Category Archives: Generation Procurement

How Algorithms Will Add Super-Intelligence To The Way Your Company Spends Money

As algorithms, virtual assistants, and bots infiltrate conversational interfaces across business applications, in the crosshairs is company spend tracking and control. This is the panacea we’ve all been waiting for to an age-old problem.   

Messaging services like Slack are ground zero for a new generation of integrated bots in the workplace. Most have stopped trying to trick users into thinking they’re chatting with humans while new features like message menus (dropdowns) integrated into the AI-generated text help  users make nuanced decisions.

Driving the conversational UI behind the scenes is an-ever evolving mix of machine learning algorithms for pattern recognition, natural language processing, and other associated technologies. Together, they deliver a contextual experience that helps business users make smarter and faster decisions.

One business workflow rife with inefficiencies and errors is corporate buying and expense tracking. Pointing chatbots, or the next iteration of them that we’ll call AI assistants, in that direction will benefit everyone in the requisition and approval flow, from end users to the head of finance or the treasury boss.

The appeal of AI could be even greater for smaller businesses since most lack formal spend management policies, but still need to see who charged what and when on the company credit card. AI assistants enabled by emerging algorithms can arm every purchase decision with intelligence, in effect, augmenting human judgement every step of the way.

AI assistants can add intelligence to everyday tasks

In the realm known as transactional procurement and travel and expense (T&E), solutions with AI assistants could help with general questions, such as clarifying budget status or a spend limit. A user would be able to simply ask the robot a question within the same messaging interface where they chat with colleagues and then get an instant response.

For payments, an AI assistant could learn how you buy and then make recommendations based on context, supplier or product data, budget levels, working capital, and other factors one might overlook or simply not be privy to when initiating an everyday purchase for work.

In another scenario, a user could request an approval for a purchase, but before doing so, summon an AI assistant to verify if a similar request was made by a coworker to avoid a duplicate purchase. That way the user wouldn’t have to waste time and go digging for that info herself.

Finally, AI assistants can facilitate the buying process by generating a payment method such as a virtual credit card after the transaction gets approval from a manager on behalf of the requestor. Upon approval, a user would receive an encrypted virtual card with a spend limit to use as payment against a corporate account, massively simplifying what is typically an arduous back-and-forth process.

The AI opportunity goes well beyond transactions

In time, AI will evolve to allow organizations to make strategic buying decisions and respond to changing business conditions and market variability instantly. To get there, it will first remove the bottlenecks of repetitious decisions that occupy our time, like those mentioned earlier in this article. Then, they could be programmed to help make ever more strategic decisions.

In the sphere of sourcing and procurement, that could mean super-intelligent agents sourcing the highest quality rubber from a stable region, determining which short-listed supplier is most likely to honor their contract, forecasting supply chain disruptions and make recommendations weeks in advance, and so on.

Think that level of knowledge work is impossible for algorithms? Think again. Researchers at Google Brain have already developed software that designs machine-learning software with better results compared to machine-learning software designed by the boffins themselves!

We are well on our way to developing new types of non-conscious intelligence that will be able to handle increasingly complex tasks. In his best-selling book Homo Deus, author Yuval Noah Harari, drives the point home: “The idea that humans will always have a unique ability beyond the reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking.”

With that thought, we can return to our original premise and have little doubt that the rise of AI will mean all of a business’s spending will get smarter. AI expert Stuart Russell puts AI next to the discovery of fire in terms of impact on civilization. If AI will change the world, then it certainly will change business commerce.

Christopher Jablonski is Director of Content & Communications at Tradeshift, a cloud-based business commerce platform connecting buyers and suppliers.

Help! A Potential Employer Asked For My Facebook Password

You’re in the middle of a job interview when the recruiter shocks you by asking for your Facebook password, citing “company policy”. Do you: A) Meekly hand it over; B) Kick over your chair and storm out; or C) Politely but firmly refuse?

Have you ever been asked to hand over your social media details in a job interview? Don’t panic – it’s probably just a stress test.

Stress tests are designed to put you under pressure and see how you handle it. They range from grilling you about your weaknesses, to subjecting you to a barrage of quick-fire questions to try to fluster or catch you off-guard.

Heineken took this to the extreme in their viral recruitment video where interviewees are subjected to a range of stressful situations, including a creepy hand-holding interviewer who later feigns a heart attack. While it’s fun to watch, there’s a lesson here – in an age where candidates often give text-book answers to text-book interview questions, recruiters are looking for ways to separate the wheat from the chaff.

“We need your Facebook login details”

Your three potential reactions:

A) Meekly handing over your password: Wrong answer. This shows that firstly, you’re desperate for this job and secondly, you’re a pushover. Is this how you would behave when representing the company in a tough negotiation?

B) Anger: You’ve fallen into the trap. Even though it’s an outrageous demand, getting angry only demonstrates that you won’t be able to remain calm in the face of on-the-job pressure.

C) Politely but firmly refuse: Correct! You were on the lookout for a stress test, and you’ve identified this one as such. This takes the pressure off, allowing you to present a calm and logical response.

Unfortunately, that’s easy to say and hard to do!

How to say “no” politely 

  1. Call them out

If you’ve read the situation correctly, then you could simply respond by saying, “This is one of those stress-tests, right?”, and then launch into a detailed explanation of how you’re able to stay calm under pressure, with examples.

If they still insist, and genuinely appear to be demanding your Facebook login (and you still want this job), then you’ll need an excuse beyond the bare fact that you don’t want them seeing your drunken photos from the big party last weekend.

  1. Privacy

“I have an obligation to protect my friends’ privacy. They have their own privacy policies set on their accounts to safeguard themselves and their loved ones and that’s their right. If I start sharing their information with potential employers then I’ll have broken my trust with them.”

  1. Work/life

“For me, work and home are two separate things. I’m careful to keep work-related posts off my Facebook page, so it’s in no way relevant to any potential employers.”

  1. Direct to LinkedIn

“I think you mean LinkedIn? While I wouldn’t hand over my login details, I’d be happy to connect with you on LinkedIn so you can see how I present myself professionally on social media.”

  1. Show me yours and I’ll show you mine

This one’s a bit more provocative! “Absolutely fine – I think this is a great idea. I’d also like to see the type of team I’m joining, so if you can share your log-in details, along with your director’s and all the team members’ Facebook passwords, then I’d be happy to share mine.”

  1. Throw the question back at them

Whatever you decide to say, it’s vital you do so in a professional, calm and reasonable way. In a stress test, how you say it is more important than what you say. The interviewer will be judging your response, attitude and manner, but you can turn the tables by asking them to put themselves in your shoes.

For example:

  • “I’m sure you would agree …”
  • “I’m sure that if you were in my position…”
  • “From a privacy perspective, my friends wouldn’t be comfortable with me showing their information to people. I’m sure your friends and family would agree.”

Asking someone to put themselves in your position makes it almost impossible to be offended by a calm and rational argument.

In the end, keep in mind that there is no right answer to a stress-test question. It’s designed to judge how you react, so be confident in whichever answer you choose.

The Big Squeeze in Public Procurement

As budgets continue to shrink, how can professionals working in public procurement do more with less?

We live in a world of apparent contradictions. The amount of money being spent by global governments is rising year on year. And yet, in the majority of these countries, public sector institutions are seeing budgets shrink at the same time.

Governments are increasing spending in order to continue to provide vital services to the public. In the UK, public spending reached £761.9 billion in 2016. This is forecast to rise again in 2017, with total UK public spending is expected to be £784.1 billion.

However, there are a number of factors that need to be taken into consideration when assessing these figures. The average age of the population is on the rise. Health services are dealing with a rise in chronic diseases as a result of lifestyle choices. Investment is not only being put into social care, but also into improving the lives of the entire population. All this means that any increase in spending is swallowed up as quickly as it is released.

In addition, slow global growth means that Governments have to be aware of future spending too. What this means, ultimately, is that spending at a local level is reduced. So what does this mean for public sector procurement?

More for Less

In Scotland, funding for Councils from the Scottish Government has decreased by an estimated £180 million for 2017-18. Some of this will be offset by rising Council Tax across the country, but many Councils and Local Authorities will still be looking to make major savings.

Maintaining, and improving, public services is only the start. The public sector in a situation where they not only have to achieve more with less, but they also have to invest wisely to help future savings targets.

Technology is just one area where this can be achieved. Many cities are investing heavily in technology that will align with existing infrastructure. Following in the footsteps of pioneering cities like Barcelona and Stockholm, a number of UK cities are moving to become ‘Smart Cities’.

Intelligent Street Lighting, sensors measuring urban data including city centre footfall, air quality, and new applications for refuse collection and public parking, are just a few examples of how technology helps to build a smart city.

These technologies have a dual-benefit for Local Authorities, and other businesses in cities. Data collected can be used to drive savings initiatives, while at the same time helping to improve the quality of life for residents.

Public Procurement’s Three Cs

What does this mean for procurement? The profession will be at the forefront when it comes to savings initiatives, and will play a vital, and ever-increasing, role in these projects. But at the same time, procurement still needs to prove its worth to, and make these savings stick.

If you’re looking for somewhere to get started, or to drive continuous improvement, here are three Cs that are applicable no matter your organisation, industry, or category (or even sector).

  1. Challenge

The best saving procurement can make is by not spending money in the first place. And the best time to do this is at the very beginning of a project. By challenging requests, procurement can begin to weed out wants from needs.

Does the organisation actually need this? Does it really need the 24-carat, diamond encrusted version, when an off-the-shelf one will do just fine? Is there an alternative solution to the question that could cost less while doing the same job?

Get your client, end customer, and specification writers to really think through their requirements. Once you’ve done that, you can move on to the next C.

  1. Collaborate

Collaboration should be both an internal and external activity. Procurement should be involved from the start of the project, and work closely with other departments to get the best for the organisation.

The public sector can also collaborate more too. Instead of all setting up individual projects for the same thing, why not share what’s been done in the past? Frameworks, Dynamic Purchasing Systems, and collaborative purchasing can help save time, resources, and money.

It’s also time to be working more collaboratively with our suppliers. Procurement needs to focus, where appropriate, on building long-term relationships. By building these relationships, suppliers will feel more open to collaboration, and potentially start bringing innovative solutions to the table.

And the other thing collaboration is going to help is with the final C.

  1. Cost

As in total cost, lifecycle cost, or Total Cost of Ownership. It’s critical to long-term savings ambitions that the total cost of goods or services is understood. Depreciation, residual value, maintenance and disposal costs all need to be taken into account before any decisions are made.

Procurement should also be focusing more on the cost element with suppliers too. Profit margin is not necessarily the best place to start looking for savings. Rather than creating the perception of going after profit, switching the focus to cost can provide more opportunities for discussion and even innovation.

Getting Started

While these are very good areas to start in, they are just the start of a larger exercise. However, they will help to provide the foundation for best practice, and to change the way projects are put in place across the organisation.

Going Abroad? Tips For Staying Cyber-Safe

Keeping thieves at bay when travelling used to involve money pouches and hidden pockets. These days, the threat has moved into the cyber sphere. Keeper Security’s Co-founder Darren Guccione explains. 

The holiday/vacation period is looming, and many people are making plans for international travel. If you are among them, be sure you have done all you can to take responsibility for cybersecurity when travelling. After all, it’s a dangerous world out there when it comes to the cyber threat environment. Some common sense and preparation will go a long way toward ensuring your international travel memories are of the good kind.

Let’s break down the tips and tricks of cyber safe travel into two categories. The first is basic “blocking and tackling,” which for the most part is done prior to your travel. The second category deals with security tips once you are on the road.

First, a note about U.S. Border Patrol agents

It is important to know in advance that the travel environment itself has changed. While travelling within the U.S., TSA agents at the gates are not allowed to confiscate your digital devices, nor are they allowed to demand passwords to get into them. If such attempts are made, demand to speak to a supervisor.

The rules, however, are different for U.S. Border Patrol agents and for agents in other nations too. Recently there have been multiple news reports of U.S. citizens having to turn over digital devices and their passwords as a condition for entering or re-entering their own country. What can the border agents do with your passwords or data on your devices? How long can they keep that information? How long can you be detained? These and other questions are not easy to answer. But as you will see from the tips and tricks below, there is much that can be done to minimise what might be compromised or inspected while you ensure your trip overall is as cyber safe as it can be.

Before you head out: basic blocking and tackling

  1. Back up your e-files. Just presume you are going to lose everything on your devices. If all data is backed up before you leave, then if you lose your device you won’t lose what really matters most to you.
  2. Don’t carry sensitive data. This is easier said than done if you are mixing business and pleasure, but it is not unreasonable to just leave behind all the sensitive files you are not likely to use. Store them on cloud backup or on removable media. But get them off your devices.
  3. Change all passwords for all devices. When doing this, use two-factor authentication if possible, which most devices have today. Make the passwords eight characters or longer with a combination of nonsensical letters, numbers, and symbols.  Download a free password manager that will do all the work of creating complex passwords and remembering them for you.
  4. If you haven’t checked recently, this is an excellent time to be sure your antivirus software is current. There is plenty of danger lurking in foreign hotels, coffee houses, and even airports, as we’ll see. This software is your first line of defence.
  5. If your smartphone allows, and most do, enable the feature that automatically erases all data in the event of multiple failed password attempts (usually 10 or so).
  6. If available, enable anti-theft software (often through the cloud) that allows you to lock your device remotely if it is stolen. Enable and activate the “find my phone/device” function so if your phone or tablet is stolen, you can track it, disable it, and change all the passwords.
  7. Be mindful of movies, books, and other things you have loaded into your devices that could be considered pornographic and otherwise illegal in certain other countries. Also, some downloads considered legal in the U.S. may actually violate local intellectual property or digital asset rights in other countries, should your device be searched. Just err on the side of caution and store and remove anything that might be construed as such.
  8. Disable Wi-Fi auto-connect options from all devices before you leave, such that you have to manually connect when you think it is safe to do so. The best approach is to buy a subscription to services that only connect to secure Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the world. Rates are inexpensive and getting more so all the time. Just do a search on “unlimited wifi.” If you will need to transfer or access sensitive data abroad, consider getting a highly secure VPN connection on a daily or weekly rental basis. Just search “VPN rental.”
  9. Similarly, disable Bluetooth connectivity. If left on, cyber thieves can connect to your device in a number of different and easy ways. Once they are in, your cyber world is their oyster!
  10. Finally if you do not have an international subscriber identity module, better known as a SIM card or do not have a roaming package on your smartphone, your two-factor authorisation access will be limited. All the more reason to purchase a secure Wi-Fi data plan.

Now that you’ve arrived…

The tips and tricks in this list really won’t take long at all for travellers to put in place. Doing so is great insurance against many of the cyber threats that lurk when your plane touches down on foreign soil. But once that happens and your excitement builds as you head to the luggage carousel, your cybersecurity work is not done. Here are some steps to promote cyber-safety on the ground:

  1. Double check to be sure all of your apps are password protected with fresh, new passwords, ideally stored in your password management system so you don’t have to remember any of them. And don’t use the same PIN for hotel room safes that you use for your device password.
  2. At all cost, avoid using “public” digital devices, such as those at coffee houses, libraries, and bookstores. They are often notoriously riddled with malware lurking to steal your information. If you use them, you should presume that someone other than you would see any information you enter.
  3. Be very careful about connecting to any Wi-Fi network if you haven’t subscribed to a global service previously, per the tip above. These are prime milieus for cyberthieves. Say you are in a train station (bahnhof) in Germany. You scan your device for a wireless network and there are several. A legitimate one might be “bahnhofwifi”—but you don’t know that. A cyberthief has set up his own Wi-Fi trap and it shows up as “bahnhoffwifi,” with but one letter changed. Connect to that and your troubles are just starting.
  4. Don’t charge your devices using anything other than your own chargers plugged directly into the wall or into your adapter. It is easy for cyber thieves to install malware onto hotel and other public docking stations.
  5. Never connect any USB drive or other removable media that you don’t personally own. Again, they are easy to load with malicious software.
  6. This goes without saying, but NEVER let your devices leave your sight. If you cannot physically lock devices in your hotel room safe or other secure place, take them with you. There are no good hiding spots in your hotel room. And, of course, never check your devices with your luggage.
  7. Most social media sites are happy to automatically share your location as you post photos and messages. This also tells thieves back home that you are away, which is a great time to break in. So limit the information you post regarding your location at any point in time.

Bon voyage! And safe cyber-travels.

Darren Guccione is Co-founder and CEO of Keeper Security,  a password manager app and digital vault for consumers and enterprises with 9 million+ users. 

View from the top: Three Ways Procurement Must Transform

ISM’s top brass called in the media to map out the transformation of the profession into a tech-focused intelligence agency that will attract the very best talent.

Tom Derry (ISM CEO), Hans Melotte (Starbucks EVP Supply Chain & ISM Board Chairman) and Kristopher Pinnow (CPO B/E Aerospace & ISM Board Member) sat down with the media at #ISM2017 to answer some burning questions. With Derry providing the context while Melotte and Pinnow added their views as practitioners, three key themes soon emerged.

1. Intelligence transformation

“Times are uncertain, and business hates uncertainty”. Tom Derry sets the scene for #ISM2017 by highlighting the turbulent geopolitical situation that’s impacting the profession worldwide. The presence of two world leaders as conference keynotes – Colin Powell and David Cameron – underscores the anxiety with which many professionals are watching global events unfold.

Derry’s message is that supply managers should cultivate a sharp intellectual curiosity to not only inform themselves of disruptive events, but to position the function as a source of intelligence within the organisation. Importantly, we have an opportunity to be the voice of calm and reassurance, hosing down anxiety with facts, rather than fear.

ISM’s leadership in this area was demonstrated last year when it released a supplementary Report on Business, focusing specifically on the UK’s shock Brexit Referendum’s effect on US business. The decision was prompted by a flood of enquires from US business and media representatives about whether the data for the influential report would reflect the fallout from Brexit. Derry told Procurious at the time that ISM was in a position to gather real data and “put the information out there so businesses can make informed decisions based on facts, rather than fear, concern or emotion.”

The panellists agreed that while it hasn’t always been the case, transforming into a source of intelligence for the business is something to which the profession needs to aspire. Melotte stresses that procurement needs to have all of its data intelligence in real time. “We’re digital natives,” he says. “We book our food online, we track our spouses’ flights – but the workplace is often more of an analogue environment. We need to be in the moment, preempting issues before they arrive.”

2. Technological transformation

Derry warns that if you’re the steward of a process, you’re about to lose your job when it becomes automated. But it’s not all bad news: “New types of jobs will exist in the future, with new skills required to do those jobs. The impacts of technology also have the potential to make us better at what we do, such as data analysis and being more efficient with distribution.”

Melotte tells the room that technology is critically important for our jobs and our companies, yet we’re at risk of underestimating its impact and potential. He notes that among the conference’s 2500 attendees, some will still be associating technology with automating source-to-pay processes and other fundamentals. “Fortunately, there’s also a lot of thought leadership at this conference with leaders who are imagining the opportunities for technologies within the supply chain – what we do, and how we do things,” he says.

“Imagine the potential that cognitive learning, artificial intelligence and predicative analytics will have on how we forecast commodities, demand and consumer behaviour, or how we bring insights back to our business around supplier patterns.” Melotte says artificial intelligence is just one example of the big transformation currently taking place in the profession, with an increase in speed being a key benefit. “We’ll see faster speed to market, and pilot projects that you can turn around in only three months.”

3. Talent transformation

“There’s no question there’s a demographic bump,” says Derry. The “birth dearth” between the baby boomer generation and millennials means that there aren’t enough members of Generation X to step into roles as their predecessors retire. “I’d argue that those smart young people, who are digital natives, do have the tools and the mindset to adapt rapidly,” Derry says. “You’re hiring for that kind of talent all the time.”

Pinnow talks about the importance of developing and sharpening intellectual curiosity in the talent pipeline, and says there’s a lot that established professionals can learn from new talent. “You have to recognise that you don’t know everything. You have to encourage people from a talent management perspective [to teach you new concepts].”

Melotte says that having a balance of skills in your talent pool is crucial. “In tomorrow’s world, we all have to make sure there’s a certain percentage of our teams that are data scientists; who are deeply versed in analytics to give us insights. [We need to] hire and seek out this type, migrating the competency pool to ensure there’s a balance between strategic sourcing and data scientists.”

Five Ways Procurement Can Change the World for Entrepreneurs

“Behind every growth story like ours, there’s always a procurement person who has provided an opportunity.” Procurious caught up with inspirational dynamo Nina Vaca at ISM2017 to discover why procurement needs to give entrepreneurs every chance.   

“The unsung heroes of my stories are always in procurement and supply,” says Nina Vaca. The Chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Group has experienced a roller-coaster of ups and downs in her 20-year journey from a niche IT business that was started on her living room floor to the workforce solutions powerhouse it is today.

“Success is rarely linear,” Vaca says. “Some of the hardest moments of my life were after 9/11, when we were at the brink of bankruptcy and almost didn’t make payroll. But every time, someone in procurement saved the day by providing the opportunity to bid.”

Procurement wasn’t just responsible for pulling Pinnacle Group back from the brink. A series of big breaks, provided by people who saw the vast potential in Vaca’s business, enabled an incredible growth story from a local, to regional, to national, to a global player. “Whether it has been the CPO, or a procurement executive, or a procurement manager responsible for our sector – those are the people who have always given us a shot,” she says.

Vaca gives the example of an RFP from the procurement team at Verizon. “We lost the first, the second – by the time we got the 10th RFP, we asked them for mentoring to discover exactly what we needed to do to win the contract. When we eventually won the contract it had grown from a tiny piece of work to a significantly bigger opportunity.”

“Our next big break came from the CPO of Electronic Data Systems. At that point we were a $40 million company, and we won a $160 million contract. Again, it was because the CPO really believed in us, and mentored us through the process. That contract took us from four states to all 50. That was followed by our biggest contract in Pinnacle’s history, awarded to us by the CPO of Comcast. We didn’t know each other very well initially, but he was willing to take a leap of faith and was very intentional about doing business with us. They were looking for a minority-owned company for a very strategic piece of work. That was a very aggressive RFP process, but winning that contract affirmed our ability to provide service on a very large scale and helped us become the number one fastest growing woman-owned company in the US.”

The result of Pinnacle Group’s incredible growth was that the company found itself breaking through a ceiling that no other Hispanic, female-owned company had crossed before. “When I broke through that ceiling, I found myself to be the only woman, and the youngest, to be in that position. That’s not acceptable to me, which is why it’s so important to nurture hope and inspiration in others to do the same thing. In a way, when the CPO awarded us that contract, the community benefits outweighed business benefits.”

“‘Ambition’ is seen by some as a dirty word, along with wealth creation. That’s how the U.S. has prospered, through people creating wealth not only for their families, but for their communities and the nation. For my daughters, ambition is a necessity, so long as you approach it in a positive way, and not by trying to succeed at the expense of others.”

Five ways procurement can help entrepreneurs succeed:

1. Provide them with an opportunity to play: Big breaks, such as those that propelled Pinnacle into its position as a market-leader, were only made possible because someone in procurement saw potential, took a risk and provided an opportunity.

2. Do your homework: “Look for the best and brightest, not just at the numbers”, says Vaca. Depending on your organisation’s goals, you might be looking for the fastest-growing or most scalable organisation to work with.

3. Mentor entrepreneurs: Contracts are won when someone in procurement is willing to guide you, offer a helping hand, take your phone-call and provide an opportunity. The common thread across all of Pinnacle’s big breaks is there was a supportive CPO mentoring them through the process.  

4. Sponsor wherever possible: Vaca has a very clear definition of sponsorship: “Sponsorship means someone being willing to put their personal brand on you – your success is their success.” How do you attract sponsors? “Be crazy good at what you do, and you’ll become a magnet for people who want to sponsor you. They won’t sponsor you if you’re not bringing your best every day.”

5. Get engaged in the ecosystem: For procurement, this means getting out of your comfort zone and getting engaged with organisations like ISM, or ramping up your online presence to build your network. For Vaca, engagement means philanthropy and providing inspiration and information to people who may want to follow in her footsteps. For this reason, she launched ninavaca.com, immersed herself in promoting STEM education, and takes every opportunity to give back to the community. “We host groups of students all the time at Pinnacle headquarters, and we are the industry partner for Thomas Jefferson Collegiate Academy – an early college high school preparing students to work in STEM fields upon graduation. If you want to do global things, start locally.”

Nina Vaca is Chairman & CEO of Pinnacle Group, and Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship.

Getting The Biggest Bang For Your Buck At A Procurement Conference

Game-on! There’s a right way – and a wrong way – to approach a major procurement conference. With your company making a significant investment to have you there, here are five tips to help you demonstrate an impressive ROI. 

 

This morning marks the start of the world’s biggest procurement and supply management conference. Let’s imagine, for a minute, that you’ve hit the fast-forward button and find yourself on the other side – bags packed, standing outside your hotel and waiting for a cab.

How do you feel? Exhausted but satisfied that you’ve made the most of every minute? Or a little bit … guilty? As your taxi pulls away and heads for the airport, will you wonder whether you should have spoken to just a few more people? You’ve attended plenty of sessions, but why didn’t you take more notes?

I know the feeling. It’s so easy to snooze your way through a conference, but it’s crucial that you don’t!

It’s my third year attending ISM’s annual extravaganza, and I’m starting – just a little – to feel like a bit of a veteran. As such, I want to do what old-timers do best, and share some advice to other conference-goers. Whether it’s through attending the best of the best speaker sessions, or through networking like a champion, I’m going to show you five ways to get the most bang for you buck.

It’s not a vacation

Remember the glory days when going to a work conference was, essentially, a bit of a treat? Sure, you had to attend a number of presentations but, in exchange, you were gifted a few days out of the office, possibly at a semi-exotic location, and a few cocktails at the bar with your peers.

Today it’s considered an absolute, and rare, privilege to be selected to represent your company at a major professional-development event. Budgets and headcounts are increasingly slashed, which means getting the approval to attend a conference borders on the extraordinary. As such, you can bet you’ll need to demonstrate a pretty sizeable ROI.

But you’ll only make the most of it if you’ve prepared well in advance and bring your A-game to the event itself.

  1. Have a plan

I’ve been busy interviewing members of the ISM2017 Conference Leadership committee (including  Lara Nichols, Naseem Malik and Howard Levy), and they’ve all stressed the importance of having a plan for the next four days.

It’s absolutely crucial to understand your key conference objectives in advance. What do you, and your organisation, want to achieve? Maybe your employer is keen for you to find new suppliers, gain market intelligence, or benchmark information? You might have some personal objectives such as finding a mentor or even a new job, or want to use the opportunity to position yourself as a thought leader.

The crucial point is that these events are no longer just about the individual attending.  Attendees need to multiply the investment and make sure that everyone in the team benefits from their learning from this event. This is why it is important for you to “amplify” what you learn back into your team. 

  1. Familiarise yourself with the agenda

Depending on the conference’s size, there could be dozens of sessions, many of which will happen in tandem. Take some time to constructively assess the schedule with your own objectives in mind. Select topics and sessions that are most relevant to you, and think about what will be relevant to your company, too.

Prioritise and plan your itinerary, but don’t overdo it! Be realistic about how much you can achieve, how many sessions you can logistically make it to – and how much information you can actually absorb.

  1. Become a social-media anthropologist

Nothing says “conference efficiency” quite like an advance perusal of the speakers and attendees list. It might seem extremely forward, but an invitation to connect ahead of the event via LinkedIn, Twitter or Procurious is actually pretty flattering. And, if you’ve got the courage to go one step further and send a personal message, you’ve got a great conversation starter when you eventually meet in person.

If online meet-and-greets aren’t your style, you can still benefit from researching the backgrounds and careers of attendees or speakers. This will help you to decide who you are most keen to talk to and if attending certain sessions will be worth your while.

Make sure you upload your full biography and a fabulous profile picture onto the conference App so people can find, and reach out to, you too!

  1. What’s your end game?

You started with the end in mind, you arrived at the conference armed with your objectives and a commendable knowledge of the agenda and speakers. Now you need to decide what sort of report you’re going to present back to your team.  A PowerPoint? Notes?  It’s useful to have an idea of this before the conference kicks off so you can simply fill in the gaps because,  let’s face it,  if you promptly present a comprehensive report to your peers after the event, you’re far more likely to be selected to represent the team going forward.

So, armed with this “straw-man” of your report, attend your sessions of choice and take notes. Engage with your peers to learn their views and insights, and include those in your report too. Go directly to speakers and suppliers and ask them for material that you can incorporate.

At ISM2017, don’t forget there’s a group of media professionals (including the team from Procurious) reporting on the conference – keep an eye out for blog articles with insights from the event, and catch the news from sessions that you weren’t able to attend.

  1. Share Your learnings

Use Twitter, Procurious and LinkedIn to share key learnings live from the event. Live updates and posts from the event can make you really popular back at the office and ensure that your whole team benefits from your attendance. Don’t forget the hashtag!

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

And, when you drop into the Exhibit Hall, be sure to visit The Procurious team at booth 439 for advice on how social media can supercharge your procurement career.  

The Power Of An Online Network

Your online network can give you the edge in procurement – but only if you’re an active, value-generating participant in the community. 

Rising through the ranks of the fast-paced procurement world can be a hectic and sometimes even lonely pursuit.

To counteract this, a growing numbers of industry professionals are actively seeking out online communities of like-minded industry mavens to converse with.

Online communities can significantly bolster your professional standing in the broader procurement sector. Some people post helpful information on a regular basis to online business communities. Others pop into online communities for companionship, as they give people access to a different group of people to talk to instead of the colleagues they see on a daily basis.

Forging online relationships can bring huge value to your position in the procurement world, so make sure you pick a couple of key online communities to focus on. These groups are valuable because they encourage the sharing of content and industry-specific information that can help you in your role.

Professionals often join business communities for support, and people feel accomplished when they contribute useful information to the online community. By helping others, members can gain a feeling of being needed and appreciated by others.

LinkedIn is just the start

Australian marketing executive Jacqueline Burns was an early adopter of business online community LinkedIn. She leaves LinkedIn open on her computer all day and dips into conversations constantly.

As managing director of Marketing Expertise, Burns has been a prolific blog publisher on the platform, creating and sharing relevant information to her industry sector both domestically and internationally on a regular basis. To date, she has published more than 60 articles on LinkedIn – and the benefits have been significant.

“A lot of my work comes through the platform, simply by being present. I’ve secured many clients directly from LinkedIn who have been seeking someone with my services and I’ve been logged on and responded,” Burns says.

“I’ve secured a major client via my LinkedIn community, and also a large software-as-a-service provider from the US whom I’ve never met before,” Burns says.

Online communities add value to your role

Aaron Agius of digital marketing firm Louder Online says there’s been a natural push to use online communities for personal branding among many sectors. However, he’s a much bigger fan of using them for growth and education, with two communities in his field sharing a lot of personal insights that ensure he always walks away with new ideas. “Lately, I’m finding better information there than a lot of the marketing blogs,” he says.

While he could spend all day interacting with fellow marketers, he’s got too much on his plate to make that happen. “There’s definitely a balance between maintaining a regular presence in an online community without spending so much time there that it takes away from your actual work,” he says.

“I’ve found social media communities to be a great place for networking with others in my field. You’d think that marketers would be a private bunch, yet the relationships I’ve built through sites like these have given me great friendships with people I can go to if I have a questions, want to vent about an issue, or need a second set of eyes to help me figure out a solution,” Agius says.

Get started

Look for industry-specific communities that enable procurement professionals to ask questions, seek support and make connections, which can add huge value to your role.

Online communities can be a great tool for shortlisting vendors or to pre-qualify firms. Simply asking industry peers for their opinion is a great validation process for gathering additional intelligence.

Adding value goes both ways, though, so make sure you truly engage with the community, care about what others are asking for advice on, and be the solution to meet their needs when you’re able to.

It’s also important to be consistent. If you can’t keep up with the number of posts, then decrease your posts and pick a couple of key posts to contribute to each day, because quality and consistency trumps quantity. Also, bear in mind that different parts of the world come online at different times of the day, so taking 15 minutes to post in the  evening can offer huge value to an industry peer on the other side of the world.

However, as Burns points out, just having access to an online community isn’t enough – being an active user can bring you so much value. “You can’t just create a profile online and then walk away. Your online community is the place to show a bit of personality, and you need to be interacting regularly to get value from it.”

Don’t Argue With Footballer Daisy Pearce

The “Don’t Argue” is a classic move in the often-brutal game of Australian Rules Football. While we wouldn’t recommend shoving your colleagues in the office, there are plenty of lessons to be drawn from the world of elite sport.   

It’s always interesting interviewing sportspeople for a business-related publication. Before the interview, I usually have my doubts that I’ll be able to find something in their story that is relevant to the audience I’m writing for. Five minutes in, however, I’ve filled pages of notes about the many insights professionals can glean from elite performers.

This was the case with Daisy Pearce, AFLW star and captain of the Melbourne Team. In the space of 30 minutes, she provided links between her on-field performance and business agility, advice on how women can thrive in a male-dominated profession, and finished up with some leadership-related gems.

Daisy and the “Don’t Argue”

The theme of this year’s 10th Asia-Pacific CPO Forum (taking place on 17–18 May in Sydney) is “Pivot”. Why Pivot? Because in an era where flexibility and agility are seen as essential leadership attributes, the profession’s top practitioners must be able to pivot at a moment’s notice to gain commercial advantage from disruptive forces, including new technology. In essence, this means having the ability to rapidly and intelligently adjust short-term strategies to ensure you can achieve your organisation’s long-term objectives.

When I mentioned this term to Daisy, she immediately drew a comparison with the “Don’t Argue” move in football. “When you’ve got the ball and someone comes to tackle you, a “Don’t Argue” is when you send them off – push them away – and keep moving. Basically, you give them a shove with your arm, quickly change direction, and keep going.”

For non-Australian readers (and non-footy fans), here’s an explanatory video from the AFL:

So, what are the parallels between a “don’t argue” and a business attempting to PIVOT?

  • Your short-term strategy may change but the overall goal remains the same: although Pearce may suddenly need to run in a different direction to her original course, she’s still focused on the goal posts at the end of the field.
  • It happens fast, it’s immediate, and it’s often instinctive: CPOs often don’t have much time to plan and react to a disruptive force (an enormous footballer bearing down on you at high speed makes a great analogy). Decisions have to be made fast.
  • There’s no time to argue: Depending on the nature of the disruptive force, you won’t have time to initiate a long, internal debate about what to do. Instead, a fast decision could enable your company to mitigate the damage of a disruptive force, or even profit by it.

Thriving in a male-dominated profession

While the AFL (men’s football) has been around since the 1850s, women’s football in Australia has only officially existed since 2013.

“When I was 14, the rules were that I had to stop playing football with the boys in my hometown”, said Pearce. “I didn’t know back then that there was going to be a Women’s League, and thought my football career had finished. I turned to volleyball instead, before being drafted in the AFLW in 2013.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve had to overcome many barriers to become a footballer. Then main barrier, I’d say, would be that I simply didn’t consider football to be a career choice. The real barriers existed for talented women who wanted to play professionally before 2013.”

Pearce has more than one string to her bow – she’s entered the world of football commentary (also dominated by men), started a career on the speaker circuit, and has also worked as a professional midwife. “The opposite is true for midwifery”, she says. “There may be young men considering a career as a midwife, but are daunted by the female domination of the profession. My advice is to go for it – if you’re passionate about something, and it’s what you really want to do, there’s nothing stopping you.”  

Leadership on the field:

As captain of the Melbourne AFLW team, Pearce has plenty of leadership insights to share:

“My main piece of advice for leaders is to first, have a really good understanding of yourself and about how your behaviours impact others. Secondly, make an effort to understand the people on your team. Appreciate that everyone has different strengths, and will respond to different things.

“Invest in your relationships with team members and build rapport. In the long-term, it will help enormously when you need to have tough conversations. You can be both supportive and tough at the same time – people need to know you’re coming from a place of care rather than disinterest.”

Daisy Pearce will wrap up day two at PIVOT: The Faculty’s 10th Annual Asia Pacific CPO Forum.

Photo:  Getty Images

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.