Tag Archives: IBM Watson

Team Comes First in IBM CPO’s Roadmap To Success

What would you do after all of the low-hanging fruit in procurement has disappeared?

Here’s a quick quiz:

What would you do if you became the CPO of a procurement function that is a top-quartile performer and already highly mature?

  • Keep things as they are – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • Make small, incremental improvements, being careful not to change anything significantly.
  • Roll your sleeves up and transform the function from top-quartile performer to a world-class organisation.

Bob Murphy was faced with this choice back in 2014 when he first took on the role of IBM CPO. In many ways, inheriting a highly-mature procurement function is more of a challenge than stepping into a low-maturity team. For Bob, the low-hanging fruit had all been picked: the team had already undergone a significant transformation, it was recognised internally and externally for its high level of excellence, cost savings were at record levels, and supplier relationships and sourcing strategies were delivering results. Client engagement and interlock with business unit stakeholders was also maturing, while procurement was viewed as a key function enabling business unit objectives.

So, what was there left to do? Bob’s challenge – as well as his opportunity – was to take a high-functioning team that was delivering best-in-class outcomes and make them even better. He did this through unleashing his passion for the profession, leveraging 30+ years of procurement and supply chain experience to mobilise a global team of 3000 procurement professionals around a shared vision.

He developed a set of global, transformative initiatives and domain priorities that moved IBM from the front of the pack to a truly world-class outlier position. Today, IBM Procurement services have arrived at a status dreamt of by many CPOs – that of an essential trusted advisor to the business.

IBM’s secret recipe for success isn’t actually a secret – the roadmap established by Bob early in his tenure as CPO covers six key areas:

  1. Investment in talent and skills development
  2. Digital transformation through AI (Watson cognitive procurement), robotic process automation and Source-to-Pay transformation.
  3. Unlocking big data to drive informed, outcome-based decision making for IBM and its clients.
  4. Supercharged engagement through end-to-end ownership for deliverables and client-aligned squads, while satisfaction is captured using the Net Promoter Score.
  5. Deployment of Agile principles and self-empowerment across the entire team.
  6. Growth of supplier innovation as complex enterprise relationships mature.

Leadership recognition

It’s interesting to note that people and talent are at the very top of Bob’s list. To quote an article he wrote for Procurious, “I learned a long time ago that the key to success is having a great team. And there is a very human element to procurement. There will always be a need for people to handle the relationship management side of the function, with both suppliers and stakeholders and make the strategic decisions.”

Although he operates in a highly technical sphere, Bob stresses the importance of soft skills:

“When we think of the soft skills necessary for future success in the procurement industry, we focus on building closer stakeholder and supplier relationships. Broadening our communications skills, including active listening is a key enabler to both visibility to value proposition, but also in understanding our stakeholder requirements from their point of view. Another critical element is having better agility skills; think flexibility, adaptability and speed.”

Bob Murphy’s achievements in leadership were celebrated at the Procurement Leaders awards in May, where he picked up the prestigious 2018 Procurement Leader Award.

His first comment when interviewed after receiving the accolade? “This award is about my team.”

4 Reasons Why Your Organisation Isn’t Embracing Cognitive

In the battle for capital, how does procurement ensure its cognitive projects come out on top?

At last month’s London CPO roundtable; Amit Sharma, Global Procurement Practice Leader for Cognitive Process Services (CPS) –IBM led our attendees in a discussion on how procurement leaders can ensure their cognitive projects come out on top.

There is so much potential in cognitive technology to transform the role of procurement. It will allow professionals to do dynamic forecasting, telling you when to raise acquisition and awards contracts to a particular supplier based on a triage.

“For procurement, maintaining our relevance to the organisation beyond cost savings is imperative” said Amit.  “[Procurement pros] need to embed the latest in technology as best practise into the business as it will free up our time and help us to move from transactional to strategic management.”

“The logic is unquestionable.  We know the sophistication of AI is going to come. It’s a question of when, not if.”

But when it comes to making the leap to cognitive, which can do a world of good for analytical and predictive analysis, organisations are still hesitant.

Procurement needs to make the business case for how cognitive can add long-term value and, as Amit reminded us, “If you’re not convinced, you can’t convince someone else”

Throughout our discussion, four key reasons for an organisation’s reluctance to embrace cognitive tech became apparent.

1. Remaining skepticism at the value of cognitive

As Amit explained, cognitive technology like Watson can help procurement professionals to analyse reams of data. It would, for example, allow users to plot the price at which they are being charged for something by suppliers and analyse how the index has moved in past [x] years. Five years ago this process would have been extremely time consuming but with the index data, the system can quickly tell you exactly where you’ve been overcharged.

So it all sounds great. But in reality, business leaders are often skeptical about the actual cost savings brought about by this kind of analysis.

Do you genuinely make better decisions in the long term by having so much data at your fingertips? Or can you have just as much success through effective negotiations with your suppliers?

Amit’s response to this “If you’re not doing spend compliance – you don’t know if you’re compliant. If you’re not analysing this data, you don’t know the potential cost savings.”

“I spoke to a CPO who thought their processes were good. [But it was discovered that] there was a 40 per cent unit price difference across the company in the same category, simply because the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing!”

2.  Spend within organisations is fragmented

One key problem for procurement, when it comes to implementing cognitive technology, is that the CPO doesn’t always have the authority to drive transformation. Perhaps they are reporting to a CFO who doesn’t see value in cognitive tech or the spend might simply be too fragmented across the business. When it depends on lots of other people, procurement are unable to drive change effectively.

As one of our roundtable attendees pointed out “there are organisations I know who can’t justify the need to implement Ariba to their CFO- let alone cognitive technology!”

3. Trouble looking at the bigger picture

Several of our roundtable attendees cited short-termism as a key reason for their organisation’s lack of cognitive adoption. “The mistake we make is that we look at opps in a tactical way and not at the bigger picture,” said one CPO.

“For example, we know that there will be headcount reduction in the coming years and we will benefit hugely from cognitive tech, but articulating that at a hollistic level to the CFO and explaining it as a 5-year journey is the challenge”

4. Confusion about AI

Remarkably, one of the biggest challenges remaining around  the uptake of cognitive technology is a universal lack of understanding of what it actually is and the distinctions between different terms.

“You can start talking to a group about AI and within a few minutes people are talking about blockchain, as if the two are interchangeable,” said one of our attendees. “People need to have a clearer understanding of the buzzwords ; AI, blockchain cognitive etc.”

Of course, there are people who know a little and people who know a lot. And that’s a challenge in itself.

Read more here on the insightful discussions had at our London CPO roundtable. 

“Wat the?” 5 things I learnt about Watson Supply Chain in Vegas

Rather than adopting the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mantra, I wanted to share some new insights into Watson that I gleaned at IBM’s mega thought leadership event – Think 2018.

1. Watson needs education – but it’s a fast learner!

When you think of Watson, you probably think of a computer that can win Jeopardy and has a PhD in a whole lot of things…but in reality, when Watson enters a new profession, it is like a child that needs to learn.

As humans, we learn from birth and can only pass on that knowledge to someone who in turn spends time learning.  AI, like Watson, is similar. It learns by gathering information (i.e. data) and interacting with humans.

You could liken Watson Supply Chain today to a  5th-grader, but its rate of growth is so exponential that it will have a Master’s Degree in Supply Chain within the next three months.

How? Because IBM’s own supply chain practitioners are training it daily by feeding their US$30Bn spend through Watson, pushing through millions of documents, data elements and hundreds of real life supply chain challenges that are resolved each day in the Watson Resolution room. Last year, Watson supported $71.7 billion in revenue, managed 150,000 contracts, and supported 20,000 professionals and 11,000 suppliers to ensure 5,000,000 deliveries were made.

With every insightful response and interaction, Watson is getting smarter. The more Watson is used, the more knowledgeable and insightful it becomes.

I first met Watson at the Gartner Supply Chain Executive conference in London last year. Catching up six months later at Think 2018 in Vegas… even I could see the growth.  Watson is now answering supply chain questions in natural language (plain English), and can curate what is most critical for you to pay attention to – alerting you to an impending disruption, immediately assessing the financial impact of the disruption and will help you drill down effectively to understanding what the issues are that you want your team to resolve, and quickly. Watson does this through opening a resolution room, quickly providing answers that typically reside in different system which reducing the time needed to write emails, make phone calls and follow-ups.

The team at IBM told me that their own implementation of Watson has seen disruption mitigation time reduced from days down to hours – or even minutes in some cases – which is critical when you’re moving inventory in the millions of dollars.

“Watson is brand new every day.  Every time you go away, it grows and becomes more interesting, because it is constantly learning.  You come into the office and there will be a new API. Watson doesn’t take a day off, it is adding knowledge and features 24/7/365.”

Watson Supply Chain Program Director, Rob Allan.

2. Watson Supply Chain is helping save lives

… literally. One of the first user test cases for Watson is a global philanthropic organisation working to improve vaccine distribution in Kenya. Local African pharmacies battle constant low stock of critical medical supplies due to lack of inventory and poor visibility across the supply chain.

It is still early days, but the IBM team is really motivated and engaged with this important humanitarian project. I caught up with IBM Watson Supply Chain’s Program Director Rob Allan, who was energised after a recent visit to Kenya. “It’s great to be putting Watson to work on such a worthwhile project. In Africa, it’s not uncommon for a mother to walk half a day to get medicines, with no guarantee that she will be able to secure what she needs. Our program will deliver vaccines and supplies to more than 4,000 delivery points in Africa. This should make a huge difference to access much needed healthcare. We really hope we can make an impact.”

3. The proof is in the pudding.

 Leading companies, like Lenovo, have started mapping their thinking supply chain journey with Watson…but the biggest proof of concept is IBM itself who has been using Watson to manage its multi-billion dollar global supply chain for the last 18 months.

We all know that necessity is the mother of invention and this was certainly the case for the creation of this product. You may not know that it was actually IBM’s internal supply chain team that created Watson Supply Chain Insights.

If you listen to this webinar, you will learn that IBM’s VP Supply Chain at that time, Joanne Wright, had an “aha” moment back in 2011. A series of unthinkable events prompted Joanne to look for a solution. The Japanese Tsunami had wiped out components globally, volcanic eruptions in Iceland disrupted Nordic freight lines and floods in Thailand destroyed disc drive head production.

Joanne’s team struggled to get the right data and she dreamt of a day where she could get a smartphone alert prioritising supply chain failures, present the relevant data and even suggest solutions.

It wasn’t perfect at first. The team had to find and clean the data and learned that you must train Watson … that can’t be underestimated. They consulted the Watson Health cancer team and understood how to train Watson to talk supply chain.

It would seem that it was worth the effort, as it helped IBM’s Supply Chain save millions in inventory and freight costs, not to mention IBM reduced their supply chain data retrieval times by 75% using Watson – and helped build the technology that will drive supply chain into Industry 4.0.

4. It’s not a big a deal as you think!

From everything I have learned in the last 12 months, implementing Watson Supply Chain may not be as onerous as you think. In terms of time to implement, from London, Raleigh to Vegas I have asked numerous executives and they’re all convinced that they can overlay Watson on existing clients’ systems and have a meaningful dashboard up and running within a month.

5. Blockchain … coming soon.

Having been a Queen B2B in the late 90’s, I have long known the value of having common language and data for taking friction out of business transactions. That’s why I’m excited about blockchain. There’s certainly been a lot of hype, and, of course, the bitcoin currency part is totally out of control… but the idea of having a common ledger or “one version of the truth” for all B2B transactions, with the ability for business partners to get in and view the same information, is very appealing.

Watch this space! IBM previewed a new, blockchain-based offering called “Shared Ledgers” at Think.

Taking the plunge…

There’s definitely been a lot of hype about Watson, but there are some real reasons to start your thinking supply chain journey, powered by AI.

In explaining why Lenovo took the plunge with Watson, Bobby Bernard said, “This space is evolving quickly.  We want to be an influencer about these new supply chain technologies.”

With most technology introductions, most organisations have been able to wait out the early adopters and jump on-board when the technology is mature and in widespread use.

But IBM is warning that this is not the case with AI. According to Watson Customer Engagement GM, Richard Hearn, “Everyday you’re not using AI is another day your competitor or upstart might be leveraging AI to learn, adapt and disrupt your market and you!”

Procurious Founder Tania Seary is an IBM Watson Customer Engagement Futurist and attended #think2018 as an #IBMPartner.

Procurement Leaders: Stop Talking About Headcount Reduction!

If you want your procurement teams to be more open to adopting cognitive solutions and less scared of them, stop talking about headcount!

There are many factors that require careful consideration to bring about effective cognitive solutions.

It’s akin to conducting a group of musicians – it might be possible (easy even!) to attain a pleasant sound from a solo instrument… 

But, if expertly managed,  you could accomplish a symphony from the entire orchestra! 

This week, our podcast series will guide you through the five steps required to conduct a dazzling cognitive symphony. 

On Day 4 of Conducting A Cognitive Symphony Marco Romano – Procurement Chief Analytics Officer, Global Procurement, Transformation Technology, IBM talks on the common pitfalls in the adoption of cognitive solutions, the most impactful actions procurement pros can take to increase the speed of adoption and how to overcome the fear factor!

The Fear Factor

“How the leadership works with the teams to remove barriers (operational, physical and psychological) will ultimately have a huge influence on the rate and pace of adoption of cognitive and analytics solutions” explains Marco in his white paper. 

When it comes to the fear factor, “there is no doubt that there is a concern that rich insightful analytics will show opportunities that imply the practitioners have historically failed in teir jobs.

“There is also no doubt that there is fear that cognitive solutions could replace some of the activities currently carried out by practitioners.”

One factor that causes this fear is the “poor messaging on why you want to commit these tools, and what the desired outcome is which creates fear and resistance, to adoption and change.”

How can organisations manage their employees fear to ensure the adoption of cognitive solutions isn’t impeded?

Stop talking about head count!

When procurement professionals look at something that brings new information and insights that haven’t been available before, it leads them to question a number of things:

Is it a challenge to what I’ve done before?

Is it a challenge to the accuracy of what I’ve done before?

and, ultimately

Is this technology going to make what I do now redundant?

“fear is something that we see. CPOs are constantly talking about robotics, automation, right?”

“And very often, I hear head count being brought into the discussion, Head count reduction being brought into the same discussion with cognitive analytics, and whilst that might be the eventual outcome, I think it’s a dangerous way to enter into the dialogue”

“If that is the primary driver, to reduce head count in the organisation, I find that very often that’s reflected in your metrics. It’s reflected in the behaviours. And in turn, it’s reflected in poor adoption, and resistance by practitioners.”

“You’re creating that fear of job security. And invariably, I find practitioners push back, and they’ll find they spend their time trying to justify why a tool won’t work for them.”

“To overcome this you need the right methods, but secondly, and very importantly, I think you need to provide practitioners with the road map on how to change, and sharpen their skills in this changing environment.

Educate your teams

Procurement professionals need to have an understanding of the strategy and impacts new solutions will have.

You need to be able “to show the practitioners how the change benefits them, not just the enterprise” Marco explains.

“And this sounds really basic, but it is so important. [You need to be able to show them]  I’m going to help you spend less time on those lower value, tedious, time-consuming tasks, allowing you to focus on the higher value activities.  Most professional practitioners that I know, prefer to spend their time on those higher valued tasks -negotiating with suppliers, rather than crunching numbers”

That’s the first thing. But the second thing  is, providing them education and training, on this new data skill set. I think you very quickly erode that resistance. They see a path for them, within the enterprise, within the organisation, but you’ve given them a marketable skill, which in turn removes resistance and fear.

“I’m not talking here about turning practitioners into data scientists. I’m talking about arming them with knowledge about how they impact data, teaching them the art of the possible, with regards to how technology can help them to be more effective consumers of that data, and insights.”

Striving to conduct a cognitive symphony but in need of some expert guidance? Our podcast series runs throughout this week and will have your orchestrating cognitive success in no time! Register here.

I Don’t Have Time To Do Market Price Research

We’ve all experienced it – a niggling feeling that we could have gotten a lower price for a product or service … if only we’d done our research. But who has that sort of time?

IBM’s CPO, Bob Murphy, is concerned that his peers around the globe aren’t getting a proper night’s rest.

“Chief Procurement Officers lose sleep at night worrying that their procurement teams are buying over market prices or that falling prices in a particular category of spending are not being rapidly achieved.”

Access to data on historical prices paid and current market conditions isn’t the problem. The data is out there, and readily available, but it takes time and resources to do the research, and it’s a never-ending task.

Monitoring the market is too big a job for a single person, which leaves our sleepless CPO with two options:

A) Carve out an entire team to do the research, or

B) Bring in Artificial Intelligence through a robot to augment the team capabilities.

And that’s what IBM has done. The procurement team collaborated with data scientists and developers to design a solution harnessing external data and analytics that provides users with market intelligence, historic IBM purchasing data, and market sentiment surrounding subcontractor services. IBM Watson Analytics partners with “PeopleTicker” to ingest real-time, external market intelligence providing a comprehensive view of global markets. By comparing historical data with current market information, buyers get an immediate view on the price difference that may be available, enabling new levels of cost competitiveness to be achieved.

The result is “Pricing IQ”, a product where millions of data points can be efficiently organised with interactive graphics and visually clear dashboards where useful trends and insights can be identified. This solution opens opportunities for live price negotiation via the use of advanced analytics – with significantly reduced manual workload for the buyer.

Alongside Watson Analytics, Watson’s Explorer and Alchemy software capture key words and provides sentiment analysis to indicate rising or falling markets. Additionally, PeopleTicker’s data is integrated within the “Pricing IQ” product enabling a seamless solution for our customers. “We have been using PeopleTicker internally now for over 2 years. As a client, they have provided us with over 10,000 global rates. What started as a client relationship has grown into a Watson Analytics partnership.”

Real time insights

If you’re hurtling down a freeway in a high-performance car, having a speedometer that only shows yesterday’s speed isn’t going to help you. That’s why access to genuinely real- time data is emerging as one of the key competitive advantages across procurement functions. The team that developed Pricing IQ recognised this, and have built in real-time alerts for action.

Take A Bow, Pricing IQ

You’ll be hearing a lot more about Pricing IQ, especially since the solution won the Most Innovative Use of Technology Award at the 2017 CIPS Supply Management Awards.

Like all good innovators, the IBM team identified a significant pain-point held in common by procurement teams across the globe, and came up with an idea that eases the burden.

So, the next time you’re manually wading through reams of pricing data and wondering to yourself if there’s a better way – be assured, there is.

How To Conduct A Cognitive Symphony

If cognitive technology is not normally your forte, let us be of assistance. In one week we’ll have you conducting a cognitive symphony! 

There are many factors that require careful consideration to bring about effective, scalable and sustainable analytics and cognitive solutions.

Intelligence is the conversion and enrichment of data into meaningful business insights.

It’s akin to conducting a group of musicians – it might be easy to get a pleasant sound from a solo instrument but, if expertly managed, you can avoid falling flat and accomplish a symphony from the entire orchestra!

Conducting a Cognitive Symphony

From the 26th February let Procurious and IBM guide you through the five steps required to conduct a dazzling cognitive symphony as we present a new five-part podcast series. 

Day One: Building Your Orchestra

Procurement process and acquisition of data need to evolve to meet data needs. How should procurement teams embark on their knowledge journey to Cognitive and analytics transformation?

Day Two: Orchestrating Your Melody

It is not sufficient to know that you are buying software or how you are buying software; you need to know what software you are buying. So how do you implement an effective taxonomy strategy?

Day Three: The Rehearsal Room

Automation is a buzzword of the moment and fast becoming a business necessity. How can procurement professionals achieve a happy balance and effectively implement transaction automation.

Day Four: Getting the brass on Board

How procurement leaders works with their teams to remove barriers will ultimately have a huge influence on the rate and pace of adoption of cognitive and analytics solutions.

Day Five: The Conductor

In a fast-paced and ever-changing environment, some instability and churn is inevitable, which is why all these data instruments need a decent conductor and a single data strategy.

Podcast Speakers

Marco Romano Procurement Chief Analytics Officer, Global Procurement, Transformation Technology, IBM

Marco applies more than 15 years of experience as a procurement practitioner and project manager to understand complex environments that separate the noise from real issues and determine near-term and strategic solutions in realising business value. He leads a team that has saved IBM Procurement a significant amount in third-party costs and efficiencies through analytics data solutions and innovative sourcing strategies over the past three years. His team is also developing commercial analytics and cognitive procurement offerings leveraging data and technology for IBM clients’ competitive advantage.

Anna Madarasz Analytics & Cognitive Lead IBM

Anna has 14 years of procurement experience, out of which 12 is in project leadership. She is a master at change management, and loves working in a complex, cross-functional environment. She is an expert at procurement taxonomy in support of increasing companies’ negotiation power. Anna is a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.

Peter Hrabovski Analytics and Automation Lead, IBM Global Procurement

Peter is the leader of the Analytics and Automation organisation at IBM Global Procurement. He has a masters degree in economics, in the field of business and administration. He has more than 5 years of experience in managing the data analytics and robotics process automation teams in IBM procurement globally. Being a technology and data enthusiast his focus is on applying the latest technologies in solutions being developed. This enables procurement in delivering exceptional value to IBM and its clients.

How does the podcast series work?

This series will run for five days with a daily podcast released from 26th February.  Each morning, we will deliver the new podcast straight to your email inbox.

If you’re a little late signing up to the series, don’t panic! We’ll still be sure to send you all five podcasts so you can listen at your leisure.

How do I access the podcast series?

Simply register for the series via this link and you’re good to go!

From the 26th February we’ll deliver a podcast straight to your doorstep.*

*straight to your email inbox!

Are the podcasts available to everyone?

Anyone and everyone is welcome to sign up and it’s totally, 100 per cent free to do so- simply sign up here and we’ll handle the rest.

From 26th February, Procurious present a new five-part podcast series – Conducting a Cognitive Symphony – sponsored by IBM. Sign up here (it’s free!) to access the series. 

2017 Rewind – Do You Have The Right Skills To Deliver On Tomorrow’s Procurement Strategy

As part of our 2017 Procurious rewind, we’re taking a look at the top blogs of the year. This piece looks at why are our procurement teams are falling so short when it comes to delivering on strategy? 

Shockingly, 60 per cent of CPOs believe their teams do not have the skills to deliver their procurement strategy, according to Deloitte’s “Global Chief Procurement Officer Survey 2017.”

Why are procurement teams falling so short?

Originally, procurement was heavily based on process management, negotiation and basic spend analysis. But the procurement function is evolving, and professionals have to adapt to a new environment . There are new and growing expectations that require alternate skills for a more advanced job profile.

Procurement professionals are expected to be much more analytical, with the ability to perform data mining. They also must learn to manipulate and understand financial data and indicators, such as P&L and balance sheets. That’s not to mention that they should be proficient with the latest technologies.

Yet, one of the most important skills to develop is customer centricity. In today’s customer-centric world, this becomes crucial.

In my opinion, understanding internal customers,  being able to communicate in their language, knowing what they want or helping them to understand what they need, is the most difficult skill to learn and develop because it often goes against the conventional and traditional training that many procurement professionals have received.

It’s time to stop hiding behind the processes and get to know the internal customers! Given the back-office environment we are coming from, there is still a lot to do to change the mind-set and the behaviour of those involved. Procurement professionals need to develop their consultative skills and become less process focused, since excessive process significantly impedes speed and agility.

Keeping It Fresh

Another challenge for procurement involves attracting and retaining fresh talent in our industry. This situation needs to be addressed now to prevent a significant skills gap within the next couple of years. While we still have to continue to build traditional procurement skills. We also need to recognise that these skills must evolve as analytic and cognitive solutions provide more refined data and insight. The challenge is less about finding someone who is an expert negotiator and more about recruiting someone who understands data and logic.

At IBM, we are currently hiring maths and statistics majors because they can understand trends and probabilities. Although many procurement skills can be taught,  it’s hard to train someone to find trends in complex data.

Taking IBM’s example, our strategy to recruit and retain talent is reflected in how we communicate our procurement roles. “Our Procurement strategy is about collaborating with customers to ensure they have best in-class solutions, with access to the most advanced technology available on mobile devices. We partner with our suppliers to be as innovative and creative as possible.”

Presented like this, a job in procurement sounds pretty exciting!

The party ain’t over yet!

And the party isn’t over once we’ve found the right skills and talent, we also need to keep that skilled staff within the procurement function! If we help employees build on their competencies as well as add new ones, and if they can see that their contribution to the company’s mission clearly makes a difference, it will help us to keep those employees in procurement.

Ultimately, modernising the procurement profession and making procurement a “cool” place to work will help retain a talented, skilled and motivated workforce.

Why Procurement Should Give Cognitive Tech A Warm Embrace

When you pushback on the advances of cognitive technology, you’re buying yourself, and procurement, minimial time. Working side by side in a warm embrace is the way to do it! 

Our webinar, Beat The Bots: How Being Human Will Win The Day, takes place TODAY at 1pm BST on 24th October 2017. Register your attendence for FREE here.  

There’s no question that procurement teams needs to prepare for their own cognitive journeys, to consider what their company’s digital transformation will look like, and then think about how to prepare, or even influence it.

But in doing so, are they also mapping out a talent journey?

The 2017 Deloitte CPO survey interestingly revealed that whilst the vast majority of procurement leaders see the need to train and develop their people, only 31 per cent were planning to focus on training in digital skills in the coming year.

John Viner Smith, Principal, Mercer and speaker on today’s webinar has some thoughts on why this is the case, “I think part of the reason is that there’s no consensus at present as to what the skills people need to acquire are to be ready for this [cogntive] world.  It’s just not clear for the leaders concerned yet.”

Last week we outlined the key soft skills procurement professionals should be developing to prepare for the cognitive age.  But what about the attitude on the ground? Procurement professionals are still wary of the impact cognitive technology will have on the function, which results in a level of pushback and reluctance to accept the changes that are coming.

The warm embrace of cognitive technology

“It may be reasonable to look at the state of technologies today and think ‘No worries, I can’t see anything out there that could do my job’, but that’s not the risk.” John explains. ” The risk is that these technologies, coupled with other disruptors, could make your job obsolete and truly redundant. Imagine being a farrier at the very beginning of the 20th century; if you were thinking ‘Thank goodness they haven’t invented a machine that can shoe horses better than me’, you were kind of missing the point.”

So what is Justin McBryan, Learning & Development, Strategy, Communications Manager- IBM ,seeing in terms of pushback within his organisation?

“I don’t know if I would characterise it as a pushback so to speak.

“We see it as a warm embrace across the organisation but a wary embrace as well. As we digitise the organisation and continue to march forward into the cognitive era, certainly the technologies on the horizon are noticed and seen [by our employees.]

“But I say a warm embrace because a lot of the technologies we are building, have built and continue to build need the procurement skills and institutional knowledge that we’ve built over the years including all of our great people. In terms of where we are today and as we’ve been rolling out Watson Supply Chain etc. we see it as more of an embrace.”

Cognitive tech is “not necessarily a replacement of the person, it’s someone sitting next to you and helping you.”

The environment that Justin describes is one of collobaration, with seasoned procurement pros looking to help machines learn and work alongside them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing so with the wary eye of “what’s next?”

But as Justin points out, as procurement teams embrace and integrate these cognitive technologies, they can also be asking themselves “What can I do to begin to point my skill development in the right direction?”

Exploiting the advantages of cognitive technology

There’s a lot of scare mongering out in the field that says that if you’re not a data scientist, you don’t have a future in Procurement.

But we’re reassured by the fact that IBM is working hard on developing its employees’ soft skills and is a strong advocate for how cognitive tech will allow professionals to better perform their roles not seek to replace them.

When it comes down to data scientists versus soft skills experts, Justin believes they’re sequential from each other and likens it to climbing up two different kinds of hills, “We want the majority of our organisation to build up on their soft skills. We’re happy if everyone builds up their analytics skills. We certainly need a solid group up at the top who can drive the innovation and integration of the cognitive tools.

“We need our best and brightest from a data scientist perspective but not all of us need to be there.”

“If we continue down the cognitive path we’re going to have a lot of tools to add to the procurement portfolio. The digitisation of our organisations  free up time for our employees to focus on two big things that are important for procurement:

  1. Getting closer to clients
  2. Creating time and space to innovate on our processes and innovate on the solutions that we’re delivering to our client

“The more we add to the digital cognitive portfolio of tools that procurement pros can use, the more time that is freed up on the innovation and client engagement space, [which is an opportunity for procurement] to exploit the advatages of the cognitive era.”

Our webinar, Beat The Bots: How Being Human Will Win The Day, takes place TODAY at 1pm BST on 24th October 2017. Register your attendence for FREE here. 

5 Soft Skills Procurement Pros Should Be Developing…NOW!

If you want to hold on to your procurement career  in the long term, you ought to be worrying about mastering your soft skills!Our webinar, Beat The Bots: How Being Human Will Win The Day, takes place at 1pm BST on 24th October 2017. Register your attendence for FREE here.

We got wind of the fact that IBM, arguably the world’s most robotically advanced procurement team,  is focussing on its employees’ soft skills.

As Justin Mcbryan, Learning & Development, Strategy, Communications Manager- IBM, explained,  why would IBM need a high volume of data scientists in their midst when they have Watson!?

Technological advancements will soon permit the automation of our processes; handling the sourcing and the market intelligence. In this environment, it’s the softer skills procurement professionals must master to ensure a long-term career.  That’s the real skills gap procurement should be worried about!

Ahead of next week’s webinar Beat The Bots – How Being Human Will Win The Day,  we outline the specific skills procurement pros should be mastering to prepare for the post-cognitive age, with the help of Justin and our second webinar speaker John Viner Smith, Principal-Mercer.

1. Design Thinking

There are some “incredible and transformative technologies that offer solutions to problems that were unimaginable just a few years ago ,but they’re just half of the puzzle.” begins John.

“Subject matter experts will have a role to play in framing  [these problems] in the most efficient way.”  It’s important that the solutions aren’t simply “sticking plasters but fundamental root cause fixes”.

This is a role for procurement’s best and brightest, and the skill needed to fulfil this role is Design Thinking; “the process of being at the forefront of bringing new technologies to bear on business problems.”

2. Thinking at the speed of digital!

Joh asserted that procurement must recognise that “thinking of digital solutions requires some understanding of new processes and ways of thinking.”

“Procurement people should be learning about methodologies like Google’s Design Sprint or Eric Ries’ concept of Intrapreneurship as defined in the Lean Startup that are used in other types of digital business.

“Too often procurement thinking is slow, bound in process and incredibly risk averse. Technology problem solving is experimental, iterative and views failures as key to learning. The idea of developing hypotheses, testing them, failing fast and iterating or pivoting in the course of a week, as per Google’s Sprint methods, would be alien to many Procurement people.”

Procurement has worked at a certain pace,  thus far. And it’s going to  have to get faster!

3. Active questioning and listening

This wouldn’t be a piece about soft skills without a mention of communication! We already know how important this skill is for procurement people but it’s going to be all the more valuable in a post-cognivite age.

Justin reminded us that communication is vital for everything “from presentation skills to phone etiquette and how to ask probing questions to your suppliers.”

In a post cognitive world you’re “going to become more of an owner and less of a process facilitator” asserts Justin, which is where active listening comes in.

When it comes to managing negotiations with suppliers, clients and colleagues, “We all have scripts e.g. How many widgets do you need, when do you need them by etc.”

“Every now  and then, you’ll have  been in a situation where a client has given a little bit more than you asked for. This is where the active [and critical] listening comes in.” How do you use that information to do the best job possible?

4. Negotiation

“We rely on the threat of competitive pressure to do our negotiating for us” says John.

“We source the spec and don’t always listen to challenges from Suppliers. When we’re engaging them to help solve complex problems, we will need to be more commercially empowered and highly skilled negotiators; able to get the best from our suppliers by offering the best of ourselves while optimising value.”

5. Imagination

“The future role of procurement can be solved in one phrase: problem solving” says John.

But procurement’s problem solving needs to take on a more innovative and imaginative approach.

“Not every situation is going to call for an RFX” explains Justin. “That speaks directly to the change we’re looking for [at IBM].” Too often “we see a need and our reaction from a process point is let’s go and do the RFX.”  Instead professionals “should take a deep breath and start understanding the client and exactly what they need,” and approach the problem in alternate ways.

John concedes, arguing that “running tender might be the solution (increasingly rarely!) but collaborative innovation with the suppliers we have is important.”

Procurement peoples’ jobs will largely focus on bringing innovation to the supply chain in the first place and really helping the business to understand their demand.

In short, Procurement needs to have a relationship with the organisation that is much more strategic and puts the function in a partnering and consultative role.  As Justin sums up, ‘ [at IBM] We’re still looking for the procurement experts, we’re still looking for people who can do the job. But we’re adding to the soft skills portfolio.”

Our webinar, Beat The Bots: How Being Human Will Win The Day, takes place at 1pm BST on 24th October 2017. Register your attendence for FREE here. 

Three Risks Every Procurement Organisation Needs To Manage

Experts around the globe tracked the terrifying advance of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma earlier this month, plotting and estimating the potential damage to life and property as the monster storms approached the U.S. mainland. Can the deployment of cognitive AI lead to more accurate predictions and better risk management?

IBM’s global supply chain has been acknowledged as one of the world’s most complex. With scale and complexity come increased risk, but the Global Procurement team has it covered with its award-winning risk program augmented by the remarkable abilities of the Watson Cognitive Platform.

Even Watson, however, appreciates some assistance when it comes to risk mitigation, which is why IBM has partnered with an e2e cloud risk service provider named Resilinc. With this new capability, the team provides a composite risk score for every one of IBM’s suppliers based on six risk dimensions – financial, location, recovery, operations, resiliency and sourcing.

The three overall risks that the team has built its mitigation strategy around are:

  1. Loss of supply continuity

The fallout from a supply continuity problem are well-known – missed deliveries, plummeting customer satisfaction and lost revenue. IBM’s risk program is therefore designed to protect supply continuity by monitoring and providing real-time alerts on man-made risks, natural forces or climatic threats, along with financial and economic risks.

Nothing illustrates the disruptive potential of a risk event so much as the recent Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. To demonstrate how Watson can augment risk-management ahead of hurricanes and other crises, the team at IBM shared with Procurious the ways in which Watson’s cognitive capabilities were used to track and provide unique insight into Hurricane Patricia back in 2015 – an approach which contributed to IBM picking up a major award for Risk Management at Procurement Leader’s World Procurement Awards.

Using feeds including The Weather Company and the US Navy Weather database, Watson tracked the storm’s velocity, size, category, intensity and simulated scenarios of possible storm tracks. Interestingly, Watson also engaged in “social listening”, picking up local sentiment by tracking Twitter and other social media platforms. At the same time, Watson alerted IBM about every 1st and 2nd-tier supplier in the storms’ possible tracks.

Once the Risk and Supply Assurance teams had the earliest possible indication of Patricia’s potential impact, mitigation plans (such as closing at-risk plants) were readied for deployment. 

  1. Reputational damage

 IBM’s Conflict Minerals Team must be very well-travelled. From Dubai to China, Indonesia to Vietnam, they’ve conducted on-site visits with smelters and refiners to an impressive 10 levels deep in the supply chain, working with them to certify that they are using minerals controlled by responsible sources.

Every supplier must sign the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) code of conduct, which IBM has adapted as the single code across its supply base. It establishes standards regarding safe working conditions, fair and dignified treatment of workers, and environmentally responsible and ethical operations. To this end, IBM has conducted +2000 3rd-party audits across 34 countries. 

  1. Regulatory noncompliance 

Although noncompliance isn’t as exciting as a hurricane tearing through suppliers’ facilities, the impacts can still be dramatic. Noncompliance can result in fines and penalties, product impoundment, revenue reversal and adverse press.

IBM’s Global Procurement Environmental Compliance team ensures all products comply with environmental directives, laws, regulations and standards; made incredibly complex by the global nature of the organisation. The team tracks changes in regulations, such as eco-design or restrictions of certain chemicals, then determines if the change will affect IBM products and plots a path to compliance accordingly.

Risk and Reward

IBM Global Procurement’s efforts in risk mitigation were recently celebrated at Procurement Leader’s World Procurement Awards, where the team won a major award for Risk Mitigation, and a second award for its transformation program.

Procurious is working with our Knowledge Partner, IBM, over the next 12 months to promote cognitive procurement to our global community. To learn more about IBM Global Procurement, click here.