All posts by Procurious HQ

Best and Worst Sectors for Online Customer Service

Utility companies and local authority services are among some of the worst ranking sectors in the UK for online customer service, according to new research.

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The new report from social media experts, myclever™ Agency, found that consumers put utility companies (water, gas, electricity, phone and broadband) as the most frustrating sector for online customer service, with local authorities close behind. Retailers and professional services came out as the least frustrating sectors.

The report surveyed 1,000 UK consumers on whether current digital services are fully meeting consumer expectations, and their views on whether new technology, such as Chat Bots, could help improve customer service.

Biggest Frustrations

It found that the biggest online service frustrations across all sectors was a lack of basic information contained on everyday commercial websites such as retailers, utilities, banks and local government services (45 per cent).

Close behind was the inability to ask simple questions (40 per cent), while a third of the sample (33 per cent) said that, even when the option to ask questions existed, the tools they had used in the last month were of poor quality and didn’t provide a timely response.

The main frustrations lie in the inability companies have to answer simple questions quickly. However, when told about the benefits, consumers regarded Chat Bots as the key-holders to speed, unlocking immediacy and convenience in online services. They felt that these virtual assistants, designed to simulate conversation with human users, would significantly improve online services.

More than two thirds (68 per cent) liked that Chat Bots would be able to provide a 24-hour service, and 64 per cent felt it would resolve the problem of not getting quick answers to simple questions. More than half (51 per cent) felt happy they would get an instant response, mirroring the frustrations felt about current online customer service providers.

When compared to other forms of customer service channels such as apps – an area where businesses have invested heavily – chat bots scored more highly on all perceived benefits.

Demand for Online Customer Service

Rob McNair, managing director of myClever, commented on the findings: “Ever-evolving technology and an increasingly digitalised world has changed commerce forever. Online services that were once a luxury are now being demanded by consumers 24/7. In order to stay competitive, businesses are racing to keep up with consumer demands and technological innovations.

“The frustrations clearly indicate the need for online customer service to improve. And, although frustrations exist in all sectors, it’s interesting to see that the industries exhibiting the most frustrating customer experiences online are the least likely to improve them. Public sector bodies, for example, are notoriously slow to provide accessible online services – and when they do, they’re often inadequate, confusing and riddled with poor user experiences.

“It’s one thing if bots can make that a thing of the past, it’s another whether those ranking highest on this list will be prepared to adopt and invest early enough. However, while modest budgets can be a challenge for the demands of digital innovation, the investment in the long term will mean huge cost savings.

“Businesses offering the best customer experience will be at considerable advantage in converting browsers into buyers and earning repeat business. Chat Bots offer a solution to most major problems of each sector by promising a swifter, smarter online experience. New virtual assistants will be ever-ready, able to listen to our questions and respond intelligently. They will answer our queries, aid our searches and anticipate our needs, learning all the time to refine and improve the experience on offer.”

The full list of rankings and report can be found here. For more information on myclever™ Agency, visit their website.

Big Ideas Summit 2016: Big Idea #1 – Share, Share, Share

Tania Seary, founder of Procurious, believes that procurement needs to share – share learnings, stories, experiences, and questions – in order to change the face of the profession.

At the Big Ideas Summit 2016, we challenged our thought leaders to share their Big Ideas for the future of procurement.

From ideas that have the potential to change the very nature of the procurement profession, to ones that got the assembled minds thinking about the profession’s impact outside of the organisation, the response we received was amazing.

Tania believes that the power of positive words and imagery, such as Avenger, Superhero and Rockstar, combined with the business words like collaboration, can make a huge impact on the people who make decisions in business in how they see procurement.

Catch up with all the thought leadership and ours delegates’ Big Ideas from the 2016 Summit at the Procurious Learning Hub.

If you want to find out more about Big Ideas 2016, and what we have planned for 2017, you can visit our dedicated website!

If you like this (and you haven’t done so already) join Procurious for free today, and connect with over 15,000 like-minded procurement professionals from across the world.

Big Data Success Stories in Procurement?

At the end of our last Big Data article, we indicated that we were going to track down some Big Data success stories from the procurement function.

Big Data Success Stories

What we found, or rather what we didn’t find, was a cause for concern. A criticism of Big Data has always been that it is nothing more than the latest marketing buzzword, and that Big Data is something that everyone talks about, but very few people or organisations actually do.

We remain unconvinced by this, but based on some fairly high level research and trying to find some real world examples, it would appear that procurement either isn’t properly utilising Big data, or it isn’t actively promoting its use, and celebrating successes, externally. The latter is bad enough, but the former is worse.

A search for how Big Data is being utilised in procurement around the world returned very few real-life examples. There were a number of great case studies around how other business functions have used big data to solve business problems, but procurement solutions appeared to be fairly thin on the ground.

Rio Tinto Trucks

One of these Big Data success stories, leading towards cost savings and procurement-led wins, that appeared as a result of our search was from the Australian mining giant, Rio Tinto. The company is using Big Data to monitor the state of the roads at their mine sites.

Site roadways are a critical asset for mining organisations and, in the past, their maintenance checks have been carried out by members of the workforce. This makes for a very time consuming and costly manual process, which ultimately is still vulnerable to human error.

Rio Tinto has recently improved this process dramatically by using a data driven approach. The company’s mining trucks now carry 300-400 sensors that constantly send data back to an operations centre.

A team in this centre processes the information received to provide the business an understanding of the condition of site’s roads, feeding back on the state of degradation and any maintenance work that might be required.

This analysis is carried out at a remote location, where staff are provided notifications on when an issue is likely to occur, rather than once it already has. This saves precious time and money that would be spent on manually reviewing the road condition, while also enabling preventative maintenance to be carried out, rather than disrupting operations when a larger issue is reported.

Challenges for You

Maybe we have missed something, or our search hasn’t been focused enough to uncover more Big Data success stories in the procurement space.

There are are guaranteed to be more examples in the business world of how procurement teams have used data analytics to improve the processes and performance of their business. In light of this, Procurious lays down the gauntlet with a couple of challenges for you:

  1. If you know of a great example of a successful application of Big Data in procurement, let us know! We would love to tell your story and share your experiences, thoughts and plans with the rest of the procurement community.
  2. If you think your organisation has a great example, find out who you have to speak to and get it publicised. Making more people aware of this can position your organisation as a leader in this area, and get people talking about it too.

Comment on this article, or send us an e-mail at [email protected] and we’ll profile it in an upcoming article!

Mastering the True Art of Saving

Why addressing demand management, and bringing down your demand can realise more of a procurement saving than simply cutting costs.

This article was written by Jon Milton, Director at Comensura.

Most of us know too well the need to tighten the purse strings occasionally in our daily lives. When doing so it’s a natural response to search for cheaper alternatives to the services and products that you’re already buying.

Think about your home energy expenditure for example. Let’s say that you shop around and find a supplier that charges 5 per cent less than you already pay. That’s a good reduction, but it’s a saving within the scale of pricing which, aside from some major shift in energy production trends, is only going to vary to a certain degree. This kind of cost-saving approach will typically only be incremental and rarely save you a dramatic amount.

However, there is an alternative way to save – by managing down your demand. Rather than the pain of switching provider, you could install a smart energy meter and manage down the demand for energy throughout your home, eliminating excessive energy used, and pinpointing when and where you need the heating on. A smarter approach like this could save you much more than 5 per cent.

Smart Saving

It’s for that reason that a cost cutting approach that goes beyond incremental savings should be applied to the corporate world too – especially in complex spend categories such as temporary labour. It’s difficult to know for sure how many workers you need, as it requires you to have an overall view of your organisation’s demand.

And once you establish a number, the sample of workers that are on offer to you vary by qualifications, experience, skills, availability, geography and more – all of which affect how much the candidate costs – making temporary recruitment a complex service category.

Think about how much money organisations could be wasting by hiring the wrong number of temporary workers, the wrong kind, or by not utilising their skills properly. Our evidence as a labour supply management specialist shows that by accurately sourcing the right skills against the organisation’s demand, you can take your cost saving on temporary staff from less than 20 per cent, to over 50 per cent.

Addressing Demand Management

Here are some steps you can take to address temporary labour demand management issues:-

1. Understand your expenditure

Temporary labour is typically ordered directly by line managers as it is under their supervision and control that workers are engaged. There’s usually a business rationale, but is it justifiable?

Additionally, the original rationale for engaging temporary labour will normally be linked to a set time period, such as three months. Any expenditure beyond this initial period should therefore be questioned as to why it is required. 

2. Challenge usage

Once you’ve established an understanding of what’s being spent on temporary labour, ask your managers to justify any anomalies. If they cannot provide sound business rationale, ask them to create an exit plan for the worker and an agreed date. When you review usage the following month, make sure that the worker has been exited.

3. Start planning your workforce

If your use of contingent labour is reactive, ‘fire fighting’ to meet business demand, it is unlikely that you will be in control of your expenditure. Try and review your ordering patterns to identify trends, as this will enable you to plan the workers’ tasks and/or help you to plan your permanent headcount’s activities better.

For example, if historically your usage of contingent workers has a spike in August when staff go on holiday, you may want to review the way that you co-ordinate leave requests, and then plan ahead where cover is required.

4. Properly evaluate needs

Feeling the pressure to hire contingent staff and then recruiting staff that are over qualified (and paid more than the work requires) is one way to rack up an unnecessarily hefty bill. By understanding your requirements fully, you can better establish the experience and type of individual required.

5. Provide a detailed specification

Once you’ve established and understood your requirements, make sure that you, or managers across your organisation communicate these requirements properly. If you want someone with certain skills and experience, be specific about what you need. It sounds simple but it is one of the most common pitfalls that we come across and can cause significant issues.

Often the role is specified (which in an applicant’s mind they could do), but the experience, demonstrable evidence of skills and attributes are not. The more detailed you are, the closer your applicants should be to the requirement. You may get fewer applications, but the quality of hire should be much better.

Saving on Category Procurement

Many organisations are already taking a sound approach to complex category procurement, and with the financial benefits they’ve seen, it’s safe to say that they don’t regret the decision. One of our customers regularly uses temporary staff, and chose us as a single platform to place orders, assign candidates, and manage its temporary staff time sheets.

Having saved £900,000 on temporary staff in 17 months, and delivered a 10 per cent cost saving overall, the customers’ smarter approach to managing temporary staff means that it can invest more funds into vital areas of the organisation.

Just as its name suggests, complex category procurement is a tricky process, particularly when looking for ways to make procurement cost-effective. But provided you look at the wider picture of your organisation, you can restructure processes and gain the benefits.

It starts with making a distinction between your complex and simple procurement, and approaching processes like temporary recruitment in a smarter way that means not just finding cheaper providers.

Businesses Alarmed by Digital Skills Shortage

A major training effort is needed to improve digital skills, and make sure people are not left behind in the digital age, say the Institute of Directors.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) have stated that a major effort is required in the UK in order to ensure that workers have the digital skills required to keep up with technological advances.

The IoD was responding to a report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which suggested that, while 90 per cent of current UK jobs required digital skills, over 12.6 million UK adults did not have the skills to allow them to perform these roles.

The report also stated that two-thirds of digital-based organisations have struggled to fill a vacancy in the past 12 months, and that 93 per cent of technology companies have seen a direct impact on commercial operations from a digital skills gap.

This is despite over 12 per cent of Computer Science graduates still being unemployed six months following graduation.

Digital Exclusion

The House of Commons report also highlighted a worrying trend in digital exclusion, with 23 per cent of the UK population lacking even basic digital skills. These include a high percentage of disabled and elderly people, as well as those without a formal education.

However, the good news on this front, is that around 4.5 million of the 12.6 million are currently in full time employment, with employers being asked to assess how to aid with digital skills education and training.

While the impact on the economy of these statistics is estimated to be in the region of £63 billion per year, in lost potential GDP, individuals also miss out on savings of £560 per year on average by not being online.

The report concludes that there is more to be done by the UK Government, both in terms of facilitating the training of digital skills, but also putting the infrastructure in place to enable the entire population to have access to the Internet.

Digital Skills Education

In April, the IoD released a major report arguing significant changes to education and life-long learning were needed to enable the UK to adapt to rapid advances in technology and automation.

The IoD’s Chairman, Lady Barbara Judge, in a piece for the Sunday Telegraph yesterday said that society needs to make “a concerted effort to upskill and reskill its population, and not leave a whole generation ill-equipped to meet the new reality”.

Seamus Nevin, Head of Employment and Skills Policy at the Institute of Directors, said of the House of Commons report: “This report shows the need for businesses to invest more in training British workers. We also must make sure tomorrow’s workforce is leaving school or university with the digital skills that employers require. Just as importantly, we must enable people already in employment to retrain or up-skill in order to meet the demands of the changing workplace.

“The IoD has called for the government to increase the use of technology in education — such as use of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) — to provide training at much lower costs and improve access to learning for all. We have also suggested the creation of tax incentives to encourage and enable people at all stages of their career to return to education and learn new skills”.

“The Committee says the UK needs another three quarters of a million workers with digital skills by next year. In order to meet the immediate shortfall, businesses must be able to access workers with the right skills from abroad.”

Working from Home: Heaven or Hell?

Working from home has become the latest trend and we are talking globally here. Every day, more and more companies are allowing their employees to work from home at least once or twice a week.

And even more companies are looking to outsource, looking for employees who can work from home and, sometimes, from a different country. We can see these “work from home” job offers increasing every single day on the different job boards and people are really starting to get into this new groove because, let’s face it, staying at home has to be better than going to the office every day.

However, this is not true for everyone. Working from home has its pros and cons, but, in the end, it depends on each person.

Benefits and Balance

Let’s begin listing some of the pros:

  • No commuting – That alone should convince you to stay home. No traffic, no public transportation, no people on top of you during rush hour, just bliss while you walk from your room, to the office space.
  • Flexibility – of both hours and in managing that time. Most of these jobs do not necessarily have a rigid schedule you need to follow, so you are able to manage your own time, especially if you are a freelancer.
  • Less stress – Since most people working from home are their own bosses, or their bosses are nowhere near them, stress can be reduced to a minimum.
  • Fewer distractions – hence more productivity. No useless meetings, no coworkers telling you about their 13 cats or children, no running around the whole office looking for a photocopier that actually works, no wasting time with small talk, just you and your family.
  • More family time – Since you are already at home, there is a really good chance you can spend more time with your family, or your dogs, while working from home. You just need to be organised, and know how to manage your time in a productive way.

Not All Good

Even though you are now probably ready to pack up your desk and go home, you need to know that working from home also has its disadvantages:

  • Isolation – Even though some people prefer being alone, others would rather have some company during the day, but if you have a family, this is not really a problem.
  • Distractions – we might have more distractions in an office, but that does not mean there are not any at home, browsing social media becomes your biggest enemy while working from home.
  • Separating work from home – this is probably one of the worst disadvantages of working from home. You need to be able to organise your day in a way you get to spend enough time working, and enough time with your family or friends. Try to have a separate space for working – do not stay in your bedroom, find a good nook in the house to do so.
  • Working endlessly – Since you have no one controlling your hours but yourself, you might feel the need to work at all times. That is why you need to be very organised with your time and prioritising your responsibilities.

Now you are ready to consider your options and decide whether you are a good candidate to work from home or not. Welcome to the future!

Vanessa Fardi is the Leader of US, Central America, and Latin America Team for Canadian startup neuvoo. Neuvoo is a job search engine that indexes jobs available online in one unique platform, without any charge for the source of the job. It was created in 2011 and is currently available in more than 60 countries.

Don’t Risk It – Why Your Organisation Needs Supplier Pre-Qualification

Workplace accidents have other costs apart from the tragic loss of human life. They can damage your brand, cost your company millions and, if you’ve failed to mitigate a known risk, could put you behind bars.

It’s difficult to write about the business consequences of a workplace fatality. It can be hard to see beyond the immediate human tragedy – from shattered families to a saddening waste of life when someone is killed on the job.

But the business consequences do need to be talked about, not only due to the financial impacts, but also because it’s up to big businesses to drive the safety improvements that could one day make workplace fatalities a thing of the past.

Risk Management Expertise

Insurance companies understand this, as do the risk management experts who take a holistic view of the impacts of accidents and fatalities. Angelique Navarro, of supply chain risk management firm Avetta, gives the example of a major telecommunications organisation that suffered eleven fatalities amongst its cell tower climber contractors before it acted to pre-qualify suppliers.

“The human cost was horrific, but the business costs were high as well. There is always significant public anger when preventable deaths occur, and people generally vent their frustration at the provider at the top of the chain – even though the safety lapse may have occurred two or three tiers down the supply chain.

“Cell tower climbers potentially have the deadliest job in the United States, so it’s a prime example of an area where you need to be 100 per cent confident that your suppliers, and their suppliers, are doing the right thing. Since the telecommunications organisation has partnered with us to bring in rigorous pre-qualification, there have been zero fatalities to date.”

Highly Visible Organisations

Navarro’s point about the most visible corporation taking the blame for its suppliers’ errors is borne out by the example of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Public anger – from placard-waving protesters to President Obama himself – was directed almost entirely at the highly-visible oil giant, BP.

We didn’t hear anywhere near as much about the operators actually responsible for the spill, namely oil-field service company Halliburton and offshore drilling contractor Transocean. Almost seven years on, BP is still suffering from the enormous brand damage that this environmental disaster incurred.

“Consumers lose trust and confidence in what your organisation can do for them”, says Navarro. “But brand and reputation damage aren’t the only negative effects. There are huge insurance payouts involved, and of course lost production time and revenue. Knowing that you work with suppliers who are completely qualified mitigates that risk.”

Avetta’s 300+ major clients, such as Coca-Cola, Shell, Verizon and John Deere, tend to come from some of the riskiest industries – oil and gas, chemicals, construction, utilities and energy, telecommunications, transport and manufacturing. This core group of more than 300 clients has approximately 50,000 suppliers over 100 countries – every one of which carriers a degree of risk.

“We vet suppliers and partner them with clients and industries across the globe”, says Navarro. “And the results speak for themselves. We’ve saved a global leader in oil and gas $6 million in one year by managing its health and safety program.

“We’ve reduced the incident rate at a chemical company by 74 per cent, saved lives at a major telecommunications company, conducted 14,000 performance reviews for a well-known construction company, and Avetta is an integral part of a major airline’s recognition as the safest airline in the world.”

Six Steps to Pre-Qualification

While every industry and business model is different, there are six key steps that can be taken to pre-qualify suppliers and reduce your risk profile. Ensure your suppliers have:

  • risk as a top agenda item for their board or senior team
  • the right employees: conduct background checks, ensure rules and regulations are being followed
  • the correct level of insurance protection with up-to-date insurance certificates
  • safety manuals in-hand and accredited training programs in place
  • prequalification for anyone coming on site
  • a consistent level of auditing multiple levels down the supply chain
  • rigorous tracking and data collection.

Navarro comments that risk-savvy procurement professionals work very closely with their organisation’s environmental health and safety teams, who have been in the risk-management space for a long time and can give some valuable advice. It’s important that we share safety learnings across industries as well. “You need to ensure your organisation is competitive”, she says, “but when it comes to safety we’re seeing major organisations come together to share best practice”.

Personal responsibility

There are executives behind bars for not acting to mitigate risks, with members of the C-level now being held personally responsible for fatalities and other accidents. “There’s little defence if you knew about a risk and didn’t act on it, or if you’ve been warned before yet let it happen again”, says Navarro. “When someone goes to work for a company, they have a reasonable expectation that they will come home safely to their family at the end of the day.”

To learn more about Avetta, visit their website. Avetta Founder John Moreland is President of Operation Underground Railroad, a non-profit organisation dedicated to rescuing children around the world who are victims of sex slavery. Click here to learn more.

How one tweet from Elon Musk wiped $580 million from Samsung SDI

More than half a billion dollars was wiped from Samsung SDI’s market capitalisation this week in response to a single tweet from Elon Musk about Tesla’s supply chain. 

Rumours were swirling earlier this week about Tesla’s supply chain for its lithium-ion battery packs. Investors believed that the official supplier, Panasonic, may not be able to produce enough batteries for the much-anticipated Model 3, and that Samsung SDI (Samsung’s battery and display division) would be brought in to meet production targets.

Elon Musk set the record straight on Tuesday with the following tweet, clarifying that the arrangement with Panasonic is exclusive.

Musk

The effect of Musk’s tweet was immense – Samsung SDI’s shares plummeted by US$580 million (or 8%) on Wednesday, while Panasonic added $800 million to its market value on the same day.

Tesla’s Model 3 is slated to be a comparably affordable electric car with a range of at least 215 miles (346 km) per charge. At $35,000, it’s Tesla’s first step away from the luxury space into a price range affordable by mid-level buyers. It’s expected to be an enormous success, leading to significant interest from investors who follow Tesla news very closely indeed. This has led to a situation where a single tweet from Musk can cause huge disruptions in the share market, comparable to the shockwaves caused when Apple makes announcements about its supply chain.

A similar situation occurred in April when shares for Taiwan’s Hota Industrial Manufacturing, Tesla’s sole supplier of gearboxes, plunged rapidly as news broke that Tesla may be looking for a second supply source.

Stock market shocks are compounded by Wall Street firms’ usage of high-frequency trading, where computers use algorithms to comb through the internet to read news items (including tweets), executing thousands or millions of small trades per second based on that information.

Gizmodo’s Matt Novak has observed that if Musk’s Twitter account has so much power, the consequences of a hacking could be disastrous. “We hope he has a strong password and two-factor authentication turned on … If Musk ever got hacked, it could send markets into a minor tailspin.” Novak gave the example of a fake tweet that caused a $130 billion stock market crash in 2013, when hackers used the Associated Press Twitter account to announce that Barack Obama had been injured in an explosion at the White House.

Musk has a longstanding partnership with Panasonic, which invested $30 million in Tesla in 2010. This investment is now estimated to be worth more than $300 million, and Panasonic holds a supply agreement for 1.8 billion cells through to 2017 for Tesla’s luxury Models S and X. Panasonic is also playing a significant role in Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada, which will supply 500,000 Tesla cars per year with lithium-ion battery packs by 2020.

Tesla has since tweeted that Samsung may still be involved in making Tesla Energy products, namely its Powerwall and Powerpacks (stationary batteries used in homes). 

We’ve been keeping track of the major stories making the procurement and supply chain news this week…

Amazon’s massive investment in logistics

  • Amazon continues to make aggressive capital investments, with some observers claiming the company is positioning itself to take over the last mile of delivery from UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Recently, Amazon purchased an air cargo network previously owned by DHL, purchased thousands of 53-foot trailers, and is leasing 20 Boeing 767s at a cost of $300,000 per month.
  • The organisation has built over 100 global fulfilment centres between 2009 and 2016, with 125 million square feet of global warehousing. The warehouses themselves contain 30,000 Kiva Robots (acquired by Amazon for $775 million).
  • Amazon’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said his company’s goal is to “heavily supplement and support”, rather than take over, peak season fulfilment.

Read more: https://logisticsviewpoints.com/2016/06/06/does-amazon-have-a-first-mover-advantage-in-logistics/

 World Bank to launch modernised procurement framework

  • The World Bank will launch a new procurement policy on July 1, 2016, modernising an outdated framework that has remained unchanged for decades.
  • Moving away from a rules-based procurement system to one that focuses on performance and achieving development goals, the new framework allows for much greater flexibility.
  • Changes in the new framework include a sharper focus on achieving value-for-money, an increased number of procurement methods and approaches, greater streamlining, more attention to contract management, and enhanced support for borrowers in low-capacity environments.

Read more: http://blogs.worldbank.org/governance/imminent-transformation-world-bank-s-procurement-framework

 Johnson & Johnson: Controls need to be in place when buying digital ad placements

  • Johnson & Johnson was recently alerted by shocked customers that one of their baby product ads was played before a video about paedophilia, leading senior digital marketing strategic Louisa Thraves to comment that more responsibility needs to be taken. The issue is caused by automated keyword matching, such as “baby” or “children”, and can be remedied by creating a watch-list of topics to avoid being paired with.
  • Thraves used cold and flu remedy Codrol as an example of a brand that could be damaged by erroneous media placements, which she said could never be associated with alcohol in an advertising environment.
  • Marketing procurement professionals must ensure they know where and when digital ads will be played, and what other content they will be associated with.

Read more: https://mumbrella.com.au/jj-marketer-says-clients-need-take-responsibility-brand-safety-series-shocking-ad-placements-372929

How Blockchain Technology Can Revolutionise Procurement & Supply Chain

Blockchain technology could prove to be a valuable tool for procurement and supply chains in their quest for transparency.

Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock.com

In today’s world, the process of procurement, and even supply chain management, is facing more scrutiny than ever before.

Due to several different advances in technology (many of which relate more to our personal lives than business management), people are more sensitive than ever to issues of accuracy and matters of record. We want transactions verified, sources authenticated, and, generally, transparency in all things.

Where procurement and supply chain management are concerned, that level of transparency has been pretty much impossible in years past. However, there are some that believe that Bitcoin’s blockchain technology, of all things, has vast potential to alter how procurement is monitored and could improve accountability on all sides.

Blockchain Explained

For those who may be unfamiliar with how blockchain technology works, this overview of Bitcoin explains that it’s essentially a public ledger on which all Bitcoin transactions are recorded.

Every transaction generates a series of letters and numbers indicating the two parties involved and the amount of Bitcoin exchanged. While specific identities are protected, it makes it absolutely, automatically clear where your Bitcoin came from, such that amounts of Bitcoin can be traced back through various transactions.

It’s basically a fool-proof system of transparency meant to guarantee the authenticity of these transactions.

Supply Chain Transparency

But how exactly would such a system help companies dealing with procurement and supply chain concerns?

This explanation clarifies the idea in a very effective manner, stating that a blockchain can track what went into a product, and who handled it along the way, revealing the provenance of a product to everyone involved, from origin to end user.

The article uses the example of a taco supply chain. When you buy a taco from a food truck you’re making a lot of trusting assumptions: that the truck is sanitary, that the taco’s ingredients are fresh, etc. But with a system of transparency in place you can personally check that those assumptions are indeed based in reality.

Considering that example with a product in the process of procurement, you begin to see the immense potential value of a blockchain.

Authenticity Checks

Indeed, the same article discusses a range of examples covering different industries and points of interest along the supply chain. For instance, you might be able to look at a blockchain-style log and determine if a shirt you might buy was made with child labor, or you might see if a bottle of olive oil is just olive oil, and if so where else in the world it might be procured. You might even be able to confirm the authenticity of an antique or special product before purchasing.

Perhaps the most interesting example, however, comes in the form of a new company that’s arisen as a result of the blockchain to combat fraud and crime in the diamond trade.

Everledger is essentially building a vast data network, tracking diamonds in circulation by their identifying features and serial codes, and thus legitimising an industry that’s frequently been overrun by criminals and fraudulent transactions.

With a public ledger, diamonds could be traced back to their origins, appropriate values could be maintained, and selling a stolen diamond without being on record as doing so, would be all but impossible.

At this stage most of these examples concern consumer issues and supply chain transparency. However, as blockchain technology becomes more common, it’s easy to see its potential aspects in procurement as well.

For a technology that’s fundamentally simple, it’s somewhat amazing that it might solve transparency issues that have persisted in business transactions for most of human history.

ISM’s Jim Barnes: three major L&D challenges for procurement

Are you clear about the capabilities your role requires? Do you regard yourself as financially acute? Does your organisation have processes in place to capture vital knowledge from departing professionals as they retire?

Jim Barnes

Jim Barnes is a busy man. He’s the managing director for ISM Services, the Institute for Supply Management’s team learning and development arm, and the nature of his role means he’s on the road, or in the air, for much of his working week. His team and its affiliates are truly global, working around the clock with top corporations across the US, Latin America, Europe and Asia – in Barnes’ words, “the sun never sets on ISM Services”.

Procurious was lucky enough to get some time with Barnes at ISM2016 in Indianapolis. We asked him for his top three concerns for the future of learning and development in procurement. From his unique viewpoint near the pinnacle of one of the biggest supply management associations in the world, Barnes sees the following three shared challenges:

1. Lack of clarity around procurement roles and competencies

With procurement role definitions and responsibilities becoming increasingly fluid in modern businesses, Barnes has become aware of confusion around what many roles actually entail. “We’re seeing a lack of alignment between job roles and organisational needs. There’s also a lack of clarity in what it takes to get to the next level in your procurement career”.

ISM’s solution was to launch the Mastery Model, which CEO Tom Derry has referred to in the past as “the world’s greatest collection of job descriptions”. All of ISM Services’ content and training now maps to this model, and it’s part of Barnes’ role to ensure the model itself stays relevant in a fast-changing profession. “We’re constantly updating the Mastery Model”, he says. “That’s the whole point – procurement has moved so fast that we’ve almost outstripped the ability to have formalised career structures, but the model is designed to stay ahead of the latest trends.”

ISM Services surveys individuals to determine their competency levels across no fewer than 73 sub-competencies in the Mastery Model, identifying individual or group-wide gaps and devising a targeted investment plan for training and career feedback.

“There are so many ways people can be up-skilled”, says Barnes. “It could be formal training towards ISM’s CPSM or CPSD, or eLearning, or on-the-job mentoring and coaching. It’s all about targeted investment to address identified gaps. Most importantly, the Mastery Model helps procurement professionals understand what competencies they need to excel in their current roles, and what skills they’ll have to master to move to the next step in their careers.”

2. Procurement professionals need greater financial acumen

“If you’re in procurement, you need to ensure you have a basic understanding of business finance and accounting. For example, when selecting suppliers, you should be able to look at the financial data around their business to understand their dynamics”, Barnes says.

Being able to speak intelligently about finance will greatly benefit your ability to engage internal stakeholders and talk their language. “This is especially important when engaging with Finance, of course, and the C-level will expect you to have a good grip on business finance.”

Barnes says that more and more universities are offering quality courses in procurement and supply chain that address the gap in financial knowledge. “We’re seeing some terrific graduates coming out of these courses, including this year’s impressive group of Richter Scholarship recipients”.

Barnes’ advice to newly-minted graduates looking for a great role in procurement? “You’ve got to be willing to travel’, he says. “Lots of manufactures have plants in regional areas, often in the middle of nowhere – we can’t all land jobs in San Francisco”.

3. An ageing workforce

US electricity and gas company Duke Energy, says Barnes, is a prime example of the ageing demographic in procurement. “Over the next five years they’ll lose two-thirds of their supply chain staff. They’re replacing 200 people a year”. Barnes’ main concern with the demographic shift is capturing lost knowledge. “Of course there’s going to be a ‘brain drain’ – companies need to be very proactive about capturing as much knowledge from outgoing professionals as possible. But it’s also an opportunity to shift the skill set in procurement from old-school tactical to cutting-edge strategic.”

Barnes notes that ISM is on the front foot when it comes to developing millennial talent, most noticeably in its 30 Under 30 Supply Chain Stars program (in partnership with THOMASNET.com) and through its innovative eLearning initiative.

“The eISM online learning options make skills acquisition so much more accessible. We’ve now got people in remote places accessing our guided learning by webcam – they may not have been able to attend a workshop in person due to time constraints and travel expense. Trainers have to be able to accommodate people’s needs – and some procurement and supply chain professionals simply can’t find the time to leave their jobs”.

Virtual learning benefits trainers, too

On a personal level, Barnes is very pleased about the increasing popularity of virtual learning. “There’ll always be a need for face-to-face learning, networking and workshops, but one of the great benefits for me is that hopefully I won’t need to be on the road quite so much in the future!”