Category Archives: Generation Procurement

Four Essential Capabilities For Your Procurement 2020 Roadmap

Procurement 2020 will look a little different with new skills, knowledge and tools to address entirely new challenges. Procurement has seen rapid change in a relatively short span, the value creation of this function has increased multi fold becoming more strategic, collaborative and technology driven. This momentum is expected to continue and quicken in the coming years. Procurement will emerge in the forefront as an important and integral function of an enterprise.

The Hackett Group’s research showed that 85 per cent of the procurement organisation believe that digital transformation will change the way they deliver services over the next 3 -5 years. To stay competitive, procurement needs to embrace disruptive effects of technological innovation in conjunction with organisation which is lean, agile and responsive to stakeholders and suppliers.

It is imperative for the procurement function to develop journey roadmap on four essential capabilities that are vital for future – Digital Transformation, Supplier Relationship, Stakeholder Engagement and Talent. The first step in this journey will be to fully understand how the procurement landscape is shifting.

Procurement in 2020 will look very different with new skills, knowledge and tools to address entirely new challenges. Organisations that fail to embrace new procurement models may fall behind the competition, jeopardising overall competitiveness and viability.

Digital Transformation

Procurement is effectively positioned to join the Digital revolution. It can offer a radically different value proposition to the organisation as Robotics Process Automation, cloud based applications, Big Data analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Mobile Computing begin to converge. These smart tools will improve service delivery, reduce errors and free procurement staff for higher value work.

Technology provides dual track opportunities to support ‘upstream’ or Source to Contract (S2C) and ‘downstream’ or Procure to Pay (P2P) which predominately consists of operational, repetitive and transactional activities.

Technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Crowd Sourcing, Live Digital Dashboards can be effectively used for decision making accurately and with speed to support ‘upstream’ while Robotics Process Automation is widely used to drive efficiency and effectiveness ‘downstream’.

Robots interact with different IT applications to enable transaction processing, data manipulations and communication across multiple IT systems. In effect, multiple Robots can act as virtual workforce to process operational and transactional activities. This could allow CPOs’ to rebalance their functions upstream and reducing the focus on downstream activities.

Supplier Relationship

With the advent of technology, the organisations have started to realise the growing importance of suppliers in terms of innovation, security of supplies, corporate social responsibilities, risk mitigation and cost savings. Strategic partnership will be at the top of the corporate agenda and Supplier Relationship Management will be seen as significant differentiator.

Supplier Relationship Management is systematic approach for developing and managing partnership. It is focused on joint growth and value creation with limited number of suppliers based on trust, open communication, empathy and win – win orientation.

The 4C’s model will govern the future of Supplier Relationship Management – Capabilities, Continuous Growth, Customer of Choice and Creating value.

The speed of business continues to accelerate, market expectations are higher, product life cycles are shorter, turnaround times are faster and the risks are wider and deeper. Clearly organisations rely on suppliers to bring innovative and new products to their markets.

Essentially procurement will have sound understanding of supplier market across the world and be able to link their potentials and limitations. Demands on procurement to become more business oriented, more mature and integrated in its ways of working. All of these reinforces the need to re-invent robust supplier relationship management.

Suppliers are increasingly being looked upon as trusted business partners and engaging early and ensuring all parties are on track will propel procurement organisation to  greater heights.

Business Stakeholders

Procurement has been rapidly evolving to keep pace with the changing trends.  The procurement profession has made significant leads moving from price management to category management and in the future it becomes very clear that procurement will move from category management into value creation.

Becoming a trusted business advisor is a long drawn process and time consuming, it varies from person to person. The individual has to not only understand stakeholder needs but go beyond to understand the breadth of business challenges and develop deep personal relationship.

Most stakeholder relationships are at service provider and enhanced service provider level providing answers, sharing expertise and resolving business related problems. Relationship with stakeholders are usually good at a business level but have no real depth at a person level.

The challenge seen by many procurement professionals is to move from been seen as just a service provider into being recognized by stakeholders as a trusted advisor

Elevation to consultant requires more insights and ideas into the stakeholder organisation on broader business issues and also building a stronger personal relationship. This level of relationship could be achieved through focus, time and effort.

Few people achieve the trusted advisor relationship, where there is a comprehensive understanding of all the stakeholder needs and they look up and reach out as first person to help them tackle the difficult issues they are facing.

As the procurement function changes, it will need people with new skills. Apart from being comfortable with data, future procurement professionals will need to be prepared to lead rather than simply serve their business.

CPO’s should fundamentally rethink regarding their organisation and capabilities both of which needs to be reshaped over time. Companies have to create new job profiles such as buyer for new categories, contract experts on intellectual property or Data scientist for data maintenance, analysis and mining. Only if the procurement personnel are digitally capable can a company fully benefit from opportunities provided through digitalisation.

Procurement functions must follow Seven fundamental steps to manage Talent – Plan, Attract, Recruit, Assess, Develop and Retain.

The team must be digital savvy, ability to collaborate and build relationship with internal stakeholders as well as suppliers from diverse array of geographic and cultural backgrounds.

Negotiation skills and market insight will continue to be the fundamental skills but TCO across product lifecycle, cost structure analysis and game theory will emerge highly important skills in this field.

The professional credentials will be measured by their ability to influence, persuade, and provide vision, the mind set must be strategic, global, collaborative and above all commercial.

Conclusion

Shifting the procurement team from being tactically devoted to strategically focused can be a long journey for a company. But this journey can literally make the difference between company’s definite success or failure. There are still several actions to be tackled in order for procurement to gain deep business insight, react quickly to the changing needs, drive higher overall value and greater stakeholder satisfaction. Investing in activities to elevate the role of procurement within an organisation, moving beyond the traditional role of gate keeper and cost hunter will definitely bring added value to the organisation.

Procurement in Twenty 20 will mean developing new value propositions, meeting new business needs, and integrating data across functions. It will call for using data pro-actively and intelligently. Perhaps more important, it will require fundamental reshape of procurement organisation and its capabilities to take on new challenges.

This article was written by Kumaralingam MC, Director, Global Procurement Centers – IBM. It was orginally published on Shared Services Forum. 

Megatrends Shaping the Future of Finance

Disruption, innovation, transformation, change – the watchwords of modern business. But how do these apply to Finance and Procurement? What are the trends that are likely to shape your role? And how do you prepare to adapt to the opportunities that these bring?

Barely a day goes by when the headlines aren’t doom-mongering about “the machines taking over” and displacing human labour. But modern-day fears associated with the rise of disruptive innovations such as artificial intelligence and automation barely differ from the objections of workers at the turn of the 19th century whose jobs were threatened by the machines of the industrial revolution. Change can be scary, or it can be exciting, but the one thing it is for sure is inevitable.

Sir Jack Welch, whose tenure as CEO of General Electric spanned 20 years, famously observed: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” So as the mega-trends of RPA, AI and Blockchain make it into everyday language, all of us need to pay attention to what’s going on beyond the four walls of our business rather than hoping they are merely passing technology fads.

“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near” – Jack Welch, Former CEO, GE

Robotic Process Automation

RPA is the use of rules-driven software ‘robots’ to perform high-volume, manual, repetitive tasks by mimicking the actions of a human being interacting with the user interface of a computer application. For example, they can scrape structured data from a PDF document to speed up transaction-matching.

Robots are tireless, completing their activities faster than people with zero errors. However, their role is not to eliminate the need for human capital, but to free up humans to focus on higher-value, more purposeful activities. In fact, RPA is touted as “helping humans become more human at work”. RPA isn’t AI – robots have to be explicitly programmed with instructions and can’t “think” for themselves. And RPA is not the answer to all of your problems, either – you can’t fix a broken business process simply by giving it to a robot. That’s where business process automation (BPA) should be applied to overhaul and streamline processes for maximum efficiency and value.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is the new electricity. You’re already experiencing AI at work whenever you use social media, search engines, online shopping recommendations or virtual digital assistants like Siri and Alexa. There are four different levels of AI.

Level 1 – Reactive machines are rules-based and simply recognise patterns – they have no ability to form memories or to use past experience to inform current decisions. Examples of level 1 functionality in Basware AP Automation include automatic coding templates, recurring invoice recognition and best-fit matching.

Level 2 – Limited memory systems can look into the past. This is where machines start to get smarter, building on rules-based information by applying context, such as identifying specific objects and monitoring them over time. An example of this is the self-driving car, which observes other vehicles’ speed and direction, and decides when to decelerate or change lanes. But this information is only transient and isn’t saved into a library of “experience” the way a human driver learns. Smart coding of invoices is an example of level 2 functionality in Basware AP Automation.

Level 3 – Machine learning enables computers to teach themselves without being explicitly programmed, using algorithms that grow and adapt when exposed to new data. While learning, they collect further data to expand their insights and use these to formulate predictions.  Basware Predictive Analytics is an example of level 3 capability.

Level 4 – Systems that learn can execute processes much more dynamically, creating their own algorithms and taking decisions based on these self-developed algorithms in a similar manner to humans. They apply what they’ve learned from existing data to forecast future behaviours, outcomes and trends and make better decisions. At Basware, we’re currently working on Insights-Based Guidance, which falls into this category.

Blockchain

Blockchain is a digital medium of exchange that involves sharing a distributed ledger database – a common version of the truth – which is updated simultaneously to all members of the Blockchain, accelerating the consent and validation of work orders and invoices. It was designed in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007/8 to deliver transparency, security and efficiency in transactions, particularly international payments.
Today’s P2P processes require a ton of back-and-forth interactions and opportunities for the process to break down. With Blockchain, the steps of validation and authentication, purchase order management, invoice processing and settlement are vastly simplified, enabling instantaneous transactions, diminishing the need for enquiries and process status follow-ups, and providing a tamper-proof audit trail.

Capturing data (lots of it!)

Whatever digital technologies you propose to adopt, the bottom line is that you have to capture data – and lots of it – in a centrally architected manner. Not just your own transactional data, but complemented by that from other organisations along with publicly available data. Machines cannot learn or predict without data to draw on, and worse than no prediction at all is taking the wrong direction based on incomplete data.
The key to realised value throughout the chain is not simply to have an integrated source-to-pay system, but to get everyone using it and everything going through it. That means:

  • Adopting 100 per cent of your suppliers – from big corporations to Mom ‘n’ Pop businesses
  • Capturing 100 per cent of your spend – you can’t just repeat the mantra “no PO, no pay” so the solution must be the path of least resistance for all users
  • Automating 100 per cent of your invoices – not just invoices that match against indirect POs, and everything must run through one unified system

Only once you have achieved this holy trinity, can you make 100 per cent of activity visible through analytics. An example of this working in practice is a Basware customer that manufactures heavy machinery. Having grown through organic and inorganic means, they had accumulated a patchwork of ERP and AP systems and were suffering from all the classic AP failures and frustrations. Now, with Basware, they have every single invoice from 50 different countries flowing through the system, and 100 per cent spend visibility, which has not only allowed them to meet their cost savings business case but, more importantly, gain competitive advantage.

To learn more about how Basware can help you gear up for the future of finance, get in touch.

Five Best Negotiation Scenes In Film And TV

How much can you learn about negotiation by sitting on the couch watching movies? Plenty.

Want to become a better negotiator? You could diligently read up on the subject or attend some negotiation training courses, but for the couch potatoes amongst us, you might just learn more by watching some of your favourite films.

Negotiation scenes come in many varieties in film. Often they’re in the form of a hard sell (think Leonardo DiCaprio selling dodgy stocks in The Wolf of Wall Street), or a hostage situation (Tom Hanks negotiating for his freedom in Captain Phillips) or other life-threatening situations such as Mel Gibson trying to talk a suicidal man down from a ledge in Lethal Weapon.

But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of haggling, the following five scenes give illuminating examples of how to win – or lose – in a high-stakes negotiation.

 

  1. Sticking to your final offer – Nightcrawler (2014)

Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Lou is trying to sell a video of a crime scene to Nina, a TV news manager. Watch for:

  • Lou being willing to haggle down to a certain level, after which he refuses to budge.
  • The power shift in the negotiation from Nina to Lou (aided in part by Lou’s creepy intensity).
  • Lou throwing in a number of extra conditions when he knows he has Nina beaten.
  • Best line: “When I say that a particular number is my lowest price, that’s my lowest price, and you can be assured that I arrived at whatever that number is very carefully.”

 

  1. Doing your homework before a negotiation: True Grit (2010)

In this Coen Brothers film, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (played by Hailee Steinfeld) shows what horse-trading is all about – literally. In order to raise money to hire a Deputy U.S. Marshal to help her track down her father’s killer, she approaches an auctioneer named Stonehill with two demands – that he buys back the ponies he sold he father, and that he pays her $300 for a horse stolen from his stable. At first, Stonehill laughs in dismissal, but Ross’s perseverance and detailed knowledge of the relevant law wears him down until he yields to her demands – plus a little bit more. Watch for:

  • The moment Stonehill mentions the valuation of the horse and hence kicks off the haggling process.
  • Mattie’s threatening to walk out on the negotiation and go to the law, causing Stonehill to adjust his offer in panic.
  • Best line: “I do not entertain hypotheticals – the world as it is is vexing enough.”

 

  1. Negotiating across cultures – Snatch (2000)

Warning: strong language.

When boxing promoter “Turkish” and his partner Tommy approach Irish Traveller “One Punch” Mickey O’Neil to ask him to participate in a fight, the prospect seems simple enough. The only problem is, Mickey (played by Brad Pitt) has an almost unintelligible accent. His price is the purchase of a fancy caravan “for me Ma”, and then proceeds to list off all the features he wants included in the deal … while Turkish and Tommy can’t understand a thing. Watch for:

  • Mickey’s impossible-to-understand list of caravan features. The video clip below includes subtitles, but cinema audiences had no such assistance when this film was released.
  • The bewilderment on Turkish and Tommy’s faces as they realise they don’t know what they’ve actually agreed to. The cultural barrier between the Irish Travellers and the other characters in the film is a running theme that goes far beyond the tricky accent.
  • Best line: “Did you understand a single word of what he just said?”

 

  1. Coercion – Ocean’s 11 (2001)

“Frank”, played by the late Bernie Mac, has been tasked with sourcing the transport needed for the team to undertake the crime of the century. The dealer names his best offer, and Frank appears to accept. So far, everything seems to be going smoothly … until the handshake. Frank extends the grip to a full 60 seconds, apparently crushing the car dealer’s hand while chatting amiably the whole time. The car dealer, desperately uncomfortable and in pain, abruptly drops his price before freeing his hand. Watch for:

  • The range of emotions playing over the car dealer’s face as he realises he can’t free his hand.
  • Frank’s feigned surprise and gratitude when the dealer drops his price.
  • Best line: “If you were willing to pay cash, I’d be willing to drop that down to seven-SIX-teen each.”

 

  1. The power of silence: 30 Rock (TV series 2006-13)

By simply sitting in near-silence and looking stern, grumpy babysitter (Sherri) is able to make Jack Donaghy so nervous that he doubles her pay for working half the time. Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) comes into the negotiation with his usual swagger, but Sherri’s silence causes him to blabber and rapidly cave. Appalled at his own performance, he confronts Sherri a second time. Watch for:

  • Sherri’s tactical silence when Jack pauses to let her speak.
  • Jack rolling his eyes when he realises how badly he came out of the negotiation.
  • Best line: “I made every mistake you can in a negotiation. I spoke first, I smiled … I negotiated with myself!”

Want to suggest some other films or TV shows with great negotiation scenes? Leave a comment below!

The ‘Why’ Behind the Drive for Retail Process Efficiency

Process efficiency is good. In fact, it’s one of the most frequently cited objectives for the procurement profession. But it can’t have a real impact unless we understand the bigger picture…

As we expand the impact of procurement beyond savings, one of the most frequently cited objectives is process efficiency. In theory, if procurement can help the company execute internal processes more swiftly they can… something, something, something (?). Process efficiency is good, and savings are good. But neither will have any real impact if we don’t understand why we are driving them.

The retail industry is a perfect case example for the need to understand the big picture impact of process efficiency. When you work for a B2C company, customer satisfaction is the answer to every question. In retail, the benefit of every project must be traceable all the way to the store.

The wholesale goal of retail: customer experience and satisfaction

Sourcing project teams usually sit down and articulate their goals and objectives at the outset of the process. Too often they are focused on the impact of the product or service on the company and its employees when they should trace that efficiency forward to the value it creates for customers. This perspective provides the context for many of the decisions made during the sourcing process:

Why should office supplies need to be easier to order? 

So marketing doesn’t have to interrupt their work on the new ad that will drive shoppers’ grocery lists this week.

Why are we going through a lengthy equipment testing process?

To prevent customers from being inconvenienced at the deli while we repair the slicers (again).

Which supplier should we award the fixtures and millwork contract to?

The one whose product best evokes a farmer’s market, ultimately increasing produce sales.

In a retail environment, one of the most dangerous lines procurement can draw is between direct and indirect spend. This division is practical enough, especially for categorisation purposes, but it creates the impression that indirect spend matters less than direct spend does. Even indirect spend must create value for the end customer. Every dollar the organization spends – whether it is an investment in inventory or to buy copy paper for headquarters – should efficiently advance the interests of the customer. That is what defines valuable process efficiency in retail.

Placing a value on retail intangibles

Case in point: Kemper Freeman is the owner of Bellevue Square, a multilevel mall in Seattle, Washington. He is a bricks and mortar king in an increasingly digital commerce world. Despite the lacklustre performance of retail chains like Macys, J. Crew, Sears, Charming Charlie, and J.C. Penney, his business is booming. He characterizes his approach to customer attraction as “emotional fulfilment”, and it is something eCommerce businesses can’t compete with.

As was recently explained in a Wall Street Journal article about Freeman, emotional fulfilment is “the joy customers take in seeing, touching, sniffing and testing the product before they pull out the credit card.” For a retail business to be driven by the creation of emotional fulfilment, every employee – from store clerks to corporate procurement to janitorial staff – has to buy in and place the customer at the centre of every effort they make.

Given this context, what does process efficiency mean in retail?

Procurement-enabled retail process efficiency removes barriers between demand and supply so that value can be created for customers. Process efficiency is not getting to the end of a sourcing project faster and it is not about making corporate roles easier. Efficiency ensures that the flow of products and services are not interrupted, and they certainly don’t take customer-facing roles away from their primary focus. Even in procurement, the customer should remain the central focus, and the goals for every project should be tied to a barrier removed or a benefit advanced. These are the only efficiency gains that matter.

This blog was orginally written for Determine by Kelly Barner .

Procurement Process vs. Chat-Bots

What are chat-bots? What can they do? Are they soon to replace all procurement functions?!

Software Robots (called Bots/Bot) are dramatically disrupting procurement processes involving human interface. They will have a high appeal on the transactional and digital side of procurement processes and will gain growth in the coming years with cognitive and machine learning tools.

The strategic interfaces in procurement planning, strategy, performance management and relationship building will continue to be human-centric (people oriented) but will increasingly rely on the Bots to support them with structured knowledge readily available.

What are “Chat-Bots” and how do they differ from RPA Bots?

A Bot is a software program designed to perform a task which would be done by a human being.

Like any software, these Bots can be programmed to perform almost anything where the workflow can be programmed and information digitalized with the added advantage of the advents in Artificial Intelligence which improves the human-machine interface.

The key difference between a Bot and any standard software is that the Bot generally has the capability of working across a couple of system environments.

With recent advancements in human language translation capabilities (like IBM Watson, Microsoft’s LUIS and equivalent) a lot of software are now capable of interacting with human beings in a seamless “human-like” manner and these Bots are referred to as “chat-bots” (chatting bots).

They usually handle the human front-end interfaces and then interact with the back-end systems to accomplish the task. They are distinctly different from the RPA Bots which are primarily back-end (non-human facing) software that will perform the task based on the system-generated routine as opposed to the chat-bots which are triggered by human interaction.

The chat-bots can then be further classified into

  1. Information chat-bots Provision of information based on the human input. “Speak or Enter flight number” and the chat-bot will provide the flight information. (However, it won’t be able to book the ticket for you!)
  2. Interactive/Smart Chat-bots Ability to perform certain tasks based on customer input. These type of chat-bots can book tickets for you or even resolve defined issues based on rules “explain your problem in a few words and I will try to help you”
  3. Machine Learning chat-bots Self-learning chat-bots which learn from previous interactions and adjust their interactions as time goes on. These chat-bots are still evolving and are going to disrupt the legacy notion of “dumb bots”

Which areas of Procurement are more “Bot-able”?

In a typical Source-to-Pay process the following areas of Source-to-Pay processes are more likely to be linked to Bots with a clear carve-out of the processes which will continue to be human-centric.

What are the Benefits of Bots in Procurement?

The Procurement Bots add a significant value to the business on the following fronts:

  1. Improved Reliability Bots help improve the reliability of the process by taking away the human fallibility and the results are far more reliable.
  2. Reduced Cost-to-Serve Taking away the human tasks also helps reduce of the cost of the transactions especially if done on a large scale for highly repetitive tasks.
  3. Reduction in Cognitive Bias Humans handling any repetitive tasks are always prone to cognitive bias and resulting errors. Bots eliminate the cognitive bias from the workflow (Although they limited by the cognitive bias built into the program itself).
  4. Reduction in cycle time Since Bots work 24×7 and in real time bots have demonstrated a 20%-95% reduction in cycle time associated with tasks/processes.
  5. Resource allocation Resources can be diverted to more strategic aspects of procurement. When the Bots can take away the repetitive tasks away and help assist the procurement professionals they are now more devoted to handling the more strategic/value adding aspects of procurement.

What are the risks of Bots in Procurement?

While the Bots bring about a great deal of value to the organisations they have risks that need to be considered during evaluation and implementation:

  1. Snow-balling of errors created due to Bots The chances of errors created by Bots is heavily reliant on the business rules captured in the software. If not watched closely these un-intended errors can balloon very easily since there is no human being watching these errors.
  2. Loss of Organisation Capability on process knowledge As organizations implement Bots the organizational knowledge on how these processes work erodes and when escalations happen there are very few people who have an end-to-end view of these processes.
  3. Local customisations may not be picked up in Bots While Bots also help standardise the processes by removing the human bias element they also run a double-edged sword of missing out on certain local requirements that might not have been built into the program thus resulting in manual interventions or an inefficient process.
  4. Lack of Human Interface impacts perception/relationships While the Bots are becoming smarter in terms of aping the human interface they are not perfect and they often run into situations where the user gets frustrated at not being able to get across.

How will Bots Transform Procurement function?

Bots will revolutionise how the procurement function is perceived currently through its ability to work/analyse across systems at the speed of thought.

What are the other factors to be considered in the Procurement Bot transformation journey?

Besides the obvious elements of the business case the following considerations need to be factored in during Bot Implementations:

  1. Long term alignment with System architecture design

Even though the Bot implementations are extremely light implementations lasting a few days to a few months – it is imperative that the long-term alignment with system strategy be considered before embarking upon these initiatives

2. Human Org Capability considerations

Consider both existing and future org capability to implement and maintain the Bots. They will require different skill sets and both are equally important to the success of the value from the Bot.

3. Characteristics of the process and the Bot-ability

Strong considerations should be given to the alternatives available. Bot is not a panacea for any process issue and should be treated accordingly.

The Logic of This “New Reality” is that people collaborating with ‘bots’, within a current Procurement Department that possesses effective work-flow processes can be integrated with ‘bot’ utilization.

The myth that Bots will replace Procurement function is a little overstated.  Procurement function will continue to be a human-centric (people oriented) organisation

Sustainable Procurement: Reversing The Race To The Bottom

Don’t dismiss the importance of supply chain sustainability! Learn from the mistakes of others and count yourself out of the race to the bottom! 

A short-sighted focus on cutting costs and speeding products to market is resulting in a race to the bottom that will cost companies more in the long-run. Top performers in sustainable sourcing will emerge with stronger supply chains, higher margins, more trusted brands and happier customers.

Consumers are increasingly putting their money behind sustainability, with Nielsen reporting 66 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for products from companies they perceive as sustainable. This is forcing every industry to innovate in a way that makes transparency and sustainability permeate throughout the entire supply chain. Companies are often stuck in a race to the bottom, focusing on offering the lowest possible prices to compete with retail giants like Amazon and Walmart. Manufacturers who sell through these giants are also competing with each other, facing immense pressure from their customers to have the lowest price each week. Although price may seem like the best factor to emphasize, quality and sustainability considerations are often sacrificed in favor of cutting costs and speeding time to market. Even companies that have made sustainability promises often retreat after the initial pressure wears off due to perceived higher costs, but the long-term impact of irresponsible sourcing will impact their bottom line even more in the end. In fact, a recent BCG study found that gross margins were 4.8 percent higher for companies that were top performers in sustainable sourcing compared to those who were median performers.

In the long-run, participating in the race to the bottom is bad for business as it results in cheaply made, low-quality products and services that undermine the viability of the companies they are sourced from. This will all eventually be discovered by consumers and other stakeholders, and will open companies up to varying kinds of risk, including economic and financial, reputational and quality control consequences. Because these risks can impact a company’s bottom line, it is crucial to consider how sustainability can mitigate risk before it happens.

Unfortunately, hesitation and fear around competition (antitrust) laws are deterring businesses from working together to promote sustainability. A new report from the Fairtrade Foundation found that businesses are wary of working with rivals to improve the quality and security of their supply chain, but with fluctuating trade fees and climate change they have no choice but to collaborate. Instead of competing with peers to be fastest and cheapest to market, companies should be working together to promote sustainable procurement. When companies within an industry work together, it sends a much clearer signal to suppliers about the importance of responsible practices. With the right indicators and tools, those buying organizations can help suppliers advance in maturity and improve their practices – not only in sustainably issues but across all business operations. Companies should be working with other industry players – instead of against them – to ensure efficient and effective sustainable practices.

Learn from the mistakes of others

Nike, Asics and Puma saw the consequences a lack of sustainable and ethical practices could bring when more than 500 workers in four factories were hospitalised after fainting on the job. Outsourcing factory jobs to Cambodia may have saved the company some money on labor and wages, but unethical work conditions including long days and soaring temperatures canceled out any small benefit the retailers may have seen. The reputational and operational consequences turn out much worse than the small cost reduction initially intended. Improving ventilation and adding air conditioning, although good intentions, only put a band aid on the problem – these retailers and other companies should be working together to implement ethical and sustainable procurement practices as part of a long-term solution.

Geopolitical considerations

The turbulent political and trade climate in recent months is also challenging. Companies in almost every industry in the U.K. are facing a difficult choice between joining the race to the bottom to secure post-Brexit deals in terms of purchasing cheaper products from other countries and promoting high-quality, ethical and sustainable practices. Unfortunately, lower standards mean lower quality products and services, which will not just limit the emphasis placed on tackling issues like climate change and modern slavery, but also impact business revenues in the long run. NAFTA is having a similar effect on North American companies, making the consequences of the race to the bottom a universal concern. Instead of panicking about the effects of eminent trade deals, companies should be focused on working together to pursue sustainable procurement and mitigate risk before it happens.

Fortunately, many local and global governments are encouraging businesses to get on board and combat modern slavery, environmental sustainability and other risks in the supply chain. California recently signed the “Buy Clean California” act, which will clamp down on imported carbon emissions by creating rules for the procurement of infrastructure materials purchased with state funds. The U.K. just pledged $53 million to combat modern slavery with a focus on improving the apparel supply chain, joining the U.K. Modern Slavery Act in attempting to ensure business compliance. Australia may follow suit and introduce its own laws designed to root out forced labor and compensate potential victims.

At this point, we shouldn’t be thinking of it as “sustainability for sustainability’s sake,” but sustainability for risk mitigation and improved business operations. Technology is evolving to help companies better trace suppliers and other parties and improve transparency throughout the supply chain. Regulations around the world are banning or limiting unethical practices. The movement towards sustainability has changed in the last decade, placing the burden directly on companies to ensure responsible practices – both within their own operations and those of their partners. It may seem daunting to invest in sustainability while competitors are continuing to race to the bottom in pursuit of producing the cheapest products fastest, but companies that go above the standard will find it truly improves their bottom line and creates more value throughout their supply chain.

Pierre-Francois Thaler is co-founder and co-CEO of EcoVadis, a supplier rating company that helps organisations institute corporate social responsibility (CSR) and various sustainability programs. Pierre brings 15 years of experience in procurement and developing innovative sourcing solutions. Prior to starting EcoVadis, Pierre was CEO of B2Build SA, the first B2B marketplace for the European construction industry, and also served as a director of Ariba’s Procurement BPO business.

Taking The Heat Out Of The Resolution Room

If you can’t take the heat get out of the resolution room! Or invite Watson! 

We’ve all been there. Something’s gone terribly wrong with a major customer delivery. Emails are flying around and there are rumours from HQ that “heads are going to roll”.  Everyone concerned has been summoned to “THE meeting” in order to resolve the supply chain issue.

We know what happens next; fists slamming, red faces, an embarrassing lack of data and a lot of verbal ping, pong. Eventually, a resolution is found.

But what happens when Watson is in the resolution room? Could this take the heat out of your supply chain disputes?

 What is a Resolution Room?

A Resolution Room provides the organisation the ability to collaborate quickly to resolve supply disruptions. Users can discuss and resolve issues with other colleagues, business partners, or their suppliers. What distinguishes Resolution Rooms from all other collaboration platforms is Watson.

What does it mean to have Watson in the resolution room?

The big benefit of Watson being in the resolution room is that it recommends experts, provides insight from all data and actionable advice based on learned best practices.  Over time, it leverages Watson’s capability to develop a body of knowledge by learning how issues were best addressed in the past.  This enables greater speed and accuracy in responding to future events.

“Watson provides the opportunity to deliver business value and insights from all of these data insights – structured and unstructured, data from weather patterns, news, D&B and supplier IQ,” explains Joanne Wright, Chief Supply Chain Officer, IBM.

“It does this with speed and accuracy. No more are we saying ‘OK…let’s get the data and meet again tomorrow’ because Watson takes my team’s input and incorporates that into the next iteration as we go.”

Watson In The Resolution Room: A Case Study

IBM Watson is always a room participant, so you can draw on Watson’s expertise using natural language to ask a question, for example: @Watson what is the status of order ABC123?

Imagine the following scenario; A Late Shipment alert in the Ops Center reveals that orders of your most popular drone are in jeopardy because the shortage of the entire supply of a critical part, a lithium battery, has been delayed. You create a Resolution Room to manage the incident collectively.

Watson is in the room.

Whilst your team discusses how best to manage the problem you have the ease of asking Watson questions such as:

  • Which customer has the most sales dollars that will be late?
  • What are the financial impacts of any late orders?
  • Have we experienced this problem before? Who are the experts who have worked on these similar issues in the past?
  • Are there any alternate suppliers for part number 46001?
  • Why is there a shortage of lithium batteries?

Watson can provide answers to questions such as these based on the data available in the data model and in other Resolution Rooms. Learning over time, it becomes smarter and able to provide better insights about your supply chain.

Click here to try a Resolution Room demo. 

Got a big idea you want to push through a big company or simply want to learn more about Watson and the Resolution Room?

Sign up for next week’s procurement webinar, How IBM Built the Cognitive Supply Chain of the Future. hosted by Tania Seary and featuring IBM’s Chief Supply Chain Officer Joanne Wright. 

3 Reasons Why You Should Multisource Your Procurement Software

Choosing new procurement software should be exactly that, a choice! Duncan Jones on why organisations should follow an eclectic, multi-sourcing strategy for their key business applications.

While doing my research for The Forrester Wave™: eProcurement, Q2 2017, I was surprised and disappointed by how many companies I interviewed had bought an incumbent vendor’s eProcurement product without really looking at alternatives. For instance, one source told me “we didn’t choose Ariba, we chose SAP, and SAP chose Ariba”.

That’s a dangerous strategy, often driven by people who are thinking more about their own short-term job security than about their current employer’s long-term success. Yes, there are advantages in buying software from a known source, but those won’t outweigh the disadvantages if the product is deficient, or fails to keep pace with the market.

An existing supplier’s product, such as SAP Ariba, or Oracle Procurement Cloud, may be the best choice for your organisation, but it should be a choice, after you have compared it with leading independent alternatives.

I see a similar bias towards suites driving market consolidation at the moment, such as Determine/ b-pack, Coupa/ Trade Extensions, Tradeshift/ IBX and BravoSolution/ Puridiom. Many clients tell us they want a complete suite to support all their digital procurement, including supplier risk and performance management (SRPM), upstream source-to-contract (S2C) and downstream procure-to-pay (P2P).

Yet our research suggests that very few companies actually implement a whole suite, even if they buy one. I advise most clients to follow an eclectic, multi-sourcing strategy for their key business applications. I don’t mean assembling a solution from 15 different products, but maybe four or five.

For example, you may want one central solution for S2C, embrace two or three P2P products that different autonomous divisions currently use, with maybe one or two additional specialist products for, say, services procurement, or SRPM. This approach may be more appropriate for your organisation because:

  • It may take too long to choose and implement a single suite enterprise-wide. You have to live with obsolete software while you collect requirements, argue about priorities, and then roll the suite out module by module and site by site. Multi-sourcing is a more agile approach, enabling individual divisions to move forward while still allowing you to quickly implement a global point solution to address an urgent need.
  • Suite approaches cause vendor lock-in that is hard to escape. Software decision makers who prize integration over innovation risk ending up with obsolete software. Software giants’ portfolios are of inconsistent quality; they cannot keep all their products at the head of the market. Some, such as SAP SRM and Oracle iProcure, lag so far behind that the vendor decides to replace them. Independent vendors, such as Hubwoo, IBX and Perfect Commerce, may get acquired more for their customers than for their technology. Those customers are trapped in products with an uncertain future, because switching suites involves changing everything at once.
  • You need to be able to take advantage of valuable innovation from new sources.The eclectic CPO is constantly watching for new ideas that can make him more successful and doesn’t care from which direction they come. The suite CPO, in contrast, has to wait for his chosen vendor to spot, implement and integrate that idea. Right now there is some exciting innovation going on in the application of artificial intelligence to the Purchasing domain, particularly in risk assessment and monitoring. Vendors such as Ecovadis, GRMS, Resilinc, and risk methods help customers identify and mitigate risks more effectively than any manual process could do. Smart CPOs will be evaluating these services now and incorporating them quickly in their SRPM frameworks, while their laggardly peers are waiting patiently for their suite providers to catch up.

The bottom line

Smart CPOs should consider an eclectic software strategy. Balance the benefits of intra-suite integration with the potentially greater benefits from smart, easy-to-use, flexible specialist products. Look at what innovation is available in the market before you woodenly replace your existing product with the same vendor’s new offering. And even if you do base your digital procurement strategy on a suite, ensure you complement it with specialist products that fill gaps or extend it into new areas.

The Best 10 Minutes of Wasted Time I Ever Spent

Have you ever sat in a meeting and thought, ‘I am never going to get these 10 minutes of my life back’? I had that experience and it turned out to be the best poorly-used time I ever spent.

During my time as a procurement consultant, I once met with a client who wanted to introduce me to a supplier she highly recommended. She pulled out a two-inch thick binder filled with supplier business cards – she had accumulated years’ and years’ worth of prized intelligence. She couldn’t remember the supplier’s name, so she carefully flipped through the binder, one – page – at – a – time, hoping to recognise their logo or card design. By the time she found the card 10 minutes later, I couldn’t stop thinking about the number of binders and stacks of business cards sitting under people’s desks filled with intel, but not accessible to anyone else, not leveraged by procurement teams, and not benefiting suppliers.

I copied down the supplier’s information and handed back the card, as she didn’t want to lose their contact information. I walked away asking myself:

What innovation constraints did it create that no one else could access the information?

What would that loss of knowledge do to the organization when that person left the company?

How much time is being spent searching for information in disparate sources of data?

My Break Through Moment

That meeting would become the genesis of tealbook, the company I founded to deliver actionable supplier intelligence to enterprise. Of course, that 10 minutes was also only just the beginning. I spent the following 8 years seeing the same challenges across Fortune 100 and emerging companies looking to reduce process friction among stakeholders while making faster supplier decisions. I looked for a solution, but nothing was available. This was my career break though moment.

I have met many procurement professionals with a strong inner entrepreneur. Stepping out of the security of a corporate function to start a business is scary and requires the bandwidth for risk taking. You can satisfy your passion for entrepreneurship by getting involved in start-ups looking for guidance and advisors as they grow their business. But if the urge is too great to resist, you should take the chance. Before you do, here are a few things that might help shape your future venture:

  • Pay attention to inefficiencies in your day to day work life and validate them with your peers. Understanding your space and being an expert in your field will help shape your business and bring confidence to future clients and investors.
  • Spend some time building a business plan. What is your business? How are you going to develop it? How will you monetize or where will the capital come from to support its growth? Joining an accelerator program while keeping your corporate job (look into The Founder’s Institute) can be a great way to shape and validate your business idea.
  • No one will be as passionate about your idea as you are – keep that in mind as you are reaching out to potential customers and make sure your value proposition is strong enough for someone to champion it and make it a priority (you know best that championing and getting the budget to bring in a startup is not easy).
  • Think about your future and where you want to be. If building a business is part of it and makes you want to wake up every day (and work around the clock!), then go for it and give it your very best shot! You will never regret trying and you will own its success!

Sometimes I think about where inspiration comes from. It is often the simplest moments or actions that lead to the creation of solutions, and the founding of some of the best companies.

About Procurious’ Powered by 5: Procurement Entrepreneur – Tealbook Founder and CEO Stephany Lapierre  

That one meeting would become the genesis of tealbook, the company Stephany founded to deliver actionable supplier intelligence to enterprise. Stephany knew that if she could get those business cards out of her client’s binder and into a centralised, intuitive cloud-based platform, the client would be able to leverage the full capabilities of her suppliers, her peers would have instant access to her rich knowledge legacy, procurement would use the intelligence to make faster decisions, and her company would be able to preserve all of its supplier intelligence through turnover, reorganisation, etc.

Three years ago, Stephany put the pieces together and since then, her team and has collaborated with customers to gather requirements, build out functionality, design a social media-inspired UI, and lay the foundation for incorporating AI capabilities. With every new enterprise client, tealbook gains new insight into the upside potential of accessible intelligence, and every new supplier that creates a profile expands the understanding of buyers across companies and industries.

7 Procurement Trends To Watch Out For In 2018

Which hot topics and trends will everyone in procurement be talking about in 2018…?What’s the buzz in 2018? We’ve done a spot of investigating to identify all the hot topics the procurement world is excited (and concerned!) about in the coming year…

1. Technology Hype Won’t Let Up

Steve Banker, writing for Forbes, concurs stating that “emerging technologies such as blockchain, 3D printing, autonomous mobile robots, IoT, machine learning, and related technologies continue to get a tremendous of amount of publicity.

According to Supply Chain Digital, “The pace of innovation is picking up steam at an exponential rate.

“Robots, self-driving vehicles, electric trucks, blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), and new mobile-enabled categories are all poised to explode onto the scene in one form or another.

“It’s hard to predict what’s real and what will fade away, but expect 2018 to become a year of heavy innovation for supply chain leaders, even if it’s experimental.”

Vivek Soneja, writing for EBN online  asserts that “Blockchain capabilities have transformed collaboration across trading partner networks”. He believes Blockchain will “enable much tighter collaboration across supply chain planning and execution decisions. ”

Read our latest articles on Blockchain by Basware’s Paul Clayton and  InstaSupply’s Simona Pop.

2. Brexit Will Continue To Cause Disruption 

“While 2017 was the year of Brexit uncertainty, 2018 will be the year where things start to change,” asserts Francis Churchill on Supply Management.

Last year CIPS revealed that 63 per cent of EU companies planned to move some of their supply chain out of the UK as a result of the decision to leave the single market and customs union.

“The slower-than-expected progression of Brexit negotiations has put off business investments in current or new UK operations,” explains Gary Barraco on Global Trade Mag. Recent readings on economic growth showed investment by companies to be flat in the second quarter.

“Supply chain executives are voicing concerns about tariff and quota changes, hoping to keep trade open and flowing as it does today. For manufacturing to remain strong, the raw material imports from Asia need to remain duty and tariff free, as they are currently in the customs union. Costs could go up without the trade advantages, leading to higher export costs from the UK.”

We discuss the implications of Brexit for procurement in this Procurious blog. 

3. Cognitive will reign supreme

Global Trade Magazine predicts that “by the end of 2020, one-third of all manufacturing supply chains will be using analytics-driven cognitive capabilities, thus increasing cost efficiency by 10 per cent and service performance by 5 per cent.”

And IBM predict that, by this point, all of our important procurement decisions will be made with the assistance of artificial intelligence. We know that our teams must “transform or die” if we don’t want the function reduced to the back office,  facing extinction.

But if you’re still feeling a little overwhelmed by the magnitude and potential of cognitive technology or simply wondering how to get started, this Procurious article has some great advice.

4. Transparency

Paul Martyn , writing for Forbes, spoke to Sue Welch, CEO, Bamboo Rose, on her supply chain predictions for 2018, discussing why “transparency and sustainability will be practiced with more vigor in 2018.”  She said ” ‘There’s been an explosion of demand from consumers to know where their products are originating and the required information is extremely granular. For example, with a package of carrots, consumers want to know not only the farm where they were harvested, but also the row and lot number where the carrots were planted.’

“Welch, whose company, Bamboo Rose, works with a number of top retailers and apparel companies, expects traceability demands to not only shape how consumers buy, but how companies will source and market their services.

“Smart retailers will begin to market their products from an information/sustainability-first standpoint and to be credible about it, they’ll need to invest in integrating technology that makes this level of transparency possible at every level of the supply chain.’ ”

5. Cybersecurity

Global Trade Magazine predict that by the end of 2019, cybersecurity will have surpassed physical security as a top concern for one-half of all manufacturers, and in the transition to digitally enabled, cognitive supply chains, cybersecurity will have become a top investment priority.

“High-profile hacking cases that compromise sensitive information for millions of people will continue in the coming year.” states Soneja, “With the proliferation of data and connected endpoints, companies will need to step up their security and privacy protection protocols in 2018.”

Earlier this year, we spoke to Craig Hancock, cybersecurity expert and Executive Director of Telstra Service Operations on the dangers of cyber crime. Read the full article here. 

6. Back to basics

“While a number of new trends are giving procurement leaders directions to explore in 2018, many supply chain professionals are still aiming for easy-to-understand goals” explains The Strategic Sourceror.

“According to Deloitte’s latest research on chief procurement officers, cost advantages and cash flow improvements are still the bread and butter of the supply chain. Traditional efforts to improve contracts and advanced, tech-driven strategies can deliver favorable costs to companies.”

7. Big data is a big deal

“In the context of the supply chain for most businesses, big data and predictive analytics are still an untapped resource that can potentially provide insights which help anticipate or respond to events or disruptions,” explains Raanan Cohen on Supply Chain Management review. 

“Unpredictable consumer behaviour, traffic or weather patterns, and labour unrest are all external events that can disrupt a supply chain and lead to increased costs and customer service challenges. Big data can help organisations become better trading partners to their customers and suppliers. But before insights and analytics can be leveraged for a better supply chain, there’s a huge task at hand for the many organisations that need to first collate data points from all sources and align them to their business operations.”