Tag Archives: IBM

What Is IBM’s CPO Looking For In New Hires?

IBM’s CPO, Bob Murphy, talks soft skills, AI and what he’s looking for in his leadership team at IBM…

This Article was written by IBM’s CPO, Bob Murphy.

Procurement professionals should be excited about Artificial Intelligence and robotic automation.

We’re looking to these technologies to handle the repetitive tasks, the more mundane pieces of work, so that humans are freed up for higher value activities.

Cognitive technologies will also act as advisors enabling procurement professionals with the insights to quickly adapt to changing market conditions.

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.

The acceptance and the excitement around cognitive have grown at IBM as we have educated our employees on the major opportunity that it represents and developed them in preparation for the digital age.

The importance of soft skills in the digital age

As we continue down the digitisation path in the Procurement industry, with more of our transactional functions being automated, there is a greater need for our procurement professionals to increase their 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.

Our requesters who run the IBM business have tremendous demands that can be fluid based upon the market environment. Our procurement professionals need to be able to react in-kind and continue to provide the IBM corporation with the best value and innovation from our suppliers.

Digital credentials have a curriculum of eLearning and experiential training for our procurement professionals to follow as they build their soft skill profile within the procurement context.

Key skills for IBM’s leadership team

In potential members of our leadership team, there are two crucial skills, that we look for.

1) Digital literacy 

“Data is omnipresent and omnipotent.” >>> who is that quote from? need to cite, or remove quotes. Leaders who want to thrive in the procurement profession need to develop an understanding of:

  • Data analytics –we can gather data but how do you use that data to gain insights?
  • Robotic processes – how can you automate tactical processes so human capital is used to the greatest effect?
  • Cognitive computing – understanding how to digitise a process end-to-end so it is interconnected and insightful.

2) Relationship building

While leaders need to be able to use technology to get the insights and knowledge, their focus should be on developing their emotional intelligence (EQ) rather than their IQ, and their ability to talk to clients in a consultative manner. Listening is critical – When we’re talking, we’re not learning.

Project management, empathy, innovative thinking and an agile mind-set are also critical skills at IBM.

You hear a lot of people talk about procurement leaders becoming “trusted advisors” to their businesses, but I think we need to take it to the next level and become “essential partners.”

We should enhance everything that we touch.

This Article was written by IBM’s CPO, Bob Murphy.

Bob Murphy will be speaking at Big Ideas Summit London 26th April 2018. Register as a digital delegate to hear more from him and follow the day’s action live. 

“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.

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!

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!

In this blog we outline the specific skills procurement pros should be mastering to prepare for the post-cognitive age, with the help of Justin and 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.”

This blog was first published in October 2017. 

6 Ways Procurement Pros Can Dominate Their Data Strategy

Building a nimble process, speaking the right language and gathering your data from the right sources will have you nailing a flawless data strategy in no time!

When most procurement professionals think about data they imagine a darkened back-office room and a huddled group of silently-working number crunchers.

But it’s data that gives your organisation’s senior leaders the most important insights, helping them to win new business.

Data can help procurement climb up the value chain and earn you a seat at the table.

If could only change the time we spend gathering data and the time spent actually using it  from a 80/20 split to a 20/80 split, its potential is limitless.

And this is a mistake procurement makes too often.

Ahead of today’s webinar Basic Instinct: Are You a Data Hunter or Gatherer, we’ve outlined some top advice from data experts; Marco Romano, Procurement Chief Analytics Officer, Global Procurement, Transformation Technology – IBM and Edward D. O’Donnell, Chief Data Officer for Procurement – IBM, on how to dominate your data!

1.Build a nimble process

Ed has, in his own words, enjoyed ten years working in transformation but admits he has made plenty of mistakes along the way! His advice? “If you’re going to fail. Fail early.”

As he points out, making mistakes is not the problem, it’s the way it’s done that makes all the difference, “The most significant challenge [for procurement pros] is managing data of all size and scale.”

In the past, IBM have approached this challenge with the old-school  waterfall methodology; the development team is engaged and a plan is might be made and executed with care over the course of a year.

“It’s smarter if you can do it in more agile chunks,” explains Ed.  “The drops are not quarterly or annually for the big bang but rather maybe in weeks we’ll run sprints.”

“This allows smaller, more manageable content.” Which, of course makes a lot of sense. Why spend a whole load of money to wait for the last two months of the year to realise the value?  “Can’t we build a process thats more more iterative, more nimble, more flexible more agile?”

“Then, of course, if the client doesn’t like it we can get immediate feedback and correct it straight away.”

2. Use your time more wisely

Procurement pros have, for too long, been gathering data from too many sources because that’s what they think they should be doing. It’s time consuming and, often, it’s also futile.

“So much time spent is spent gathering data. Procurement pros need to start at the end and work backwards. First and foremost you need to ask what’s the outcome or insight you’re trying to achieve and what are the business behaviours you’re trying to change.”

Develop a joint understanding of business requirements. From that you work backwards to determine three things:

1. What data you need

2. How you acquire  it

3. What enrichment that data needs

In doing this “you’re not only gathering data that’s fit for purpose, you’re also considering business process that drives that data and building improvements into this process to ensure data quality and data consistency.”

“Of course it doesn’t stop there our role is to automate that takes gathering filtering, sorting data away from practitioners

Ideally we don’t want our practitioners spending time analysing or shipping raw data rather looking at results or process insights. but spending time

So what drives this behaviour off trying to get all sorts of data?

It’s driven by wrong metrics or misunderstanding of those metrics.

“You absolutely have to make sure you measure what really matters, such that you drive the right behaviours in data acquisition and move away from concept where people are just acquiring a whole lot of data and not able to put it to good use or understand why they’re acquiring in the first place.”

3. Gather your data from the right sources

IBM source their data from a wide variety of sources.

“We look at RFX data, procurement and customer contracts, internal client demand and pipeline data,” explains Marco.  “Internally it’s a very broad base of data which includes procurement and our clients.”

They use “market intelligence from MI providers as well as MI from structured and unstructured public data sources, social media and various other sources.”

“The data we get from suppliers  is really important and includes things like machine failure rates, product life-cycles [and ]configuration options.”

“It’s a broad base but it’s not about gathering all of that data but rather targeted to achieve a specific objective.”

Do IBM have a particularly ‘hot’ data source? “Not so much the hot data source” says Ed. “It’s the way you use that data!”

“assembling the data in a coherent way where the buyers can have it at their fingertips – assembling quickly, linking the data and then presenting it to the buyer in a new user experience is where the power comes from.”

4. Listen to your client

“Listen to the voice of the client” says Marco.

“Start with an understanding of what you’re trying to solve, really understand what the practitioners needs are and work backwards from there to figure out what you really need”

Set up engagement meetings, engage with the client regularly and continuously share and showcase your work with your internal team.

5. Focus on data quality

“Focus on data quality and ensure that your procurement processes enable the acquisition and enrichment of good quality data,” says Marco

“It sounds very obvious but it is so often overlooked and it causes tremendous frustration in the system.”

6. Speak the same language

Spending more time in front of our customers or clients and less time behind closed doors, simply gathering and analysing data, is crucial.

When procurement teams start a program it’s important that everyone is on the same page; speaking the same language and communicating regularly with all the key stakeholders.

“One of the things historically that the procurement practitioner hasn’t done so well is being completely transparent with the data,” explains Ed.

It’s important to present it in a way that “it’s clear and simple to understand [and so] that the outcomes are obvious. The best chart is one you don’t have to try to understand, where the messages are clear.”

If you’re referring to units per hour, what do you mean by units?

If you use the term FTE, does everyone know what exactly that represents? Is it a 40 hour week at x cost or a 35 hour week at y cost?

Our webinar,  Basic Instinct: Are You a Data Hunter or Gatherer takes place at 1pm BST TODAY . Register your attendance for FREE here. 

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.

How To Avoid Transaction Automation Landmines

When it comes to implementing transaction automation, managing the trade-off between the speed of execution and the granularity of data is a challenge…

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 3 of Conducting a Cognitive Symphony Anna Madarasz, Analytics & Cognitive Lead , IBM Global Procurement discusses the importance of appropriately applied transaction automation, striking a balance between speed of execution and granularity of data and how to avoid landmines.

The importance of transaction automation

Marco Romano, Procurement Chief Analytics Officer, Global Procurement, Transformation Technology, IBM discusses  taxonomy in his white paper, “Transaction automation is a business necessity.

“We all want to spend less time doing repetitive lower-value work and use our skills to provide higher-value services to the business. However, as with many good things, badly applied transaction automation results in poor data and ultimately lost productivity and analytics effectiveness down the road.”

Transaction automation landmines

Procurement organisations are usually very well intentioned when it comes to the implementation of transaction automation but that’s not to say the process is without its challenges. We asked Anna to describe some of the landmines she’s seen procurement professionals hit.

Catalogs or other automation processes that allow the editing of item description and price can make the life of the client and the buyers easier.

As companies  see the positive effect of this they are likely to have a higher percentage of their transactions and spend going through catalogs.

The risk with this, as Anna points out, is  setting yourself unrealistic targets, “there is always a logical threshold, over which it is a risk to apply automation. Of course, you will not implement a catalog line if you  only have two purchase orders of the same nature in a year.

“With wrongly defined targets, a catalog isn’t going to decide action and then, of course, you spend more time on creating and maintaining your catalogs than creating your purchase orders.

Bulk Purchases

Anna also advises avoiding the catalog lines that allow bulk purchases.

“Many times it is really not easy to identify the purchase in a fixed line. Let’s say you are buying server configurations [or] storage configurations. Those are made up of multiple parts, so you  have hardware, software and services elements in it.

“A configuration can be made up of 50, 100 lines. If you allow your clients and your buyers to raise purchase orders simply as a one line item, this server [could cost] one million US dollars!”

“Of course, it’s a really sensitive balance because you also want to avoid the workload of raising incredibly granular purchase orders, so it is really your call at what level you would like to analyse [a given category.]”

“If this is a category which is your main area of focus, then try to go granular, try to get the data. If it’s not, then it’s your call if you are allowing these bulk purchases.”

The trade off

“There is always going to be a trade-off between speed of execution and granularity of data” says Marco

“Finding the right balance again takes us back to developing an understanding of what data we need to achieve our desired cognitive and analytics state. There is no doubt that teaming with the right technology and innovation provider, and selecting the right tools, is critical to that balance”

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.

Is Your Taxonomy Flexible and Multidimensional?

For a taxonomy to be effective, and feed a cognitive engine, it needs to be multidimensional, flexible, and situation based…

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 2 of the series, Anna Madarasz, Analytics & Cognitive Lead , IBM Global Procurement discusses how procurement pros are using taxonomy today, assesses homegrown taxonomy versus industry standards and explains why an effective taxonomy needs to be flexible, multidimensional and situation based.

What is taxonomy?

Marco Romano, Procurement Chief Analytics Officer, Global Procurement, Transformation Technology, IBM defines taxonomy in his white paper, as follows “Simply put, taxonomy is a hierarchical representation of data, products and services into logical groupings through the application of an alphanumeric scheme of sorts.

“Sometimes, these are industry standards and sometimes, they are locally-devised schemes to meet individual needs. These conventions are useful for purposes of reporting spend or segregating categories into lower-level components.

“However, the world in which we operate is not hierarchical; it is more like a network of many disparate parts of an ecosystem that is constantly interacting and evolving, and that it needs to be intertwined together to drive value

“for a taxonomy to be effective, and to feed a cognitive engine, the taxonomy actually needs to be multidimensional, flexible, and situation based.”

What does this mean?

1. Flexible

“There’s a level of flexibility you have to have, and usually if you do have a homegrown taxonomy, then it is there by nature” explains Anna.

Problems can arise within organisations when there is no global standard and different regions adopt different practices. “Let’s say one of your geographies breaks down their software license spend into accounting software or project management software. Whilst another geography chooses to break down their software spend into whether that software license is delivered electronically or non-electronically.”

Of course, you can’t take much global insight from this. So it is important to enforce some level of standard taxonomy. “But, depending on the industry, depending on the geography, you have to allow a little bit of flexibility.”

2. Multidimensional

There are many dimensions of taxonomy. And, multidimensional means that you really have to define what you need that taxonomy for.  Sometimes it will be sufficient to have your homegrown taxonomy, other times it might be preferable to have an industry standard such as UNSPSC. If, for example, you want to monitor the price trend of a certain product, then you will definitely need an OEM part number.”

“Multidimensional means that you really have to define what you need that taxonomy for.”

An OEM part number, for example, clearly defines a certain product or a certain service. If you have a notebook in front of you, and you type the OEM part number into a browser, your search will return exactly the same notebook.

You might however,  want to go down to the component level and ask what characterises that notebook?

“Is it the screen size, it is the memory, and so on, and so on? If you want to look for a comparable product in your catalog then  you need ontology.”

“If your business challenge is to note which supplier is providing a certain model of notebook cheaper then it won’t be enough for you to have an eight-digit UNSPSC code defining the notebook.”

3. Situations-based

In his white paper Marco states “It is not about how you buy, but rather what you buy. I would argue that an appropriate taxonomy is about identifying how you resolve a business problem through products or services.”

“Try to use taxonomy for future transactions. Trying to predict what your prices will be, trying to evaluate whether the quotations, whether the bill of material in front of you is competitive enough. Or use it for risk evaluation. There are endless opportunities, but it really all depends on setting up the proper categories.”

“What you should keep in your mind” advises Anna “is that you have to come up with a powerful combination of these taxonomy characteristics.”

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. 

Is Your Procurement Data Fit For Purpose?

How do you know when your data is fit for purpose? Start by putting the why before the what!

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 1 of the series, Marco Romano – Procurement Chief Analytics Officer, Global Procurement, Transformation Technology, IBM, talks about the development of data strategy, how to determine if a data source is fit for purpose and understanding the data that you want to see.

“To me the cognitive and analytic strategy really starts with the data strategy” explains Marco, “how we acquire, enrich, store and curate our data. Then it really becomes about what you do to that data to bring business value and actionable insights.

“I’d argue anything’s possible quite honestly, limited only by our imagination and one very important point, which is the quality and quantity of the data that’s available to us.”

The orchestra analogy

So where did the orchestra analogy come from?

“When you sit there at the start of a performance invariably you’re hearing these individual members tuning their instruments – warming up.

“It’s very melodic and you really get to hear the class of the instrument and the performer. But it’s really when the conductor walks on stage and all of those instruments are played together in harmony, that’s when it really becomes incredible.

That’s when the goosebumps come in and you hear the power of the sound.”

So how does this translate into data and insights? “One good piece of data is absolutely valuable and can really help you make better business decisions” says Marco. “But like an orchestra, a collection of this transformed data, properly orchestrated to provide these varied and powerful insights at the right time and in the right format for the intended audience really gives you that competitive advantage and operational efficiency.”

“You really need everyone playing from the same sheet of music, or the same hymn sheet!”

Putting the why before the what!

If the foundation to cognitive strategy is the acquisition of data, what kind of data should we be seeking to acquire? It’s easy to think about it in a one dimensional way, only considering one or two sources of data. But in reality data is coming from multiple sources. So where should we be looking for it?

“I think before you even answer the question of what data is it that you need, you really need to address the question of why you need it” explains Marco.

“What is the business outcome that you’re trying to drive? What is it that you want to achieve by acquiring this data? Then I think you can start to determine what data you need, and how you go about acquiring it and enriching it.

“I’ve seen an awful lot of effort go into acquiring data that never results in a business action. Not because it was bad data but it was just not fit for purpose. I think the importance here is that it is fit for purpose at the time that it’s needed and of course for the intended recipient.”

How do you know when your data is fit for purpose?

What are some of the things that you do to determine if a data source or a potential data source is fit for purpose, before you go down the road of actually trying to acquire and cleanse and build it into your models?

Marco firmly believes that you have to start with establishing what the intended outcome is that you want.

Secondly, “there is a point, which we of course have to consider, and that’s ROI. We can’t afford to throw manual resources off to fully invested activities. Some data is extremely difficult to come by, or extremely difficult to get to the level of quality that we need.

“I think you need to have a clear line of sight, of how these insights are going to allow you to change business course or alter business strategy and effect an outcome. Then you can start to also establish to what degree this data will help you achieve that?”

Ask yourself “how much impact is that data going to have, and in turn you can start to then make sensible decisions about ROI and the type of data that you need.”

Striving to conduct a cognitive symphony but in need of some expert guidance? Our podcast series starts today! 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.

Four Essential Capabilities For Your Procurement 2020 Roadmap

Procurement 2020 will look a little different with new skills, knowledge and tools to address entirely new challenges. Procurement has seen rapid change in a relatively short span, the value creation of this function has increased multi fold becoming more strategic, collaborative and technology driven. This momentum is expected to continue and quicken in the coming years. Procurement will emerge in the forefront as an important and integral function of an enterprise.

The Hackett Group’s research showed that 85 per cent of the procurement organisation believe that digital transformation will change the way they deliver services over the next 3 -5 years. To stay competitive, procurement needs to embrace disruptive effects of technological innovation in conjunction with organisation which is lean, agile and responsive to stakeholders and suppliers.

It is imperative for the procurement function to develop journey roadmap on four essential capabilities that are vital for future – Digital Transformation, Supplier Relationship, Stakeholder Engagement and Talent. The first step in this journey will be to fully understand how the procurement landscape is shifting.

Procurement in 2020 will look very different with new skills, knowledge and tools to address entirely new challenges. Organisations that fail to embrace new procurement models may fall behind the competition, jeopardising overall competitiveness and viability.

Digital Transformation

Procurement is effectively positioned to join the Digital revolution. It can offer a radically different value proposition to the organisation as Robotics Process Automation, cloud based applications, Big Data analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Mobile Computing begin to converge. These smart tools will improve service delivery, reduce errors and free procurement staff for higher value work.

Technology provides dual track opportunities to support ‘upstream’ or Source to Contract (S2C) and ‘downstream’ or Procure to Pay (P2P) which predominately consists of operational, repetitive and transactional activities.

Technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Crowd Sourcing, Live Digital Dashboards can be effectively used for decision making accurately and with speed to support ‘upstream’ while Robotics Process Automation is widely used to drive efficiency and effectiveness ‘downstream’.

Robots interact with different IT applications to enable transaction processing, data manipulations and communication across multiple IT systems. In effect, multiple Robots can act as virtual workforce to process operational and transactional activities. This could allow CPOs’ to rebalance their functions upstream and reducing the focus on downstream activities.

Supplier Relationship

With the advent of technology, the organisations have started to realise the growing importance of suppliers in terms of innovation, security of supplies, corporate social responsibilities, risk mitigation and cost savings. Strategic partnership will be at the top of the corporate agenda and Supplier Relationship Management will be seen as significant differentiator.

Supplier Relationship Management is systematic approach for developing and managing partnership. It is focused on joint growth and value creation with limited number of suppliers based on trust, open communication, empathy and win – win orientation.

The 4C’s model will govern the future of Supplier Relationship Management – Capabilities, Continuous Growth, Customer of Choice and Creating value.

The speed of business continues to accelerate, market expectations are higher, product life cycles are shorter, turnaround times are faster and the risks are wider and deeper. Clearly organisations rely on suppliers to bring innovative and new products to their markets.

Essentially procurement will have sound understanding of supplier market across the world and be able to link their potentials and limitations. Demands on procurement to become more business oriented, more mature and integrated in its ways of working. All of these reinforces the need to re-invent robust supplier relationship management.

Suppliers are increasingly being looked upon as trusted business partners and engaging early and ensuring all parties are on track will propel procurement organisation to  greater heights.

Business Stakeholders

Procurement has been rapidly evolving to keep pace with the changing trends.  The procurement profession has made significant leads moving from price management to category management and in the future it becomes very clear that procurement will move from category management into value creation.

Becoming a trusted business advisor is a long drawn process and time consuming, it varies from person to person. The individual has to not only understand stakeholder needs but go beyond to understand the breadth of business challenges and develop deep personal relationship.

Most stakeholder relationships are at service provider and enhanced service provider level providing answers, sharing expertise and resolving business related problems. Relationship with stakeholders are usually good at a business level but have no real depth at a person level.

The challenge seen by many procurement professionals is to move from been seen as just a service provider into being recognized by stakeholders as a trusted advisor

Elevation to consultant requires more insights and ideas into the stakeholder organisation on broader business issues and also building a stronger personal relationship. This level of relationship could be achieved through focus, time and effort.

Few people achieve the trusted advisor relationship, where there is a comprehensive understanding of all the stakeholder needs and they look up and reach out as first person to help them tackle the difficult issues they are facing.

As the procurement function changes, it will need people with new skills. Apart from being comfortable with data, future procurement professionals will need to be prepared to lead rather than simply serve their business.

CPO’s should fundamentally rethink regarding their organisation and capabilities both of which needs to be reshaped over time. Companies have to create new job profiles such as buyer for new categories, contract experts on intellectual property or Data scientist for data maintenance, analysis and mining. Only if the procurement personnel are digitally capable can a company fully benefit from opportunities provided through digitalisation.

Procurement functions must follow Seven fundamental steps to manage Talent – Plan, Attract, Recruit, Assess, Develop and Retain.

The team must be digital savvy, ability to collaborate and build relationship with internal stakeholders as well as suppliers from diverse array of geographic and cultural backgrounds.

Negotiation skills and market insight will continue to be the fundamental skills but TCO across product lifecycle, cost structure analysis and game theory will emerge highly important skills in this field.

The professional credentials will be measured by their ability to influence, persuade, and provide vision, the mind set must be strategic, global, collaborative and above all commercial.

Conclusion

Shifting the procurement team from being tactically devoted to strategically focused can be a long journey for a company. But this journey can literally make the difference between company’s definite success or failure. There are still several actions to be tackled in order for procurement to gain deep business insight, react quickly to the changing needs, drive higher overall value and greater stakeholder satisfaction. Investing in activities to elevate the role of procurement within an organisation, moving beyond the traditional role of gate keeper and cost hunter will definitely bring added value to the organisation.

Procurement in Twenty 20 will mean developing new value propositions, meeting new business needs, and integrating data across functions. It will call for using data pro-actively and intelligently. Perhaps more important, it will require fundamental reshape of procurement organisation and its capabilities to take on new challenges.

This article was written by Kumaralingam MC, Director, Global Procurement Centers – IBM. It was orginally published on Shared Services Forum.