New computers can analyse a million rows of data in minutes. So why not let the computer do the heavy lifting? As a supply chain professional of the future, you won’t be manually processing data. You will have data you can trust at your fingertips, as well as meaningful insights. The rest will be up to you! IBM’s Takshay Aggarwal explains.
In the future, what will separate the successful supply chains from the rest?
In 20 years of supply chain experience, Takshay has never seen a supply and demand shock at the same time.
“It’s completely changed how supply chain planning is done,” Takshay says.
Before, people used historical data to project demand – usually with a 5-10% variability or 1-2% percent for really mature organisations.
But even with a high level of accuracy, too many companies were unsure which supplies were coming when.
“Processes were so monthly and weekly orientated,” Takshay adds. “There was no sense of response; it was all about, ‘We’re used to this stepwise process and will get to it when we get to it.”
The result? Slow response time and lost sales. And reaction time was seriously hampered by years of cost cutting.
“An easy analogy is that you can cut and cut the fat to the bone, but when you need to run, where is the muscle?” Takshay says.
Sensing the market
That’s not true for all organisations, of course. Some companies invested in the right technology to detect changes in the market, which enabled them to respond quickly.
Takshay uses the example of two big retailers during the early days of the pandemic.
“One retailer had sensing and response capabilities,” Takshay explains. “They secured all the available supplies in the market. Their shelves were stocked and their sales were booming.”
On the other hand, the second retailer’s supply chain officer was slow to respond. “They had traditional ways of doing stuff and their shelves were empty.”
The difference between the two? “One supply chain officer is now promoted to the board and the other is finding a new job.”
That’s why it’s so crucial to have the tools in place to detect market fluctuation and respond.
Looking at data differently
Going forward, how will you prepare for disruption – not only for your suppliers, but your suppliers’ suppliers?
The solution is incorporating non-traditional data for demand planning, Takshay says.
“Let’s say a discretionary spend category like electronics or fashion; you need to understand how unemployment is panning out in certain areas because that determines the footfall in your store,” Takshay says.
Non-traditional data includes areas of demographics like looking at unemployment or how a disease is spreading.
“You will start seeing a lot of what we call demand sensing in the near term, and driver-based forecasting which is trying to understand larger drivers in terms of promotions, in terms of macroeconomic factors,” Takshay explains.
“I think that’s where we’ll see demand sensing capabilities, like trying to understand the near term impact of weather or demographics and how they affect demand.”
Spreadsheets won’t cut it
Technology will also change how you use that non-traditional data, Takshay says.
That’s because higher computational power creates the ability to process data at lightning speed.
“The basic math hasn’t changed, but what has changed is how fast you can ingest that data,” Takshay says.
Think of it this way. How long would it take you to analyse a million rows in an Excel spreadsheet? Yet for some of these new models, a million rows is nothing.
Artificial intelligence can quickly process large amounts of data, making it easier to extract meaningful data.
It will also be easier to bring in different sources of data – as and when – they’re relevant.
For example, data about the pandemic spread might be a big consideration now, but six months from now it might not be relevant (fingers crossed!)
Instead, you may be more interested to ingest data at scale about economic recovery. AI can help you make sense of a huge amount of data and understand correlations – something that used to take an army of data scientists to uncover.
Welcome to efficiency
That ability to analyse vast quantities of data will also make demand planning a lot easier.
“If you ask any demand planners, 60 to 70% of their work today is about cleansing and harmonising data, and 20-30% is figuring out what it’s saying,” says Takshay.
Now, technology can eliminate much of that manual processing. In fact, Takshay says IBM estimates around 40 to 60% of that work will be covered.
“Now imagine if you’re a demand planner and you don’t have to go through those daily tasks to get the data cleansed,” Takshay says.
Making it personal
So what does the future hold for supply chain?
Takshay predicts consumer demand is moving toward mass personalisation. The challenge for procurement teams will be supporting that personalisation in production, without losing efficiency or driving up costs.
“Ten years from now, we will be talking more about how we can better understand the consumer,” Takshay says.
“Everything will be done by machine. Supply chain may become irrelevant. It all becomes about mass personalisation so that’s where we start putting our efforts.”
That’s why human empathy will be an even more essential skill. Quantum computing could eliminate 80% of today’s procurement tasks, so our greater contribution is using human emotion to meet customer needs.
Discover the value that a procure-to-pay (P2P) system can deliver to your business today and over the next five years.
The evolution of procure-to-pay (P2P) has accelerated dramatically over the past few years. And we can expect the pace to pick up further over the years to come. Originally, procure-to-pay / purchase-to-pay technology was seen as a way to connect procurement to finance via accounts payable, and as such it started life in the form of expensive and rather inflexible bolt-ons to on premise enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. No wonder that for many years,P2P did not have the greatest of reputations, even among procurement professionals.
In the early 2000s, dedicated eProcurement systems emerged. Yet, many large enterprises still do all their purchasing and accounts payables through their ERP systems, even though this leaves much of the process highly dependent on paper in the handling of purchases orders, requisitions, goods receipts and invoicing. Or, in one word, routine. Many ERP implementations even lack a requisitioning facility and a means to communicate electronically with suppliers.
As to accounts payable, in many organisations that do not have a dedicated, built for purpose procure-to-pay solution, vendor invoices still arrive by mail or email and the data must be keyed manually into an ERP or other finance system. If the benefits of touchless invoicing were not already apparent, they have certainly become so in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The other major issue that continues to plague many organisations is our old friend, maverick spend (or off-contract buying), which is especially likely to occur when anyone looking to purchase items needed for everyday use is confronted with bureaucratic obstacles. Shopping online and submitting an expense report is much easier than submitting a requisition or purchase order that takes ages to process. Without a dedicated P2P system, maverick spend is difficult to monitor effectively. It results in lost money as employees buy at retail prices when you should be securing handsome bulk or wholesale discounts.
(Although worse than that, it forces happy-go-lucky procurement professionals into the role ofjobsworths …)
And heaven knows, after years of online shopping with the likes of Amazon, corporate buyers expect the option to order online and enjoy an e-shopping experience comparable to the one they enjoy as private consumers. They expect an experience that is user-friendly, intuitive, and frictionless. Running low on stationery? Simply pick items from a catalog, review the shopping cart and place the order. And maybe pay with a V-card (single user account) number.
This can all be done via a procurement department’s P2P solution – against contracts negotiated with preferred suppliers. The P2P solution allows end-users to shop and track orders as easily as if they were shopping online, with the added benefit that all the information the procurement department needs is captured too, giving greater transparency. Plus, if the P2P solution is integrated with upstream processes such as contracts management and sourcing, the ability to monitor supplier performance against negotiated terms and non-price terms and conditions.
What you should look for in P2P now
A few years ago, people were still asking ifprocure-to-pay automation is worth it. I think that case has now been definitively answered. Especially if you wish to demonstrate the value of procurement – your value – to the business.
A P2P software suite integrates and automates the entire back-office lifecycle of requisitioning, purchasing, receiving, paying, and accounting for indirect goods and services. By creating standard workflows between buyers, procurement and accounting departments, a P2P solution should provide more transparency into, and control over, indirect spend and should create a more congenial relationship between all stakeholders. SaaS technology accessed in the cloud, such as the JAGGAER ONE suite, has made affordable, flexible and technically versatile solutions P2P available. A major advantage of SaaS is the ability to update functionality and innovate continuously without affecting the normal day-to-day operation of the core solution.
What you should look for in future
Over the coming years P2P will increasingly leverage artificial intelligence, natural language processing and robotic procurement automation to deliver an even better buying experience on the one hand, while further cutting costs, increasing efficiency, reducing risk and improving governance and insight on the other. Generally speaking, you can expect P2P solutions to be more open, network-oriented, autonomous, collaborative and intelligent.
Here are seven trends that I think you can reasonably expect to reshape P2P not in some distant future but between now and 2025.
· It will be a more collaborative environment for all stakeholders (internal and external) with full compliance, validations and approvals. P2P and MRP systems will collaborate through direct material order and fulfilment; P2P and corporate treasury will collaborate to support cash flow planning and optimize working capital
· It will be more autonomous by taking charge of routine tasks such as all forms payment management and processing, improving the productivity of the payment process and the financial health of the supply chain
· It will empower open business networks bringing together the entire community of buyers and suppliers, integrating and accessing external services and market intelligence feeds
· It will be interactive with smart assistants assisting you through guided buying, vendor management and other chores
· Enhanced intelligence will enable P2P systems to act proactively on behalf of users learning from and using all data sources and knowledge to make improvement recommendations to all stakeholder activities and the P2P process
· It will deliver win-win finance programs to buyers and suppliers, for example dynamic discounting and supply chain finance programs
· The focus of P2P will shift further fromsavings to value, reinforcing procurement’s profile as a strategic partner to the business
Conversational systems for guided buying and vendor management
Let’s stop calling them chatbots! Digital or smart help organizations will increase efficiency and achieve high levels of P2P user adoption because of their easy interfaces and clear answers. AI combined with natural language processing (NLP) has opened the door to new, more natural, and more intuitive interfaces that stimulate conversation with humans. There are many uses for digital assistants in procurement – too many to list here. However, the central issue is that procurement specialists are increasingly dealing with vast quantities of data, which means that a lot of their time is spent looking for information rather than using it. They will enable procurement specialists to converse with their AI-powered procurement software, which will do the heavy lifting involved in finding the relevant information and making intelligent suggestions as to what actions need to be taken in specific situations.
Through machine learning the digital assistant will be able learn about your preferences and your organisation’s policies and procedures. A good example is guided buying, whereby a person who needs to buy something will interact with procurement via a conversation conducted by a digital assistant. Based on the procurement strategy (preferred suppliers, preferred items, contracts in place, history of purchases, etc.), the digital assistant will propose solutions, perhaps looking through huge volumes of catalog entries to identify specific products or suggest alternatives.
Digital assistants can also be deployed for handling queries from suppliers, avoiding a lot of back-and-forth correspondences. I think they will become more engaging and human-like in their interactions with you. That, after all, was the original promise of artificial intelligence. But nobody’s perfect, so if the digital assistant cannot find the right answer, it can of course direct the user to a genuine flesh and blood procurement professional (you, for instance).
What innovations would you like to see, or expect to see, in procure-to-pay over the next five years? Let us know in the comments below! Keep up with the latest innovations at the 2020 Global Big Ideas Summit.
Step away from the emoji button. Read on to learn how to build genuine influence in your personal brand. Learn to move beyond the micro engagements of liking and sharing. Be bold and brave – expand your connections and network by following our pro tips.
Mirror mirror on the wall
While browsing idly through social media recently I concluded that many of my peers have confused visibility with influence. Procurement is a small industry especially if you’re in a niche field or a small country. What makes this contracted market even smaller is that we stare into our own reflection.
Seek to expand not reinforce the bubble
Commenting, liking, gaining followers and profiling only those within your bubble only serves to reinforce the echo chamber that you reside in. Expansion and growth should be the aim of the game and that’s the trick that many are missing!
Number of likes and connections is not influence
All the chat about the importance of “raising your profile” has seen many people reach for the emoji button. They equate visibility and these micro engagements with achieving influence. I’ve even heard some peers brag about it “mate did you see my pic? Got 12 likes, brilliant ay? I’m raising my profile and building influence.” Um no, but I’m glad people liked your photo.
Sure, visibility will get your name out there and you’ll make connections but just like the platforms we use in our personal life, professional networking sites can create a trap for the uninitiated. They offer so much more than just how many followers you have!
Think about how you engage online, do you make the most of all opportunities?
Chance to connect with and observe thought leaders
Expand your learning beyond your sector and follow other industry trends
Grow your knowledge of different areas within your technical field
Expand your support base by utlising online connections
Taking part in free webinars
Check out these tips to ensure you are getting the most out of your Procurious experience!
Fear stops meaningful engagement and expansion
Platforms where personal profiles are created on a “work self” image can fuel the fire if people view their professional / work self as separate to their “real life” self. On professional networking sites people can struggle to make genuine comments, challenge / ask questions or engage meaingfully for fear of looking dumb or speaking out of turn.
It’s such a lost opportunity! Don’t be afraid to be yourself, engage and connect with people.
What is influence and why care?
Influence is earned and grows over time. The difference between visibility and influence is that with a focus on your sphere of influence and who you engage with, you are building longevity and sustainability into your personal brand and therefore your career. You are thinking beyond your immediate role or even career.
There are many studies out there that have shown that people will change their careers significantly two or three times over the course of their lives, as described in this NY Times article.
How to get started
Hold up, I hear you… how on earth and am I meant to do that?
Start the same way everyone else does but don’t limit your professional networking to just likes, commenting and growing your connections. Keep your eye on the bigger prize.
Step one: getting started
Join an accredited membership organisation like CIPS or IACCM. There are usually many ways to get involved and connect with lots of people through these avenues. This provides a supportive environment to get involved in chairing committees and speaking / hosting events.
Awards. Keep an eye out for industry awards, nominate your team or yourself! I’ve seen some surprise winners – the only thing that set them apart from others was that they simply backed themselves and applied.
Network. Don’t simply add just people on social media, if you do send an invitation add a note and make sure it’s relevant to something they just posted or wrote about. Think of people in your industry, can you reach out to any of them for a coffee chat? And then ask, who else do you think might be of value for me to connect with?
Content. Remember the dictionary definition of influence: “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself.” what content are you producing or contributing to that is building impact?
Step two: grow
Use your network of genuine connections to try and find ways to get involved in different projects and start expanding your reach.
Offer to mentor someone
Offer to host an event at your organisation
Ask for speaking opportunities
Write your own blog on an existing platform or your own profile
Connect with people through the content you’re consuming e.g procurious webinars and groups!
Ask to shadow a senior for a day to learn what they do
Talk to your suppliers and learn the other side of the fence
Learn from other sectors and follow other thought leaders for inspiration
Find someone you admire and see if you can unpick what makes them tick. You can check out Kelly Barner’s journey for some inspo
Think about yourself as a brand, what do you want to be known for?
Take the plunge! Expand your connections beyond micro engagements and you will add sustainability and longevity to your personal brand.
Remember: be yourself, be humble and be authentic.
Technology will only make a difference in supply chain management if it’s tailored directly to your company’s needs.
Let’s get this straight: technology can’t fix everything. There’s no magic wand to solve every supply chain problem.
But technology can make your processes better. That means more time, money, efficiency, happy customers, and happy bosses.
And who doesn’t want that?
I’ve seen companies of all sizes improve their process flow with technology and make huge savings.
But that only happens when two conditions are met:
1) They choose the right technology. What does “right” mean? It depends on a host of factors, but in essence it’s solving a need or filling a major gap. Understand the business need first, then find the tech that fits – not the other way around.
2) The system is used the right way. That means getting full use out of it without exceeding the intended purpose. You get the maximum benefit without depleting other resources.
Don’t get wet
Consider this analogy: you need to go from one side of town to the other in the middle of a storm without getting wet. You know a motorcycle and a car can both get you there in time, but only the car would get you there dry.
This is what selecting the right technology is about. To borrow another vehicle metaphor, don’t use a Ferrari when a Ford will do. An all-singing, all-dancing system might look flashy, but it might be way too much for what your company actually needs.
Procurement and Supply Chain work the same way; getting to the other side of town means nothing more than sustainable profitability, competitive edge and market share. And the storm? Well, that’s just risk mitigation in the business world.
Getting the job done
Here’s a look at how real companies are using the right tech to save money and be more resilient.
Look no further than a global distributor of chemicals who recently chose a full guided-buying suite. They took away the manual labour by processing POs automatically. The result? Increased supplier payment compliance, reduced tail spend, and more resources for tactical and strategic decision making.
The right technology enables and accelerates communication. Your ability to react effectively to market conditions relies heavily on promptness and clarity. Technology can link your business operations to your supply base so you never miss a beat.
Suppliers need to know where things are at any given point. And equally, you need to know what is going on with your supplies, assessing all potential risks. That way, you can mitigate disruption in real-time.
Take a US leader in food distribution for example. We recently led them through a full spend analytics effort to identify cost savings opportunities. The result? They saved USD $10M in one year.
Interpret and analyse data
Data analytics is no longer a competitive advantage; it’s a core necessity. Even something as simple as spend analytics is a powerful tool that can inform strategic decisions at the top level.
Break down silos and bridge functions
From Procurement to Accounts Payable to Operations, technology can provide a collaborative platform that everyone can access and understand. Everyone has access to the full information across the board, taking what they need and staying aligned.
That level of visibility across different functions can showcase how valuable you are to the company. Like a global leader of consumer products who recently leveraged a mix of eSourcing technology and advisory services.
They were able to demonstrate savings on a multitude of sourcing and category events while tying them to the financial goals of the organisation, effectively impacting the EBITDA and Cash metrics.
What CEO wouldn’t love to hear that?
Decrease redundancy, increase efficiency
Technology provides a platform for businesses to digest more, process more and err less. This alone saves significant resources, making the organisation and its suppliers more productive.
Within the supply chain commitments, adequate performance and managed expectations are as critical as regulatory compliance. Technology can provide a platform for managing relationships, honouring commitments, and upholding agreements. All of that leads to better relationships.
Just look at a global pharmaceutical leader who implemented a supplier management module across the board. As a result, it can now classify its entire supply chain based on critical risk metrics.
That means the global operations are adequately diversified and critical suppliers are handling processes and data with the highest security compliance, privacy, and environmental sensitivity.
The smooth road to resilience
All of the companies I mentioned had different priorities. That’s why you need to choose technology that meets your specific needs.
And as you can tell, there are infinite combinations of tools and applications that can be used to “get to the other side of town”. But the idea is to get to the other side not just in one piece, but also in sturdier conditions. It’s about learning in the way, enduring and increasing resilience.
The key to come up with a combination that balances needs with budgets and aligns with your strategic vision, starts with defining what success looks like for your supply chain and those entities who manage it.
Modular, cloud based, and service driven technologies provide the needed flexibility toward the easiest and most yielding path to success.
According to the company, Comfy limits the number of staff in the building at any one time. It also helps staff maintain distance at work.
People use it to reserve desks, meeting rooms, and even see office occupancy in real time.
But here’s where it gets really interesting, the app allows staff to control their environment. That’s right; employees have the granddaddy of all controls – the ability to change the temperature in their immediate workspace.
Using the app, they can control the thermostat and even dim the lights if they want. Imagine how many office arguments that would solve.
“Our priority is to protect our people so they can return to the workplace safely and confidently wherever they are,” says Roland Busch, Deputy CEO at Siemens AG. “By using smart office technologies, we can reshape how we work.”
“Our Comfy app supports our new mobile working model, by enabling employees to better plan when they choose to work from the office.”
Call the germ-busters
But once you’re at work, how can you stay safe? There’s no shortage of products on the market aimed at office hygiene.
Like the Hygenx wand from Hamilton Buhl. Simply wave the wand over your keyboard, and the UV-C light will kill bacteria.
Before you rush out to get your own wand, do your research, warns the US Food and Drug Administration.
That’s because there isn’t enough data about how much UV-C exposure your surfaces need to quash COVID-19.
You could always use something low-tech like antibacterial wipes. But where’s the fun in that?
Instead, make sanitising more dramatic with a ghostbuster-style office fogger.
Closer to home
Let’s be honest though; many of us won’t be going back to the office for a while.
And some may not go back at all. Twitter made headlines this year for allowing employees to work from home permanently.
With that in mind, how can technology help you from home?
Well, fear not if you have “Zoom fatigue.” Microsoft Teams’ solution is the new “together” feature, which puts you all in the same virtual room. Say goodbye to squares.
In fact, this same technology is being used to bring fans closer together for NBA basketball games.
Access for all
Technology opens up opportunities for people to work in the way they choose. And companies have no choice but to adapt, allowing people greater flexibility in how they work.
Now, employers have the chance to include all employees by making accessibility the default.
Jane Hatton, founder of inclusive UK recruitment firm Evenbreak, agrees.
“People are frightened of disability because they think it’s going to be incredibly expensive for all the adjustments,” Hatton recently told the Financial Times. “But in fact they’re simple and cheap.”
“The technology is there already — it’s just a question of using it in a way that’s inclusive.”
Employers might be surprised to find just how many accessible tools they already have at their fingertips.
Is your organisation working with ‘dirty data’? How would you know? And, what impact is it having? This article has everything you need to know about doing a quick spot check, spotting procurement problems, identifying savings, and more importantly, making sure your data has its COAT on.
We all think we know what dirty data is, but it can mean very different things depending on who you speak to. At its most basic level, dirty data is anything incorrect. In detail within procurement, it could be misspelled vendors, incorrect Invoice descriptions, missing product codes, lack of standard units of measure (e.g. ltr, L, litres), currency issues, duplicate invoices or incorrect/partially classified data.
Dirty data can affect the whole organisation, and we all have an impact on, and responsibility for the data we work with. Accurate data should be everyone’s responsibility, but currently across many organisations data is the sole responsibility of a person or department, and everyone trusts them to make sure the data is accurate.
But, they tend to be specialists in data, analytics and coding, not procurement. They don’t have the experience to know when a hotel should be classified as accommodation or as venue hire, or what direct, indirect or tail spend is and its importance or priority.
How many times have you been working with a data set and noticed a small error but not said anything, or just manually corrected something from an automated report, just get it out the door on time? It feels like too much of an inconvenience to find the right person to notify, so you just correct the error each time yourself, or you raise a ticket for the issue but never get round to checking if it’s resolved.
These small errors that you think aren’t that important can filter all the way up to the top of an organisation through reports and dashboards where critical decisions are being made. It happens almost every day.
How does this affect my organisation?
There are many ways, but one of the most widespread and noticeable impacts is around reporting and analytics. If you’re in senior management, you will most likely receive a dashboard from your team that you could be using to review cost savings, supplier negotiations, rationalisation, forecasting or budgets.
What if within that dashboard was £25k of cleaning spend under IBM? I can already hear you saying “that’s ridiculous” – well, it is obvious when pointed out, but I have seen with my own eyes IBM classified as cleaning. It can happen easily and occurs more frequently than you might think.
Back to that dashboard that you are using to make decisions, you’ll see increased spend in your cleaning category, and a decrease in your IT spend, which could affect discounts with your supplier, your forecast for the year, monitoring of contract compliance etc… It could even affect reporting of your inventory, it appears you need more laptops, and unnecessary purchases are made.
When there are tens or hundreds of thousands of rows of data, errors will occur multiple times across many suppliers. And for the wider organisation, this could affect demand planning, sales, marketing and financial decisions.
And then there are technology implementations. Rarely is data preparation considered before the implementation of any new software or systems, and there can even be the assumption that the software supplier will do this, which may not be the case, and if they do provide that service it might not be good enough.
It can be very far into the process of implementation before this is uncovered, by which time staff have lost faith in using the software, are disengaged, claim it doesn’t work, or they don’t trust it because “it’s wrong”.
At this point, it either costs a lot of money to fix and you have to hope staff will engage again, or the project is abandoned. In either case, this can take months and cost thousands, not millions of pounds/euros/dollars in abandoned software or reparation work.
You might also be considering using, or engaging with a 3rd party supplier that uses AI, machine learning or some form of automation. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of cleansing and preparing your data before using any of these tools.
Think back to the IBM example, each quarter the data is refreshed automatically with the cleaning classification, that £25k becomes £50k, then £75k the following quarter, it’s only when the value becomes significant that someone notices the issue. By this stage, how many decisions have been based on this incorrect information?
How can this be resolved?
Truthfully, it’s with a lot of hard work. There’s no magic bullet or miracle solution out there to improve the accuracy of your data: you have to use your team or an experienced professional to get the job done. Get your team to familiarise themselves with the data. If they are reviewing and maintaining it regularly they will soon be able to spot errors in the data quickly and efficiently.
If you think about data accuracy in terms of COAT, this will help to manage your data.
It should always be Consistent – everyone working to the same standards; Organised – categorised properly; and Accurate – correct. And only when you have these things will it also be Trustworthy – you wouldn’t drive around in a car without a regular inspection would you?
How to spot procurement problems and identify savings
Accurate data is important, but in its raw state, it’s not the whole story. As a procurement professional you’re tasked with ensuring the best prices for products or services, as well as ensuring contract compliance on those prices, along with cost reductions and monitoring any maverick spend … to name but a few!
Accurate data alone will not help achieve this, I strongly recommend supplier normalisation and spend data classification to help quickly and efficiently manage spend and suppliers, monitor pricing and spot any potential misuse of budgets.
How do I get started?
With a spreadsheet of spend transactions over a period of time such as 12 to 24 months, the first step should be Supplier Normalisation, where a new column is added to consolidate several versions of the same company to get a true picture of spend with that one supplier. For example, I.B.M, IBM Ltd, I.B.M. would all be normalised to IBM.
Data can be classified using minimum information, such as Supplier Name, Invoice/PO line description and value. To get more from the data, other factors can then be added in, such as unit price. Where unit price information is not available, the quantity can be divided by the overall value.
A suitable taxonomy will then need to be found to classify the data. It can be an off the shelf product such as ProClass, UNSPSC, PROC-HE, or a taxonomy can be customised so it’s specific to your organisation or industry.
This initial stage may take months if you are working with large volumes of data. It might be worth considering outsourcing this initial task to professionals experienced in this area, who will be able to complete the project in a shorter time, with greater accuracy.
Avoiding common pitfalls
There are a number of ways to classify the data> However, to get started, look for keywords in the Supplier Name and then the Description column. The description of services could include ‘hotel, taxi, cleaning services, cleaning products, etc., however, it’s important to carefully check the descriptions before classifying, or errors could be introduced. A classic example is “taxi from hotel to restaurant”, depending on which keyword you search for first, it could end up being misclassified as transport, or venue costs.
I wouldn’t advise classifying row by row, as it could take more than twice as long to complete the file using this method. Start with keywords, followed by the highest value suppliers which you can get from a pivot table of the data if you’re working in Excel.
Once classified, charts can be built to analyse the data. The analysis could include, ‘top 80% of suppliers by spend’; ‘number of suppliers by category’; ‘unit price by product by month’; ‘spend by category’; or ‘spend by month.’
Patterns should start to emerge which could reveal unusually high or low spend in a category, irregular pricing, higher than expected use of services, or a higher than expected number of suppliers within a category.
Why you should strive for data accuracy and classification?
Data accuracy is an investment, not a cost. Address the issues at the beginning: while it might seem like a costly exercise, you will undoubtedly spend less than if you have a to resolve an issue further down the line with a time-consuming and costly data clean-up operation. And by involving the whole team or organisation, it will be much easier to manage and maintain the most accurate data possible.
Spend data classification shows you the whole picture, as long as it’s accurate. You can get a true view of your spend, allowing improved cost savings, better contract compliance and possibly the most important – preventing costly mistakes before they happen.
So, does your data have its COAT on? What does ‘dirty data’ mean to you? Let me know below!
Prior to the pandemic, a “just in time” inventory management strategy worked wonderfully well for most supply chains, but “just in time is only able to respond to certain fluctuations,” Takshay said.
When the pandemic drove large-scale disruption, the strategy unravelled. Retailers, for example, were left with empty shelves, late deliveries, and no warning about shipping delays.
And it wasn’t just retail. Industries across the board lacked critical products because companies didn’t have visibility into their tier 2 to tier 10 suppliers – where 40% of supply chain disruptions occur.
Suddenly, companies were scrambling to change supply strategies.
“The companies who have started on transformation journeys before COVID have fared much better,” Takshay said.
In fact, IBM’s visibility of its own internal supply chain meant it could predict the supply chain impact from the pandemic much sooner than most.
Path to resilience
So how do you get that same level of visibility and resiliency across your supply chain?
It starts by asking the right question.
“[People should be asking] ‘what kind of supply chain do I need to have?’” Takshay said.
That’s why the smart companies are re-balancing their risk appetite.
A real control tower
A resilient supply chain is a transparent supply chain. And the only way to get that crucial visibility is having a smart control tower.
The concept of a control tower isn’t new. It’s a place to pool data from across your supply chain, and use it to make informed decisions.
The right tower helps you see problems a long way off, so you can minimise disruption and maximise profitability.
But Takshay noted a worrying trend in procurement where any sort of dashboard is called a “control tower”.
That’s a problem, since most inventory control towers are seriously limited. And you can’t make excellent decisions without knowing the full picture.
The result? You can make decisions with confidence, knowing you have all the external information you need.
Problem 3) Most tower controls can’t get into the nitty-gritty detail.
A crucial flaw in most control towers is they lack granular detail. That’s a pretty big issue when your job hinges on knowing the right details.
So instead of depending on people to enter the right data in the right place at just the right time, there’s a smarter way.
IBM’s control tower gives you the microscopic detail you need to make confident decisions.
Problem 4) Most tower controls are inflexible.
A major drawback for most inventory control towers is the rigid structure.
There’s only one way to input data, and don’t even dream of changing the architecture. But the pandemic showed us how fast everything can change and how flexible and agile your supply chain needs to be to respond effectively.
You need a control tower that can keep up with the reality of supply chains today. That’s why the IBM Sterling Supply Chain Control Tower is ideal. It adapts to fit your business needs – no matter how quickly they change.
Problem 5) Most control towers predict the future based on past events.
If you don’t have real-time visibility across your supply chain, you are making decisions based on past events, Takshay said.
At the very least, a control tower should give you current information. But IBM takes it a step further with predictive capabilities.
The control tower looks for patterns in your data – flagging possible issues before they happen. That way, you can quickly adapt and avoid disruption.
Don’t wait for perfection
Control towers go a long way toward visibility and resiliency, but they aren’t a silver bullet, Takshay said.
So instead of waiting for perfection, start bringing your systems together now.
“The more visibility and the more integration, the more resilience,” Takshay said. “You’re able to bounce back much faster.”
If you want greater supply chain resiliency, you need greater visibility.
And you’ll get that level of visibility if you choose a control tower that actually gives you control.
There are many ways hackers steal data, but two of the most common are exploiting IT system weakness and employee error.
Why do hackers launch cyber-attacks?
By far the biggest motivation is money. Criminals steal your information and use it to:
· sell on to other criminals
· steal your identity (credit card info, etc)
· blackmail you by controlling your computer, demanding a ransom
These criminals are looking for the quickest and easiest ways to make money. Much like a thief that checks all the doors in a neighbourhood trying to find one that’s unlocked, says security expert Lillian Ablon.
“These [cybercrime] markets are dispersed, diverse, and segmented—rapidly growing, constantly changing, and innovating to keep pace with consumer trends and prevent law enforcement and security vendors from understanding them,” Ablon explained.
“They come in many forms.”
Who are these hackers?
Forget the stereotype of a lone hacker in their mother’s basement; these criminals operate a highly-sophisticated business structure.
They often work in a coordinated pyramid, from the top-dog administrators through to brokers and mules.
There are even vendors so you can buy criminal applications as-a-service. That means the end-buyer doesn’t have to be a tech genius to exploit companies and individuals.
“Cybercriminals are always looking for exotic ways to use or monetise stolen data in ways that law enforcement and security vendors are not looking for or have not yet figured out,” Ablon said.
And they’re only getting sneakier, which is why you need to make sure your drawbridge isn’t lowered.
What happens when your company is cyber-attacked?
Cyber security attacks in procurement generally result in one of two outcomes, says Nigel Morris, Director of Technology Advisory Services at accountancy firm BDO.
“A full or partial shutdown of systems resulting in an organisation being unable to operate as normal, or a hacker gaining access to corporate or personal data,” Morris says.
“Examples of the former are customers and suppliers being unable to process orders, shipping lines being unable to move containers and logistics service providers being unable to manage warehouses and distribution,” Morris says.
He explains the most frequent cause of the system shutdowns is data being encrypted or erased. Then the systems have to be rebuilt by reinstalling applications and restoring data from backups.
And stealing data can include the “loss of customer or supplier bank or credit card details, leading to fraudulent financial activity,” Morris says.
That’s why he encourages organisations to use cybersecurity best practice, ensuring software is kept up to date, anti-virus/malware tools are deployed, data is encrypted, and staff are consistently trained to recognise and avoid cybersecurity threats.
How do you know if you’ve had a cyber-attack?
It’s really hard to tell if you’ve had an attack. In fact, it’s not uncommon for attacks to go unnoticed for months, says Robert Schifreen, an IT security consultant.
As an ‘ethical’ hacker, Schifreen kindly told the email provider about their security blunder – only to be arrested and sent to court.
His trial led to the first ever UK law against hacking. Now Schifreen helps companies prevent and detect attacks.
“If you’re lucky, there will be tell-tale signs,” Schifreen says.
“I always tell my clients that the ideal sort of hack is when someone defaces the front of your web site and fills it with something offensive. Because you’re going to find out about it within seconds of it happening. You then simply wipe the server, restore from backup, change all your passwords, and job’s done.”
But often, it’s a lot more subtle. “It might be months before you notice it as part of a routine audit,” Schifreen says. “There probably won’t be any signs on the server that this has happened, unless you look carefully.”
He says your IT team should be monitoring key files on your servers, looking for unsuccessful attempts to log in. They should also revoke user passwords when a staff member leaves the company.
What to do if you discover a security breach
If you realise your company has experienced a security breach, there are a few actions to take immediately.
NadiaKadhim, a legal advisor and co-founder of cybersecurity company Naq Cyber recommends these steps:
– Contact relevant law enforcement
– Tell senior leadership and staff what happened, the suspected cause, and any other relevant information
– Let customers and other external people like suppliers know if they could be affected
– Analyse what happened
– Contain the spread
Kadhim also says when a potential data breach occurs, you should immediately start collecting data. Not only is this important for your own records, but you might need it if you’re legally required to tell authorities about the breach.
“You have to create a report that analyses the situation and really sets out in detail what has happened, what the possible cause is, what you’ve done to contain it, solve it, and prevent it for future reference,” Kadhim explains.
“On the basis of this you have to decide whether you will have to report externally. After that, you will do an in-depth (technical) analysis and put that into the final report, but for the external reporting, you have to act quick, so you can’t wait for this.”
How to avoid future attacks
It’s impossible to fully protect against an invasion, even with all the best technology defences in place.
As legal advisor Nadia Kadhim says, companies often focus too much on the tech and not enough on the people.
“Most cyber-attacks happen because of human behaviour; whether it is reusing passwords, leaving laptops unlocked, sending and storing personal data through and in email, clicking on dangerous links, or visiting “those” websites,” Kadhim says.
“Only when awareness is created throughout the entire company, and is combined with the necessary technical measures and legal safeguards and documentation, [companies] can really protect themselves and [minimise] legal repercussions following cyber-attacks,” Kadhim says.
Part of staff awareness is knowing the sudden jump in remote working makes companies more vulnerable.
Nigel Morris, from accountancy firm BDO, says: “There is no doubt that remote working increases the cyber-attack surface area; put simply, there is more technology for a hacker to attack.”
If employees are often the weak link, what do your teams need to know?
– Do not open attachments from unknown sources or follow links to unknown websites. Doing so will frequently activate malware (software designed to damage your computer).
– Be aware of the various forms of phishing (when you’re sent an email or text that looks like it’s from a legitimate, well-known company, but it’s actually from a criminal trying to persuade you to hand over personal info like log-in details). More on how to spot phishing.
– If in ANY doubt, don’t click the link or open the attachment. Contact your IT team who can check the validity of the email content.
The crimes don’t always happen on your own soil.
Employee accounts can be compromised by huge data breaches at other global companies. Like the infamous 2017 Equifax hack where criminals stole personal details from 147 million Americans and 15 million British citizens.
That’s why your employees should change passwords often.
Put simply, your company is a target because it stores valuable information that criminals want. They don’t care if you’re a big company or small.
One cyber-attack could be enough to shut down your operations until you get to the bottom of it.
That’s why it’s so important to guard your information, says Michael Rösch, Senior Vice President of Customer Engagement Europe at procurement software provider JAGGAER.
“In procurement, price information could be very valuable if you as a supplier participate in an online auction for a multi-million euro deal in the automotive sector,” says Rösch.
On the other hand, commodity products like pencils, notebooks and other office supplies aren’t of interest so the information isn’t as sensitive, Rösch adds. He recommends classifying data carefully and protecting accordingly.
Procurement teams are responsible to defend against attacks by understanding weaknesses across the supply chain, says Jon Hansen of the Procurement Insights Blog.
These criminals are relying on the same old methods of stealing information (like phishing and malware). The only real difference is criminals swapping disguises – shifting to imitate a World Health Organisation official instead of a Nigerian prince for example.
Stay vigilant, educate staff on these common tactics, and you’ll have the best possible defences for your procurement kingdom.
Gone phishing – how to spot a fake email
Phishing is a common tactic used by cyber criminals to steal your personal information.
They send you a fake email or text that appears to be from a legitimate company. Then ask you to ‘confirm’ details like account numbers, passwords, etc
Even though these scams are becoming more sophisticated, it’s usually easily to spot a fake if you know what you’re looking for.
Kate Bevan, from UK consumer advocate site Which?, says there are common red flags in these phishing messages.
1)Urgency: A phishing email will usually have an urgent tone. It says things like “you must fill in your details/confirm your account/whatever immediately to avoid losing access to your account/to pay an outstanding bill/complete a failed payment.”
They are absolutely designed to get the pulse racing, so don’t fall for that. Check your account with the provider the email claims to be from by going to the website and signing in by typing the address into the browser: do not click a link in the email.
2)Not personalised: It almost certainly won’t address you by name. Instead, it’ll say “Dear Customer,” or something generic. A genuine email from a service provider will address you by name.
3)Bad grammar: Watch out for the language and how it’s written: a lot of these are written by people who don’t have English as their first language. Watch out for odd phrasing, poor spelling, and poor punctuation.
4)Weird links: Look at the link they want you to click. Ignore the text in the hyperlink; hover your mouse over it and see where it’s really taking you.
5)Leave it: If in doubt, don’t take any action. If it’s genuine the organisation will follow up.
What to do if you fall victim to a phishing scam
If you think you’ve given away your details to a phisher, change your password immediately and if you use that password on any other website, change it on those, too, Bevan suggests.
In times like these, all systems need to be firing on all cylinders, so how can you tell if your system is beginning to show it’s in need of optimization or replacement? There are 5 telltale signs that suggest your tech is failing.
The digital age marches on and it’s rare to find an organization that has not automated some or all of their procurement operation. The business case for going digital in S2P is compelling, so it is critical that it works.
Yet many organizations have tech solutions in place that no longer fit their intended purposes. Worse still, many have just given up and are settling for an inferior system that is not meeting their needs.
The signs are there, but they are either going unnoticed or they are being ignored. Both situations are perilous and without swift action, the cost to an organization in time and resources – and the immediate need for a new solution or an optimization – can really mount up.
What are the key signs that your tech solution is failing?
And how do you recognize them before it’s too late?
Here are some of the most common.
1.User adoption is on the decline
Your tech may have been heralded as the solution to all your organization’s ills. And for a while it was exactly that. But now even the staunchest champions of the solution are withdrawing their support and end-users are finding ways to avoid using the system altogether.
End users are reverting back to picking up the phone to place orders or finding other ways to go around the system. This will result in more spend going through P-Cards without prior approval and/or more invoices showing up that are not tied to a PO.
Decreasing adoption is one of the key signs that your tech is failing, and that action needs to be taken. Once users are working around the system, any efficiencies the solution offered are being lost. And it’s probably costing you more to keep things running.
Close communication with end-users is a good way to track ongoing performance and opportunities for optimization.
2.High end-user support rate
Your end-users will also be able to tell you when the solution is failing when it comes to usability. A clear sign will be when the rate of users seeking system support begins to increase and where tasks become increasingly difficult to perform. Especially with your more infrequent users of the platform.
When this happens support tickets will increase and if they are not resolved quickly, end users will lose confidence. When that happens, tickets may decline, but not for reasons that are good. as end users will typically turn to work arounds.
The most common work around is sending requests via Free Form requests to the buyers to complete for them. If your buyers are spending more than half of their day chasing down requisitions, you have a problem that needs to be corrected.
The second most common work around is the use of a “Power User.” This is when departments or locations turn to one person to complete all of their requests on their behalf. This was common in the days of ERP requisitioning systems, but not today. Especially when P2P systems of today have user interfaces that resemble what they have at home.
If any of these work arounds are happening, your tech may have seen better days and has become dated and too cumbersome to work with.
Communication with end-users is key again here. You want to be able to have a continuous feedback cycle to raise issues before they start impacting operations. It will help to identify any bugs to be fixed and create a forum for new feature requests. What you learn may surprise you.
Which brings us to the next telltale sign.
3.Lack of New Innovation
You’d expect your tech solution provider to be leading the pack in new features and improving your overall user experience to create even more value for your organization.
If you’re not seeing these, it is time to start asking questions of both your system administrator and your software provider.
Being a system administrator can be hard work, especially when there are 3 new releases per year to keep up with. If you are not seeing new features/functionality it may be that your system administrator is overwhelmed. Since new features come to you in the off position, you may have new features that have never been turned on.
If that is not the case, and your solution is not keeping up with other S2P providers, then it’s a clear sign that your provider’s focus is elsewhere or they built their platform on a system architecture that is difficult to develop new functionality.
Both situations should be a red flag to your organization. You should set the wheels in motion to optimize what you have or determine if it is time to test the market for a new tech solution.
4.ROI less than expected
Before you started out on this journey with your chosen provider, you created a detailed business case of what you expected in terms of outcomes from your new tech solution. You probably broke out the soft costs from the hard costs and knew what processes the tech would help to improve and how it would increase efficiencies in your organization.
These expected benefits – hard dollar savings, employee time, resources and removal of unnecessary or duplicated processes – could be quantified with a monetary value. This, in turn, allowed you to calculate your ROI.
However, as time has gone on, it’s become clear that the level of expected benefits isn’t being delivered. The ROI for the solution isn’t being met and it’s time to understand why. There could be a number of factors (including the items on this list). But all of this is a further sign that your tech solution is no longer fit for purpose.
5.Wandering solution roadmap
Even The Beatles had a ‘long and winding road’, but they at least knew the destination that awaited at the end.
Your technology journey may not have an end point by its very nature, but it should at least have clear direction. This would have been identified at the outset of your selection process, complete with clear goals and initiatives, helping to determine which technology solution would be selected.
Years later you may find that what was once their focus is no longer. Maybe you selected your tech provider due to their commitment to your industry or their commitment to a certain product road map. It is not uncommon for plans to change and for tech companies to change their focus for a variety of reasons. Is this enough reason to leave and start looking elsewhere? If it were up to me, that would depend on how many other items are on this list that are currently plaguing your operation as these issues may be related. If they have changed direction and are focusing on industries and organizations that don’t resemble you, it may be time to start looking elsewhere before things start getting worse.
Now you’ve seen the list, do you have any signs of your own to add? Anything in your organization that might now seem like a warning sign? These signs may not be immediately obvious which is why it is so important to know your KPI’s and be measuring what matters. If you don’t have anything in place, your solutions provider should be helping with this with a strong roadmap and support.
So keep these signs of a failing tech system in mind. You should then be able to avoid being encumbered with an ailing solution and instead remain as close to the cutting edge as you can.
Autonomous procurement is no science fiction. It will happen. How can you expect it to change the nature of procurement as a discipline and a career path?
Nottingham, England, 1811: at a time when wages were being depressed to starvation levels and skilled artisans put out of work by the introduction of machinery operated by unskilled labor, weavers led by the mythical General Ned Ludd organised a campaign of smashing machinery. They became known as the Luddites. Ever since, the term Luddism has come to mean opposition to industrialisation, automation, computerisation, or new technologies in general.
More than two centuries of technological advances later, nobody smashes up machines. Because, unlike in 1811, automation is not destroying a way of life. Sophisticated levels of automation are accepted as the norm in manufacturing industry and other sectors as diverse as agriculture and finance. Generally speaking, the higher the level of automation, the higher the level of salaries. Manufacturing and process plants that use robots or other technology to automate routine tasks tend to have a highly skilled and well-educated workforce. And in future, many tasks will be performed, in part or in whole, autonomously.
Nevertheless, people are uneasy about rapid change and the insecurity it causes. And since the start of the first industrial revolution, the rate of change has accelerated. For the first 200 years, progress was mainly focused on gradual improvements in engineering and mechanisation and the harnessing of different sources of energy. Then came computers, then the Internet, and with them, digitisation. A whole new era. Even so, until now digitization has mainly involved the transfer of manual processes onto computers. Even now automation such as it exists is mainly limited to extremely low-level routine tasks where human activity is replaced by rules-driven robotic process automation.
Further acceleration is on its way with Industry 4.0, because of the sheer volume of data that can drive machine learning and the steadily increasing sophistication of artificial intelligence.
Autonomous production will rely on the harnessing of data and software to move from reactive artificial intelligence to prescriptive. For example, with reactive manufacturing, defects are discovered at the end of the line and the production team responds to correct the observed error. Until then, the factory keeps turning out defective goods. A prescriptive AI system, by contrast, identifies potential errors in advance and makes small changes to avoid future quality failures. These small corrective actions are made autonomously, in anticipation of defects, and thereby reduce the cost of non-quality.
We are now poised to see similar developments in procurement.
From automated procurement to autonomous procurement
How will this progress unfold? Spend Matters has identified four levels in a journey “that starts with technology that that assists buyers in completing tasks and ends with a platform that applies knowledge that is collected from buyers to do the tedious parts of their jobs for them”.
The four levels are:
Level One – Automation built on assistive intelligence
Level Two – Augmented procurement built on augmented intelligence
Level Three – Intelligent procurement built on cognitive intelligence
Level Four – Autonomous procurement built on autonomous intelligence
A truly autonomous procurement solution will not only have cognitive capabilities embedded throughout the platform but will build on those capabilities to automate entire sourcing and procurement processes without any buyer interference whatsoever, when the opportunity arises. Such a scenario is not imminent, but nor is it science fiction. It is something that we are moving towards gradually; our view of the destination is still rather hazy, but we can see it. With this ultimate state, systems will not only learn from humans and adapt their behaviour using cognitive abilities but also learn and adapt to new tasks and situations like an expert would, without always having to surface exceptions for human review.
Let’s put things in perspective
But even if it does not happen overnight, does this mean procurement professionals will ultimately lose their jobs? There is no short answer, but it is certain that many tedious human tasks and activities will be displaced. There are some tasks that robots and other technology are good at, and others that only humans can do. But let’s put things in perspective. According to a report published by the McKinsey Global Institute in 2017, only 5% of human occupations can be fully automated, although approximately 60% of occupations have at least 30% of technically automatable activities. The activities that it identified as most susceptible to automation are physical ones in highly structured and predictable environments, as well as data collection and processing.
Thus, up to two-thirds of jobs will change to a significant extent. Some jobs will disappear, but will be replaced by growth in other, more interesting activities. Check out this website. Enter “Procurement Clerk” and it will return a 98% probability that the job will eventually be replaced by what it calls “robots”, i.e. digital technology. But enter “Purchasing Manager” and the risk sinks to a virtually negligible 3%: the risk level is “totally safe”. With “Logistician” the risk is even lower, at 1.2%. It is easy to detect the pattern here: the more your job depends on human intellect and the less it depends on routine, the safer you are, even if aspects of your job can and will be automated.
In short, fewer boring activities, more value-adding and strategic activities.
I think there is a recognition that we cannot hold back technological progress, even if we want to, and that technological progress is an imperative in a dynamic, competitive environment. Nevertheless, fears persist. Some have expressed the fear that autonomous procurement will rob procurement professionals of critical activities such as sourcing, contracting, managing, and executing purchases with the suppliers of goods and services. But in my opinion, these are precisely the activities that cannot be handled by technology alone, with the exception of execution, and even here, there will be need for human intervention.
Autonomous procurement will use prescriptive AI to anticipate and correct small “quality defects” in execution before they happen. While each of these corrections is small in itself, they will add up to big benefits in terms of cost savings and performance improvements. But this will not replace the bigger decisions that will still depend on the ability of procurement professionals to make decisions based on a combination of data analysis and experience. In other words, procurement professionals will be freed up to focus on things like identifying new opportunities through category rationalisation. Once these activities are done, autonomous procurement will take care of formerly labour-intensive tasks such as setting up and executing an entire sourcing event from start to finish.
It is worth mentioning that increasing levels of automation in procurement will play a decisive role in attracting talent into the profession in future. Young talent and tedious, routine work do not mix well! As David McBride, Transformation & Strategy Director at real estate professional services company JLL put it, “Younger procurement professionals entering large organisations now expect to use cutting edge technology.”
In which areas of your role would you find autonomous procurement capabilities most useful? Let us know in the comments below.