Massive changes are coming to procurement pros, whether they like it or not! Is it high time we started embracing, instead of resisting, them?
Mark Stevenson is one man who understands the key trends heading our way. An expert on global trends and innovation, he will be setting the scene with our opening keynote at the Big Ideas Summit 2017 in London. We caught up with Mark ahead of the event to get to know him a little better!
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m an entrepreneur, an author, an occasional comedy writer, a musician, and, as some people like to define me, a futurologist, but I’m not at all keen on that particular term.
What don’t you like about the term Futurologist?
I think it’s a fairly dodgy profession overall if I’m honest. There are no qualifications required and it’s often associated with prediction and, of course, you can’t really predict the future, you can only make it. Also people who identify themselves as future-experts are as apt to be shaped by the culture in which they are embedded or dogged by their own prejudices and wish-lists as the rest of us, and tend to predict accordingly. For instance many futurologists are overly tech focused. My work is more about the questions the future asks us about the interplay of technology, economics, society and politics. My job is to help people and organisations to ask the right questions about the future and then convince them to answer those questions in a way that makes the world more sustainable, humane, compassionate and just.
What are the key challenges procurement and supply chains face in the next decade?
Supply chain issues are hugely important at the moment and supply chain professionals are having a lot of questions asked of them.
The first challenge to overcome is achieving greater supply chain transparency. Plenty of procurement professionals, particularly in larger organisations, have no clue where they are actually buying from. When the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013 killing over 1,000 factory workers, many high-street brands were called out and, it materialised, ignorant of their involvement. Tragedies like this have forced high street companies to better audit their supply chains but there’s still a long way to go.
Secondly, organisations need to make their supply chains more sustainable by adopting science-based targets – addressing agricultural sustainability and reducing carbon emissions to give a couple of examples.
You’ve often advocated science-based targets in the past. Could you explain the concept in more detail? How could procurement apply these targets?
Science-based targets are a really simple idea and a very good way to think about sustainability. When it comes to dealing with environmental sustainability companies tend to say ‘this is what we can do, this is what we’re aiming for’ but, in reality, it doesn’t mean a whole lot when a multinational organisation vows to reduce its carbon emissions by 10% by the year 2034! That’s a recipe for planetary disaster.
Instead, organisations must figure out what they have to do based on scientific facts. The Science Based Targets campaign (a partnership between
Carbon Disclosuse Project, UN Global Compact, World Resources Institute and WWF) helps companies determine how much they must cut emissions to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Coca- Cola, Walmart and HP signed up to this and if they can do it, anyone can.
And, by saving the world you’re also saving your business. Companies who take this stuff seriously will out-perform because they’ll become more efficient and they’ll attract the most forward-thinking, young talent who want to work for companies of which they are unashamed.
In your experience, how open are organisations to new technology trends?
Not very! Organisations tend to be comfortable operating as they always have done.
Upton Sinclair put it well: ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’ Take Blockchain, it could take away the untrustworthy parts of banking: bankers, who will naturally resist this particular technology!
Another example is driverless tech- it doesn’t take an expert to predict that the 3.5 million US truck drivers would be wary of such an advancement – and rightly so. So we have to find a transition plan for them – which culture resists. But it’s a business responsibility to prepare for the changes and approaching transitions, you have a duty of care to your employees and not being future-literate is a dereliction of that duty. Remember, Blockbuster, the DVD rental company went bust the same week that Netflix released House of Cards.
If you had one key message for our delegates at Big Ideas, what would it be?
Wherever you work and wherever you end up in the next 15-20 years, remember that it’s going to be a very turbulent time. Massive disruption lies ahead and the bad news is that our current institutions and businesses are unfit for purpose. Ask yourself: what’s my best effort for myself, my family and for society (and remember they’re all related). If you don’t, you can prepare to be very irrelevant and very unhappy!
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