Category Archives: Generation Procurement

Don’t Bore The Board

Struggling to get business leaders interested in procurement? You’re doing it wrong! 

The dashboard that Lara Nichols built in her first weeks as SVP of Procurement at NFP was, she thought, a masterpiece. It had everything a procurement professional could wish for – sourcing strategies, savings programs, vendor and risk management targets, governance plans – but it simply wasn’t getting the cut-through she expected outside of the procurement team.

“I’d find that people simply didn’t want to have procurement conversations with me – nobody cared about the typical procurement metrics I was focusing on. I realised that I needed to change my approach to my work to become less of a procurement professional, and more of a businessperson with procurement expertise.”

Now, Nichols’ dashboard is built around what she calls meaningful business drivers. “The underlying data is the same, but I’ve had to re-jig how I talked about it.”

How do you identify your organisation’s business drivers? For Nichols, she took a dual approach:

Connect with the team operating at the heart of the business: “This will be different in every industry, but in insurance brokerage and in many financial services companies, the top-line team is the lead force in our business. I made an effort to become tightly connected with the business development team. We have a huge sales force, so I’ve deliberately familiarised myself with their sales strategy and focused on finding ways to provide support for what they do.”

“My advice is to seek out the people that deliver on the heartbeat of the company’s success, and connect yourself with that team.”

Connect with the CFO: “There’s a reason the CFO is always in the top three roles of a company. Finance influences the whole organisation in so many ways”, says Nichols. “I’ve spent a lot of time with the entire finance team, including my CFO, which has helped me re-align procurement’s contribution in the context of NFP’s numbers, and not the other way around.”

Nichols says that strong financial know-how is therefore vital to any CPO’s success. “The ability to influence the numbers equates to company performance. Procurement and Finance should build a deep and mutually beneficial relationship to truly delivery value we all know is intrinsically there.”

Getting involved in ISM2017

Nichols is Chair of the ISM2017 Conference Leadership Committee, and co-leads the Bottom Line Learning Track.

“Personally, I’m excited to attend the Signature Session run by Amazon Business, called Is Your Tail Spend Putting You In A Tailspin. It’s an important topic. Another session I’m looking forward to will be run by Brooks Brothers, featuring a conversation between a CFO and CPO on How Does the P&L Work, Anyway. It will provide the grounding in Finance that’s so important for success in our profession.”

Nichols is proud of the fact that the Committee has built a program with a diverse range of speakers. “We challenge ourselves to recruit first-time speakers, people who have never had an opportunity to present. Brooks Brothers, for example, have never attended an ISM conference before, but we’re expecting some very valuable insights from their session. On the other end of the spectrum, you have your solid contributors who have been attending and supporting ISM for a long time. They bring an incredible level of insight, experience and wisdom to the conference.

Network, network, network

Two of Nichols’ last three appointments were made possible with the help of her personal network. “In both cases, friends of mine knew the hiring managers. There’d been a discussion at some point about what the business was looking for, and my connection has said ‘That sounds like something Lara would like to do – would you like me to introduce her?’ In both cases, I was hired into an exciting, newly-created role.”

Outside of moving roles, Nichols’ network is invaluable when dealing with what she describes as “wicked problems”. “I ask myself who can I talk to in my network who would have some insights into my problem. The network sustains me – usually it starts with an instant message, which leads to a phone call where we explore ideas and – eventually – the solution presents itself.”

Plan ahead to get the most out of ISM2017

There’s so much choice at ISM’s major event of the year that it can be overwhelming, particularly for first time attendees. Nichols says that this will be the case particularly for people who haven’t prepared.

“Chart a course through the sessions. Read ahead, and think about how to spend your time. Plan it out like you would do before going on vacation! If you’ve done some pre-planning, you’ll have filters in place to help you pick well when you’re presented with a choice.”

ISM has provided plenty of tips to guide attendees through the maze of session, including the Learning Tracks, information on how each session is aligned to certain competencies in the Mastery Model, and proficiencies based on years of experience.

“Be present” says Nichols. “Don’t skip the social activities such as the receptions and networking events. That’s where the real magic happens. Visit the Exhibit Hall – that’s where you can access new information and innovation that you can take back to your office.”

There’s still time to register for ISM2017, taking place in Orlando, Florida from May 21-24.

Planning to attend ISM2017? Don’t miss out on Procurious Founder and CEO Tania Seary’s tips on how to Network Your Way To The Top on Tuesday May 23rd, 3.45pm.

Best of the Blog: Overcoming Gender Bias In Procurement

Jackie Aggett, Regional Commercial Manager at Laing O’Rourke, discusses the gender bias she has come up against in procurement, and how she has overcome it to get to where she is today.

Everyone loves a good throwback article, which is why we’re hopping in our time machine to bring you back some of the biggest and best Procurious blogs. If you missed any of the golden oldies, look no further!

This week, we’re revisiting an interview with Jackie Aggett who explains the gender discrimination she’s endured and her advice on how to overcome it. 

Jackie Aggett hadn’t been in procurement long when she needed to spend weeks preparing a major annual report about the procurement of earth moving tyres.

She handed it over to the site manager and watched him hurl the report angrily across the room. It hit the wall and fell apart.

“What would you know about earth moving tyres?,” he bellowed?
The 28-year-old calmly walked over and picked up the report, and told him again that there were going to be changes. Like it, or not.

“Every part of me wanted to turn around and run out the door, but I’ve always found ways to overcome challenges in the workplace and turn them into opportunities,” Aggett says.

Finding a Voice

The experience did nothing to dampen her conviction. She has worked in male dominated roles for 25 years. She started out in a supply cadetship at BHP Billiton and then went on to work in rail, construction, marine services and a seawater desalination plant.

“I learned a lot in that cadetship. My boss at the time gave me the cadetship because he saw me as being very courageous, which was part of my upbringing. He sent me straight to Port Headland, where I was the only female.”

Her colleagues weren’t used to working with women. The only uniform available to her was the men’s trousers and shirts. “They were ill-fitting and very uncomfortable. Procuring some clothes to wear to work was high on the list in those early days,” Aggett says.

If anything, her presence among the male workforce was seen perhaps only as a novelty. But that all changed once she began finding her voice in the business, and began offering new solutions to old problems.

“I had a good work ethic and believed in what I was doing, and hit the ground running. But the team weren’t engaged when I started to suggest change, and that was a difficult process to go through. However, I didn’t give up. I continued to speak up and stand up for myself.”

Creating Trusted Advisors

Aggett’s depth of experience covers roles in commercial, contractual and financial management from project start-up through to close-out. This includes all facets of tender preparation, negotiation, contract award and subsequent on-site contract administration, claims, project controls, forecasting, financial reporting and risk management as the client asset owner or contractor.

Six months ago, she was tapped on the shoulder and offered the role of procurement head with international engineering enterprise Laing O’Rourke, which took her across the country from Perth to Sydney. She jumped at the chance.

Her focus in her role has been creating a vision – working to transform the procurement function from spend managers to trusted advisers, firstly among her team of 35 people.

“It is imperative we move beyond being seen and acting as a governance compliance function. We need to understand the business strategy and align our objectives to deliver sustainable value,” she says.

Challenging the Norm

Aggett has implemented a supply relationship management programme among other initiatives, which has been a big step forward for the procurement function within the business.

“A key part of this has been challenging the way in which we engage with the supply chain. The supply chain has a wealth of knowledge and capability which, if tapped into, can provide value creating solutions for our clients, ourselves and our supply chain partners.

“Unfortunately, the construction industry does not often afford the supply chain the opportunity to bring their knowledge and capabilities to the table. Our supplier relationship management program seeks to change this.”

Aggett wasn’t specifically chasing roles in such large corporate organisations, saying one thing just led to another.

“It certainly wasn’t planned that I’d work in male-dominated industries. I had four brothers and a working mother, and was raised to believe that girls can do anything.”

Overcoming Roadblocks

She admits that early on in her career, she came up against road blocks, but didn’t for a moment consider that had anything to do with gender bias.

“I definitely came up against a lot of unconscious bias in my early roles, and at times doing my job took some courage and self-belief. Being female has definitely been a challenge in the roles I’ve held.

“I’d wonder why someone wouldn’t listen to me, or how I could better showcase my skills. I’d work very hard to win someone over, and go through the problem solving process to try and work out why I wasn’t getting the result I wanted. The fact that I was a woman was always at the bottom of the list. Now, after 25 years working in the industry, I arrive at that conclusion a lot quicker and obviously have a lot more confidence in the role.”

Aggett hopes times have changed and that young women entering the procurement industry don’t come up against the gender bias she experienced.

“Saying that, I have been fortunate to work with individuals and organisations that have encouraged me to take opportunities, to believe in my abilities and to reward me for my efforts. I have experienced many organisations that have allowed flexibility in my working week, as I’ve raised two daughters as a single parent.”

While there are no requirements to do so, she advocates the importance of having a degree behind you for anyone working in procurement. Her law and finance degree has stood her in good stead, she says.

“It has absolutely served me well to have the formal qualifications behind me. When people are passionate about procurement and they’ve got the formal education, it gives them a seat at the board table in any situation they’re in.”

Procurious launched Bravo, a group to celebrate and promote women working in procurement. Get involved by joining here. 

Four Ways Business Can Step Up To Industry 4.0

The challenges of Industry 4.0 are also its opportunities, writes John Pollaers, Chair of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council.

The ideas behind the Internet of Things (or “Cyber-Physical Systems”, “Machine-to-Machine Interoperability”, “Industry 4.0”, or several other names), are not particularly new. What is new is the convergence of existing technologies and corporate strategies.

The term Industrie 4.0 was first used in 2011 at the Hannover Fair. It is both a prediction of the ways things are headed, and an actuality. It was coined to describe a number of trends and technological developments that are causing a quantum leap in the way things will be made, and how products are being transformed by technology. The “leap” is the key concept at play here, as industrial revolutions 1 through 3 were all driven by a technological leap that changed the manufacturing landscape, and society along with it. To summarise:

  • The 1st industrial revolution was about mechanisation.
  • The 2nd revolution was driven by electrification.
  • The 3rd centered around automation and IT integration – this transformation is still going on in many countries.
  • The 4th industrial revolution is about the merging of the cyber and the physical worlds.

How will Industry 4.0 transform manufacturing?

The basic principle is that by connecting machines, work pieces and systems, businesses are creating intelligent networks along the entire value chain. This means greater flexibility – with information gathered in real time, and factories able to adapt more easily to changing requirements.

It enables customisation and servitisation of products; and a customer-specific production operation.

As factories, supply chains and products become networked, the lines between the physical and digital world will be increasingly blurred. Virtualisation enables the so-called Smart Factory by linking sensor data (from monitoring physical processes) with virtual plant models and simulation models.

There are many challenges ahead – and perhaps the most significant among them is developing global industry standards. The world’s two industrial powerhouses, Germany and the United States, recently came together to work collaboratively on aligning global standards and technologies. Australia’s own Prime Minister’s Industry 4.0 Taskforce is closely supporting that effort – aiming to ensure Australia is connected globally.

The flexibility tipping point 

The future for advanced manufacturing is high value, high margin products – but this will require constant innovation and flexibility. The good news is that technological developments are beginning to enable that flexibility on the factory floor and throughout the entire manufacturing system. Some examples of flexibility include:

  • Production becoming increasingly distributed.
  • A greater reliance on smaller-scale manufacturing plants and micro-factories.
  • The market becomes the world.

This flexibility will deliver two key advantages for Australia and other countries looking to scale up their manufacturing sectors:

  1. The first is a greater ability to co-locate research, design and manufacturing – accelerating the innovation process.
  1. The second is a bigger market – we are no longer constrained by the size of our domestic market.

Four ways businesses can step up to Industry 4.0

If industry is going to lead the way into the world of Industry 4.0, there are four key shifts in thinking that need to take place in leading organisations:

  1. Where once your organisation may have needed to reinvent itself every few decades, today, an onslaught of shocks – technological, cultural, economic, and regulatory – will force you to transform every few years.
  2. Five to ten years ago, your CEO might have become a business icon through a single transformation. The minimum requirement now is being able to execute multiple transformations.
  3. Success today means fostering a culture of continuous reinvention—reinvention in your business models, customer interactions, employee engagement, and the markets you serve.
  4. We need to fully appreciate the power of analytical systems, be able to establish employee familiarity and ensure organisations have the right talent to leverage technology opportunities.

The Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council is a CEO-led private sector initiative pursuing Australian success in advanced manufacturing. The AAMC brings together industry leadership to drive innovation success and resilience in the Australian economy.

 AAMC Chairman John Pollaers will deliver a keynote speech at PIVOT: The Faculty’s 10th Annual Asia Pacific CPO Forum.

Save The Planet With Garbage-Powered Trucks And Edible Water Bottles

Earth Day is about more than switching off the overhead lights – it’s about making purchasing decisions that will minimise our impact on the environment. From eerily-silent zero-emission trucks to seaweed-membrane edible water bottles, these are just some of the products that should be on the radar of every innovation scout.  

Modernise your fleet with hydrogen-fuelled, electric or biomethane trucks

Although the petroleum industry is grudgingly beginning to recognise that an increasing number of car drivers will hang up the fuel bowser (gas pump) for the last time within the next decade, there’s still a sticking-point when it comes to heavy vehicles.

“Sure, you can move a car with an electric battery, but an 18-wheeler truck is always going to need diesel.”

Wrong. Alternatives are already available for zero or low-emission trucks that match, or even beat, the performance of a diesel-fuelled truck.

Toyota’s hydrogen fuel-celled semitrailers

The Ports of Los Angles and Long Beach took delivery of a zero-emission, 670 horsepower 18-wheeler earlier this month. The hydrogen-fuelled truck is completely silent and emits only water from its tailpipe.

The twin ports are a major source of pollution in the region, due in part to an estimated 19,000 cargo containers moving through daily, carrying $450 billion worth of goods annually. If the test is successful, thousands of conventional trucks could potentially be replaced by hydrogen-fuelled trucks.

Toyota is yet to announce a price for the truck but have predicted it will be competitive with new, diesel-powered trucks when it hits the market. Mileage looks good, with a range of 200 miles on one 20-minute charge. The fuel-cell stacks can be fed water, natural gas or a variety of waste products, with one Toyota spokesperson telling the press that abundant hydrogen can be reclaimed from landfill waste.

Tesla’s all-electric semi-trailer

Mystery surrounds Tesla’s much-anticipated electric semi-trailer, with most reports centred around a tweet from Elon Musk announcing that the truck will be unveiled in September 2017, and that it is “seriously next-level”.

Musk has also confirmed that the semi-trailer will be followed by a ute (pick-up truck) within 18-24 months, and has suggested that Tesla should also enter the bus and heavy-duty truck markets.

The company has yet to share details about how large the battery itself would be or how the truck would overcome range limitations, but commentators from Morgan Stanley have predicted that the truck would be “relatively short-range” (200-300 miles), and use Tesla’s charging stations to quickly swap the batteries for charged ones (a 5-minute process) and get the vehicles back on the road.

Waitrose’s rotten food-powered trucks

Waitrose has partnered with bio-fuel company CNG Fuels to place an order for 10 flatbed trucks that will be powered entirely by rotten food, sourced from unsold food at supermarkets across the UK.

This investment ticks two boxes for Waitrose’s sustainability targets – lowering carbon dioxide emissions, while addressing food waste. Globally, an estimated one-third of all food, or 1.3 billion metric tons of produce – goes to waste every year. The new biomethane trucks have an average range of nearly 500 miles, with the biofuel to cost 40% less than diesel fuel. The biomethane emits 70% less carbon dioxide than diesel.

The next challenge? Lifting a commercial airliner off the ground with rotting vegetables. It may seem unthinkable today, but so was the technology that’s now enabling zero-emission semi-trailers.

Procuring for an event? Try edible water bottles

With an estimated 100 million plastic water bottles being trashed globally every single day, there will soon be more plastic than fish in the ocean. That’s why it’s vital that a solution is found to stem the (literal) tide of plastic.

A start-up called Skipping Rocks Lab has created a product that won’t completely replace plastic bottles, but could potentially make a big dent in their consumption.

“Ooho!” edible water spheres are created by dipping frozen balls of liquid into an algae mixture (seaweed), forming a watertight membrane around the water, which then melts inside. To consume the liquid you simply bite into the membrane (apparently tasteless) and sip it out, or just eat the entire ball.

The spheres generate 5x less carbon dioxide and require 9x less energy to make than a conventional PET (plastic) water bottle. But here’s the catch – they’re perishable. The product has been compared to fruit, with a shelf-life of just a few days. Try keeping one of these in your pantry for a week and you’ll find that it has dissolved into a puddle. However, Ooho would be perfect for events where bottles are bought in bulk and distributed to enormous groups of people, only to be trashed in huge numbers during or immediately after the event – think music festivals, marathons and conferences.

In other news this week:

New study finds that Brexit fears are impacting growth for 80% of UK businesses

  • eProcurement provider Wax Digital has surveyed 200 UK business on the impact of Brexit, finding that 4 out 5 business fear it will hinder their growth. 79% also stated their growth is being hindered by suppliers being unprepared for growth amidst Brexit.
  • 37% said that Brexit will restrict their ability to do business in Europe and 35% said that it will make EU business more costly and complex. 26% expect to reduce their business operations on the continent and 24% will look at alternative international opportunities. Interestingly, 65% of surveyed UK business leaders voted “remain” and would still do so today.
  • The survey also explored perceptions of the Trump Presidency, with 82% saying that a ‘business mogul’ type figure in the White House is positive, and 40% expecting Trump to improve UK to US business opportunities.

Gender Diversity: Would You Leave $12 Trillion On The Table?

Anne Tesch is one of those professionals who has facts and figures at her fingertips to back up every point she makes. As she tells Procurious, it’s vital that supply managers have the facts in their possession when pursuing a goal as important as increasing gender diversity.

Why should gender diversity be high on every company’s agenda?  

Where should I start? There’s a vast amount of global research and evidence on the importance of women’s economic empowerment and the benefits of hiring women-owned businesses. To list a few key studies:

  • McKinsey’s Global Institute report found that $12 trillion could be added to the Global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. Economies most impacted (with GDP gains) would be India (16%), Latin America (14%), China (12%), and Sub-Saharan African (12%);
  • Another McKinsey survey found that 34% of companies said working with women-owned suppliers had increased their profits;
  • Women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, but earn only 10% of the income, and own very little of the world’s private property;
  • There are approximately 187 million women entrepreneurs worldwide who own between 32% and 39% of all businesses in the formal economy;
  • Women dominate the global marketplace by controlling more than $20 trillion in consumer spending that will rise to $30 trillion in the next decade; and
  • According to research conducted by WEConnect International, women-owned businesses globally earn less than 1% of the money spent on products and services by large corporations and governments.

What are your recommendations for supply managers looking to increase their engagement with women-owned businesses?

1. Know your numbers

Firstly, it’s important to know the percentage of women-owned businesses in your supply arrangements.  Why not do some research and ask suppliers if they are “women-owned” which, by definition, means that they are at least 51% owned, managed and controlled by one or more women. Furthermore, why not consider tracking tier 2 spend, as smart companies will often increase spend with women-owned businesses to win large contracts.

 2. Spread the word

Convince others in your team that working with women-owned suppliers is good for business. A recent McKinsey survey indicated that working with women-owned suppliers increases profits, while the Hackett Group’s research last September shows 99% of diverse suppliers meet buyers’ expectations, with nearly 25% exceeding expectations.

Though improvement to the bottom line is always important, incorporating women-owned businesses in your supply chain also provides an opportunity to grow your customer base, attract and retain talent, and enhance your branding – all while increasing profits and reducing costs.

 3. Network, network, network

Accessing networks of women-owned businesses, even just to participate in RFPs, is a critical success factor but one of the more difficult parts of starting and managing a supplier diversity program.  Engaging with third parties that specialise in connecting buyers with diverse suppliers, such as WEConnect International, can assist this process. Our organisation certifies women-owned businesses through a rigorous, globally accepted process, and provides access to these organisations through our eNetwork.

What are the proven benefits of having more women in your supply chain?

Women influence the vast majority of purchasing decisions globally, but they are significantly underrepresented in global value chains. Even though more than one third of private businesses are owned and controlled by women, on average, women earn only 1 percent of large corporate and government spend globally. Benefits of having more women in your supply chain include:

  • Mirroring your diverse customer and employee base – it’s important to reflect the communities around the globe where you operate, not only with staffing, but also with your supplier base;
  • Supporting your corporate clients – more corporates are growing their tier 2 inclusive sourcing programs and requesting reporting from their prime suppliers;
  • Supporting business growth in new markets;
  • Accessing innovation and securing competitive advantage from new SMEs offering more creative options;
  • Reducing costs through competitive bidding;
  • Accessing local networks and knowledge; and
  • Enhancing the company brand and community engagement by promoting success stories about working with women-owned businesses.

Anne Tesch and other leaders in the profession will be speaking at Quest’s Women in Procurement 2017 event in Melbourne on 26-27 April. Visit Quest Events to download a brochure and find out more.

WEConnect International is a global network that connects women-owned businesses to qualified buyers around the world.

SpaceX, Red Cross Millennials Amongst 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars

Procurement and supply leaders as young as 24 are impacting major companies including SpaceX, A.T. Kearney, Cisco Systems and the American Red Cross. 

ISM and THOMASNET.com today announced the 2016-17 winners of the 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars award, presenting the profession with an inspirational batch of role-models who are sure to attract more Millennials to supply management.

Tom Derry, CEO of ISM, says the quality of this year’s crop of stars is inspiring. “Younger generations in the workforce are stepping into leadership roles earlier than their predecessors. This year’s winners are leading the charge, and show that our future is in capable hands.”

“Capable” is an understatement when you look at the achievements of some of these professionals. Andrew Paulsen is a Senior Buyer at SpaceX, one of the highest-profile and most sought-after companies to work for in the U.S. There, he has helped transform the castings commodity into a strategic organisation focused on the reduction of risk and the amplification of innovative designs and production processes.

Amanda DeCook of A.T. Kearney spent nearly a month in Tanzania leading a supply chain diagnostic on life-saving commodities (such as antibiotics) for the remote Sengereme District near Lake Victoria. She was able to make recommendations that would help reduce the likelihood of stock outs in the future, resulting in more lives saved.

Subhash Segireddy, Supply Chain Program Manager at Cisco Systems, led a team which developed a strategy for a manufacturing project which enables resiliency in the supply chain, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and drives millions in cost savings with a vertically aligned supply chain.

In a rapidly changing supply and demand environment, Jaime Todd has created innovative projects for the Red Cross, including a first-ever toolkit for category managers, along with supplier risk frameworks, policies and procedures.

There’s a common thread in the careers of these four Rising Stars, in that they’re all contributing to a wider cause beyond immediate business goals. Whether it’s reducing greenhouse gases, ensuring the supply of life-saving blood, assisting a remote African community or even helping humanity reach Mars, each role taps into the social aspect that has been identified as a major draw-card for Millennial talent.

Three winning characteristics of 30 Under 30 Stars:

According to THOMASNET.com’s Donna Cicale, the judges looked for three main characteristics in this year’s batch of Rising Supply Chain Stars. The 30 winners are:

  • Multi-talented: “We look for people who demonstrate and excel at a wide range of skills beyond business acumen. We’re searching for fast learners, effective communicators, quick thinkers and natural leaders.”
  • Influencers: “Supply chain stars must be ‘movers and shakers’ in their organisations. They need to be skilled in getting others engaged, bringing colleagues on-board, and working towards common goals.”
  • Trailblazers: “We look for individuals with ‘firsts’, or accomplishments not previously realised by their organisation. A ‘first’ can relate to timing, budget, initialisation, integration or adoption.”

Each winner will receive a one-year membership to ISM; complimentary admittance to ISM2017 annual conference in Orlando, Florida (May 21-24); and a THOMASNET.com Team Training Lunch and Learn session for them and their colleagues.

Visit www.thomasnet.com/30under30 for the full list of 30 Under 30 winners.

Not just about Trump’s Tower: Procurement in Azerbaijan, the Land of Fire

Azerbaijan has hit the headlines today with allegations that a Trump Tower hotel project in Baku involved a deal between the Trump family and a “notoriously corrupt” Azerbaijani oligarch with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. 

Trump, towers, and corruption aside,  Procurious recently interviewed one of our own community members, Fidan Amirbekova, about working in procurement in Azerbaijan – a tiny Caucasus state that has suddenly found itself in the international spotlight. 

With its unique cultural heritage, ancient origins and shared border with Iran, the history of the former Soviet state of Azerbaijan makes for fascinating reading. But what’s it like to work in Procurement there? Procurious member Fidan Amirbekova shares why the most important asset in Azerbaijani business is your personal network.

Welcome to the Procurious community, Fidan! Can you tell us a little about your country?

I live and work in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan and a thriving city on the coast of the Caspian Sea. The town’s origins go back to Roman times, with the earliest written evidence of its existence dating from 84AD. Today, it’s an incredible mixture of ancient buildings and modern skyscrapers. The town’s most recognisable buildings these days are the iconic “flame towers” (pictured).

Azerbaijan, also known as the Land of Fire, is the largest of the three South Caucasus states and is bordered by Russia to the north, Georgia to the north-west, Armenia to the west, Turkey to the south-west, Iran to the south, and the Caspian Sea to the east. Our culture has been defined by our location at the cross-roads of Russia and Persia (later Iran), and Azerbaijan has been a part of both empires at different times in its history.

Although the country has a Shiite Muslim majority, Azerbaijan doesn’t have an official religion, and all the major political forces in the country are secularist. The official language is Azerbaijani, although many of us speak Russian and English as well.

What kind of organisation do you work for?

I work in procurement for Bakcell, the leading mobile phone operator in Azerbaijan. The telecommunications sector is one of the biggest and most innovative in the country, and the role of procurement is significant. I’ve worked at Bakcell for almost 13 years now, with six of them in the procurement department. Specifically, I’m responsible for Marketing and Sales procurement and specialise in services purchasing.

As a profession, procurement in Azerbaijan is quite new, but it’s growing rapidly. Most of the large companies (especially the international ones) require procurement specialists in their teams. There is no developed manufacturing chain in the country, so we need to import almost everything.

Are there any challenges involved with moving goods across borders?

Yes, there are sometimes difficulties with moving goods across borders, but experienced professionals can always find a way. Doing business here is about who you know – personal relationships play a very important role in every field in Azerbaijan. You will succeed if you have a large network – it doesn’t matter if your connections are business-related or personal. In my experience, a wide circle of friends and acquaintances solves everything. That includes online social and business networks like LinkedIn – and Procurious!

Do you source anything from Iran? 

There is some trade over the shared border between Azerbaijan and Iran. Personally, I haven’t yet had to source anything from Iran. The two countries have a shared history and there are many Azerbaijanis living in Iran, and vice-versa. We have stronger business and personal relationships with Turkey. Our languages are similar, and Turkish students come to Azerbaijan to study. We import a lot from Turkey, and there are many Turkish companies here, both small and large.

What pathways are offered to get into procurement in Baku and the region?

As I said earlier, procurement is relatively new here, although it’s growing fast. At present, none of our higher education institutions offer courses in procurement. There is, however, a small consulting company which represents CIPS in Azerbaijan and offers training courses and CIPS qualifications. Many procurement professionals here are actively seeking new opportunities and professional development, so having the CIPS qualification is becoming increasingly popular.

Overall, I think procurement has a great future in modern Azerbaijan. Businesses here understand that we can make a great contribution.

Procurious may be an English-language business network, but our community members come from all over the globe. We’re looking for more stories to build a picture of the unique challenges faced by procurement professionals internationally. If you’re interested in sharing your story, please leave a comment below.

A Whole New World: The Cognitive Computing Era

The age of cognitive tech is coming, whether procurement likes it or not! How can we be ready for the changes coming our way? 

Register your attendance for our free webinar, Man & Machine, which takes place on 8th February 2017. 

A New Era Of Computing

 We’ve entered into a new era of computing: “the cognitive computing era”, which follows the eras of programmable and tabulating systems and represents a massive jump forward that will transform how enterprises operate.

This new era is defined as such because there is a fundamental difference in how these systems are built and how they interact with humans. Traditional programmable systems are fed data, knowledge, and information, and they carry out and return results of processing that is pre-programmed. In this case, humans are doing most of the directing.

Cognitive technology is different; it accelerates, enhances and scales human expertise to solve more complex problems by understanding language and interacting more naturally with humans. It can reason to find patterns and form hypotheses, making considered arguments and scenarios planning. And this is exactly what Watson is about.

Watson is a cognitive technology that can think like a human and is available as SaaS products and a set of open APIs (Applications Programming Interface) such as natural language classifier, speech to text, text to speech, visual recognition, etc.

What Does Watson Mean For Procurement?

This disruptive technology, by creating a new digital ecosystem, is pushing Procurement to create a new business model, moving away from objectives centered on cost take out and taking a new customer centric and revenue growth approach. CPOs must employ the right strategy, structure, skillset and cognitive technology if they want to be in a strong position to demonstrate their relevance and value to the organization.

Procurement organizations and their leaders need to embrace the reality and potential for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive procurement as readily as they would accept other technologies and developments. AI will bring changes and challenges but it will also bring amazing opportunities for the profession.

As we apply AI to certain procurement tasks and processes, we will begin developing internal capability and expertise.

Applying Cognitive Tech To Procurement

Cognitive technology has already proven to be particularly helpful at helping procurement with a number of specific tasks and programs. These include:

  • Quickly sorting through very large amounts of structured or unstructured data. This is especially useful for benchmarking and supplier analysis
  • Providing very detailed supplier assessments of a single supplier, a group of suppliers or the whole supply base
  • Providing in-depth risk assessments, identify hidden risks, and calculate rate risks
  • Supporting and validating decision-making during supplier selection

More generically, cognitive computing will undeniably be a key ingredient to innovation, helping to find new ways of operating, providing new insights, uncovering new opportunities and last but not least it will elevate procurement professionals to the well-deserved advisor role by extending their capabilities and growing their experience.

How Can Procurement Prepare For The Changes That Are Coming? 

The question that so many procurement organisations are asking is how can they make cognitive tech a reality and where to start?

Adopting and integrating cognitive solutions into an organization is a journey and not a destination.

Firstly, CPOs need to be clear about what matters the most. In order to grow their company’s business and best benefit from the technology, they must set realistic expectations and develop long-term plans with incremental milestones

Secondly, transformation doesn’t happen by itself. It requires the vision and support from the top. As an example, Bob Murphy, IBM’s CPO, is the biggest driver of change in terms of transforming his organization. He saw the potential in cognitive technology and the prospects for Procurement and became an evangelist within the team; encouraging, sponsoring and demanding we embrace this opportunity.

Thirdly, leveraging big data is a key area to take advantage of, especially in data management. This ensures that organisations have the right structure and strategy. At IBM, we have appointed a Procurement Data Officer and also hired data scientists within the procurement team as we understood that procurement needed to take a more active role in extracting and analyzing data to demonstrate its value especially by leveraging the data we are managing and generating. (i.e data in RFP answers, ….)

The Race Is On – Can Procurement Shape Up In Time?

With cognitive technology, procurement teams will be equipped with the tools to navigate the procurement process quickly, easily and more compliantly. This will allow more time for procurement teams to focus on strategic supplier activities after contract signature, such as performance management or supplier collaboration and innovation programs. But is the function ready for this shift?

Embedding such advanced technology requires some serious changes in skills and competencies within our teams. Procurement leaders will have to search for procurement professionals not only focusing on their core competencies, such as category expertise, negotiation skills or market knowledge, but it will be more and more important to hire people with the “right” soft skills. The function must onboard and retain people with excellent relationship management and analytical skills and with a high aptitude to work with advanced technology and financial acumen.

The procurement landscape will have to reshape to a more business leading capability that has to operate in a much more virtual and networked environment where emerging roles of data scientists, business relationship managers and innovation scouts, to mention a few, will be increasingly required.

In short, beyond just being capable of creating visible savings, the role of the procurement organisation will have to shift its focus beyond cost reduction efforts, and move towards a trusted advisor role; accurate, fast and efficient.

There’s no doubt about it, late adopters of the digital transformation or organisations failing to take into consideration the growing exigencies such as speed, value for money, collaboration will be soon perceived as road blockers rather than enablers.

Join Procurious’ free webinar, hosted by Tania Seary with Manoj Saxena, Pascal d’Arc and Nathalie Fekete to make sure you’re ahead of the cognitive technology game. 

 

 

The Coming Backlash Against Artificial Intelligence and How to Handle It

How can organisations use AI’s potential to augment, not abolish jobs?

This article first appeared on Manoj Saxena’s LinkedIn profile. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly moving from a mesmeric technology to a powerful teammate and a foundation for enterprise and consumer decision making.

However, AI is a young field full of amazing potential. It’s mystery and lack of understanding is also allowing for hype to grow unchecked. Unrealistic claims by advertising agencies of large technology companies of an “AI nirvana” and portrayals by Hollywood movie producers of an “AI apocalypse” are creating a hype machine that is unparalleled in recent history. The reality is somewhere in between these two extreme scenarios.

Every transformative tool that people have created – from the steam engine to the microprocessor – augment human capabilities and enable people to dream bigger and do more. It also creates massive job dislocation and AI will be no different. Except this time around it will impact not just the blue collar jobs but also white collar jobs such as this Japanese Insurance company replacing insurance workers with AI. 

Lost within all of this hype and fear is perhaps the greatest benefit I see as an entrepreneur, a senior technology company executive, and an investor – the potential for AI to do good for business and for society.

Done right, AI has a massive potential to make our business and our society much more efficient in terms of how we use our scarce natural resources and make a living. Research from Accenture estimates that artificial intelligence could double annual economic growth rates of many developed countries by 2035, transforming work, and foster a new relationship between humans and machines.

Machine intelligence, which is a sub-set of AI, will power and create efficient, real-time adaptive businesses. A “Cognitive Business” that makes sense of all available data and rapidly transforms how it engages it customers at the edge and deploys self-learning, self-assuring business processes at the core.

It will greatly help businesses that are drowning today in Big Data analytics and machine learning science projects but are starving for actionable insights and agility. Despite significant investments in customer big data, business intelligence, machine learning, and cognitive computing, these businesses are struggling with three problems:

  1. Too much data and too little insight
  2. Poor linkage between insights discovery and business action
  3. Scarce learnings from actions taken

Going forward these businesses will deploy AI powered cognitive cloud platforms to augment every user experience and business process. These Augmented Intelligence platforms will pair humans and machines so they can achieve something new and exponentially valuable together: intelligent user engagement and business processes that get smarter and more useful with time.

By emulating human cognitive abilities in software such as memory and sequencing, perception, anticipation, problem solving, and decision making, Augmented Intelligence Platforms will help make sense from messy, disparate first and third party data. They will then use the hidden meaning within all data to engage a human being by providing the right advice, at the right time, with the right evidence across any contact point.

These new class of technologies will create a new range of “new collar jobs” to design, model, build, test and manage these systems – much like the Internet and the world wide web created a new class of jobs in the late 1990s.

Keen to learn more about cognitive technology and the impact it will have on procurement? Join our FREE Webinar, Man & Machine, on the 8th February. 

What Procurement Pros Should Know About UK Energy Market Competition

Buying energy mightn’t always a top priority for procurement pros but there’s certain things you need to know!

The task of buying energy can often be pushed down the list of priorities especially within smaller businesses where time is precious. However, with proposed changes in how energy suppliers can market to businesses in the UK and the information that is available to them about competitors’ customers, could it now be time to start paying more attention to energy procurement?

Changes in the Energy Market

June 2014 saw the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) open an investigation into the energy market, on the back of a referral from industry watchdog Ofgem. This was triggered by the energy industry receiving increased political and media attention over its perceived competitiveness. The CMA issued its final report in June 2016 and outlined numerous recommendations with over 30 new measures being brought in, a number of which would affect energy procurement among smaller businesses.

Aiming to overhaul the energy market for the benefit of the customer, the report focused on four main areas – increasing customer engagement, creating a framework for effective competition through settlement, industry governance and wholesale market remedies.

Potentially one of the most noteworthy remedies micro businesses should be aware of is a database created and operated by Ofgem made up of ‘disengaged customers’, defined as microbusiness customers who have been on a default contract with the same energy provider for three or more years. Rival suppliers will have access to the information within the secure cloud-based database and have the opportunity to be able to market to potential customers via post. However it’s important to note that during 2017 energy providers will be contacting any affected customers to inform them of the new database, giving them the option to opt out of having their information shared if they wish.

Another measure to be in place by June 2017 is that energy suppliers will be required to provide online quotation tools for relevant micro and small business customers[i] to assist with price transparency and comparisons, helping buyers to get the best possible price based on their business’ postcode and consumption.

There has also been a significant change to arrangements around rollover contracts, as suppliers can no longer automatically rollover an existing customer for another 12 months following the end of their contract without having to allow the customer to exit on 30 days’ notice at any point. The supplier is also not permitted to charge any termination fees to customers that terminate the auto rollover contract during the rollover period.

CMA Report 

Finally, the CMA report states that in 2013 45% of microbusinesses were on default electricity rates, suggesting that customers had been placed on rates without actively negotiating. The CMA hopes to gain more interest and engagement from small businesses into the energy they procure, and with the end of fixed 12 month auto rollover contracts they believe proactive energy buyers will be able to gain better market rates.

Some remedies will come through amending supplier licence conditions, with many coming straight from the CMA via an order.

Energy buying might not be the top procurement priority for some businesses, however the imminent changes may present a timely opportunity to start paying more attention to energy procurement.

Steve Mulinganie is the Regulation & Compliance Manager at Gazprom Energy.

[i] The online quotation tool is only applicable to a subset of micro business customers, defined as customers who:

  • Consume no more than 73,000 kWh of gas
  • Consume no more than 50,000 kWh of electricity and has a meter profile of 1-4.
  • A small business is defined as an independently owned and operated company that has no more than 50 employees.
  • A micro small business is defined as an independently owned and operated company that no more than 10 employees.