All posts by Justin Sadler-Smith

How To Seize The Opportunities and Manage The Risks

Where supply chains are already complex, increased visibility throughout the supply chain and closer monitoring of risk are becoming more common…


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In 1992, Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama, the American political scientist and author, published the much-praised The End of History and the Last Man, which suggested that the spread of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism meant that the final and ideal form of human government was now clear and established. He foresaw “the end of history as such.”

It’s clear that 25 years on, life has not quite worked out like that.

The world continues to be as unpredictable as ever, with the rise of unexpected leaders such as President Trump, the emergence of China as a global superpower, Brexit, wars in the Middle East, and many other developments. All we can say about the future is there is still plenty of history left to be written, and anyone who tells you they know what is going to happen is a genius, crazy, or simply a liar.

Look for opportunities

But of course, times of change bring huge opportunities, too. The digital revolution has turned industries upside down, with disruptive market entrants seizing market share. Some incumbents adapt well and others don’t. Emerging markets hold great potential, too, which many western firms have been slow to pick up on. For instance, by 2050, Nigeria will be the third-most-populated country in the world, with more citizens than the United States.

It is also amazing how rapidly the politico-economic situation appears to change today; a few weeks ago, the press was reporting that the United States and Europe were about to enter a trade war. One meeting later, all seems well again, and the “U.S. and EU reach deal to calm trade war fears,” as The Guardian reported.

Where does this apparently ever-increasing pace of change leave the procurement professional and the organisations in which they work?

I’ve previously compared Brexit to the over-hyped “millennium bug” (Y2K) and related challenges stating that unlike Y2K, where there was a defined risk and problem to solve, Brexit poses significantly more uncertainty and therefore perhaps a wider range of risks to review.

That uncertainty is central to the challenge for organisations. We know there will be issues to be faced; tax, customs, and trade complexities, for example. But it is impossible to know yet exactly how Brexit will affect the business environment at the national, sector, or individual company level. So although it might seem tempting, this is not the time for procurement executives (or indeed anyone in business) to pull the blankets over our heads and ignore the situation – the “wake me up when it’s all over” approach, we might call it. The UK was, after all, an independent nation for many, many years before it joined the EU. 

We know life will go on after March 31, 2019!

 Be prepared

Indeed, fortune favors the prepared. Scenario planning, looking at the “what if” questions, is essential for organisations that can see their business being potentially impacted by Brexit. And whatever happens, procurement or supply chain leaders, with their focus on the external world, have a particularly important role to play.

Where supply chains are already complex, increased visibility throughout the supply chain and closer monitoring of risk are becoming more common with the help of leading edge technology including blockchain and “cobots”.  Increased deployment of blockchain solutions, for example, enhances frictionless, secure transactions and smart contracts, minimising paperwork and effort to manage compliance with increased regulations. While it’s early days for blockchain adoption outside of financial services, almost all major manufacturing organisations have ongoing work in this area.

But let’s finish with two key takeaways for procurement leaders based very much on currently available technology. Both relate to areas where digitalisation should continue or even be accelerated to position the organisation well for Brexit and a period of change.

First, make sure your procurement “fundamentals” are in good shape.Digital technology provides the means to do this more effectively than ever: robust vendor master data; visibility on spend and suppliers; and accurate, relevant, timely data about spend and spending plans, suppliers, and contracts. Understanding the supply situation in its widest sense is essential if the organisation wants to be well positioned to handle future change, shocks, and opportunities.

Second, consider the specific need for supply chain risk management to be robust, effective, and dynamic. That covers not just political risks, of course, but also financial risk, reputational risk, “man-made” risk (e.g., labor disputes at supplier plants), or natural disasters. It also needs to consider multi-tier supply chain risk, not just immediate suppliers. Technology is a key enabler here, as well, but organisations need to consider skills and mindset too when it comes to effective risk management.

To sum up, while no one would pretend that there won’t be issues, problems, and costs associated with Brexit, for the UK and indeed other countries, there will be opportunities, too.

SAP Ariba are sponsoring Big Ideas Summit London on March 14th. Sign up now as a digital delegate to follow the day’s action wherever you are in the world. 

Procurement Pros – What’s Your Legacy?

Procurement leaders are starting to use the phenomenal buying power of their organisations to address big social challenges. What legacy do you want to leave?

In the old days, procurement was focused on two things: minimising costs and risk.

Purpose should be a pivotal part of every organisation’s business strategy. Being purpose-focused is essential to engaging customers and employees and being perceived as relevant, admired, and innovative by investors, partners, communities, and public entities. Today, it’s all about sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Why are organisations increasing their focus in this area? It is not purely out of the goodness of their hearts, rather, they understand that key stakeholder groups care about these issues.

Consumers increasingly gaining a conscience is helping to drive this change. According to the 2016 US National Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility, which surveyed some 1200 individuals, 39 per cent  of consumers are likely not to buy a company’s products or services if they believe they are not “responsible” and 25 per cent will actively advise friends and family to avoid the company. Additionally, the report reveals that 84 per cent of global consumers actively seek out responsible products whenever possible.

Everywhere you look, business is under scrutiny. Whether it is for environmental practices, labour conditions, tax or paying suppliers on time, individual citizens increasingly are expecting companies to behave in a socially responsible manner. Stock exchanges and Governments are also now issuing requirements for companies to report on CSR data in annual reports, and CSR is increasingly perceived by investors to be important for their understanding of a company’s risks and opportunities.

Many of these issues are embedded in supply chains, and the role of procurement and supply chain in addressing them is therefore clear. Concerned citizens will expect action from government and businesses, which will, in turn, encourage firms to take steps that will reverberate throughout complex supply chains. The world is becoming smaller, which means we have increased, and faster, access to information about what organisations are doing and how they behave. This is a great opportunity for procurement and supply chain executives to play a leading role in these “wider world” issues.

This issue is no longer just for idealists or activists. For example, globally there are 46 million people worldwide who are modern-day slaves and about 150 million child workers. Any company doing business needs to make sure that its supply chain is not tainted by this cruel practice, and in many countries now, it’s not just best practice – it’s the law.

Eliminating forced labour from your supply chain is just one example of what SAP Ariba calls “procurement with purpose”. This is an umbrella term that includes social, environmental and sustainability practices. Leveraging the power of business networks like SAP Ariba and the intelligent, cloud-based applications underlying it, companies can gain a whole new level of transparency into the capabilities, performance, and social and environmentally responsible practices of their suppliers – and their suppliers’ suppliers. They can map the bill of materials for products and services right down to their raw materials and cross-reference this information with hotspots where there is a high propensity for the use of forced and child labor to determine their risk.  And, more importantly, they can receive timely alerts, which can be used to drive actions and report on them in meaningful ways.

All business leaders need to be focused on these topics. Research suggests that companies that do so can significantly outperform their rivals over a 10-year period. Or look at it this way: can you afford the reputational risk of a photo in social media showing one of your suppliers using child labour?

To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate”. Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock (the world’s largest investment company)

Procure with Purpose

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

Through Procure with Purpose, we’ve been shining a light on the biggest issues – from Modern Slavery; to Minority Owned Business; and from Social Enterprises; to Diversity and Inclusion.

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

SAP Ariba are sponsoring Big Ideas Summit London on March 14th. Sign up now as a digital delegate to follow the day’s action wherever you are in the world.