Category Archives: Technology

Deciphering The Sales Speak – 5 Common Phrases Used In The Sales Process… And What They Really Mean

The top 5 software sales claims may seem familiar – but what do they really mean, and what questions should you fire back?


As procurement pros, we like to think of ourselves as experts who can cut through the fluff of the sales pitch and get down to what we think really matters.  

But let’s face it . . . some salespeople are so darn good that even the sharpest of us can’t quite sort the wheat from the chaff. And with procurement software sales teams often being some of the best in the business, well, we have our work cut out to decipher their code for ourselves.

I have had more than a few years of experience trying to work through this myself and though practice may not always make perfect it definitely gets us closer to where we need to be.  So, from my years of experience in being involved in more than 500 software evaluations, and being the one who has to make it all come together as the implementer, I want to help you navigate through the language and the catchphrases that we often hear from software sales teams.

Here are my top 5:

1. ‘The integration is easy’

One of the most common things we hear from sales teams that are trying to speed their way to a sale is that “Integrations are easy.”  Getting the system to do what it’s supposed to while talking to other systems is pretty straightforward. We all want to believe it, but as you find out when you are involved in an implementation, there is real work that must be done that is not easy, and someone has to do it.

I always laugh when I hear this stated in front of my clients IT teams.  You see, IT knows the work that is involved in a project like this and are certain that the word “easy” does not belong in the same sentence. They also know that anyone that does call it “easy,” is most likely someone who has never attempted to do this type of work.   

When you hear this it’s a good idea to have your questions ready, including:

  • What business objects are typically in scope in a project like this?
  • If you have multiple ERP’s, will each of them need to be interfaced with?  Who will be responsible for transforming each file?
  • Who will be doing the field level mapping?
  • Is there a middleware or any prebuilt connectors that can be leveraged?
  • Where has this middleware or connector been used before?
  • Do they have similar volumes/scale/complexity?
  • What  system dependencies are there?
  • What systems have you integrated with – even what version of systems? 

No question is too basic here – in my experience keeping it direct and to the point works best. 

2. ‘Your suppliers are already connected to our network’

A word can mean different things to different people and the secret to understanding the sales-speak here is to work out what ‘connected’ really means. It can mean your suppliers have participated in a sourcing event or once received a PO from another customer.

It can also mean that they have log-in information and have received all of the really great welcome emails that new suppliers are bombarded with that they have no idea what to do with. Or it can mean they are actually transacting through the system and are receiving POs and payments from other customers in the manner in which you intend they start doing for you.. In that case, they’ll know exactly how to work out what they need to do to make your life and theirs easy as you get your new system implemented.

Ask lots of questions here, especially when it comes to your big suppliers, the ones that would spell chaos for you if things didn’t go to plan . . . it’s not a bad idea to ask them where they’re at in the process of being enabled with other customers and identify any potential issues you may have before you get too far.  

3. ‘Training and change management aren’t needed for your end users and suppliers’

We all love digital technology – and sites such as Amazon and Google are designed to make it pretty easy for us to use them without the need to be trained. But we can probably all agree that many systems built for the enterprise seem to struggle to bridge the gap on major process and use case changes that take someone out of their comfort zone.  Even if it appears easier. Especially when their job does not involve them being in the platform all day, every day. 

Here’s where it is important to put yourself in the role of the user and see the system through their eyes. It’s even better to get them involved early and ask them how much change they anticipate for their department/region/etc and what type of support they will need to be successful.  

Don’t let the salesperson, or an enthusiastic user, convince you that you don’t need any change management resource. You can work out how much is needed – and, if your salesperson is right, it might not be that much. But it’s always a smart move to let your stakeholders and suppliers know what is happening, why and how it is going to impact them.  If you get any resistance, you will be thankful you have change experts at the ready to address it.

4. ‘You don’t have to have clean data prior to starting implementation’

You don’t have to follow a recipe when cooking something for the first time. But it will help – unless you like surprises and don’t need them to be good ones. Your sales team will say this because, honestly, who wants to spend time on boring stuff like data cleansing . . . especially when we all know it can take 4 to 12 months to clean up if you’re lucky? And they’re smart enough to know that too much time and effort upfront without real results can kill the deal. While we all want to get on with the really cool analytics, there’s a reason you need to do your groundwork.

If and when you hear this one, go ahead and ask the question we all know: What about the saying ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’? You never know: your sales team may be able to share some new things they have tried where data cleansing hasn’t been needed. And they might have some examples of where this has worked before – and that’s definitely worth finding out about. If not, put a plan in place now for how your data will get cleansed and adjust what modules you purchase, sequence of rollouts and your implementation plan accordingly.  

5. ‘Don’t worry about transforming your processes as the technology has best practices already built in’

‘Leverage’, ‘optimise’, ‘game-changer’ . . . It’s only a matter of time before your salesperson drops the gold standard of corporate buzzwords in – ‘best practice’. While the phrase can be meaningful, most of the time it’s a sales pitch to get us over the line. We can implement a new system and get to best practice at the same time? Sign me up! But best practice means different things across organisations, industries and sectors.

When you hear this, two things need to happen. Firstly, take a look at your implementation plan and make sure it includes a review of all of your direct and related processes. And secondly, take a look at the ‘best practices’ that are included. They may be right for you, and now is is a great time to update and improve dated processes. If not, you’ll have done your review and know that what you have ended up with is the best thing for your business.

So when you hear these or similar claims as part of a sales pitch for software, remember what they typically really mean. Be prepared with questions for the sales team to ensure that the tech solution you sign up for really is a good fit for your organisation.

Did you know that Matt has just teamed up with Procurious to launch ‘Major Tech Fails’ – a series looking at everything from implementations to getting buy-in. Register here

Webiquette: Webcam Woes Procurement Professionals Must Avoid

8 simple steps for improving your webiquette while working from home


Washing drying on a radiator, all that junk you thought was hidden away on top of the wardrobe and the unmade bed in the background… all within screen shot. Yes, your webcam will show it all! Not very professional, is it?

While the hashtag of webcam #covidiots is going viral online, the chances are that you too are guilty of revealing more than you realise when you hold your virtual meetings with colleagues and co-workers, clients and customers

It’s not something new (check out this BBC TV interview from a few years back which went viral).

Judging from some of the experts broadcasting live to the world during this COVID crisis, many pundits are still getting it wrong.

Is it just me, or do you too get distracted by a crazy pattern on their curtains, the peeling wallpaper, strange colour scheme or whatever else these talking heads have in the background? I love looking at their books (I’ve read that too), their DVDs (who’d have thought they were a sci-fi fan?) and critically judging their taste in home décor. Yet I should be listening to what they are saying!

It’s also incredibly irritating to hear their phone pinging constantly (presumably their friends WhatsApping them to say “I can see you on TV”).

So how do you get your screen performance right?

STEP 1: LINE QUALITY IS EVERYTHING

If you keep cutting out, nobody can hear you etc. it’s not going to work. If this is an issue, when you have important meetings switch off everything else connected to your internet router.

STEP 2: WHAT ARE YOU WEARING?

Dress for the office – it will put you in the right frame of mind to talk business.

Don’t forget basic personal hygiene too. Wash your hair, shave/make-up (which ever is appropriate) and check your top is clean (yes marks show up on webcams). You don’t have to wear a suit and tie – something suitable for dress-down Friday is fine.

STEP 3: WHAT’S IN THE BACKGROUND?

The easiest way to get round piles of washing and stacks of junk is to blur the background something that’s easy with Microsoft Teams and Skype etc.  For example, for Skype simply hover over the video button and select “Blur my background”. Or why not chose a virtual background feature during your Zoom Meeting – a forest perhaps or maybe an image of busy office? You probably don’t have a green screen at home (for that TV look) but will need uniform lighting for Zoom to detect the difference between you and your background.

Alternatively “stage” a background –  scholarly tomes and framed academic certificates (to make you appear intellectual), an electric guitar and framed vinyl album covers (to give the impression that you are a serious muso) or posters from art exhibitions and museums (who knew you were such a culture vulture?).

STEP 4: GET YOUR POSITIONING RIGHT

If you are looking down at your laptop it’s not only incredibly unflattering, you will find it harder to have a natural conversation. So put your laptop or screen up higher so you are looking straight into the camera.

Think about lighting too. A bright overhead light might cast a shadow over your face and the same applies to side lighting. Just watch the pundits on TV… often the light colour is all wrong and they appear either washed out or slightly yellow. So you might want to experiment with different light bulbs.

Also make sure you are comfortable. Constantly fidgeting is distracting. You need to be sitting up straight to appear interested and engaged in the conversation. Leaning forward to prop yourself up with your hand under your chin or looking away to constantly check your phone will just scream “I’m bored with this”. At least try to appear interested.

STEP 5: TEST IT OUT

Enlist a family member to sit in front of your screen and talk – you can then get a good idea of what you might look like. Perhaps your chair might need changing or adjusting. Or is the light from the window casting an unflattering shadow? Is your camera now so high you can only see the top of your head?

You will never know unless you try it.

STEP 6: DON’T FORGET THE MICROPHONE

People can hear more than you realise – the screaming spouse shouting at your children to “shut up”, the washing machine and of course your phone.

But you don’t have to worry about background noise if you use the mute button. Keep it on at all times – other than when you want to speak.

And to make it easier to hear every word, consider headphones. Wireless earbuds are best as you won’t have to worry about an unsightly wire.

As with your screen test, do a sound test too so you can check people can hear you and whether there is a nasty echo or your microphone is picking up too much background noise.

STEP 7: PRACTICE YOUR PERFORMANCE

Remember, when you roll your eyes, or smirk at what someone says, they can see you! The same applies when you scratch your face, pick your nose or lift up a buttock cheek to pass wind.

If you’ve been in self isolation for a while you might have forgotten how to behave in an office environment. You might need to practice your webiquette.

STEP 8: SET – OR ASK FOR – AN AGENDA

You want to reply to a point, but so does everyone else. You all end up talking over each other… and that does not make for great communication.

So, it’s best (as with any meeting) to have an agenda with a running order which is circulated before the meeting and a chair (who acts like the host of a radio phone-in).

Remember, the whole point is to be productive. That can mean limiting the number of participants or limiting the time for each question/point.

4 Reasons To Be Excited About The Future Of Supply Chain Technology

What’s next in supply chain systems? There’s plenty to be excited about


First-generation supply chains were good at automating and optimizing processes. But they were restricted to functional silos – and that’s not enough for what we need in supply chains today.

Advances in supply chain technology are needed if procurement teams are to manage supply chains that are dynamic, responsive and interconnected with ecosystems and external processes. The new tech needs the capacity to manage much, much more data (by several orders of magnitude). This in turn will make it possible for an individual procurement manager to make sense of entire supply chain ecosystems in real-time.

These demands are driving progress – which is why I am excited about the future of supply chain technology.

1. We’re actually getting fairly good at applying AI repeatably in supply chains.

In order to continue to maintain the labor ratios and level of service to which we’ve become accustomed, we need AI within supply chains – this is non-negotiable.

The IBM Sterling Supply Chain Suite gives end-to-end visibility, real-time insights and recommended actions to turn disruptions into opportunities for customer engagement, growth and profit. 

It’s an open, integrated platform that easily connects to a company’s supplier ecosystem. And that connection and openness provides the data necessary to build self-correction into supply chains.

2. With blockchain, we finally have a chance to change the way we manage multiparty sharing of supply chain data.

It’s clear that use of AI in supply chains will be essential. But it is important to start from the understanding that organizations are at different stages of maturity in this area. Nevertheless, companies can make dramatic improvements simply by deploying existing tech to digitize and implement an organizational commitment to information hygiene and managing data effectively. Being able to digitize, catalogue and normalize supply chain data means having real-time information in the right place to make decisions quickly.

One survival from the old-tech world of supply chains is the use of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems built to manage the data for each individual company. Each company’s ERP was its view of the world. The procurement team spent their lives comparing notes with other ERPs to reconcile differences. Everything from invoices to purchase orders had to be reconciled and supply chain processes were put in place to facilitate this.

For the old-world supply chain really to change, we need to recognise that we can’t each have our own copy of what we believe to be true. We need to have an accepted, shared view of the truth. This idea of multiparty shared data is a promising one. And technology such as distributed databases, shared ledgers and blockchain helps build these common views of the world.  


3. We are seeing the emergence and coordination of specialty ecosystems and networks that can be integrated in a ‘network of networks’.

Before hyper-interconnectivity and the opportunity to create ecosystems or a network of networks, we operated in a limited way – for example, connecting one value-added network (VAN) to another VAN in a logistics network with practical applications like document exchange for advance shipping notices and the like.

We’re now seeing that an interconnected ‘network of networks’ really adds value. People are using technology and data to work together to solve domain-specific issues like fresh food provenance with Food Trust and ocean-shipping visibility with TradeLens.

These specialized ecosystems can be seamlessly integrated into existing business networks to provide a wealth of information about previously opaque areas of the supply chain – where things went dark at critical moments.  

4. It’s possible to have personalized ‘control towers’ that can track the essential elements of global ecosystems but are tuned to what we each want to measure and act on.

Finally, we’re able to see the world the way we want to – from each of our perspectives – bringing together actionable recommendations from real-time intelligence to act on supply chain implications. 

From a simple example of inventory management that can have downstream supply implications for a logistics analyst, to the same information tracking financial implications and payment terms for a financial analyst, the varying views, insights and interrelated metrics stemming from core supply chain activity helps everyone across the organisation.  

Also knowing that no two supply chains are the same means the ability to quickly configure and personalize ‘control towers’ is twice as useful as simply having the static data.

So just when the need for a strong supply chain has never been greater, technology is increasingly proving itself up to the challenge of meeting this need. And what’s more, small changes can have big impacts.


Hear Vijay present in our recent webinar – 4 Supply Chain Capabilities You Need For The Decade That’s Going To Change The World here.

 

AI: Threat Or Benefit?

Will AI kill the purchasing function? (Spoiler: this is far from certain.)


Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems to scare many buyers and procurement teams. They wonder if “machines” are going to replace their jobs.

AI combines: 

  • big data – the availability of vast amounts of data
  • machine or deep learning – an ability to predict based on the past
  • robotic task automation – the automatic execution of business processes, based on rules.

It’s certainly drastically changing how procurement teams work. And automation and AI are eliminating some jobs, mostly task-oriented chores. 

But at Determine, a Corcentric company, we don’t see AI as a threat. 

We see that new technologies have made the purchasing processes faster, more compliant and more efficient for all parties. They have transformed the entire purchasing function.

They have saved a lot of time, supported strategic initiatives . . . and created new job opportunities.

Remember the old times? 

Times that those under 40 don’t know. Times, before digitalization . .

Remember how purchasing processes were carried out? They were manual, lengthy and we couldn’t rely on technology . . . Weeks, sometimes months, were necessary to write tenders (with a pen), place orders, track delivery . . . and so on. 

All this manual processing resulted in costly errors and long approval and exception-resolution cycles, which resulted in late fees and missed discounts.

Then there were compliance and security risks, high paper storage needs, time-consuming supplier inquiries regarding invoice and payment status – and difficulty implementing operational best practices.

To name but a few of the non-digital process challenges . . .

Fortunately, those times are over. Cloud technology, full source-to-pay solution, AI, machine learning . . . Information technology and innovations have revolutionised the way purchasing teams carry out their job, eradicating silos and increasing team productivity. 

No more friction

AI helps eliminate friction from the source-to-pay life cycle. By analyzing data sets and patterns, AI automates menial, time-consuming tasks, such as document classification, data extraction, invoice approval routing and exceptions resolution. 

According to industry surveys, 83% of business leaders believe that AI and other digital technologies provide an opportunity to reposition their overall business strategies. 

One of our customers, a real estate company, was looking at justifying the purchase of our solution. We came to the conclusion that the platform could replace an entire team working all day long to scan and manually enter invoices that were being received by fax or in the mail from suppliers. 

By being able to manage the PO process entirely online, including modifications and PO flipping, we were able to guarantee more than 90% of touch-free invoices. 

AI helped this company eliminate friction from the procure-to-pay lifecycle. 

Lower costs, better customer experience

By analyzing data sets and patterns, AI automates time-consuming tasks, such as document classification, data extraction, invoice approval routing and exceptions resolution.

The technology reconciles data, for instance, by finding the supplier from fuzzy names and addresses, or categorizing goods and services based on descriptions. 

Applying AI to specific operational tasks enables businesses to remove friction and reduce operational costs, enhance the customer experience and inform strategic decision-making. 

Our procurement solution offered a great opportunity for the company to move the people from doing invoice entering to the customer support team. 

And that is exactly what happened.

In less than a year, several employees moved from accounts receivable to business support. The feedback was that they seemed to enjoy building customer relationships much more than spending the day receiving, scanning and entering invoices. 

Overall, in this regard the company is ahead of its time. They are very successful in the market and have a much better customer satisfaction rating than competitors. 

Ease worker anxiety . . . communicate 

AI presents an enormous opportunity to improve job functions in procure-to-pay by eliminating mundane tasks. And freeing staff to focus on strategic work that adds value to the business. 

But that doesn’t mean that staff won’t worry about the impact of AI on their job security. 

Reduce potential anxiety around the technology by:

  • keeping staff informed of AI initiatives
  • involving staff in identifying tasks to be automated
  • conveying key benefits of the technology, and
  • providing training to staff with skills gaps.

In the short term, AI is going to be mainly used to help employees do a better job. In the medium term, it will replace job repetition with a lot of new career opportunities.

So – in summary – the more automation and value we provide through our solutions, the more business our customers are able to do. We shouldn’t consider AI, machine learning and smart applications to be a job threat.

But we need to manage change as machines continue to keep doing more and more to help businesses run more efficiently.

Visit corcentric.com to learn more about Corcentric, a leading provider of procurement and finance solutions that transform how companies purchase, pay, and get paid. 

Visible Commerce – The Benefits Of Business Transparency

Doing business transparently has many commercial benefits.

How are businesses responding to demands for transactional transparency from customers and wider society? 

Companies and their leaders increasingly benefit from what I call ‘visible commerce’. They need to know what sits underneath all their transactions. 

At Basware, we see such visible commerce as a means of simplifying operations, spending smarter and doing more.

Research reveals the need for transparency

We partnered with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services (HBRAS) to take the pulse of business leaders and to understand how automation is empowering strategic decision-making at their firms. 

I am pleased to share the findings of how this elite group of company executives are using transparency to mitigate risk, create business value and hone their competitive edge.

The report, Using Transparency to Enhance Reputation and Reduce Business Risk, explores the full value that such transparency delivers. 


It clarifies the advantages of automating finance and procurement processes.

 
It finds that those working towards total visibility in the flow of money, goods and services are able to make more effective strategic decisions. And that this transparency is a defining characteristic of winning businesses worldwide. 

The companies that have invested in improving visibility across finance and procurement benefit from greater employee engagement. They have a better reputation and enjoy revenue growth.

Decrease risk and improve reputation through supply chain visibility

Chief Executives and Chief Financial Officers are concerned by lack of visibility in the supply chain – and associated reputational risks. 

Increasingly they are asking their finance teams to explore the untapped potential of data-led insights and unlock the potential unrealised value that a better grasp of their operations could provide.

The smooth flow of financial data between suppliers and buyers quietly underpins global trade. 

From ordering a taxi to renewing an option on wheat grain, we each have the power to change the world for better or worse with the push of a button.

Today’s interconnected world transcends physical boundaries and delivers tremendous business advantages in terms of speed, convenience and efficiency.

But it also comes with the risk of trusted human connections between buyer and supplier being lost. Or faked.

We live in a world where technology giants Google and Facebook voluntarily paid out $172 million in fake invoices to a single man posing as a legitimate supplier.

Visibility makes better businesses and better corporate citizens

From accounts payable to quality management, visibility of such data is helping businesses to become better corporate citizens. 

It enables them to take responsibility not only for the quality of goods and services but also for the manner in which they are produced.

Visibility of financial data is about more than purchase-to-pay solutions, although we believe this technology is a key enabler. It requires a wider shift in management attitudes towards tracking and valuing an organization’s reputation as a responsible operator.

It is part of being able to prove to customers, partners and regulators that you are not just faster, cheaper and more efficient, but that you uphold high ethical standards that benefit society.

Businesses need visibility, the world thrives through transparency. From the opportunity to simplify operations, spend smarter and do more, automation of finance and procurement empowers businesses to move forward with confidence.

I hope that this report encourages more to recognise the competitive advantage of Visible Commerce.

Learn more in the HBRAS report

Download the HBRAS report, Using Transparency to Enhance Reputation and Reduce Business Risk. See for yourself how organizations can overcome technical, organizational and cultural barriers to fully embrace business transparency.

And for more information about how Basware can help your organization realize its own Visible Commerce Dividend, visit https://r.basware.com/visiblecommerce.

Who Has Influence And How Do You Get More Of It?

Influence comes in all forms and from a variety of different sources. But, in the digital age, is the nature of influence changing? And how might it change further over the next few years?


What does influence look like in your life? Who are the main influencers? Depending on a great number of factors, including your values, norms, gender, race and age (amongst many others), the people who have influenced your life to this point represent a very diverse cross-section of society. And it’s likely that these influencers will change over the course of your lifetime.

How people find and consume information has changed drastically in the past decade. The relentless growth of social media and digital channels for data, news and opinion has provided new sources for people to use. This has, in turn, led to the growth of digital and social media ‘influencers’, all of whom offer something slightly different and command a different audience.

In this series of articles, I’ll look at what influence is and who the influencers are in the digital age and why this might seem paradoxical. I’ll cover the notion that the power of influencers may be on the wane, before concluding by looking at the divergence of this versus procurement influencers, and how procurement can leverage this thinking to grow influence in the right places.

The Context

There has been plenty written about influence in the past (including articles here on Procurious), including looking at how individuals can measure and increase their own. To provide a bit of context for the whole series, first we need to provide some definitions on our key terms.

The Cambridge English dictionary defines ‘influence’ as, “the power to have an effect on people or things, or a person or thing that is able to do this”. When we consider influence in our lives, what does this look like? It could be things we read, see and engage with on a day-to-day basis, or something that resonates with us.

Influences are usually delivered or underpinned by an ‘influencer’ – “someone who affects or changes the way that other people behave”. In our lives, this could be anyone from parents, family and friends, to colleagues, peers, celebrities and/or global figures.

It could be argued that this definition is more traditional, yet not necessarily outdated. In the digital age, the term might be better defined as, “a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media”. We might not all be consuming a product, but the influence is there nonetheless.

What does this mean for individual people and how they are influenced? Is it changing the nature of influence? This is still up for debate.

The Changing Influence Environment

Consider the public’s consumption of information 50 years ago. This is long before the advent of the Internet and 24/7 connectivity and long before social media was even first considered. There was the print media and the original three channels on the TV. What seemed like a broad spectrum at the time now looks very narrow.

Influencers at this time would probably have been local or national, rather than international. The range would have been limited to those people who were well-known, who appeared on TV or radio frequently and were considered as experts in their fields. We’re talking here about politicians, celebrities, businesspeople or personalities.

In 2020, we have a world of information at our fingertips all hours of the day and night. We can connect with individuals in all walks of life, discussing and sharing about more topics than we could think of. These new influencers are freely accessed on social media and can create a large-scale, global audience fairly easily (comparatively to 50 years ago anyway).

News, Media & Video

The changing nature of how we consume media and content has enabled more individuals to gain traction in the social media environment. YouTube is a massively popular platform for the new generation of influencers. Ad sales alone in 2019 generated $4.7 billion (£3.62 billion) for parent company Alphabet.

It’s easy to see why when research shows that two-thirds of Millennials prefer YouTube to traditional television, and that there are over 1 billion hours of online content viewed daily. For an individual to get started, all they need is a computer, a social media account, a camera and/or microphone, some basic editing skills and a ‘hook’.

It better be a good ‘hook’ though – 20 per cent of social media users admit that they will stop watching a video if it hasn’t hooked them in the first 10 seconds.

For influencers this means that they need to know how to attract and retain their audience, but also produce quality content. For some, it will be enough to share their knowledge. Others will only gain a small audience, or a larger audience over a longer period. But a minority will gain thousands of followers quickly, and become recognisable ‘influencers’.

Social Media – Gen Z’s World?

Which brings us to our individuals and influencers-to-be. On social media, they are categorised in three groups:

  1. Micro influencers – offer authority on a specific and narrow niche, generally with smaller audiences (10,000 people or less). They can be a useful group for marketers as they are more affordable and have higher levels of engagement.
  2. Power middle influencers – have audiences ranging for 10,000-250,000 people and likely already have experience working with brands.
  3. Macro influencers – these are the digital celebrities on social media, with an audience of over 250,000 people. Their potential reach is huge, but they are more costly for marketers and have a lower engagement rate.

If celebrities make up a large percentage of the ‘macro’ influencers, then we can consider the ‘power middle’ as the new generation of influencers. And this new generation is largely made up of younger Millennials or Gen Z (those born since 1997). In 2018, the top 10 highest earners on YouTube were all, apart from 2, under 30.

The highest earner was Ryan Kaji, who stars in the ‘Ryan’s World’ channel, with earnings of $22 million. He’s 8 years old. It’s no wonder that children and teenagers galore think that being an influencer is a career route they want to take.

Does this then give credence to the idea that the world of social media and digital influence belongs to Gen Z? It’s an interesting question that provides us with an interesting paradox.

A Matter of Gravitas? Or Consumption?

If influence in the past has been related to experience, knowledge, gravitas and global renown (not necessarily traits only found in older people), then how is there more prominence for younger influencers despite having (theoretically) less to offer?

Consider this list of the “must know” influencers in 2019. You could argue that older generations are being squeezed out of influencer circles in the digital world. This could easily be linked to how younger generations consume their media and content. You could also argue that, in the digital world, there is room for all to exist. An older generation of influencers could attract an older generation of followers, assuming these followers consume their content digitally.

However, this generation may already have missed the boat as social media influence shifts again. As the digital world continues to evolve, so does the nature of influence and its perception. So, is this generation too late? Or could they stand to benefit just as much as the game changes again? We’ll cover this and more in the next article in this series.

To hear from top procurement influencers, be sure to join up and be part of the Procurious network. With 37,000 members, this is the place to gain knowledge and insights into the latest procurement and supply chain matters.

Information Hoarders Be Gone

Knowledge is power, but knowledge is now being democratised and made accessible to all, thanks to the development of AI.

Long live the democratisation of data

Is there someone in your work life who is hoarding information? Holding the data cards very close to their chest? Making it difficult for you to succeed because they have vital information and know-how shackled up close to their desk?

Good news – their days are numbered!

Knowledge is power, but knowledge is now being democratised and made accessible to all, thanks to the development of AI.

A democratisation of data

In supply chain, data plays a very critical role; data about suppliers, shortages, shipping and shelf life, the list goes on. And supply chain professionals are inundated with making sense of all this data.

Traditionally, to unlock the value from this data we’ve needed a group of people with deep technical skills in our teams to gather, manage and query.  Exhausting and time-consuming work, leaving little space or brain power for problem solving and decision making.  The need for these skills has concentrated the power of data in the hands of a few, rather than the wider team.

Nobody knows this better than the supply chain team at IBM.  With thousands of supply chain employees, over $40 billion in spend and millions of SKUs to manage from over thirteen thousand suppliers in their supply chain across 175 markets, there is a lot of data to keep track of.  There is a real need to ensure every supply chain professional has all the information to make the right decisions at the right time.

I reached out to IBM’s Chief Supply Chain Officer Ron Castro – firstly to congratulate him on his Manufacturing Leader of the Year by the National Association of Manufacturers. However, I also asked him to participate in our Supply Chain Career Boot Camp and then went on to quiz him on the detail behind why Gartner had been recognised by the IBM Supply Chain team as a Finalist in their Chainnovator Awards.

Given the scale and complexity of the IBM supply chain, Ron and his team turned to AI to augment the team’s capabilities.

Ron’s experience leading teams across the globe resulted in a really pragmatic approach.  AI was used to upskill supply chain talent and engage with subject matter experts. The analytics and tools developed gave wider access to data insights for their supply chain pros around the world.

Now, everyone in IBM’s supply chain can make better decisions and be creative – which is just the kind of capability needed in this new and challenging decade ahead.

There’s no more tedious data capture and formatting for the IBM team.  No more worrying that they’ve missed something in the never-ending news stream or even the weather forecast.

The Human + Machine Personas

For many years, the IBM Supply Chain team has known that one type of tech solution couldn’t fit all the needs of their team.  Everyone has different data needs according to their role – some are forecasting, others are planning and many are executing or delivering.

IBM’s approach is simple – it’s people-centred.  Data personas were created to map each supply chain team member’s requirements.  Now AI serves up data in the format and time that suits their needs. 

IBM Sterling’s AI helps you:

  • Gain visibility into data from across your systems and silos
  • Understand external events and their impact on your supply chain
  • Get ahead of events and buy yourself time with predictive insights
  • Capture and share knowledge and best practices with digital playbooks

By creating these personas, IBM Sterling uses AI to provide just what the forecaster needs to augment their brain and make the decision to keep those supply chains flowing.

Unlocking Collaboration

The final piece of the jigsaw is a concept that’s close to my heart – collaboration. 

IBM Sterling’s AI reviews unstructured data in its many and varied forms.  Whether it’s emails, discussion threads or reports, AI now has the power to find insights from previously inaccessible data sources such as team conversations, social media and news feeds, and weather reports… and serves it back to the person who needs it, when they need it.  AI makes key suggestions like:

  • Why don’t you consider this? – “They used it in the UK when weather conditions were similar”
  • Is this a change in risk level?  – “The last time this supplier’s lead times dropped to this level there was an underlying shortage issue”

It’s exciting thinking about the improvements in supply chain from the introduction of AI Augmentation.  I think we’ve only scratched the surface and can’t wait to see what happens as the power of IBM Sterling’s AI is unleashed on our supply chain brains.


A Decade In Review: Procurement In 2020

Is procurement less, just as, or more important this decade than the last? Find out as we take a walk down memory lane…

It’s the dawn of a new decade in procurement, and goodness me, how things have changed. From the digitisation of just about everything, to the introduction of big data, 2020 looks vastly different than 2010 did. 

As a former CPO and now Principal Advisor at Procurious, I’ve been at the coalface at what I can only describe as seismic changes to our profession. 

But have all the changes we’ve seen been good changes? Are we now poised to deliver more value, or will we struggle to do more with less? And are we more relevant than ever, or is technology replacing us? Here are my key observations from the last decade – and what we need to do to stay valuable going forward:

We became captivated with compliance

The last decade started for me with a bang – I was promoted to a procurement leadership role and I was, for the first time in my career, excited to be able to effect real, lasting and meaningful change. I felt that procurement could achieve much more than pumping out stock-standard contracts and controlling third-party spend. 

Yet my excitement was short-lived. As I looked around me, I found that, as a function, the procurement community just didn’t seem interested in broader, value-adding gains. Their focus was still quite shortsighted; they seemed captivated by processes and fixated on compliance. Cost-savings, contracts and the financial bottom line seemed to be the only thing on their mind.

Data made us better advisors (but some of us are still catching up)

‘Don’t ever do a job a machine can do,’ said our grandparents, as they rejoiced at the invention of the calculator. Suddenly, this advice was ringing true in our profession – we had eProcurement, cloud computing, and AI to take away a lot of our administrative work. What came in its place was the ability to deliver new and intriguing insights to our stakeholders quickly, without having to spend hours on Excel.  

As emails replaced purchase order pads, eCatalogues replaced supplier brochures and the data started to flow through, we had the information to inform our strategies and priorities. As a result, our advice and cost savings rapidly improved. 

Not everyone was a fan, though. Many of us became concerned with job stability, and some believed that technology had created more issues than it solved.

From cost reduction to value creation

As the decade progressed, our relentless focus on cost reduction started to feel like a grind, not least for suppliers who, feeling bullied by our negotiation techniques, began to speak out and cry ‘no more.’ These changes meant that the expectations of our stakeholders started to move away from a focus purely on cost.

The good news was that our newly automated processes helped us to shift our attention from cost-savings to value creation. Before we knew it, we’d automated our entire P2P process, freeing us up to build strategic partnerships with both our suppliers and stakeholders. 

In uncertain business and economic times, the focus on value creation was exactly what our profession needed. It lifted us from a ‘necessary evil’ in some people’s eyes to a strategic partner. On the whole, though, that transformation is far from complete, and many of us still have some work to do in this regard.

It’s more about the people than ever

Behind the analysis, behind the processes, and behind the cost-savings, procurement has always been a people profession. And perhaps the best news of the decade is that with all the change, with all the uncertainty and with the new and heightened expectations, procurement professionals have shown themselves to be resilient, optimistic and future-focused. 

We’ve embraced digital disruption. We’ve welcomed, with open arms, technology that makes us more efficient, and we’ve also onboarded stakeholders and suppliers to use that technology, meaning we’re adding even more value. 

But we’ve also realised where technology stops and that is, sometimes, with communication. We now understand how critical our ‘soft skills’ are at work, and that technology can’t replace the influential conversations we need to have to convince an operational manager to change suppliers, or make a case to buy more sustainably. Technology is transformative, but then again, so is our ability to negotiate.

As for 2020 and beyond?

With digitisation and automation now happening at breakneck speed, many of us have embraced the change but fear what’s coming next. Soon, virtual assistants will abound, collaborative marketplaces will proliferate. What value will we add, then? 

The answer is plenty. One thing we’ve learnt from the last decade is that in uncertain times, human relationships prevail, and that’s where our strength and expertise shine through. Armed with our best people skills, the sky is really the limit for procurement. As a function, 2020 and beyond could see us having more strategic influence than ever before. 

What other changes have you seen in the last decade? Do you think that procurement is less, just as, or more important this decade than last? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Helen Mackenzie is a Principal Advisor at Procurious and a former senior leader in UK public procurement. Connect with her on LinkedIn and join Procurious to hear more of her unique insights.

20 Ways To Get Job-Ready for 2020

This is the most popular month to make a career change, which means there’s even more competition – if you want to stand out from the crowd, it pays to be prepared.

Job-seeking is not a numbers game – all you need is one great job offer.

So, get yourself ready to be open to the right opportunities. Follow my list of 20 ways to get job-ready.

1. Don’t set goals – you will be setting yourself up to fail or to make a bad choice

If you set yourself a target of finding a new job by March, say, or earning a particular salary, you will be putting pressure on yourself to accept a job offer even if it is not the best career move for you. 

2. Think about why you’re leaving – just to be sure

Moving jobs takes time and is risky – you have little job security for the first 2 years. 

So work out why you are dissatisfied with your current role.

Need more flexibility? Ask to work a day a week at home.

Want to learn a new skill? Then put in a request. 

You’ve nothing to lose if you are planning to leave anyway. 

3. Make it a positive choice – desperation is not a good look 

Not only will you be in danger of accepting any job rather than the right one, hiring managers want to recruit someone who is positive and passionate about the job, not someone who is disgruntled and oozes negativity.

4. Focus on what you’ll gain – it will energise you

Change your mindset by focusing on what you want to gain, not what you want to leave behind. 

Make a list of all the positives you want from your new role.

For example, if you are stuck in a rut with no prospect of promotion, then training and development and opportunities to progress should be a priority in your job search. If you hate your commute, the location will be key. 

This list will help narrow your search – and help motivate you to make a change.

5. Be patient – it might take time 

Remember, it will probably take until Easter (at the earliest) before you start a new role, so don’t rush into the wrong decision.

6. Remain loyal – it will pay off 

Yes, it’s hard to give your best when all you can think about is leaving – however, don’t relax just yet because you will want a good reference and you might be working in your current role for some time. 

Never badmouth your employer. It could get back to the boss (awkward) or make future employers wary of hiring someone who is obviously so discontented.

7. Identify your strengths – and weaknesses 

You need to be clear about what you can offer future employers. 

To discover what your ‘brand’ is, ask trusted friends and colleagues to list the 5 or 10 things they think you do well – perhaps you have good technical skills or are good at being collaborative?

Then ask if there are any aspects of your personality or performance that they think need work – maybe you are not so good at organisation?

8. Search online for keywords that will sell you 

Next, match what you have to offer with the jobs you are interested in. A quick scan of job boards to see what recruiters are looking for will identify the keywords you need to include in your job applications – from ‘collaborative’ to ‘commercial’. 

Make a list. Then rephrase your skills so they fit these descriptions – for example, ‘ambitious’ could be ‘target-driven’. 

9. While you are looking, is there anything you are missing? 

If nearly every job spec is asking for a particular skill, then perhaps it’s time to get a qualification. 

For example, if the spec says ‘must be proficient in data analytics, including Excel’ and you use Excel but don’t have a certificate, go online and do a quick course. If there are any glaring gaps in your skills, perhaps you need to invest in a professional qualification. 

Also, check out the Procurious Training & Learning section.

10. Update your CV – only a generic one at this stage

Pay attention to the style: No more than two sides of A4.

Start with a personal statement. List jobs with the most recent first and avoid giving your entire life history. Focus on what you can do rather than what you have done. 

Include some examples of where you have met/exceeded expectations using the STAR (situation, task, activity, result) approach. This will clearly demonstrate you are up to the job without appearing arrogant. 

Don’t be tempted to invent hobbies and interests to make yourself appear more interesting or to lie (dates, job titles etc. are easy to check). 

And don’t forget to double-check grammar and spelling.

11. Remember to tailor your application/CV to each role 

When you get to the stage of applying, carefully read the job specification and include all of the keywords listed – using the exact same wording. 

Look through your list of skills and keywords that sell your brand and include those that are required or you think will add value to the job. Remember, at this stage, you need to show that you are an obvious fit for the job.

12. Have a professional photo taken

While many recruiters hate photos on CVs, they do like to see them online – either on your own website (if you have one) or your online profiles. 

A really good photo (remember to smile or at least look approachable) is, therefore, a must. At the very least, avoid holiday or party selfies.

13. Get your online presence ready – LinkedIn in particular

Think of this as your shop window – a potential employer or recruitment consultant might come across your profile and at the very least will check it. 

Ask a few key contacts if they will provide you with a recommendation and add a bit of personality by posting a few blogs or sharing some newsworthy links. Also, boost your network by requesting others to join it – the more senior the better.

14. Use Procurious as a resource

Make sure your Procurious profile is more than just a bland description of your current job. 

Use phrases like ‘passionate about’, ‘driven’ and/or ‘highly experienced’ and really sell yourself – don’t forget a photo. 

Also, click on ‘Build your network’ and start to reach out to professionals in key positions – someone might even approach you to offer you a job. 

15. Don’t forget to clean up your social media 

An inappropriate image or even just liking a less-than-tasteful joke can rule you out of a job.

16. Get signed up to job boards 

Get the apps (you can search on your daily commute) and sign up for job alerts (so you don’t miss an opportunity).

17. Identify your ideal employers 

Make a list of the firms you would like to work for and start researching them – you will want to talk their language in your job applications and be prepared for interviews. 

Also, check out glassdoor.co.uk to see how existing employees rate them – to avoid making a bad move.

18. Engage in strategic networking 

Find ways to network with staff who work for your ideal employers to find out what it is like to work there. 

You can then ask them if they have a referral scheme (existing employees are often given a bonus for recommending a new employee) or to let you know if there are any opportunities. 

19. Encourage approaches – a bit like putting up a ‘For Sale’ sign

Many job movers don’t ever apply for a new role. Instead, they are approached. 

Go to LinkedIn and click on ‘Show recruiters you are open to job opportunities’. (Don’t worry – you can control who sees this, so the boss won’t necessarily find out.) 

Also, get on the books of recruitment consultants specialising in your area so they can put your name forward for any relevant jobs.

20. Practise your pitch – it will keep you positive

Some people find it awkward to self-promote while others just come across as arrogant.

So practise telling stories that showcase how you have met a challenge, achieved a target or developed a skill – you can use these on application letters, when networking and in interviews.

It’s also a very self-affirming – and will help you deal with the disappointment when employers don’t even bother to acknowledge your application or reject you. 

So keep these 20 tips in mind to boost your spirits while job-hunting – and increase your chances of success. Good luck!

And if you want to move up in your career, change industries, or even need some extra motivation for the new year (and new decade!), start 2020 off with a bang in our upcoming webinar – Don’t Quit Your Day Job. Register here for free.

Could RPA Make Procurement Jobs More Human? – Best of the Blog 2019

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

RPA - procurement
Photo by Matan Segev from Pexels

This article was written by Bertrand Maltaverne, and first published in February.

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

Despite this, many procurement professionals do not have the time to focus on the human side of their job. Data collection, reporting, transactional activities, urgencies, etc. are all tasks that eat up their precious time. They prevent them from focusing on relationships that could generate more value and better outcomes.  

This problem isn’t new. It’s the main driver behind the constant, growing interest in procurement technologies that automate processes and increase efficiencies.

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

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

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

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

RPA: Copy/paste on steroids…

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

Source: IEEE Guide for Terms and Concepts in Intelligent Process Automation

This technical definition of what RPA is and how it works can be summed up with a simple analogy. Imagine that you have to repeatedly copy data from one Excel file to another to produce a monthly report.

One way to eliminate these mundane, low-value, tedious tasks would be to create a macro that would do all the copy/paste for you. In addition to saving hours of your precious time over the course of the year, it would also reduce the risk of errors. This is, essentially, a simplified definition of what RPA is about.

It’s a way to automate repetitive and scripted actions that are usually performed manually by users (not just copy/paste!). It is a form of business process automation.

Typical Benefits

The typical benefits of RPA are:

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

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

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

If RPA only had a Brain…

There’s no getting around it: RPA is a very dumb technology.  It does exactly what it’s told, blindly executing whatever set of rules it’s given. Such technology has been in use for years but on a limited scale.

However, with the advancement of other, smarter technologies opening up new opportunities to make RPA more useful and less “dumb,” it is experiencing a revival. AI is one of the emerging technologies revitalising RPA, and stirring up hype. These days, it’s rare to see RPA without an AI component, which has also lead to a lot of confusion between RPA and AI.

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

Source: IEEE

By nature, RPA and AI are very different technologies:

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

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

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

RPA Applications for Procurement

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

The Hackett Group on Procurious

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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