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President Trump and Procurement – The Impact

As the weeks unfold, we begin to get a better understanding of what impact a Trump Presidency will have on procurement.

trump impact procurement

There is, of course, no need to introduce the events of Tuesday 8th of November 2016 to readers. On that day, Donald Trump won enough Electoral College votes to be elected as the next President of the USA.

The implications for the procurement industry may at times be daunting and hard to anticipate. However this article should shed some broad light on some of the possible implications. Two of the main implications are infrastructure spending and trade deals.

In terms of Trump’s policy platform, detail is so often conspicuous by its absence. In his “Contract with the American Voter” however, he has outlined extensive policy proposals for his first 100 days as President.

Impact on Infrastructure

The first likely impact is infrastructure, which is one key tenet of this “contract”. Despite having far-right positions on many areas, Trump does have more centrist positions on some areas, especially infrastructure investment.

This may well boost the economy, albeit fuelled by debt, unless highly ambitious funding mechanisms come to fruition. He has vowed to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure over ten years. This would of course require huge procurement expertise for large road and bridge building and various other industries. We will have to wait and see what happens with building walls, however!

But the real impact of this expansive infrastructure spending would not be the huge procurement processes required, but more the method through which it may be achieved.

Whilst it is far from certain how the incoming administration could fund such a project, while providing perhaps the biggest ever tax cut, he would also need Congressional approval.

Public-Private Partnership Proposals

The infrastructure is not proposed as fully funded by the federal government, but largely through public-private partnerships (PPPs). If this sets a trend, the implications for funding of public services in the USA and other countries, especially developed market economies such as Western Europe, could be significant.

PPPs such as this have been generally successful in some cases and rampant failures in others. In the UK’s National Health Service for example, they have been a highly controversial mechanism. Many argue PPPs have fostered long-term financing issues, and harmed patient care and outcomes.

Further, many argue that the privatisation that PPPs cause brings about fundamental change to the relationship between the state and citizens. With this, public services are delivered based on promises of profit. For infrastructure investment to go ahead, it has to be based not on the gain for society, economy or environment, but where a surplus can be extracted.

Impact on Global Trade

The second main impact will be Trump’s influence on global trade, which is a driver of prosperity worldwide, alongside his threats of protectionism. Since the global financial crisis, cross-border trade has stagnated. This has been the longest period of stagnation for over 70 years.

Trump has an overtly protectionist stance. He has already threatened to hike tariffs on imports from China and Mexico, as well as pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.

In broad economic terms, this would increase living costs for domestic citizens. It would, without any doubt, be reciprocated by other countries such as China (as early noise coming from Beijing confirms). It would also affect jobs in export industries in the USA and the USA’s economy as a whole.

For public procurement in the USA however, this could also be significant. American public services could be restricted from products they currently source cheaply from abroad.

The increased costs from domestic purchases have to be made up from somewhere, such as savings in other areas, purchasing lower quality goods or increasing costs for users of public services.

The same could be true in Canada and Mexico. If the USA pulls out of NAFTA and applies tariffs on Mexican and Canadian goods, reciprocal protectionism would restrict Canadian and Mexican access to high-quality goods and services sourced from the USA.

Global Impact

Outside North America, the implications could also be significant for procurement professionals around the world. President Obama has been pushing hard to ratify the world’s largest ever free trade agreement – the Transpacific Partnership (TPP).

This opens procurement markets, and removes tariffs, between 12 countries, including Australia, Japan and Vietnam. Trump has confirmed he will cancel this deal on his first day in office. This will deny public procurement across all participating countries the opportunity to increase procurement competitiveness and reduce sourcing costs. It’s also likely to decrease the choice of the goods and services available for purchase.

The same is true with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The trading impact of TTIP, between the USA and European Union, would have been huge. Whilst talks reached an impasse in 2016 when negotiating procurement market access, Trump is likely to be the final nail in the coffin.

TTIP again would have been a boon to procurement teams in all countries, with increases in competition and decreases in price for all countries. This would have provided European contracting authorities with tariff-free access to high-quality American goods and services and vice versa.

Despite the threats of uncontrolled climate change and protectionism, the impacts of a Trump presidency are really yet to be known. Yes, Trump may have secured his “contract” with the American voter. But the contract will be re-tendered in under four years. The outcome of that really is unknown.

3 Key Qualities That Help Create an Agile Team

Plenty organisations talk about creating an agile procurement team. However, few actually put the qualities in place to increase their agility.

creating agile teams

I recently attended The Hackett Group’s 2016 ‘European Best Practices Conference’ in London, where Nic Walden, Senior Procurement Advisor, led a Procurement workshop on creating agility.

Speaking to the 40 or so procurement leaders in the room, Nic noted that increasingly agility is the defining trait of world-class procurement teams, both today and in future.

“More agile functions will be better positioned to respond to complex business problems. They can make and implement important decisions quickly, respond rapidly to changes in business demands or priorities, and maintain or improve cost under volatile business conditions”, explained Nic.

But how do you go about developing your team, improve efficiency and move from low to high agility?

Using The Hackett Group’s model, Nic divided the qualities that contribute to agility into three categories:

  • Adaptive Organisation
  • Information Centricity
  • Agile Service Execution

1) Is Your Team Adaptive?

Perhaps most importantly, an agile team must be an adaptive one. There are several ways to achieve this within your organisation:

Keep Learning

With mobility, cloud, artificial intelligence, and supplier networks accelerating at an unprecedented rate, Nic urged workshop participants: “Even if you are not a technologist, it is never too late to become one.”

For example, what are these new technologies? And how might we apply them to create value for our teams and business?

Are you continuously transforming your team’s capabilities to ensure they’re keeping pace with the evolution of the business? To be sustainable, change management should be embedded in your team with the opportunities to continuously upgrade, learn new skills and employ new capabilities.

Change your Strategies

Top management looks to procurement teams to help the business execute purchasing strategies more successfully. In turn, this enables the business to become more agile and innovative.

There is no need to stick to traditional approaches when considering how best to include fresh thinking and new idea generation in your supply base. Leadership teams should make quick decisions, be calculated when it comes to risk taking, and seize opportunities to think and act differently.

Adapt to your Talent

The Millennial Generation represents one of the greatest potential challenges to managing and adapting to talent in the next year or two.

Surveys tell us Millennials are likely to remain in a job for three years or fewer. Training strategies need to be modernised to reflect this accelerated reality, as well as changing learning styles and preferences. Strategies like 70-20-10 that get people up to speed faster and the use of more interactive, workshop and team based formats should be preferred.

The pace at which open positions can be filled affects operational agility, as does the efficiency of your organisation’s on-boarding process.

Given that staff turnover can be high, as in the case of Millennials, it’s crucial to save time here in order to maximise the contributions employees can make to the business.

2) Is information, knowledge and intelligence centric to all your team does?

Perhaps the greatest opportunity remains for many organisations to leverage information to enhance decision making. This opportunity can be looked at much broader than only historic spend data.

Is your team able to navigate information effectively? Do you have the insight to take necessary decisions quickly?

Invest in the right technology

Nic highlighted how “world-class procurement organisations spend 23 per cent more on technology per FTE, and invest a greater proportion of their budget than the peer group on systems and tools to enable analytics capability.”

The right technology, implemented correctly and consistently across teams, is worth the investment.

Know your stakeholders

Make it a priority to engage with and meet your key stakeholders in order to understand their needs, the problems they face and therefore the data needed to solve these problems.

Decision-making should be based on actual information and KPIs tracking value delivery mutually aligned across your team and stakeholders.

Harness the Value of Big Data

It all starts at quality data. Big Data has the potential to transform analytics with real-time intelligence. Procurement leaders are realising that higher-quality information can help them drive greater business value.

Big Data has been a game changer when it comes to customer analytics, offering an unprecedented ability to quickly model massive volumes of structured and unstructured data from multiple sources.

Enhanced and more granular demand sensing and forecast accuracy are obvious examples for procurement and supply chain teams.

Automate Your Reporting

Adopting automated reporting and dashboards helps to streamline information, saves your team time and significantly reduces human error.

Real time reporting allows for speedier, pro-active decision making which will help your organisation to quickly achieve strategic alignment. What’s not to love?

3) Does your team execute service in a responsive, customer centric and agile way?

In an agile team, Nic notes that talent is “empowered, accountable and incentivised to focus single-mindedly on the customer – the internal stakeholder.”

Use Focus Groups To Prioritise

Set up focus groups to provide “voice of the customer” recommendations into what really matters. Your team’s product and service offerings should be designed from the outside in, beginning with the customer experience.

What outcomes or challenges will deliver optimum value? New innovations that your team seeks to implement should be driven as a result of customer and stakeholder feedback.

Act holistically

Try to create an end-to-end customer experience that cuts across multiple procurement (and sometimes other function) processes.

From the beginning, engage and involve the key players (ex. legal, finance, R&D, etc) in the processes that affect the customer experience.

Women in Procurement – An International Survey

Gender imbalance in business is clear to see. But, in procurement, how do professional associations stack up in terms of percentage of women members? 

Women in Procurement Study

Procurious recently launched Bravo: Celebrating Women in Procurement. Join the discussion here.

It’s well documented that females represent less than 5 per cent of CEO positions in S&P-500 companies, but organisation with greater diversity have enhanced business results.

Less described is the status of female participation across the procurement profession. So I decided to explore this using data from international Purchasing Associations (PAs).

Feedback from 22 PAs having a subscription base of around 230,000 members was received. I found that, on average, women accounted for 41 per cent of the membership base. However, the figure is skewed because the largest association is close to 50 per cent.

In reality, the majority of the other associations are in the 20-35 per cent female membership range. This also makes them a long way from gender parity.

PAs also reported that typically only 30 per cent of females attend their conferences and events, and that, correspondingly, a little under 20 per cent of women present at them.

There are also considerable differences between the national PA’s on how they are currently addressing the topic. Barring a few exceptions, most of them having no active forums.

Recent Procurement Studies

Various aspects of this topic have been outlined via a variety of different media. The most notable ones include:

Nonetheless, so far gender participation from a PA perspective has not been explored.

Methodology

Over 30 national PA’s were approached for their participation in a “Women in Procurement” survey. The following 22 replied: Australia, Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, UK, USA and Vietnam.

The PA’s were sent a survey that had a combination of quantitative and qualitative questions.

Women in Procurement – The Findings

The percentage of female members from the individual PA’s has been clustered and summarised into four groups. Of the 22 respondents 21 of them provided relevant data.

This identifies that the majority of the PA’s have considerable opportunity to approach membership gender parity:

The consultancy named “Catalyst” reports gender participation at different organisational levels in a pyramidal format. Unfortunately, despite trying to explore role level with the PA’s, they did not have enough data to be able to compose any related trends.

One exception, CIPS, the UK purchasing association, has a variety of member levels, differentiated by certification. The highest, most senior level (called Fellows) had 17 per cent women (despite being a cluster 4 PA).

Nonetheless, an interesting trend was noted in the decreasing differences between percentage membership, percentage event attendance, and percentage speaker/presenters.

For the PA’s as a composite group the trend was 40 per cent, 30 per cent and 19 per cent respectively. Not quite the pyramid, but certainly a trend with procurement women having decreasing visibility.

Furthermore, it does beg the question why is there a decreasing participation, and, what can PA’s do to achieve enhanced parity?

Maintaining Highest Level of Inclusion

Despite being informed by the MD of one PA that they “simply weren’t interested in this topic”, the survey research has been able to collate snapshots from different global PA’s and related associations addressing the Women in Procurement opportunity.

This includes:

  • CIPS-MENA (Middle East and North Africa) branch hosted a “Women in Procurement in Saudi” in May 2016. It is the first of its sort in the Middle East.
  • Procurement Leaders have launched in September 2016 an interesting microsite.

When talent compares a prospective career in Procurement with Finance, Marketing, Sales, IT, etc., our track record as a profession might be a problem. And it is hardly enough just to be aware of the issue.

Procurement Associations have an obligation, not only to their members, but to the organisations and communities that engage them, to maintain the highest possible standards and society inclusion.

Enhancing the Profession

What should Procurement Associations do to enhance the attractiveness of the profession…?

On 5th October 2016, CIPS-Switzerland held a “Women in Procurement” evening event. Over 80 participants enjoyed presentations from three great speakers. We now have plans to start a CIPS-Switzerland WiP forum.

The first letter of the word inclusion is “I” – what can “I” be doing about a topic of interest or an arena that needs addressing? It’s your turn now…!

John Everett is the CIPS-Switzerland branch chairperson as well as the EMEAI regional purchasing director for The Dow Chemical Company. His 30-year career spans product innovation, business development, procurement and business services leadership.

Carving Out a Niche in the Supply Market

Large organisations are no longer a closed shop for small, niche suppliers. In fact, they are now being actively sought out for their skills.

carving a niche

Procurious is at ProcureCon IT in Amsterdam this week. Stay up to date with what’s happening on Procurious, and by following us on Twitter.

The procurement profession has started to come to the conclusion that bigger isn’t always necessarily better. This is particularly the case when it comes to suppliers. Larger suppliers may be able to offer lower costs, and greater security but when it comes to agility and innovation,  niche suppliers are the ones for the job.

Traditionally, these smaller suppliers have been bunched into the ‘tail spend’ classification. However, procurement has realised that by allowing the tail to wag the dog, as it were, opportunities are being missed. Niche vendors have creative and unique methods of communicating and innovating that procurement should be tapping into.

Identifying and managing niche vendors was the topic of a very informative panel discussion at ProcureCon IT this afternoon. Chaired by Procurious founder, Tania Seary, the panel also included:

  • Soren Mølby Henriksen – Head of Procurement Innovation, Danske Bank
  • Claire Tapping, Head of Sourcing & Commercial – IT and Business Process Outsourcing, Rolls Royce
  • Samantha McCarthy, Global Procurement Manager IT, Reckitt Benckiser

Niche Suppliers a “Source of Innovation”

The question for procurement often isn’t finding smaller suppliers, but how to engage them. Traditional procurement processes are set up for larger suppliers, and it’s a much too onerous process for suppliers without similar resources.

But, as the panellists pointed out, large organisations are now turning an increasing amount of attention towards niche suppliers and adapting their contracts accordingly to be less risk averse.

Soren Mølby-Henriksen  noted that, within five years, banks won’t exist. The future of banking is digital, and it might take niche vendors to help this evolution.

Danske Bank recently stepped into the start-up market to source innovative suppliers. Mølby-Henriksen discussed why start-ups were such a big focus for Danske Bank’s procurement team. The set up in the procurement team is to address specific “pain points”. The bank has brought together a variety of suppliers, including start-ups, to conduct a dialogue on solving these issues.

Once solutions are found, they are documented, and then matured to see how they can be implemented. Although the process is relatively new, it’s found some solid support amongst Danske Bank’s suppliers.

Another positive for the procurement team is that it’s also helped to reduce negotiation time, as many discussions are happening up front.

Engagement a Mindset Shift

While Danske Bank appears to have found a way to engage niche suppliers, it’s still an issue for many organisations.

Claire Tapping discussed how there can be some initial pushback when it comes to engaging smaller companies over concerns that it might be too risky to do so.

But she believes it is often proven easier to negotiate with niche vendors who aren’t restricted by a hierarchy of governance and teams of lawyers trying to mitigate risks. Another benefit of niche vendors is that they have a smaller focus. As such, they tend to do what they do to a higher standard than a larger organisation.

Leveraging competencies, while keeping suppliers engaged can also be a challenging proposition.

The panellists agreed that the impact of disruptors, such as blockchain and bitcoin, on the Financial sector was driving a need for change. But, this change involved a serious mindset shift for many of the financial organisations.

Procurement needed to shift it’s business angle to fully understand what they were doing before they entered the market. The vendor space in IT and technology is a completely different beast, where suppliers might not work with you if your business isn’t trendy enough.

Agility & Responsiveness Key

The final tips for engaging niche suppliers was the key role that agility and responsiveness played for procurement. Claire Tapping highlighted the issues procurement faces in keeping pace with business changes.

Relationships and engagement with the suppliers would rely on procurement becoming a “customer of choice” for the smaller suppliers. Without staying more agile, procurement could face a situation where the supplier is brought in by the business. If this happened, procurement is left playing catch up, and its value is diminished.

For procurement in financial services, niche suppliers open up a whole host of possibilities. As Tapping reminded us today, many organisations bring in the smaller vendors because they don’t know what they want!  Once the suppliers are on board, there’s more new thinking in order to ensure great engagement.

How this plays out will be interesting to see, as procurement in other industries will need to do likewise, probably in the very near future.

What Tech Start-Ups Need to Know About M&A Deals

While M&A deals have decreased in 2016, broken deals are on the rise. So what do tech start-ups need to know before getting involved?

M&A rules

Christina Wojcik, vice president of legal services at Seal Software, breaks down the steps to consider throughout the M&A process.

With over $5 trillion in deals signed in 2015, it was a record breaking year for M&A activity. However, 2016 does not appear to be following suit.

Over the first eight months of this year global M&A dropped to $2.2 trillion with 28,720 deals. This is compared to $2.9 trillion with 30,894 deals at the same time last year.

In fact, 2016 appears to be a record year for broken deals instead. Between Brexit concerns and US anti-trust regulations, an increasing number of deals are breaking down before they become official.

The Unknown 

M&A deals are complex events that require overcoming a hefty number of obstacles. These include corporate governance, forms of payment, legal concerns, contractual issues, regulatory approval and tax issues.

It’s very challenging to fully assess and understand the kinds of contractual risks, restrictions, obligations, and exposure companies will take on after the deal is closed.

Uncovering this information requires many hours of manual contract review work from either a law firm or lower-cost legal service provider. Before they can even begin reviewing the documents, organisations first must find and centralise all the relevant contracts.

This may sound simple, but tracking down thousands of contracts, which have been created in varying formats, across different departments, and stored in various locations over the years, is an arduous and sometimes overwhelming undertaking.

The Real Work

Once all contractual documents are collected, the real workof extracting contract data begins. It’s vital that the data be useful before closing a deal. Legal teams must review a host of provisions, and not fully understanding assignment or change of control provisions can be especially detrimental to the dynamic of the acquisition.

If your contracts cannot be assigned, or if change of control triggers automatic termination for cause, the strategic value of the acquisition may be called into question. This can, in turn, lead to many hours of renegotiation.

In addition to assignment and change of control, here are a few more to consider:

  • Be aware: Auto-renewal

Many sales organisations work to negotiate auto-renewals and every procurement department dreads tracking auto-renewal provisions. If the goal is to terminate a contract within the specific notification period, you must know which contracts contain the provision and the window for cancellation.

A missed auto-renewal can result in hidden costs that most companies will not have considered. One of our customers, a large energy company, discovered they were auto-renewing a lease costing $400,000 per year on property they didn’t use, three years after a takeover.

  • No nonsense: Non-competes & non-solicits

Monetary damages can also occur if a company breaks a non-compete or non-solicit clause. It’s important to know whether contracts include these provisions, as a non-compete is a promise from both the buyer and seller to refrain from engaging in activities with competitors.

A non-solicit clause prohibits a company from trying to lure or hire the other company’s customers or employees. This is particularly relevant when two companies in the same industry merge, as many of each company’s existing customers or partners are likely competitors.

  • Identify: Indemnity

The acquiring company should clearly understand what the target company has agreed to indemnify. These limitations of liability can be very complex and should be heavily negotiated prior to closing an M&A deal.

These are often the most negotiated provisions and typically have cross-references which makes them especially difficult to fully comprehend.

Careful review of the indemnification provisions of each contract is needed to ensure that these provisions align with the combined entity’s indemnification standards and practices.

  • Limit: Unlimited liability

When startups are motivated to close a new deal, especially with big, recognisable brands, they will often accept potentially unacceptable provisions. This is commonly seen with limitation of liabilities. Accepting unlimited liability does not necessarily pose a large risk to a startup, because they have much less to lose.

However, it can pose a significant risk to established organisations with much higher exposure if they accept that unlimited liability. It becomes very important for the acquiring company to quickly identify contracts containing unlimited liability. They can then look to renegotiate, amend, or possibly terminate, the contract.

We worked with a software giant which bought a startup and discovered it had inherited numerous unlimited liability provisions. A small problem for the $1.5 million startup, but a much bigger problem for the $1 billion company.

The Silver Lining

As M&A activity increases, especially within the startup world, knowing what’s in contracts is more important than ever. Having easy access to and visibility into contracts data is essential.

Due to the time sensitivity on many M&A deals, and the manual labour often required to analyse contracts, most companies resort to sampling just a small portion of the target company’s contracts. They assume that if the sample passes the test, the rest will as well.

But, countless cases prove that this approach exposes the acquiring company with risk they had not anticipated. Luckily, current contract technology offers machine learning and natural language processing solutions.

This allows organisations going through the M&A process to streamline the due diligence process, to consolidate contracts, pinpoint and understand risk, and uncover vendor consolidation opportunities.

Contract Intelligence Can Reduce M&A Concerns

Contract intelligence solutions can also help to alleviate some of the M&A concerns companies have when it comes to Brexit. By gaining full insight into the terms impacted by the separation from the EU, such as governing law, currencies, and other commercial terms, companies may find that the merger, acquisition, spin-off, etc. will actually give them a competitive advantage or provide for growth.

By extracting metadata and clauses through a sophisticated search and analytics, businesses can quickly understand the risk and opportunities in those contracts and determine if there is still value to the deal. This will help facilitate closures with the added security of fully knowing what is being acquired.

So put away the extra water or paracetamol. By understanding contract terms, you’ll prevent the post-deal hangover that so many rushed deals result in.

Christina Wojcik leads the Legal Service Channels division, globally, at Seal Software. As VP of Legal Services, Christina engages with legal industry partners to create best-in-class solutions to meet the complex contractual needs of Fortune 1000 organisations.

Seal Software is a leading provider of contract discovery. It uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to help companies efficiently uncover what’s in their contracts.

Getting Ahead of the Cognitive Technology Wave

There’s a paradox in artificial intelligence and cognitive technology. They can help us stay ahead, but also be the cause of major disruption.

cognitive technology

Introducing Watson Supply Chain from IBM. Get to know Watson here.

“The future always comes too fast.” Those are the words of Alvin Toffler, the best-selling author and futurist known for his works examining the impact of technologies.

It seems paradoxical that the technologies that help us stay competitive in today’s global business environment can also disrupt industries.

For example, if your career spans 25 years, you probably have some personal perspective on this disruption. We’ve seen the Internet, enterprise software, and mobile phones emerge and evolve – and now could never imagine doing business without them. They’ve not only transformed our businesses and industries, but our lives and our world.

Some technologies cause ripples, some cause waves. Some businesses and industries benefit from the resulting changes, and others fall behind. A few businesses see changes on the horizon and take action. Yet others get swept up in the tide.

The Next Wave: Cognitive Technology

What’s the next wave? The next game-changing technology on par with the Internet, enterprise software, and mobile devices? Many analysts point to artificial intelligence, also known as cognitive technology.

Cognitive technologies are no longer the realm of science fiction. According to TechRepublic (ZDNet), technology and economics are aligning in a way that puts us at “a tipping point after which the use of artificial intelligence will become commonplace.”

IDC estimates that, by 2020, 50 percent of all business software will incorporate some cognitive computing functionality.

Also, the Pew Research Center noted, “By 2025, artificial intelligence will be built into the algorithmic architecture of countless functions of business and communication, increasing relevance, reducing noise, increasing efficiency and reducing risk across everything from finding information to making transactions.”

The Thinking Technology

Cognitive technologies actually understand, learn, and think through any objective, problem, or question you present, and then offer detailed answers, analysis, or solutions. They reason and learn like a human, but at enormous scale and speed, providing deeper insights and intelligence.

Cognitive technology presents a tremendous opportunity to business and procurement. For example, with cognitive technologies, procurement organisations can provide very detailed supplier assessments in just minutes, drawing from a wide range of data sources.

Additionally, they can provide much more in-depth risk assessments and uncover previously hidden sources of disruption and risk. And procurement can become more adept at innovating, providing the business new insights and opportunities.

In sum, cognitive technologies can unlock unimagined new insights, enable enhanced decision making, and deliver highly optimised outcomes and value.

Opportunity or Disruption

The opportunity for cognitive technology is tremendous, but organisations need to look ahead and prepare. Procurement leaders should start thinking how cognitive technology will transform roles and organisations. They must re-skill their team with talents that enable this shift.

Perhaps the best ways to do so are to start cognitive projects in certain key areas. Think about what projects or processes in your organisation could most benefit from cognitive technology.

As you apply these technologies to certain tasks and processes, you’ll begin developing internal capability and expertise. And you’ll begin to enhance the skill set of your professionals.

Another way to prepare for the cognitive future is to develop and hone data analytics skills and projects. Even in the absence of perfect systems or perfect data, analytics programs can provide tremendous value.

Levels of procurement and analytics maturity can vary and evolve over time. However, analytics can immediately play a key role in enabling procurement transformation and success, across a number of areas, including:

  • Savings and value creation;
  • Risk mitigation; or
  • Supplier development and innovation.

Research shows that the most successful procurement organisations take a more comprehensive approach to analytics technologies. And such programs build the foundation for application and success of cognitive technologies.

The future is always just around the corner. But some waves of technology innovation are bigger than others. Cognitive, by all accounts, is one of those big waves.

For those who fail to prepare, it guarantees disruption. For those who take the reins, it presents tremendous opportunity.

What if you could see the supply chain road ahead and mitigate risks before they become obstructions? For procurement, this helping hand can come from IBM Watson Supply Chain. Find out all you need to know here.

Supplier Engagement – The Advent Calendar Challenge

This Christmas, why not turn your advent calendar into a supplier engagement challenge? Sorry, there’s no chocolate involved…

advent calendar challenge

An idea came to me during a recent commute. With the shopping days to Christmas rapidly counting down and as we start to look forward to the season’s festivities, I thought about my son’s advent calendar and the treats he’ll find behind each door.

Then I thought about a way to turn this into a powerful and productive challenge to build, reinforce and develop relationships with suppliers.

Here’s my idea. There are 17 working days this December – 17 doors. Behind each day’s door could be opportunity, problem resolution and innovation!

The challenge is simple – to call a different supplier each day and have a conversation. Simple. Too simple perhaps. So there’s a Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced challenge depending on how comfortable with supplier engagement you are.

Beginner Level

The easiest suppliers to speak to ‘should’ be the ones you currently do business with.

Call one of your current suppliers each day during December. Thank them for their help this year. Tell them what they’ve done well, how they’ve helped you and your business. Also, tell them what you’re looking forward to improving on with them in 2017.

Practically too, this is a great opportunity to find out what the supplier’s business hours will be over the festive period to ensure that contact arrangements and any contingency plans are in place if required.

Be interested in their plans for the festive break. Finally, make sure there’s something in the diary for 2017 to continue the conversation.

Intermediate Level

The intermediate level is to call a supplier you’ve never spoken to before (but which might be relevant to your business of course).

Find out what they do and how they do it. What have been their biggest achievements this year and what have they got planned for next year.  By this stage you are likely to have either ruled them in, or out, as interesting for the future.

If of no interest, that’s fine – but maybe they’ve got something very relevant to offer you in 2017 and they could help you. If that’s the case, book a follow up meeting for January! And yes, Public Sector friends, this is ok!

Advanced Level

The hardest group of suppliers to pick the phone up to might be those that have responded to your RFx and Tender processes this year, but which have not secured any of your business. Or suppliers whose contracts have expired and you’ve gone your separate ways.

Call one of these suppliers each day during December to thank them once more for their participation in your process or previous contracts. Find out how business has been for them this year, and whether the feedback you gave them has been useful to them and how they have developed or improved.

Ask them what they are looking forwards to next year and think about whether there might be an opportunity to re-engage in future.

Reward

Whilst an advent calendar themed challenge is a bit of fun, the benefits of this challenge I hope are obvious.

From practical information like opening hours over Christmas through to discussing, and potentially solving, real business problems. From identifying potential innovation opportunities to just finding out what your account manager is doing for Christmas, these conversations could add real value to you and your organisation.

Remember, as you walk past shop windows at this time of year, that you are your own personal shop window. And you are your company’s shop window to its suppliers, past present and future.

These conversations will build your personal brand and your company’s brand too. You might even have a list of ideas and opportunities to look forward to on that difficult first working morning after New Year too!

Share your Stories!

As it is the season for sharing. Please comment or reply and share your feedback on this challenge and on some of the conversations you’ve had. No one is going to check you’ve made 17 calls, but if everyone makes some calls, I’m sure there will be some direct value from it.

Enjoy connecting, and Season’s Greetings to you all!

Is Black Friday Still Important for Retailers?

Millions of consumers will be after a Black Friday bargain today. But, as a single day, is it still as important for retailers?

black friday sign

It’s that time of year again. The Thanksgiving turkey is digested, attention turns to Christmas, and Black Friday has arrived. Traditionally an American shopping day, Black Friday has expanded to hundreds of countries around the world.

An estimated £4 billion (nearly $5 billion) will be spent over the next 4 days between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Of this, around half will be spent today, and an estimated £1.27 billion will be spent online.

However, as consumers change their shopping habits at this time of year, retailers are doing likewise. There are a couple of reasons for this, which we will have a look at now.

In Store vs. Online

The abiding image of Black Friday for most people is massive crowds, stampedes, fights over bargains (and the occasional punch up). The potential deals that stores offer are enough to turn the shoppers against one another.

And for many, this is enough to put them off leaving their house at all. In fact, the number of people heading out to the shops in the US on Black Friday has dropped to below 25 per cent, driven by more Millennials choosing to shop at home.

However, that doesn’t mean that less money is spent. In the USA, experts predict that total holiday spending (the months of November and December) will hit $632 billion. And, for the first time, over half of that money will be spent online.

Retailers are also changing their habits when it comes to opening times today. In previous years, many have started their sales at midnight, in order to maximise the shopping time available for consumers. But many stores are now choosing to revert to normal opening hours (something of a relief for staff, I’m sure!).

Surveys have shown that 59 per cent of shoppers do not agree with stores opening on Thanksgiving. But it’s not just consumer pressure, and benevolence to staff, keeping stores closed. The fall in in-store trading over the Black Friday weekend means that retailers aren’t turning as big a profit as they would like.

Add to the mix increased costs of opening (higher staff wages, security, logistics, and potential bad press), and it shows why retailers are stepping back from early opening.

Black Friday ‘Creep’

Another reason for retailers not seeing the benefits of Black Friday in store is the so-called ‘creep’. Much like adverts for Christmas 2017 started a few weeks ago (I kid you not…), online retailers have started to spread the sales out.

Amazon, largely considered to be the biggest exponent of Black Friday, started their sales in early November. And it plans to run these daily sales until the 22nd of December too. They weren’t the only ones, with Tesco amongst a host of companies starting sales earlier this week.

Some online retailers have done this to spread the logistical load of ensuring everyone gets their purchases in time for the holidays. Amazon are clearly learning their lesson from a few years ago, when it experienced serious bottlenecks in deliveries.

Bad Deals and Brexit

One thing that consumers need to be aware of before splashing the cash is that they might not be getting the best deal. A report from Which found that only half of Black Friday deals are actually cheapest on that day.

Retailers have been accused of inflating their pre-sale price to make a deal seem better. And, in fact, shoppers may have been able to find products cheaper at different times of year. The UK Government’s Pricing Practices Guidelines (PPG) states that any sale “must reflect the most recent price an item has been sold at for 28 consecutive days or more.”

So it’s worth being careful when it comes to your shopping, and not get swept up in the promotions. However, that said, UK shoppers might want to take advantage of the lower prices this year. As has already been seen this year, prices for goods and services look set to rise in 2017 as a result of Brexit and a weak pound.

The majority of rises are likely to happen in January, with Next, electronics retailer AO, Apple, Microsoft, and Dell, all either anticipating rising costs, or putting prices up already. So it might be that British shoppers won’t get the same deals this time next year.

The Last Word

Deals or no deals, I’ll be one of the Millennials shopping online today (after working hours, of course!). However, I wanted to leave the last word on Black Friday to Asda. The retail giant was one of the first UK stores to bring Black Friday deals to this country, thanks to its links to Wal-Mart.

However, following chaotic and violent scenes in 2014, the company shelved its plans last year. And for 2016, they’ve taken a novel approach to announcing a similar strategy for today, and why they’ll aim to have low prices all year round.

If nothing else, the video should make you smile. Happy shopping!

Crowdsourcing is the New Black – Use it to Your Advantage

The revolution in business financing is opening up a new world for small businesses. Here’s how to turn crowdsourcing to your advantage.

crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is the new black. Over the past few years, this approach has enabled organisations to not only raise working capital, but also to build brand advocates, as a marketing tool, and a way of raising additional dollars for marketing purposes.

Startups have turned to crowdsourcing as a legitimate form of capital raising for a while. However, now established brands are following their lead.

Major brands like Dodge, Honda, Kimberly-Clark, DC Entertainment, American Express, Proctor & Gamble, Phillips, Microsoft and Coca-Cola have all turned to crowdfunding.

These brands have realised that crowdsourcing is a fairly inexpensive way to quickly reach thousands of potential customers and find out what they really think. It’s a pretty incredible tool when the backer dollars start rolling in.

Coca-Cola & Crowdsourcing

Coca-Cola has undertaken a few prominent crowdfunding projects in a bid to reap the social media and branding benefits. These include projects such as one to provide more clean water resources in rural areas in Mexico.

In another example, Coca-Cola turned to crowdfunding as a way to cracking a troublesome marketing brief. The company was amazed to receive 3,600 responses, and was blown away by the quality of the submissions. It said the film quality was better than it was getting from its agency partners.

The reason crowdsourcing can be so successful for brands is that is allows customers to become part of the plot line. Instead of passively consuming your brand’s marketing material, suddenly, they’re engaged and following your brand’s story.

Giving people the opportunity to experience brands actively in this way creates a connection that stays with them, helping them to evolve into a brand advocate.

Crowdsourcing can also create a call for action and real-time story creation, which is unparalleled. And while inviting customers to participate might be unpredictable, the reward is marketing that feels genuine, memorable and two-sided.

There are a range of crowdfunding platforms to choose from, including Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe in Australia, TeeSpring and Patreon, among others.

Harnessing social media for crowdsourcing campaigns can significantly amplify your campaign, too. Start by choosing appropriate social channels, select a memorable hashtag, create a campaign page, and leverage the community with informative posts.

Turn Crowdsourcing to Your Advantage

Here’s four ways to use crowdsourcing for your brand’s marketing:

  • Product validation and feedback: A crowd can validate a new idea, or tell you quite openly that it’s a bad idea. Either way, generating this feedback is a key component in creating something that people want.
  • Grow brand advocates: Crowdfunding can get people talking, and preferably, they’ll be saying good things. It’s a great way to cut through the clutter and tell your story. This can, in turn, create passionate brand advocates.
  • Build stronger exposure: Crowdfunding makes the news. When this exposure is harnessed, it can give projects the final nudge they need to cross into ‘viral’ territory.
  • Be loved by your customers: Utilising a crowdfunding platform as a storytelling tool helps a brand cut through the clutter and connect with existing and new brand advocates by showcasing your innovative side. When harnessed effectively, crowdfunding can enable brands to break down the corporate walls and express their uniqueness and innovative side.

Has your business dabbled in crowdfunding as a marketing tool? Tell us about it below.

How To Solve The Extended Payment Term Problem

Extended payment terms can be a huge burden for buyers and suppliers. Not to mention the negative press. But there is a solution at hand.

extended payment

In response to the financial recession of 2008, many supply chain and procurement departments began pushing their suppliers for extended payment terms as a means to improve cash flow and limit the need to acquire credit, which was in short supply.

While the recession has long since past, the practice is still very much in use today. In fact, major companies such as AB InBev, Kellogg, Diageo, and Mars commonly establish payment terms that extend anywhere from 90 to 120 days. Additionally, a 2016 study revealed that buying teams are planning to extend their payment terms even further.

This push for extended payment terms makes sense for buyers. Extra cash in the coffers can be used to fund R&D, buy back stock, and invest in strategic initiatives. It also never hurts to have more free cash as working capital.

However, while buyers benefit greatly from extended payment arrangements, they can pose a tremendous burden to suppliers – especially small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

How Extended Payment Terms Hurt Suppliers (And Buyers)

Extended payment terms can be detrimental to suppliers for a variety of reasons, including:

1. Curbed Productivity

Many SMB suppliers have limited resources in terms of manpower and production capability. As a result, they can only take on so many projects and contracts at a time before reaching capacity.

When funds are tied up waiting for cash to come in, these companies are precluded from investing in new equipment, replenishing stock or adding to their workforces. This brings the company to a standstill, and could put it out of business altogether.

2. Lack of Financial Flexibility

While large corporations and buying teams have the purchasing power to demand extended payment terms, smaller suppliers do not.

As a result, these suppliers are forced to receive payments late while paying their own suppliers early. This creates a cash flow crunch in working capital that many can’t escape.

In fact, most firms operate on a month-to-month basis with cash reserves built to last only 27 days.  

3. Lower Employee Morale

In addition to the financial consequences of extending payment terms, the practice takes a human toll as well. Going three-to-four months without receiving payments from buyers makes it difficult for businesses to make their own payroll – usually the largest expense for a SMB.

As a result, small suppliers suffer from reduced morale and engagement. This can, in turn, lead to a decline in quality and production delays.

4. Limited Credit Options

With limited cash on hand, the only financial lifeline available to many SMBs is to apply for more credit. However, 50% of small businesses receive no money at all when they apply for credit loans.

SMB Credit
Source: Federal Reserve Banks of New York, Atlanta, Cleveland and Philadelphia

Extended Payment Terms Can Hurt Buyers, Too

In the end, buyers end up paying the price for extended payment terms as well. That’s because it introduces risk into their supply chains. If a trusted supplier is forced out of business or suffers a decline in productivity, it hurts the procuring organisation.

In addition, suppliers have long memories. Many will compensate for extended payment terms with higher costs, while others include steep late-payment penalties in their contracts.

Lastly, a high quality supplier whose products or services are in-demand supplier may simply choose to work with other companies that offer friendlier payment terms, and forego bidding new opportunities that come with onerous payment terms.

Reverse Factoring May Be The Solution

Reverse factoring allows a buying organisation to leverage its strong credit rating to acquire favourable financing, which is used to pay suppliers in a more timely manner.

Here’s how it works:

  • Supplier submits the invoice to the buyer.
  • Buyer approves the invoice and submits it to a 3rd party financial institution or factor, who bases interest terms on creditworthiness of the buyer.
  • Financial institution pays the supplier at their desired early term of net 30 days, discounting the invoice payment by the agreed-to discount rate.
  • Buyer pays the financial institution the face value of the invoice at their agreed-upon date, say net 90 or net 120 days.

The concept is fairly new, but it is already proving to be a great solution for buyers that want to reap the cash flow benefits of extended payment terms without putting their suppliers in jeopardy.

That’s because it is beneficial to every participant in the process. It allows both buyers and suppliers maintain cash flow while forging positive working relationships in the supply chain. The financial institution also benefits by generating a return on the funds lent to the supplier and reimbursed by the buyer’s payment.

Offering friendlier payment terms is just one way to build stronger relationships with suppliers. Discover more on how to improve your relationships with SMBs in our latest tip sheet.

Ed Edwards is Audience Outreach Manager at THOMASNET.com. He leverages his extensive experiences in engineering, manufacturing and procurement, to educate procurement and engineering professionals on how to streamline and improve their work.

Ed provides customised training to organisations’ engineering and sourcing teams and helps buyers with their challenges and finds them new opportunities.