Category Archives: Trending

How Automation Could Shift the Negotiation Landscape

Ever wanted to know exactly what the other party in a negotiation is thinking? The growth of automation could potentially provide this and change the negotiation landscape for good.

Georgejmclittle/Shutterstock.com

I read a very interesting scare story in the press recently. The claim was that the Uber smartphone app was monitoring the status of the phone’s battery and, when customers’ batteries were very low, raising the prices of their Uber rides.

For anyone interested in negotiation, this is a fascinating development; an example of automated gathering of information to develop actionable insight and take a position based on the expected influence of that information on the counter-party’s price sensitivity.

Or, to put it in plain English, guessing that a person looking for a cab with a dying phone in their hand will be that bit more desperate and price insensitive than the person who has plenty of power to find an alternative if they don’t like the Uber price.

Data Gathering & Behavioural Economics

The truth behind the story is less sensational but no less impactful. A little more research led me to the source of the story – an interview on NPR’s excellent ‘Hidden Brain‘ podcast with Keith Chen, Uber’s head of economic research.

The episode (entitled “Your Brain on Uber”) gives fascinating insight into the ways in which Uber combines unprecedented levels of wholly automated data gathering and insight with understanding of behavioural economics to assess what price they should be charging for a ride.

Uber does track your smartphone’s battery level and, while they’re adamant they won’t charge you more just because your iPhone is low on juice, they do know exactly how much more likely you are to accept their already controversial “Surge Pricing” when you’re low on power.

Uber raise prices when demand surges. So if demand temporality exceeds supply, Surge Pricing kicks in and the Uber drivers charge more for their service. Uber defend Surge Pricing by saying it provides an economic incentive for their drivers to “Surge” to where the excess demand is. This can be extremely useful where that Surge is unforeseen.

For example, a recent strike on London’s Docklands Light Railway led to me and several thousand other unfortunates to become stranded on Canary Wharf. Uber drivers all around London got the message; “Get to the Canary Wharf area. Surge Pricing is in effect”, and the message had the desired effect. Every Uber in town made money that night. Drivers who weren’t even planning on working saw the message on their phones and drove down.

To give you an idea of why they would do that, Surge Pricing can be up to 9.9 times the normal fare. That’s a powerful incentive to get yourself to the right place at the right time. Contrast this with Black Cabs’ static pricing. If the cabbies were doing ok in the West End, they weren’t going to make any extra by driving for free to Canary Wharf to pick up passengers who wouldn’t even pay a premium for their efforts.

The Buy Side

So the behavioural economics of the supply side of the deal stack up, but Uber talk less about the buy side of that trade. Yes, the opportunity to make more money out of short-term scarcity of supply will incentivise more supply, but while that imbalance persists you’re going to make a lot of money by exploiting desperation on the demand side.

For the most part I’m not minded to criticise Uber for that. If it meant a bunch of bankers and consultants had to pay more to make their table at Nobu Berkeley, I’m inclined to say “They can afford it”. And if they can’t, they can always pick up a sandwich and wait it out in a pub.

But there are people who can’t afford it. There were people on the Wharf that night who had to choose between not being there to pick their kids up from childcare and paying a week’s worth of disposable income to be there. As in all negotiation, it’s rarely about fairness. One other factor in Uber’s defence; the app makes finding people to share a ride with quite easy, which might mitigate against the impact of Surge pricing.

Optimising Yields

Uber’s Surge pricing algorithm is a particularly effective, automated negotiator. It is hugely well prepared, in the sense that it knows it’s counterparty and their motivations intimately. It is implacable and unemotional and it does the job that is intrinsic to all negotiators; it gets more for its stakeholders.

Surge pricing is a development of Yield Management, which is extremely commonplace in certain industries (travel in particular). What’s interesting in the Uber example is the innovative way that Uber is optimising yields through the use of ever more data.

As in everything else we do, automation is going to become a bigger and bigger part of negotiation. Negotiators will find more and more innovative applications for data science to equip them with information which leads to actionable insight, and some of these innovative applications will be more intrusive than others. Today it’s Uber accessing the battery meter on your smartphone, tomorrow’s risks will be far more wide reaching.

Automation in Negotiation

Ever thought how interesting it would be to hook your negotiation counterparty up to a lie-detector? You can have the next best thing today. If you could find a hacker to plug you into the data flow between your counterparty’s iWatch and their iPhone, you could watch their heart rate in real time on your phone as you negotiate with them. It’s an exaggeration, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t feasible and useful.

Recently I sat in on a meeting between a client in professional services and an Artificial Intelligence-based IT vendor. At the close of the meeting the vendor showed off his company’s personal assistant app on his smartphone, and a senior figure in my client was so impressed he immediately downloaded it from the App store and installed it on his company smartphone.

When the vendor left, I pointed out that he had probably signed away access to his email, phone records and contacts and diary to a vendor who was likely to be involved in a sourcing process, meaning that vendor could in theory see which other vendors the client was meeting, and when, and with which internal stakeholders coming along for the ride.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that the vendor in question had any intention of doing any such thing, but I can say that the client in question looked very sheepish and quickly deleted the app!

Technology constantly changes and develops but information is and always will be key to the balance of power in our negotiations. Think carefully about what you share, how you share it and who you share it with.

Don’t Risk It – Why Your Organisation Needs Supplier Pre-Qualification

Workplace accidents have other costs apart from the tragic loss of human life. They can damage your brand, cost your company millions and, if you’ve failed to mitigate a known risk, could put you behind bars.

It’s difficult to write about the business consequences of a workplace fatality. It can be hard to see beyond the immediate human tragedy – from shattered families to a saddening waste of life when someone is killed on the job.

But the business consequences do need to be talked about, not only due to the financial impacts, but also because it’s up to big businesses to drive the safety improvements that could one day make workplace fatalities a thing of the past.

Risk Management Expertise

Insurance companies understand this, as do the risk management experts who take a holistic view of the impacts of accidents and fatalities. Angelique Navarro, of supply chain risk management firm Avetta, gives the example of a major telecommunications organisation that suffered eleven fatalities amongst its cell tower climber contractors before it acted to pre-qualify suppliers.

“The human cost was horrific, but the business costs were high as well. There is always significant public anger when preventable deaths occur, and people generally vent their frustration at the provider at the top of the chain – even though the safety lapse may have occurred two or three tiers down the supply chain.

“Cell tower climbers potentially have the deadliest job in the United States, so it’s a prime example of an area where you need to be 100 per cent confident that your suppliers, and their suppliers, are doing the right thing. Since the telecommunications organisation has partnered with us to bring in rigorous pre-qualification, there have been zero fatalities to date.”

Highly Visible Organisations

Navarro’s point about the most visible corporation taking the blame for its suppliers’ errors is borne out by the example of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Public anger – from placard-waving protesters to President Obama himself – was directed almost entirely at the highly-visible oil giant, BP.

We didn’t hear anywhere near as much about the operators actually responsible for the spill, namely oil-field service company Halliburton and offshore drilling contractor Transocean. Almost seven years on, BP is still suffering from the enormous brand damage that this environmental disaster incurred.

“Consumers lose trust and confidence in what your organisation can do for them”, says Navarro. “But brand and reputation damage aren’t the only negative effects. There are huge insurance payouts involved, and of course lost production time and revenue. Knowing that you work with suppliers who are completely qualified mitigates that risk.”

Avetta’s 300+ major clients, such as Coca-Cola, Shell, Verizon and John Deere, tend to come from some of the riskiest industries – oil and gas, chemicals, construction, utilities and energy, telecommunications, transport and manufacturing. This core group of more than 300 clients has approximately 50,000 suppliers over 100 countries – every one of which carriers a degree of risk.

“We vet suppliers and partner them with clients and industries across the globe”, says Navarro. “And the results speak for themselves. We’ve saved a global leader in oil and gas $6 million in one year by managing its health and safety program.

“We’ve reduced the incident rate at a chemical company by 74 per cent, saved lives at a major telecommunications company, conducted 14,000 performance reviews for a well-known construction company, and Avetta is an integral part of a major airline’s recognition as the safest airline in the world.”

Six Steps to Pre-Qualification

While every industry and business model is different, there are six key steps that can be taken to pre-qualify suppliers and reduce your risk profile. Ensure your suppliers have:

  • risk as a top agenda item for their board or senior team
  • the right employees: conduct background checks, ensure rules and regulations are being followed
  • the correct level of insurance protection with up-to-date insurance certificates
  • safety manuals in-hand and accredited training programs in place
  • prequalification for anyone coming on site
  • a consistent level of auditing multiple levels down the supply chain
  • rigorous tracking and data collection.

Navarro comments that risk-savvy procurement professionals work very closely with their organisation’s environmental health and safety teams, who have been in the risk-management space for a long time and can give some valuable advice. It’s important that we share safety learnings across industries as well. “You need to ensure your organisation is competitive”, she says, “but when it comes to safety we’re seeing major organisations come together to share best practice”.

Personal responsibility

There are executives behind bars for not acting to mitigate risks, with members of the C-level now being held personally responsible for fatalities and other accidents. “There’s little defence if you knew about a risk and didn’t act on it, or if you’ve been warned before yet let it happen again”, says Navarro. “When someone goes to work for a company, they have a reasonable expectation that they will come home safely to their family at the end of the day.”

To learn more about Avetta, visit their website. Avetta Founder John Moreland is President of Operation Underground Railroad, a non-profit organisation dedicated to rescuing children around the world who are victims of sex slavery. Click here to learn more.

How Blockchain Technology Can Revolutionise Procurement & Supply Chain

Blockchain technology could prove to be a valuable tool for procurement and supply chains in their quest for transparency.

Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock.com

In today’s world, the process of procurement, and even supply chain management, is facing more scrutiny than ever before.

Due to several different advances in technology (many of which relate more to our personal lives than business management), people are more sensitive than ever to issues of accuracy and matters of record. We want transactions verified, sources authenticated, and, generally, transparency in all things.

Where procurement and supply chain management are concerned, that level of transparency has been pretty much impossible in years past. However, there are some that believe that Bitcoin’s blockchain technology, of all things, has vast potential to alter how procurement is monitored and could improve accountability on all sides.

Blockchain Explained

For those who may be unfamiliar with how blockchain technology works, this overview of Bitcoin explains that it’s essentially a public ledger on which all Bitcoin transactions are recorded.

Every transaction generates a series of letters and numbers indicating the two parties involved and the amount of Bitcoin exchanged. While specific identities are protected, it makes it absolutely, automatically clear where your Bitcoin came from, such that amounts of Bitcoin can be traced back through various transactions.

It’s basically a fool-proof system of transparency meant to guarantee the authenticity of these transactions.

Supply Chain Transparency

But how exactly would such a system help companies dealing with procurement and supply chain concerns?

This explanation clarifies the idea in a very effective manner, stating that a blockchain can track what went into a product, and who handled it along the way, revealing the provenance of a product to everyone involved, from origin to end user.

The article uses the example of a taco supply chain. When you buy a taco from a food truck you’re making a lot of trusting assumptions: that the truck is sanitary, that the taco’s ingredients are fresh, etc. But with a system of transparency in place you can personally check that those assumptions are indeed based in reality.

Considering that example with a product in the process of procurement, you begin to see the immense potential value of a blockchain.

Authenticity Checks

Indeed, the same article discusses a range of examples covering different industries and points of interest along the supply chain. For instance, you might be able to look at a blockchain-style log and determine if a shirt you might buy was made with child labor, or you might see if a bottle of olive oil is just olive oil, and if so where else in the world it might be procured. You might even be able to confirm the authenticity of an antique or special product before purchasing.

Perhaps the most interesting example, however, comes in the form of a new company that’s arisen as a result of the blockchain to combat fraud and crime in the diamond trade.

Everledger is essentially building a vast data network, tracking diamonds in circulation by their identifying features and serial codes, and thus legitimising an industry that’s frequently been overrun by criminals and fraudulent transactions.

With a public ledger, diamonds could be traced back to their origins, appropriate values could be maintained, and selling a stolen diamond without being on record as doing so, would be all but impossible.

At this stage most of these examples concern consumer issues and supply chain transparency. However, as blockchain technology becomes more common, it’s easy to see its potential aspects in procurement as well.

For a technology that’s fundamentally simple, it’s somewhat amazing that it might solve transparency issues that have persisted in business transactions for most of human history.

When Logistics Tracking Apps Become Cyber Stalkers

Where should we be drawing the line between a logistics tracking app and cyber stalking? Turns out, the difference might be hard to pinpoint.

To watch the video version of this article, click here.

Here’s what a Logistics Manager needs to be aware of, and the boundary lines that he/she really shouldn’t be crossing.

Logistics tracking devices or Apps are nothing new these days, and anyone that has a smart phone and uses one of the various map apps is constantly satellite tracked. The stark reality is that both Google and Facebook know you better than your parents, partners, friends and loved ones!

Logistics Assets

As this technology has grown, many companies are now using it as part of their logistics tracking and customer service. Even small businesses, like your local plumbers, have them in their little white vans, so Cheryl the office manager can tell irate customers that Bob the toilet un-blocker is on his way.

But this usually works better when they’re less than 4-8 hours away!

However, one company in California took this all a step further and had a ‘staff tracking app’ installed on employees’ work phones. Nothing sinister about that you might think…

The apps are great for:

  • productivity,
  • time management,
  • personal security,
  • and a myriad other reasons.

However, the issue arose with a travelling female sales executive, whose movements were being tracked 24 hours a day. That’s right, 24 hours – covering both work and personal time.

The device had been set so that it was unable to be turned off during non working or “private time”. I mean who wants your boss to know that every Thursday night you attend Knitters Anonymous, or involve yourself in over 50s Morris dancing on Sunday mornings!

Disappearing Privacy

Anyway, the female executive decided to uninstall the app due to ‘privacy’ reasons. And got herself fired for doing so. This was even after her boss boasted about the ability to know how fast she was driving down the highway.

So what’s happening now?

She is taking him to court for alleged unfair dismissal and invasion/breach of privacy to the sum of $500,000 USD.

That’s scary.

And the moral of the story? Staff tracking apps should only for work time management and security, not be used for following each and every move an employee makes. And also, organisations need to be very careful about employee/employer gender and power dynamics, and how they could be interpreted.

It might just make you think again when an app on your phone asks to access your location!

Now where’s my phone…

Productive Minds work with Managers and Supervisors of Supply Chain Companies, providing people management training and mentoring to help leaders manage change, manage work stress and inspire creative problem solving in their teams.

Are Procurement Professionals Stuck in the Stone Age? – Part IV

As B2B technology companies are beginning to realise the benefits of being easy to use, what changes do we think will happen? How do we envisage the B2B tech space evolving within the next 5-10 years?

Photon photo/Shutterstock.com

Market Dojo put an article together examining what it would look like in 10 years time, and how it will have to adapt and change to remain ahead of the game.

With a focus on Market Dojo as an eSourcing company, we came up with a few conclusions, most of which can be applied not only to eSourcing, but to B2B technology companies as a whole.

The table below looks at different functions of technology and predictions on how they might change within the B2B landscape.

Function Change
Mobile Technology Whilst consumers are ever increasing their use of mobile tech, are businesses going to become more reliant on this in the workplace? The simple answer is yes. B2B companies need to be aware of becoming even more responsive, searchable and usable across the mobile technology of the future?
Google (power of the web/search) Will this develop enough and become intelligent enough to make other applications obsolete? Such as developing  more intelligent supplier search function and becoming the de-facto supplier database though their categorisation.
APIs The ability to integrate between solutions is already possible, but in the future it is set to become even more simple. We expect it becoming ever easier to integrate with any (software) component through standard connectors, so that best of breed becomes as attractive or even better than ERP solutions.
Amazon/Google/Apple B2B platform Established companies moving into other areas (E.g. developing eMarketplaces) and threatening the smaller providers with their ability to quickly develop technology. This is already happening.

Procserve, for example, have built links with Amazon for B2B purchasing. (See full article here.)

Eradicating the user interface Moving from slick user interface to ‘no user interface’, as per this Coupa article.

A rather controversial idea, but we can see some logic that instead of having to log into a tool every day, instead it fits around your life so you can interact with it outside the tool via Voice Activation such as Google Voice, Siri, Cortana, etc.

True commoditisation The final stage of the technology lifecycle is commoditisation. (See Market Dojo’s video on the four stages of technological growth taken from a TED lecture.)
Integrated market information How global news stories affect various aspects of your business and what technology can do to make companies more aware and faster.
Also how tech can keep companies updated with what’s being said about their brand. (Ref. Owler.)
More focus on AI & Automation/robotics The software could take actions when it ‘thinks’ it is needed. e.g. within eSourcing – delay an auction due to lack of liquidity, or suggest a better lot structure based on the bids received.
Public Sector Procurement A big shake-up in the public sector software market to disrupt the legacy tools with their complex workflows and procedures to be a slick tool that people enjoy using. E.g. Matrix SCM
IT involvement & Security barriers IT’s function is changing from an in-house design/build/implement function to a strategic business partner who guide business stakeholders in the selection of appropriate SaaS systems.
Marketing How will people find us in the future, compared to how they find us now?
How will the power of search change in the future?
At the minute, the focus is on Content Marketing, but what next?
More personalised, more interactive marketing?

As you can see, we expect the Market Dojo platform to become more intuitive and user-friendly over the next few years. Is this true of all business softwares? Will we (realistically) be able to prioritise usability and design over functionality and features?

The authors have pondered long and hard the question of when the B2C approach will catch on in the B2B World. We think it is progressively changing, but will, for the reasons listed in previous articles, take some time to change.

New suppliers with easy to use solutions are coming to the fore, Coupa and Egencia come to mind. But we postulate that it will be a slow change process, with perhaps another 5 years before the whole B2B solution market feels like today’s B2C environment – at which point the B2C landscape will possibly be different again!

To stay at the forefront of technology, can B2B companies look to B2C arena as a gauge of what’s to come?

What are your thoughts?

Market Dojo and Odesma have partnered to combine their intuitive eSourcing software and expertise in offering business advisory services to offer clients a winning procurement solution.

How South Africa is Building Engagement with Small Business

A thriving small business community is a sign of a prosperous economy. In South Africa, a new network has been launched to help build engagement with these enterprises.

Procurement on-line portals that efficiently link prospective buyers with qualified small enterprises are the next big thing.

Technology is now available that allows us to quickly and smartly facilitate business transactions for mutual benefit, why are we not doing more to support Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs)? Central and local government departments spend billions; some of this procurement expenditure can be channelled in to the development of the SMME sector.

Some ‘portals’ exist primarily to deliver advice and guidance, that’s useful but it’s not enough.

Why is developing SMMEs important?

A thriving and growing small business community is a sign of a healthy economy. One main objective across Africa is to stimulate economic growth and create jobs; this is one way to do it.

Public sector bodies in South Africa have been urged to ensure their purchasing strategies “explicitly recognise the significant benefits of procuring from local small businesses”. The Minister in charge of small business development said that small businesses have been “historically shut out as a result of bureaucratic and costly procurement practices which favoured big suppliers”.

Developing the SMME sector solves many challenges for governments and for companies that have diversity or enterprise development targets.

South Africa’s initiative

South Africa has a fully functioning SMME solution that has now been in operation for five years. The Supply Chain Network (SCN) came about by necessity. Organisations are required by government to assist in creating jobs for the lesser skilled and unemployed sectors of the population. This portal is made affordable by the support of big businesses and especially by one of the major banks.

It works for the seller by…

  • Providing a profile page with all key information about the seller
  • Showing the seller’s credentials, certifications and trade references
  • Providing a platform for advertising goods and services using an e-catalogue with images

SCN provides a verification service that allows the approved seller to get a priority listing in search results.  Sellers with a high profile score have a better chance of attracting bigger and better clients.

A great feature is easy access to tenders. Available tenders are interrogated using a powerful search facility which all allows for setting up alerts using key words. Tenders can be accessed in summary form or in full detail, saving time and effort for the seller.  

Better still, it works for the buyer…

  • SCN manages vendor certification renewals so that all credentials are current, including Tax Clearance and Company Registration
  • Buyers can use verified information to update their master vendor files
  • Due diligence is simplified, as buyers can rely on the integrity of the profile information
  • The search function uses standard industry terminology (UNSPSC) and smart filters

The SCN system also provides an eRFQ facility with built-in rules. Suppliers can upload all their attachments electronically as part of the response. It is an on-line paperless solution that includes automatic notification to suppliers of any changes, updates, withdrawal, regrets and awards. Particularly useful is the full audit trail on all sourcing activity.

Supply Chain Network in South Africa is a low-cost solution that aims to promote the objectives of growing a healthy small business community. Why can’t it work in other emerging markets?

You can find out all you need to know about the Supply Chain Network on its website.

7 Ways to Effectively Utilise Big Data in Organisations

The popularity of Big Data is growing as organisations begin to understand how to effectively utilise the volume of information available to them.

Mikko Lemola/Shutterstock.com

The buzz around Big Data is undeniable. Regardless of the size of the organisation, managers can use this information, to help drive better, more effective organisational decision making, as a result of accurate analysis.

But how? Below are seven ways how effective utilisation of big data could become a boon to your business.  

1. Improve Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence is a process of analysing data which helps managers and corporate executives make more sound business decisions. So if you try to put in some extra effort to ameliorate your organisation’s business intelligence, it will result in a more accelerated decision-making process, optimised internal business processes, increased operational efficiency, generation of new revenues, and identification recent market trends.

2. Practical Business Decisions Based On Customer Behaviour

Big Data contains a wealth of information about the way customers of a particular organisation act and behave, like their interests, habits, and demographics in some cases. By analysing sales, market news and social media data, organisations may collect and analyse real-time insights of their customers.

Better marketing strategy can be devised through a careful watch over the customer’s needs, taste, and behaviour.

Big Data Approach
Source: www.cio.co.ke

3. Build Trust Among Customers

It is a well-known fact that the more customer trust and satisfaction an organisation has, the more profit it is likely to generate. Feedback from customers gives organisations the key information to make improvements in products and services.

Organisations can use the information gathered from customer feedback in order to make changes to products and services, showing that they listen to customers, and generating further customer satisfaction.

4. Risk Assessment

Big Data houses a vast amount, and variety, of information which could be used as part of risk assessment activities.

Data from sources like mobile devices, social media platforms, and website visits, and information about credit, legal, e-commerce spendings and other online activities, of a particular person reveals hidden consumer behaviours that may not be otherwise known.

This is advantageous for the banking industry, as big data can help in fraud detection through the use of pattern recognition and by comparing internal and external data of the customers. Organisations like MasterCard already use Big Data to assess whether a certain transaction is legitimate or fraudulent.

This information can play a major role in managing risks and making judgments about credit approvals and pricing decisions, before moving forward with the customer at both an individual and product level.

5. Predictive Personalisation

Predictive analytics creates a huge opportunity for behavioural segmentation of the consumers. It analyses personal information of people on websites, their behaviour, their social data and their browsing data.

Content similar to their interests is then catered to the users, giving them their own personalised space to explore and use the services. In this way, you customise your website to suit the requirements of the individual customers based on their demographics and interests which makes them distinct from the crowd.

There are many companies, like Spotify, who are targeting their customer base providing personalised products as per their needs.

Big Data Drivers
Source: www.thewindowsclub.com

6. Tailor-Made Products and Services

Through big data, we have access to all demographic and personal details of the customers. By matching consumers with the similar products, and the content they have already viewed, personalises their experience on a website.

This method of providing tailor-made services, where customers are connected with exactly those products and services in which they’re interested, may also be known as Digital Hospitality.

This often takes customers by surprise and makes them feel special. However, it would be best to ask for the customer’s consent before using their personal information, as this will make it appear less intrusive.

7. Cost Reduction

Big Data can also be used for automated decision-making systems, where managers can get regular alerts about maintenance support systems and cost cutting opportunities in their business.

For example, Tesco used Big Data to cut its annual refrigeration cooling costs by 20 per cent across 3000 stores in UK and Ireland. Business operations can be optimised without compromising on the quality standards of products.

Since Big Data is, by its essence, huge, taming it can be quite a difficult task because of the continuous generation of data from different platforms in all realms of the world.

With the efficient utilisation of information received, a huge difference can be made to the business operations of an organisation, provided that the information is critically analysed such that it can be transformed into profits.

For this purpose, a good project management tools platform may come in handy for organisations, as managers will be able to keep an eye on the projects concerned with Big Data extraction.

Swati Panwar is a content writer and tech blogger. Writing is her passion and she believes one day she would change the world with her words. She is a technical writer by day and an insatiable reader at night. Her love for technology and latest digital trends could be seen in her write-ups. Besides this, she is also fond of poetry. She’s extremely empathic towards animals and when not writing, she could be found cuddling with her cat.

LinkedIn: https://in.linkedin.com/in/swati-panwar-5030b589

What Happens When Best Practice Is Ignored?

Most organisations know that they should be aiming towards best practice processes – but what does it really mean – and can something as diverse as accounts payable ever be constrained to a simple set of rules across all organisations?

This article was originally published on PPN.

If we’re talking about specifics, the answer is probably no. But the general framework and methods of working can be aligned in a way that can be translated across AP departments regardless of size, and to some extent industry and internal culture.

The opposition can come from those who decide to carry on working in a manner which they feel has served them well enough in the past. Others may simply not have sufficient resources to implement the practices which management are asking them to do.

Three results of Bad Practice

Ignoring best practice in any environment, but especially in AP, can have catastrophic consequences for the organisation. There are three very tangible results from an organisation where the operation is overly flexible and unstructured.

The most obvious one is that inefficient organisations cost more to run. Financially crippling as this may be in the long run, often this area should be the least of your worries.

An operation where internal controls are lax is leaving itself open to fraud. An enterprising individual can take advantage of such an organisation with relative ease, and as long as they’re not too greedy, their fraudulent activity can go unnoticed for a very long time – perhaps forever.

None of us like to think that any of our colleagues would behave in a duplicitous fashion, but the sad truth is that, in all probability, some of us already have.

Lastly, the third most tangible effect of not adhering to a code of best practice is the existence of duplicate payments within the accounting system. The Institute of Internal Auditors have found that duplicate payments make up between 0.05 and 0.1 per cent of annual invoice payments.

This may not sound like a lot, but if your organisation makes £50 million in annual invoice payments, you are likely to be paying out £50,000 or more in duplicate payments every year. Unfortunately many people assume that if a vendor receives payment twice for the same service or product, then he will simply return the payment. However this is seldom the case.

Quick Solutions to Common Failures

Current Practice: Many people can input invoice numbers and can make changes to the Master Vendor File.
Best Practice: Restrict this to just one or two key personnel – preferably those who do not approve invoices.

Current Practice: Invoices arrive, are approved and paid in a variety of locations.
Best Practice: All are dealt with in one centralised area, preferably by specified employees.

Current Practice: Issuing travel and entertainment reimbursement cheques.
Best Practice: Include payment along with monthly salary.

Current Practice: Petty cash box which anybody can access.
Best Practice: Don’t have one.

Current Practice: Urgent cheque request.
Best Practice: Don’t allow rush cheques.

Current Practice: A long winded paper trail of invoices and reconciliations.
Best Practice: Automate the 3 way match.

Current Practice: Time consuming duplicate payment retrieval.
Best Practice: Implement duplicate payment prevention technology.

Current Practice: Long processing and approval times – no early payment discount capture.
Best Practice: Implement AP automation solutions, including automated dynamic discounting.

Even if your organisation is unable to implement some of the more costly changes, by changing even just a few of the more minor ones, your organisation will see both a rise in productivity and, over time, this will generate an increase to the bottom line.

However, it’s good to bear in mind that best practice should be something which is constantly evolving. It’s no good to slavishly adhere to outmoded working methods. Ultimately, departmental success will depend on the ability to work within given boundaries, while keeping an open mind, receptive to change.

Purchase to Pay Network® (PPN) is a trusted information base with direct access to 14,000 key decision makers in the finance sector across a variety of different industries. 

Fast Fashion – But at What Price?

Is the concept of ethical fast fashion an oxymoron? Do we as consumers have a good enough grasp of the ethical considerations?

Today’s typical fashionista has high expectations. She, or maybe he, wants to buy cheap and affordable trendy clothes in the latest styles straight off the catwalk.

Never mind that an item is unlikely to last more than ten washes. Fast fashion is getting faster and cheaper, but what is the real cost to society and the environment? We may have an uneasy feeling about the issues, but generally have a poor grasp of ethics.

How important is this industry?  

The direct value of the UK fashion industry to the economy is around £26 billion and growing fast. Average spending on fashion in Europe is about €700 (>£500) per person per year. Italy, Germany and the UK are Europe’s largest fashion markets in terms of consumption.

Fashion’s total economic contribution is much more if we include activities in indirect and related industries. We may be feeding the economy with our purchases, but we are also harming the environment. Shipping, transportation and logistics are energy demanding, time consuming, and pollution-spewing.

The formula for success in this industry was always to give the customers what they wanted: trendy garments at the right price, of acceptable quality, in the right place, and with a dash of speed. In the last five years there has been a concerted effort by some retailers to become more ethical buyers, employing better human resources policies and safety practices.

Ethics in Fast Fashion

Do procurement teams harbour concerns about sweat shops or care about child labour or manage waste disposal? Or is it more important to buy cheap to satisfy the consumer who just wants to pay £3 for a T-shirt?

Paul Brownhill, Group Chief Executive at Britannia Garment Packaging, says that although the majority of consumers want quick access to the latest trends at an affordable price, they are now also seeking assurances about the way these items are produced. He notes that consumers are increasingly concerned about the quality, safety and environmental impact of the clothes they buy. Is this really true?

The University of British Columbia recently researched this issue and came to the conclusion that, theoretically, young consumers place an importance on sustainability but have a blind spot when it comes to fashion.

“They may care deeply about eating organic foods, but fast fashion consumption is exempt from such moral decisions. This approach can in part be explained by the fact that youthful consumers may fail to fully grasp issues of sustainability, in particular the disastrous future environmental risks associated with unsustainable production.”

Other similar studies demonstrate little evidence that ethical issues have any effect on consumers’ fashion choices or that they are likely to sacrifice their own personal needs for the greater good.

Some Bright Spots

Leading retailers like H&M, Gap and Zara have all signed a pledge to improve factory conditions. H&M, whose tag line is ‘Fashion and quality at the best price in a sustainable way’, was recently named one of the world’s most ethical companies by the Ethisphere Institute.

One of its claims to fame is that it is the number one user of organic cotton in the world. H&M, with 3,900 stores in 61 markets, is also one of the first and largest fashion companies in the world to make its supplier factory list public.

Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, (LVMH) a corporation comprising over sixty luxury brands, has been auditing its carbon footprint since 2004. Tiffany & Co. produces a Corporate Responsibility Report, which touts their support of human rights, anti-corruption practices, and commitment to responsible mining. This is all very commendable if it is more than just words on the page.

Fast Fashion and the Ecosystem

For those that do care about the future of our children and damage to the environment, there are a couple of other options. Buyers can check questionable supply sources, read every label, and buy only locally produced items, but this may come at a cost.

What about sourcing second-hand or hardly used items? Re-purposing items creates a positive ethical and environmental impact and can be both cost-effective and trend-setting – it even has possibilities in the commercial environment.

Landfills are full of synthetic material. Cheap clothing goes out of fashion and people end up with a lot of unwanted items. UK consumers ditch more than a million tons of clothing every year.

In poorer countries the problem is less noticeable; items get handed down and re-circulated until they totally disintegrate. In developed countries, they may end up in the rubbish bin.

What can we do to help?

  • We could support ethically sourced products from brands that have committed to best practice
  • We could create more awareness among commercial buyers about poor labour practices and sustainability
  • We could buy fewer higher quality garments to reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion.

The campaigning organisation Labour Behind the Label provides information on what brands need to do to up their game and move closer to employing ethical sourcing practices.

Suppliers are anxiously trying to satisfy the market’s needs for speed and price, at what cost? Is ethical fast fashion” an oxymoron?

Are Procurement Professionals Stuck in the Stone Age? – Part III

If procurement technology is stuck in the stone age, what do we need to do to modernise? We take a look at some B2C examples for inspiration.

So far in this series, Market Dojo and Odesma have discussed whether procurement technology is stuck in the stone age, and why B2B software isn’t keeping up with its B2C counterparts. This article examines some B2C companies getting it right.

This article was originally published on Market Dojo.

Slowly but surely, not only do we see B2B companies adopting B2C ideologies, but some B2C companies are jumping in and filling the gap left by B2B providers. Granted, the complexity of B2B companies isn’t completely covered by the consumer oriented companies, so they are aiming more at the smaller companies. But all the same it still highlights a shift in the market.

By taking a couple of examples, we can see where these changes are happening and examples of B2C solutions doing it right.

Uber and Freight Brokering

MD - Uber

The transportation networking company Uber originally focussed on the B2C space by bringing together people looking to travel in the same direction, aggregating the demand and sharing out the cost of the journey to charge a lower price.

Targeting those traveling for personal reasons and commuters, they are paying special attention to the business sector with their latest development of business profiles.

More recently, focus has shifted to the freight industry where they hope to achieve similar by introducing mobile-based freight brokering technology. Not only will there be a reduction in number of ‘empty miles’ travelled, mobile-based freight brokering technology can help lower operating costs, improve fuel efficiency, boost asset utilisation and enhance resource productivity.

Benefits which Uber have been reaping since they formed in 2009.

Amazon Business

Amazon touch briefly on the B2B side with Amazon Business. With benefits like integration with purchasing systems and order approval workflows, they have adapted Amazon to create Amazon for business.

This could have extreme effects on the the current technology providers, should Amazon develop an eSourcing/eAuction aspect. It would not be that difficult for them to make the shift.

Another area in which Amazon has moved to a B2B focus is with their hosting options. This isn’t an adaptation of their B2C offering, but an entirely new market for them.

Software as a Service

MD - Airbnb

Airbnb, for example, provide a marketplace that allows one to search for and/or offer accommodation. Their sleek design, mobile-optimisation, carefully thought-out filters, and simple sign-in methods are something to be rivalled. Having relied heavily on investment, they have been able to afford the development costs and created a really neat SaaS product.

MD - ProcurifyProcurify is another such example of improved, B2C-esque usability. They aim to provide P2P technology without the presumed “boring” grey-scale colour scheme and clunky design that we have seen (and expected?) for so long. They have responsive design and mobile applications available. With their bright colours and simplistic design, they are very appealing.

Social Networks

But will this new technology, mainly adopted by new companies, only appeal to the millennials of today? Will previous generations appreciate this or seek their old faithful, familiar, providers.

Jive is also an interesting example. Marketed as “The Next Leap for Social Intranet Software“, their user interface is very similar to that of Facebook. Or, at least, Facebook 3 years ago.

MD - Jive

The concept is brilliant – provide companies with an internal social platform to share company news and collaborate. However the user interface still leaves something to be desired. Granted it’s one of the best on the market, and I am in no way criticising them specifically, but overall, there is still a lack of ease-of-use in B2B social platforms in comparison with B2C.

Is this because we expect it, because more complexity is required, or because the design needs to remain colourless and simple?

LinkedIn have recently redesigned their ‘groups’ making them more user-friendly and appealing, so increased usability is something which they pay attention to. But the creativity of design is definitely lacking in the B2B world. Why does business have to be so boring?!

The procurement community is lucky to benefit from the industry specific, social platform Procurious, which, with its bright colours and easy interface has a very B2C feel – which differs greatly from LinkedIn.

MD - LinkedIn and Procurious

In the picture on the left, you can see crowded text and pictures with no clear direction of what to look at next with a few small tabs at the top to interact with.

On the right the information on the profile page is broken down into tabs and the contact information on the left-hand side makes it easy to see details of an individual.

It seems that Procurious, being a more recent development, has taken learnings from other solutions (in its space) to create a more user friendly social media platform. Whilst LinkedIn (above left) is busy and cluttered, Procurious provides a more simplistic, clearer view. If you haven’t done so already, definitely recommend getting involved there and signing up to the tool.

Global Trading

MD - Alibaba

Alibaba provides an online platform for global wholesale trade. They launched in 1999 and attempt to make sourcing of goods and suppliers more simple for businesses, working with millions of suppliers across the globe.

Within the tool, they have a categorised search option for buyers with the ability to ‘get quotations’ from the approved supplier list within Alibaba (AliSource Suppliers).

So how will B2B software and technology evolve in the next decade? Make sure you read the final part of this series to see what we think.

Market Dojo and Odesma have partnered to combine their intuitive eSourcing software and expertise in offering business advisory services to offer clients a winning procurement solution.