Category Archives: Technology

Visible Commerce – The Benefits Of Business Transparency

Doing business transparently has many commercial benefits.

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

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

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

Research reveals the need for transparency

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

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

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


It clarifies the advantages of automating finance and procurement processes.

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

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

Decrease risk and improve reputation through supply chain visibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visibility makes better businesses and better corporate citizens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more in the HBRAS report

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Context

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

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

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

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

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

The Changing Influence Environment

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

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

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

News, Media & Video

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

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

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

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

Social Media – Gen Z’s World?

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

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

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

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

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

A Matter of Gravitas? Or Consumption?

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

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

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

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

Information Hoarders Be Gone

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

Long live the democratisation of data

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

Good news – their days are numbered!

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

A democratisation of data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Human + Machine Personas

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

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

IBM Sterling’s AI helps you:

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

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

Unlocking Collaboration

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

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

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

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


A Decade In Review: Procurement In 2020

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

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

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

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

We became captivated with compliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

From cost reduction to value creation

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

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

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

It’s more about the people than ever

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

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

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

As for 2020 and beyond?

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

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

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

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

20 Ways To Get Job-Ready for 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Be patient – it might take time 

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

6. Remain loyal – it will pay off 

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

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

7. Identify your strengths – and weaknesses 

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

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

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

8. Search online for keywords that will sell you 

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

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

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

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

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

Also, check out the Procurious Training & Learning section.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Have a professional photo taken

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

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

13. Get your online presence ready – LinkedIn in particular

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

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

14. Use Procurious as a resource

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

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

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

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

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

16. Get signed up to job boards 

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

17. Identify your ideal employers 

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

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

18. Engage in strategic networking 

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

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

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

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

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

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

20. Practise your pitch – it will keep you positive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RPA - procurement
Photo by Matan Segev from Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RPA: Copy/paste on steroids…

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

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

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

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

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

Typical Benefits

The typical benefits of RPA are:

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

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

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

If RPA only had a Brain…

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

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

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

Source: IEEE

By nature, RPA and AI are very different technologies:

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

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

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

RPA Applications for Procurement

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

The Hackett Group on Procurious

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Going Global While Being Ethical? Smart Contract Management Can Help

The risks associated with ethical sourcing have never been higher. How can you go global without compromising your ethics?

ethical sourcing
Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

For enterprises with complex, global supply chains, the risks and challenges associated with ethical sourcing have never been higher. Over the past decade, supply disruption has gone from being an exceptional event to at least an annual – if not quarterly or monthly – occurrence. Most organisations are simply not prepared, even though they may have checked the box with fairly narrow supplier risk management assessments. 

One reason for the increased risk? Contract visibility. The ability for companies to instantly locate, retrieve, analyse and track contracts across the enterprise, continues to be suboptimal at many large companies. When these contracts are sitting as unstructured data in a repository that’s difficult to search — or even worse in someone’s desk — bad things happen.

For example, one technology consulting firm missed $1.5 million in revenue recognition when a manually-tracked contract expired, but work was still performed against it. Discounts and rebates are overlooked, and unwanted renewals happen on autopilot. Poor contract management can also lead to reputation and brand damage when companies unknowingly use unethical suppliers.

So what can we do? Gaining visibility into commercial engagements can help.

Blockchain-based contract management is changing the game

As organisations become more and more concerned about supply chain risk, the need for better visibility is more critical than ever before. Enterprise contract management software provides that visibility by tracking what a firm’s worldwide obligations, entitlements and business relationships truly are.

This software gives organisations a firm grasp on their supply chain, key suppliers, the composition of the products they’re purchasing and the locales in which they’re operating.

Technologies like AI, Machine Learning and Blockchain are proving key for enterprises to mitigate risk in the future. This contract management space is a hot sector and continues to experience rapid growth. According to MGI, the market itself is worth $20 billion. This is reflective of large enterprises’ desire to digitally transform their commercial foundation. This helps them save money, reduce risk and improve compliance.

For example, customers like Mercedes-Benz Cars have already taken advantage of this technology. They have done so by utilising smart contracts on the Icertis Blockchain Framework to create an immutable distributed ledger of transactions.

This helps to ensure global sourcing and contracting practices adhere to Mercedes-Benz Cars’ strict requirements for sustainable, ethical and secure sourcing.

The future of ethical globalisation

I recently attended The Big Ideas Summit, a great event for procurement professionals that brings together the top figures in the industry to discuss the current business landscape and bring unique, innovative ideas to the table.

Right now, we’re in the early stages of technologies like blockchain and just starting to see major impacts. Three years from now we’ll have conclusive data on how blockchain has helped increase visibility into, and compliance among, supply chains.

Already, these blockchain and distributed ledger technologies are significantly changing the way organisations do business with vendors, partners, and customers, impacting the way companies approach, execute and enforce business contracts.

Although most organisations associate blockchain technology with the financial services industry, it has potential use within the manufacturing, government, healthcare and education sectors as well. This includes how those industries execute and enforce contracts.

For example,the Icertis Contract Management (ICM) platform is already used to manage 6.5 million contracts at companies like 3M, Airbus, Daimler, Microsoft, Sanofi and Wipro in more than 40 languages across 90 countries. The AI-powered platform allows customers to increase contract velocity and agility, proactively manage entitlements and obligations, as well as surface commercial insights and intelligence.

One day, blockchains that utilise distributed ledger technology may even allow for contracts that are self-verifying, self-executing and autonomous. Companies can exchange terms, events, and information throughout the lifecycle of a contract without relying on brokers or middlemen.

This streamlined approach to supply chain management will help reduce costs and solve the hardest contract management problems on the most easy to use platform, thereby improving the bottom line.

To learn more about Icertis’ contract management software, visit the Icertis website.

7 Companies Pioneering Artificial Intelligence in Procurement

With so much written on Artificial Intelligence it’s hard to know where to look. However, there are companies from whom we can take our lead.

artificial intelligence
Photo from Pixabay on Pexels

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest topics in business right now. It’s also a bit like teenagers and sex. Everyone seems obsessed with it, everyone feels left out, few actually know what they are doing, so everyone claims they are doing it.

There is so much hype about AI we recently collaborated with Procurious on a quick AI challenge for CPOs at the Big Ideas Summit in Chicago. From their savvy answers you’ll see that many procurement leaders understand the value of AI. What we need as a community is transparency on how it affects us here and now.

The new book AI in Procurement explores many realistic use-cases for artificial intelligence within procurement. The authors Sammeli Sammalkorpi and Johan-Peter Teppala were among the first to pilot AI solutions in procurement software and scoured much of the literature available today on the topic to write their book.

Don’t worry. We won’t get in to too many details about the mechanics and jargon of AI. Before we go through the examples from procurement, there is just one thing to understand.

Artificial Intelligence in Procurement

Many people have a somewhat distorted view of AI. They may remember futuristic movies where chrome-plated androids interact in human-like ways, or computer systems that have natural language conversations.

In reality, most AI applications today are a lot more boring and inconspicuous. You’re likely to interact with AI when you search for address details on Google Maps, or look up a playlist of music on Spotify. It’s already a part of the software you use every day, but you rarely see it.

This is much the same in business. Most of the applications of AI we see in procurement come as solutions to existing problems humans have a hard time solving. They are enablers, rather than replacements to human expertise.

AI in Procurement presents the concept of “human machine collaboration” to explain how AI builds on the strengths of both humans and machines.

7 Examples of Artificial Intelligence in Procurement in 2019

Now that we’ve covered the background, let’s dive into those fresh AI examples across seven different areas of the procurement cycle.

Supplier risk management

AI can be used to monitor and identify potential risk positions across the supply chain. For example, RiskMethods identifies new and emerging supply chain risk events by handling data gathered from different sources, helping to identify emerging risks faster.

Purchasing

AI can be used to automatically review and approve purchase orders. For example, it allows employees to order office supplies without requests for approval, making the process leaner and more efficient.

To state an example, in Tradeshift’s platform a chatbot called Ada can be used to check the status of purchases or automatically approve virtual card payments, regardless of the user’s location.

Accounts Payable Automation – Machine learning is increasingly used in accounts payable automation. ML assists in identifying errors and potential fraud in large amounts of automated payments. An example of this is Stampli, which leverages machine learning to speed up payment workflows and automate fraud detection.

Spend Analysis

At Sievo, machine learning algorithms are widely used in spend analysis to improve and speed up a number of processes, including automatic spend classification and vendor matching.

For example, if you have DHL, DHL Freight, Deutschland DHL, and DHL Express in your data, the machine learning algorithms are easily able to consolidate these together as DHL for increased visibility and data coherence.

Supplier Information Management

Big data techniques enable new ways to identify, manage and utilise supplier data across public and private databases. Tealbook is one platform that applies machine learning to supplier data in order to create and maintain accurate supplier records across all systems and areas of the business.

Strategic Sourcing

AI can also be used to manage, guide, and automate sourcing processes. Keelvar’s sourcing automation software uses machine learning for the recognition The reality of AI in procurement 59 of bid sheets and specialises in category-specific eSourcing bots such as raw materials, maintenance and repair.

Contract Management

AI has many potential use-cases in contract management. Seal Software uses optical character recognition (OCR) and advanced text analytics to clean up and consolidate information contained in contracts.

We’re likely to see many more successful examples of AI shared across procurement functions in the coming years. The more we share as a community, the better we get.

If you would like to dive deeper into the topic, you can get early access to AI in Procurement as a free download before the printed book comes on sale on Amazon in 2020.

Procurement Needs the Human Factor

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

human factor
Photo by Min An from Pexels

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

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

Here are some of the significant findings.

The Operating Model of Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

Significance of Soft Skills

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

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

Mind the Digital Skills Gap

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

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

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

The Future of Procurement Learning

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

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

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

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

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

Generation Z and Beyond

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

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

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

The Human Factor – Moving Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Your IP Safe From Flexible Workers?

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

Photo by Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash

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

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

Job for Life? Or Jobs A-plenty?

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

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

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

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

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

Employing the Right Flexible Workers

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

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

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

The Unseen Risks

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

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

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

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

So Long to the “Good Old Days”

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

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

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

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