Category Archives: Technology

Procurement Needs the Human Factor

Procurement is evolving and developing and leaders have a chance to create a function to meet all an organisation’s future needs. But first they need to remember the importance of the human factor.

human factor
Photo by Min An from Pexels

Procurement leaders now have an unprecedented opportunity to be the architects of a new function that puts customer satisfaction front and centre. This is a function enabled by technology whose value proposition goes beyond mere cost savings, and becomes central to business’ ability to gain a competitive advantage and deliver shareholder value. Delivering this shift will require a complete realignment of the traditional procurement skill-base and a whole new operating model.

Our latest research study, “The Human Factor: Strategic procurement and the leaders of tomorrow”, surveyed 500 senior procurement leaders including CPOs and CFOs worldwide, to explore this new shift in the procurement operating model, as well as the expected skill-base required to prosper in the future world of procurement.

Here are some of the significant findings.

The Operating Model of Tomorrow

We’re seeing a growing acceptance in the industry that things need to change. Procurement leaders are starting to acknowledge that in order to develop and elevate their position, procurement needs to become more relevant to the business and suppliers it connects.

In line with this, our research found 53 per cent of procurement leaders to have revamped their procurement operating models in the last 12 months, rising to 80 per cent in the last three years. 46 per cent listed ‘structure’ as one of the top three aspects they had recently revised.

However, in our view, the new operating model needs to go beyond a change in roles and responsibilities, or a restructured department. It needs to be people centric, with a focus on enabling the optimal interaction between those people and the right mix of technology, insights and expertise.

To get it right, first consider what information the people in the organisation will need, when they will need it, how they will access it and how it will help them serve their customers better.

Significance of Soft Skills

Taking a step away from traditional procurement training, ‘soft skills’ are becoming increasingly important for future procurement leaders. A ruling 78 per cent of our survey deemed them to be either essential or very important to the role, with the ‘ability to influence and lead’ ranking as the number one ‘soft skill’ to possess – reflecting a clear shift in focus for the new operating model.

The study also found ‘Flexibility and agility to manage ongoing change’, ‘Courage to challenge conventional thinking’ and ‘innovation, creativity and problem solving’ to be among the top valued soft skills by respondents. In our view the expectation is clearly for future procurement functions to lead business change, challenge how they’ve operated to date and adopt a more project-based mentality with an agile approach, in order to better meet the needs of the business.

Mind the Digital Skills Gap

As society is growing increasingly tech-savvy, it’s no surprise that digitalising procurement processes and systems topped the priority list of the leaders in the industry. There is an understandable temptation to buy gadgets with the belief that spending money on software will afford a competitive edge.

However, our study revealed over a third of leaders believe that new technologies are not supported by the right processes and skills, a quarter say there is a false expectation of technology in the field, and 15 per cent feel there is a lack of adequate talent which prevents procurement from realising the true power of technology.

In order to benefit from technology, procurement leaders need to understand the impact of that technology on their workforce, the new and different skills that will be required, and then figure out how to bridge the gap. However, it seems that procurement is starting to address this as two thirds of respondents indicated that they have already taken steps to tackle the talent pipeline shortages and skills gaps in their functions.

The Future of Procurement Learning

With the procurement landscape changing so rapidly, adaptation is necessary and key to enabling this is training.

Learning and development opportunities were recognised by the industry leaders surveyed as the top method for retaining talent, so why did 94 per cent fail to have a structured approach to training in place across all levels in the organisation?

Providing such a programme is a vital way to up-skill employees in a cost-effective manner, while also playing an important role in attracting prospective, highly-skilled talent.

However, our research reveals 79 per cent of leaders believe procurement’s approach to training needs to change in this regard, showing there is clearly a gap between what procurement leaders believe is needed, compared to what is actually being implemented.

A structured approach to training ensures the knowledge, skills and competencies developed can support the strategic development of the function and wider organisation beyond it. In our view the best way to deliver this training is to have the recipient in mind, first grasping an understanding of how they will consume the training, to then design and deliver it accordingly.

Generation Z and Beyond

As the younger, more digitally native generation enters the workforce, businesses need to overcome and engage with the different attitudes that Millennials and Generation Z hold. From misconceptions about the value of the procurement function, to misplaced expectations about how technology should work, procurement leaders need to address these preconceived beliefs and position the function in a light that will attract these new workforce demographics.

The study shows a clear divide in what organisations believe to be the best way to attract and engage this young talent. A quarter identified salary and remuneration to be the key factor, 21 per cent believed it to be procurement’s role in sustainability and CSR, and a further 20 per cent ranked additional financial benefits top of the list.

Organisations clearly have an idea of what matters to the next generation of leaders, they just need shout about it more loudly.

The Human Factor – Moving Forward

The future procurement operating model is looking to embody a digitally literate workforce with strategic minds and an abundance of soft skills – a step change in requirements from ever before. Attracting this talent is a challenge, but this is the future of procurement.

Procurement needs to create a culture that enables an inquisitive mindset, but one with the confidence to challenge constructively, both internally and externally. It needs structured training programmes to empower employees to develop real, transferable hard and soft skills, but places heavy emphasis on the importance of self-learning and reinvention in an era when knowledge has never been cheaper.

It’s vital that procurement leaders confront this change challenge head on and in doing so, they will not only realise procurement’s full potential as a value creator for the company, but also to ensure its continued existence as a function.

For too long, procurement has been characterised as the “process policemen” or “final price negotiator” – charges it would like to deny but often lives up to. To become more effective in the future, procurement leaders need to build this new, technology-driven, skills-enabled procurement operating model that really values the human factor.

Download the full “The Human Factor: Strategic procurement and the leaders of tomorrow” report, here.

Efficio is the world’s largest specialist procurement consultancy operating across ten offices in Europe, North America and the Middle East. Efficio works with clients to identify, deliver and sustain improvement opportunities in procurement. Their international team combines unparalleled procurement expertise and industry experience with a unique blend of intellectual capital and technology to deliver results and advance clients’ procurement capability.

Is Your IP Safe From Flexible Workers?

The world of work is changing, with the younger generations taking advantage of flexible working. But how can organisations safeguard their IP in this new world?

Photo by Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash

For some of us, it feels like we have just got over the shock of seeing Millennials coming into the workforce (generally considered to be those born in the 1980s/ 90s), when suddenly we are faced with Generation Z youngsters (born around the Millennium, from around 1995 to 2005) appearing in our offices, shops or factories.  

What is clear though is that those individuals are facing a very different employment situation to those of us defined as “Baby Boomers”. That’s not to say all of that post-war baby-boom era have thrived. Many are facing a retirement that will require continuing to work, perhaps via unsatisfactory zero-hours contracts. Particularly if they didn’t get their pensions sorted out in good time. 

Job for Life? Or Jobs A-plenty?

But back to the changes in working life. For those graduating in the 1970s and 80s, a training scheme with a respected large firm, like Shell, Mars, Ford, P&G or IBM was the pinnacle of ambition for many. The expectation then was that if the new entrant performed well, they might be there for life, with a nice final salary pension at the end of it.  

Now that world has not disappeared completely, and there are still huge corporate employers – the big accounting firms having become a major recruiter of graduates, for instance. But for many young people, the world of work looks very different.

These people are more likely to start their own businesses, as true entrepreneurs, for tax reasons, or perhaps to work part-time while pursuing another dream (writing, acting, or charitable work).  They are more likely to end up working for many different employers, and probably carrying out many different roles. They may have part-time jobs, perhaps several at the same time.

Many will end up on flexible or zero-hours contracts at some point. They may well at some point be self-employed. They may work hard for a year, then disappear off travelling for six months.

Not all of this is positive, and some may wish for the old days of the steady nine-to-five. But there are opportunities now to try different things, and take a flexible approach to work, perhaps to follow that dream of being a movie star or the next Bill Gates, whilst making enough money to survive by cycling around town with a Deliveroo bag on your back!

Employing the Right Flexible Workers

This situation has arisen in the main partly because of demand from individuals, but mainly because employers see the advantages in flexible working patterns and approaches. Yet this new world of work has brought issues as well, for both workers and employers.

For the employer, managing a group of often highly independent and intelligent workers, who may have limited real loyalty to the organisation, and who may disappear at any moment off to Thailand or to go on tour with their band, is a challenge.

In many cases, flexible working is attractive for the employer because it helps to cope with changes in demand – peaks and troughs – in an efficient manner. But that assumes the organisation can get hold of the right workers when they are needed. That is difficult enough even in many relatively unskilled roles, but when it comes to finding skilled people, ranging from heavy goods lorry drivers to social workers to film make-up artists, the challenge is even greater.

The Unseen Risks

There are also reputational and even strategic risks for some organisations. In the health, education and social care sectors, ensuring that workers have the right accreditations and qualification is vital. Security clearances come into play in certain cases, for instance in the security and defence sectors, and increasingly in other roles where data comes into play.

In other sectors, such as technology, questions of intellectual property, confidentiality and competition come into play. If you have seen the film Social Network, you may remember that the Winklevoss twins claimed they took on Marc Zuckerberg in effect as a “contract worker” to develop  coding for their business idea of a website to connect students.  We all know what happened next.  Not long after, to their surprise, Zuckerberg’s “The Facebook” hit the dorms of Harvard!

The smart young programmer you’ve taken on to help meet a deadline – where else has she been working? Might she have her own plans for a similar product, game or app?  Is her best friend getting married to your biggest competitor’s head of marketing?  

This may sound paranoid, but in a world of flexible working and workers, these issues are increasingly significant. Protecting the organisation’s reputation and intellectual property are further key imperatives in this emerging world.

So Long to the “Good Old Days”

So, we can assume that “work” is changing for all parties; and it needs to be underpinned by robust data and efficient operational management (and the two are linked, of course). Employees want to find opportunities, to engage easily and quickly with prospective employers, and to experience smooth and effective administration when they are employed.

Employers want to comply with tax and other regulations, know about the available pool of workers, be able to check them out, then manage the employment relationship efficiently and effectively. All of this requires good data, good processes, and good systems.

Any organisation that does not have those in place will struggle to attract, retain and manage their increasingly flexible and dynamic workforce. Whatever comes after Generation Z, we can assume we will never return to the old days! 

This article was written for Procurious by Stephan Beeusaert, UKI Head – SAP Ariba & SAP Fieldglass, and Peter Smith, Managing Director – Procurement Excellence Ltd. If you want to learn more or have any questions,  join SAP Ariba at ValueX – Unleashing the Power of Spend.

Blockchain – A New Flavour of Traceability

Why did the chicken cross the road? More importantly, was there traceability of its journey and how many miles did it cover? Maybe blockchain can help us answer this age-old question…

Courtesy of Portlandia

Do you find yourself thinking more and more about the journey your food has taken to get to your plate? It’s not just because you’re a supply chain professional. It’s because, as a community, we are increasingly interested in the origin and safety of the food we consume.

Farm to Plate – Tracked and Traced

Consumers have an increasing interest in and focus on sustainability, food miles and the concept of ‘farm to plate’. The pressure is on the supply chain to maintain quality while providing both transparency and a fully auditable trail.

Production lines can be stopped and deadlines missed. But if fresh produce doesn’t get to where it needs to be on time, there isn’t any end product.

Delayed, incomplete, incorrect or damaged shipments create a monumental volume of administration. Productivity tanks, costs mount and trust erodes as the parties enter into a “we said, they said” situation, with each party trying to avoid being the ones to blame. This has led to a situation that as the food supply chain has grown, the level of trust has diminished.

However, one of the hottest new technologies, blockchain, has proved to be an invaluable tool in helping provide transparency and maintain trust.

Network of Networks

In most supply chains, communication is point-to-point and one direction. There is no single, shared record of events across multiple parties. Damages or changes – malicious or accidental – may surface in the moment, or potentially only when they are raised by consumers.

According to research published by Gartner in 2017, there is a movement for mature supply chains to operate in a “network of networks”. The network of networks acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy, as mature supply chains in these networks achieve higher levels of maturity, including improving ecosystem visibility.

By placing a supply chain on the blockchain, it makes the process more traceable, transparent and fully digital. Each node on the blockchain could represent an entity that has handled the food on the way to the store, making it much easier and faster to identify the source of food safety issues with much greater precision.

The attributes of blockchain technology are ideally suited to networks of partners, big and small. By providing a shared, single version of the truth through a shared, digital ledger, blockchain increases trust and creates efficiencies by eliminating the “we said, they said” problem and creating a shared understanding of all possible disruptions that could impact OTIF delivery.

With blockchain, transaction records are immutable, or tamperproof, and agreed upon by all parties. Immutability creates an audit trail. Privacy is maintained by setting the appropriate levels of data visibility for different parties. And business rules are shared and enforced by the system through smart contracts.

Trust and Traceability

A prime example of the effectiveness of blockchain in the food supply chain is Walmart. The retail giant has been working with IBM on a food safety solution, using IBM’s ‘Food Trust‘ solution, which was specifically designed for this purpose.

Before working with IBM to move some of its food supply chain to blockchain, it typically took Walmart approximately 7 days to trace the source of food. With the blockchain, it’s been reduced to 2.2 seconds. This time may be the difference between a consumer eating unsafe food and it never reaching the shelves in the first place.

IBM has also played a major role in the development of blockchain tracking for another retailer, Carrefour. The organisation uses blockchain ledger technology to track produce including meat, milk and fruit from source to shelf. The technology has enabled tracking on the consumer side too, with shoppers able to scan QR codes on products, allowing them to read product information on provenance and process.

Carrefour has credited the technology with increasing consumer trust in the brand, resulting in an increase in sales. It’s an example that many other retailers may look to follow soon.

Supplier ‘Passports’

IBM very recently announced a new blockchain network, ‘Trust Your Supplier’. The network, not solely limited to the food supply chain, has been designed to improve supplier qualification by creating a form of passport for suppliers. This will help to reduce time and resources for validation, with everything verified by third parties, such as Dun & Bradstreet, to square the circle.

The network, and network of networks, look set to revolutionise how organisations and consumers look at supply chains. The food supply chain is merely the first where the technology is making strides, though the fashion industry has also made moves to implement with significant success.

As consumers buy less fresh produce to reduce food waste, they are willing to spend a bit more to ensure quality. With blockchain, organisations can shine a light on the provenance of their goods, but also earn the trust of consumers by proving the safety and traceability of the goods. And in a fast-paced environment, those organisations who don’t engage with blockchain face the reality of being left behind.

We might never know why the chicken crossed the road. But with blockchain tracking the supply chain, we’ll be able to understand where it came from, how far away and track it’s route all the way to your plate (sorry Colin!).

Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer

From farm to plate, the food supply chain can now be tracked in an open, transparent, fully traceable and entirely digital way. We may never know the why, but the how and where are within our grasp!

In our latest webinar, Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer, we’ll be exploring the full applicability of this great technological innovation, understanding how Walmart and Carrefour have turned this to their advantage and revealing why it’s a must have for supply chains of the future! Click here to sign up now.

Intelligent Spend Management – Your Next Smart Move

Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

Bringing it all together by bringing Intelligent Spend Management to the business.

If you’re just buying office supplies, you’ve probably got a good idea what you’re spending on paper and pens. But odds are your budget goes beyond a few reams of ultra-white printer stock. And while you are specifically tasked with procurement, you actually help hold the reins and hold influence on multiple categories of spend — from direct and indirect goods, to services, contingent labour — even T&E.

True, this spending is spread out across your organisation and, yes, in many of these categories, spending is more decentralised than ever with employees all over the company buying what they need when they need it. And, it’s true that all of this spending and all of these categories aren’t even in your charge.

However, the business needs you to help bring all that spend under control across all those categories, so you can not only reduce costs, but also help your company:

  • Manage supplier performance holistically
  • Diminish delivery and reputation risks across the board
  • Improve compliance and enforce purchasing policies equally in all categories
  • Increase productivity across procurement and throughout the entire company

Changing Expectations

Organisations are expecting this and more from procurement.

  • They want you to collaborate with finance and supply-chain leaders and address spend management across the business.
  • They’re expecting you to bring more spend categories under control, to unify how you manage suppliers across all categories, and to help bring direct and indirect spending together with services and T&E to increase visibility into all your spend.

They want more, and there’s an easy way to deliver and manage every source and every category of spend in delivering one, unified view.

Unfortunately, the systems most businesses use to manage all of these different spend processes can create barriers between spend categories and keep people from working together. Intelligent Spend Management, on the other hand, is a strategy designed to bring those barriers down, so you can get visibility into and control over each and every area of spend. In one place.

Why Intelligent Spend Management Matters

Intelligent Spend Management means comprehensive policy and supplier management. This gives you oversight over indirect and direct suppliers while bringing that same level of discipline to services/external workforce suppliers as well as key travel suppliers.

And, integrated with your ERP system, an Intelligent Spend Management solution creates a common set of spend data — a hub where you can unify and clarify the information. You’ll also be able to:

  • Capture and centralise once-invisible spend like p-card transactions, non-PO invoices and direct travel bookings that used to slip through the cracks in your systems
  • Apply sourcing best practices consistently to all of your suppliers across all categories
  • Centrally manage supplier risk as well as tax and other regulatory requirements

It brings you best-in-class control of each spend category. This means you can manage the entire procure-to-pay process for direct and indirect expenses from a single solution. Imagine being able to:

  • Deliver a guided user experience that makes it easy to follow policy
  • Give users a simple way to make procurement requests, plus tactical purchases directly from suppliers
  • Ensure the suppliers you source, the prices you negotiate and the terms you establish are pulled through right to the point of purchase, so policy compliance becomes everyday practice
  • Capture data from across the process and use AI and machine learning to automate mundane tasks and serve up insight-driven recommendations at critical decision points
  • Strengthen supplier relationships and, ultimately, get more innovation from suppliers to improve how you work and what you deliver

And you can bring that same level of precision, efficiency and user experience for services, your external workforce – and the same level of control.

Presenting a Unified View

You get a unified view of spend. The Intelligent Spend Management solution connects procurement spend data with data from across spend categories, giving you a single, near-real-time view — without having to piece together reports from disparate systems.

This means you, your friends in finance and your supply-chain peers can see where every bit of your budget is going, and help the organisation:

  • Ensure that all spending is in line with corporate policy and priorities
  • Get up-to-date views into your KPIs, so you can adapt accordingly
  • Manage discretionary employee spend before it gets away from you
  • Feed this spend data back into supplier management and fuel stronger negotiations

Intelligent Spend Management breaks down the silos, so companies can control spend across the board.

This is about procurement, but it isn’t simply for procurement. Intelligent Spend Management enables you to work across categories and bring all the data together — so you can bring confidence to your company by bringing certainty to your spending.

This article was written for Procurious by Drew Hofler, VP of Portfolio Marketing for SAP Ariba & SAP Fieldglass.

5 Big Procurement Challenges Addressed by Enterprise Contract Management Software

This article was originally published on the Icertis blog.

Procurement is a complex part of global business that carries serious commercial and regulatory risk. These risks are especially pronounced when a company does not have an effective way to centrally manage its contracts.

In a recent survey conducted by ProcureCon, leading procurement officials were asked about contract-related challenges they’ve faced that caused revenue leakage, increased cost or financial penalties. Here were the results:

A critical component to tackling each of these issues is enterprise contract management software, which sees contracts as live documents enshrining all risks and obligations incumbent upon an organization.

Indeed, good risk management begins with good contract management. With enterprise contract management, you can identify and manage risk throughout the contract lifecycle with proactive insights. A configurable risk model helps track risks across different categories, such as financial, contractual, performance and third party.

Let’s look at how each of the above challenges is addressed through contract management software.

Challenge: Higher operations costs

Finding: 43 per cent of respondents said higher operations costs have hurt their procurement organisation.  

Because contracts are the foundational element of modern commerce, they govern every procurement action and transaction a business undertakes. With the power of a modern contract management system with an ability to seamlessly integrate with procurement systems in place, an enterprise can gain unprecedented control over spend.

Through full visibility into all their commercial relationships, contract management software ensures that cash flow is complying with corporate plans, and allows executives to continually monitor money moving in and out of the business at all levels of the supply chain.

Challenge: Slow contract creation and approval

Finding: 46 per cent of respondents cited slow contract creation and approval as a challenge.

With enterprise contract management software, users can accelerate and optimize the contract authoring process. For example, users can self-service contracts with pre-approved clause libraries, eliminating the need for legal to get involved at every level of the authoring process but still control contract language.

Configurable notifications alert relevant stakeholders for revisions, redlines, and approvals, ensuring nothing gets missed. And robust, highly configurable rules increase flexibility while driving quicker approvals and execution.

Challenge: Unclaimed entitlements/lost or untapped revenue

Finding: More than half of respondents cited unclaimed entitlements or loss of untapped revenue as a challenge.

Best-of-breed contract management software draws on artificial intelligence (AI) tools that index and “interpret” every entitlement in each contract across the enterprise, allowing users to achieve the full potential of negotiated contracts through better enforcement of commercial terms.

The software captures the terms of products and services, prices, discounts, rebates and incentives in a structured form after interpreting the entitlements. You can then integrate the data with enterprise systems and help enforce terms for better savings and revenue performance.

You can also avoid missed entitlements or revenue potential. For example, sourcing organizations can automatically check purchase orders against agreed upon contract language to detect incorrect billings issues with regard to slabbed discounts or other innovative payout models.

Challenge: Missed obligations

Finding: 55 per cent of respondents said missed obligations have been a challenge.

Contract management software gives unprecedented insight into these contractual commitments, ensuring nothing gets missed. The same indexing and reporting capabilities used to surface entitlements also capture a business’s obligations to third parties, preventing leakage caused by lost business or penalties.

Challenge: Regulatory enforcement actions

Finding: This emerged as the most common challenge for procurement leaders, with nearly 3 in 4 saying they’re concerned with regulatory enforcement due to noncompliance.

It’s no wonder this was the number one concern, given the serious financial penalties and lasting brand and reputational implications of regulatory violations.

A robust library of clauses and templates goes a long way to reducing ad-hoc, or maverick contracts. Readily accessible templates, combined with a rules-driven workflow engine, helps support compliance throughout every stage of the contract management lifecycle.

Contract management software can cross-check country- or region-specific rules with relevant contracts. Compliance, down to the smallest supply subcontract, can be continually monitored through integrations with external software. Contract management software can even take a preventative role in compliance, via innovative contract creation tools.

Sophisticated contract management software can identify such regulatory enforcement and compliance obligations not just from their own contracting policy and authoring rules but also from customer specific contracts and cascade them to buy-side contracts used for fulfilling commitments. This makes the whole supply chain subject to internal regulatory enforcement and compliance actions.

To learn more about how a modern CLM solution can improve procurement at all levels of the supply chain, download this report from ProcureCon.

Vivek Bharti is general manager of product management at Icertis

The One Thing Everyone Keeps Getting Wrong About Digital Transformation

While digital technologies have made the pathway to digital transformation the opportunity that every organisation is seeking to capitalise on, what many organisations get wrong is the focus on the technology…

By Parilov/ Shutterstock

There’s no doubt that we have been in the digital revolution for a while now. It may have been a slow start as we came to terms with the power and capability of our smartphones that precipitated the customer centric, anywhere-anytime shift.

Futurists pre-empted the transformation that was coming by positioning a future of mobility, IoT and artificial intelligence, while tech savvy organisations made some early investments and experimented with analytics and automation, learning very quickly how to capitalise on technologies many of us were still trying to define.

Fast forward 10 years and we surely must have everything worked out and locked down. After all, we have had enough time to observe those who have gone before and experiment ourselves, both as consumers and as leaders in organisations, irrespective of our role or industry. It should be the very definition of a no-brainer.

The Current State

Taking a look at the current state, things seem to be a little different. Yes, there have been tech-savvy organisations like John Deere who have managed to leverage digital capabilities and redefine their business model to open up new revenue streams. And we are all familiar with the digital disruptors coming from digital natives like Google, Amazon, Uber and Tesla.

And we have all heard the catch cry of Disrupt before you are disrupted. Indeed, it has probably been the opening for many a workshop on digital transformation initiatives making their way into the leadership programs of organisations.

Is it a money question then? There’s no doubt that the global financial crises, combined with the impact of increasing customer expectations and global competition have exacerbated financial pressure on organisations.

The internet has proven to be a double edged sword for many; enabling access to markets of consumers that would have previously been impossible, while also giving the very same consumers access to competitors, feedback and reviews of others, and pricing transparency that has not previously been possible. Everyone has had to up their game.

All About the Money?

With spend in digital initiatives estimated in 2018 at $1.3 trillion, it’s a tough position to advocate that the investment and focus has not been there. Digital initiatives are defined as any digital capabilities aimed at improving customer value, new growth and monetization opportunities and driving improved efficiencies.

So the categories are pretty broad, and the digital capabilities equally so. Moving from a spreadsheet to a web based form could be loosely termed digital, as could automating a process flow, experimenting with RPA, or enabling customers to order from a website. In essence, there are a multitude of different options before we even get to chatbots, customer preference insights, predictive asset maintenance and hypotheses generation.

So why do we keep hearing about how hard it is to execute effectively with consistent research telling us that 70 per cent of transformation efforts fail?

While digital technologies have made the pathway to digital transformation, the opportunity that every organisation is seeking to capitalise on, what many organisations (70 per cent of them as noted above) get wrong is the focus on the technology.

As an innovator in the early stages of the digital era, that may have been understandable. Working with the unknown, and by definition and nature, first-of-a-kind initiatives, it was important to understand what the technology could do and its limitations.

But in 2018, why does this still account for such an overwhelming focus of an organisations digital transformation agenda? The best way to deal with that question may be by taking a look at what the organisations that are in the 30 per cent who achieve success actually do.

People and culture matter

Watching my 10 year old nephew master the iPad with a skill and confidence I can only aspire to is an exercise in amazement and humility; amazement at all the functionality he is able to access to expedite what he is doing, and humility knowing that I am not ever going to come close.

Taking the ego aside, it reflects the very important point that the technology being used has degrees of perceived value generation and productivity firstly, only when it is used and secondly, with an increasing value the greater and more extensive the use.

So when we say people matter, what we really mean is digital transformation is a change to the way a company works and for the intended value to be realised organisations must incorporate education, training, and adoption strategies that help employees understand why the transformation is happening, how it will impact them, and how accepting and adapting to the initiative will enhance the way they work and the business performs.

Process Matters

It’s very easy to dismiss the process of any function or model as the thing that happens behind the scenes. It’s not usually the subject of an extensive marketing campaign and the people in many process areas may not even have a line of sight to the end customer. 

There may be an instances where consumers may complain about steps in the process that they may need to navigate to get something resolved. I need to admit at this point to being one of those annoying customers that will challenge how something works if I am caught up in a cycle of bureaucracy with some unfortunate contact centre assistant.

But process matters because so many organisations will deploy a technology solution and not or re-engineer a process to reflect the new way of working that the technology should enable.  As a result teams end up complaining that they are stuck with a new technology which does not work at best, and creates more work at worst.

The criticism then gears towards the technology not the implementation strategy that supported it.

Challenging Fundamentals

Business models matter: How organisations arrange themselves in a digital transformation matters. Traditional models are hierarchy based and decisions are made on positional authority. Team and role structures define who does what, and everyone’s role is clear and supported by a position description. Digital transformation challenges many, if not all of these fundamentals. 

Implementing change on this scale, for at its essence this is what digital transformation is, requires different ways of working and different mindsets. It requires acknowledging that your nephew may have more experience even at 10 years old, then you do, irrespective of a long career as an executive.

It’s about who knows what, not credentials that may be impressive, however not best suited to that particular piece of work. And it involves understanding that teams are dynamic, decisions need to be made differently, and a shared focus on outcomes is how digital value is generated and how digital transformations succeed.

Is Blockchain The Next Big Thing For Supply Chain?

What does blockchain mean for your supply chain?

By Oleksandr Nagaiets/ Shutterstock

Few people working in supply chain roles have a clear understanding of how this fledgeling solution called blockchain is, or could be, applied in their organisations. There is much hype and misinformation in the marketplace and much of it is due to the unproven nature in practice and unknown long-term costs of blockchain applications.

So what is blockchain?

Without getting too technical, the underlying principle of blockchain is to provide a secure environment where encrypted business transactions between buyer and seller can happen without the need for third parties such as banks and clearing agents to intervene. According to McKinsey,

blockchain is an internet-based technology that is prized for its ability to publicly validate, record, and distribute transactions in immutable, encrypted ledgers”.

Immutable, in this case, means that each link in the blockchain is completely secure and unbreakable. Blockchain’s format guarantees the data has not been counterfeited and that information can be read by any authorized party.

There are two main types of blockchain applications, one private and the other public. In the commercial environment, the networks are mostly private, this type of operation is sometimes referred to as “permissioned”.    Read more detail about how Blockchain works here.   

The world before blockchain

This diagram below is typical of a traditional sales transaction with many intermediaries.  Currently, these intermediaries process, verify and reconcile transactions before the ownership of the goods or services can pass from seller to buyer. How many people does it take to move a container of avocados from a Kenyan seller to a UK buyer?  At least thirty, but more importantly, there are over 200 individual transaction events and communications involved. 

What traditional buyer-to-seller transactions look like today  

What supply chains could look like tomorrow  

The world after blockchain

In a private blockchain network,  the procure-to-pay process is streamlined so that documents are matched triggering payment and creating a verifiable audit trail.   Nestlé is breaking new ground in supply chain transparency through a collaboration with OpenSC – an innovative blockchain platform that allows consumers to track their food right back to the farm.  The initial pilot program will trace milk from farms and producers in New Zealand to Nestlé factories and warehouses in the Middle East.

What does blockchain mean for your supply chain?

How can this fledgeling technology be beneficial? According to McKinsey, there are three main areas where blockchain can add value:

  1. Replacing slow, manual paper-based processes.
  2. Strengthening traceability which reduces quality and recall problems
  3. Potentially reducing supply-chain IT transaction costs  (maybe?).

The answer seems to lie in its potential to speed up administrative processes and to take costs out of the system while still guaranteeing the security of transactions.  Blockchain has the potential to disrupt or create competitive advantage, but the biggest barrier to its adoption is that so few have a good grasp on how it can be of use in their operations.

The potential benefits

  • faster and more accurate tracking of products and distribution assets, e.g. trucks, containers, as they move through the supply chain  
  • reduction of errors on orders, goods receipts, invoices and other trade-related documents due to less need for manual reconciliation 
  • a permanent audit trail of every product movement or financial transaction from its source to its ultimate destination.
  • trust is created between users through using a transparent ledger where transactions are immutable, secure and  auditable

What are the obstacles?

1.The cost

Implementing a blockchain solution may require expensive amendments and upgrades to existing systems which is both costly and time-consuming. Who pays and what is the return on investment?

2. Change management

There will be a need to convince all involved parties to join a particular blockchain and collaborate for mutual benefit. More openness will be needed, the old ways of protecting information won’t work. There is likely to be some mistrust initially especially around market share and sales data.

3. Rules and regulations

Legal advice is essential to understand what regulatory frameworks must be complied with. There are no accepted global standards for Blockchain that align with maritime law, international customs regulations and the various commercial codes such as Incoterms that govern the commercial transfer of ownership.  

4. Security

Is Blockchain really unbreakable?  Hackers would not only need to infiltrate a specific block to alter existing information but would have to access all of the preceding blocks going back through the entire history of that blockchain, across every ledger in the network, simultaneously. Even with encryption, cyber-attacks are a concern and cybersecurity costs money.

Transacting using “smart” contracts

Blockchain can be used to create “smart” contracts that execute the terms of any agreement when specified conditions are met. The “smart” part is a piece of computer code that predefines a set of rules under which the parties to that smart contract agree to interact with each other. Not recommended for beginners.

What industries will benefit most? 

Industries with the greatest potential are those that deal with extensive paperwork such as freight forwarding, marine shipping, and transport logistics. 

Tracking ofautomotive parts as they move between manufacturing facilities and countries is an attractive application as interfaces between motor manufacturers and their 3PL transport partners are complex and often not well-integrated. Toyota is venturing into developing blockchain solutions for its core parts supply chain operations.

Vulnerable and highly regulated supply chains such as food and healthcare

can benefit due to their need for transparency. Real estate has great potential due to the mass of records and documents involved such as transfers of land titles, property deeds, liens etc.  

Avoiding the hype

Gartner says that although blockchain holds great promise, often the technology is offered as a solution in search of a problem. They advise that “to ensure a successful blockchain project, make sure you actually need to use blockchain technology. Additionally, much of what is on the market as an enterprise “blockchain” solution lacks at least two of the five core components: Encryption, immutability, distribution, decentralization and tokenization.”  Gartner’s long term view is that blockchain will only move through its Trough of Disillusionment by 2022. 

Will it work in your supply chain?

The jury is still out on whether blockchain will really create a competitive advantage. Also, the cost of running a blockchain in time and resources is the unknown factor. For companies thought to have efficient supply chain operations with trusted partners and reliable databases, such a complex solution may not be needed. A supplier portal that is housed in the cloud may be more than adequate when coupled with an established ERP system.   

But wait, the blockchain action doesn’t stop here! Join us on October 15 with blockchain experts Shari Diaz, Innovation Strategy and Operations Program Director, IBM Watson Supply Chain and Professor Olinga Ta’eed, Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance in this webinar brought to you by IBM and Procurious. Click here to register for Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer.

5 Days Without Technology

I spent five days disconnected from technology; this is how, and what I did instead…

By Africa Studio/ Shutterstock

Irrespective of what time of the day you are reading this blog, there is one certainty. You would have spent some time on line whether it was for business purposes or for personal engagement. If you are anything like me, you would have checked the weather before heading out on an early morning run. Not exactly sure why given we all know what Melbourne is like in winter. Cold! You might have gone with some social media scanning. Liked something on Instagram? So have 3.5 billion others. Checked your facebook? You’ve joined 1.5 billion users. Looking for professional connection or posts of interest amongst LinkedIn’s 575+ million users? Let’s not even get to all of the other platforms that have proliferated. After all, it’s not just the social, social media. Chances are you have also been on email, read the news on line, messaged or What’s App’d a connection, or possibly had a call via Zoom or Skype. Even likelier you have had to make your way somewhere and needed an Uber. Phew, busy morning, even busier day! But with so much to do, isn’t it lucky that it is all there on our smartphones or laptops, smart TV’s, or home assistants,  making our lives so much easier. Or is it?

Last year I had the opportunity to be in Asia for a trip that was intended to be a holiday. It seemed smart to tie in business meetings to make the most of the fact that I was in the region. I rescheduled work commitments, let colleagues know I was away and shared my itinerary with family and friends. There was no question of whether I would take my phone and my laptop with me. After all, that’s what the modern day break looks like and with the business tied in, it wasn’t even an option to think about leaving even my laptop behind.

Admittedly and somewhat proudly, I can admit that by the end of week one the laptop had not exactly been in overdrive. It languished after a couple of video calls and a handful of emails. The phone was a different proposition altogether. Rides to organise, destinations to get to, places to eat to check out, messages to family. A combination of business and leisure that made the time not just busy but always-on.

Fast forward another week and an opportune trip for work has unexpectedly taken me to Myanmar. The great thing about being digital that we all know, is that anywhere, anytime, can make all sorts of options possible. So when a friend suggested staying a little longer and exploring what is a fascinating country, I was in. Able to work from anywhere, subject to time zones and availability, makes so many things possible. Wi-fi and mobile data (which can be a financial minefield) make the possible, practical. 

Sounds like a great trip so far, but where is the disconnect you may be wondering? Well that’s got something to do with a trip to a place in Myingyan. You most likely have no idea where that is, and that’s ok, as neither did I. What I did know was that it was wonderful eco-lodge nestled in the heart of a village that offered a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in local life. What I didn’t know until we got there? There was no wi-fi.  I had just arrived for a 4 night stay in a picturesque, but remote village, without a way to get on-line except for a very inconvenient overseas mobile data plan. So what I did I do? I messaged everyone to share the contact phone number and let them know I would be out of touch for the next few days. And then I put my phone and my laptop away.

When I got back to Melbourne a few weeks later and was telling friends about my experience, responses ranged from humour, to dismay, to fascination; How did I survive? How did I spend the time? And unexpectedly from others Would I do it again? Here are the three things I shared with everyone that have stayed with me even now

1. Nothing beats personal connection

It seems simple enough and we all know it to be true, but the flipside of technology means that we often choose to digitally engage with someone instead of actually talking to them. Staying in this wonderful place, talking to the people who lived and worked there, and wandering through the local village created an interpersonal connection that would not have otherwise been possible.  There was laughter, compassion and empathy as well as intellectual challenge and thought. It took me back to being in Greece during the GFC and talking to people about the impact on them. Understanding that a country is its people, and not always its government is something we forget.

2. Your perspective drives your context

For those who know that I have been known to buy a pair, or five, of designer shoes in my time, the idea of me spending time in a remote village with no wif-fi, dirt roads and mosquitos seems unfathomable. The bet may have been that I would have been in desperate need to get back to the city and return to something a little more ‘normal’. What in fact happened, was the opposite. I was humbled by the simplicity of those I met, their stories, and their community and it serves as a wonderful reminder to me even today, that we all define the context we operate in, and what we choose to call a challenge or opportunity.

3. Make time to think, plan, act

Free from reaching for my phone, checking emails, the weather (yes, I did attempt a run on those very treacherous roads), I was able to be completely present every day through every interaction. And it was a valuable way to create space in my mind for things I had been putting off, challenges I needed to work through in my head, even ideas I wanted to explore more but did not have time to think about. Going old school with pen and paper (although I did take photos of my notes) inspired me to refresh and get clarity on what I needed to do when I got back home. All the work was done and well thought through without the distraction of the competing priorities we often have to manage.

It was not a complete surprise to reach the end of the stay and realise it wasn’t enough time so the four nights actually became five. Who would have thought that would be the case on day one. And finally getting to the next destination? I’m pleased to say that it took another day for the technology to really come on again.

AI And The Future Of Work: Why It’s Not Oblivion That Keeps Me Optimistic

With AI encompassing a broad range of technologies, it is unlikely that there will be a role that will not feel the potential impact.

By igorstevanovic/ Shutterstock

With all the media focus and conversation about the impact of technology on the work we do, it can sometimes be a wonder to think that any of us will have anything left to do in the digital world once the machines take over. With the success of AI development from companies like Alphabet’s Deepmind and IBM’s Watson, it seems that the performance and contribution of humans raises some significant and confronting questions about what the future of work will look like, not only for us in the existing workforce, but for the generations that have just entered, or are soon to enter. With four nephews in primary school and just starting high school, this is very much a personal question, as much as a professional one.

In May this year, I had the opportunity to facilitate a panel discussion at the Future Work Summit. The topic, Capitalising on Australia’s Talent, was an interesting one. After all, with all of the talk of the professional wilderness that awaits us, how could we possibly discuss this topic without sending the audience members into a spiral of hoplessness? Thankfully, the speakers on the panel were three very passionate and amazing people who were putting their efforts and experience into addressing this exact question. Notwithstanding different roles and organisations, all are connected in their commitment to improve the potential of individuals in the workplace by enabling training and skills development that will help the navigation through the digital age.

With AI encompassing a broad range of technologies, it is unlikely that there will be a role that will not feel the potential impact. Rules based, repetitive tasks are ripe for the application of Robotics Process Automation. It’s impossible to imagine that any person, no matter their level of skill, attention or capability would be able to compete with an automated application that can process transactions within seconds, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More sophisticated technologies including Machine Learning and Deep Learning can now look for patterns that would be either indiscernible to humans, or take so long to be identified that organisations shift priorities half way through. Add the ability for simulations and visual processing and it makes for a very compelling, and potentially threatening perspective about how people fit.

That’s certainly one perspective. The other perspective is the one that the panellists and I chose to explore. That is that while the nature of work may be changing, this change is an evolution and we as humans are impacted but we are not redundant. In an analysis of roles, McKinsey found that only about 5 per cent of roles can be fully automated and that 30 per cent of 60 per cent of the roles assessed could be automated. Yes, some roles will go, and along with that, some skills will no longer be needed. The future of work however, presents an opportunity to understand the impact of digital currently and in the future. It is an evolution that will allow us to adapt what we know and the skills we have developed or need to develop in order to position ourselves for what is coming.

As we talk about transformation in industry and organisations and make demands as consumers for organisations to get more in line with what we want to see, we have seen the rise of the ‘woke’ consumer. We all want to think we are one. So, it’s time to apply this thinking to our own personal and professional development. The future of work requires a transformation of how we perceive our place in the world. Skills and learning are not something we did in the past and left behind. The transformation required for us to stay relevant is adopting a mindset that embraces the idea of lifelong learning. Taking any formal learning we have undertaken and combining it with practical experience gets us to the place we are now. In the future of work, we continue to build. That may be through a combination of additional formal learning which is undertaken in a self-paced digital environment; welcome to the world of on-line learning that incorporates elements of gamification, animation and virtual reality. It’s here already although not as accessible as I hope it gets to be soon. What a way to learn. 

In other cases, it may be through experience. We are all familiar with the principle of learning 70-20-10. What if you could choose how you spent the 70? Would you want to spend it on administrative and operational tasks like crunching through a data activity, or would you want to spend the time validating and understanding insights and recommendations to be able to execute strategies that create value for your business? What about the opportunity to spend more time developing your team or engaging with your customers?

Even while we are concerned about machines and technology, we are embracing it when it comes to helping us expedite personal decisions and tasks. Many people are happy to engage with a chatbot to help them solve a query if it means not going through an arduous contact centre protocol. Smart algorithms are being mastered by savvy retailers. Organisations like Spotify and Netflix are personalising the customer experience and helping us discover preferences we didn’t know we had. In my case, I’m observing my experimentation with Spotify opening me up to music by artists I would not have otherwise come across. In leadership terms we call this curiosity, and we welcome it because it is a sign that we are open to understanding that we do not know everything and that learning makes us better. When it comes to the future of work, this is the mindset that will facilitate understanding and success in the man + machine interchange. It will be some time before the machines are really able to do what the hype says they will. In the meantime, what an opportunity to understand how they can help improve how we work and the type of work we do.

Still Trying To Understand Blockchain? Here’s The One Thing You Really Need To Know

Blockchain is so much more then cryptocurrency, and despite the scepticism, it is here to stay.

By Dean Drobot/ Shutterstock

I’ve had a blog on blockchain on my mind for a while. As far as business buzzwords and hype, it has to be right up there with the best of them. Everyone is talking about it, or asking about it. Questions can be quite generic ranging from what exactly is it, what does it do and do I need to care about? And then then are the questions of scepticism and challenge including; is it even real, and does it even do anything? Amongst all of that, is the one we have all heard, or perhaps been the one we have actually asked; that’s got something to do with bitcoin, doesn’t it?

Ah, bitcoin.  We’ve all heard about it now and many who have followed the heady rise have had the dream of making millions from the cryptocurrency. Hitting dizzying heights of USD$19,000+ in 2017, we were all wondering why we had not invested in 2016 when it was hovering around the USD$600 mark. Thankfully, we were able to quickly congratulate ourselves for not being susceptible to the whims of the market when it fell to USD$3,000 earlier this year. And if you’ve been watching it over the last few months? Well it’s back at USD$10,000+, so you may be either celebrating or experiencing another round of FOMO.

So, what has all this got to do with blockchain? For many, the two are essentially the same, or the mention of one prompts an association with the other. If you only feel like you need to know one thing about blockchain, it should be that it is not bitcoin. Is it connected to bitcoin?  Yes, in so far that the technology that underpins bitcoin is what we call blockchain. But blockchain is so much more then cryptocurrency, and despite the scepticism, it is here to stay. Here are a few other considerations that may be helpful once you make the disassociation from bitcoin:

Understand the maturity level

The demand and potential for blockchain application saw Venture Capital firms invest more then $1 billion in blockchain start ups as early as 2017. McKinsey classifies blockchain as being in the Pioneering stage of technology development. While there are a plethora of use cases that have been identified by organisations and also by governments, many are at ideation stage. Others have progressed to proof of concept stage. As with anything that is new, there has not been enough time to implement at scale and observe the impact across a whole industry or organisation. That is a question of time and opportunity more than likelihood or value, and there is no doubt that as the technology matures and more experimentation takes place, the more we will learn. The prediction from many industry leaders is that it will become as ubiquitous as the internet. Until then, it is important to manage expectations around what it can and will do. 

Know what to use it for

As with many emerging technologies, the temptation to pioneer and innovate has led many organisations to force a solution of blockchain into a problem or opportunity that it may not be right for. We need blockchain or blockchain will solve this is a refrain that has been heard in many a meeting across industries and geographies. And it could be exactly right. But the important thing to remember is that the principle of value and outcome applies to all new technology, even one as cool as blockchain. Work out what problem you are trying to solve; if it involves many parties, transparency, and trust, it may be exactly what you need. The financial sector has been leading the way with blockchain in KYC (Know Your Customer) initiatives to improve detection of fraud and integrity of financial transactions. In addition to the commercial benefits of mitigating monetary losses, banks and other financial institutions are also expecting to realise efficiencies from process savings. With savings of between 20-30 per cent estimated, it is an experiment worth undertaking.

It will change industries and practices

Blockchain provides a level of transparency, validation and security that has been needed, but has not been able to be achieved previously. Why are these important?  Questions of origin and ownership have become increasingly important as we become more digital savvy. In some processes, it has always been a critical dependency with onerous and time consuming operational activity to execute it. Property is a great example of this. Do you have a right to sell this property, will I be the legal owner if I proceed with the transaction?  In other cases, it may be a factor in a decision making process. As a consumer, how do I really know where this food item has come from? Is it really organic, or is it simply a marketing strategy? Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior are leveraging blockchain as part of an offensive strategy to deal with counterfeit goods. Initially applying to new items, the eventual intent is to be able to authenticate the item through the resale process and therefore manage it throughout its lifetime.

So, is blockchain more then bitcoin? Absolutely. And while it is still in its very early stages, keep watching. As a technology, there is no doubt that it in its infancy but this should only temper expectations and not prevent experimentation.

But wait, the blockchain action doesn’t stop here! Join us on October 15 with blockchain experts Shari Diaz, Innovation Strategy and Operations Program Director, IBM Watson Supply Chain and Professor Olinga Ta’eed, Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance in this webinar brought to you by IBM and Procurious. Click here to register for Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer.