Tag Archives: AI

Three Ways Businesses Can Emerge Stronger From The Pandemic

Three main trends will positively impact the Procurement space post-COVID-19 and beyond and help in responding to unexpected challenges


What a strange year it’s been. As we marked the start of 2020, and news started to circulate about a virus in China, no one could have anticipated the global health crisis that was on its way.

As more countries ease lockdown restrictions and business find new and creative ways to meet the needs of their customers, there are many learnings we can take from the pandemic. These range from critical changes to growth plans to adjustments to company culture to operational improvements to increase supply chain agility.

Like many companies, we recognized early in the crisis the difficulties we would all face in this new reality. To get ahead of the curve, my co-founder Monish Darda and I, along with our leadership team, developed a framework based on our values of Fairness, Openness, Respect, Teamwork and Execution—FORTE—to help everyone at Icertis make decisions to meet the demands we faced.

We call that framework our four rings of responsibility—taking care of self, taking care of family, taking care of community and taking care of business—and prioritize them in that order. We see the Four Rings of Responsibility as our way of amplifying our FORTE values to ensure we do our part to help win the battle against COVID-19.   

COVID’s Impact

Outside of our own workplace, I’ve been speaking with our customers about how the industry is coping with the upheaval. Their experiences map closely with the findings from the ‘How Now? Supply Chain Confidence Indexfrom Procurious that show only 1% of procurement/supply chain professionals felt ‘frozen’ by the COVID crisis. This is a testament to the rate of innovation across the profession and the strong role technology is now playing in helping drive speed and agility within procurement.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic exposed weaknesses in modern supply chain strategies as evidenced by the survey’s finding that 38% of respondents plan to expand their supplier base over the coming months. One of the main lessons that we are hearing from customers and prospects is that businesses need to create stronger, more flexible and diverse supply chains. To do this, it will be essential for businesses to identify areas in their supply chain where efficiency improvements can be made.

Leading brands are increasingly realizing this work starts with contracts, which define how your supply chain runs. By harnessing the critical business information in their contracts, companies can quickly address areas like value leakage and regulatory compliance, while accelerating the pace of supplier onboarding and reducing business risk.

Three Post-COVID Trends

In fact, a greater focus on risk management is one of the three main trends that will positively impact the procurement space post-COVID-19. Risk management used to be an abstract concept in the C-suite, only a concern for the CFO or the audit committee; now it is painfully tangible to everyone in the organization. Every business now recognizes (or should recognize!) that they need to take a programmatic approach to responding to black swan events. This underlines the need for having solutions in place that will allow organisations to clearly understand the risk/reward trade-off in all business processes. For example, being able to identify and manage risk throughout the contract lifecycle, is enabling procurement teams to examine their sourcing strategies to ensure they are not overly dependent on a single supplier. In the current business environment, where unfortunately many businesses are still struggling to survive, having a multi-sourcing strategy in place is a business imperitive.

Secondly, we will see greater alignment between the CFO and CPO. By the nature of their roles, CFOs have always been focused on those technologies that can give them business oversight of income and spending. However, the impact felt by COVID on that cashflow—from supply chain failures to shift in demand—has increased their focus on working with other areas of their organisations to identify and mitigate risk. As a result, they have become more invested in being able to structure and connect all of their company’s contract data, applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to enable them to quickly surface and respond to threats, growth opportunities and challenges.

And finally, it’s well documented that the pandemic has forced an acceleration of digital transformation efforts. Satya Nadella put it best when he observed, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” It is clear that innovation will take a front seat in the post-pandemic business world. Companies have seen the benefits of having cloud-based technologies and processes such as contract lifecycle management available to them when working remotely. I anticipate that we’ll start to see increased investments across the board as businesses look to protect themselves for future disruptions and reinvent how they do business.

Then beyond digitisation, a greater focus will be placed on investing in technologies that can enable advanced data analytics, so that businesses are able to use this insight to keep out in front. This is where contracts will take a central role, providing more intelligence and connecting to key business processes so they are able to provide the right foundation for growth and evolution, and allow organisations to respond to unanticipated challenges and changing marketplace dynamics. 

It’s been a challenging few months for everyone, but I am more confident than ever that if we keep our four rings of responsibility top of mind and take the lessons learned from COVID seriously, we will look back at this strange time and realise that it transformed the way we do business for the better. 

How Technology Will Make Your Office SuperNormal

Ready for the office of the future? Here’s a glimpse into the technology that will  transform your workplace.


Good morning! Ready for work? Before you leave, take your temperature at home and report it through your work app. Also answer questions about any symptoms you might have.

Then tell the app what time you’ll arrive at work, and away you go.

Smart that you already completed the self check-in, or else you would be stopped by the facial recognition system when you tried to enter the building. 

The staff canteen is open, but you’ll need to use your work app to order your food ahead of time.

When your lunch is ready, you’ll get a text message to come pick it up. The staggered approach keeps crowds to a minimum.

That’s all quite high tech, right? But it isn’t the future; it’s just another day at IBM headquarters in New York. The system, based on IBM’s Watson Works, uses AI to keep people safe and productive.

Keeping the office comfy

Siemens also has an app for staff, called Comfy.

According to the company, Comfy limits the number of staff in the building at any one time. It also helps staff maintain distance at work.

People use it to reserve desks, meeting rooms, and even see office occupancy in real time. 

But here’s where it gets really interesting, the app allows staff to control their environment. That’s right; employees have the granddaddy of all controls – the ability to change the temperature in their immediate workspace.

Using the app, they can control the thermostat and even dim the lights if they want. Imagine how many office arguments that would solve.

“Our priority is to protect our people so they can return to the workplace safely and confidently wherever they are,” says Roland Busch, Deputy CEO at Siemens AG. “By using smart office technologies, we can reshape how we work.” 

“Our Comfy app supports our new mobile working model, by enabling employees to better plan when they choose to work from the office.” 

Call the germ-busters

But once you’re at work, how can you stay safe? There’s no shortage of products on the market aimed at office hygiene.

Like the Hygenx wand from Hamilton Buhl. Simply wave the wand over your keyboard, and the UV-C light will kill bacteria.

Before you rush out to get your own wand, do your research, warns the US Food and Drug Administration.

That’s because there isn’t enough data about how much UV-C exposure your surfaces need to quash COVID-19.

You could always use something low-tech like antibacterial wipes. But where’s the fun in that?

Instead, make sanitising more dramatic with a ghostbuster-style office fogger

Closer to home

Let’s be honest though; many of us won’t be going back to the office for a while. 

And some may not go back at all. Twitter made headlines this year for allowing employees to work from home permanently.

With that in mind, how can technology help you from home?

Well, fear not if you have “Zoom fatigue.” Microsoft Teams’ solution is the new “together” feature, which puts you all in the same virtual room. Say goodbye to squares.

In fact, this same technology is being used to bring fans closer together for NBA basketball games.

Access for all

Technology opens up opportunities for people to work in the way they choose. And companies have no choice but to adapt, allowing people greater flexibility in how they work.

Now, employers have the chance to include all employees by making accessibility the default.

“We must ensure businesses apply the learnings from this period to improve inclusion of people with disabilities worldwide by using the same tools we’re using now to allow this community to participate fully in the workforce,” writes Caroline Casey, Director of The Valuable 500 – a World Economic Forum initiative to put disability on the business agenda.

Jane Hatton, founder of inclusive UK recruitment firm Evenbreak, agrees.

“People are frightened of disability because they think it’s going to be incredibly expensive for all the adjustments,” Hatton recently told the Financial Times. “But in fact they’re simple and cheap.” 

“The technology is there already — it’s just a question of using it in a way that’s inclusive.”

Employers might be surprised to find just how many accessible tools they already have at their fingertips.

Kristy Viers went viral after tweeting a video using the accessibility features built into an iPhone. 

It’s now been viewed over 7 million times.

Work accelerated

As ever, companies will adopt new technology at different rates. So it may be a while before your workplace uses facial recognition, or lets you control the thermostat on your phone.

But there’s no doubt that all companies are on the accelerated track now. In fact, consultancy McKinsey says US ecommerce experienced 10 years worth of growth in the first three months.

The world is changing fast, and technology will be the key to creating a workplace future that works for all of us.

How Some Strategic Sourcing Technologies Fall Short

Moving to a true strategic sourcing plan can bring increased efficiency and huge cost savings. But why do so many fall short of this? Technology is evolving rapidly making many once cutting-edge solutions obsolete. Finding the right fit can be a struggle – this article has everything you need to know about sourcing tech.


Strategic sourcing is not a particularly new concept, but the market is evolving rapidly. Applications have become increasingly sophisticated and in the near to medium term future we will see more strategic spend management via advanced analysis and AI-based sourcing with more “fuzzy” intelligence that increasingly guides the user to the optimum solution.

TechTarget defines strategic sourcing as follows:

Strategic sourcing is an approach to supply chain management that formalizes the way information is gathered and used so that an organization can use its consolidated purchasing power to find the best possible values in the marketplace and align its purchasing strategy to business goals. 

One reason that organizations often struggle to achieve true strategic sourcing is that the tools they are using, such as reverse auctions and eRFXs, which once represented the cutting edge of sourcing technology, are too limited in scope and lacking in integration, both with other procurement modules and with third party software suites. This is especially problematic when it comes to large events and bundling items in which there are many variables and business objectives.

In its recent Market Guide for eSourcing applications, Gartner Group identified four phases of the evolution of eSourcing:

Basic RFQ and RFI (request for quote/information)

This is where things started back in the nineties. Specifications had to be very precise and buyers generally sought the lowest price and/or best delivery availability. Early digital sourcing platforms were primarily designed for indirect sourcing of categories such as IT hardware, computers, office furniture and supplies, where there are multiple suppliers with little differentiation. This worked just as well for non-strategic direct categories (materials and components used in production). Purchasing teams could therefore shop around to find the fastest, cheapest option available, and so long as the tool could take into account cost breakdown models, resource costs, taxes, and one-time costs like setup and onboarding, there was a good chance that projected savings would be realized.

Standard eSourcing 

Standard eSourcing then built on RFQ capabilities to support more complex RFIs and RFPs (request for proposals). According to Gartner, “They are typically used to solicit supplier responses and pricing for strategic spend categories. Specifications may or may not be clearly defined.” At this stage eSourcing becomes more strategic, multiple stakeholders are included in the buying process truly creating a strategic team. The modules are increasingly deployed as part of an entire suite which also includes spend analysis, CLM and supplier management. Also, we see distinct solutions for indirect and direct (or bill of materials (BOM)) categories. As Gartner states, “more advanced analysis and capabilities require integration with PLM and BOM. This is often better suited for vendors that specialize in direct spend or those that support all spend categories.” 

These applications also typically support various auction formats, multi-round bidding, response scoring and proposal analysis. A further aspect is that the detail level of direct procurement requires special capabilities in software, and all of these needs to integrate seamlessly with the ERP/MRP system.

Advanced sourcing optimization (ASO)

ASO is the current state of the art for handling complex category bidding that must analyze large volumes of data points. This is best represented by JAGGAER’s Sourcing Optimizer, capable of analyzing thousands of data points using algorithms to determine the optimal award decision quickly. This makes it suitable for highly complex sourcing events such as multimodal transportation, where there are hundreds of potential scenarios and dozens of rules which buyers use to try to identify a “sweet spot” with the optimum number of suppliers for an optimum number of scenarios. Users do not always know exactly what they are aiming for in such events, as they need to navigate through complexities such as limited knowledge, tradeoffs and time limits.

Artificial intelligence in sourcing

AI-based sourcing is where we are headed. This emerging technology will integrate itself across all aspects of sourcing. In the coming years AI will transform sourcing and will have the ability to automate entire sourcing events. This will be a very attractive option for handling the vast majority of sourcing functions that are high volume-’low cost’ and can be accurately recommended from AI. This will free up professionals’ time to focus on the high value sourcing events as well as the larger sourcing strategy.

One direction that is already clear is the development of preference-based extensions to advanced sourcing optimization, enabling the user to add fuzzy preferences on top of the firm rules already entered. In a transportation event, the AI technology explores possible solutions to narrow in on the best options. The user can go through several iterations to get the ideal result. On top of this advanced decision support, AI-based sourcing will include increased automation, eliminating much of the routine involved in sourcing.

Sourcing for CapEx Events

We have mentioned indirect and direct sourcing, but capital expenditure projects offer a third type of sourcing event with dramatically different requirements. They are project-based, meaning that many different purchase orders and contracts need to be bundled together and tracked against a common project budget. Furthermore, these events are extremely complex and detailed, and they have long timeframes. Projects may last multiple years. Any sourcing platform for CapEx needs to be able to track events over time.

Capital expenditure projects also often involve many different supply bases in one project. Consider a building project that involves a concrete foundation, steel framing, glass work, electricity, and more. Then there’s paving for the parking lot and landscaping for the surrounding areas. It’s essential that the digital tool can track multiple types of expenses in one solution. Plus, many items might be sourced weeks or months in advance. The solution should support this kind of detailed project planning.

For all of these reasons, strategic sourcing is challenging for major CapEx projects. There is also ample scope for the integration of artificial intelligence to predict and reduce costs, schedule and reduce cycle times while increasing customer satisfaction and managing regulatory and CSR data. It is important that all providers should be compliant, and the sourcing process needs to capture this information. Having the right strategic sourcing approach and the appropriate tools to support that are vital.

What are your thoughts on how technology is creating an opportunity for more strategic sourcing? Let us know in the comments!

Attention Generation Next: Your Clock Starts Now. Are You Ready?

COVID-19 has created a significant opportunity for generation next to lead, grow and advance. Here are five steps to break through.


Are you satisfied with your current position, or are you eager to break out and change the game?

Do same-old, status quo procurement and supply chain strategies work for you, or are you ready to rewrite the playbook for the modern era?

Procurement’s impressive performance during COVID-19, and the critical role the function plays in the ongoing recovery, has created significant opportunity for generation next. 

Are you going to take advantage?

The doors are wide open. And the rewards are substantial. Think promotions, increased comp, resources, access to emerging tech, leadership opportunities, validation and trust from the c-suite, and much more.  

But the doors won’t stay open forever. Now is the time to hustle and own your opportunity. If you’re not entirely sure where to begin, consider these five key steps to break through in today’s market.

1. Want more attention? Make your mark where it matters.

The fastest way to get noticed: push forward the strategic, board-level objectives of your organisation. 

What tops your CEO’s agenda right now? If you don’t know, request an immediate alignment meeting with your CPO or team lead. Our research found that the c-suite’s top three focus areas today are mitigating supply chain risk, containing costs, and driving business continuity. 

These three areas are your golden ticket. Get creative and be bold with your recommendations. Leadership is looking for fresh and modern ideas, not a repeat of yesterday’s strategy. Don’t hesitate to share, even if your recommendations represent a new approach for your team.

Start by thinking outside the box: Is there a use case for AI, blockchain or predictive analytics? What about partnering with a peer or competitor to solve the problem? If you can drive the results the company needs faster and more effectively than in the past, the recognition will follow.

2. Market your success like crazy.

It’s always a team game, but if you don’t advocate for yourself, who will?

Keep track of your wins and benchmark performance over time to demonstrate improvement. And report with data, not anecdotes. 

Be sure to communicate like an executive when sharing your success up the ladder. The TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) phenomenon is a very real trap. Lead with the headline, back it up with data and close with how you plan to take it up to another level. 

Remember, you, and you alone, are responsible for your career growth.

3. Champion digitisation and emerging tech.

COVID-19 rapidly accelerated the enterprise digitisation journey and eliminated all the old excuses associated with delayed tech transformation projects.

Every executive is looking to increase resilience, productivity and performance. Digitisation and emerging tech – like AI and machine learning – delivers on all fronts. Those who proactively adapt and modernise are best positioned to lead today and in the future. 

If your department is not equipped with the right technology, take a stand and champion the digitisation effort. Executives will take notice. Our research shows that 93% of organisations are investing to enable procurement’s success. There are three primary areas that companies are focusing on to propel procurement forward:

  • Data and analytics
  • Development of existing talent
  • Technology

Two of the three are directly tied to digital transformation. For many companies, September marks the start of the 2021 budgeting season. If you see an opportunity, the time to make a move is now. Make the business case abundantly clear by connecting your requests to what matters most for the organisation right now: cash, resiliency, and business continuity.

4. Learn, develop and then learn some more

Fifty-seven percent of organisations are investing in talent development to propel procurement forward, according to our survey research. That number needs to be higher… and you need to make sure you get your fair share of the investment.

COVID-19 fundamentally changed supply chain and procurement management as we know it. According to our Supply Chain Confidence Index, 97% of organisations experienced a COVID-19 disruption, and 73% are planning seismic supply chain strategy shifts post-pandemic. The status quo simply won’t cut it. You need to grow your skills, expertise and network.

Your job: Put forward your personal business case for investment. Identify the skills that you and your team need to survive and thrive tomorrow. And take ownership of your own development.

There are ample opportunities to improve and develop. Our recent survey uncovered five primary talent gaps facing the function today.

  1. Analytics
  2. Market intelligence
  3. Technology knowledge
  4. Relationships building
  5. Emotional intelligence

Mastering these five areas will push you forward in a big way. Breaking them down, there are three key themes. The first is analytics –  leaders that can analyze data, uncover trends and use insights to make fast and informed decisions will remain in high-demand. This should be area number one for professional development and training. The second centers around tech digitisation and modernisation, which we touched on earlier. The last bucket represents the soft skills necessary to be a great leader – emotional intelligence, relationships, and human connection.

Be the leader you want to follow 

As you grow, get promoted and gain more influence, prioritize being a great leader. Make it one of the most important things you do every day.

Your leadership approach can either crack the foundation of your team or launch everyone forward. In fact, Gallup says managers account for at least 70% of the variance in team engagement.

But remember, future success requires practice today. According to research from HBR, there are six key areas every aspiring leader should practice right now:

  • Creating an exciting and challenging vision
  • Translating the vision into a clear strategy and roadmap 
  • Team management: recruiting, developing and rewarding great people to execute on your strategy 
  • Focusing on measurable results
  • Fostering an environment of team innovation and learning 
  • Leading yourself — “know yourself, improve yourself, and manage the appropriate balance in your own life.”

If you wait to start practicing these skills until after you get the promotion, it may be too late. As HBR’s Ron Ashkenas and Brook Manville write: “No matter where you are in your career, you can find opportunities to practice these six skills. You’ll have varying degrees of success, which is normal. But by reflecting on your successes and failures at every step, and getting feedback from colleagues and mentors, you’ll keep making positive adjustments and find more opportunities to learn.”

The Clock is Ticking: It’s your time to lead.

For current and aspiring procurement leaders, there’s never been a better opportunity. More than 60% of procurement professionals have seen executive trust increase in the past three months. Similarly, more procurement leaders report having a seat at the executive table today than they did in May.

You have everything we need to step up, lead and earn more recognition and trust. The doors are open: are you going to walk or run through?Interested in learning more about procurement leadership? Get more insights, advice and best practices from our latest report: Procurement’s Time to Lead.

How 4.0 Tech Is Cracking The COVID-19 Code: Procurement News

How to use Industry 4.0 technologies to weather the Covid-19 crisis


Industry 4.0 technologies have come into their own in helping combat COVID-19.

China confronted the virus with a futuristic mix of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robots.

Now that the epicentre has moved to the western world, leaders look to China for clues to stop the spread.

Here’s a look at how China’s use of 4.0 tech is now influencing the way America and Europe identify, treat and track the virus.

Predict

A voice of warning

Speed and accuracy of information are everything in a crisis.

The first global warning of the virus didn’t come from the World Health Organization (WHO) or the US government.

No, it came from artificial intelligence. A Canadian company named BlueDot used an algorithm to identify the possible outbreak days before WHO made its announcement.

BlueDot uses AI to analyse news reports and internet data to detect the spread of infectious diseases. The algorithm predicts where diseases will spread, based on millions of flight itineraries.  With this information proving invaluable, BlueDot is now working with countries in North America and Southeast Asia to predict virus hotspots.

Diagnose

Faster testing

There are widespread complaints of testing shortages.

On top of that, there are concerns about the long process of taking a sample, analysing it in a lab and reporting the result.

Luckily, necessity remains the mother of invention. Several companies are racing to invent easier, faster ways to test.

Researchers at UK universities are trialling a smartphone app that can give results in just 30 minutes. The app is linked to a small device that analyses a nasal or throat swab. No lab necessary.

And an invention from an American-based company can give positive results in five minutes using a device the size of a toaster.

Managing supplies

It’s no surprise that supply chains are still recovering from the shock of the pandemic.

Hospitals are experiencing a testing swab shortage, owing to supply chain disruptions from suppliers in Italy and China.

Several hospitals are making their own test swabs with the help of 3D printers. One medical provider in New York, called Northwell, is printing 3,000 swabs a day. Side-by-side test results show the 3D-printed swabs are just as reliable as the traditional swabs.

There’s also a swell of companies using 3D printing to make facemasks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

Fever pitch

Authorities in China found a safer way to take temperature: augmented reality (AR) glasses.

Someone wearing the glasses can identify a person with a fever from 10 feet away.

To finish reading this article, join our exclusive Supply Chain Crisis: Covid-19 group. We’ve gathered together the world’s foremost experts on all things supply chain, risk, business and people, and we’ll be presenting their insights and daily industry-relevant news via the group. You’ll also have the support of thousands of your procurement peers, world-wide. 

The article is available in the documents section once you’ve logged in. 

4 Reasons To Be Excited About The Future Of Supply Chain Technology

What’s next in supply chain systems? There’s plenty to be excited about


First-generation supply chains were good at automating and optimizing processes. But they were restricted to functional silos – and that’s not enough for what we need in supply chains today.

Advances in supply chain technology are needed if procurement teams are to manage supply chains that are dynamic, responsive and interconnected with ecosystems and external processes. The new tech needs the capacity to manage much, much more data (by several orders of magnitude). This in turn will make it possible for an individual procurement manager to make sense of entire supply chain ecosystems in real-time.

These demands are driving progress – which is why I am excited about the future of supply chain technology.

1. We’re actually getting fairly good at applying AI repeatably in supply chains.

In order to continue to maintain the labor ratios and level of service to which we’ve become accustomed, we need AI within supply chains – this is non-negotiable.

The IBM Sterling Supply Chain Suite gives end-to-end visibility, real-time insights and recommended actions to turn disruptions into opportunities for customer engagement, growth and profit. 

It’s an open, integrated platform that easily connects to a company’s supplier ecosystem. And that connection and openness provides the data necessary to build self-correction into supply chains.

2. With blockchain, we finally have a chance to change the way we manage multiparty sharing of supply chain data.

It’s clear that use of AI in supply chains will be essential. But it is important to start from the understanding that organizations are at different stages of maturity in this area. Nevertheless, companies can make dramatic improvements simply by deploying existing tech to digitize and implement an organizational commitment to information hygiene and managing data effectively. Being able to digitize, catalogue and normalize supply chain data means having real-time information in the right place to make decisions quickly.

One survival from the old-tech world of supply chains is the use of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems built to manage the data for each individual company. Each company’s ERP was its view of the world. The procurement team spent their lives comparing notes with other ERPs to reconcile differences. Everything from invoices to purchase orders had to be reconciled and supply chain processes were put in place to facilitate this.

For the old-world supply chain really to change, we need to recognise that we can’t each have our own copy of what we believe to be true. We need to have an accepted, shared view of the truth. This idea of multiparty shared data is a promising one. And technology such as distributed databases, shared ledgers and blockchain helps build these common views of the world.  


3. We are seeing the emergence and coordination of specialty ecosystems and networks that can be integrated in a ‘network of networks’.

Before hyper-interconnectivity and the opportunity to create ecosystems or a network of networks, we operated in a limited way – for example, connecting one value-added network (VAN) to another VAN in a logistics network with practical applications like document exchange for advance shipping notices and the like.

We’re now seeing that an interconnected ‘network of networks’ really adds value. People are using technology and data to work together to solve domain-specific issues like fresh food provenance with Food Trust and ocean-shipping visibility with TradeLens.

These specialized ecosystems can be seamlessly integrated into existing business networks to provide a wealth of information about previously opaque areas of the supply chain – where things went dark at critical moments.  

4. It’s possible to have personalized ‘control towers’ that can track the essential elements of global ecosystems but are tuned to what we each want to measure and act on.

Finally, we’re able to see the world the way we want to – from each of our perspectives – bringing together actionable recommendations from real-time intelligence to act on supply chain implications. 

From a simple example of inventory management that can have downstream supply implications for a logistics analyst, to the same information tracking financial implications and payment terms for a financial analyst, the varying views, insights and interrelated metrics stemming from core supply chain activity helps everyone across the organisation.  

Also knowing that no two supply chains are the same means the ability to quickly configure and personalize ‘control towers’ is twice as useful as simply having the static data.

So just when the need for a strong supply chain has never been greater, technology is increasingly proving itself up to the challenge of meeting this need. And what’s more, small changes can have big impacts.


Hear Vijay present in our recent webinar – 4 Supply Chain Capabilities You Need For The Decade That’s Going To Change The World here.

 

Information Hoarders Be Gone

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

Long live the democratisation of data

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

Good news – their days are numbered!

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

A democratisation of data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Human + Machine Personas

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

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

IBM Sterling’s AI helps you:

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

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

Unlocking Collaboration

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

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

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

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


How To Stop The Computer Saying ‘No’! Clever Hacks For Getting Hired

AI is increasingly involved in recruitment. But how do you get on the right side of a computer that is reading your CV, running an aptitude test or assessing you in an online interview?

It’s impossible to argue with a computer, which is why the famous Little Britain TV comedy skit – ‘The computer says “No”!’ – is so memorable. However, there are ways to get around recruitment algorithms and perform better in an AI video interview.

You have just a few seconds (between 5 and 7) to impress someone with your CV. Hiring managers will quickly scan your résumé to decide whether or not to reject your application.

It’s easy to spot ones that will be instantly dismissed: too short or too long (2 pages max), too unusual (the rejection rate for those with photos is around 88%), badly presented and littered with spelling mistakes . . . with barely a glance, these will all be filed away (or binned).

It doesn’t give you much time to make a good impression.

However, if you think that someone in HR is hard to please, try impressing a computer algorithm.

A human being might, at least, see your potential if you write a convincing personal statement and a powerful cover letter showing that you have the ability and determination to succeed in a role for which you don’t quite have the right qualifications or experience.

When the process is automated, whether or not you get past the first few stages of the hiring process is all down to data. If you fail to score highly, you’ll never get hired – however brilliant you are. So what are the clever hacks?

Algorithm Aces

Always include everything asked for in the job spec in your CV . . . and use exactly the same words.

So if the candidate requirements say ‘Must be proficient in Excel’, say ‘proficient in Excel’ rather than ‘Have experience of using spreadsheets’.

Yes, you might not quite have the required level of expertise, but you can then explain that. The main thing is to pass the first hurdle. You could, for example, say ‘Proficient in Excel: with a relevant qualification’ – then go online to sites such as reed.co.uk or udemy.com and sign up for an online course. For £10 or so and 4–16 hours of online study you could have a qualification.

The other advantage is that you can then add this to your LinkedIn profile and other job applications.

At the very least make sure you include all the ‘musts’ and as many of the ‘desirables’ as possible.

Tips:
  • Tailor your CV to each job. You won’t know in advance which applications are screened by algorithms and which by a human being . . . so play safe.
  • Don’t lie – but be creative. If the job spec requires ‘At least 5 years in a leadership role’ you could add in leading a team (even if that was only 2 of you) or leading a project, to stretch your years of experience to 5.
  • Remember your aim is to get to the interview stage – most firms are struggling to find candidates that tick all the boxes, so don’t be afraid of applying for jobs where you don’t quite have all the qualifications and experience that is required. As long as you pass the initial screening, you can then elaborate on your answers in person . . . and hopefully impress the interviewer so much that you land the job.

Aptitude Hacks

Increasingly often employers are posting online assessment tests to pre-screen applicants.

If possible, set up a dummy account, so that you can go through the process and familiarize yourself with it before doing it for real. Also see if there are any similar aptitude tests online.

Tips:
  • If the test is timed or a stretch, you might want to do a test run several times. However, if you find the test a real struggle perhaps this isn’t the job for you.
  • If the employer leaves the assessment until the day of the interview, prepare – you might be asked to prove your proficiency in a particular program, so go online and do a quick refresher course to get up to speed.

Assessment Musts

Some employers also undertake personality profiling to make sure you have the right characteristics for the role.

The key with this is to be totally honest. Relax and complete the assessment truthfully – using the first thing that comes to mind as your answer, rather than overthinking each question.

If you lie in a personality test, it can be easily spotted. Often assessments take this into account – as they know that people tend to answer with what they think they should say, rather than what they honestly feel in the first 10 or 20 answers. After that they tend to relax and tell the truth.

Tips:
  • Being honest is important – if you are the wrong fit for the job, it will not work out and you could find yourself out of work and with little or no severance (remember, you have virtually no rights in the first 2 years of employment).
  • If the assessment is in a group situation or you are asked to perform a mock sales pitch/presentation etc. at the interview, be the best version of yourself rather than trying to be someone else.

Video Tricks

Unconscious bias is a problem in recruitment and is the reason for a lack of diversity within organizations.

Interviewers tend to have preconceptions about individuals and often look for similarities – leading to them hiring a ‘mini me’. This can leave organizations open to discrimination claims.

This – along with the need to reduce costs – has led to the introduction of AI as an interviewing tool.

However, it is very disconcerting to find yourself talking to a computer screen rather than a real human being.

Tips:
  • Practise, practise, practise. You will often be given a set time limit to answer each question. Umming and ahhing or lengthy pauses will impact on your score.
  • Video yourself answering questions – some AI programs look at your body language, which can give away tell-tale signs of lying (such as looking away or to one side).
  • Treat a video interview as a real interview – get a good night’s sleep, dress to impress, don’t drink too much coffee and try to relax.
  • Stick a photo of someone you like and want to impress (even a celebrity) next to your screen camera. Visualize yourself talking to this real person and your conversation will be more natural – your eyes will also be looking towards the camera, rather than down, and this can make you appear more professional and confident.

So be prepared for AI when you’re applying for your next position. Remember these few tips and behavioural tweaks to handle selection and assessment algorithms and give yourself the best chance of having a happy ending to your job-search story.

Think you could use a little career motivation for the new year and new decade? Join our upcoming webinar – Don’t Quit Your Day Job!

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

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

RPA - procurement
Photo by Matan Segev from Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RPA: Copy/paste on steroids…

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

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

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

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

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

Typical Benefits

The typical benefits of RPA are:

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

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

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

If RPA only had a Brain…

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

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

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

Source: IEEE

By nature, RPA and AI are very different technologies:

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

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

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

RPA Applications for Procurement

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

The Hackett Group on Procurious

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

7 Companies Pioneering Artificial Intelligence in Procurement

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

artificial intelligence
Photo from Pixabay on Pexels

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

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

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

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

Artificial Intelligence in Procurement

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

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

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

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

7 Examples of Artificial Intelligence in Procurement in 2019

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

Supplier risk management

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

Purchasing

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

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

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

Spend Analysis

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

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

Supplier Information Management

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

Strategic Sourcing

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

Contract Management

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

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

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