Category Archives: Technology

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.

After A Slow Start, AI Is Starting To Make Its Mark

Procurement has traditionally lagged behind when it comes to technology, but does AI offer an opportunity for things to change?

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is going to make business better, at least that is what the solutions providers would have us believe. Businesses will be more agile, more efficient and, importantly, more profitable. Yet it still feels procurement is behind the curve when it comes to AI adoption, despite those that have implemented things, such as machine-learning and AI-driven data analysis, seeing the benefits.

Simon Geale, vice president of client solutions at transformation procurement services provider Proxima, says: “It is early days. On the procurement side of things, we are seduced by the hype over practicality. Most of what we are seeing is either aggregating data or speeding up a process, so far.”

That is not to say that businesses are shunning AI. A recent survey by McKinsey found 47 per cent of companies have embedded at least one AI function in their business processes, up from 20 per cent in 2017.

McKinsey’s research showed that while most companies were adopting AI in areas such as service operations, marketing and product development, a significant number have started to use the technology in managing their supply chains.

Some sectors, such as retail, are adopting the technology far more rapidly in supply chain management than others.

It may be time for those businesses on the long tail of adoption to speed things up. Of those that have adopted AI in supply chain management, McKinsey reports 76 per cent have seen moderate or significant benefits.

AI Focus on Efficiencies and Productivity

So how are companies using AI? A survey by RELX Group late last year shows a focus on using AI and machine-learning principally to increase efficiencies or worker productivity (51 per cent), to inform future business decisions (41 per cent) and to streamline processes (39 per cent).

There are those in procurement who believe AI will destroy their jobs. Yet not all are convinced of this nightmare scenario.

Trudy Salandiak of the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply says: “Unlike many professionals, we think procurement will be future-proofed from being completely taken over by technology due to the human interaction and relationship management required.

“What it will do is provide much more visibility over supply chains to manage risk and seek out opportunities for innovation. It will also take away the process back-office side of the role to allow procurement teams to focus on more strategic areas.”

Ms Salandiak sees a role for AI in quicker and more accurate fraud detection, intelligent invoice matching and categorising vendors to rank their strategic importance in the supply chain.

Chatbots for Procurement?

AI chatbots have started to be used to help businesses articulate their needs with procurement, instead of completing lengthy requests on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. This echoes the voice experience consumers get through the likes of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Turkish telecoms company Turkcell has implemented a procurement chatbot, which learns continuously and simulates interactive procurement professionals’ conversations with business partners and vendors by using key pre-calculated user phrases and auditory or text-based signals. The chatbot interfaces with the company’s ERP system and it has enabled procurement professionals to cut out non-value-added activities and allocate their time to more strategic topics.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s Moyee Coffee has been working on a project in Ethiopia where farmers, roasters and consumers can access data as beans are moved from farm to cup. Consumers are able to use QR codes on the back of coffee packs to see where the beans have been sourced and how much the farmers have been paid, bringing unprecedented transparency to the supply chain. The project uses Bext360’s Bext-to-Brew platform with AI, blockchain and internet of things technology.

AI Procurement Policy

As consumers demand more authenticity and transparency, this trend is likely to continue.

The forecast value of AI to the global economy is being recognised by the World Economic Forum (WEF). In September, the WEF’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution unveiled a plan to develop the first AI procurement policy.

The work is being done in conjunction with the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. A pilot starts in July and it is hoped it will be rolled out in December. This will include high-level guidelines as well as an explanatory workbook for procurement professionals. A further eight countries have expressed interest in extending the pilot globally.

The reason for putting together a policy now is that “regulation tends to be too slow”, says Kay Firth-Butterfield, WEF’s head of AI.

“From the procurement perspective, it’s drawing a line in the sand, saying this is how we expect AI to be produced in our country and we will not accept AI products that do not meet these criteria. It is agile governance,” says Ms Firth-Butterfield.

Reorganising Time for Strategic Tasks

The technology will also allow public sector employees to do more strategic work. “In government, there are back-office gains to be had to free up civil servants to do more,” she says, adding that work on AI procurement in the public sector is expected to transfer to the private sector.

“Governments want their citizens to be at forefront of developing and using this tech, and benefiting from the economic gains,” says Ms Firth-Butterfield. “Governments’ significant buying power can drive private sector adoption of these standards, even for products that are sold beyond government.”

The 53 per cent of companies that have not started implementing AI may like to start thinking about it now.

This article, edited by Peter Archer, was taken from the Raconteur Future of Procurement report, as featured in The Times.  


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What Can Yoda Teach Us About The Kraljic Matrix?

The Kraljic Matrix revolutionised Procurement in 1983. Now the world looks very different. Is it time for an upgrade?

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The year was 1983. This was the year that the Internet was created. Bill Gates unleashed Microsoft World on the market. Star Wars Return of the Jedi was playing in the cinema. I was nine. And a director at McKinsey in Dusseldorf wrote an article that would change Procurement forever. The author was Dr. Peter Kraljic. The article, published in the Harvard Business Review, stated: “Purchasing Must Become Supply Management“.

A Procurement Transformation

Kraljic recognized that the world was changing fast. He saw that if Procurement continued business as usual, it would expose itself to competitive pressure. If it was to survive, it would have to move into strategic supply management. This was the dawn of the Kraljic matrix. It would have a transformative effect on Procurement. The philosophy (that remains valid today) is that not all spend, all suppliers, all customers & are the same. So, Procurement needs to build tailored and differentiated strategies, notably taking into account profit impact and supply risk.

Fast forward to 2019. A lot has changed. The Cold War is history, and the Internet dominates the globe. The iPhone in my pocket has way more computing power than my first computer, a Commodore 64, also from 1983. Since Kraljic published his famous article, world trade has quadrupled and globalization has exploded. Procurement is operating in a much faster, bolder world than it was in 1983. It faces new challenges like Corporate Social Responsibility and ethical supply chains. In short, our current environment today is more “VUCA” (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) than it ever was.

The Next Evolution Of The Kraljic Matrix

“Since the early 1980s, pioneering individuals and companies such as Peter Kraljic, Michael Porter, and A.T. Kearney have pushed procurement professionals to think more strategically about the art and science of strategic sourcing. […] But times have changed. Today’s environment is more dynamic and is filled with greater uncertainty. The tried and true tools and tactics adopted over the last 30 years as the “gold standard” are not as effective as they once were.” Strategic Sourcing in the New Economy: Harnessing the Potential of Sourcing Business Models for Modern Procurement by Bonnie Keith, Kate Vitasek, Karl Manrodt, and Jeanne Kling

In some ways, the Kraljic matrix still works well. The segmentation at the heart of it remains valid. But the world is so complicated now, the matrix becomes more like a Kraljic Rubik’s cube. There are many more dimensions and parameters to take into account than there were back then.

Procurement now needs to win the Holy Grail of strategic supply management: value. Take Total Value of Ownership (TVO), for instance. Before, sustainability and risk were considered as nice-to-have, but not necessary. The TVO model places non-price information firmly within calculation of cost. This is a concept of sourcing in which the buyer has all the cards in their hand. But more than that, TVO enables the buyer to create bonus-penalty systems. In effect, it is a calculation of value that enables Procurement to identify how they can increase value after the award has been made.

Evolve Or Stay In The 80s

“My colleagues developed [the matrix] further and experimented with a nine-box version that allowed more flexibility. But always it must be adapted to the characteristics of the company where it is being used.” Dr. Peter Kraljic

The evolution of strategic supply management is challenging. Seeing the Kraljic Matrix as a Rubik’s cube is one thing. Solving the cube is something else entirely. Collecting the enormous amount of information and data that you need for this is almost impossible on your own. However, the change that makes the world so complicated also gives us the tools we need to keep pace: technology. Procurement must have a digital transformation strategy.

Also, and beyond tools like Purchasing Portfolio Analysis matrixes (that needs to evolve to be subtler), it is critical for Procurement organizations to look beyond the technical aspects of the profession. Procurement activities encompass more “soft” activities that require interpersonal skills. It is all about relationships and, even if tools help in defining the right type of relationship to build in a specific context, they fall short in delivering the “human” dimension. Also, that same dimension should be integrated in the tools and models we use.

The “experience” of working with procurement (for suppliers and for stakeholders) is as essential. Procurement delivers a service in a human-to-human context and becoming the supplier/customer of choice requires more than just tools. Digital transformation is not just about tools!

Therefore, just like Yoda “burns” the Jedi Books in “The Last Jedi” to teach Luke a last lesson by symbolizing the need to be able to move forward while being mindful and even respectful of the past, it may be the time for Procurement professional to “burn” the matrix.


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Lessons In Risk Management: Unity Is Strength

In a digital future, relationships will continue to matter when it comes to risk management…

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I recently attended a procurement event, and, over lunch, I had an interesting discussion with other procurement practitioners about supply chain risk management (SCRM). One of the people at the table stated that his organisation was not looking into increasing its SCRM capabilities because technology cannot help in preventing issues to happen. To reinforce his theory, he told us what had recently happened to his company. The factory of one of his key suppliers was reduced to ashes by a fire. That incident led to disruptions that, according to him, technology could not have helped preventing or mitigating the impact.

Even if it is true that SCRM technology cannot have a direct impact on the cause of incidents, it is not a reason to ignore potential threats and behave like an ostrich, sticking its head in the sand. The story above is one of the many examples demonstrating that organisations don’t learn and reproduce the same mistakes, again and again.

“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results.”

Albert Einstein

SCRM technology together with SRM and Category Management can have an impact on reducing exposure by, for example, highlighting sensitive areas (single sourcing of critical components, suppliers in dangerous zones…). They also can help in reacting faster than the competition when problems occur. And there are many examples of that. However, there is more to it…

Being the customer of choice helps

During that same conversation, I mentioned another story I had read about as it was to some extent similar but with a very different outcome.

A buying organisation using a SCRM solution had received a notification that an incident had happened at one of their supplier’s factory. Therefore, the buyer in charge was able to

  • immediately contact the supplier to discuss with him
  • build a business continuity plan.

The immediate action was to have the supplier produce the component in one of his other factory that had some free capacity.

In addition to the speed advantage that technology provided, the buying organisation benefited from the good relationship he had built with the supplier. Because they were considered as a customer of choice, the supplier gave them access to possibilities that less preferential customers probably would never have had.

Get help from bigger than you

The story above reminded me of another one, with a different twist. I heard it a few months ago at a procurement conference in Czech Republic. A buyer (I will call him John) had in his portfolio a certain raw material. He was buying modest quantities of it but the material was nevertheless critical. Also, only a handful of suppliers were selling it. John knew that, in case of peak in demand, he would never be the one served first. In order to prevent shortages, he developed a clever alliance strategy.

John attended a fair where he knew that the major sellers and buyers of that raw material would be. Using the research he had done before the event and his observation skills, he connected with the big players on the buy-side of the market because he knew they would have better contracts and conditions that his. Conditions that would most probably integrate capacity agreements.

Months later, when demand peaked John did not contact his supplier to try to convince him to deliver to him; he knew it would be a vain effort. Instead, John reached out to a buyer (Bill) who he had met at the fair and with whom he had built a good relationship. He explained his situation to Bill. After listening, Bill explained that he could help because he had a contract that stipulates that the supplier must cover his needs as long as they vary within a certain range. As John’s needs were small in comparison to his, adding them to his would remain in the contract’s terms. After agreeing on the condition of this deal, Bill called his supplier to inform him that he would need larger deliveries. The supplier agreed and delivered the requested quantities to Bill who then forwarded what John needed.

In a digital future, relationships will continue to matter

John’s story has a particular resonance for me as I had lived a relatively similar situation when I was a buyer. But, I hadn’t done my homework like John, so I could not seek the help of a larger customer to help me. It took months and lots of efforts to recover.

These stories illustrate that Procurement professionals have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The fact that black swans exist is no excuse for not being ready! It also means that having the people, process, technology, and data to:

–                 identify weaknesses and risks

–                 build contingency and mitigation plans

–                 constantly monitor risk sources

These are the conditions for being proactive and not passive with regards to risks. Also, they should not forget the importance of nurturing relationships as business is human-to-human, H2H, (and no more B2B or B2C). At the end of the day, organisations having a competitive advantage are the ones that get the best out of their relationships with technology AND people; augmenting/enhancing each other.

Is Data A Promise Or A Peril? 3 Things That Really Matter

Why do organisations and leaders face such a challenge in using data at all, much less using it effectively.

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It’s everywhere and it’s generated every second. Just texted someone? You created data. Just booked an Uber. You created data. Did some grocery shopping? You created data. And that’s before we even get to your professional context. Sending an email, making notes in a meeting, paying invoices, assessing your business strategy. It’s all data.

With ninety per cent of the world’s data having been created in the last two years, Domo’s recent report shares some staggering facts about the explosion of information; equivalent to approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes per day. Not quite sure what quintillion is? If I say a massive, it’s a huge understatement. But you get the idea.

So, with all of this data, why do organisations and leaders face such a challenge in using data at all, much less using it effectively. And with all the talk of digital transformation and the role of analytics driving new insights, why is it proving so hard to translate data into meaningful actions and outcomes? These three things really do matter:

1. Upgrade your business and your thinking

Historically, legacy systems, fragmented business models and poor documentation are all elements that contributed to the difficulty of accessing meaningful data. Historically, organisations would have to work for months to collate important data on every aspect of the business; customers, sales, financials, and forecasting to name a few. Data would often be incomplete, unclear, or in some instances, missing. If you weren’t looking for it, you would be working on cleansing it, a painful by-product of the adage of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. The paradox of the digital world is that this becomes so much easier and harder at the same time. Easier because the capabilities of technology allow analysis of data to be faster and more insightful than ever before. We can now find patterns in historical information, and create predictions that help businesses position resources where demand and customer expectations intersect. And prediction is the alchemy of organisational success. Studying classics at university, I understand that prophecy and prediction are all about enabling the competitive advantage. And technology can enable that with thankfully a lot more clarity than a Delphic oracle.

The flipside of this however is that systems, processes and models are not necessarily well positioned to take advantage of what is now possible.  Doing things the same way is not designed to deliver a different outcome and for many organisations looking for quick wins, the foundational and cultural changes required to achieve foundational transformation are too complex. It’s easier to implement a digital technology. While that will improve the current state, the absence of a more comprehensive improvement strategy means an organisation will only go so far. To capitalise on the real opportunity data must become part of the DNA.

2. Don’t tell me more, tell me what matters

Along with internal and market data, organisations are now able to access a new world of data. Social media, third party data including weather and GPS, IoT and devices. Today data is literally and metaphorically, Big. The opportunity for an organisation here is that they can learn and use so much information that was previously unavailable. The agriculture industry can use weather and IoT to identify optimal harvest time, and retailers can use their own loyalty and purchase data with social media to target customers with highly personalised promotions and offers. And so with the quantum of data being so big, leaders are faced with another well known conundrum; that of analysis-paralysis. Where the challenge previously may have been not knowing enough because it wasn’t available or feasible to access, leaders are now confronted with the proliferation of data that creates a risk around not knowing enough because there is likely more that should be known. The organisational problem this creates then is that leaders are unable or unwilling to make a decision because the breadth of information is just too confusing or because there is personal risk in making a decision that may be proven to be incorrect if more data presents itself. Another mindset shift is required here and that is for leaders to make a decision based on the best possible facts at the time, and be ready to adapt and course correct should new data provide a different option.

3. How you use it matters even more than what you have

Data and big tech companies present very interesting case studies for cross-industry insight on how data can be used, and misused.  Some companies, like Apple’s Tim Cook, have come out very publicly to discuss privacy and how consumer data should be used, and how it should be protected. Others, like Facebook, have been conspicuous in their silence and their absence on their use of data given it underpins their business model. The last two years have seen a significant change in sentiment on what we, as citizens and as consumers, are willing to accept and condone. And while the conversation is still being played out, and the resolution is unclear at this time, it does provide valuable insight for any organisation that is collecting data and contemplating options for how it can be used. Trust in brand, and trust in leaders cannot be separated from how an organisation conducts itself.

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!

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.

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.