurement, professionals need to be all eyes on various risks and opportunities. Professionals must be mindful of changing technologies. They need to prepare for it with certification in third party risk management and sourcing professional’s coursework.

Procurement and sourcing teams should consistently measure their contribution to the enterprise. An excellent way to measure one’s impact on to company’s strategic objectives would be to create a chart that cascades from the top management down to the business units, and how at each phase, the person has contributed to every success. On this note report from the Hackett Group also states, “This is a unique time for procurement organizations. Never before have companies been able to derive more competitive advantage from superior procurement capability. The function’s role is shifting from a sourcing gatekeeper to a provider of insight and decision support, made possible by improved access to digital technologies, data, and advanced analytics. World-class procurement organizations consistently get better results with 29% fewer (but higher-paid) FTEs per billion dollars of spend.”

Zycus: One parameter to measure overall procurement impact would be to track contribution in top-level business objectives, what do you think could be other benchmarks procurement teams could use to measure performance holistically?

Dawn:We need to, as proactive procurement practitioners, change how savings from procurement is measured. “Equivalent revenue,” the term will not only consist of hard dollar savings but elements like savings through cost avoidance. Anything that impacts the bottom line and contributes to growth counts!  

Another common and useful benchmark used to measure performance is FTEs. The number of full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) needed to perform a process, or a group of processes is one way to gauge process efficiency. The fewer FTEs required to process purchases, the higher the efficiency and the lower the overall cost of the procurement cycle. However, consider only those who formally report into the procurement organization.

FTEs are employees who devote all or part of their jobs to sourcing activities, and they should factor into the measurement. Meaning, if a non-procurement employee spends a portion of his time to procurement or sourcing activities, he or she is a partial FTE. Their effort will also eventually add up to that of full-time employees.

Zycus: My last question to you is, what are three things procurement should start/stop doing this year?

Dawn: The first thing that Procurement professionals must stop is being transactional and writing checks. The second to stop would be to keep talking about savings over everything else, while the last one would be to learn to communicate in the language of the CFO.

Our Conclusion from the interview

A seemingly strong inference that can be drawn from this interaction is Procurement’s transition from a transactional to a strategic function. This shift in approach has been a necessity for some time now; statements from subject matter experts and veterans advising Procurement professionals advising alignment of goals and their measurement, to learn the language of a CFO instead of focusing on operational goals, go to show how vital that shift is now.

Read our latest eBook “Procurement Experts Outlook 2019” to gain more insights into what eight other experts predict for the procurement future.

References:

–         https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/may-i-vent-lets-change-how-we-talk-procurement-dawn-tiura/

Is It Time To Get Rid Of The Open-Plan Office?

Well conducted research is beginning to appear and it does not look good for the open plan office…

By Monkey Business Images/ Shutterstock

The open plan office is the badge of the thoroughly modern work space. It’s as much a part of the office of the future as unlimited free snacks and Fussball tables in the common room.  But research is starting to pile up that it is doing more harm than good.  A lot more harm than good.

By 2014, seven out of every ten offices were open plan according to reporting in the New Yorker.  Gone were the sea of cubicles that inspired Dilbert’s creator.  Instead the typical office looked more like an aircraft hangar full of desks.  The theory was the removing physical barriers removed barriers to collaboration and communication. 

Oh, and there was the no insignificant bonus that they cost a lot less to build and fit out and employees and their work were easier to monitor.  While that theory has logical appeal there was surprisingly little empirical evidence to back it up. The research that did exist was based largely on self-reported questionnaire responses and attempted to measure largely intangible outcomes like employee satisfaction.

Open Plan – does it actually work?

Now however, well conducted research is beginning to appear and it does not look good for the open plan office.  In July last year, the Harvard Business School conducted a large study with a first of its kind methodology.  The researchers decided to use wearable technology such as movement sensors, cameras and microphones embedded in badges to accurately measure whether open plan offices actually did increase collaboration and communication.  The devices were deployed in two different company headquarters before and after a shift to an open plan design.

To ensure robust data, the researchers ensured the devices were deployed over a long time frame and measurements were taken at the same points in the business cycle.  There was no point comparing an end of quarter rush to a start of quarter quiet period.

The results were extraordinary.  Rather than increase face to face collaboration and communication, the shift to open plan massively decreased it.  People talked face to face 70 per cent less in an open plan office than in the normal office space that had preceded it.  The researchers speculated that the open plan triggered a natural human withdrawal response to large groups.  People have a fundamental desire for privacy and the open plan violated that.  Workers stopped talking in person and IM and email traffic surged by 50 per cent.

Perhaps more importantly, from a bottom-line perspective, the change also decreased productivity and work quality in both of the studied companies.  Other studies have estimated the value of this impact to be in the region of a 20 per cent decrease in productivity.

This new research adds quantitative weight to something more traditional studies have been highlighting for the last couple of decades.  Such studies have found that open plan offices had a negative impact on job satisfaction, attention spans and creative thinking, have dramatically increased levels of stress, conflict and staff turnover and significantly increased sick leave.   

And all of that is before we consider the cost of distraction.

Lack of Privacy

A 2013 study of open plan offices revealed that nearly half of the surveyed workers said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 per cent said the same thing about visual privacy.  The same researchers in a previous study concluded that the loss of productivity “due to noise distraction” was doubled in open plan offices. 

It’s not surprising then that the Information Overload Research Group a non-profit consortium of business professionals, researchers, and consultants, estimates that distraction wastes 25 per cent of knowledge workers’ time and is costing the United States economy almost one trillion dollars a year.

Clearly the answer is to put the walls back in.  It might not create any net gains but at least it would reclaim the ground lost by the disastrous detour into communal office space. However,  if you really want to increase productivity, keep the talent happy and retain your best staff then the evidence is now suggesting that you should delete the office altogether and let employees work from home. 

The Worst of Ideas

A recent very large randomised controlled study on a Chinese call-centre operators, for example, found that working from home increased productivity by 13 per cent.  Nine of those percentage points were from working more minutes per shift and four per cent from more calls per minute.  

Home based workers also reported feeling more satisfied and the attrition rate halved. Working from home is not for every employee or every type of job but at least there are upsides and the good news for the CFO is that it saves even more on floorspace costs than the open plan office. 

The open plan office was a bad idea implemented for spurious reasons with an inadequate evidence base.  And it turns out to be a terrible idea.  All we need now is management teams brave enough to admit that and move towards work structures the evidence says significantly improve rather than degrade productivity.

The One Thing Everyone Keeps Getting Wrong About Digital Transformation

While digital technologies have made the pathway to digital transformation the opportunity that every organisation is seeking to capitalise on, what many organisations get wrong is the focus on the technology…

By Parilov/ Shutterstock

There’s no doubt that we have been in the digital revolution for a while now. It may have been a slow start as we came to terms with the power and capability of our smartphones that precipitated the customer centric, anywhere-anytime shift.

Futurists pre-empted the transformation that was coming by positioning a future of mobility, IoT and artificial intelligence, while tech savvy organisations made some early investments and experimented with analytics and automation, learning very quickly how to capitalise on technologies many of us were still trying to define.

Fast forward 10 years and we surely must have everything worked out and locked down. After all, we have had enough time to observe those who have gone before and experiment ourselves, both as consumers and as leaders in organisations, irrespective of our role or industry. It should be the very definition of a no-brainer.

The Current State

Taking a look at the current state, things seem to be a little different. Yes, there have been tech-savvy organisations like John Deere who have managed to leverage digital capabilities and redefine their business model to open up new revenue streams. And we are all familiar with the digital disruptors coming from digital natives like Google, Amazon, Uber and Tesla.

And we have all heard the catch cry of Disrupt before you are disrupted. Indeed, it has probably been the opening for many a workshop on digital transformation initiatives making their way into the leadership programs of organisations.

Is it a money question then? There’s no doubt that the global financial crises, combined with the impact of increasing customer expectations and global competition have exacerbated financial pressure on organisations.

The internet has proven to be a double edged sword for many; enabling access to markets of consumers that would have previously been impossible, while also giving the very same consumers access to competitors, feedback and reviews of others, and pricing transparency that has not previously been possible. Everyone has had to up their game.

All About the Money?

With spend in digital initiatives estimated in 2018 at $1.3 trillion, it’s a tough position to advocate that the investment and focus has not been there. Digital initiatives are defined as any digital capabilities aimed at improving customer value, new growth and monetization opportunities and driving improved efficiencies.

So the categories are pretty broad, and the digital capabilities equally so. Moving from a spreadsheet to a web based form could be loosely termed digital, as could automating a process flow, experimenting with RPA, or enabling customers to order from a website. In essence, there are a multitude of different options before we even get to chatbots, customer preference insights, predictive asset maintenance and hypotheses generation.

So why do we keep hearing about how hard it is to execute effectively with consistent research telling us that 70 per cent of transformation efforts fail?

While digital technologies have made the pathway to digital transformation, the opportunity that every organisation is seeking to capitalise on, what many organisations (70 per cent of them as noted above) get wrong is the focus on the technology.

As an innovator in the early stages of the digital era, that may have been understandable. Working with the unknown, and by definition and nature, first-of-a-kind initiatives, it was important to understand what the technology could do and its limitations.

But in 2018, why does this still account for such an overwhelming focus of an organisations digital transformation agenda? The best way to deal with that question may be by taking a look at what the organisations that are in the 30 per cent who achieve success actually do.

People and culture matter

Watching my 10 year old nephew master the iPad with a skill and confidence I can only aspire to is an exercise in amazement and humility; amazement at all the functionality he is able to access to expedite what he is doing, and humility knowing that I am not ever going to come close.

Taking the ego aside, it reflects the very important point that the technology being used has degrees of perceived value generation and productivity firstly, only when it is used and secondly, with an increasing value the greater and more extensive the use.

So when we say people matter, what we really mean is digital transformation is a change to the way a company works and for the intended value to be realised organisations must incorporate education, training, and adoption strategies that help employees understand why the transformation is happening, how it will impact them, and how accepting and adapting to the initiative will enhance the way they work and the business performs.

Process Matters

It’s very easy to dismiss the process of any function or model as the thing that happens behind the scenes. It’s not usually the subject of an extensive marketing campaign and the people in many process areas may not even have a line of sight to the end customer. 

There may be an instances where consumers may complain about steps in the process that they may need to navigate to get something resolved. I need to admit at this point to being one of those annoying customers that will challenge how something works if I am caught up in a cycle of bureaucracy with some unfortunate contact centre assistant.

But process matters because so many organisations will deploy a technology solution and not or re-engineer a process to reflect the new way of working that the technology should enable.  As a result teams end up complaining that they are stuck with a new technology which does not work at best, and creates more work at worst.

The criticism then gears towards the technology not the implementation strategy that supported it.

Challenging Fundamentals

Business models matter: How organisations arrange themselves in a digital transformation matters. Traditional models are hierarchy based and decisions are made on positional authority. Team and role structures define who does what, and everyone’s role is clear and supported by a position description. Digital transformation challenges many, if not all of these fundamentals. 

Implementing change on this scale, for at its essence this is what digital transformation is, requires different ways of working and different mindsets. It requires acknowledging that your nephew may have more experience even at 10 years old, then you do, irrespective of a long career as an executive.

It’s about who knows what, not credentials that may be impressive, however not best suited to that particular piece of work. And it involves understanding that teams are dynamic, decisions need to be made differently, and a shared focus on outcomes is how digital value is generated and how digital transformations succeed.

Is Blockchain The Next Big Thing For Supply Chain?

What does blockchain mean for your supply chain?

By Oleksandr Nagaiets/ Shutterstock

Few people working in supply chain roles have a clear understanding of how this fledgeling solution called blockchain is, or could be, applied in their organisations. There is much hype and misinformation in the marketplace and much of it is due to the unproven nature in practice and unknown long-term costs of blockchain applications.

So what is blockchain?

Without getting too technical, the underlying principle of blockchain is to provide a secure environment where encrypted business transactions between buyer and seller can happen without the need for third parties such as banks and clearing agents to intervene. According to McKinsey,

blockchain is an internet-based technology that is prized for its ability to publicly validate, record, and distribute transactions in immutable, encrypted ledgers”.

Immutable, in this case, means that each link in the blockchain is completely secure and unbreakable. Blockchain’s format guarantees the data has not been counterfeited and that information can be read by any authorized party.

There are two main types of blockchain applications, one private and the other public. In the commercial environment, the networks are mostly private, this type of operation is sometimes referred to as “permissioned”.    Read more detail about how Blockchain works here.   

The world before blockchain

This diagram below is typical of a traditional sales transaction with many intermediaries.  Currently, these intermediaries process, verify and reconcile transactions before the ownership of the goods or services can pass from seller to buyer. How many people does it take to move a container of avocados from a Kenyan seller to a UK buyer?  At least thirty, but more importantly, there are over 200 individual transaction events and communications involved. 

What traditional buyer-to-seller transactions look like today  

What supply chains could look like tomorrow  

The world after blockchain

In a private blockchain network,  the procure-to-pay process is streamlined so that documents are matched triggering payment and creating a verifiable audit trail.   Nestlé is breaking new ground in supply chain transparency through a collaboration with OpenSC – an innovative blockchain platform that allows consumers to track their food right back to the farm.  The initial pilot program will trace milk from farms and producers in New Zealand to Nestlé factories and warehouses in the Middle East.

What does blockchain mean for your supply chain?

How can this fledgeling technology be beneficial? According to McKinsey, there are three main areas where blockchain can add value:

  1. Replacing slow, manual paper-based processes.
  2. Strengthening traceability which reduces quality and recall problems
  3. Potentially reducing supply-chain IT transaction costs  (maybe?).

The answer seems to lie in its potential to speed up administrative processes and to take costs out of the system while still guaranteeing the security of transactions.  Blockchain has the potential to disrupt or create competitive advantage, but the biggest barrier to its adoption is that so few have a good grasp on how it can be of use in their operations.

The potential benefits

  • faster and more accurate tracking of products and distribution assets, e.g. trucks, containers, as they move through the supply chain  
  • reduction of errors on orders, goods receipts, invoices and other trade-related documents due to less need for manual reconciliation 
  • a permanent audit trail of every product movement or financial transaction from its source to its ultimate destination.
  • trust is created between users through using a transparent ledger where transactions are immutable, secure and  auditable

What are the obstacles?

1.The cost

Implementing a blockchain solution may require expensive amendments and upgrades to existing systems which is both costly and time-consuming. Who pays and what is the return on investment?

2. Change management

There will be a need to convince all involved parties to join a particular blockchain and collaborate for mutual benefit. More openness will be needed, the old ways of protecting information won’t work. There is likely to be some mistrust initially especially around market share and sales data.

3. Rules and regulations

Legal advice is essential to understand what regulatory frameworks must be complied with. There are no accepted global standards for Blockchain that align with maritime law, international customs regulations and the various commercial codes such as Incoterms that govern the commercial transfer of ownership.  

4. Security

Is Blockchain really unbreakable?  Hackers would not only need to infiltrate a specific block to alter existing information but would have to access all of the preceding blocks going back through the entire history of that blockchain, across every ledger in the network, simultaneously. Even with encryption, cyber-attacks are a concern and cybersecurity costs money.

Transacting using “smart” contracts

Blockchain can be used to create “smart” contracts that execute the terms of any agreement when specified conditions are met. The “smart” part is a piece of computer code that predefines a set of rules under which the parties to that smart contract agree to interact with each other. Not recommended for beginners.

What industries will benefit most? 

Industries with the greatest potential are those that deal with extensive paperwork such as freight forwarding, marine shipping, and transport logistics. 

Tracking ofautomotive parts as they move between manufacturing facilities and countries is an attractive application as interfaces between motor manufacturers and their 3PL transport partners are complex and often not well-integrated. Toyota is venturing into developing blockchain solutions for its core parts supply chain operations.

Vulnerable and highly regulated supply chains such as food and healthcare

can benefit due to their need for transparency. Real estate has great potential due to the mass of records and documents involved such as transfers of land titles, property deeds, liens etc.  

Avoiding the hype

Gartner says that although blockchain holds great promise, often the technology is offered as a solution in search of a problem. They advise that “to ensure a successful blockchain project, make sure you actually need to use blockchain technology. Additionally, much of what is on the market as an enterprise “blockchain” solution lacks at least two of the five core components: Encryption, immutability, distribution, decentralization and tokenization.”  Gartner’s long term view is that blockchain will only move through its Trough of Disillusionment by 2022. 

Will it work in your supply chain?

The jury is still out on whether blockchain will really create a competitive advantage. Also, the cost of running a blockchain in time and resources is the unknown factor. For companies thought to have efficient supply chain operations with trusted partners and reliable databases, such a complex solution may not be needed. A supplier portal that is housed in the cloud may be more than adequate when coupled with an established ERP system.   

But wait, the blockchain action doesn’t stop here! Join us on October 15 with blockchain experts Shari Diaz, Innovation Strategy and Operations Program Director, IBM Watson Supply Chain and Professor Olinga Ta’eed, Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance in this webinar brought to you by IBM and Procurious. Click here to register for Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer.

5 Ways To Achieve Marginal Gains In Procurement

By Eugene Onischenko / Shutterstock

At the Big Ideas Summit 2019, Justin Sadler-Smith, Head of UK & Ireland, Procurement & Supply Chain at SAP Ariba shared his view of procurement in an insightful and thought-provoking presentation.

Among the issues that Justin talked about was an ever-decreasing time for procurement to react to the changing market environment and put actionable strategies in place. Because if procurement isn’t fit for purpose, not delivering against stakeholder expectations, then there is the potential for huge, negative impact from a brand and shareholder perspective.

There is a whole mix of uncertainties which are causing people to reassess how they are doing business and then ultimately doing it in a different way. Organisations, and procurement as part of them, need to be looking at what we are doing tomorrow and reinvent ourselves to become more competitive than they have been in the past.

As part of this Justin talked about an issue that is fast becoming a key for procurement to take account of and account for in its day-to-day operations. And that is leaving behind a positive legacy. Here is Justin explaining it in his own words:

Faster Reactions, Greater Purpose

When it comes to procuring with purpose, procurement professionals around the world need to be able to react quicker to changes in order to set the foundation for the legacy we should all be leaving behind.

Justin argued during his presentation that it’s almost as if procurement is in a race. In simple terms, those who are fastest to react, fastest to respond to changing demands are those who will win. It might not even be procurement who are the ones triumphing in the race, and that could spell the end for procurement as we know it.

The issue here is that many procurement professionals just haven’t been trained to do this. Without adequate training, much like an Olympic athlete, or Tour de France rider, there is no chance of being able to meet these demands and deliver what is required.

How do procurement professionals get trained up then? There’s no use knowing that there is a need to change unless there is willingness to do so, as well as more support to implement it.

Help is at hand, however, from an unexpected source. When Sir David Brailsford became Performance Director at British Cycling, he came up with the idea of breaking down the individual aspects of a race and then improving them one by one. The notion of ‘marginal gains’, was that a number of small, 1 per cent, improvements would collectively add up to a major competitive advantage.

It was this thinking that helped British Cycling dominate on the track at successive Olympic Games between 2004 and 2012, and then Team Sky/Ineos win seven of the last either Tours de France (not to mention other events and Grand Tours).

How then do we take this concept and apply it to procurement? Justin has shared his thoughts on this, helpfully broken down into five key areas.

Marginal Gains in Procurement

  1. Data – Where is data stored within your organisation and how easy is it for you to get it? How is HR data incorporated in your function? You need to look after people – those who own the data – as this is the life-blood of the organisation and you need to make the breadth and depth of your data valuable and usable.
  2. Productivity – procurement can drive this in an organisation by looking at different areas of automation that probably haven’t been looked at before. For example, how many people are really looking at AI as a way to change their organisation, without worrying about the spectre of job losses?
  3. Innovation – this is the concept of co-innovation by working in collaboration with suppliers to building differentiation. For this you need to get closer to your supplier base and remove any barriers to working closely with the right suppliers.
  4. Purpose – what do we mean by purpose? It’s the idea of driving social responsibility through supply chains at multiple levels. This is well beyond a tick box exercise now – it’s a must for good business as well as for making a better world. The idea runs beyond risk mitigation and focuses more on building value through sustainability.
  5. Well-being – people are living in a much more stressful period globally. However, by driving these needs and having a purpose, it can change the game when it comes to how people operate and feel. For procurement, this means attracting, retaining and caring for their top talent and nurturing their people.

Procure with Purpose

Procurious have partnered with SAP Ariba to create a global online group – Procure with Purpose.

Through Procure with Purpose, we’re shining a light on the biggest issues – from Modern Slavery; to Minority Owned Business; and from Social Enterprises; to Environmental Sustainability.

Click here to enrol and gain access to  all future Procure with Purpose events including exclusive content, online events and regular webinars.

How To Design An Interview Process That Predicts Performance

Interviews are a useful tool to build rapport, and even start a relationship, with candidates after their skills have been validated.

By ju_see/ Shutterstock

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Traditional interviews don’t actually predict performance. Rather, the best way to predict performance is to test job-related skills in context. Nevertheless, there is a place for interviews in the hiring process. Interviews are a useful tool to build rapport, and even start a relationship, with candidates after their skills have been validated. They can, and should, also be used to answer unanswered questions from the hiring process. 

Interviewing is often used as a synonym for candidate selection, but it shouldn’t be. Interviews should only comprise a small part of the candidate selection process. In fact, if an “interview process”, a.k.a. a selection process, is designed properly then traditional interviews only need to play a minor role.

Rather than dealing with hypotheticals, I’m going to share a real blow-by-blow story about a recent hire we made. The process included a recruitment agency, marketing, online skills assessment using our own platform, interviews and reference checks. I’ll explain how each step worked and why we did things in a very deliberate order.

Role definition

This is arguably the most important step. If you don’t define the role correctly the entire process will be flawed because nobody will have clarity about the kind of person you’re looking for.

A helpful starting place is thinking about the purpose of the role. Why does it exist? We wanted to hire someone who could help our largest customers get maximum value from their investment in Vervoe. That was our “why” for this role.

We wanted someone who had expertise in assessment and I/O psychology, was a natural with enterprise customers and would thrive in a startup. 

Recruitment agency appointment

We don’t usually use agencies and I’m not advocating for, or against, the use of agencies. It depends on the situation. In this case we were looking for a candidate with a very specific skill set and we were almost certain that we needed to attract passive candidates. The people who met our criteria weren’t necessarily looking and, more importantly, they were probably working with a big company and therefore not looking for roles with startups.  

So we wanted an agency to help with candidate sourcing, particularly market mapping ad outreach. In other words, we wanted the agency to find people and convince them it was an exciting opportunity.

First contact

This fact we were tapping passive candidates on the shoulder influenced the rest of the process. We had to convince candidates to talk to us rather than the other way around. So throwing them into an assessment wasn’t going to work. We had to sell to them

So the agency approached them and had an informal conversation. After that the hiring manager met the candidates. Is this the most efficient use of time? No. But it was necessary given the calibre of people we were trying to attract. This wasn’t a high volume situation.  

The purpose of the conversation with the hiring manager wasn’t to determine whether candidates can do the job. It was to sell to the candidate, get a feel for their motivation and give them visibility over the remainder of the process. It was about buy-in. 

Skills assessment

After speaking to the hiring manager candidates were invited to complete an online skills assessment, known as a Talent Trial. They had to opt into this stage.

We positioned the skills assessment stage as a two-way street. An opportunity for us to see how they perform job-related tasks, and an opportunity for them to get a realistic feel for the role and the product they’ll be working on.

It made sense. Every single candidate we invited to this stage successfully completed their skills assessment.

The interview

Then came the interview. It was a discussion with me and I only interviewed one person, whom we ultimately hired.

I didn’t focus on skills because I already had evidence the preferred candidate could do the job. She performed very well in the skills assessment, which was carefully crafted to reflect the role.

We discussed how we’d work together, including her preferred working style, how we can invest in her, some of the quirks of our team and what she can expect if she joins. It was lighthearted and fun, at least for me.

Reference checks

I’m a big believer in reference checking, but not for the reasons you might expect. References are almost always positive. It’s a rigged game. But, if done correctly, reference checks can be very effective in setting candidates up for success. They help understand what it would be like to work with the candidate, how we can support them and how we can get the best out of them. 

They’re an employee onboarding tool of sorts.

We asked the recruitment agency to conduct two reference checks and send us detailed notes.

Meeting the team

We wanted one more conversation with the hiring manager and the team. At a startup it’s really important to bring existing team members into the process. In fact, I believe it’s important in any company. It increases the chance that existing team members will welcome the new hire, and gives the preferred candidate an opportunity to see who they’ll be working with. It reduces the risk for everybody. 

The offer

A quick offer is a good offer. We didn’t make the offer after the final discussion with the hiring manager and team. We made it during that discussion. After meeting the team, and after everyone gave the thumbs up, the candidate spoke to the hiring manager privately and got the good news. She accepted.

This article was originally published on Vervoe.

How Prepared Is Procurement For The Arrival Of The Tech Disruptors?

If A.I. can’t tell the difference between an apple and an owl, can it really take over our jobs?

By PandG/ Shutterstock

The future has arrived. Technology trends have moved from being forecasted, to disruptors to being, well…here! But how prepared is procurement to step up to the challenge? Will procurement evolve to incorporate and embrace these technologies or will we miss the opportunity to be the next Spotify or Uber.

In this article we take a look under the hood at some of the “it” crowd and see how tech disruptors can be repositioned to be enablers.

Automation

Automation has often been referenced as the reason for mass job losses and replacement of people in the workforce. Is this a realistic view of what automation is?

Automation refers to the systemisation of processes to create efficiencies. It is a programme that executes a particular task that is typically something that is repetitive and monotonous (as opposed to A.I. which is mimicking multiple tasks and is attempts to apply causation responses).

Automation can be used to replace menial tasks and ultimately release people to do other things that are more worthy of their time. Automation can help people to repurpose their time and spend it in other areas of their job that can add more value to the business, like stakeholder engagement for example. This repurposed time enables people to focus on the strategic aspects of their role rather than being purely reactive and task orientated.

Blockchain

Blockchain is effectively a filing cabinet in the cloud. It records transactions (a “block”) and each block forms part of a chain. The chain becomes a valuable information source and creates a collective environment where everyone can access everything. It is this network that can revolutionize how we experience things as it can connect previously unconnected parts of a supply chain.

Some examples include customers being able to trace coffee beans used in their morning brew from plantation to cup. Or the ability to trace the cacao plant to a single chocolate bar.  Procurement could utilise this technology to link supply chains like never before and provide true customer centric solutions (be it internal or external customers).

The applications are endless, but are we ready for it? What steps are procurement taking to ready themselves for potential new ways of working?

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.)

This is perhaps the biggest tech taboo of all, the ultimate fear mongering scenario. The term A.I. can imply to some people that technology will be able to create its own intelligence and that the intelligence may keep on evolving – ruling humans obsolete. This is not correct! A.I. technology requires humans to tell it what the world is. Humans are required to create the codes, algorithms and software that make it work.

There are many things that A.I. automation algorithms can’t always get right, like the infamous owl vs apple fail. A.I. requires a human to tell it what is an owl and what is an apple but there are certain subtleties of being human that simply can’t be trained.

While this provides a hearty belly laugh at the expense of the technology, it helps to demonstrate the gulf that exists between A.I. being able to realistically replace humans. A.I. is not a threat to all people in the workforce.

A.I. can be used to enhance the customer experience for example chatbots. It can also be used to programme population of key contract information instead of someone having to manually type it out. The application for A.I. in procurement would create huge efficiencies to enable us to get on with the real work.

Cryptocurrency

The advent of bitcoin changed the basic concept of how we view money. It combined an old world concept with new wave technology. It didn’t burn out or fade away it is still going strong.

The advent of cryptocurrency helps to pose the question of what could be the bitcoin of the future?

Will procurement be able to trade online for goods and services? Why not! It was impossible to imagine bitcoin taking off many years ago and look where it is now. Will contracts for goods and services be required? If the divide between the supply and buyer side of the fence is dissolving then what purpose will contracts serve in the future.

Sore head?

If you have tech overwhelm, don’t worry. This is all you need to remember:

  1. Humans won’t be replaced any time soon
  2. Technology is here and if you haven’t noticed, you’re probably about to be bypassed
  3. Procurement needs to up its game with the incorporation of technology and see it as an enabler
  4. Creative thinking is the precursor to adopting and utilising technology effectively. Release people from menial tasks and engage them in different areas of the business

But wait, the blockchain action doesn’t stop here! Join us on October 15 with blockchain experts Shari Diaz, Innovation Strategy and Operations Program Director, IBM Watson Supply Chain and Professor Olinga Ta’eed, Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance in this webinar brought to you by IBM and Procurious. Click here to register for Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer.

The Best Procurement – Not Spending Money?

When it comes to getting the most out of your budgets, it’s not enough to just minimise your spend any more. The best approach may actually be trying not to spend any money at all – an anachronism to any procurement professional.

By Fernando Cortes/ Shutterstock

It was the great philosopher, Ronan Keating, who once sang of procurement, “You spend it best, when you spend nothing at all…”. This may be a gross exaggeration (sorry, Ronan!) but even if the words aren’t necessarily true, the sentiment is. Particularly for procurement professionals in the current age. 

We’ve talked ad nauseam about the ‘B’ word (no, not Brexit, the other one), about the issue of budgets (or lack thereof) in the public sector. Not only are budgets shrinking, but for many public bodies it’s become a matter of prioritisation of spending, which is opening up a whole new can of worms. 

In Scotland between 2013-14 and 2017-18, revenue funding from the Scottish Government for Councils fell by 7.1%, compared to the overall decrease of 1.8% for the Scottish Government itself. Surprisingly, for 2018-19, funding has actually increased by 0.3%. 

However, due to the nature of the services being delivered by many Local Authorities, there are still substantial budget holes to be filled. Maintaining, and improving, public services is only the start. In most cases it’s about delivering the same, and often a greater number of, services and all the new ‘one-off’ projects that are becoming prevalent, while managing the same, or smaller, budgets. 

In light of this, professionals have to invest wisely to help future savings targets. It becomes a matter of not only saving at the bottom line, but working hard to add value at the top line. 

Essentially what procurement is trying to do is to squeeze every penny – just maybe not like this…

Spend to Save 

So what are procurement doing in the short-term, or what could they be doing better? One thing that procurement might want to consider is the concept of spend to save. It might seem a bit backwards, but it’s a concept that can work. Let’s put this all in context with an example we will all recognise and be able to relate to. 

Unless you are working for the most progressive organisation in the world, you probably don’t have the latest IT hardware or software in your office. And, as much as you go on about day after day, you realise that this is unlikely to change in the near future. After all, the outlay on new IT equipment looks like a really expensive investment when looking at the bottom line figure. 

And who wants to be the Local Authority on the front page of the paper spending, say, £1 million on new IT when services are being cut, or Council tax is being increased? 

But consider the total cost implications. How much is being spent on maintaining legacy systems? Are browsers and software even supported anymore? And how much time are employees losing to logging in in the morning, programmes hanging or browsers not supporting key websites and applications? 

Consider the time it takes to complete a simple task like creating a spreadsheet, or uploading documents to a web-based portal. It’s hard to quantify how much time this takes over a day, but if this is a repetitive task then that time can start to add up. Lower productivity, lower efficiency and unhappy staff – all as a result of poor IT.

Then consider the efficiencies you could find with better hardware and software. You can give employees the option to work more flexibly and could potentially reduce the onward costs of contracts such as printing, annual maintenance and support services 

All of a sudden, that £1 million investment doesn’t seem so big any more… 

Don’t Spend…to Save 

But if making that outlay is a step too far for your organisation, then what you might need to do is to step all the way back to the beginning. After all, the best saving procurement can make is to not spend any money in the first place. Obvious and not exactly revolutionary, but still a solid strategy when it comes to spend management. 

How do we do it? It requires a strong will to say no and probably a fair amount of senior management buy-in and support. After all, you’ll be saying no to clients and end users and it’s nice to know that your managers and heads of department have your back if it’s taken above your head. 

What it boils down to is separating the wants from the needs, the nice to haves from the must haves. It’s a process procurement can lead on, but it needs support from all stakeholders to make it work. At the outset procurement can create and manage a User Intelligence Group (UIG) within the organisation, getting all the necessary people in the same room to thrash out the details and scope of requirements. 

This not only makes the process more efficient (and saves time and resources), but gives everyone an equal say, a chance to have their voice heard and, at very least, no chance to say they weren’t consulted! From this you can get your baseline specification and then engage with the market to assess the feasibility and see what goods or services are out there that could do the job for you. 

And finally, to link us all the way back to the beginning, you still have the power to not spend if you don’t think the solution is fit for purpose. Because if procurement are going to be the gatekeeper for the organisation’s spend, we should have the power to close the gate before the horse bolts once in a while. Don’t you think? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!