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5 Things You Need to Know About Working in Germany

When you think of Germany, pretzels, beer and BMWs are common stereotypes that come to mind. But there is much more to Deutschland than that – especially if you are planning to work.

A country built on research, innovation and its ability to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), with the biggest economy in Europe and the fourth largest in the world – who wouldn’t want the opportunity to work in Germany?

Not only home to many of the European and Worldwide market leaders, recent figures show more than 45,000 foreign companies are also conducting business there. Although many more factors have helped shape German industry, this structure has consequently had deep impacts on the Procurement (Beschaffung) role.

The Need to Know

Procurious founder, Tania Seary, recently had the opportunity to meet the leadership team from the German Association of Materials Management, Purchasing and Logistics (BME) in Frankfurt. BME have established themselves as a professional association for buyers and logistics, supporting members in developing new markets and the configuration of economic processes.

According to BME, there are more than 100,000 procurement professionals working in Germany, so here’s what you need to know if you’re looking to join them:

  1. Germans can be considered the masters of planning

Doing business in Germany without adequate cross-cultural awareness is a risky proposition, and businesses should ensure they carry with them an appreciation of both the business landscape and the culture. Hierarchy is highly valued in Germany, and there are often myriad procedures and policies which can slow things down, so having a bit of patience is crucial to the success of business negotiations.

The desire for orderliness spills over into the business life of Germans – surprises and humour are not welcome! According to the German Business Culture Guide, everything is carefully planned out and decided upon, with changes rarely occurring after an agreement is made.

  1. Get used to some straight talking

There are cultural differences at play. The German business culture is perhaps less instantaneous than in countries like the UK, and personal relationships that are developed slowly over time are seen as a more desirable way to do business. Don’t be surprised if you jump straight into business talk, as there is little time for small talk.

  1. A series of villages, not really a country

Germany is a country with a long history and vast cultural differences throughout. For a country of its size (only 357,000km² – Australia is 21 times bigger), it has 16 states and over 400 districts.

This means you’re going to need to recognise the contrasts across the country, especially as industry is fragmented and big companies operate often in small villages. Although complex, this presents a fantastic opportunity to learn how to work with, and understand, different cultures – a brilliant training ground for future leaders.

  1. If you’re a social media nut – this is a different landscape

By sheer numbers, social media is as popular here as the rest of the world. According to the EU’s “Passport to Trade” more than 75 per cent of all Germans over 14 years of age use the Internet in some way, and 90 per cent of 14 to 29 year olds are on social media.

What is different about social media in Germany is the popularity of the local, German-only networks, in addition to the global players. The most popular networks listed according to their number of users are (get ready – you may not have even heard of some of these):

  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • Xing
  • Wer-kennt-wen
  • MeinVZ/StudyVZ
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • Lokalisten.

Up until 2009, there were up to 15 million German-speaking users on a German language network resembling Facebook called StudiVZ. But Facebook eventually conquered Germany (as it has for most of the world), as it enabled users to socialise and interact with people outside Germany too.

There is a Russian joke that says:  “Twitter can’t be popular in Germany, because 140 characters are basically two words in German.”  There are certainly enough short words to compose tweets in German, but when you read that only 10 per cent of Germans use Twitter, it makes you think there might be some truth to that joke.

With words like “kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung” meaning ‘car liability insurance’, and “donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitaenswitwe” meaning ‘widow of a Danube steamboat company captain’, let’s hope Twitter changes to a 15,000-character limit soon!

  1. And your role in procurement…

Procurement is not the only function of choice – it’s one of hundreds – and, if you’re coming from a large multinational corporation, a word you need to understand and add to your vocabulary is “Mittelstand”.

We often throw in terms like MNCs and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) around when asked who your employer is, but statistically what is the real difference?

Statistically, any business with fewer than 500 employees is classed as an SME. However, in Germany this would mean that 99 per cent of businesses would fall into this category.

So the Germans created the world “Mittelstand”, which can refers to both SMEs and much larger companies, if they are run in the same spirit. This typically means the owner or owners take business decisions largely on their own, but retain close ties with both the business and the employees.

This involvement with the business applies to over 3.6 million “Mittelstand” companies, providing more than 60 per cent of all jobs in Germany, and making up 53 per cent of the country’s GDP. So the chances are you’ve already conducted business with a potential employer.

There you have it – some top tips for working and doing business in Germany. And if you’re looking for a job there, or plan on working there in the future, good luck (or as the Germans say…viel Glück!)


Useful links:

Germany Job Seeker Visa

Working in Germany: Getting a German Work Permit

EU Blue Card Germany

Labour Market Figures Suggest Need for New Approach to Skills Gap

The Open University says businesses and universities must work more closely to address skills shortages.

Figures released today show that the UK continues to face up to a worsening skills crisis. Despite the overall rise in job creation, the vacancy rate continues to increase, and is particularly acute in specialist areas such as IT and engineering.

The latest Labour Market Figures, produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal there are 588,000 more people in work than this time last year, but that there has been a 6 per cent increase in the number of unfilled roles over the same period, as there are now 756,000 vacancies.

Concerns for Businesses

The on-going shortage in skilled workers is increasingly causing concern for businesses. Decision makers are facing up to the effects of this market on their businesses: hard to fill vacancies can cause delays in developing new products and services, meanwhile the latest CBI/Accenture Employment Trends Survey, published last week, reveals that over half (52 per cent) of respondents believe that developing and maintaining digital skills within their organisation has a new urgency in this climate.

Despite there being over 2 million students enrolled on degree courses in 2014/15, with a 3 per cent increase in full-time first year enrolments in engineering and technology subjects, businesses often find that graduates are not adequately prepared for the workplace.

The skills gap is affecting UK productivity, for instance, engineering companies have reported an annual shortfall of 55,000 skilled workers. It has been estimated that addressing the shortage of skills in this area could generate £27 billion per year from 2020, roughly equivalent to 1,800 new secondary schools or 110 new hospitals. 

Issues for Small Business

Michael Martins, Economist at the Institute of Directors said: “These jobs figures, which show the British labour market ended 2015 strongly, could be just what the doctor ordered as we see nothing but storm clouds gathering across the global economy.

“While this is clearly good news and the increasing number of vacancies means that the unemployment rate could continue to drop, addressing the skills gap takes on a fresh importance. For small firms that employ fewer than ten employees, the struggle to find workers is particularly acute, with vacancies rising by 13.1 per cent in the last quarter.

This is another reason why employers hope the government will not follow through on suggestions to restrict skilled migration from outside the EU, especially as the monthly quota for Tier 2 visas has been shown to be inadequate in addressing skill shortages.”

An Answer in Workplace-Based Education?

The Open University is arguing that a greater emphasis on workplace-based higher education is necessary to create more value for businesses and individuals alike. Steve Hill, Director of External Engagement at The Open University, comments: “The skills gap is affecting everyone, holding back businesses and having a knock-on effect on British economic productivity.

“In most cases, the answer to this shortage is right under our noses – with up to 90 per cent of the current workforce still in work over the next decade.  With the right training and up-skilling, these individuals can become the engineers, data scientists and high-skilled digital workforce the UK needs to compete on the world stage.

The challenge now is for Governments and the academic sector to work together to develop courses that meet the needs of businesses, and provide the right support for those committed to developing their careers.”

The OU regularly supports over 1,300 organisations, including KMPG, Hay Group and the NHS, delivering flexible learning solutions at scale to address skills shortages and develop high performing workforces. With a global reach and as the UK’s leader in part time education, with 76 per cent of OU’s current students studying whilst working full or part time, the OU is well equipped to deliver consistent learning at scale to dispersed workforces.

How an Agile Supply Chain Can Enhance New Product Development

Is your Supply Chain bolstering or hampering the success of your company’s new products?

Josh Nelson, a Director in The Hackett Group’s Strategy and Business Transformation Practice, discusses Supply Chain and New Product Development.

An agile supply chain can deliver value to the new product development (NPD) process (outlined in Figure #1) by quickly and pragmatically supporting new products / innovation through the core supply chain processes – plan, procure, manufacture, and deliver.

NPD SCIR Report Slide 1

Figure 1: The New Product Development Process

The Hackett Group’s Perspective

Supply chain plays a critical role across the NPD process, because it drives both the investment of capital into production and distribution capabilities and, in many cases, the critical path for launch dates. Yet, the large task of driving agility and flexibility throughout the supply chain may seem daunting to leaders.

As a starting point, The Hackett Group suggests assessing your current capabilities across the supply chain function against best practices to quickly identify the overall maturity level of your NPD process and highlight improvement opportunities. For example:

  • Can procurement identify and incentivise suppliers to participate in enhanced open innovation capabilities?
  • Can the supply chain and finance organisations develop NPD COGS estimates quickly and accurately?
  • Has the company made the correct investment in piloting plants or scaling up facilities?
  • What is the ability of the planning function to mitigate risk by developing inventory build strategies, identifying NPD demand projections accurately, and aligning lead times to common launch date?

Additionally, when assessing improvement opportunities for supply chain’s role in NPD, consideration should be given to:

  • Marketplace trends
  • Establishing or standardising global metrics to track and assess the effectiveness and efficiency of the NPD process

From there, a transformation roadmap can be created to develop the needed structural and infrastructural elements to enhance and enable new product development though agility and flexibility. This enables your organization to:

  • Identify and develop product concepts with the greatest likelihood of success.
  • Reduce costs by relying on your network of suppliers, customers, and other partners to generate ideas and test products
  • Select and manage a portfolio of projects that are aligned with the company’s revenue and margin growth strategies

Download the full Hackett Group Supply Chain Insight Report here to learn more about trends, best practices, and metrics which help supply chain enable the new product development process.

Josh Nelson has over 18 years of both consulting and industry experience, managing and leading large-scale product development and supply chain improvement programs.

Why You Should Consider Carefully Before Hiring Temporary Labour

Examining your demand costs for temporary labour may make you think twice about bringing in extra help during busy periods. Jon Milton, Business Development Director at Comensura, explains.

The use of temporary labour to bolster a permanent workforce when needed is a no brainer, but have you ever stopped to examine the bigger picture? Have you ever considered whether you really need that extra pair of hands, or if there could be an alternative option? Or, have you thought about the objectives the temporary assignment will deliver or how to make sure this spend comes in on budget?

Demand for temporary labour can be caused by a multitude of factors: the need for extra support during particularly busy periods; short-term planning creating the need for a ‘quick fix’ or ‘firefighting’ solutions; or even temporary workers remaining on assignment even after the original reason for their hire has now gone.

Know Your Demand Costs

Before committing to hiring temporary staff it’s important to consider your demand costs. These costs are the direct result of hiring managers from within your business ordering temporary workers without first justifying the need for the worker, or not fully assessing alternative approaches. In many cases, an understanding of demand costs may mean the full cost can be eliminated, which has the potential to deliver significant savings on temporary labour.

For most businesses, the realisation that demand for temporary labour exists is when the hiring manager asks their line manager to approve a temporary hire or when an internal request for a purchase order is made.

But the starting point for any business case evaluation should be to assess the need for non-permanent extra staff and if justified, how much the business is prepared to spend. It’s important to be clear from the outset and agree an approach to evaluating the internal demand for temporary workers rather than just reacting when requests are made.

Evaluation and Consideration

The process for evaluating the business case for temporary workers should take the following into consideration:

  • usage of temporary workers in different business units
  • the seasonal demands placed on the business unit and its capability to meet demand via its permanent employee headcount
  • the business unit’s workforce plans and how critical a flexible workforce is to deliver an efficient, lean operational performance
  • the complexities of your organisational structure and your approach to decision making, is it centralised or devolved?
  • your priorities as a business – for example, those that need to keep tight control of costs should centralise the approval and assessment of the business case

For those hiring managers and business units with a relatively low or infrequent demand for temporary labour, presenting an informal and individual business case will help ensure temporary labour assignments are appropriately planned, scheduled and authorised.

However, for those that regularly use a large number of temporary workers, it makes sense to create an annual business case for each temporary worker category. The plan should assess the historical usage patterns and expected future demands on the job categories so that the workforce can be appropriately planned, scheduled and authorised. For example, in a warehousing scenario there could be one business case for warehouse operatives and another for fork lift truck drivers.

Essentially, the business case for hiring any temporary workers should consider customer demand and the cost of temporary resources. Also, ask yourself what the measureable outcomes from the additional resources are and whether your business objectives will be met. And finally, consider other employment options, and if other projects or tasks can be put on hold to reprioritise resources.

Are Supply Chain Audits Bad for Good Business?

The line, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”, first appeared in Satires by the Roman poet Juvenal, and literally means “Who will guard the guards themselves?”. The question now being asked is, “Who audits the auditors?”, and the answers don’t look good.

Modern-Day-Slavery

Research from the University of Sheffield released last week claims that supply chain auditors are actually “‘working’ for the corporations”, and ultimately failing both the supply chain workers and the environment they are supposed to be protecting.

“Ineffective Tools”

SPERI, the Sheffield Political Economic Research Institute, conducted 25 interviews over a 2-year period with auditors, business executives, NGOs and suppliers around the world, as well as visiting factories in China, before publishing their results.

The report argues that “audits are ineffective tools for detecting, reporting, or correcting environmental and labour problems in supply chains”, and that many of the problems that ethical audits were created to solve are actually being made worse by the process. This is in part down to the organisations carrying out the audits working towards the interests of businesses.

One auditor was quoted in the report as saying, “we will audit as far down as the brand wants to go”. As stakeholders and organisations, such as ISM and CIPS, focus more on the concept of the end-to-end supply chain, including all supplier and subcontractor practices, it appears that in some cases, the full chain is not being assessed.

The Auditing Industry

A quick Google search for the term ‘supply chain audit’ throws up a vast number of results. Included in these results are a considerable number of private companies who are either supply chain auditors, or offer it as part of their services. The increasing market for ethical audits has led to the creation of a booming industry.

It should be pointed out that these firms are not being accused of falsifying results or deliberately misleading the organisations who are employing them to audit supply chains. The accusations lie in the fact that some practices within the supply chain are being missed.

Apportioning blame, even taking the findings of the SPERI research into account, is not as black and white as people might think. If the organisations carrying out the audits are providing misleading findings, then action must be taken.

However, much as procurement may be bound by a specification when purchasing goods and services, auditors will be bound by what they are requested to do by the employing organisation. The auditors may be culpable for not going far enough, but the blame should be shared if organisations are seeking to limit their activities.

Governmental and Public Input

And perhaps this is part of the issue, in having auditors as commercial enterprises. These organisations will be operated as businesses with the aim of meeting customer demand, but, as a business, still need to make enough money to remain operational and satisfy investors.

The SPERI report argues that ethical audits need greater governmental involvement, both from the point of view of conducting audits, but also in enforcing the required standards for working conditions and the environment. Governmental enforcement of these regulations can be difficult, especially where organisations operate global supply chains and fall under a diverse set of jurisdictions.

Many national Governments are tightening regulations around modern slavery and the environment. The UK Government has announced a set of measures aimed at combatting modern slavery in the supply chain. The newly formed Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority will be able to use the measures to force organisations to take action, where there is belief that offences have occurred.

However, in order for the issues to be tackled effectively across global supply chains, similar measures need to be in place for all countries, or there will always be areas where practices will remain unchecked.

You can find a full copy of the SPERI report here. We’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this issue. If you work for an auditing company, let us know your experiences of this too.

In the meantime, you can check out the major headlines in procurement and supply chain this week…

EU to Scrutinise Large Company Big Data Use

  • The European Union is considering whether the way large Internet companies, such as Google or Facebook, collect vast quantities of data is in breach of antitrust rules
  • Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, speaking in Munich over the weekend stated that the EU would step in if Big Data usage was negatively impacting competition
  • Some experts have warned that with a few large companies controlling the data, it becomes harder for new organisations to enter markets, being too far behind to compete effectively
  • Ms. Vestager also said the EU would look into why some companies can’t acquire information that is as useful as the data that other competing firms have.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal

Wholesale Energy Prices Hit 5-Year Low in UK

  • The mild winter in the UK, combined with falling commodity prices, has led to the price of wholesale energy in the UK falling to a 5-year low
  • Electricity prices fell by 23 per cent against the previous year, while gas prices fell by 34 per cent for the same period
  • Increased production capacity in 2016, milder temperatures and increased usage of liquefied natural gas (LNG)in the UK are also thought to be part of the issue
  • However, energy companies have been accused of overcharging their customers by not passing on the reduction in the wholesale prices

Read more at Supply Management

Indian Government to Assist Start-Ups

  • The Modi Government in India has announced plans to assist start-ups in the country by only requiring the businesses to pay statutory fees for getting started
  • In a move designed to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, the Government will cover the costs of filing of patents, trademarks or designs
  • The Government has also agreed to relax public procurement regulations for start-ups, not requiring the businesses to meet current regulations for prior experience/turnover found in the manufacturing sector
  • The Government hopes that this scheme will eventually lead to the development of start-up organisations in sectors such as agriculture, healthcare and education

Read more at Business Standard

ECHR Rules Companies Can Monitor Employee Internet Usage

  • The European Court for Human Rights has ruled that companies can monitor employees’ internet usage, providing they have given warning beforehand that personal use of facilities is forbidden
  • The ruling comes after a Romanian engineer took his employer to court after being fired for having private conversations with his family on a Yahoo Messenger site
  • The ECHR, finding in favour of the employer, noted in its ruling that “it is not disputed that the applicant’s employer’s internal regulations strictly prohibited employees from using the company’s computers and resources for personal purposes.”
  • This prior warning given to the employee played a large role in the decision, as the Court could rule that it was not a breach of his human rights

Read more at Ars Technica

Procurious Big Ideas Panel Discussion #2 – Where Are Procurement’s Blind Spots?

What risks does procurement face in the coming years? And what are the profession’s major blind-spots?

This was the question for the second panel discussion at the Big Ideas Summit 2015. There was plenty of passion on display, and at some points the conversation got a little heated, but there were also some fantastic points raised.

With a panel containing Tim Hughes, Olinga Ta’eed, Chris Lynch, Giles Breault, Nic Walden, Jason Busch and Lance Younger, the discussion took in hot topics like social value, procurement transformation, procurement moving away from Finance and leveraging external innovation. This is one not to be missed.

Watch the full discussion here.

See all the keynotes and panel discussions from the Big Ideas Summit, plus Big Ideas from our 40+ Influencers.

Like this? Join Procurious for FREE and meet like-minded procurement professionals from across the world.

Is ‘Free’ a Dirty Word in Procurement?

How can you resist something that is free? Even when something is genuinely free, there’s still that voice at the back of your mind that sounds a warning. 

If someone offers you something for free do you automatically say no? Do you sometimes get curious and wonder why it is free? If you ask more questions and find out that it is truly free, do you still say no? Or do you wait until you find out that there aren’t any strings attached either before you take a chance and say yes?

It doesn’t matter what walk of life you are from, or which profession you work in, there is something that has changed in the human psyche that has made us all inherently suspicious of the word ‘free’. And in procurement, this suspiciousness only appears to get worse.

Something for Nothing?

We now live in a very skeptical society. Long gone are the days where you took someone at their word, without question. Now, recommendations and references are gladly accepted, but further research and checking is carried out before anything is done with them.

It’s probably true to say that there are few things that can be offered that are truly free or come with no strings attached. Entering a competition or signing up to a ‘free’ service online puts your e-mail address on a mailing list, to allow you to be sent future opportunities. Even ‘free’ products are likely to be being used as a loss leader to make you think about spending real money.

Perhaps the reality of it is that we are no long as trusting in nature as we once were, and trust has to be earned, rather than being given until proven otherwise.

Trust me, I’m a Procurement Professional

Trust comes in a variety of guises in procurement and supply chain, two of which we can look at here. First there is the trust between the buyer and supplier, the buyer and end user, or between any two links in the supply chain. This trust is based on the idea that what has been ordered or requested is what is delivered, at the right time.

This is trust that needs to be earned, and is a particularly fragile form of trust, which can be shattered by one missed delivery, one failed quality inspection, one wrong phrase in a negotiation. What is key though, is that this trust is crucial to the smooth operation of a supply chain.

Trust can be built in the supply chain through providing great, consistent service, and delivering on promises. Transparency in operations is a good tool to build trust – many organisations are building consumer trust in this way by making their supply chain operations transparent to the public.

 Everyone Likes a Freebie

The second type of trust is between the procurement or supply chain professional and their stakeholders, such as their employer, shareholders or the public. The trust in this case is based on the professional doing their job in an ethical fashion, and not being in receipt of ‘free’ things in return for contracts and business.

The ‘free’ items on offer could range from being taken out for dinner or being taken for hospitality to a sporting event, to kick-backs and bribes. There have been numerous reports of bribery and unethical behaviour in procurement, all of which have succeeded in eroding trust in the profession, as well as giving the word ‘free’ negative connotations.

However, it could be argued that not every ‘freebie’ is given with strings attached or with ulterior motives. In fact, giving and acceptance of gifts can help to create goodwill in the supply chain, or show appreciation for a job well done, or a successful relationship.

While strong governance regulations help to ensure transparency and ethical behaviour, requiring endless forms and registers to be filled in for low value gifts is potentially punishing the honest many, for the actions for the dishonest few. Now that procurement has begun to earn that trust again, maybe it’s time for the profession to be trusted more.

After all, free isn’t such a bad word, is it?

We would be interested to know what you think? Have regulations gone too far? Or are they entirely justified in light of past events? Is there such a thing as a ‘free lunch’ in procurement?

Is Brand Paranoia Stifling Debate on Social Media?

More and more people enter the world of social media every day, each with their own thoughts, opinions and values. Surely this is a recipe for open debate? Perhaps not.

True, you see plenty of heated conversations on social media – people airing their views on a host of subjects, from television programmes to films, restaurants to products – but all too often they descend into arguments, instead of a proper debate.

Argument vs. Debate

Take the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 as an example. Social media was full of posts from both sides’ supporters, but in many cases these posts only contained campaign rhetoric, rather than hard facts, and frequently resulted in personal insults being thrown around.

When we talk about debate, we mean what you might have learned at school or university – two sides with structured, well-informed and well-supported arguments for or against a topic, which were presented and listened to respectfully, even if you didn’t agree with it.

Social media platforms seem to be set up perfectly for this to happen. Take the concept above, add in a global audience, all with different facts, figures and experiences, and you should have the recipe for quality, informative debate.

But this sort of debate is so seldom seen on social media. Why?

Personal and Professional Brand

The rapid growth of platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, et al., have enabled people to have a publicly visible account of their CVs and career histories, likes and dislikes, thoughts and opinions and pictures of their favourite things.

From a personal point of view, this is great. Our most meaningful social networking interactions happen within a group of friends, most of who will probably shares these interests in some way.

However, taken from a professional point of view, you have a diverse group of users and stakeholders, all of who have access to this public information, and who are able to link you as a person to all of these accounts.

Try as you might to remain anonymous, or limit your public exposure, as soon as you have a social media account, you are there for everyone to see. And in a professional sense, this means your peers, colleagues, managers, right up to the CEO and owner of the organisation.

Brand Paranoia

Like it or not, your public digital face represents your organisation. What you post, Tweet or share could potentially be attributed to both you and your employer. Even the ‘magic’ words, “My views are my own”, used as an attempt to separate individual and organisation may not stop people making the connection.

And there are plenty examples, like this one, of an employer taking a hard line if they think their brand is being misrepresented or negatively impacted by association.

The key here is brand. Whether it is personal brand, something that has taken on a much greater relevance in the digital world, or organisational brand, people are very (and rightly) concerned about how their brand is perceived by the public.

For organisations, it could mean the difference between retaining and losing customers. For individuals, it could damage their chances of landing their dream job, thanks to an errant post on a social network.

A friend recounted a story to me about how she had been contacted by a colleague regarding a post of hers that was “out of the norm”. It turned out it was her son who had posted, while logged into her account. No harm done, but an object lesson on the reach of social media.

Bringing Debate Back

However, I think this has all gone a bit too far. For sure, I would expect to be hauled over the coals by my manager if I insulted someone on Twitter, which was then associated back to the company.

But engaging in a real debate with one or more other parties, where an argument is built around facts, and everyone is treated fairly, where’s the harm in that?

Procurious has over 9000 members in its community, with another 20,000+ followers across its various platforms. The chances are high that not everyone will agree with me (even about this article), and that’s great.

We want to stimulate debate – it’s one of the best ways to learn and develop as a person and a professional. The Procurious Discussion forum is a great place to start, and everyone can get involved.

So the next time you see a point that someone has made on social media that you don’t agree with, and you can back up your opposing point, don’t shy away, post and start a dialogue. You never know what will come of it.

Big Ideas in Technology: 2016 and Beyond

We’ve rounded up some of the biggest disruptive technology trends we expect to see in workplaces the world over in the next twelve months.

Drones and drone lanes

What: As drones have begun to take over our skies in 2015 concerns have grown over the fight for airspace.

Currently the FAA only prohibits drones from flying near airports and their associated airspace, but is this enough?

How: As we peer into the future we expect commercial delivery services from Amazon (and others) to begin rollout, as well as increased numbers of hobbyist pilots carving out lanes for themselves.

Tighter regulations will likely divide the sky with pilots of commercial and business drones utilising the 200-400 ft zone, while those using drones for recreation are limited to 200 ft and below. This will not only better promote safety in the skies but keep lanes clear for priority transport. This advantage will come into its own for those looking to improving logistics solutions in disaster zones, battlefields or delivering aid to inhospitable terrain.

Despite being used for good we should also remember that drones are already being used to the detriment of our profession. Drone surveillance is increasingly on the rise and advancements in camera technology mean drones are capable of spying on factories, warehouses and ports from afar. Thus firmly putting the threat of corporate espionage, competition and imitation back in the spotlight.

Bots

What: Chances are if you’ve been active on the Internet since the late 90s you’ll already be familiar with one of the surprising new trends for 2016: Bots. But while the bots we’ve likely grown accustomed existed solely to frequent chat rooms or perform basic monitoring tasks, the bots of the future are intelligent and much like us, learn with each interaction.

Not to be confused with the likes of your Siri or Cortana (smart virtual personal assistants) living on our mobile phones and tablets, those in the know believe that bots capabilities are now so advanced they could quietly boost our productivity levels and help transform time-consuming processes.

How: In business press offices and newsrooms bots will be poised to automatically sort and tag articles, as well as actively monitor and react to social media. While we’re not a point where bots can realistically replace your social media teams, automation could be used strategically to help manage the strain. Elsewhere bots will be utilised to manage stocks and HR teams will rely on them for getting new employees up to speed. We can also expect to see more automation in services like Slack, making the organisation of meetings and status updates a thing of the past.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality

What: Virtual reality (VR) has been the word on the lips of tech tastemakers since the sixties, now it looks like 2016 will finally be the year to usher in the VR dawn.

VR is best described as a computer-simulated reality. Modern technology grants us full immersion within the imagined environment through the use of a head-mounted display.

How: With backing from some of the biggest names in interactive technology (Oculus VR, Sony, Valve and Google to name but a few),

Unlike Augmented Reality (AR) which uses text, graphics and sound to add a useful extra layer of data to your immediate surroundings, VR transports the user into a carefully constructed world.

Although synonymous with gaming, virtual reality also offers-up an intriguing wealth of uses in the manufacturing, health and transport industries. Dassault Systemes – a European software company that specialise in 3D design and product life cycle management, works with organisations to ensure that costly mistakes are confined to virtual reality and the products rolling off production lines are perfect. Vehicle designers can explore the chassis of a car (both inside and out), food and drinks manufacturers can see their products on shelves, while advanced 3D modelling techniques have even recreated the Pyramids of Egypt and the Normandy D-Day landings.

Wearables

What: Despite wearable titans like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Fitbit, Pebble, Garmin, Xiaomi and Jawbone sewing the market up in the last few years, wearable tech is only just beginning to deliver on the promises teased at its inception.

How: Fitness bands, sports watches and smartwatches are clever pieces of kit for sure but we’re on the cusp of welcoming wireless body area networks, neuroenhancers and earables which will shift wearables away from the wrists of the consumer and into real-world applications.

Think of earables as little computers that sit in your ears – according to patent reports, Apple is working on earbuds that are capable of both monitoring and relaying temperature, perspiration and heart rate. Head gestures could also be used to control electronic devices paired with the earable.

Wireless body area networks will also share similar recorded data with medical servers, computers and other interested parties. Utilising data from body-mounted sensors or ingestible devices, they will be able to keep tabs on every minutiae of employee wellbeing and the monitoring of trigger points like stress.

Plus location-aware services will be able to track movements – as manufacturing.net has noted, think of the improvements in efficiency such technology would mean in production lines: “The wearable device tracks their location, “knows” that they have moved to a new production line, creates a job transfer, assigns a new work order, and automatically starts tracking their work. There is no need for employees to interact with a computer or time clock. The technology has already taken care of that for them so they can focus on what’s really important — the work at hand.”

Neuroenhancers will monitor your brainwaves through electrical activity and over time collect data and make assumptions based on its recordings and observed patterns. Crucially this will allow it to pinpoint those times your concentration is at its highest, when you’re at your most productive and when you should take a break.

Such innovations in wearable tech could help to lead a revolution on productivity and effectiveness in workplaces across the world, no matter what the field.

Cost Control and Consolidation in Consumer Goods Supply Chain

A lack of growth in key markets will lead global players to seek opportunities in the developing world. 

Forecasts show that 2016 will continue the trend of minimal year-on-year growth in consumer goods spending, both in the UK and across Europe. In this environment manufacturers will carry on looking for opportunities to consolidate and pare down costs, focusing on developing world markets with higher growth potential.

However, competitive pressures are substantial: manufacturers based in the developing world are leveraging their low cost base and local knowledge to win both in their home and international markets.

Slow Global Growth

2015 saw a continuation of the effects of the ‘Great Recession’ that started in 2007, with historically low revenue growth, margins and shareholder returns. In the eurozone for instance, growth slowed to 0.3 per cent in November, with growth in Italy as low as 0.2 per cent.

China has also experienced significant slow-down, with economic growth at a six-year low of 6.9 per cent in Q3 2015. The impact of the slow growth has spilled over into 2016, with continuing falls in the Chinese stock market and slow demand for commodities having an impact on the wider global economic market.

Nick Miller, head of FMCG at Crimson & Co commented: “Seemingly as a result of this growth, some of the largest acquisitions and takeovers in 2015 have focused on cutting costs in supply goods and services to market. Kraft and Heinz’s merger last July has led to multiple cost cutting measures, as has the more recent take-over of SABMiller by ABInbev.

This trend in the supply chain is surely set to continue, with larger companies merging to create greater economies of scale to further leverage low cost methods in order to reach their target audiences.

In this way, supply chain innovation will also be driven by a need to curb costs and expenditures. Small companies, that are more flexible than larger corporations, are able to react to market developments faster, changing their strategies to bring fresh ideas for supply chain excellence. Larger players, unable to invest in this dynamic way of working, have tended to buy innovation by acquiring smaller companies. Coca Cola has already purchased Innocent drinks with this aim in mind.”

Global vs. Local

Given the lack of growth in Europe and China, many organisations are looking to the developing world for growth opportunities. However, these opportunities can be difficult to tie down, with organisations typically losing out to regional players more comfortable with the local environment.

The smaller companies in the developing world have significant advantages over global organisations seeking to expand in the region. As these companies are already present in the area, they will have an existing customer base, as well as an in-depth knowledge of the market, giving them an edge over external players.

In addition, they have immediate proximity to this rapidly expanding customer base, with naturally greater flexibility to be able to react quicker to market developments. 

Miller added, “Just as with innovations in the supply chain, large businesses will likely look to purchase small companies in developing areas to speed their time to market, instead of building their own on-the-ground agencies. This will be a more cost-effective way of speeding growth in these regions, as well as providing immediate expertise into valuable areas.”