Category Archives: Trending

The Three Laws of Robotics Aren’t. So What Now?

The Three Laws of Robotics, as created by Asimov, don’t exist. But, as we move to a more automated world, should robots and AI fall under greater oversight?

Automation Robotics

Download the latest GEP white paper on the drive to an automated world here

In my previous post on the subject of the coming era of robotic process automation, I mentioned Asimov’s seminal sci-fi work The Caves of Steel. In it Asimov wrote of The City as the dominant force in human lives of the future:

“The City was the acme of efficiency, but it made demands of its inhabitants. It asked them to live in a tight routine and order their lives under a strict and scientific control.”

Asimov’s suggestion that there is a cost to progress might be seen as prophetic, but I think he was just one of a long line of writers who have warned that the future might be a bit ropey if we just pursue change in the name of progress, for its own sake.

But for all his attempts to conjure a dystopian image, Asimov was fundamentally a “technoptimist” with a repeating theme in his stories that progress would ultimately always be positive. In fact, his philosophy of robotics – and his “three laws” – have been so tightly woven into modern culture that it seems we hardly give a thought to the potential threats to our way of life, and perhaps to our lives from the advent of a totally automated future.

An Automated Future

Without labouring the point too much, the Three Laws of Robotics essentially mean that, in Asimov’s world, robots are inherently safe, trustworthy and beneficial. In fact, it is simply impossible to build a robot that does not comply with the three laws, the very architecture of the robotic AI being hard-wired around them.

It is purest fiction, of course, although to speak to some enthusiasts for the subject, Asimov’s Laws really do exist.  But they really don’t, and that could spell trouble.

Life imitating art is all very well, but there is nothing whatsoever to dictate that an automated future can be assured as a “good thing.”

On the same day as I’m writing this piece, there are two news stories on the BBC website. In one, it is announced that robots will be working in two Belgian hospitals as receptionists, guiding visitors to the correct locations.

In the other, we’re told, a researcher at a university in the USA has built a robot that autonomously decides whether to inflict pain and bodily harm on a live human subject.

That the microcode for the two systems could be somehow swapped, or cross-fertilised, is the stuff of real dystopian sci-fi and, whilst highly implausible, it does raise questions about whether some progress is happening without sufficient oversight.

Robotics & Automation in Procurement

There is disquiet in many circles about the use of drones in warfare, and the step from human-operated to robotic drone is really only a matter of systems integration.

There are no Three Laws to guarantee that AI, robots and automation will be to our benefit.  Yet they may very well be.

There are grounds to be hugely optimistic about what technology can do for us, from carbon capture and storage, to non-polluting safe transportation, to dramatically improved health and longevity in the poorest parts of the world.

Even in our little corner of the world we call Procurement, the sky’s the limit if we want to pursue automation. The potential to dramatically transform how we operate is very great indeed, and only a matter of investment and a few person-years of effort out of our reach.

But in all of this, it seems to me, it is we who should direct and dictate how that progress is delivered and what it actually does.   Instead of being passive consumers and falling in line with the next developments, which may substantially change our working lives, the procurement industry has an opportunity to map out what the future could and should look like, and how we want the machines to work. For us.

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Robotics are the future, and the sky’s the limit for automation in Procurement, say GEP. For more on this, download the latest white paper research.

For more information on high-performing procurement software, visit the Smart by GEP website.

The Fear of Technology in Hospitality

Legacy systems and poor past user experiences are creating a fear around technology in the hospitality industry.

Technology Fear Hospitality

“I think it’s difficult for technology to get to the top of the list of things to do next” said Jane Pendlebury, CEO of HOSPA, in our recent roundtable on the topic of technology in hospitality. And with that, she nailed what I had been dealing with ever since InstaSupply started.

There is always something more pressing that needs attention before looking at a tech solution. Even if that tech solution will save you, or make you the money to pay for that other pressing something.

There’s this fear of the unknown that’s keeping a lot of hospitality businesses stuck in the past and relying on tools and systems that for a lot of other industries became obsolete years ago.

Hospitality Lacking Information

Lack of information and education is a key factor here. Peter Hancock, CEO of Pride of Britain Hotels, rightly pointed out that most people involved in the running of a hospitality business aren’t necessarily the “tech-iest” of individuals.

Experience with older systems and their tendency to create rather than solve problems has left a bitter taste in a lot of mouths. Couple that with expensive upgrades that weren’t made clear at the start of the contract and we have an added layer of mistrust.

The result of all this is an industry that’s still heavily reliant on paper, lacking transparency on spending and full of overworked staff. Front of house staff not only have to ensure their guests enjoy a great experience but in many cases handle a lot of finance and procurement tasks that are absolutely outside their job description.

Lightening the Workload

Technology is created to help lighten the workload and improve productivity, not to take away jobs or swindle businesses out of money because they don’t understand what it does.

Just as a washing machine will handle a lot more clothes and get them done a lot better and a lot quicker than you would by hand, so too will the right technology remove manual data entry, managing 145,789 spreadsheets and let you know exactly what you are spending and on what in real time.

Watch our full discussion on the fear of tech here:

InstaSupply is all about working smarter and simplifying business through technology.

InstaTalks are about bringing great minds together and uncovering where the fear of tech comes from when it comes to business operations.

Finding out what the pain points are and then educating people in plain language. No jargon, no small print. It’s time to understand that technology is a revenue generator, not a budget sinkhole. 

Why Requisitioning Must Be Part of ERP Conversations

Requisitioning (or asking for what you need) is a key part of the procurement process. So why is it frequently sidelined in ERP discussions?

ERP Requisitioning

This article was first published on the Coupa Blog.

Having either implemented or worked with some of the major ERP systems on the market, I think I’m on safe ground when I say, nobody chooses to do requisitioning through their ERP system. They settle for it.

ERP systems are largely built for finance and the controllership. End users are often not taken into account. Their requisitioning modules are notoriously difficult to use, which is too bad because requisitioning is how most non-finance users — aka. everyone else in the company — will interact with the ERP system.

In fact, people putting in requisitions to get what they need to do their jobs represent a large segment of non-finance users feeding data into the ERP. If you burden them with a system they won’t use, or that they’ll use in a sloppy way, your ERP will have data quality issues. To avoid having to settle for ERP requisitioning, it’s to everyone’s benefit for procurement to be part of the ERP discussion, as a strong advocate for the end user.

Advocating for Procurement

I’m not saying that will be easy. As I’ve written previously, organisations need to think more broadly about their whole finance system, which comprises multiple interconnected processes, from sourcing to the point where something is paid for and entered into the record.

The ERP system addresses the back end, and it’s designed for finance to be able to do what they need to do regardless of how the data gets in there.

So, the discussion doesn’t usually extend to the front end—sourcing, contracts, approvals, requisitioning—which is where a lot of that data comes from, because the thinking doesn’t extend that far. It’s not easy to break down these silos.

In situations where I’ve been the advocate for the needs of procurement, I’ve had to fight pretty hard to get that perspective considered and I’ve often been the lone dissenter in the room.

  • Get Real

You need to be a realist. There are always resource constraints, and there’s a hierarchy of needs within finance, and user-friendly requisitioning is never going to be at the top of the list. But when requisitioning is ranked seventh out of six fundable implementation projects, the potential for settling becomes very real. Hello, heavy ERP requisitioning module.

  • Map it out

One way to avoid that mistake is to map out the whole process, because it’s not completely linear. Data flows from one process into one, or several, others. A lot of times an ERP decision is made before these processes are mapped out. But, when you map it all out, it becomes obvious that quality and consistency of requisitioning is critical for getting finance all the data they need to make the ERP system a single source of truth. 

  • Learn the language

The main requirement for a better-than-ERP experience is that the requisitioning system be user friendly. You can’t push a heavy ERP requisitioning system on a marketing associate fresh out of college, or on a seasonal retail worker.

But usability is one of those subjective, soft terms that may not always resonate with the finance audience. To advocate effectively, understand the needs of finance and speak their language. For example, if you’re talking to a controller who is a worldwide tax authority, framing it in terms of compliance and data quality is a much better approach.

  • Not Amazon-like

You also need to break down what you mean by user friendly. Every ERP vendor is going to say their requisitioning module is user friendly. If no one is looking out for non-finance users, that box just gets checked.

How user friendly does it need to be? You’re probably expecting me to say, “It should be as easy to use as Amazon.” I would personally love it if it could be so, but there are different requirements for business buying that for consumer buying. But, it can be much easier than most ERP requisitioning modules make it.

A good system approaches requisitioning broadly. It’s not just asking people to fill out purchase orders. It should really be a way for an employee to get anything they need to do their job. In fact, I’d rather they didn’t have to even use the words ‘purchase order’ or ‘requisition.’  We’re simply helping them buy things.

Ideally, they should be able to click a bookmark, get to a portal and then get in through a single sign-in. They land on a homepage where they see relevant buying policies and have visibility into all of their transactions

There should be smart search capabilities, tailored towards a user who is probably somewhat resistant to using the system. They can’t get irrelevant results, or come up empty. They have to be able to quickly find what they want, or find out how to get it.

If it’s a catalogue item, the actual policy pops up, which will guide them how to buy it. If they need a new computer monitor, maybe it comes back and says, “OK, you have to log a ticket for IT because they do provisioning.” Or if nothing is there, it will guide them towards making a free form request. But they don’t even need to know these terms. All they need to know is what they want.

Heavy and Cluttered

In contrast, the requisitioning modules of the major ERP systems are often heavy. The home page may be cluttered with lots of finance information that’s not relevant. The email notifications can be complex and confusing.

There are a lot of fields to fill in so finance can get all the codes and data it needs – provided the would-be requisitioner doesn’t take one look at it, decide it would be faster just to run down to their local Staples store, and expense the darn thing. That’s the kind of thing that happens when you settle.

There are good reasons why requisitioning is not the top priority in the ERP discussion, but neither is it right for it to have no presence or priority. The real impact of user-friendly requisitioning is better data and better compliance.

To make sure your company doesn’t settle, somebody needs to advocate for all the people who aren’t in the room, but are going to have to use the system, and convince finance to give it the proper priority.

The ideal situation is that requisitioners don’t have to think about finance at all—or procurement for that matter. The irony is that to accomplish that, the folks in finance have to get together with procurement and think hard about requisitioning.

Resistance is Futile…Or is it?

Is resistance to automation of procurement processes futile? Or are we missing the benefits that automation will ultimately bring to the profession?

AI Resistance

You can download the latest GEP white paper on the drive to an automated world, and why resistance is unnecessary, here.

The cannon of science fiction is full of tales of the battle between liberty, exemplified by human free will (including the freedom to screw everything up royally) and tyranny, portrayed as submission to an overwhelming force.

In many cases the “assimilation into the collective” or whatever, is not an unconditionally negative prospect. The promise of an end to suffering and provision of all human needs is often conveyed as the ‘upside’ of the deal to subjugate humanity to forces beyond our understanding.

Automation – The Dark Side?

From Childhood’s End to The Matrix, there’s a definite cost-benefit analysis to be carried out by the protagonists during their struggles to overcome the supposedly overwhelming power of the dark side of the story.

In fact, in the latter, the movie’s clichéd traitor – they even named the character “Cypher” – sells out the heroes on the promise of a return to the simulated ‘real’ world with the words, “Ignorance is bliss.”  And when asked by the agent of evil, “Then we have a deal?”, he replies, “I don’t wanna remember nothing.  Nothing! You understand?”

There is even a branch of anthropic philosophy than contends that our reality is likely to be a simulation run by an advanced post-human intelligence. As coherent and convincing as some of that reasoning appears to be, the fact remains that there is no possible way this hypothesis can be proved or disproved.

Like all matters of faith, this notion is utterly irrelevant when we attempt to construct a set of rules that will let us predict what will happen in (what certainly appears to be) the real world.

Rise of the Machines?

Recently it has been suggested at some of the procurement industry’s leading conferences that business is beginning to enter a phase that will be dominated by artificial intelligence and robotic process automation, and lead to the eventual replacement of the humans in the process.

Dissenting voices are heard to cry “nonsense,” or more colloquial versions of the same, but the arguments are nonetheless compelling. Only this time, they have a certain amount of evidence to back them up.

It is true. The technology exists today, in varying states of maturity, which – if synthesised into a single entity – could effectively do away with human involvement in the supply chain. From AI-run decision making, to automated manufacture and delivery, to fuzzy logic-based distribution of spend across a supply base, the characteristics of today’s procurement activity could, quite readily, be encoded and turned over to a software overlord.

Other sci-fi classics, the likes of the movie ‘Logan’s Run’, and the book ‘The Caves of Steel’, deal with the machine-run production of goods and services in equal measure to the imposing of external force on human freedom. And as life imitates art, there will naturally be greater degrees of this emerging.  Today’s 3D printer is surely tomorrow’s Star Trek Replicator.

The End for Procurement?

But, whatever the generations of the future will accept as everyday technology, the idea that we’re approaching a defining moment, beyond which procurement professionals will be irrelevant, must be viewed with a good degree of scepticism.

There’s no doubt automation works really, really well when it comes to replacing easily mapped and understood processes, from assembling a car from a standard kit of parts, to processing a contract-compliant purchase order through to invoice payment.

But the simple fact is we just don’t understand enough about the world, human behaviour, the markets, the climate, indeed any part of the future, to be able to encapsulate all our business rules into a single algorithm that the machine can follow to manage supply and demand for the rest of time.

The landscape in which our largest corporations operate is truly chaotic, in a mathematical sense, and deriving a simple set of rules to automate demand and supply across such organisations is, I think, beyond us today.

One of the very drivers of modern prosperity is the ability to “make a buck” and any kind of completely automated process necessarily eliminates margin at source. Negotiation between buyer and supplier AIs will not only be mind-bogglingly rapid, but likely to end in stalemate – and the same stalemate as the last time.

If we lose negotiation, then it seems to me that we will lose innovation, motivation and the result will be stagnation.

Resistance is Unnecessary

The future will be radically different to the present.  It always has been and always will be, and all predictions as to what it will look like are inevitably wrong. Including this one.

But with that uncertainty comes opportunity. Automation in procurement will certainly be a big thing in the future, but it will be complex, it will be messy and it will need human brains to make it work, and not just to write the code.

The human brains that work in procurement today are those that will guide the whole world of supply forward into a brave new world. Reports of procurement’s demise have been overstated, naturally, but we can still take control and make the machines work for us.

Resistance isn’t futile. It’s unnecessary.

GEP Banner

Automation doesn’t mean the end for procurement, and the benefits of automating processes vastly outweigh the drawbacks, say GEP. For more on this, download the latest white paper research.

For more information on high-performing procurement software, visit the Smart by GEP website.

Best and Worst Sectors for Online Customer Service

Utility companies and local authority services are among some of the worst ranking sectors in the UK for online customer service, according to new research.

Online Customer Service

The new report from social media experts, myclever™ Agency, found that consumers put utility companies (water, gas, electricity, phone and broadband) as the most frustrating sector for online customer service, with local authorities close behind. Retailers and professional services came out as the least frustrating sectors.

The report surveyed 1,000 UK consumers on whether current digital services are fully meeting consumer expectations, and their views on whether new technology, such as Chat Bots, could help improve customer service.

Biggest Frustrations

It found that the biggest online service frustrations across all sectors was a lack of basic information contained on everyday commercial websites such as retailers, utilities, banks and local government services (45 per cent).

Close behind was the inability to ask simple questions (40 per cent), while a third of the sample (33 per cent) said that, even when the option to ask questions existed, the tools they had used in the last month were of poor quality and didn’t provide a timely response.

The main frustrations lie in the inability companies have to answer simple questions quickly. However, when told about the benefits, consumers regarded Chat Bots as the key-holders to speed, unlocking immediacy and convenience in online services. They felt that these virtual assistants, designed to simulate conversation with human users, would significantly improve online services.

More than two thirds (68 per cent) liked that Chat Bots would be able to provide a 24-hour service, and 64 per cent felt it would resolve the problem of not getting quick answers to simple questions. More than half (51 per cent) felt happy they would get an instant response, mirroring the frustrations felt about current online customer service providers.

When compared to other forms of customer service channels such as apps – an area where businesses have invested heavily – chat bots scored more highly on all perceived benefits.

Demand for Online Customer Service

Rob McNair, managing director of myClever, commented on the findings: “Ever-evolving technology and an increasingly digitalised world has changed commerce forever. Online services that were once a luxury are now being demanded by consumers 24/7. In order to stay competitive, businesses are racing to keep up with consumer demands and technological innovations.

“The frustrations clearly indicate the need for online customer service to improve. And, although frustrations exist in all sectors, it’s interesting to see that the industries exhibiting the most frustrating customer experiences online are the least likely to improve them. Public sector bodies, for example, are notoriously slow to provide accessible online services – and when they do, they’re often inadequate, confusing and riddled with poor user experiences.

“It’s one thing if bots can make that a thing of the past, it’s another whether those ranking highest on this list will be prepared to adopt and invest early enough. However, while modest budgets can be a challenge for the demands of digital innovation, the investment in the long term will mean huge cost savings.

“Businesses offering the best customer experience will be at considerable advantage in converting browsers into buyers and earning repeat business. Chat Bots offer a solution to most major problems of each sector by promising a swifter, smarter online experience. New virtual assistants will be ever-ready, able to listen to our questions and respond intelligently. They will answer our queries, aid our searches and anticipate our needs, learning all the time to refine and improve the experience on offer.”

The full list of rankings and report can be found here. For more information on myclever™ Agency, visit their website.

Mastering the True Art of Saving

Why addressing demand management, and bringing down your demand can realise more of a procurement saving than simply cutting costs.

Art of Saving

This article was written by Jon Milton, Director at Comensura.

Most of us know too well the need to tighten the purse strings occasionally in our daily lives. When doing so it’s a natural response to search for cheaper alternatives to the services and products that you’re already buying.

Think about your home energy expenditure for example. Let’s say that you shop around and find a supplier that charges 5 per cent less than you already pay. That’s a good reduction, but it’s a saving within the scale of pricing which, aside from some major shift in energy production trends, is only going to vary to a certain degree. This kind of cost-saving approach will typically only be incremental and rarely save you a dramatic amount.

However, there is an alternative way to save – by managing down your demand. Rather than the pain of switching provider, you could install a smart energy meter and manage down the demand for energy throughout your home, eliminating excessive energy used, and pinpointing when and where you need the heating on. A smarter approach like this could save you much more than 5 per cent.

Smart Saving

It’s for that reason that a cost cutting approach that goes beyond incremental savings should be applied to the corporate world too – especially in complex spend categories such as temporary labour. It’s difficult to know for sure how many workers you need, as it requires you to have an overall view of your organisation’s demand.

And once you establish a number, the sample of workers that are on offer to you vary by qualifications, experience, skills, availability, geography and more – all of which affect how much the candidate costs – making temporary recruitment a complex service category.

Think about how much money organisations could be wasting by hiring the wrong number of temporary workers, the wrong kind, or by not utilising their skills properly. Our evidence as a labour supply management specialist shows that by accurately sourcing the right skills against the organisation’s demand, you can take your cost saving on temporary staff from less than 20 per cent, to over 50 per cent.

Addressing Demand Management

Here are some steps you can take to address temporary labour demand management issues:-

1. Understand your expenditure

Temporary labour is typically ordered directly by line managers as it is under their supervision and control that workers are engaged. There’s usually a business rationale, but is it justifiable?

Additionally, the original rationale for engaging temporary labour will normally be linked to a set time period, such as three months. Any expenditure beyond this initial period should therefore be questioned as to why it is required. 

2. Challenge usage

Once you’ve established an understanding of what’s being spent on temporary labour, ask your managers to justify any anomalies. If they cannot provide sound business rationale, ask them to create an exit plan for the worker and an agreed date. When you review usage the following month, make sure that the worker has been exited.

3. Start planning your workforce

If your use of contingent labour is reactive, ‘fire fighting’ to meet business demand, it is unlikely that you will be in control of your expenditure. Try and review your ordering patterns to identify trends, as this will enable you to plan the workers’ tasks and/or help you to plan your permanent headcount’s activities better.

For example, if historically your usage of contingent workers has a spike in August when staff go on holiday, you may want to review the way that you co-ordinate leave requests, and then plan ahead where cover is required.

4. Properly evaluate needs

Feeling the pressure to hire contingent staff and then recruiting staff that are over qualified (and paid more than the work requires) is one way to rack up an unnecessarily hefty bill. By understanding your requirements fully, you can better establish the experience and type of individual required.

5. Provide a detailed specification

Once you’ve established and understood your requirements, make sure that you, or managers across your organisation communicate these requirements properly. If you want someone with certain skills and experience, be specific about what you need. It sounds simple but it is one of the most common pitfalls that we come across and can cause significant issues.

Often the role is specified (which in an applicant’s mind they could do), but the experience, demonstrable evidence of skills and attributes are not. The more detailed you are, the closer your applicants should be to the requirement. You may get fewer applications, but the quality of hire should be much better.

Saving on Category Procurement

Many organisations are already taking a sound approach to complex category procurement, and with the financial benefits they’ve seen, it’s safe to say that they don’t regret the decision. One of our customers regularly uses temporary staff, and chose us as a single platform to place orders, assign candidates, and manage its temporary staff time sheets.

Having saved £900,000 on temporary staff in 17 months, and delivered a 10 per cent cost saving overall, the customers’ smarter approach to managing temporary staff means that it can invest more funds into vital areas of the organisation.

Just as its name suggests, complex category procurement is a tricky process, particularly when looking for ways to make procurement cost-effective. But provided you look at the wider picture of your organisation, you can restructure processes and gain the benefits.

It starts with making a distinction between your complex and simple procurement, and approaching processes like temporary recruitment in a smarter way that means not just finding cheaper providers.

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.

Automation Negotiation

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.

Pre-qualification Risk
Cell tower climbing – One of the world’s deadliest jobs

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.

Blockchain Technology

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.

Cyber Stalker Logistics Tracking

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.