Category Archives: Generation Procurement

Bridging the Cultural Gap – A Case in Point

Having an understanding of Cultural Intelligence in one thing. Knowing where and when to apply it is a different thing altogether.

Photo by Wojtek Witkowski on Unsplash

Over the last few months we have discussed the idea of what Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is, the 4 key components that comprise CQ and how they are can be utilised in the workplace to assist us to work more effectively across distance, culture and time.

From here I will describe some case studies so that you are better able to grasp some of the issues that can arise when working across culture. Then I will explore ways to reduce tension and miscommunication.

Recognising the Cultural Differences

Recently I was with an Australian organisation that has a global presence. As their business grows and matures in the international market, it is becoming increasingly important for them to adopt a more culturally agile approach. During the discussion an incident was raised that did not have the desired impact.

Due to the growing awareness around mental health and the increasing rate of suicide in Australia, a dedicated day called “R U Ok Day” is held on September 12 every year to focus on mental health. The idea of having this day is to encourage people to ask others how they are feeling, if there are issues to share, so that they feel supported and not isolated.

It is recognised in Australia as an important step towards reducing suicide and developing a strong and supportive network for those that may be struggling with mental health.

This organisation extended the recognition of the “R U OK Day” event to it’s international offices, thinking it would be a powerful, well received and progressive gesture.

Despite the good intentions held by the organisation in promoting these values of openness and support, the organisation received a lot of resistance particularly from offices in the Asian countries. The pushback from the Asian offices occurred because, while the organisation acted with the best intentions they did not foresee the impact of those intentions.  

The organisation failed to take into consideration how this kind of discussion might be received in different cultures. In many Asian cultures, discussing mental health or experiencing mental health issues is very taboo.

Admitting you have problems is a source of shame in these cultures so understandably this initiative caused unease and tensions for the offices. The offices felt that this had been forced upon them and it was anything but well received.

Avoiding Cultural Tension

How then can we avoid a situation like this in our own workplaces?

Some points for consideration are:

  • Be Conscious:

Be aware of our own biases – this means being mindful that the way in which you view a behaviour, practice or topic may not be the same as some one from a different culture. Culture is effectively the lens through which you view the world, so it is important that whenever you are working across culture you consider how your actions, attitudes and behaviours will be received.

At the same time, how do you attempt to understand the “other” point of view?

  • Ask Questions:

When introducing new initiatives, it is imperative to ask questions and receive feedback so you are able to gauge the response before putting things into place. Listening to the perspective of those in a different culture will broaden your perspective especially with new initiatives.

  • Be Adaptive:

If an initiative is introduced and not so well received in a different cultural context, then it becomes necessary to consider how to adapt, adopt or modify this so that it can be more easily accepted by the cultural group involved.

These types of situations require the utilisation of all of the components of Cultural Intelligence that we have previously discussed – Drive, Knowledge, Strategy and Action. By incorporating these elements into our cross cultural interactions we are in a better position to maintain and strengthen our relationships, which will lead to better outcomes.

What Literature and Film Teaches us about Savings

The theme of money is a very common one in the world of books and film. So what can our favourite fictional characters teach us about increasing our savings?

From Pixabay on Pexels

It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that procurement can learn a lot about saving from literary and film characters. Money is a common central theme in so many novels and movies and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a multitude of good and bad examples of how organisations can manage their money. 

One of the many options available to organisations is to look for external assistance in the form of procurement consulting. To tie in with the idea of drawing inspiration from a network of sources, one particular strategy would be to use a Group Purchasing Organisation (GPO). A GPO draws uses the collective purchasing power of its members to achieve greater discounts and lower prices from suppliers. 

The benefits don’t stop there. A GPO can apply various procurement strategies and actually increase organisational savings year-on-year. It’s about selecting the right strategy or strategies. And this is where our movie and book characters come in.

Strategic Buying and Mr. Micawber

Wilkins Micawber is a primary character in the Charles Dickens novel, David Copperfield. The character has begat the ‘Micawber Principle’, which simply and eloquently states that if annual expenditure exceeds annual income, then the result is ‘misery’. Though he seems to be better at offering this advice than taking it himself, this shows a good example of strategic buying.

In spite of some criticism faced, GPOs don’t encourage greater spending or higher volume of purchasing – this is a myth! They do, however, utilise the greater buying power of the collective over the individual to provide lower prices for members. And then, in addition, keep these prices lower in the long-term by leveraging higher volumes and pre-negotiated contracts. 

Definitely no misery here if the strategic buying is carried out effectively, as this will result in continued savings for the organisation.

Monty Brewster and Centralised Procurement 

If you haven’t seen the 1985 comedy classic, ‘Brewster’s Millions’, then finish reading this first and then go and find it on whichever TV/film/streaming service you use! In the book and film, the titular Brewster must spend $30 million in 30 days in order to inherit $300 million. And there are a couple of catches: 

  1. if he fails to spend the full amount he is left with nothing; and 
  2. he cannot tell anyone the reason for his spending spree.

Let’s set aside for a moment that this is every procurement professional’s nightmare end user – off doing their own thing without communicating anything. 

One of Brewster’s main issues in spending the money is his well-meaning friend, Spike. While Brewster is off throwing money away, Spike is making shrewd investments and actually earning more. It’s the very definition of decentralised procurement.

A GPO helps to build centralised procurement in the organisation and in its network of members. Communication is key and demand management strategies are developed by procurement in conjunction with end users, reducing excess usage. This is all supported by GPOs providing metrics and benchmarks from the network for all members to use. 

This again helps keeps the price down in the longer term and reduces the likelihood of an end user going on a Brewster-style spending spree!

Procurement Software and Nick Leeson

They say the best stories start with the kernel of truth. Well this one is based on a true story which helps to highlight the benefits of procurement software in both traceability and compliance. Ewan MacGregor plays real-life ‘Rogue Trader’, Nick Leeson, whose attempts to save and recoup money caused one of the biggest scandals in banking history.

Without trivialising the situation, or making light of what was a very damaging time for a large number of people, the film and real-life story highlight why organisations, and procurement within them, need high quality procurement software to track and manage spend. The concept of ‘you can’t save what you can’t see’, as well as ensuring that spend is compliant rather than non-contract or maverick, links heavily to the savings agenda.

Companies like Sourcing Insights provide world-class software and analytics which enable procurement to track and visualise data in real-time and see where future issues may lie. You may not have a Rogue Trader in your midst, but with the application of the right software you’ll have greater control on your spend which will help to deliver savings year after year. 

Managing your Money

There’s an idea in procurement that to get the best from spending, professionals need to spend the money like it’s their own. But how about you engage some procurement consulting and get them to manage your money like it was their own?

Whether you are a Micawber or a Brewster, you can access the best knowledge and software, knowing that your money is safe in their hands. After all, it would be nice to be able to point to this success the next time your CFO asks “show me the money”!

From savings and pre-negotiated agreements, to spend analytics and collective buying power, GPOs provide a wealth of benefits to procurement organisations. Find out more by visiting UNA.com now.

Creating a Procurement Video to Make Your Mum Proud!

Photo by Donald Tong from Pexels

This article was written for Procurious by Sievo. Find out more about them here.

Have you ever had a hard time explaining what you do to friends or family? Do you love your job but get the sense other people find it boring?

We all know sales drives growth, marketing builds brands and the buck stops with finance. Why is it so difficult to explain the excitement and value procurement brings to the table?

According to Wikipedia, procurement is “the process of finding and agreeing to terms, and acquiring goods, services, or works from an external source, often via a tendering or competitive bidding process. Procurement generally involves making buying decisions under conditions of scarcity.”

Yeah, I know! It sounds boring. Compare it to what we came up with to describe procurement analytics. And we promise you, this is NOT just another boring video about procurement.

Time for a Re-Brand

So why did we break the procurement as we know it and create that simple-fun video? We all know that procurement is often introduced in a boring way – it’s no Sales or Marketing.

But if Sales and Marketing can brand themselves well, why can’t procurement? Why is it that when think-ing about sales, people think of smiling businessmen in suits making deals on lunch dates that increase the company’s revenue, and when thinking of procurement it’s something….well…different.

At Sievo we do procurement analytics. It’s arguably the nerdiest, geekiest, most jargon-filled area of procurement. Analytics is tough to explain on its own. But analytics combined with procurement? I’m not going to even put the definition of that here.

But don’t worry – the fact that procurement is boring is not your fault!

You can choose who and what to blame – the fact that procurement professionals are focusing on savings instead of branding or the lack of knowledge about the subject – but one thing is true: procurement has a branding problem.

Our Procurement Video – Sharing the Excitement

A while back we were looking at YouTube videos about procurement to have some inspiration for future projects. Turned out, we weren’t very inspired at all after watching all of the long and technical videos. In fact, we got a bit worried when wondering what our moms would say if they decided to look into what we do for a living.

We decided we had to do something. Anything. We found that there was a clear demand for an interesting and fun video about procurement. Like the one the sales function has where Leonardo DiCaprio shows how to sell a pen. If for no-one else than to finally explain to our partners and mothers what it really is that we do in a way that they wouldn’t fall asleep halfway.

The thing is, procurement and procurement analytics are actually quite exciting. You should know. Sure, it’s not smiling people out on launch dates all the time, but dang it, procurement is an important function. It’s a function that should be portrayed in the exciting way it deserves.

This subject of changing the way we talk about procurement seemed to be close to the hearts of many since there has been an abundance of comments in response to the video.

Check some of those out:

“Definitely going to show this to my family to let them know what I do at work all day!”

Naavie

“Very cool – this video shows importance of procurement analytics to CPOs, cate-gory managers, compliance officers who look for sustainability in procurement process and even legal department!”

Alexandra Shtromberg

“Shared to my network, great vid… procurement analytics, simply explained and fun to watch… ”

Laura Garcia-Hornell

“Interesting and fun video, really liked it. I am all in for procurement analytics because on the best case it helps to support better decisions which lead to better negotiations… ”

Phil Kowalski

Want more? Read here 14 of some of the most creative definitions of procurement analytics by the ex-perts. Who knew procurement analytics could be explained with Tequila, an Indian wedding, and digging up gold?

Comment what you think about our approach and let us know how YOU would rebrand procurement!

Would you Change Your Accent to Appear More Professional?

Credit – Markus Spiske/Pexels

When you landed your first professional job, did you change the way you spoke? 

Perhaps you thought you’d sound more professional if you talked with a slightly more sophisticated accent or littered the conversation with a few long words – or maybe, you just wanted to fit in and speak like everyone else.  

Or did colleagues continually ask “What did you say?”, which made you realise that you needed to tone down your dialect to be better understood. 

You might have hoped that no one had noticed. However, when you went home, your family probably did – and perhaps they were not shy about pointing out that you were talking differently.  

One in ten people with a regional accent even say they were accused of speaking “posh” when they went back home to visit. 

The Class Divide – How You Speak Can Count Against You 

The issue is that every time you open your mouth, you could be ruining your career chances.  

In fact, even if you don’t have an accent you believe this to be true with more than half of people saying that having a regional dialect would rule them out of the top boardroom jobs.  

London accents that are considered the worst. So you probably won’t be hearing many people who sound like Dany Dyer heading for the executive offices. 

So it’s probably no surprise that nearly a quarter of professionals say that in order to be successful in their career, they’d have to alter the way they speak at work according to a survey by the Equality Group

The Brass Ceiling – Why We Hide Where We Come From 

It’s not just how you speak that matters. It is shameful that in this century, professionals still feel they cannot be honest about their socio-economic background (or how much brass they have). 

One in ten has even gone as far as hiding their hometown for fear of judgement – saying they have not been forthcoming about where they grew up because they worry that they will be unable to access particular professional/social networks if others knew their background. 

Along with gender, age, race and religion, your background this is yet another example of how we are discriminated against at work. 

However, you might not have a leg to stand on if you complain – because the Equalities Act of 2010 does not cover socio-economic class.  

It’s a big issue according to the Equality Group, a consultancy that helps businesses attract, develop and retain diverse talent. 

Three quarters of us believe that professionals with higher socio-economic status have increased access to better careers and job opportunities regardless of their experience of qualifications. Yet six in ten of the UK workforce identifies as coming from a working-class background. 

So, until things change, professionals are purposefully hiding their hometowns and regional accents for fear they will miss out on a better job.  

Better Off Do Better – Just Look at Boris 

The Social Mobility Commission backs up these findings, revealing that those from better-off backgrounds are 80 per cent more likely to end up in professional jobs than their working-class counterparts.  

This partly down to confidence. Professionals from lower socio-economic classes are less likely to ask for a pay rise and promotion due to a fear about ‘not fitting in’.  So, could your own self-perception of class be influencing your employment status? 

This even influences our choice of careers according to a report from Debut. It found that more than a third of graduates say they were put off joining a business whose workforce was perceived to be made up of mainly middle and upper-class employees. Two in three also said they had to change who they were, including how they look, to get a job. Debut calls this “professional exclusion”. 

Unconscious Bias – You are Guilty Too  

If you think it is grossly unfair to discriminate against someone just because of their accent or where they come from, then take a good look at yourself. 

Unconscious bias is something we are all guilty of. It is natural human behavior. We may rule someone out of a promotion or even our team because we perceive them to be too old (which we often equate with being unable to adapt and learn new skills). Or we may assume that a young female employee is not as bright as a middle-aged man. This list goes on…. age, gender, race, religion or even size, can all influence how we view others.  

However, it can also work the other way – we are often drawn to people or treat them more favourably if they look like us, sound like us and have a similar background. If you went to a particular university (or did not go at all) you might unconsciously favour someone who followed the same educational path. This can lead to us working with people who are not up to the job – and it could damage our own careers. 

So which category do you fit into – and how can you tackle your own unconscious bias? 

  • Perception bias: This is where you believe on thing about a group of people based on stereotypes and as a result you make assumptions that may not be true. 
  • Challenge yourself to get to know someone first. 
  • Affinity bias: You like people because they are like you. In recruitment this can lead to “mini me” hiring. Diversity is good for business so this can stifle innovation and creativity.  
  • Challenge yourself to reach out and work with people who are different to yourself. You might learn something new, change your point of view and become more open minded. 
  • Confirmation bias: None of us likes to be proved wrong. So, we try to confirm our assumptions about groups of people (or even ideas) rather than making objective judgments.  
  • Challenge yourself by stepping back and judging someone on their behaviour, merits, achievements – not just how they look or sound. Look for ways to prove that you are wrong in your assumptions. 
  • The halo effect:  A white, well spoken, well dressed, good looking man walks into the office and you automatically assume that this person is honest, capable, intelligent etc… without knowing a thing about them. That’s the halo effect. 
  • Challenge yourself to delay making judgements. Anyone can buy a nice suit, it does not mean they are good at their job.  

Is Artificial Intelligence Destroying Your Job?

Just because a machine can learn from mistakes doesn’t mean it is self-aware and about to deploy robots to destroy humanity throughout time and space.  But it does mean that increasingly, machines can take on more and more human work.

By Leremy / Shutterstock

On 11 February this year, President Trump signed an executive order directing US government agencies to prioritise investments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) research and development. There isn’t any detail on how the AI Leadership executive order will be paid for, but as a statement of intent right from the top, it’s pretty powerful.  So, is this something you need to worry about?  Will robots be taking your job next Tuesday?  Probably not, but the answer is not as reassuring as it sounds.

When we think of AI, we probably think of Skynet (the evil computer that hunts humans in the Terminator films) or the similar tricked-up calculator that is the meanie in the Matrix films.  But real AI is a little more mundane.  It is more likely to be making sure your car headlights are on when you need them (and not on when you don’t), sending a nuisance spam call to your voice-mail or suggesting the next thing to watch on Netflix.  AI is the catchall term for software that can solve problems based on rules rather than a linear set of fixed instructions.  Really advanced AI can modify the rules based on how things turned out the last time or patterns that it detects in the environment.

Just because a machine can learn from mistakes doesn’t mean it is self-aware and about to deploy robots to destroy humanity throughout time and space.  But it does mean that increasingly, machines can take on more and more human work.  In recent decades we have seen this kind of automation steadily eat away at assembly line jobs as increasingly AI driven robots replace workers performing limited and repetitive functions.  A robot can sort big apples from small oranges more efficiently than a human and it never needs to take a break (or be paid). 

As the technology advances, it’s starting to creep into areas we might have thought of as immune from automation.  Medical diagnosis is increasingly the target for deep learning AI, the kind that recognises patterns and makes predictions based on those patterns.  During their career a doctor might see a few thousand x-rays or MRI images and get better at noticing patterns.  But AI software can review every x-ray ever made before the doctor has finished her morning coffee. 

A recent study, for example, compared the diagnostic precision of AI software with that of teams of specialist doctors from all over China.  The AI software was 87 per cent accurate in diagnosing brain tumours in 15 minutes.  The doctors could only diagnose 67 per cent and needed twice as much time to do it.  The AI increased precision and saved time because it was able to learn from a much larger base of experience than any individual doctor or team of doctors ever could. It uses like this that are why AI is predicted to add $15 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

President Trump joined the 18 other countries that have announced AI strategies since March 2017, because he wants the US to be a leader in AI rather than a follower.  And it is why investment in AI based startups jumped 72 per cent to almost $10 billion in 2018 alone.  

And even though some analysts are predicting 1.8 million jobs will be lost to AI in 2019 alone, those same analysts are predicting that the AI industry will create 2.3 million jobs in the same timeframe.  You can’t buy buggy whips now because the industry that created them was destroyed by Henry Ford, but there are many more jobs in the automobile industry he created than there ever were in the one he killed.

When analysts from McKinsey looked at the employment impact of AI in five sectors last year, they concluded that jobs which use basic cognitive skills, such as data input, manipulation and processing will likely decline, while demand for higher cognitive, social and emotional, and advanced technological skills should grow, as will the number of jobs that require customer and staff interaction and management.

If your job could be classified as administrative support then the future does not look bright.  And even if it requires you to do years of training so you can manipulate or recognise patterns in data, like those Chinese doctors, a financial analyst or a military strategist then AI will be coming to a workstation near you within the foreseeable future.  Humans are still a little too messy and unpredictable for the average AI bot.  So, if your job needs you to interact with humans and please them, such as in direct sales, management or counselling, then you are probably safe, for now.  And of course, if you are writing the programs that drive the AI then your career is assured.

AI is rapidly changing the face of the modern workplace.  And while nothing much will change by the end of the year, by the end of the decade, most jobs will be unrecognisable.  You’ve been warned. It’s time to transform yourself from a data geek to a people-person, before your computer takes your job.

AI and Procurement: Boldly Going Where No Team Has Gone Before?

The battle of “human vs. machine” is raging in Hollywood and, increasingly, in the workplace. What does the future hold for AI?

By Willrow Hood / Shutterstock

2001: a space odyssey… Terminator… The Matrix…

If you were to believe some of the sci-fi blockbusters, you’d think our future as humans is pretty bleak. They all offer a dystopian view of the future where, if the machines don’t kill us, they enslave us.

The battle of “human vs. machine” also seems to be raging outside of Hollywood, and we humans seems to be losing more and more ground to machines each year. Some of this ground has been lost in the world of gaming. Over the past decade, machines have been beating us at increasingly complex games more and more often. Looking back at these “wins” for the machines, we can see some key stages in the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI):

•    Deep Blue won against Kasparov at chess in 1997. It was rather dumb but powerful. With brute-force & human-created logic, Deep Blue was able to test and evaluate every possible sequence of moves at every turn and choose the best one.

•    Watson defeated Jeopardy champion, Ken Jennings, in 2011 and was smarter than Deep Blue. It had to understand natural language and find the relevant knowledge from various sources like encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauri, newswire articles and literary works.

•    Google’s Alpha Go won against Go’s world champion Less Sedol in 2016. To achieve this result, it had to learn from humans from thousands of past games. This is because, unlike chess, which has a limited number of moves, Go is one of the most complex board games in the world, with more possible moves than the number of atoms in the universe. The second generation of Alpha Go learned by itself by playing against itself millions of times to discover what works and what does not.

•    Libratus beat four expert players of Texas Hold ‘Em poker. It also learned by itself and was able to understand behavior because poker is a game of luck, deception, and bluffing!

While very impressive, these victories also show that machines are still dumb when compared to everything that people can do. Machines excel at one thing and have the intelligence of a two-year-old or less for everything else.

What we can learn from sci-fi movies and the battles being waged on the gaming front, is that AI has many faces:

Today, despite all the hype and buzz, computers are still only at the narrow intelligence level. But even at this level, the potential applications of AI are endless.

As far as Procurement is concerned, the same applies: machines are far from being able to replace Procurement teams. Instead, new technologies have another purpose: augment people to achieve better outcomes.  This is a definite shift from the last waves of technologies, which were mostly focused on automation and staff reduction.

Machines in procurement get a promotion: from admins to colleagues and consultants

AI, in short, is all about learning from data to develop new insights and using this new knowledge to make better decisions. It is also about continuous learning and improvement. AI is a master of the “Kaizen” philosophy! This makes it a precious ally for Procurement and AI should therefore be considered as a team member within the broader Procurement ecosystem. Experience shows that “people + machines” get better results than people alone or machines alone.

Of course, in Procurement and in general, it is undeniable and unavoidable that AI will impact the future of work and the future of jobs. Work will continue to exist, despite potentially significant job displacements. While some jobs may disappear, new ones will come to take their place, and most will be transformed by the imperative of cooperation with smarter machines. Procurement jobs will also be impacted and future procurement professionals will require a new set of skills. For example, data analysis and modeling will become a core competency next to more traditional business and relationship management skills. This is because the “data analyst” component in activities will grow due to the collaboration with AI in order to:

•    Train AI and ensure that data is relevant, complete, and unbiased

•    Monitor outputs (recommendations, actions, insights, etc.) of the AI system to ensure relevance, quality, take more contextual / soft aspects into account, and safeguard against AI shortcomings.

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

To conclude on a more positive and optimistic note than where this article started, I have taken inspiration from another sci-fi classic.  I believe that the future lies in a new type of cooperation between humans and machine.

The duo Dr. Spock and Captain Kirk illustrates, to some extent, how such cooperation is possible and can offer the best of both worlds. By combining Captain Kirk’s instinct and emotional intelligence with Spock’s logic and reasoning skills, they were able to successfully tackle any challenge they encountered.

New developments like explainable AI (XAI) and “caring AI” will make machines of the future even more human and will allow them to take an even more active role in our personal and professional lives. AI will continue to augment us, not replace (or kill or enslave) us.

So, Procurement people, live long and prosper!

Voicemails Are Dead So Why Do We Use Them?

Why do we all have a voicemail system and why do people continue to leave them? Abby Vige discusses instant gratification

By Aniwhite/ Shutterstock 

When we’re stuck in the work grind and we see our phone light up with news from beyond our present moment, our spirits buoy a little! Yay! Then we drop when we realise it’s just a voicemail. It’s almost as bad as when you think have a text but it’s just spam from your telecommunications provider. Sigh.

Confession

I have to admit that I never clear voicemails, some people even state in their voicemail greeting that they do not clear them, so why do we all have a voicemail system and why do people continue to leave them?

Voicemails date back to the late seventies when a chap patented his unique “Voice Message Exchange” and sold the electronic message system to 3M. Since this master stroke of genius, we have never looked back. When voicemails were invented they made sense, there were no emails and faxes were yet to reach their peak. But do they make sense as a business or connection tool in this modern era?

A message from beyond

The reason I don’t tend to clear my voicemails, is because as soon as someone leaves one the news instantly old. Or, there is very little information that warrants the effort of clearing them all and then phoning each individual back “hey, Susan from accounts here, phone me back” why should I?

Enter the experiment phase…

After having this question kick around my head for awhile, I decided to scratch the itch of my curiosity and prove what I thought to be true. I listened to every voicemail across 2-3 days and phoned each person back, the top results were:

  • They had already emailed me the query and was surprised I was phoning them
  • The issue at hand had substantively evolved
  • They had found out the answer themselves

The motivation for them to leave the voicemail had initial merit, but in some instances, just minutes later the situation had changed. My stark conclusion was that most of the conversations were in effect, a waste of time.

Now, I don’t want to be seen as a VM hater, Procurement is a customer centric, customer service industry. But this is not the way I add value to my customers or to my organisation. Voicemails fall in to a “reactive” space for me and I’m much more of a pro-active gal. I love to be accessible to my customers, but you’ll often find me at their desks in person because face to face conversations are worth it.

What’s driving Susan?

The experiment was interesting and somewhat validating but the question remains, why do we feel the need to leave the dreaded VM in the first place? Most people assume that it’s because email as a written form, takes longer to write out verses simply phoning the person and requesting that they phone you back. It’s also generally accepted that voicemails enable us to convey emotions and urgency.

But what is really driving us is more of a simpler basic human need, the need for instant gratification. The term itself is self-explanatory but it in this context what is driving us is our self-centric view of the world. Even though we know it makes sense to write an email and include more information and leave it for when the person is available to digest it, we forgo these long-term benefits in favour of short term benefits that resolve something in our world, we feel better.

This is subject that has piqued curiosity for many years and found its roots in pop culture through the 1960’s infamous “Marshmallow experiment”. This was a major psychological study conducted by Stanford Professor Walter Mischel where children between 4 and 5 years old were given the choice of having one marshmallow to eat right away or they could wait for the researcher to come back and they would get two. The results of watching the kids wait has been the subject of many a video and even adverts.

How this plays out at work

The desire for short term gratification is often exasperated by the pressures of a work environment where the sense of needing to get things done and done quickly rules supreme. What underpins the need for instant gratification? The need for the issue to be passed on, to be received – ultimately to be heard.

We eat the marshmallow over and over, we can’t wait, we can’t help ourselves. Those of us that don’t leave voicemails most likely transfer the gratification to other media or medium. Even your neat and pretty to do list or post it note system fits the short term satisfaction bill.

The biggest insight gained from the experiments was the link proven between delaying gratification and being successful in life. Those 4 and 5 year olds from the 1960’s that waited for the second marshmallow, had higher academic scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures.

What we can learn

If we train ourselves to be less reactive and to delay those hard wired gratification urges, we can increase our productivity in focused and targeted areas. Ultimately raising our value to the organisations we work for, whether that is a company or working for yourself.

Take the challenge….

  1. Don’t leave voicemails
  2. Pay attention to your inner world, before you take action, think about what is driving that action
  3. Start small and repeat that small action each day
  4. Keep visual reminders about your top priorities
  5. Keep yourself accountable

Dynamic Purchasing Systems – The New Normal?

The framework is dead – long live the framework? As the public sector moves to make collaborative procurement easier, the Dynamic Purchasing System may be the key to long-term planning.

By Andrey Yurlov/ Shutterstock

So you know all about collaborative procurement frameworks in the public sector? Are you planning on using them in the short-term to kick start your year? You might want to hold on a second as there’s something that you might want to try out.

We have touched on collaborative frameworks that are available to public sector organisations in a previous article. Continuing the theme of the difficulties of collaboration, we come to a relatively new beast in the procurement jungle. This is the Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS).

Speaking from experience, it’s one of the hardest exercises I’ve done in my procurement career to date. Not only do you need to have all your stakeholders and requirements lined up before you even start (more on that shortly), but the complexity of the set-up has the ability to leave you scratching your head in utter confusion.

As hard a beast as it is to tame, once it’s in place it has the potential to solve a number of woes commonly associated with frameworks.

Let’s Get Dynamic

There are an increasing number of public sector organisations beginning to use a DPS as an alternative that still bears more than a passing resemblance to traditional frameworks. Buyers still have a list of pre-qualified suppliers who can compete in subsequent tenders, while suppliers can widen their chances by applying for as many Lots as they feel are relevant to their operations.

The key difference is that at the conclusion of the first stage, any suppliers who have been unsuccessful in their application for one or more Lots may reapply. They’ll then be re-evaluated and informed if they have been successful. A kind of ‘wash, rinse, repeat’ situation.

There are standard timelines involved both the first and second stages (see more here) and, unfortunately, it’s not a fast process. If you have never used a DPS, then you might wonder what actually makes it different from your standard frameworks. We’ll cover some Pros and Cons shortly, but in essence there are two key differences.

  1. The length of the DPS – Where a framework may be limited to 3-4 years, there is no upper time limit on a DPS. The buyer would make a decision on an appropriate length, taking into consideration the goods or services being procured, the market and any anticipated changes in scope or market conditions.
  • The ‘open’ application – The DPS is more dynamic than a framework (it’s in the name really!). Suppliers can apply to join at any time during the life of the DPS and are then on it for its duration. This is particularly good if there are new suppliers in the market, but also that unsuccessful suppliers don’t miss out on the chance of business for a number of years.

The Pros – Buyers and Suppliers

Beyond the longer length of the DPS and the fact that suppliers can be added at any time, there are a number of other benefits on both sides of the fence.

  • Reduced Timescales – see, I said we’d get back here! The length of time tenders are out in the market for can be as little as 10 days. This is a major reduction based on the minimum of 25 days for most Restricted procedures. And there’s more…
  • One Notice, No Standstill – Once the first Contract Notice has been sent out, there’s no requirement to do an individual one for each tender. And Award Notices can be grouped over a longer period to be issued in one go. AND there’s no requirement for a 10 day Standstill period on awards. All this means less time and valuable resources being spent on administration.
  • Access for SMEs – the DPS naturally sets up a greater number of smaller Lots and work packages, meaning that it’s much more attractive for SMEs to get involved. It maximises their involvement and means that they are competing on a level playing field with larger organisations.
  • Fully Electronic – further to this, all documentation has to be available in electronic format within the DPS, for its full duration. This means a level playing field again for any suppliers joining later in the process.

The Cons – Is it really for you?

Before we get carried away thinking a DPS is the panacea we’ve all been waiting for, there are a couple of caveats. Some are obvious, others come only with the painful experience of setting one up.

  • No Direct Awards, No Call Offs – unlike a traditional framework, there’s no scope of Direct Award or Call Offs from a DPS. Any procurement projects put through it need to have a full set of tender documents.
  • Set Up Isn’t Easy – as you might expect for something this size, scale and value, the early stages need some hard graft and infinite patience. You’re going to need to have outline specifications, tender documents and T&Cs, as well as a firm idea of what is going through each Lot. Set up alone could take a number of months.
  • No Guarantees – as we found, much to our chagrin, there are no guarantees that the suppliers you want will join. You can lead a horse (or supplier) to water with the notices, emails and follow ups, but they may choose not to drink. After all, from their point of view, they still have significant competition to go through to get any business.
  • It’s not for everything – there are categories and commodities for which a DPS will be brilliant. Markets where there is a fast pace of change or large number of new entrants are good. Commodities with a high volume of transactions, or less complex scope, can greatly benefit. But if you have a highly complex good or service and low number of contracts in your category or commodity, it may not be for you.

The New Normal?

It’s unlikely that Dynamic Purchasing Systems will completely replace traditional frameworks in the future. However, it does provide a powerful and useful tool for buyers both in getting tenders to market and ensuring a good level of on-going competition. Suppliers will benefit from reduced administration too, as they only need to pre-qualify once, but may be put off by the sheer size and scale of the DPS if you have a large number of Lots.

It’s definitely worth looking in more detail at the available information to see if a DPS is for you, and how you would set it up. Make sure you communicate with the market to see if it’s applicable (also good as a heads up that it’s coming) and how the Lots might be split down. Internally, gear everyone up and get everything in place. Once you explain the benefits, people are likely to get on board quickly!

Ultimately, don’t be put off by it. Yes, it’s something completely different that you may never have done before. But then, when’s that ever stopped procurement before?!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

The Science And The Art Of Procurement

As we move towards a new decade is the emphasis in the procurement world changing – are we going to see a new age, where the Art of Procurement comes to the fore?

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Much of our focus in the last twenty years or so within the procurement profession and within our specific procurement functions has been on what we might call the “Science of Procurement”.

The huge growth in the use of technology has been the most visible part of that developing picture. Over the years, we have moved from the first spend analysis initiatives, laboriously building Excel-based “spend cubes”, through to today’s automated, cloud-based, AI-driven, integrated, holistic (add your own buzz-word here…)  procurement platform. Technology has radically changed procurement activities and procurement roles across virtually all our spheres of activity.

Outside the technology field, we have also seen “science” come to the fore in terms of codifying processes such as Category Management. There may be different models in use, but there is a pretty well-accepted logical methodology behind how organisations approach their management of major spend areas. Professionalisation of the function, logic and analysis has also extended into other areas, with a growth in relevant qualifications, all the way through to procurement and supply chain MBAs and even Doctorates.

But, as we move towards a new decade, perhaps the wind is shifting, and we may see a different focus in the next ten years.  Is the emphasis in the procurement world changing – and are we going to see a new age, where the Art of Procurement comes to the fore, alongside the scientific approaches?  I first saw this term used a few years ago by Philip Ideson, as a title for his website and excellent series of podcasts, and it feels like this may be an idea whose time has come.  

However, we would stress that doesn’t mean forgetting the science and (of course) the technology. After all, we’re only just beginning to see what AI and machine learning might do to revolutionise procurement and supply chain management; the possibilities are endless and hard to predict.

But we are also seeing increasing focus on issues such as;

  • how procurement can successfully influence, engage and collaborate with internal stakeholders to drive value;
  • procurement being asked to support development of unconventional business models that move beyond traditional buyer / seller (partnerships, JVs, large firms running start-up incubators, etc); and  
  • capturing and exploiting innovation from supply markets and individual suppliers becoming a top priority for organisations and therefore procurement functions.

When we look at that sort of activity, we can see that it is very different to the standard procurement processes – spend analysis, competitive sourcing, purchase to pay management. Now those core tasks and issues are not going to go away, and we would not want to suggest procurement leaders take their eyes off those particular balls or stop trying to execute this work as effectively as possible! But adoption of technology, automation, and best practice process is not the ultimate objective; it is a means to an end. 

The emerging strategic priorities for our organisations require different approaches from procurement, different skills sets amongst staff, and critical success factors such as creativity, flexibility, adaptability and even imagination really start to come into play. In addition, our expectations and requirements of technology must evolve as well, to support not just rapid deployment of standard best practices, but the ability to bring our best ideas to life and promote agility.

So, this talk of creativity, agility and innovation all starts sounding and feeling much more like “Art” rather than pure “Science”, and it is interesting to see that technology firm Ivalua has titled the Ivalua Now 2019 conferences this spring (in Chicago and Paris) the “Art of Procurement”.  To support that, the firm hopes to challenge the speakers to go beyond the usual “journey to best in class” descriptions and include their reflections on how procurement is embracing change in their organisations. How will procurement leaders contribute to generating real competitive advantage, to growing business revenues through innovation – supporting the top-line as well as the bottom line, as it were.

I’ve argued elsewhere that actually, if procurement doesn’t change and widen its scope, we in the profession may face existential issues of survival, as technology advances further. So, in our next two articles in this series, we’ll look at case studies that demonstrate the sort of innovative approaches procurement organisations are taking and how considering the Art of Procurement might secure our future. And finally, you can register for the Ivalua Paris event here if you want to participate in what should be a stimulating couple of days, from April 10th-12th.

Ivalua are sponsoring Big Ideas Summit London on March 14th. Sign up now as a digital delegate to follow the day’s action wherever you are in the world. 

Could RPA Make Procurement Jobs More Human?

The new “hot” technology generating hype in 2019 is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Here’s how it can help procurement…

By Viktor Gladkov / Shutterstock

Procurement is, by nature, in the business of relationships. Whether it’s managing suppliers or stakeholders, the success of any procurement organisation relies heavily on building relationships between people.

Despite this, many procurement professionals do not have the time to focus on the human side of their job. Data collection, reporting, transactional activities, urgencies, etc. are all tasks that eat up their precious time and prevent them from focusing on relationships that could generate more value and better outcomes.  This problem isn’t new and is the main driver behind the constant, growing interest in procurement technologies that automate processes and increase efficiencies.

What is new, though, is the pace of innovation and the hype around some of the latest technologies.

Emerging technologies have begun to dominate discussions in the procurement space, and it has become impossible to avoid debates, articles, publications, etc. on artificial intelligence (AI) or blockchain. The new “hot” technology that has been generating a lot of hype in 2019 is Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Before jumping on the RPA bandwagon, it is critical to look beyond the features to understand the bigger picture. In the case of the latest RPA technology that has integrated AI, it is about making procurement jobs more human by offloading even more mundane, robotic tasks to… robots!

The goal is to augment, not replace, people by combining the best qualities and capabilities of both human and machine to achieve better outcomes.

RPA: Copy/paste on steroïds…

“[RPA is] a preconfigured software instance that uses business rules and predefined activity choreography to complete the autonomous execution of a combination of processes, activities, transactions, and tasks in one or more unrelated software systems to deliver a result or service with human exception management.”

Source: IEEE Guide for Terms and Concepts in Intelligent Process Automation (whose purpose is to provide standard definitions of concepts, capabilities, terms, technology, types, etc. for emerging process technologies)

This technical definition of what RPA is and how it works can be summed up with a simple analogy. Imagine that you have to repeatedly copy data from one Excel file to another to produce a monthly report. One way to eliminate these mundane, low-value, tedious tasks would be to create a macro that would do all the copy/paste for you. In addition to saving hours of your precious time over the course of the year, it would also reduce the risk of errors. This is, essentially, a simplified definition of what RPA is about. It’s a way to automate repetitive and scripted actions that are usually performed manually by users (not just copy/paste!). It is a form of business process automation.

The typical benefits of RPA are:

  • efficiencies to free-up resources usually spent on manual tasks and re-focus them on core business (efficiency fuels effectiveness)
  • better consistency and compliance in data entries by reducing errors
  • from a system/IT perspective, RPA is a valuable workaround to break data silos. It avoids the costs (investment, change mgmt.) and risks associated with replacing an existing system or creating interfaces. RPA solutions sit on top of the existing infrastructure and simply simulate user actions to take data from system ‘A’ and put it in system ‘B’.

RPA has limitations and it is important to be aware of them and consider if the trade-offs are worth it. Some of them are:

  • RPA can do one thing and only one thing. If there are changes in the source or in the destination systems, then it will stop to work correctly
  • It requires extensive programming to ensure that the RPA solution takes all cases into account. If not, it will not work or, even worse, it will create even more issues as it is very consistent in executing rules. If something is off, the same error(s) will be consistently repeated
  • For the same reason, it is vital to ensure that processes are running well before implementing RPA

If RPA only Had a Brain…

There’s no getting around it: RPA is a very dumb technology.  It does exactly what it’s told, blindly executing whatever set of rules it’s given. Such technology has been in use for years but on a limited scale. However, with the advancement of other, smarter technologies opening up new opportunities to make RPA more useful and less “dumb,” it is experiencing a revival. AI is one of the emerging technologies revitalising RPA, and stirring up hype. These days, it’s rare to see RPA without an AI component, which has also lead to a lot of confusion between RPA and AI.

“[AI is] the combination of cognitive automation, machine learning (ML), reasoning, hypothesis generation and analysis, natural language processing and intentional algorithm mutation producing insights and analytics at or above human capability.”

Source: IEEE

By nature, RPA and AI are very different technologies:

Because most business processes require a combination of “DO” and “THINK,” newer generations of RPA solutions integrate AI components to:

  • Understand input via natural language processing, data extracting and mining, etc.
  • Learn from mistakes and exceptions
  • Develop/enrich rules based on experience

It is this new, smarter generation of “RPA+AI” solutions that has broader applications as a valuable tool for Procurement.

RPA Applications for Procurement

“It is not the type of business process that makes for a good candidate for RPA, but rather the characteristics of the process, such as the need for data extraction, enrichment and validation.”

The Hackett Group on Procurious

RPA is particularly well-suited for operational and transactional Procurement because these areas are characteriSed by countless manual activities. Here are some examples:

  • Automation & elimination of mundane tasks
    • Invoice processing: It is possible to drastically reduce efforts and cycle times to extract essential information from an invoice and perform an m-way match by using a combination of RPA and AI (Optical Character Recognition + Natural Language Processing)
    • RFx preparation: Tasks related to data collection (quantities from ERPs, specifications from PLMs or other file sharing systems, etc.) and even the drafting of RFXs can be streamlined by using RPA.
  • Data compliance and quality
    • Supplier onboarding: RPA can automatically get more supplier data or data needed to verify registrations or certifications by crawling the web or other data sources.
    • Data mappings and deduplication: RPA can be a great support in Master data Management (MDM) by normalizing data (typos, formatting, etc.) and by ensuring that naming/typing conventions are respected.
  • Support to gain better insights
    • Supplier scorecarding: This is an activity that requires thorough data collection. RPA can be leveraged to collect data from various sources and integrate the information into one system either for internal purposes and/or for the preparation of a negotiation or business review
    • Contract analysis: RPA can crawl file sharing systems, network disks, and even emails to collect and gather contracts in one central location. Then, it can extract key terms and store them as metadata in a contract management solution.

Conclusion

RPA, in combination with other technologies, is an efficient way to connect silos (from a data perspective) to win back valuable time and remove the “robot” work from the desk of procurement teams so they can focus on the human side of their job.

On top of that, procurement organisations can gain tremendous insights from implementing RPA because it can make new data digitally accessible and more visible.

However, it is important to keep in mind that RPA is only a workaround; it does not break silos like an end-to-end procurement platform would do.