Category Archives: Big Ideas Summit

Cognitive Technology Is A Bicycle Built For Two

By 2020, every important decision will be made with the assistance of cognitive technology but that doesn’t mean the  procurement function will be replaced altogether. instead, Man and Machine will work in tandem. 

Watch our free webinar, “Man and Machine: Redefining Procurement’s Role in the Digital Age”, here.

When someone like Ginni Rometty, the current CEO at IBM, says this, it’s worth paying close attention. As we have explored in the past, artificial intelligence and infinite data means endless opportunities, both personally and professionally.

Rometty also speaks from a position of authority and experience. IBM’s Cognitive Technology solution, Watson,  is already transforming fields like health care, finance, entertainment and retail.

The system has the potential to understand, learn and think through any procurement issue or question presented, offering detailed answers, analysis, or solutions, just as human can. But the difference is that Watson can do this on a scale and speed that outstrips the human brain.

Man and Machine – What’s Procurement’s Role?

This presents great opportunities for procurement, helping make faster, more informed decisions, with deeper insight and greater certainty.

However, as with any new technology, opportunities also come with uncertainty and challenges. Does procurement truly have the agility, and desire, to embrace this new technology and remain relevant?

And what is the role left for procurement professionals, when the smartest guy in the room is Watson?

Procurious teamed up with experts in the cognitive field to help procurement professionals get to grips with this tricky topic. Joining us for the webinar were:

  • Nathalie Fekete – Worldwide Cognitive Procurement Subject Matter Expert at IBM
  • Manoj Saxena – Founding General Partner at The Entrepreneur’s Fund
  • Pascal d’Arc – General Manager at Cognitive Scale

Cognitive – Big Ideas and Significant Shifts

“This is one of the most significant shifts in human history.”

So what’s the Big Idea behind Watson? Well you may not be aware of it, but Watson has probably already touched your life, and the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

According to Nathalie Fekete the core concept driving Watson is its ability to interpret vast quantities of data, and think and reason like a human being. The machine is built to mirror the same cognitive learning process that humans have, even following the same “Observe; Interpret; Evaluate; Decide” process we use for decision making.

And it’s this adaptive nature, including the ability to augment human intelligence that makes Cognitive so important. Manoj Saxena believes that it’s the fourth biggest shift in human history, behind only the discovery of alphabets, and the inventions of the printing press and the Internet.

The Sky’s The Limit

“A little bit of AI can go a long way.”

According to Saxena, not only is AI already all around us, but we’ve also only just scratched the surface. What’s different now, and will be huge over the next 3-5 years, is the impact of AI on the enterprise.

AI and cognitive systems have already produced successful results in leading global companies across the financial services, retail, and healthcare sectors. And this innovation will only develop in years to come as we progress to super-intelligent computers.

However, Saxena was also quick to point out that the hype surrounding the topic might be unhelpful. To him, it’s about separating super-intelligence in computing from awareness and consciousness.

Hollywood and the media might have their own thoughts on this, but humans are yet to fully understand awareness and consciousness in themselves, let alone give this power to computers.

We also need to better understand the key terminology across this topic too. Saxena helpfully laid it out like this:

  • AI is the mega-term. It’s the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, particularly intelligent computer programmes.
  • Machine Learning is a sub-set of AI. This is a science involving the development of self-learning algorithms where the system learns from experience.
  • Cognitive systems are next-generation IT systems that emulate human cognitive functions and software. Cognitive systems are essentially the practical and applied applications of machine learning and AI into specific industries and business processes.

Got it now? Now you’re in a better position to understand the impact on procurement.

Cognitive and Procurement – Impact and Benefits

“Putting the person front and centre of how we apply this new technology.”

Cognitive systems, as well as AI, stand to overturn the norms for procurement, bringing a huge number of potential benefits. Nathalie Fekete stated that one of the primary benefits relates to the analysis of data.

Using vast amounts of structured and unstructured data will help procurement with supplier evaluation, risk management, and benchmarking. This data, and the systems, will also provide a new gateway for innovation. Procurement will be able to find new routes and ideas for savings and opportunities, using cognitive technology.

Pascal d’Arc built on these themes too, highlighting the growing excitement in procurement around cognitive technologies. d’Arc talked about three key themes developing in this area:

  1. Putting the person at the centre of the technology
  2. Delivering a more personalised experience of how employees interact with or run procurement
  3. How cognitive technology is delivering adaptive and agile processes, as well as reducing the time taken for traditional tasks.

Man and Machine in Tandem

“Start now, because it’s happening very quickly.”

Are you worried you might be replaced by a computer? You shouldn’t be. Cognitive technology can eliminate, automate, reduce and empower jobs roles, says Nathalie Fekete. But the good news is that what it’s removing is the hazardous, dangerous, repetitive and manually intensive parts of the role.

Within procurement, this means that time can be saved on some tasks, and better spent elsewhere. The key for procurement professionals is to ensure that they have the right skills to do the new role. And to understand this and start up-skilling now.

Fekete and Pascal d’Arc expanded on this, highlighting key skill areas future professionals will need:

  • Traditional procurement skills such as negotiation, Category Management and Supplier Relationship Management
  • Collaborative working
  • Project Management and Change Management

Learn More

What we’ve outlined above is just a small fraction of the great knowledge shared in the webinar. To access the full discussion, as well as other key insights from our experts, you can register here.

And the learning doesn’t stop there. If you have any questions, please let us know below, and we’ll make sure it gets passed along to the experts.

Watch the full webinar here. 

How To Inspire Creativity With The Three Fs!

To achieve creative cultures  within our organisations and inspire creativity in individuals, we need to Fund, Foster and Fill!

Register as an online delegate for the London Big Ideas Summit 2017 here.

James Bannerman, a creative change agent and author of Non-Fiction best-seller Genius! firmly believes that everyone has the capacity to be creative and innovative. He’ll be speaking at the Big Ideas Summit 2017 in London on 23rd February but we’ve picked his brains ahead of the event to find out his top tips for inspiring creativity and his plans for the future..

What is a creative change agent?

A creative change agent is essentially a ‘lateral thinking’ specialist. It’s someone who combines creativity with psychology to help businesses innovate and perform more effectively in a rapidly-changing world.

What’s one thing you know now, that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?

When I was younger I was a laid-back song-writer and did not fully appreciate how important it is, in business and life, to ‘make your own sunshine’. Over the years, however, and especially  when I wrote my books Genius! and Business Genius! I came to realise that books don’t write themselves; they ended up taking me far longer to write than I ever imagined, and involved far more hard work than I ever envisaged. However, fortunately the hard work paid-off – because they ended-up becoming best-sellers in the UK and then being translated into multiple languages from Chinese to Japanese, and Italian to Thai – and that taught me that ideas alone are not what makes the difference; it’s turning those ideas into reality that makes the difference.

What are your three top tips for inspiring creativity in organisations?

My three top tips for inspiring creativity in organisations would be what I call The 3 Fs: Fund, Foster, Fill.

Fund (i.e. invest in) ‘Creative Thinking’ training

Upskill people by teaching them ‘how’ to be more creative. Evidence suggests, for example, that virtually all of us were incredibly creative up until the age of about 5, but then this natural creativity was ‘schooled’ out of us by the double whammy of criticism and conformity. Effective ‘Creativity Thinking’ training can help to redress this situation by inspiring people to re-become creative.

Foster an atmosphere of Psychological Safety

Einstein once said that ‘a person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.’ With this in mind, if an organisation genuinely wants to inspire creativity, it needs to provide employees with enough ‘wriggle room’ to make the occasional ‘excusable’ mistake – rather than ‘inexcusable’ mistake (which is a very different matter).

Fill the well 

I’ve long believed that in order to inspire others we need to feel inspired ourselves. Psychologists refer to this as ‘mood contagion’. So, if an organisation wants to inspire creativity, it needs to keep ‘Filling the Well’ (as the author Sheila Davis describes it) by encouraging people to branch out and watch new films, read interesting books, travel to different places etc… After all, bang in the middle of the word ‘Innovation’ we find the word ‘Nova’ – which meant ‘new’ in Roman times – so a constant inpouring of fresh stimulus is likely to inspire a culture that goes beyond ‘what is’ to explore ‘what could be’.  

You’ve composed hit pop songs, written best-selling books and work as an innovation consultant. What’s next?

I’m currently working on a wide range of projects – linked to ‘Lateral Thinking’ in business and academia. However, longer-term, I’d love to take my Business Genius and ‘Lateral Thinking’ work to whole new level, and develop Lateral Thinking TV, movies, and animations etc…

How do latest technology developments influence the way you consult with organisations and drive innovation?

To be honest, although technology developments have influenced the way I consult with organisations and drive innovation – eg. by making it far easier for me to communicate with clients around the world without always having to ‘be there’ in person – technology itself does not influence me as much as it helps other innovation consultants I know.  I tend to focus more on ‘innovativeness’ than ‘innovation.’ In other words, I focus more on the people-side of innovation – the psychology side.

It’s easy to think that our modern age is infinitely more ‘innovative’ than any other with its amazing advances in technology. Without a doubt the ‘pace’ of change does keep getting faster and faster, which academics label ‘accelerated evolution.’ However, just look at the Edwardian Age. Within ten years along came the Car, the Plane, the Radio and the TV. Each one of them radically transformed the world we live in, far more than the latest XI78 or X189, that will soon end up somewhere in a design museum like the DVD or the first Blackberry.

I work with the ESA,  European Space Agency, who are putting 3-D printers on Space Stations. In fact, there are even 3-D printers now that can make 3-D printers ! We must not lose sight, however, of how technology is driven by ‘people’, and inspired by ‘people’.  The human factors that make innovation happen can also ‘stop’ innovation from happening if they are not addressed and resolved.

Do you ever get tired of thinking up ideas?

Yes and no. I personally get a buzz from ‘divergent thinking’ – i.e. thinking outwards towards multiple possibilities – more than ‘convergent thinking’ – i.e. analysing and dissecting data.

However, when I’m working with groups on Idea Generation, I fully appreciate that ‘thinking up ideas’ can be deceptively tiring for some people. Especially those who have a strong preference for sequence and structure.

Tony Buzan,  the inventor of mind-maps, is a great inspiration of mine. I spoke with him a few years ago and  was struck by how well he manages to fuse the two. Mind-maps, for example, can energise people by stimulating ‘radiant thinking’. They also make it easier for them to think up new ideas, yet at the same its ‘systematic’ approach can also give people a flexible structure to prevent them feeling overwhelmed and swamped by imaginative solutions.

It’s important to remember that everybody has an imagination. We continually ‘think up ideas’ whether we see ourselves as creative or not. In fact, one of the biggest buzzes I get in business is helping people to realise that they are a lot more creative than they give themselves credit for…

Join the conversation and register as a digital delegate for Big Ideas 2017 in London. 

Just When You Thought Our Ideas Couldn’t Get Any Bigger…

Spend 15 Minutes with five procurement power-players in our podcast series, Even Bigger Ideas, presented by State of Flux.

Register as an online delegate for the London Big Ideas Summit 2017 here.

As a Big Ideas Summit 2017 digital delegate, you’ll gain access to insightful discussions, connect with our procurement influencers, access video content from the event and have the chance to share your own big ideas with the Procurious community.

And, if that wasn’t enough, your digital experience just got that little bit richer and more intimate as we announce Even Bigger Ideas!, a 5-Part Podcast Series, which will be available exclusively to our Digital Delegates on Procurious.

Over five, bite-sized podcasts you will hear from some of the most intriguing thought-leaders on the trends disrupting business and the Big Ideas to benefit from them.

Without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to the stars of the show who’ll be helping you to think the unthinkable, nurture your big ideas in the biggest companies and unleash your creative genius.

James Bannerman – 15 Minutes to Unleash Your Creative Genius – Tuesday 21st February

Tuesday 21st February

Our podcast series kicks of with James Bannerman, Creative Change Agent and author of Non-Fiction best-seller Genius: Deceptively Simple Ways to Become Instantly Smarter. James believes that in a world where innovation is the new currency, procurement teams that fail to execute their ideas with originality just won’t cut it. He’ll be offering some top tips on how to unlock creativity in order to help us all achieve additional moments of pure genius.

Linda Yueh – Should Procurement Pros Be Concerned About Global Trade?

Wednesday 22nd February

Linda is a renowned economist and Adjunct Professor of Economics for London Business School. She was the BBC’s Chief Business Correspondent and host of “Talking Business with Linda Yueh”, as well as Economics Editor at Bloomberg TV.  She’s the go-to expert on issues relating to global trade, Brexit and Trump’s presidency. Concerned that a rise in protectionism might have a negative impact on your global supply chains? Linda’s  on hand to quell your fears and put your mind at ease.

Chris Lynch – Nurturing Big Ideas through Big Companies

Thursday 23rd February  

Chris Lynch, Chief Financial Officer at Rio Tinto, has had nearly 30 years’ experience in the mining and metals industry. He joined the Rio Tinto boards as a non-executive director in September 2011, and was appointed chief financial officer-elect, an executive board director and a member of the Executive Committee in March 2013. Chris has spoken extensively about the importance in fostering a culture of “intrapreneurship” within large organisations. He’ll explain how individuals will face more resistance, the bigger their idea is but, with the right nurturing and persistence, their is a chance of success!

Nik Gowing -Thinking the Unthinkable – The Update

Thursday 23th February

2016 Big Ideas Summit speaker, Nik Gowing is back to give us his latest update on Thinking the Unthinkable. Nik is a visiting Professor at King’s College & former BBC-Broadcaster with over 35 years analytical expertise in diplomacy, defence, international security. Last year, Nik explained that executive leaders are experiencing the very human sensations of feeling overwhelmed,  under pressure and unable to think unthinkables. What, if anything, has changed in the last 12 months?

Anders Sorman-Nilsson Seamless – Digital Adaptation and Human Transformation

Friday 24th February 

Anders is a Futurist and the Founder and Creative Director of Thinque, a strategy think tank that helps executives and leaders convert disruptive questions into proactive, future strategies. He’s an active member of TEDGlobal, has keynoted at TEDx and guest lectured at Sydney University and University of Technology Sydney Business School. Anders will help you prepare for a digital future lead you to question if your procurement team suffers from change fatigue!

Even Bigger Ideas is presented by State of Flux.  

No budget, no problem! Join the conversation and register as a digital delegate for Big Ideas 2017 now!

The Procurement Love Triangle

Love the idea of software solving all your procurement problems? You’d better make sure it’s working in harmony with your people and your processes. 

Paul Blake,  Senior Manager, Technology Product Marketing at GEP Worldwide is a keynote speaker at Big Ideas Summit 2017.  He’ll be talking about digital procurement transformation and why it’s so important for procurement to  adopt  digital-first models. We chatted to Paul ahead of the event to get his take on procurement’s current position.

Describe a perfect client for GEP?

The perfect GEP client is a large company with a lot of complexity in its spend but with a desire to do things better and drive more value into the business.

Do you think cognitive tech signals the end for the procurement profession in the near future?

I don’t.  Procurement has always been driven through human innovation and creativity, but that has often been constrained by the necessities of labour intensive transactional processing and data analysis.  Emerging technologies have the capacity to free the procurement profession from the bounds of document processing to focus more on driving new sources of value.

You’ve been at GEP for five years. What’s changed for the procurement function in this time?

Three major things:

  1. The cloud has come of age for procurement.  The industry can now conduct its entire operations completely independent of any infrastructure considerations.

2.  The unification of procurement and order processing.  Procurement’s remit used to end at the contract, with value realisation outside of their purview.  A single overview of “source-to-pay” gives a much greater ROI

3. The trend toward global harmonization of the supply chain is under threat.  That means increased risk, volatility and uncertainty.  Today, procurement teams need greater reserves of agility and responsiveness to remain successful.

What should we expect from the most successful procurement leaders of the future?

A recognition that procurement has a much broader, collaborative role to play across the entire business.  Reflecting changes in technology, the isolation of business functions into silos is retrograde thinking and a changing world will need a broad-minded approach to procurement operations

What 3 attributes make a great leader?

Education, education, education!

When is software not the answer?

When the question involves people and/or processes!  The three are so deeply interdependent that software itself is never the whole answer.

Join the conversation and register as a digital delegate for Big Ideas 2017

Do You Belong to a Procurement Dream Team?

The age of workforce 4.0 is fast-approaching. Have you ensured you’ve got a dream team in place to help you navigate your way through the rapid changes ?

Register as an online delegate for the London Big Ideas Summit 2017 here.

So. Here’s the scenario. After years of effort, elevating the role of procurement and complaining that Procurement doesn’t have a seat at the table in sectors where procurement is yet to tread (yes, in 2017 there are still organisations and sectors that do not have procurement teams or resources), your phone rings. It’s a CEO. And you’re invited to their office.

Now, this is the age of Workforce 4.0, so as we know, the CEO is agile and their office is the coffee shop near the school where their young children are running the lunchtime class teaching the adults how to tweet on facetube and grow vines on instachat.

Procurement is Awesome

As you sit down and your coffees arrive, the CEO looks you in the eye and says “Enough already. I get it. Procurement is awesome. Right. I want you to set up a dream team. Hire any five people you want. I’ve followed you on Twitter, read all your @Procurious_ and LinkedIn blogs, I’ve listened to the @aopshow and I get that there are some serious issues to deal with. I need you to do it and I want you to pick your team. Facetime or Skype me when you’ve done it.” And off you go…

How many of us are ready for that call? Whether it’s for a greenfield procurement team, or for a transformation programme or business critical project, do you have a list of five people in your head that without hesitation, you would call and bring on board to work with you to get it done? We can ignore minor administrative issues like availability, notice periods, or people processes for the purposes of this, but are there five people that you would hire, brief and set loose on the task without a second thought, safe in the knowledge that “it’ll be fine, [insert names] are on it and success is safe in their hands”.

What does the procurement dream team of the future look like?

I can’t quite remember where I was first posed this question. It was more than likely in a pub in the dim and distant past, but I remember first applying it when I worked in recruitment. If I was sifting CVs for a client, I tried to put myself in their shoes and ask, “If I was them, would I hire this candidate and put my success in their hands”. If I couldn’t say “yes”, or at least “maybe”, then I wouldn’t waste the client, or the candidate’s time.  That was a long time ago and before I’d even heard of Procurement!

Are you ready for “The Call” is a question I’ve asked colleagues over the years too, usually on car journeys, and it keeps them awake and puts them on the spot.

Anyway, where am I going with this?  Here are three things to consider about the future of procurement teams.

Procurement-as-a-service could be a big deal

Not my concept and not new, yet is a concept which has been increasingly discussed and heralded as the future of the function. It may well be that the future of working in procurement begins to sound a little more like this. Organisations will access resources to deliver specific outcomes rather than hiring employees and then wondering what to do with them.

Seriously, who is in your dream team?

You never know when that call might come, or when that platform starts to burn and you have that project you need to deliver. Can you pick your ‘dream team’ from current or former colleagues, or from all the people you’ve met and developed relationships with through all the networking you do?

Where’s your name?

Is your name on the team sheet of others? You may not be the one that gets the call. Your colleague or your peers may be the one having to decide who to bring in. Are you doing the best job you can, delivering results and developing the soft skills needed for tomorrow as well as networking, sharing your stories and taking ownership of your personal professional brand?

The dream team

Now, I might be about to do some oversharing here, but I personally have a ‘Dream Team’ WhatsApp group. A bit of fun to start with, especially as the joke was that ‘Group Admin’ does not count as a demonstration of leadership qualities! But over time, it has kept me connected to those people. We use it most days to share news, keep up to date (it’s all 100% professional of course). However, if I received the call, these are the people that have earned my respect and trust. I wouldn’t hesitate to contact them.

I am fortunate that my team currently has more than 5 people in it. When I get the call tomorrow I’ll be ready. But what if we were asked for a team of 10, or 20? My mindset is that I’m still hiring, and still looking to be hired by others too. I wonder if this mindset might prove useful in future?

Join the conversation and register as a digital delegate for Big Ideas 2017 now!

Cognitive Technology – One Giant Leap for Procurement?

Technology has helped to define the human race, from the invention of the car to the moon landings. Cognitive technology is one small step on the journey into the future.

Register as an online delegate for the London Big Ideas Summit 2017 here.

In 1961, US President John F. Kennedy said, “We chose to go to the moon.” People marvelled at the ambition of pushing the boundaries of human capabilities. After all, the technology to do this didn’t exist at the time.

Kennedy never lived to see his prediction come true, and watch as humans took that giant leap forward. Now, in the 21st Century, we come to the next advancement – cognitive technology.

It’s easy to compare the cognitive technology journey to the space programme and moon landing journeys of last century. For IBM, developing and deploying Watson is like the moonshot in the 1960s where IBM technology helped NASA make the lunar landings possible..

Cognitive technology is merely in its infancy in terms of where it can go. This journey will mostly likely take 50 years or more to be fully realised. And at the moment, we’re just in Year 1.

Millennials Will Help Take This Step

Procurement is starting its own cognitive technology journey and Millennials have the chance to be there at the outset. They will see cognitive technology evolving and developing throughout their whole career.

But first they need to know how to get on board and enjoy the journey.

At the same time, procurement professionals, and the wider workforce, are wondering what cognitive technology means for them. What’s left for procurement when cognitive systems like IBM’s Watson is the smartest guy in the room?

Without adapting and preparing adequately, procurement could easily be marginalised. But if CPOs lead from the front, identify the activities that only procurement can do, then procurement’s road will be much less rocky.

Now is not the time to be overwhelmed by cognitive technology, but to be educated. And to do this, we need to understand the key skills procurement professionals need to focus on to start preparing for the cognitive technology revolution.

Barry Ward, Procurement Brand Manager, Global Business Services at IBM, talks about five key skills below.

1. Watson Awareness

First things first, procurement professionals need to be aware of cognitive technology, and Watson, and what it can do for them.

The reality is that technology can change a job in four ways – eliminate, automate, empower, create. Far from being fearful for their jobs, procurement needs to embrace the change, and use it to enable the profession.

Traditional procurement processes such as cost optimisation, spend management and contracts can be empowered by Watson. Things that used to take days will now be done in a matter of minutes.

Watson can enhance these processes by analysing vast quantities of data, helping to improve the decision-making process. Through this, financial benefits can also be realised in this outcome focused structure.

Ward advises that professionals start with the categories that they manage, and understand how AI can be introduced (IBM refer to AI as Augmented Intelligence, using technology to enhance human knowledge and capability). Then it’s a case of learning as you go, and sharing knowledge with others to work collaboratively and to fully exploit the capabilities that the technology can bring

2. Relationships 

Cognitive technology may make computers super-intelligent, but it doesn’t mean consciousness or awareness. There will always be a need for the human touch in management of stakeholders.

In fact, as technology helps free up time for procurement to focus on strategic tasks, building relationships will become more critical than ever. For example, good supplier relationships will help procurement be more agile, ensuring they stay ahead of stakeholder needs.

Data can only take procurement so far. The rest is down to procurement doing the relationship work we always have done. Only now we’ll have more time to do it, and more information to help enhance the relationship.

3. Negotiation

As with relationship management, traditional procurement skills such as negotiation will also still be key. Watson can give recommendations for how to proceed, but ultimately it can’t make decisions for you. And you’ll always have the ability to correct it too.

However, Watson can help with providing data to enhance the negotiation itself. The system can give details on the person you are negotiating with, and help cut down the preparation time.

For example, if you were negotiating with Barry Ward, and you had done so in the past, Watson would be able to tell you what these previous experiences were like. Like what Barry does in certain circumstances, for example.

There’s less dancing around, you can get straight to the point, all of which saves you time. Plus, you’ll probably get a better deal out of it too!

4. Understand your organisation’s cognitive technology journey 

Find out what your CIO or CTO is doing, and what their plans are for the organisation in terms of cognitive technology. You can ask what the digital transformation will look like, and then think about how to prepare, or even influence, it.

Professionals can assess their own category, and establish what cognitive solutions are available in the market place. The key is learning how cognitive technology might specifically benefit your area.

For example, if you are travelling and your plans change, cognitive technology can assist. All you do is put the details into your phone, and the technology will assess the change, look at your airline and hotel preferences, and then present a plan, complete with cost, for your approval. All without lifting a finger. In truth, these systems are probably a couple of years away yet, but they will fundamentally change the way some categories are managed.

5.  Be Data Savvy

Finally, professionals need to be savvy in terms of knowing what cognitive technology can do for them in terms of data. As we have said, Watson is capable of handling structured and unstructured data, photos, contracts, documents, and even audio files.

The system can make sense of the data, and provide solutions based on combinations of data you’ve never even thought of. The quality of decision-making is improved, and previously unattainable insights are freely available.

We are only just discovering the possibilities that technological advances will bring but it is clear that digital transformation will open up huge opportunities for us all. This will be an exciting time to be in Procurement !

Barry will be  explaining the big ideas behind Watson and the opportunities that cognitive tech presents to procurement at  Big Ideas 2017. Register as a digital delegate.  

Three Economic Indices You Can’t Ignore In Procurement

Procurement professionals need the ability to understand – and react to – changes in inflation, employment and optimism.

Register as an online delegate for the London Big Ideas Summit 2017 here.

The interesting thing about procurement’s typical line of sight is that it very closely aligns with the terms of the sourcing projects we run and the contracts – and therefore supplier relationships – we manage. This might be 6 months, 12 months, 3 years, or 5 years long, but regardless of the exact length of time, you can be assured it is far longer than the changes being seen in global and local economies.

Since the summer of 2016, I have been the Business Survey Chair for the ISM-New York Report on Business. It has been an amazing learning opportunity, and I am fortunate to be working with a career economist to learn to decipher and draw meaning from the data. There are two pieces to the report: 1. the indices (some seasonally adjusted and some not) which provide a monthly trend up or down as the economy contracts or expands, and 2. the narrative, which highlights some of the key figures and milestones and adds some context to the numbers.

You don’t have to be a professor to see the connections between procurement and economics, but it is easy for us to become overly focused on information that is internally available or provided by suppliers. Based on what I’ve learned, the following categories of information tie directly to procurement’s efforts and objectives. And although they may not often come up in internal conversations, they need to be present in procurement’s thinking and strategy development.

Inflation

Investopedia defines inflation as “the rate at which the general level of prices for goods and services is rising and, consequently, the purchasing power of currency is falling.” Most of what procurement buys tends to be based on pre-negotiated contracts, so we’re unlikely to see annual changes in prices based on inflation. What we might see, however, is a difference in the prices we are able to negotiate every three years. This will be especially true of anything we buy internationally or that has significant foreign-sourced materials in it because the relative purchasing power of the U.S. Dollar in global markets will be affected by inflation. But it’s not just an international issue – for any procurement team that reports into finance, keeping an eye on inflation will give you a benchmark for the minimum project-level ROI, as the alternative might be to just hold onto the cash if the project is expected to return less than 3% (the average rate of inflation) per year.

Employment

Higher levels of employment are usually considered a good indicator or economic growth and stability. From a procurement perspective, however, employment also tells us what to expect about trends in services-category spend. With an increasing portion of organizational demand being met ‘as-a-Service’, employment rates (and therefore costs) are critical to our cost to operate. For some industries, services are so important that even the factors driving alternate economic measures like ‘Prices Paid’ are services too – the New York Metro area is a perfect example of this, as are many other major cities. It’s why you must know the product/service mix in your spend before trying to figure out what approach to take. The other consideration relative to employment is talent availability. Higher employment means lower UNemployment (see how I did that?) and therefore less candidates available to compete for open positions. Luckily for procurement, we have a wide array of talent options at our disposal through contingent workforce programs. Striking an optimal mix of employment models presents an opportunity to maximize both costs and capabilities.

Optimism

The final economic index I’ve learned to appreciate is optimism – in the ISM-New York Report on Business we call this the Six-Month Outlook. In other words, as of today, how much better or worse do you expect things to be going six months from now. It would be unrealistic to expect the outlook to be more specific than a trend up or down, but even this insight provides important information for others watching the economy. The fact that this question is even asked is an indication of how special procurement’s perspective on the economy and business activity is. This perspective is due in part to our understanding of the organization’s anticipated demand levels and the prices we are paying, but also the conversations we have with suppliers about the conditions they are doing business in. Competition drives prices down, differentiation drives margins up, increases in demand drive prices up, and large increases in price may push buyers and suppliers to innovate together to come up with alternatives, and procurement has a front row seat for it all.

Many people in the business world watch the monthly reports on business, whether the ISM national reports or regional reports, like ISM-New York. If they value procurement’s perspective on the economy enough to wait for the numbers to be released each month and report on the findings, then we should have a greater appreciate for our own insight and do everything we can to deepen it.

 2017 could be a pivotal year for the procurement profession. The Big Ideas Summit in London will help lay the ground work for all of  the changes ahead. Our London event takes place on 23rd February and you can now register as a digital delegate now! 

Procurement Leaders: Don’t Be A Creativity Killer

Everyone is born with a lot of creative potential. So what’s been holding us back all this time from releasing our inner creative genius?

Register as an online delegate for the London Big Ideas Summit 2017 here.

Last week, we introduced James Bannerman as one of our Big Ideas speakers.  A creative change agent and author of Non-Fiction best-seller Genius: Deceptively Simple Ways to Become Instantly Smarter, James  firmly believes that everyone has the capacity to be creative and innovative.

To start unlocking creative genius within our procurement teams it’s important to first understand the reasons that creativity is often so lacking. What happens between childhood and adulthood that means the average person is so deterred from expressing their creative genius in the workplace? James has a good idea about what’s holding us all back and it often comes down to three things…

Labels

It’s all too easy to get categorized by managers, colleagues and even our own self-doubt. Perhaps someone has identified you as having a particular type of creative talent but written you off in other aspects. Maybe you’ve been discounted as a creative genius altogether! Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses and areas to which they are more suited but in pigeon holing people, we are also limiting them. James believes that by labeling ourselves we are stifling our imaginations and he points out that often the best ideas come when we least expect them and from the people we least expect them from!

Organisational Structures

We’ve all had that one boss who greets every new idea with a perplexed look, a raised eyebrow or complete disinterest. Sometimes, it’s the age-old story of senior management wanting to keep things simple, avoid too much risk and a reluctance to alter the status quo.

Even within organisations who are sincere about wanting to innovate, it’s easy to discourage employees without even realising it, leaving a team of budding intrapreneurs fearful of getting it wrong or what their colleagues might say and too embarrassed to express their best and wackiest ideas. Organisations must create an environment of psychological safety that allows employees to feel comfortable to be creative even in the highly regulated environment of a workplace.

Time

Bannerman is keen to affirm that miraculous and fully-formed ideas won’t simply land at your feet. Instead, he recommends a technique called deliberate creativity:

“ If people had all the time in the world they could patiently wait for genius ideas to fall from the sky. In the real world of business, however, most people are time-poor and don’t have that luxury. That is why Edward de Bono – the author of Lateral Thinking – championed ‘deliberate creativity’.

De Bono showed us how we can use provocative mindtools to jolt the patterns of the mind, as and when required. Look at the highly-innovative organisation Pixar, for example, who appear to make great use of the Oppositions tool. If the rules of superheroes are that they have to be ‘young, fit and athletic’, for example, what do they do? They create ‘The Incredibles’.

Or if the rules are that ‘children are afraid of monsters’, what do they do ? They create ‘Monsters Inc’ where it is the monsters who are afraid of the children. Or if the last thing a chef wants in their kitchen is a rat, what do they do ? They make the rat the chef and create ‘Ratatouille’.

So if you’re looking for innovative solutions for your Procurement team or your organisational Supply Chain Management, ask yourself what might happen if you creatively questioned the habitual ‘rules’ ? The rules of cereal, for example, used to be that they were always eaten in a bowl with milk and a spoon. Questioning these rules, however, helped to inspire the invention of the ‘cereal bar’. Similarly, as Kelley of IDEO points out, for years high-jumpers used to jump forwards, but then – at the 1968 Mexico Olympics – Fosbury wondered what might happen if he deliberately jolted this pattern and jumped backwards, and now the ‘Fosbury Flop’ has become adopted around the globe.”

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Should Procurement Pros Be Concerned About Global Trade?

Renowned economist and Big Ideas Speaker Dr Linda Yueh explains why CPOs needn’t panic about the President Trump administration but there are causes of concern. 

Register as an online delegate for the London Big Ideas Summit 2017 here.

Donald Trump made good on a campaign promise on the first day of his presidency by signing an executive order indicating the United States won’t ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

Though expected, the move caused a media storm and a flurry of responses from politicians and businesses all around the globe. But what does this mean for supply managers?

Many CPOs are understandably nervous about the Trump administration’s policies with regards to global trade. The resurgence of protectionism in the U.S., coupled with the continuing fallout and trade effects of Brexit, has left many procurement professionals wondering which region of the world they should plan to source from in the future.

The TPP was a massive free-trade agreement advocated by the Obama administration, aimed at deepening economic ties between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations, cutting taxes, and fostering trade to boost economic growth in the process. Trump argued on the campaign trail that the agreement would be harmful to the U.S. manufacturing sector. As he signed the withdrawal order, he called it “a great thing for the American worker”.

Economist, broadcaster, author and Big Ideas Summit guest speaker Dr. Linda Yueh’s message to CPOs is one of caution but it’s not time to panic.

Don’t panic

According to Linda, there are three reasons not to panic about what Trump’s protectionist tendencies will mean for procurement, trade, and global supply chains.

  • We need to keep in mind that trade takes place under WTO rules. China is the U.S.’s biggest trading partner, despite no free trade agreement being in place. Of course, if Trump were to pull out of the WTO, then that would be a game changer. But, globalisation, especially e-commerce and the Internet linking markets and people, will mean that trade is likely to continue across borders as it’s hard to see a significant roll-back Costs of trade, of course, are another issue to be focused on.
  • Luckily, the Trump administration hasn’t honed in on e-commerce, which is good news for procurement and supply chains. Currently, one in ten transactions are already undertaken via e-commerce, and this figure will continue to grow.
  • Trump may have moved quickly to sign the TPP withdrawal order on his first day in office, but that wasn’t a formal agreement. Extricating the United States from NAFTA for instance will require renegotiation time and then a period of notice before that free trade agreement would end. Even then, most trade agreements include implementation periods, so a “cliff edge” is unlikely which gives businesses time to plan. Therefore, there’s no need to panic or overhaul your supply chain immediately. But, of course, forward planning and following economic policies would be wise. Also, take Brexit as an example – if Britain succeeds in triggering Article 50 in March 2017, then the UK is scheduled to leave the EU by the end of March 2019 – almost three full years after the people’s vote. And even there, the Prime Minister has indicated that there may be an implementation period to allow more time for businesses to adjust to leaving the Single Market.

Things to watch

So, Linda warns that supply managers should keep an eye on certain factors as global trade adjusts to these seismic political shifts.

1) U.S. border taxes – recently, Trump threatened BMW with a 35 per cent border tax on foreign-built cars imported to the U.S. market. This isn’t an isolated incident and American companies are under even more pressure to produce in the U.S.. Congress is also considering a similar tax, so that is worth bearing in mind as that would have the force of legislation.

2) U.K. Tariffs – one of the consequences of a “hard” Brexit where the UK leaves the EU without any preferential trade deal, which would include no agreement on the Single Market, Customs Union, is the re-emergence of customs for EU trade. Right now, significant customs procedures only apply to non-EU shipments. But, with around half of UK exports going to the EU, taking leave of Britain’s membership in the EU with no deal would means the end of free movement of goods. More customs declarations and duties would raise costs, slow down supply chains and certainly add time at border checks. A potential ‘hard border’ would be a particular issue for Ireland.

3) Resourcing Brexit – the UK Government also needs to think about the resourcing challenges involved in ramping up staff as well as IT systems to cope with the doubling of customs checks on the UK border.

4) NAFTA – As mentioned earlier, Trump has also flagged that the North American Free Trade Agreement (between Canada, Mexico and the U.S.) is up for renegotiation. If you’re a U.S. company, you need to start making plans now about how these changes will affect you. The same applies to any other of America’s free trade deals with 20 countries that Trump would have the authority to re-examine.

What about China?

Globalisation has helped China become a manufacturing powerhouse, but with numerous closed markets.

However, there are very good reasons to continue to do business with China. Wages may be rising but that helps businesses to think about China as a market as well as one production locale in a supply chain. Plus, with growing protectionism in America, China’s President has signalled that China may take more of a lead in globalisation. There’s a lot to watch for.

In short, Linda’s advice to CPOs around the world is keep calm, but keep an eye on the details as the globalisation landscape is shifting significantly. Global trade won’t end tomorrow but it will likely look rather different in the coming years.

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In Business Relationships, It’s All About H2H (Human to Human)

Simona Pop shares her Big Idea on why procurement technology needs to promote – not obstruct – trust, transparency and common goals.

Register as an online delegate for the London Big Ideas Summit 2017 here.

We know that many organisations are still mired in decades-old procurement processes. Besides the inherent inefficiency of paper-based workflows, spreadsheets and other manual tools, the real concern lies in their opacity.

One of the things I’ve learned working with various businesses and multiple stakeholders within supply chain and finance is that there is no real B2C/B2B divide. It’s all H2H: human to human. The concept was coined by Bryan Kramer and is the real foundation for every single business relationship we cultivate, internal or external.

Now, human beings are complex creatures, but for all their complexity, they greatly appreciate simplicity. Finding, understanding and communicating the complex in its most simplistic form is the recipe for success when it comes to relationships.

And a more recent way of translating the very complex into simple formats is technology. For many however, the subject of technology is a double-edged sword to be approached with extreme caution. It is seen as both a huge challenge and an opportunity depending on the maturity of the business and its stakeholders. Zooming in on procurement departments in particular, distinct feelings of inertia and unease prevail when it comes to tech.

So many procurement professionals I have sat down with continue to apply traditional tools to the purchase-to-pay process even though better, more efficient alternatives are available to them. The reasons? That mighty focus on cost savings is undermining the VOI (value on investment) and the temptation to keep things as they are because “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it or risk it” is holding organisations in a “vintage” status quo that’s affecting their competitive edge on a daily basis.

The current climate is very much a head in the sand affair. Procurement processes that have been around for the past 10, 20, 30 years are characterised by a great degree of opacity. The reason for this is the historic dependence on paper, manual work and fragmented software systems. This opacity means the relationships between departments/stakeholders within a business are not exactly what you would call fully functional. There was a time when things had to be this way because that was the best there was. That is no longer the case and pretending nothing has changed is far more dangerous than “risking” change.

Always reacting to situations as opposed to being proactive towards challenges is a symptom of traditional process that needs upgrading. The ability to stimulate internal collaboration and valuable relationships is affected by the permanent race against time. There isn’t one finance professional I’ve met who isn’t completely incapacitated by “month end” as a result of delayed purchase approvals or lack of a PO system. Incomplete or delayed information passing between departments opens the door to fraud and perpetuates false data. These draining complexities can be simplified by shining a light on proceedings. That light? Technology.

Technology is an agent of empowerment, not a antagonistic nuisance that must be adopted just because everyone else is doing it, with no real merit of itself. The key advantages technology brings are speed and transparency. Moving the information processed from paper/desktop to cloud/mobile and delivering it in real time as opposed to post-fact is all about simplicity. Eliminating the need for 100 spreadsheets, lengthy manual approval chains and data entry clerks will empower people from the bottom up, the top down and across the board. Accessing objective information and using it in real time will ensure each task is performed to the best standard and in full compliance.

A move towards value-based relationships is already happening as businesses are acknowledging that well-functioning relations are worth as much as good prices or good bonuses. Trust, common values and clear, real-time communication are all hallmarks of good service. Something every business needs to achieve to stay competitive, right?

In conclusion, using technology to empower the talented people across the P2P process is the key to better relationships and ultimately, better business. Accessing data in real time and performing tasks on the go will not only make people better practitioners but better collaborators too. The human-to-human foundation of successful business is based on trust, transparency and common goals. Given the goal of procurement is to make a business successful, promoting trust, efficiency and transparency should be a natural move.

This article was first published on Spend Matters.

Stay tuned for more Big Ideas from Simona Pop as we lead up to the Big Ideas Summit 2017!

Join the conversation and register as a digital delegate for Big Ideas 2017 now!