Category Archives: Technology

Transparency In Supply Chains And Blockchain: What Is The Most Common Trap?

Becoming aware of blockchain’s weak spots is an important first step towards taking full advantage of what the technology really has to offer.


By Billion Photos / Shutterstock

Is Blockchain coming of age in 2019?

Judging by the first half of 2019, it seems that the blockchain hype is finally deflating and there is an overall consensus that it will not save the world (at least not this year…). The growing trend towards pragmatism, which is now beginning to temper people’s expectations, is the best thing that could happen to blockchain. . .  A more down-to-earth approach is welcome because, like any technology, blockchain is not perfect, nor the solution to all problems. It is important to be realistic about its potential and limitations.

In particular, blockchain has limitations that threaten to jeopardise many recent high-profile initiatives to increase traceability and visibility in the supply chain. Despite seeming like the ideal technology to address growing concerns about these aspects, most (if not all) blockchain implementations have an Achilles’ heel: the initial digitisation of data to bridge between the physical and the digital world.

Becoming aware of these weak spots is an important first step towards taking full advantage of what blockchain really has to offer. Blockchain’s real value proposition

There are many potential and valuable use cases for blockchain, especially in Procurement and Supply Chain Mgmt.  

“If you talk to supply chain experts, their three primary areas of pain are visibility, process optimisation, and demand management. Blockchain provides a system of trusted records that addresses all three.” Brigid McDermott, vice president, Blockchain Business Development & Ecosystem, at IBM (source Blockchain and Supply Chain Finance: the missing link!, Finextra)

The most valuable characteristic of blockchain is that it serves as a backbone for “convergence”:

  • For better insights and actionable intelligence: Blockchain is the missing link in Big Data initiatives and the convergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and blockchain represents a breakthrough.
  • From an integration perspective: Blockchain-based supply chains allow three different supply chains (physical/informational/financial) to converge into a single digital one.

Blockchain has the potential to converge the two main ecosystems involved in trade finance — the financial ecosystem, which includes banks and suppliers, and the supply chain ecosystem. At the same time, the technology can provide a unified platform for multiple stakeholders, potentially avoiding difficulties that slow down operations” Béatrice Collot, Head of Global Trade and Receivable Finance at HSBC quoted in Blockchain’s Main Strengths Are Transparency and Instantaneity on Cointelegraph

While these features will certainly contribute to improved supply chain transparency, there is still a critical challenge that needs to be addressed: the digitisation of data at the beginning of the process. This crucial step constitutes a fundamental weakness of many current digital supply chains.

Blockchain’s Achilles’ Heel: Mind the Gap!

Traceability and transparency along the supply chain, from raw materials to final products, is a growing concern for organisations. New regulations from governments & institutions, customer expectations, and company’s self-interest in issues like sustainability, incident management, and efficiency, have created the need for an infrastructure to track, trace, and store data in the supply chain.

At first glance, blockchain may seems like the ideal solution. It creates a permanent record of all transactions at all levels of the supply chain, guaranteeing full traceability and establishing trust. So, many companies started to provide blockchain-based means of collecting information in their supply chain with the goal of making it accessible to customers as irrefutable proof about the origin of products and components.

A typical story goes like this: “Thanks to our application, you can take a picture of the QR-code on your product and view the entire supply chain of all components/elements that contributed to the final product you have in your hands.”  

This sounds great in theory, but there is an important caveat:

 “At the interface between the offline world and its digital representation, the usefulness of the technology still critically depends on trusted intermediaries to effectively bridge the “last mile” between a digital record and a physical individual, business, device, or event. […] And if humans […] manipulate the data when it is entered, in a system where records are believed ex-post as having integrity, this can have serious negative consequences.” What Blockchain Can’t Do, Harvard Business Review

The use of blockchain technology gives people a false sense of security because it relies on cryptography and various mechanisms to ensure that information stored on it can be trusted (identity, immutable record, etc.). But, as illustrated above, the digitization step when the information is recorded (a block added) is not protected by this same “guarantee.”. So, it is not because blockchain technology supports and enables a better transparency that it should be blindly trusted by customers or by procurement or supply chain pros.

The solution?

It is undeniable that blockchain is a form of digital trust. Much of the hype surrounding it has been driven by a broader trend in society: the erosion of trust in people and institutions. Blockchain is playing a major role in shifting that trust to technology and software. This explains, in part, why compliance and transparency are the use cases that are priorities for procurement and supply chain pros.

However, it is important to remember that blockchain’s reputation as “trustworthy” can be misleading, especially in the case of supply chain transparency. Manual operations are still part of the initial process of digitizing the data. Therefore, trusting data stored in the blockchain also means trusting that initial step that relies on human activities.

For this reason, building trust in business partners will continue to be a vital part of the procurement function’s role in the future. Introducing digital initiatives will not entirely remove the human element of the job, and Procurement practitioners will need to continue working on establishing trust and nurturing it with suppliers and stakeholders.

Also, from a technology perspective, there are already initiatives to close the gap between physical and digital as much as possible. Interestingly, they focus on physical objects (crypto-hardware) and not just on software. These objects are the child of RFID, connected devices, and blockchain, with the intent to create a convergence between the Internet of Things and the Internet of Value (blockchain) to create the Value Internet of Things (VIoT).

In addition to the human and technological answers that will both contribute to creating a truly integrated supply chain (physical + informational + financial), a third component will remain essential: critical thinking.

Trust and verify!

Is AI The New Electricity?

For supply chain professionals, the drive to use AI is there. But how do organisations get to the point when AI-enabled supply chain management is the norm?

By kung_tom/ Shutterstock


“Electricity changed how the world operated. It upended transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, health care. AI is poised to have a similar impact. Artificial Intelligence already powers many of our interactions today. When you ask Siri for directions, peruse Netflix’s recommendations, or get a fraud alert from your bank, these interactions are led by computer systems using large amounts of data to predict your needs.”

Andrew Ng – Stanford University – March 2018

According to the results of our latest survey, Procurement 2030, supply chain pros are well aware of how impactful AI could be for their profession. Indeed, 92 per cent of professionals believe the profession will transform by 2030 as a direct result of new technological innovations. And 51 per cent predict that, with the help of AI, supply chain professionals will become an agile group of strategic advisors.

The intention to utilise technology is there. But how do organisations get to the point when AI-enabled supply chain management is the norm?

Getting started, and knowing where to start, is tough going – as with anything new and unknown. We know that many supply chain pros are concerned that implementing AI into their supply chains is a complex step. In fact, our survey takers ranked it as the technology they feared most difficult to adopt. But are their fears unfounded?

We want procurement pros to be pushing the limits on Industry 4.0, and the first to adopt new technologies.

And so, in our latest webinar – How AI Saved My Day Job: Confessions from a Supply Chain Pro we’ll be demonstrating that AI is the real deal by giving you the insider information, the low-down, on what it is delivering right now for supply chain teams.

Webinar speakers

We’ll be speaking with supply chain professionals who are already implementing AI in their organisations and have discovered that AI does provide a demonstrable bottom-line impact across all supply chains structures. Speakers include:

  • Rob Allan – Program Director, Supply Chain Insights Offering Management – IBM
  • Tania Seary Founder – Procurious
  • Connie Rekau – EDI Manager – The Master Lock Company
  • Nickolas Bonivento – EDI Manager – Anheuser-Busch InBev

When is the How AI Saved My Day Job webinar?

The webinar takes place on 15th May 10am ET / 3pm BST. Sign up or log in via the form above and we’ll be in touch ahead of the event to provide details on how to join the webinar live.

How do I listen to the How AI Saved My Day Job webinar?

Simply sign up here and you’ll be re-directed to the Supply Chain Pros group where you can access heaps of related content. You will also join the webinar mailing list, so we can provide you with details on how to access the webinar before it goes live.

Help! I can’t make it to the live-stream of the How AI Saved My Day Job webinar?

No problem! If you can’t make the live-stream you can catch up whenever it suits you. We’ll be making it available on Procurious soon after the event (and will be sure to send you a link) so you can listen at your leisure!

Do I have to be a member of Procurious to access the How AI Saved My Day Job webinar?

Yes. To access the webinar you’ll need to sign up to Procurious. You’ll be joining a community of 30,000 like-minded procurement and supply chain peers and gain access to all Procurious’ free resources. You’ll be joining a community of 30,000 like-minded procurement and supply chain peers and gain access to all Procurious’ free resources.

Could AI revolutionise your supply chain and save your day job – allowing you to make better decisions, more efficiently and in a more repeatable way over time? Let’s find out!

Could You Afford To Lose $2 Billion In Sales?

What does digital transformation mean for the procurement and supply chain profession?  How will it help CPOs to mange risk in their supply chains?

By DimaPalich/ Shutterstock

The concept of digital transformation has been around for quite a while, ISM CEO Tom Derry argues. “In the late 90s we started doing reverse auctions and e-auctions. Not too long after that dynamic discounting began to enter the equation and FinTech platforms have also been around for a while. We’ve been embracing it but recently we’ve hit a pause in that innovation wave. And it seems like we’re on the brink of this next wave.”

How will digital transformation transform procurement and supply chain?

Digital transformation is the full impact or outcome of using data on elevated platforms to really reinvent what procurement and supply chain professionals are doing.

“In the source-to-settle process we typically identify 37 discreet steps” explains Tom. “And we think four technologies – procure-to-pay platforms, RPA, machine learning and IoT – will mean that all but eight or nine of those discreet tasks will be automated.” This, of course frees up time for humans carry out only the most important things like stakeholder management and supplier relationship management, the things that can only happen as a result of conversations between people.

Indeed, it is these soft skills that will galvanise the procurement and supply chain professions and make them step out into the future. When data is pointing you in different directions and the computers don’t know what to do, that’s when you step in.

Is supply management ready for change?

A recent survey revealed that only 6 per cent of CPOs possess the strategic leadership traits to lead digital and analytical transformations.

“I’d say there is a lot of discomfort. People don’t really understand the technologies we’re talking about and they don’t necessarily have the in-house skills,” says Tom.

“An interesting example is the technology that is currently being piloted in 30-40 per cent of large companies – RPA.” And yet most people don’t even understand what this technology is. “They think it means a robot from ‘lost in space’ when we’re actually talking about software code. The code fits into the gap between systems so imagine your ERP system, your spend analytics tool and any other systems you’re using. We’re typically trying to build reports by extracting data from these disparate sets of data, putting them in a data warehouse or a data lake, doing some analysis and running reports.

“RPA can automate most of that work so a human doesn’t have to go in and identify the data. RPA is good at doing routine, highly-defined processes.” This frees up the time of professionals so that, instead of spending half the day obtaining and cleansing the data, time can be spent on activities where there is real value-add. “The insights and the applications, for me, is the real opportunity.”

Selling the benefits of digital transformation

How does Tom advise managing those risk averse CPOs, who are reluctant to take the plunge with new technologies? Can you overcome that and sell the benefits to them?

“One of the biggest pay-offs for even the most risk averse CPOs is using digital tech to visualise the risk in your supply chain.

“I heard about a publicly traded pharmaceutical company in the states who did a risk analysis and claimed that anything less than $1M in spend is so small it’s immaterial. They wouldn’t even look at it. But it turned out they had $200,000 in spend on a coating for a consumer medication, which supported $2B in annual sales.

“[The plant in Japan that produced this coating] had a fire and they were at risk of losing all of these sales. If that doesn’t get the board’s attention, I don’t know what will. So when it comes to risk, that’s where the immediate benefits will be!”

When it comes to digital transformation, people know they need to be educated. “you have to get as smart as you can on what’s coming!” says Tom.

In our 10-part “Tuesdays With Tom” podcast series, Tom Derry discusses a broad range of critically important topics that every supply management professional should be across.

Listen to the full podcast here.

5 Steps To Providing Procurement As A Service 

The core activity of Procurement 4.0 will be to deliver <<as a service>> in the same way that cloud technology has evolved…

By Black Salmon/ Shutterstock

At Ivalua Now The Art of Procurement earlier this month, Emmanuel Erba, Group Chief Procurement Officer – Executive Vice President -Capgemini discussed what the journey leading us to Procurement 4.0 could look like.

In an unprecedented period of technological disruptions, we simply cannot escape them. Emanuel advised that procurement professionals choose to see this as a realm of opportunity and question how to deliver all the promises of digital transformation to our clients.

The procurement environment is changing and this must be embraced or the profession will sink like a stone, he warned.

Unpredendented disruptions

  1. Cloud : Cloud is now the primary way of delivering and consuming IT – it’s the new normal. No one can imagine running a business without cloud computing
  2. Cybersecurity:  Last year, 689 million people globally were victims of cybercrime. By 2020 60 per cent of businesses will suffer major service failures. In today’s world, no CEO goes to bed certain that tomorrow their company will not to be impacted by a cyber threat. Cybersecurity needs to be integrated within our systems
  3. Business Platforms: These are a core feature of our current landscape. Business platforms have enabled getting the client closer to the supplier
  4. Industry 4.0
  5. AI and automation: This will strongly disrupt data gathering and processing. Repetitive and mundane tasks will be automated

What would your CEO say if you asked them what their priorities are? It’s likely that the way you manage costs is not high in the agenda. It’s important to understand what top management wants and what your clients expect and then work out how your procurement team can address these needs.

Emmanuel believes that the core activity of procurement 4.0 will be to deliver <<as a service>> in the same way that cloud technology has evolved.

Five forces driving the market towards <<as a service>>

  1. Time to scale – The speed at which the biggest brands are growing is ever-increasing. For organisations including Youtube, Amazon and Android the time taken to go from 0-80 per cent WW market share is only five years
  2. Disintermediate– Direct access to the resource to capture value – for example Uber, AirBnB and Apple
  3. Go to market – GTM via most powerful marketplaces powered by AI, automation, analytics. For example, digital ads sold Teslas with $70 million in advertising investments
  4. Revenue share – All of these factor are funded by 20-30 per cent revenue share model and leverage of client assets
  5. Investment power – Free cash flow generated enables immense CAPEX ability and acquisitions

5 steps to providing procurement <<as a service>>

For procurement, the 4.0 wave should

  1. Integrate disruptions – let’s not ignore disruptions, Emmanuel argues, they are much more powerful than us!
  2. Gear its people to embrace – Globalise!
  3. Position its role as aggregator of services, either internal or external, and map them to the business outcomes of the organisation
  4. Adopt the platforms that will increase the speed of execution, the automation and the data insights
  5. Think not only bottom line impact but being a Growth Enabler

In the <<as a service>> world, you don’t need to integrate everything vertically, but rather focus on your key differentiators and aggregate other services in the most effective way thinking in terms of meaningful outcomes.

Procurement as a service can address sizable needs both in direct and indirect spend. As Emmanuel revealed Procurement cloud addresses a $5 trillion scope.

Procurious attended Ivalua Now The Art of Procurement earlier this month. Find out more here.