All posts by Procurious HQ

Using Community Collaboration to Create a Change Narrative

Finding a way to create a narrative for change can be the difference between an organisation being able to successfully adapt, or not.

Lightspring/Shutterstock.com

One speaker at the 9th Asia-Pacific CPO Forum opened the collective eyes of the audience to the possibility of change, and what that might look like.

Michael Williams, CEO of The Wheeler Centre, a public institution devoted to engaging conversation and Melbourne’s literary advocates, supporting the nation’s literacy activity.

Sharing Ideas and Conversations

Founded, and funded by a State Government injection, in 2009, it supports the health and vitality of the writing and ideas ecosystem. The centre also contributes to a deeper thinking society, and enables the storytelling and story-making that builds communities around the sharing of ideas and conversations.

“I’m very concerned that words used by companies in Australia today are losing their meaning. We seem to be forgetting how we use them, and how they can help customers and run businesses,” the head of the new cultural institution says.

Words such as agility, innovation and disruption, for example, he told the audience.

“We say these words as a sort of shorthand. I’d suggest that we need to stop and think about the words we say, and how we refer to them to do business. We say these words and repeat them to each other, and they’ve ended up being very much like those messages they play about piracy at the start of a DVD. They just almost cease to exist.”

Williams says he hopes that the Wheeler Centre gets to the bottom of some of these words, unravel what they actually mean, and change the conversations and business practices.

Challenging Perceptions

More than 200 events held across Melbourne each year challenge these perceptions, and work to extend the literary culture in the southern city. Speakers discuss everything and anything including pop culture, politics, history, literature, art and ethics. These discussions happen in Melbourne three times per week, and an average of 180 attend to the three weekly events.

Business custodians need to understand that people used to identify themselves as being readers of one of the local newspapers, but as the media landscape shifts, that’s no longer the case.

“We don’t identify ourselves as being a reader of The Age, or Herald Sun anymore. The internet is the biggest disrupter we’ve ever seen. It’s a challenge that we all need to get our heads around.”

Businesses need to understand that instead, consumers are looking to identify with authentic stories from brands.

Williams finished by pressing on the audience of procurement professionals in the room to consider that inviting people to be part of your own conversations, can be a hugely powerful way to engender broader engagement.

“True conversation starts with a question, so you need to consider how that might play out in your organisation, and find a way to make it authentic, rather than just hollow words.”

Dynamic Discounting to Ease Payment Woes

A new report has highlighted that three quarters of UK businesses plan to use Dynamic Discounting to reduce supplier late payment woes.

Changing legislation, public and governmental pressure, and the threat of financial and reputational penalties are leading many businesses to use innovative new methods to ensure suppliers get paid more quickly/on time.

As many as three quarters of UK businesses plan to use the practice of Dynamic Discounting – offering suppliers the chance to accept a lower than invoiced price in return for speedier payment – potentially helping to overcome the endemic problem of unfavourable customer terms or late payments.

Cash Flow Issues

In research conducted among 100 UK procurement professionals, on behalf of procurement software provider Wax Digital, 27 per cent said that their business already used Dynamic Discounting with suppliers. Another 30 per cent said they plan to start doing so in the next 12 months and a further 20 per cent said they had it as a longer term objective.

It was also recently estimated that UK small and medium sized businesses are owed an average of £12,000 each in late payments, equating to £55 billion countrywide. 23 per cent have also considered insolvency as a result of late payment related cash flow issues, while 68 per cent wait for 60 days or more for payment.

The government’s recent enterprise bill is also designed to tackle the imbalance of bargaining power between suppliers and their customers.

But the trend of businesses taking up Dynamic Discounting suggests that suppliers and their customers are taking matters into their own hands. Dynamic Discounting systems work by offering a scaled discount for early payment at the point when invoices are issued to customers.

This has also become possible through the increased use of e-procurement software that automates and massively speeds up the matching and reconciling of supplier invoices on the customer side. Because many businesses can now process invoices in a matter of hours they are in a better position to pay the supplier early, should they choose to do so.

Cash in the Bank

Daniel Ball, business development director, Wax Digital, comments: “Serious late payment and cash flow issues are more likely to destroy a business of any size over and above anything else. It appears that the business community is now taking the bull by the horns to solve this growing problem while suppliers can use a different type of bargaining power.

“Although businesses may get paid slightly less for their products and services they gain the benefit of having the cash in the bank much more quickly.”

The research was commissioned by Wax Digital and conducted by Morar Consulting in early 2016.

Should We Stop Using the Term ‘Strategic’ in Procurement?

No other profession puts the word ‘strategic’ on their business cards. Why do we do so in procurement?

A high-powered panel at ISM2016 drove a spirited debate about the use of the term ‘strategic’ in the profession. Chaired by Joe Sandor (Professor of Purchasing and Supply Management, Michigan State University), the panel included:

  • Hans Melotte (ISM Board Chairman, Senior Vice-President and CPO, Johnson & Johnson);
  • R. David Nelson (procurement veteran and Chairman, Dave Nelson Group);
  • Jeff Smith (Global Sourcing Director – Indirect at DuPont); and
  • Beverly Gaskin (Executive Director Global Purchasing, General Motors).

Actions Not Words

Actions speak louder than words. That’s the message from Hans Melotte, who argued that it’s unhelpful for the profession to continually emphasise how ‘strategic’ we want to be.

Overuse of the term dilutes the concept, especially when having a conversation with sceptical stakeholders. “Procurement needs to be strategic”, says Melotte, “rather than just talk strategic.”

Being strategic comes down to having the right people in procurement, who can talk the language of the business, define their value contributions in a way that resonates with stakeholders, are forward thinking, proactive, and focused on the future.

Historical Overuse

When did procurement start to use (and overuse) this term?

R. David Nelson, who started out in an enormously different procurement landscape in 1957, has watched the profession grow from a back-office function to a highly-influential business partner.

As any modern professional knows, there are plenty of stakeholders who still remain unconvinced, and it’s very possible that our constant repetition of the term ‘strategic’ was a somewhat ham-fisted attempt to convince these sceptics that we do indeed deserve a seat at the table.

Interestingly, none of the major organisations represented on the panel use the term any more. Hans Melotte explains: “At Johnson and Johnson we abandoned the use of the word strategic, because you shouldn’t label yourself who you want to be – you should be who you are. The whole notion has passed its expiry date”.

Divisive Term

The other problem with the term is that it’s divisive. By calling half the population “strategic”, you’re implying the other half of the function is non-strategic. This sends a negative signal throughout the organisation, and breeds resentment around job titles.

Beverley Gaskin agreed: “Strategic buying is like an oxymoron. If you’re doing anything in the buying field that isn’t strategic, you shouldn’t be doing it.”

Even the term “purchasing strategy”, says Gaskin, is misleading. “There’s no such thing as a purchasing strategy. There’s a company strategy and you have to understand your role in getting that done.”

The same concept appliers to how we talk about strategic and non-strategic suppliers. Again, it’s our responsibility to move away from divisive language. After all, you’re never going to tell a supplier that they’re ‘non-strategic’.

Definitions are important. Melotte reasons that if you define ‘strategic’ as something that serves the strategy – a choice wisely made, based on facts and intelligence – does that mean ‘non-strategic’ is defined as the opposite of this? No CPO would want any resources who are not aligned with the company strategy or value mission.

This isn’t to say that the term ‘tactical’ is the opposite of strategic. Professor Joe Sandor provided a valuable reminder that the word ‘strategy’ comes from the military, and simply means planning. ‘Tactic’ means execution, and a plan must be executed. Tactics, therefore, are strategy in action.

Jeff Smith of DuPont summed up the sentiment of the panel: “It’s time the profession moved away from the term”, he said. “If you behave strategically, you’ll always be invited back”.

Digital Economy, Disruption and the Future of the Payments Industry

Faster payments and customer demand is disrupting the payments industry, but PayPal say that the future is bright.

It may have been a boring space 20 years ago, but now the payments industry is undergoing major disruption and innovation, Libby Roy, Managing Director of PayPal, told the 9th Asia-Pacific CPO Forum in Melbourne.

The payments industry covers everything in to the end-to-end process that powers commerce, and is involved in all aspects of our lives. PayPay is involved primarily in the B2C space, which moves incredibly fast due to the proliferation of new players, and the integration of new technology powering our payments.

The innovations unfolding in the payments space is being driven by increasingly demanding consumers wanting the ability to make quicker payments.

Please the Consumer

Roy used an analogy to explain that everyone in the room was the consumer that PayPal was working to please.

“Think about it. Do you wait for your favourite television show to be scheduled and aired on television, or do you download the entire series, or live stream, because you can’t bear to wait? That desire to have access to thing immediately is higher than ever before, and we are leading the way in beautiful, frictionless payments,” Roy says.

Australia is fast becoming a cashless society in the consumer space, with the vast majority of payments using cards or contactless technology.

PayPal is continuously working toward new innovations to solve the pain points of consumers in a more seamless way, with new payment gateways and partnerships being constantly explored. This will result in a number of flow-on effects that will impact upon various industries, including procurement.

Social Payments

“Payments in the near future will become social, which lets you buy something at the moment of discovery. Consumers will be able to decide whether the good or service will work for them, and then be able to transact that very moment. Payments will be attached to any device, which will add billions if not trillions into the economy.”

For example, payment options will be attached to the household fridge, and connected to the local supermarket for re-orders.

“These innovations are being driven by the tremendous amount of investment occurring in the fintech space, though not all of the startups in this space are successful. It’s not surprising, it’s a complex space.

“Meanwhile, we’re seeing a number of new payment players aside from the banks and financial services companies entering the payments space, including Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google and Microsoft,” Roy says.

Roy also told the audience that PayPal has started lending limited funds to small businesses to help them grow.

Why the Entire Procurement Profession Needs to Get Social

Tania Seary tells delegates at the Asia-Pacific CPO Forum that procurement needs to get social to drive the profession forward. 

Tania Seary - Get Social

Procurement professionals need to claim their rightful place on the Internet, and get social, by actively participating in social media and blogs for the benefit of the broader industry, the founder of Procurious told a conference in Melbourne yesterday.

Tania Seary, who founded Procurious to connect, promote and support procurement professionals across the globe, told the 9th Asia-Pacific CPO Forum that online visibility has several benefits, but that it’s everyone’s responsibility.

Large portions of the procurement profession are working in isolation, unaware that there is a whole universe of knowledge available to help them do their jobs better and learn, Seary told the audience.

In fact, there are more than 2.5 million procurement professionals in the world, but probably less than 500,000 that the industry can readily connect with, she says.

Share, Share, Share

Procurious was launched two years ago as the world’s first online business community dedicated to procurement and supply chain professionals.

“The procurement profession must share, share and share online to build our collective muscle, amplify attention to our impact, and tackle our thorniest issues together,” Seary says.

This can start by simply sharing your social media profile, your business photo, and by broadcasting your everyday successes.

“Think about what it would mean if a newly-minted company CEO who wants to understand what we do, takes the time to Google ‘procurement’ and sees overwhelmingly positive language in their search results. That CEO can’t help but be inspired and energised by the hype and positivity around procurement,” Seary says.

She also urged all procurement professionals to ask questions and share what they don’t know, saying that without sharing the things you’re concerned about, no action can be built, and there can be no moving forward. Giving back to enrich the wider community, by understanding that everyone has something valuable to share is important too, she says.

Big Ideas 2016

The highlights of Procurious’ Big Ideas Summit, held last month in London, were also shared to the 50-strong audience of procurement leaders. Keynote speakers included IBM, Coupa, ISM, Facebook and The Economist.

“What happened in the conference in London was only a small part of the story. What makes Big Ideas truly unique is that it is a digital conference that is amplified to procurement professionals around the globe.”

For example, the #BigIdeas2016 hashtag was tweeted 1,500 times, reaching a potential audience of 4.3 million individuals, all around the world, in just over 24 hours.

“Let me tell you that the message in the room was clear. Procurement needs to think the unthinkable and certainly rethink the possible,” she told the audience.

The UK is now auditing Supply Chain Purity in the fight against slavery, while Social Procurement is on the agenda in Australia.

Get Social Enterprises on Board

Social Enterprise UK CEO, Peter Holbrook, announced at the Big Ideas Summit the ‘Buy Social Corporate Challenge‘, which will see a group of high profile businesses aim to spent £1 billion with social enterprises by 2020.

The founding partners include heavy hitters like Johnson & Johnson, PwC and Zurich.

J&J are taking action and supporting people often termed ‘furthest from employment’, with the ‘Social Impact through Procurement‘ initiative aiming to create at least 150 jobs for these people by 2020.

“Here in Australia, Social Procurement has been a concept we have been talking about, trialling, but the big ideas summit confirmed that this is now firmly on all major corporation’s agenda.

“Not only is this the right thing to do, but this is the sort of thing that the C-level, annual reports and what Procurement could be famous for. So where are we with Social Procurement in Australia? I will be interested to hear.”

How Top Procurement Professionals Conduct Reverse Auctions

Using reverse auctions opens up a wealth of benefits for procurement professionals. But it’s important to fully understand when and how to use them. 

Reverse auctions have been around since the late 1990s, and have been regularly used as a tool by procurement professionals to obtain better pricing and lower supply costs. The use of reverse auctions can benefit companies of all sizes, but it really comes into its element when used by professionals within the procurement industry.

In an ordinary auction, buyers would compete with each other to obtain a product or service, yet in a reverse auction, the roles of the buyer and seller are reversed, and involve sellers competing to supply goods or services to a buyer. Over time, the price in the auction will start to decrease. Think of it like an eBay for the supply chain.

For procurement professionals who still haven’t started on the reverse auction or e-auction game, we’ve taken a look at how some of the finest procurement professionals use reverse auctions in their daily lives, and what benefits there are to using the service.

Time is of the Essence

When it comes to reverse auctions, as the supplier does most of the work, one of the greatest benefits is that the procurement professional can save time.

In the case of a traditional contract, businesses send out a request for a proposal which would have to be completed by the seller. The business would then sort through the proposals to make a qualified decision. The process of a reverse auction means that the whole process can be done online, cutting the requirements for manpower and time, with a decision being made much quicker.

Most reverse auctions won’t last longer than an hour either, meaning that the actual process can be wrapped up quicker, and both business and supplier can get on with what they do best.

Money can be Saved

Many companies these days are under economic pressure to become more streamlined and to reduce costs. In 2014, it was reported that the DLA, the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, had found that by using reverse auctions they were able to save around $1.6 billion in a year – with $400 million coming from three auctions alone.

Whatever the size of your business, reverse auctions can be a great way of saving lots of money. Pitting suppliers directly against one another will mean that the lowest prices will be offered, and you be able to purchase services at a highly competitive price. Many companies will also tend to buy in bulk, meaning that even greater savings can be made to the bottom line.

The net will be opened up

Reverse auctions provide a great opportunity for smaller and lesser known businesses to get involved, and compete for something they may have otherwise never have had the opportunity to. Depending on the situation, the process can help to create new, long-lasting relationships between the business and the supplier.

In the past, companies may have felt limited to choosing suppliers local to their area. Nowadays, thanks to the growing reliance of technology, this is no longer a major issue. The net has been opened and allows businesses around the world to compete, which in turn allows both the buyer and supplier to network and build connections.

Reverse auctions are not for everyone

However, reverse auctions are not for everyone. It’s important that procurement professionals are able to determine when it’s right to use the service.

As it is a service that is mostly fixated on providing the lowest price, it can be hard to determine the level of quality or service that will come with that low price. In many cases, the lowest bidder may not necessarily be able to provide the highest of quality, and this can end up having a knock on effect on other aspects of the business.

To tackle this issue head on, Market Dojo believes you should use price as a stepping stone only, and not a set rule. Obviously, you want to be able to pay as little as possible, but if you factor in levels of quality and the reputation of the seller, then you are more likely to make a better buying decision.

Finally…

Ultimately, reverse auctions are a great tool for the procurement professional in today’s technology-focused climate. The buyer can spend less resources on purchasing decisions, whilst new suppliers can take part in sales that they wouldn’t otherwise.

To be effective at buying goods through the reverse auction medium, those in the procurement industry need to remain vigilant and try not to focus entirely on price. High quality goods and delivery times also need to be factored in order to make the process efficient and cost-effective. Otherwise, you may just end up paying out more.

About the Author: Adam Maidment is a Content Writer for Portfolio Procurement, specialists in the recruitment of experienced procurement professionals throughout the UK.

Leading Australian Political Journalist Unravels Political Landscape

Australia’s political landscape is a complex beast. We ask senior Fairfax political editor Laura Tingle to unravel these complexities for procurement professionals.

Political Landscape - Laura Tingle

No matter which political party you back, there’s no doubt that the political landscape can have major ramifications on the procurement function within your business.

So, we asked Fairfax Media‘s Political Editor, Laura Tingle, to unravel the elements of politics, as Australia wades through this longest of all election campaigns, and try to understand what sort of government it faces after July 2.

“It’s Complicated”

Laura explains that Australia heads into the upcoming election with Labor currently holding a ‘notional’ 57 seats and the Coalition – after Tony Abbott’s big victory – holding a ‘notional’ 89 seats.

“The national polls currently suggest – on a swing of about 2.5 per cent against the Coalition since the last election – that we have started the election campaign in the realms of an outcome where the government would just get back into office, or where there might be a hung parliament.

“That is, there are 13 Coalition seats held with a margin of less than 2.5 per cent, just one seat less than would need to change hands for the Coalition to lose its absolute majority,” Tingle says.

But, as the saying goes, ‘it’s always complicated’, and in fact, at this election it is particularly complicated, she says.

“And I can’t think of an election where there are so many unknown factors at play, which could create some quite wild outcomes.”

Election Zeitgeist

Speaking at the 2016 9th Asia-Pacific CPO Forum in Melbourne to an audience of about 50 leading procurement professionals, Tingle spoke swiftly, explaining how she saw things.

Another complication, on both sides of the political fence, is the unprecedented number of retirements of sitting members (21), meaning the loss of personal margins of longstanding MPs.

Laura explains, “My apologies for bombarding you with numbers. But they all play in to the zeitgeist of the current election campaign, and the unprecedented uncertainty around the likely outcome.

“When you say ‘uncertainty’ in politics, people think that that is, by definition, a very bad thing – that the country is heading in to some unknown period of terrible instability in the political landscape.

“When I say uncertainty, I mean it in the sense that, more than is usually the case, we really don’t know what the election outcome will be if we judge it purely by the numbers. If we judge it by gut instinct – do voters think one leader has nicer teeth – and other less scientific outcomes, there actually seems a little bit more certainty.”

“The questions comes down to whether the electorate really wants yet another change in prime minister? And whether Bill Shorten created – or can create in the next two months – a sense of momentum for change, as well as a strong relationship with voters who, until very recently, utterly dismissed him?

“And has the electorate’s view of the Coalition become so firmly entrenched in the negative that it just wants to get rid of the government?” she says.

“Think about the election result in those terms and your gut says – well at least my gut says – ‘no’ to all three questions.”

Policy Towards Business

Bill Shorten deserves full credit for leading a team that has gone on the front foot on policy and who has managed to bury the perceptions of disunity within the Labor Caucus, Tingle told the audience.

He’s a good campaigner and has started the formal campaign well. The more voters have seen of him in the past couple of weeks, in particular, the more they have liked him, she says.

Tingle told the audience that the Coalition has been thrown off course in the past couple of years, first by its utter political incompetence and lack of policy savvy. The 2014 budget has become the byword for this, but there was much that proceeded it in terms of policy towards business even before the budget was brought down.

“Having made such a mess of things, and then under intense political pressure, the government – still under Tony Abbott – tried to clean up, for which you could use the 2015 budget as the guide.

“But there was still a lot of mess, a lot of conflicting signals, and a lot of policy that is still on the books which is bad or politically untenable,” she says.

“Issues like health funding, schools funding, universities funding are massively complicated now for both sides of politics. They involve the goodwill and assistance of the states in all cases.

“And I have to say that, while I perhaps have more reason to be cynical than a lot of you, having spent 30 years to close to the political action, I actually think we have got a better bunch of competent people – professional politicians who are actually interested in policy as much as just winning – than we have had for a very long time.”

Tingle finished by warning that a number of things could go pear shaped in the world’s political landscape in the next three years.

“I would like to leave you today with the optimistic message that I believe both candidates for the prime ministership are capable people, with capable teams, not driven by ideology but by pragmatism,” she says.

5 Keys to Unlocking Successful Integrated Business Planning

Many companies still struggle with executing a strategic integrated business planning (IBP) process that effectively integrates demand planning, supply planning, and financial planning.

Successful Integrated Business Planning

Most simply put, the process should drive decisions on how to best meet demand (customer/consumer sales for existing and new products) within supply constraints in order to optimise financial return. Yet answers to the questions of each planning component of IBP (See Figure 1) can be dramatically different, and lead to very different results if addressed in silos versus an integrated fashion.

Put more bluntly, companies that successfully execute IBP achieve greater operational and financial benefits than those that do not. A key requirement for that success is collaboration, including a disciplined, repeatable process that drives integrated decision making, and a balanced scorecard for performance measurement.

Integrated Business Planning_Slide 2

Figure 1: Components of Integrated Business Planning

Based on our experience, we at The Hackett Group believe unlocking IBP can deliver the following competitive advantages and benefits:

  • Visibility into the financial implications of decisions and actions related to demand and supply.
  • Significant cost improvements driven by a more efficient and effective supply chain.
  • Improved top-line revenue growth.
  • Inventory deployment improvements, e.g. “the right product in the right place at the right time” based on customer demand, which reduce excess deployment costs.
  • Increased customer satisfaction as a result of more accurate demand planning and inventory availability which reduce out of stocks and back order issues.

However, with all the evidence that implementing IBP leads to important benefits in an increasingly competitive environment, why do many companies continue to miss out on the potential rewards of IBP?

We believe there are five keys questions that companies can use to open the doors to an effective and efficient IBP process. The first two questions deal with the market place and competitive environment in which the business operates, while the final three questions help assess internal improvement opportunities based on best practices for process, people, and data, systems and technology capabilities tied to IBP.

  1. What are the big-picture IBP trends in the marketplace?

Here are three examples of what leading companies are doing:

  • Streamlined annual planning and budgeting processes.
  • Balanced scorecards, with cascading metrics.
  • Unified data models and better integration of technology platforms to support advanced planning and analytic capabilities.
  1. How do our supply chain cost and metrics compare to other companies?

Benchmarking can serve as a useful tool for measuring performance against the competition. Armed with valuable key performance metrics for cost, process and resources, supply chain leaders are equipped to make critical decisions and address areas of opportunity.

As an example, the metric “Demand/supply planning costs per $1000 revenue” is an excellent indicator of overall efficiency (see Figure 2):

Demand & Supply Costs

Figure 2: Demand/supply planning costs per $1000 revenue across industries. Source: APQC 

  1. Are optimal planning processes in place throughout the organisation?

Establishing a best-in-class IBP process is the foundation for maximising the efficiency and effectiveness of any organisation. Example best practices include:

  • IBP goals and objectives are clear and well understood.
  • The IBP process evaluates gap resolution and business optimisation options.
  • Materials and reports supporting IBP are exception based. 
  1. Do we have the right people at all levels of the organisation, to own the plan, make decisions, and ultimately be held accountable for the plan’s execution?

Equally as important as the right processes, is having the right organisational talent and accountability mechanisms in place. Example best practices include:

  • Adequately staffed resources with required knowledge and skills.
  • Clear ownership and accountability.
  • Discipline to adhere to decisions made as part of the IBP process.
  1. Finally, are we equipped with the appropriate technology (tools and systems) necessary to fully support integrated business?

To enhance supply chain technology capabilities that both support and optimise the integrated business planning process, best-in-class organisations successfully employ supply chain systems and tools to maximise their IBP process.

Importantly, the firm must have the tools and systems needed to bring together and reconcile demand, supply, and financial plans in order to identify gaps and imbalances.

Read the full Hackett Group Supply Chain Insight Report here to learn more trends, best practices, and metrics which help supply chain successfully transition to Integrated Business Planning

Hanna Hamburger, a Director in the Strategy & Operations practice at The Hackett Group, has over 25 years of industry and consulting experience. She has worked extensively with consumer products and retail companies as well as life sciences companies in the areas of sales, marketing and supply chain process, technology and tools, and organisation performance improvement. A longer version of this article is available on The Hackett Group’s website.

How Walmart, Hanesbrands and Mattel Reduced Supply Chain Risk

It’s the million dollar question. How can corporates minimise supply chain risk, without significant disruption to their core business?

Supply Chain Risk

Global retail giants, headquartered in the US, have had to address their supply chain risk in a bid to forge ahead in the new world of corporate social responsibility. It hasn’t been an easy exercise, that’s for sure.

Retail giant Walmart, apparel brand Hanesbrands, and toy manufacturer Mattel, are among the countless others to bring about major changes within downstream manufacturing to ensure corporate risk is above board. Each turned to brand protection firm ICIX to implement a new way forward.

Management Wake-Up Call

Company founder Matt Smith explains that supply chain risk was starting to enter the corporate vocabulary in 1999.

“Companies were starting to get jittery about their corporate responsibility. Emails and back then, faxes, were being sent from management looking to address this issue, as they started to wake up to the fact that there were major risks within the supply chain that they had to actually take responsibility for. Before this time, it hadn’t really dawned on management that supply chain risk had anything to do with them,” Smith says.

Suddenly, the race was on to find a way to outsource the task of conducting factory audits and ask the hard questions. Fast forward more than a decade, and the events of 9/11 shone an even brighter spotlight on these issues and what it means for corporate entities.

Smith was at the coalface, watching the opportunity emerge. He set about creating a solution, and today ICIX remains the leading operator in this space. ICIX was born in 2004, initially to respond to the challenges faced by the food industry in securing the food supply chain, and addressing increased safety requirements of the Bioterrorism Act of 2002.

During this time, Smith worked with some of the world’s largest retailers to help them address issues of supply chain transparency and inefficient information sharing. ICIX worked to connect all trading partners into a single network to centralise collaboration, making it one of the earliest cloud-based SaaS companies.

Risk a “Complex Beast”

The company grew early food customers into other retail segments, including general merchandise and apparel and footwear. It also extended its solutions to include not just safety, but also quality, compliance and corporate social responsibility.

Today, ICIX helps companies understand where its products are coming from, streamline collaboration with trading partners, drive compliance and safety, and as a result, secure and maintain customer trust.

Smith says that those working on the risk side of a business are often frowned upon by those working on the business side, which makes it a complex beast to juggle. Frequently, the CIO within a business isn’t necessarily on the same page as someone in the CEO chair.

“I could see a really big opportunity opening up in the US, with several major retailers over here scrambling to find a solution.

“And today, businesses are spending more on managing risk than ever before. Those in procurement are battling for budget and attention, until something bad happens like people get sick or someone dies because of their product. That’s when the purse strings always open up. That’s what it often takes for people to want to solve the supply chain risk related issues.

“We realised that tackling this as a network was going to bring about far greater efficiencies, however retail is a complex industry in which to do this, which complicated the process,” Smith continues.

Role of Technology

For example, barcodes don’t match purchase orders or product numbers, and without that universal product identifier, it can be a complex process. Technology has played a huge part in bringing scale to the organisation, with cloud technology supporting a new way to assess and identify potential risk.

“Supply chain risk management is a huge area, and we were looking for ways to take that network architecture and make it accessible to everyone.”

ICIX does this by taking various feeds of information and assessing it. This could include shipping feeds, purchase feeds, ethical and responsible sourcing data and much more, and then cross-referencing all of these to determine supply chain risk.

The sheer size of retail giant Walmart put it under the consumer spotlight and forced it to look at improving supply chain transparency. Company management was eager to speak to Smith to bring about better efficiencies.

The catalyst for the changes at Walmart were the issues with Mattel matchbox cars in 2007, when consumers got wind of the fact that the children’s toys contained lead paint. New government regulations introduced as a result, required companies to act and take responsibility.

“Firstly, we see whether the vendor is meeting all their safety and testing requirements, then we can fast forward a few steps. And if they’re missing a test report, we can request that information on their behalf and rectify the situation and re-test,” Smith says.

Such solutions provide assurances that companies are ‘doing the right thing’ – that they are providing, safe, quality products that are ethically sourced and compliant. With ever increasing customer demands for transparency, information and responsibility, such programs are critical not only for companies to protect their brands and enhance their customer trust, but to survive.

Is Any Profession Safe From AI Disruption?

Would you trust an “artificially intelligent colleague” to solve your legal disputes? It may be closer than you think as AI and cognitive technology advances prove no industry is safe from disruption.

At the end of last week, it was announced that a major US law firm, Baker & Hostetler, had hired Ross to run its bankruptcy practice. Not major news you might think, until you realise that ROSS is the world’s first “artificially intelligent attorney”.

Built upon the same concept as IBM’s Watson, and using the same cognitive technology, ROSS is another example of a major technological disruptor, and proof that no profession is safe from the advance of AI.

Setting a Precedent

In many ways, ROSS is very similar to the original Watson technology. The AI can read and understand language, generate hypotheses for questions it is asked, and can back up these hypotheses with research and citations from legal literature and cases.

The success of ROSS is centred on how it learns. As the AI interacts more with its human colleagues, it learns from its experience, getting more intelligent and faster at problem solving with each task it does.

It can also perform these tasks faster than human counterparts, examining thousands of documents in a fraction of the time it would take a person to do. It is also able to filter these results, and only presents the most relevant cases and citations from the data available.

Although Baker & Hostetler are the first to publicly announce signing up ROSS, Andrew Arruda, CEO and co-founder of ROSS Intelligence, has confirmed that a number of other law firms have already signed licences to use ROSS too.

Big Data for Recruitment

Big Data, AI and cognitive technologies all go hand in hand, with many seeing Big Data as a key driver behind the development and advancement of the technologies. At the Big Ideas Summit, Barry Ward, Procurement Brand Manager at IBM, stated that 80 per cent of the data available to us is unstructured.

Unstructured data is difficult for humans to sift through, and find relevant information with any speed. Cognitive technologies, such as IBM Watson and ROSS, have been designed specifically to work with this unstructured data. While the potential applications for procurement from Big Data have been spoken about extensively, it’s to the recruitment industry that we look now.

A recent edition of the BBC Radio 4 In Business programme highlighted the work of Bill Nowacki, MD of Decision Science at KPMG. Nowacki works with Big Data, trying to improve the way organisations work, by analysing the data available to them.

One facet of this is uncovering the so-called “data trail” left by individuals when they use electronic devices, search on the Internet, and post on social media. All this data can be pulled together to generate a picture of the individual in question.

In a corporate setting, it can show how people are performing. There are further applications in the recruitment process too. Potential candidates can be identified by on comparing them with high performers already in the organisation, as well as assessing the candidates for cultural fit.

The benefit of using Big Data and cognitive technologies in recruitment is the lack of bias in the process. Whereas human interactions can fall victim to inbuilt bias, the technology has no such issues.

And as the technologies learn from experience, it’s possible that the recruitment process may benefit from greater understanding of personality traits, individuals’ values and norms, and create a fairer process all round.

Events in Brief

A couple of final pieces of news from Procurious this week include what you’ll be seeing on the site soon. We’re attending Coupa Inspire and ISM2016 and we’ll be bringing all the major headlines and information from these great events in the coming weeks.

Last week was Coupa Inspire, where the business announced that it had connected its 2 millionth business on its Open Business Network, plus Sir Richard Branson, and his son Sam, gave a keynote address on a variety of topics including the importance of philanthropy, leadership and inspiring others. Plus Sir Richard also talked about his plans to build Virgin Hotels in space!

Stay tuned for more on these topics soon!

What do you think of the latest AI developments? Do we have anything to worry about from AI in the future, or is it just the stuff of science fiction? Let us know your thoughts.

Each week we sniff out the top procurement and supply chain headlines for you to enjoy…

Concerns over US Retail Sector Health

  • Macy’s, the largest department store chain in the US, has increased fears over the health of the US retail sector with its poor Quarter 1 results.
  • The company announced its worst quarterly sales since 2009, with sales falling 5.6 per cent, for a fifth consecutive quarterly decline.
  • A move away from traditional stores to online shopping and fast fashion has been blamed for the struggles of many companies in the retail sector.
  • With consumer demand not expected to increase for department stores, Macy’s is now intensifying its cost cutting efforts.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal

Switzerland Tops Global Supply Chain Index

  • Switzerland has taken top spot in the 2016 FM Global Resilience Index, unseating 2015 leader Norway.
  • The index ranks the supply chain resilience of 130 countries according to nine drivers that affect business vulnerability.
  • Falling oil prices have been blamed for the falling ranking of Norway and a number of other countries, including Kuwait and Venezuela.
  • Terrorism has also been a factor in the 2016 rankings, with Belgium, Pakistan and Nigeria all dropping down the list.

Read more at Supply Management

Release 15 Announced at Coupa Inspire

  • Release 15 is Coupa’s second major release of the year, delivering a number of enhancements across the platform.
  • Hyperlocalised Languages addresses local language requirements across 100 countries, along with terminology unique to individual businesses, by allowing customers to modify Coupa’s 20+ languages for their own purposes.
  • Updated Sourcing Recommendations Engine enables savings initiatives to now be recommended based on predicted trends in expenses spend.
  • The New Supplier Risk Recommendations Engine monitors supplier data and reports on risk triggers including expiring certificates and outdated information.
Read more at Coupa