Category Archives: Generation Procurement

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…

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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.

Cybersecurity – What Does It Mean For Procurement In 2019?

How should procurement professionals be addressing cybersecurity within their organisations and addressing the weak links?

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Google and McAfee estimate there are 2,000 cyber- attacks every day around the world, costing the global economy about £300bn a year.  The widespread adoption of digital solutions for the management of big data is a threat that is making organizations vulnerable to security breaches.   The proliferation of new SaaS products on the market and the use of cloud-based solutions are focusing our minds on how to protect our data and intellectual property.  The growing use of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) is adding to the complexity of defending organizations from attacks. 

Protection from data hackers has traditionally been the responsibility of the I.T. department where it should be taken seriously, although some companies have been inclined to put the issue on the back-burner.  Procurement’s interest in cyber-security is two-fold: 

a) it has to manage the myriad of potential security issues within the supplier community

and

b) it has to concern itself with data security issues within its own operations

Cybersecurity at suppliers  

Cyber-attacks do not always come in through the front door.  Many breaches come through weaknesses in the lower layers of the supply chain:   e.g. importers, agents and other service providers. Hackers, whose main objective seems to be to hold organisations to ransom, can infiltrate any of these layers. 

The weak links

  • Your suppliers’ suppliers are often targeted because they are more vulnerable.   They may have access to important information of yours and only have a very immature approach to data security.  It is estimated that over a third of corporate IT breaches are via third-party suppliers.
  • A lack of awareness among employees about how hackers gain access to systems.  The act of “phishing” which attempts to acquire usernames, passwords and credit card details via email for fraudulent purposes is a widespread activity that preys on peoples trust.   
  • The lax use of BYOD at suppliers can cause major security issues as malware protection and detection on these devices is often inadequate. 

 “Cybersecurity is never just a technology problem; it’s a people, processes and knowledge problem.”

US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

How to tackle the weak links

  • Due diligence.  Conducting risk assessments on each supplier before contracting will allow you to identify any areas of concern.  Firstly, potential suppliers should be vetted to ensure that they are not on any denied party or watch lists. On-boarding of new suppliers should include asking leading questions about their approach to data security and which protective systems they are using.  Many large organizations are adopting ISO 27001 which accredits them through an auditable security management system.               
  • Access control.   The level of access of each approved user to information needs to be monitored especially when there is any change in the relationship with a supplier.  This could be an organisational restructure or a takeover at the supplier which affects access to a shared system.  The aim is to prevent unauthorised access to data and procedures.
  • Education and training of staff Awareness programs and training staff about their responsibility for data security should be standard practice, both in-house and at suppliers.  Advice such as don’t click on unknown attachments, always use strong and unique passwords, and keep an up-to-date backup is a start. 
  • Notification about breaches   A contract clause that requires a supplier to inform the organisation regarding any security breach that may impact either business should be included in any supply agreement.

Cybersecurity within procurement

Large warehouses  of data are used by procurement professionals to identify cost-saving opportunities through spend analysis within their organisations.  Other files include supplier contracts, financial information and many P2P transactions.  We need to protect the confidentiality, availability and integrity of our information.   Cyber-attacks can be delivered through counterfeit hardware or software that is embedded with malware.  Outsourcing procurement functions with no due diligence or using unreliable and untested software packages can open the door to hackers.  Security gaps can arise due to the incompatibility of legacy systems with the outsourced solutions.  

Remember the data breach at TalkTalk in 2017?  The then CEO, Baroness Dido Harding said,

“There was the IT equivalent of an old shed in a field that was covered in brambles, all we saw was the brambles and not the open window.”

 She was referring to the weakness in their legacy systems.  The firm was fined £400 000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

What can we do today?

  • Collaborate with our IT department to regularly monitor systems, frequently update internal policies to create a security fence for the organization
  • Assist suppliers to build a robust cybersecurity plan to strengthen their IT infrastructure and cyber resilience
  • Stay updated on the latest innovations in data protection  
  • Work with suppliers to ensure that their IT systems and infrastructure are regularly updated. Ongoing reviews at regular intervals will help to identify emerging concerns
  • Develop a contingency disaster recovery and continuity plan to accommodate any potential supplier failure, including alternative suppliers. Always have a plan B.

Traditionally, procurement-specific risks just meant price fluctuations, delivery disruptions, supplier failure, fraud and non-compliance but no longer.   

Besides the reputational risks such as environmental crises, unfair treatment of staff and safety issues, the loss or corruption of corporate information can severely disadvantage a business.  The extent of the financial and reputational damage depends on the size of the breach, number and type of stakeholders affected and how quickly and effectively the company acted. 

Three Technical Terms Procurement Pros Should Stop Using Now

Do these technical procurement terms have a place in today’s organisation?


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Technical procurement terms. Whether you love ’em or loathe ’em you’ll probably have experienced definition disagreements and C-suite confusions. And that begs the question, do they have a place in today’s organisation?

For Nick Dobney, Former Global Head of Procurement – Puma Energy, procurement terms is the one thing that really gets under is skin. “There are terms that my C-suite won’t understand, my stakeholders won’t understand and, frankly, in procurement we spend a lot of time debating them as well.”

Nick believes that all the time and effort spent defining and redefining technical procurement terms is distracting procurement professionals away from delivering on behalf of the business. At Big Ideas Zurich last year, he outlined three of the terms causing him the most grief.

1. Tender

“My team know full well to never come to me and talk about tenders,” Nick jokes. He argues that “tender” is such a broad word, open to so much interpretation, that it has actually become meaningless.

“What do you want to do?” he asks. “Are you selecting a supplier? Are you exploring the market? Are you benchmarking your costs? If those are the things you’re doing, let’s say them. Let’s not wrap them up or hide it into the word “tender.”

2. Direct/Indirect

In procurement we constantly talk about direct and indirect spend.

“I’ve been in procurement for 25 years and I’ve never worked in a manufacturing company.” In a manufacturing company it might make total sense to use these terms and easy to understand the difference between direct and indirect spend. But the same can not be said for service companies.

Nick worked for an airline, where the distinction is unclear. “We bought aircraft, we bought fuel, we bought engineering services, we bought food and drink, we bought ticketing systems, we bought call centre operations. What’s direct and indirect?”

“In my world when I talk to the C-suite I need to talk about impacting operating expenditure, capital expenditure or the cost of goods sold.” Whilst it might be ok to reference indirect and direct spend amongst procurement professionals Nick advises not to waste energies trying to explain the terms to the wider business.

3. SRM

Some call it Strategic Relationship Management. Others say Supplier Relationship Management. “I don’t think [a room full of procurement professionals] could come together with a single definition,” says Nick.

“I know I’ve never used the words SRM in conversations with the CEO. The fundament of SRM means getting the best performance I can out of the suppliers I choose. So let’s talk about it as performance. Let’s talk about it as a means by which I get the performance I require in my business from my supply base and from my suppliers.”

Speaking in these accessible terms makes the procurement function accessible to business leaders and that’s what procurement professionals should be striving for. “We want to break those doors down. There’s lots of talk about getting procurement a seat at the top table and the first thing we have to do is make sure these terms we’re talking about – we only use amongst ourselves!”

Impacting the business

“The terms we use with our business leaders has got to be the terms that they understand,” Nick explains. “Can you explain simply and straightforwardly the impact you are having on the business?”

Leaders in your business want to know:

  • Are you taking assets of our balance sheet so we can free up resources to invest in product development?
  • Are you improving our margins?
  • Are you getting a better return on our investments?
  • Are you reducing our net debt?

And as Nick says, “the language we use is fundamental to how we can move away from being seen as a very technical function into being a function that really does contribute to the business.”

Nick Dobney speaking at Big Ideas Zurich 2018


Three Key Mindset Shifts To Lead In The Digital Age

The wonder of digital is the array of choice and opportunity it brings. To drive a successful digital agenda and succeed in the digital age however, mindsets need to build on leadership fundamentals while also shifting to respond to the new environment.

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Digital, the awe and the promise, filling us with inspiration and fear at the same time. Initially, the digital discussion was all about technology. After all, technology is cool, and we all want the cool factor. It demonstrates that we are at the forefront, leading the way, innovating. All great things when organisations and individuals are in a highly competitive environment and looking for a point of differentiation.

The wonder of digital is the array of choice and opportunity it brings. RPA? A great place to start. Mobility? It’s all about anytime, anywhere. AI? Not quite sure what it means, but let’s go with it anyway.

As many organisations sought to implement technology and transform themselves, the promised utopia did not quite eventuate. Technology moves fast and the innovation of today is tomorrow’s nostalgia (Any 80’s movie featuring a brick cleverly masquerading as a mobile phone will make this point all too well for those of us who were there to remember it the first time). That’s because digital requires a reinvention in how an organisation operates from business models, to systems and processes, through to engaging with the market and customers. It turns out that without a mindset and cultural shift, the full benefits of the technology are never realised or sustained. And so, for leaders this poses an interesting question. What does leadership look like in this digital age?

There is a multitude of research, writing and discussions on leadership in general. It is no surprise therefore that the conversation around digital mindset is met with cynicism, or fatigue. Don’t throw out those books yet (unless you received a kindle for Christmas). The fundamentals of what we know to be great leadership endure; humility, curiosity, emotional intelligence among others are key call outs and are as relevant today as when they were first identified. To drive a successful digital agenda and succeed in the digital landscape however, mindsets need to build on leadership fundamentals while also shifting to respond to the new environment. So where can you start to make a shift like this?

1. Experiment and embrace learning, not failure

Everybody knows about this one. In the strive to be innovative, there is a focus on experimentation. Experimentation is a call out for me because it brings together a number of attributes that differentiate digital leaders; challenging the status quo, creativity in seeing something the rest of us do not, courage to advocate for it, curiosity and determination to pursue it.

Interestingly enough, this also requires what might be considered a high tolerance for risk (which is why I mentioned courage). The default position for many leaders and organisations is to say “no” in a variety of ways.  I am not sure how many times I have heard “that’s not been done before”, “that won’t work here” or “we tried it and it didn’t work”. And there were times when I listened, and others when I thought there was something worth pursuing and did, demonstrating probably more hope and naivety , than courage.

The real issue of risk in experimentation arises because we need to be comfortable with  failure. Failure here is not an aspiration, it is simply highly likely when trying something new or doing something for the first time, even if it has worked somewhere else. Failure is problematic because it makes us susceptible to self-doubt, and the critique of others. Both are tough. And the idea that we celebrate failure in the digital world is a confusing and honestly, a little ridiculous to many. So, let’s be clear, that with experimentation, it’s the learning that needs to be celebrated, not the failure. Gary Pisano makes this point clearly in his book “Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovation”.  Try something new, take what worked, evolve it and get it right. Or work out whether it is even worth pursuing further, or call it quits and move on.

2. Understand skills, cultivate expertise

There is no shortage of dystopian views of the end of the human workforce as the result of automation and AI. If failure incites fear, there is no doubt that human redundancy as a result of technology amps up the anxiety level. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that workforce transitions due to automation will impact approximately 14 per cent of the world’s workforce, so the scale of the impact is significant. My first implementation of digital analytics was in 2011, long before we were even having the conversation so I have seen the potential and the limitations. Developing an executive dashboard of key business metrics including daily sales, was a great start to automating analytics and producing actionable insights. So much more would be possible today. I am optimistic about the future of humanity and the ability of the man + machine interchange.

There is no doubt that many tasks will be automated. Many routine ones in fact already have been. At the same time, demand for new skills is emerging. And these skills present an opportunity to generate value in ways that may not have been possible previously. Digital savvy leaders adopt a mindset that see this threat as an opportunity. They understand the impact for themselves, their teams and the organisation. Anticipating what is coming, they identify the skills and behaviours that are needed and develop them, positioning themselves at the forefront through different ways of learning. With so much being so new to so many, expertise and differentiation comes to those who are willing to learn, try, and apply. Equally important, they cultivate this mindset with their employees and enable them with the skills and attributes needed.

3. Operate within new models, divest old paradigms

Welcome to the new world of work. Expertise exists in unlikely places; traditional reporting structures don’t always work and teams operate with autonomy and accountability. It takes a distinct mindset shift to relinquish decision making and control. The more important the initiative, the greater the risk, the harder it becomes. Yet the digital world values and rewards expertise, speed and adaptability. That means setting the agenda and outcome, defining parameters and empowering the team with expertise to execute. It does not mean abdicating accountability for progress and delivery, nor does it mean micro-managing the team because things aren’t being done as you would do them.

For many leaders, the paradigm shift to new models of leadership is challenging. The results however are inspiring. When I was tasked with working on the National Emergency Warning Project with the amazing Joe Buffone who was leading the Government’s Emergency Services response, we both knew that we needed to assemble an A-team, give them guidance and clear direction, and then let them do their thing while we did ours. The result? A first-of-a-kind initiative, with media attention, up and running (and more importantly working) on time and within budget, which is practically unheard of in either public or private sector, was the result.

There is no doubt that the digital landscape presents challenges that many may find uncomfortable at best. Embracing new ways of thinking and applying mindset shifts is a tremendous opportunity for leaders to transform themselves, their teams and their organisations. Time to be inspired by the potential of what is possible.

Are Smart Contracts A Game Changer for Procurement?

Are smart contracts, enabled by blockchain, the next big thing or just a temporary hype?

What is a contract? Put simply, a contract is any agreement that is built on the logic “if…[ABC] – then…[XYZ]”. And we make these kind of arrangements very day both in business and our private lives.

  • If I’m working on the development of the Procurement department at a particular company from 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday – then I’m paid £5000 on the 25th day of every month and I earn the right to have 25 vacation days per year
  • If I pay £45 on the first day of the month – then I get an unlimited internet package for the entire month delivered to my IP address from this internet provider

This is the basic logic behind all kind of contracts.

What is the no.1 problem with contracts today?

Nobody can guarantee the implementation of a contract’s conditions on both sides.

The employee might come into the office every day, but half of their working time is spent watching YouTube in the coffee area.

Maybe you pay each month for your internet service, but the traffic is too slow and connection gets lost at the most important moments…

In business these potential problems are solved by official contracts where a breach of contract could result in legal action.

But why should I trust my lawyers, my banks and the courts more than I trust my own business partners? Ultimately we are mutually dependent on each other so my business partner should be interested in maintaining that mutual trust. Moreover, why should I pay all these middlemen to implement and monitor contracts, why should I spend my time and money on court cases if the contract conditions have clearly been violated by the other party?

Blockchain is already addressing these issues with some success. And these “if… – then…” algorithms created with Blockchain technology are called smart contracts.

Example of Smart contract logic: Purchase of manufacturing equipment

Imagine a manufacturing company, MANCOM, needs to double its packaging line capacity. They are planning to get the new packaging equipment according to their technical specification, with production output of 10,000 pieces per shift, up and running at full capacity until 1st of June 2019.

After running their request for quotation (RFQ) – they have selected a company, YOURPACK, and prepare their Smart contract.

These Smart contract can include the following conditions in the protocol:

In the best case YOURPACK delivers the equipment to MANCOM before the 1st of March 2019, and gets 50 per cent payment automatically. Then before the 1st of June equipment runs with the planned capacity, and gets another 50 per cent automatically from MANCOM’s account.

If there are delays with delivery or installation – payment is reduced accordingly. So YOURPACK’s interest is to do everything in their power to make things in time.

If MANCOM delays the payment – the equipment blocks itself and cannot be used. So it is in MANCOM’s interest is to pay in-time and in full.

Once again, the main principle of the Smart contract is to use “if…then…” logic. And to decide upon the precise triggers that will lead to specific consequences. An important aspect of Smart contracts is automation – that is avoiding the human factor after the agreement is validated from both sides.

Invest time and efforts in writing down the causes and effects, which should be clear and transparent and which cannot be misinterpreted.

After you have agreed on the principles and the “if… then…” algorithms – give the assignment to programmers who will create their codes and protocols based on Blockchain.

Blockchain: the enabler of Smart contracts

At the heart of Blockchain we need the following core ingredients:

  • asymmetric cryptography – which gives the ability to create the records and protect them
  • distributed systems – which gives the ability to transfer value by making updates to the records

And the beauty of blockchain is that is allows us to digitally sign transactions. And what is even more important – you can prove it. After the record is created and distributed to the network, no one can modify or change it without others being aware of it. The levels of security and traceability are incomparable to traditional contracts and transactions.

Today we create huge contracts with numerous clauses and appendices. We hire expensive lawyers to create these contracts and then we hire yet more expensive lawyers to protect our rights, and prove in court what we meant by all those numerous clauses when the contract was first written.

Comparison table: Smart and Traditional contracts

Smart contractsTraditional contracts
Program or protocol, which uses Blockchain technology Paper documents composed using corporate and legal standards
Based on code, written in computer language Based on legislation and written by lawyers
You need assistance with defining terms of contract and with coding You need legal assistance to compose and register contract
Contract conditions are unchangeable once approved by all parties. They are transparent and automatically checked. If contract terms are violated – certain penalty, punishment or sanction occurs automatically Can be amended or interpreted differently by different lawyers. Conditions may be partly fulfilled or poorly fulfilled. If contract terms are violated – you resolve conflicts by negotiations or in the courts
The security of the transaction is guaranteed No guarantee, most laws can be bypassed
All transactions carried out without third parties and intermediaries Transactions are made with a number of other involved parties: lawyers, banks, courts or public services…
Transactions may happen using Crypto-currencies Transactions are made using traditional currencies through banks
When the terms of the contract are fulfilled, the exchange of values takes place instantly Exchange of values occurs with delays
The contract can be concluded with a person from anywhere in the world without personal presence The contract is signed only with the personal meeting of the two parties
Protection from corruption or fraud High risk of fraud, corruption or bribery

The next big thing or just a temporary hype?

Smart contracts are facing many challenges on the way to mass application in Procurement.

I don’t know how fast it will become a common practice, or the full possibilities behind blockchain technology for Procurement and Supply Chain Management, because we are only at the beginning.

In today’s world new technology can challenge and change the status quo within a matter of years. And I advise you to be at the forefront of these changes.

Space Trucking: The Challenges Of Managing A Supply Chain That Is Truly Out of This World

We investigate the perennial deadly hazards of operating on the world’s truly most remote supply route: the ‘road’ to the International Space Station.

 Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

Are you responsible for sending your people into danger? In a new Procurious blog series, The World’s Deadliest Supply Chains, we investigate the most high-risk supply chains out there.

The fiery disintegration of a manned Russian Soyuz rocket above the steppe of Kazakhstan on October 11 highlights the perennial deadly hazards of operating on the world’s truly most remote supply route: the ‘road’ to the International Space Station orbiting between 330 and 435 kilometres above the earth.

In this case, the Soyuz occupants, US astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin, got lucky after what NASA described diplomatically as the mission’s successful “abort downrange”.

Because of a problem later identified as a faulty sensor, the launch terminated two minutes after blast-off. The men, who were to be the first members of the 58th expedition to the station, escaped in their capsule and were rescued on the ground 32 hairy minutes later.

Other ISS missions haven’t been so fortunate: on February 1, 2003 the space shuttle Columbia imploded on re-entry, killing all seven astronauts on board.

The Soyuz setback highlights an awkward rostering problem for NASA: since the cessation of the space shuttle program in 2011, the US has relied on ‘buying’ seats on the Soyuz to swap over crews on its half of the ISS.

Who said Uber pioneered ride-sharing? The US recently swallowed its pride and confirmed the acquisition of three extra Soyuz seats in 2019, amid concern that its program to replace the space shuttles was proving too ambitious.

But with a three-person crew due to blast off in a Soyuz in early December, the latest mission to the station has some chance of getting back on track.

The most expensive structure in the world – and, indeed, beyond –  the ISS was built between 1998 and 2011 at a cost of $US150 billion. To date, 15 modules have been assembled (rather like a Lego set) with a further five to be added.

The maximum crew of six performs scientific experiments, eats, sleeps and exercises as the metal orbits the earth 15.5 times a day at a speed of 29,000 kilometres an hour.

Maintaining a semblance of normal life for the crew requires a large amount of provisions – an average of 2722 kilograms per mission. The transit of any goods – anything from toothpaste to heavy scientific equipment – needs to be planned painstakingly months in advance.

When it comes to supplying the ISS using unmanned craft, the procurement controllers have more flexibility because a mini United Nations of spacecraft regularly visit the station (all with different docking procedures).

Despite the perception that the ISS is exclusively a US-Russian concern, the program is actually a venture between five agencies: NASA, Russia’s Roscosmos, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, The European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Thus, the station has been supplied by not only the shuttle and Russian craft such as the Progress and the Soyuz, but by unmanned milk runs from Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle (also known as the Kounotori, or White Stork).

Whether the craft are manned or unmanned, the visits are eagerly anticipated by the space station’s cramped occupants. After all, a delivery of fresh fruit and vegetables makes for a welcome respite from the everyday diet of textureless, vacuum-packed mush.

(Sadly for the cosmonauts, vodka deliveries are off limits).

So far, the ISS has been visited by more than 150 craft – an average of slightly more than eight per year – including 50 crewed Soyuz, 70 Russian Progress one-way freight vessels and 37 space shuttles.

A key link in the ISS logistics chain is NASA’s Payload Operations Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. Described as the heartbeat of the ISS research operations, the centre co-ordinates all scientific experiments carried out on the station as well as the “payload activities” of the international partners.

In space, no-one can call roadside assist. As a result, equipment requiring regular replacement – such as the antenna, batteries and pumps – are kept on external pallets called ‘express logistics carriers’ and can be put in place by robotic arms.

Despite the supply mission setbacks, on November 2 this year the ISS celebrated 18 years of continuous habitation, eclipsing the previous record of just under 10 years set by the crew of the Soviet-era Mir station.

But nothing lasts forever, with the future of the ISS under review. While NASA and Roscosmos have pledged to co-operate on a replacement facility, tetchy on-the-ground relations between the two nations means there’s a likelihood they will go their own way.

In the meantime, the US is hardly enamoured with its ‘can I hitch a ride with you, comrade?’ approach and is working on its own crewing and supply options so as to mitigate its reliance on the Russians.

Both Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX have separate contracts to develop space ‘taxis’, but their timetable for crewed test flights originally scheduled for August and this month are behind schedule.

Suffice to say, there’s mounting pressure from Capitol Hill on the rival contractors to complete the new era craft sooner rather than later.

After all, in the extraterrestrial trucking game, it always helps to have a Plan B.

If you’d like to read additional related content or get involved with thought provoking discussions check out the Supply Chain Pros group – a one stop shop for all your supply chain needs.

Pizza, Medicines and Death Rays: The Future of Drone Delivery

We’re still a long way away from drone deliveries and drone-run supply chains being the norm – so what’s the current state of drone delivery worldwide?

There’s no question that the world has gone drone mad. If you didn’t receive one for Christmas (bad luck), you’ll probably know someone that did. But, despite all the hype, we’re still a long way away from drone deliveries and drone-run supply chains being the norm.  

So what’s the current state of drone delivery worldwide?

The idea of drone deliveries for useful things is a lot more fun to think about than drones being used for dropping bombs or killing people with death rays – so let’s focus on that for the time being.

Drones are already capable of being deployed for many types of delivery services such as pizzas in urban environments and desperately-needed medicines flown by drones to remote, inaccessible villages. 

In many instances, drone technology has advanced so quickly that it runs afoul of the local laws. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States says that, without special permission, a drone needs to be flown in the line-of-sight of the operator and that a drone cannot be flown from a moving vehicle. 

Perhaps pizza-delivery observation towers could become a new industry in America?

In this article I outline some of the societal benefits of drone delivery, the risks associated, the prevalence of drone delivery today and what the future holds.

Societal benefits of drone delivery

Some of the societal benefits of drone deliveries include economic considerations, improvements in emergency response systems, overcoming delivery problems to remote areas and pollution reduction. 

  • Economics

The most difficult part of any delivery challenge is “the last mile” (metaphorically speaking). This is the portion of the supply chain pathway from the warehouse to the customer’s/buyer’s home or office. Drone delivery is faster and saves money on fuel costs, fleet maintenance of commercial vehicles and labour costs for human drivers. 

  • Emergency Response and Healthcare

In some medical emergency situations, a few minutes could make the difference between whether someone lives or dies. Delivery drones can bring first aid supplies, needed medicines, blood for transfusions, and medical equipment. For example, those suffering from a heart attack might get help from an emergency drone, which maintains communication with paramedics and can deliver a portable defibrillator.

The paramedics are able to observe through a remote video what is happening and instruct those giving aid to the heart-attack victim on how to use it.

  • Pollution Reduction

If drone batteries are recharged via renewable energy systems, such as solar power, the air flight is pollution free. The only downside to drone use is noise pollution. Whilst it might not be very noticeable when a single drone is flying, imagine a future where there are overly-active, drone-flying corridors.

To address this problem an inventor, Edgar Herrera, has developed a blade-less drone, which flies in complete silence. The drone is not yet in production but the design is spectacular; solar-powered, silent-flying, drone delivery is nothing short of revolutionary.

Drones and Privacy

Privacy is a big concern for many people when it comes to commercial drone use and the main reason that legislation came into being all over the world. In many places, using drones for surveillance is a crime. Authorities are increasingly concerned about delivery drones being used for terrorist acts or criminal purposes. In Europe, a study published by RIMMA noted that drones had been flown over nuclear power plants and used to smuggle items into prisons and carry drugs across the U.S./Mexican border

These are just a few of the reasons that legislation has been put in place all over the world – to protect critical infrastructure from unauthorised drone surveillance or attack.

Commercial drone flyers that operate a drone delivery service need to be careful not to break these laws or lose control of their drones because the penalties are harsh.

Consumers have other concerns regarding drone delivery services besides safety, privacy, and security. eMarketer reports than 72 per cent of consumers worry about problems with packages, such as theft or damage. Drones equipped with video surveillance technology can reduce these criminal risks but these cameras raise further questions about privacy and security.

This is an area of opportunity for supply chain managers and entrepreneurs to focus on providing solutions. 

Drone delivery around the world

USA

In the USAThe FAA has been slow to allow commercial drones for delivery services. Drone flying is still restricted to line-of-sight, which makes drone delivery less efficient and not possible in all areas. 

  • In 2015, the USPS starting testing postal delivery using Horsefly drones and since October 2017, REMSA, an ambulance and emergency services company partnered with Flirtey to deliver portable defibrillators for 911 emergency calls in northern Nevada. 
  • Fortune reports that Uber is testing food delivery by drones. Google, FedEx, Intel, and Qualcomm are working with the Department of Transportation on commercial testing of drone delivery services. 
  • Forbes reports that big efforts are being made by Amazon, Target, Walmart, and many others to incorporate a viable, commercial drone-delivery service in their long-term strategic and logistics plans. 

UK and EU

  • The UK is moving faster than the US to approve the widespread deployment of commercial drones, which should hit the market in 2019 or 2020. Amazon has made significant advancements in the UK. 
  • The European Union is in the process of creating laws to regulate commercial drone-flying corridors of airspace called U-Space to allow a wide deployment of drone delivery services. 
  • Since March 2017, in Switzerland, Matternet has been working with the government mail system, Swiss Post, to deliver emergency medical supplies.
  • In December 2014, the French postal service, La Poste began testing drone delivery systems. 

The future of drone delivery

If the regulators cooperate, commercial drone delivery will become a widespread reality to be enjoyed by consumers and those in need of urgent medical supplies and emergency services worldwide. 

It is most-likely that large-scale, commercial drone-delivery deployments will occur in Europe, the UK, and Australia during 2019 with Amazon and Google leading the way. In China, JD.com is moving ahead with widespread deployment very quickly and Alibaba is advancing as well using drone delivery to support offshore islands. 

McKinsey reports that the drone delivery industry in the USA alone, grew from $40 million in 2012 to $1 billion in 2017. Madison estimates the global market depends on what happens with the regulations. Ultimately, the global market for commercial drones may reach over $127 billion annually. 

This article, written by Mark Sheehan, was originally published on My Drone Authority.

Best Of The Procurious Blog: The Key Procurement And Technology Trends for 2019

The times, they are a-changing, and so are the markets and environments that procurement operates in. What then are the key trends in procurement and technology you need to watch for in 2019?

View Apart/ Shutterstock

Iit’s time to start looking forward to what’s coming in the next 12 months.

2019 is set to be a seismic year around the world. Major changes, such as further geo-political upheaval, the looming spectre of global trade wars and tariffs aplenty, have the potential to disrupt supply chains and set metaphorical trip wires for procurement professionals everywhere. And, as we’ve already heard, it’s rarely been more important to get a solid grips on the key factors in the market and external environment.

So gather round as we gaze into the opaque mists of the future and make some educated insights into the key procurement and technology trends waiting around the corner.

  1. Supplier Management

Let’s start with an oldie, but a goodie. Wait, I hear you cry, supplier management isn’t a new trend! We’ve been talking about this for years. Well, if we’ve talking about it for years, why aren’t we any better at it? And why is it that it’s one of the key areas a large number of procurement teams fall down on?

Like it or not, your suppliers hold the key to all your wildest procurement dreams. Innovation, top and bottom line cost reduction, avoidance and savings, stress-free supply of services and goods and free cake for all! (Ok, maybe not that last one!)

In their Vision 2020 publications, pwc state that the top 25 per cent of procurement functions will have gone beyond incremental improvements and be implementing fundamental change to process and policy alike. This includes how they interact with suppliers and shifting focus from cost and value to Return on Investment (ROI).

These outcomes all hang on better supplier relationship management in order to tease out further innovation from suppliers (who are seen as partners, rather than sponges to wring cash out of) and closer collaboration to source solutions to problems we don’t even know we have yet.

At the heart of this is great communication. Select the right suppliers and talk to them more. You never know, you might just learn something!

  1. Blockchain and Digital Adoption

Unless you’ve been living in a cave on a remote hillside (or perhaps a Faraday cage in your basement), you should have heard by now about blockchain.

From blog articles to webinars, it’s one of the hottest topics in procurement right now, and is likely to still be throughout 2019. Blockchain is and will continue to be a key tool in shaping the transparency of a supply chain. Information is shared and transmitted easily and safely, while the technology allows an “immutable signed and time stamped record of identity, ownership of assets, transactions or contractual commitments”.

This transparency will have the added benefits, and some drawbacks, of making procurement and CPOs more visible in the public environment, say EY. Procurement will wield greater power and have greater opportunity to interact with external stakeholders. But, at the same time, organisational processes and procurement will play out in a public setting like never before.

In line with blockchain’s increasing influence, there is a predicted rise in digital adoption and use of the Cloud. An estimated $1 trillion of IT spend will be moved to the Cloud by 2020, according to Gartner, as organisations look to make their IT services more agile.

  1. Social Value

There is a prevailing opinion amongst the procurement professionals I speak to that 2019 will be the year for social value and sustainability to really take hold. Organisations have begun to realise that cost and quality are only a part of the overall package and not only do they need to be seen to be doing more in the community, but they need to follow through on it.

That goes for the wider supply chain too. Using work practices and value-adding benefits for communities into tenders will become the norm and procurement will no longer be able to award contracts on cost without taking the wider impact into consideration.

  1. Next-Gen Workforce and Automation

Disregard what you’ve heard very recently regarding automation, machine learning and AI as scaremongering. Yes AI will take on tasks and people may have to move to new roles, but it’s not a future that we should be burying our head in the sand about. It’s a natural human reaction to fear change, but procurement needs to muscle up and be brave in order to evolve and survive.

Infosys estimates that AI and procurement automation will eliminate human intervention in 15 per cent of digital spending by 2019. If that’s the case, then procurement needs to embrace the change and develop, train and retain its Next-Generation workforce to meet the demands of new roles where human interaction and input is still key.

  1. Risk

From Brexit to trade wars, risk is going to be possibly the biggest trends for businesses as a whole in 2019. The organisations who will thrive in this unstable environment will be the ones who are best prepared to deal with the unexpected.

Deloitte believe that procurement will become the forecasters of risk in an organisation, raising the profile of the function as it factors total cost of risk and risk mitigation in supply chains into contracts and tenders.

Risk runs throughout the other trends that have been suggested above. Brexit, protectionism and trade wars make supplier and supply chain management all the more important. The increasing need for cyber security as technology advances is something that cannot be ignored.

Procurement is ideally placed to deal with all of these risks, but it needs to put its hand up and be at the front of the queue, or face being left behind and marginalised at a time when the function has a crucial role to play.

How The Robots (Nearly) Stole Christmas

“Every Who down in Whoville liked working, a lot … until one day The Boss met a clever robot.” Continuing the tradition of a festive poem in the run-up to Christmas, check out this modern retelling of The Grinch from Procurious’ Content Director, Hugo Britt. 

Every Who down in Whoville liked working, a lot…
until one day The Boss met a clever robot.
It was sleek and terrific, with shining chrome knees,
and could do the work of fifteen FTEs.

The Boss called upon her executive team
and said with a grin that was grinchy and mean
“We’ll buy ten of these robots – that’s one hundred and fifty
Whos off the payroll – won’t that be thrifty?”

The head of HR gave a horrified gasp
“But the timing!” he said. “It’s a bit much to ask
your Whos to take a redundancy now!
It’s Christmas next week and there’ll be a huge row!”

The Boss’s brow wrinkled; her face set in a leer,
“Alright” said she, “Here’s another idea …
We’ll bring in the bots – my decision is set,
but we won’t dump the Whos for a little while yet.
They can work side-by-side for two weeks or more,
and come New Years Day, they’re right out the door.”

The very next day when the Whos came to work
They marched through the door and then stopped with a jerk
For sitting there, gleaming, daunting and massive
At the end of ten desks was a robot, impassive.

And then when the Whos all cried out “What’s the deal?”
They were shocked when the robots replied with this spiel:
“We’re your new metal workmates – we’re starting today!
We’re cognitive, clever, and can dance the ballet.
We’ll work round the clock and charge not a cent …
The ROI on us is 10,000 per cent!”

The Whos stomped as one to the Head of HR.
Seen dimly through the haze of his half-smoked cigar.
“What’s with the robots? ‘Workmates’ indeed –
You’re going to replace us! They work twice our speed!”

The head of HR, while stroking his beard
assured them it wasn’t so bad as they feared.
“They’re just here to assist. Fear not for your jobs.
Robots are the future! Stop being such snobs!
You’re quite safe (for now) so help them onboard
and we’ll have another discussion … moving forward.”

* * * * * * *

Two weeks passed quite quickly; the new year dawned bright
the Boss checked her calendar and smiled in delight.
“Today I’ll cut costs in a manner abundant –
I’ll tell one hundred and fifty Whos they’re redundant.”

She leapt to the lift and pressed second floor –
preparing to show all non-robots the door.
But when she arrived she received a surprise
At the hustle and bustle before her two eyes.

The head of the Whos leapt straight to his feet
and said “Thanks for the robots! They’re totally neat!
We worried that they would steal all our careers
but now it turns out these were unfounded fears.”

“We no longer need to do tactical chores –
mind-numbing spreadsheets and other such bores –
These robots are handling all of those tasks …
Now we have time to be strategic at last!”

The Head of HR stepped forward, then. “It’s true!
The robots are great, but your humans are too.
They’re thinking new thoughts; they’re stepping outside
the box we created with the tactical side.”

“Innovation is up! Relationships too!
Soft skills are unlocking new value for you.
These Whos are terrific – we never foresaw
that with time on their hands they can do so much more.”

The Boss raised her voice to address the whole throng
and shouted aloud “It turns out I was wrong!
I’d thought that these bots would make you inessential;
instead they’ve unlocked your hidden potential.”

“So just let me wish you a most festive season,
secure in your jobs, and having new reason
to be joyful about this happy yuletide:
humans and robots, at work side-by-side.”

Could Blockchain And AI Help Procurement Change The World?

At last month’s London CPO Roundtable we explored how to enable smarter procurement, using blockchain for social good and anticipating disruptive forces…

What are the obstacles to more informed, strategic decision-making in procurement?

How can procurement pros use blockchain for social good to change the world?

What disruptive forces are heading your way in 2019 that could impact your supply chain?

These are just some of the questions we discussed when we gathered a dozen procurement leaders in London last month for a CPO roundtable sponsored by Ivalua.

Enabling smarter procurement

A new study by Forrester, commissioned by Ivalua, surveyed 433 procurement, supply chain and finance leaders across Europe and North America. The results, which Alex Saric, CMO Ivalua took us through at the roundtable, provide a practical look at how to enable smarter procurement.

The obstacles to more informed, strategic decision-making are quite consistent. The study, entitled “Enabling Smarter Procurement” found three common issues

  1. Firstly, despite efforts at automating processes, too much capacity is still consumed by operational or manual activities. Teams must free capacity to work on new projects, conduct analysis and plan, but are struggling to do so.
  2.  Secondly, leaders struggle to access relevant insights when and where they are needed. The volume of information now available is of little help if not digestible, simply leading to information overload.
  3. Compounding this, respondents also cited poor data quality as a key challenge. Duplicate supplier records, inaccurate data and poor integration between systems all were cited as sources of data quality issues.

A common viewpoint today is that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the answer, the magical light at the end of a dark tunnel that will improve automation and give us the magical answers we need, when we need them. But what isn’t discussed is ensuring you have a solid data layer that feeds the intelligence layer, where the algorithms lie and all the talk lies.

Organisations must implement AI in conjunction with cleaning up their data, rather than using poor data quality as an excuse for inaction.

Empowering procurement to make more informed, strategic decisions is no longer an option. There is simply no other way to effectively meet the broad set of objectives now expected.

Using blockchain for social good

Olinga Ta’eed, Director, Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance became the world’s first Professor in Blockchain and Social Enterprise at Birmingham University in 2018. He led a discussion surrounding his research into using blockchain for social good, which focuses on studies into methods to alleviate problems and provide significant intervention into society.

“No one grows up saying mummy I’d like to be a CPO,” he begins. “And that’s because we value non-financial value. We grow up wanting to do things that have value in society – things to do with life and sentiment, we want to change the world.”

“In institutional life we often succeed in stripping that out – any kind of intangible value. But this attitude doesn’t occur in real life, only within institutions.”

In our own lives we use our personal values to procure things “I’d like to have products that are aligned to my values, I’ll use this coffee shop not that one, I’ll eat this ice cream not one from that place, price is this important to me but slavery is this important. We talk about our feelings”

Blockchain could enable procurement to change the world by bringing our values back into the workplace.

“My honest belief is that procurement will be the single largest instrument in the world to change the world – children will say they want to be a procurement officer because they will want to change the values of the world – what we buy, what we eat, what we sell, the values by which we transact. Blockchain and AI will change our processes dramatically.”

Preparing for the disruptive forces heading your way

Given the rate at which technology is evolving and how global events are impacting the world, it is increasingly difficult for companies to keep up without considering risk in real-time.

Intelligence about the world we live in drives business operations and the better informed we are the easier it is to drive progress. Mark Joyce, Head of Analysis, Sibylline revealed the most disruptive forces headed our way in 2019.

The four baseline trends include:

  1. Geopolitical reconfiguration – Chinese growth and assertiveness and a US retreat from global leadership
  2. Deadly conflict on the rise – Total conflict deaths fell enormously from mid-nineties up until the last decade. Since 2012 they’ve sparked to the highest since 1990s. Conflict deaths are concentrated in North Africa, Middle East, Syria Libya and Yemen. Middle Eastern countries have accounted for 70 per cent of battle deaths over the last five years.
  3. Disruptive populism
  4. Weakening of frameworks – including nuclear weapon control

These trends impact procurement in four ways:

  1. Strategic uncertainty – Impacting high-level decision making; blurred lines between politics and business -and criminality
  2. Tactical challenges – Geographical, technological, legal and reputational
  3. Cross-functional working – Procurement, legal, communications, HR and IT are increasingly stakeholders in political and security risk information
  4. Decision advantage – The importance of precise, actionable information and analysis to avoid paralysis and enable business in an uncertain external environment

Adventuring against adversity 

Kris King, Ultra-runner and adventurer extraordinaire specialises in the safe delivery of life-changing challenges and expeditions in the world’s most remote and demanding areas.

He inspired our roundtable attendees with his personal story describing how his best friend’s dad was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease and his commitment to raising as much money as he could for medical research.

Kris become the youngest gym owner in the country, started running marathons, which turned into running ultra-marathons, which turned into extreme adventuring across the world, and started to see what a difference he could make.

In his own words “adventuring doesn’t pay well” so he found a way to monetise it – designing extreme adventures for clients, as well as for himself. Whether it’s expeditions in the Arctic Circle and Namibia, driving over a frozen lake with Daniel Craig, catapulting David Hasselhoff or bungee jumping a car of a cliff – nothing seems to be out of reach.

As Kris pointed out “it’s not about skill it’s about how stubborn you are.”

The London CPO roundtable was sponsored by Ivalua. If you’re a CPO and would like to attend one of our roundtables in person please contact Olga Luscombe via [email protected] to request an invitation.