Tag Archives: procurement future

Four Work-Life Questions To Ponder On Vacation This Summer

Going on vacation this summer? Print this out and take it someplace without any Wi-Fi….

Our webinar, Out of Office: Your Career Break (Through), takes place at 1pm on 10th August 2017. Register your attendence for FREE here

You packed your favorite journal and a couple of pens. You planned some time on the beach, or left an afternoon empty to find a table at an outdoor cafe where you can grab an ice-cold drink and just think. This vacation, you’ve told yourself, you’re finally going to be able to take a break and get some clarity.

But clarity about what, exactly?

It’s true that vacationing can hold some unexpected career benefits, in addition to letting you recharge your batteries and do some self-reflection about your working life, your personal life, and your overall goals. But musing on these big-ticket themes isn’t something many of us have a lot of practice doing. When you finally get a chance to do it, you might find your thoughts a little unfocused. That’s fine—mind-wandering is sort of the point here. But in case you need a little more structure, these are four questions to let your mind wander over.

1. Stresses and worries aside, am I happy at work?

One question worth asking is whether you’re happy with your job on a day-to-day or week-by-week basis. You may find some workdays pretty stressful, and that’s normal, but do you generally find your job fulfilling to do?

Vacation is a great time to really step back and consider that, because it’s one of those rare occasions when you can step back to monitor your own reaction to being away from work. A change of pace is always nice, but at the end of your vacation, are you excited to get back to the projects you’ve been working on? If you totally dread the end of vacation, it might be time to start looking for something else.

When you’re away from the office, you can also think about which aspects of your job are most rewarding. By identifying the tasks that excite you, you can lay the groundwork to pursue opportunities that let you do them more often.

2. Where am I headed?

One of the most aggravating questions hiring managers like to ask on job interviews is, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Lots of people find that hard to answer, in part because a lot of the time they don’t honestly know.

That’s understandable. It can also be difficult to do long-range planning when you’re buried in the daily grind, when your goals are changing, when your industry is evolving at a breakneck pace, or all of the above. Taking some time off lets you think about whether your career is headed in a direction you’re generally happy with. To get a handle on a big-ticket question like this, try to think specifically about the skills you feel you still need to acquire to succeed.

In other words, you may not be able to see the future, but you can still think like a futurist when it comes to your own career planning. Are there people who might be good mentors (including of the unofficial kind) to help you fill in those skill gaps? Maybe it’s time for some more education. Going back to school for another degree may be daunting, but you can always start by taking a couple of professional development courses. Or maybe you just need to do a little more networking to brush up on the latest goings-on in your field.

Many companies have some form of educational benefits that lots of employees don’t know much about, let alone actually use. Maybe this vacation is the time to figure out which opportunities you can ask your HR team about once you’re back in the office. In fact, even companies that don’t offer a standing set of training resources may be willing to cover some of the cost of professional development you pursue on your own.

This is one of those items that way too few employees actually negotiate for, beyond compensation. Use a few spare hours this vacation to come up with some training options you’d like your company to help you go after.

3. Who don’t I know

You have more colleagues than just the ones who work for the same company as you. There’s a whole community out there of professionals who do much the same kind of work, but most of us don’t spend enough time getting to know them. After all, networking is a tedious chore and often completely fruitless.

And sure, sometimes that’s true. But there are a few things you can do to expand your connections in ways that don’t feel like networking. One of them is pretty old-school: Join a professional society. They’re often a great source for the latest developments in your field, sparing you the need to scroll LinkedIn for industry news. And they often have local meetings where you can meet people dealing with the same issues you are, rather than blindly scouring a random mixer for them.

There are also “networking” opportunities that might be lurking in your average workday—chances to connect with valuable people you haven’t had a chance (or a non-awkward pretext) for to strike up a conversation with yet.

You’re on vacation, though, so all this will have to wait, right? Technically, yes. But one of the reasons so many people procrastinate on (or just downright avoid) networking is because they haven’t given much thought to who’s missing from their contact lists, let alone what the best strategy might be for filling those gaps. Your vacation is a great chance to consider that. Based on where you are in your career and where you’d like to be before long (see above), think about the ideal connections you’ll need to make. Here’s a handy guide for figuring out who’s most important to you at the moment and where can you find them.

4. What’s Missing?

Work is great, but there’s more to life than the things you do to make your company money. In high school and college, you might’ve spent a lot more time doing things you were passionate about—or things that helped you discover what you’re passionate about. After hitting the workforce, most of us start to shed extracurriculars. If you look back, you may see a graveyard of discarded instruments, sports, clubs, and volunteer work stretching out in your wake.

It’s great to draw a sense of purpose and fulfillment from your full-time job, but those outside activities can also be powerful sources of energy. What’s more, they can be the steam valves that give you much-needed emotional release when the pressure at work builds up. Vacation is a good time to re-engage with old hobbies and pursuits you’ve left behind. Pull that old French horn out of the closet. Brush off your tennis racquet. Find a local dog shelter that needs another pair of hands. (Puppies are always a great cure for whatever ails you.)

Don’t feel guilty about carving out a little more time away from your work to pick up these side gigs and activities. Not only will they give you a chance to develop your other interests, they’ll also give you people to hang out with who aren’t all focused on the same set of work issues that you are.

And hey, you never know; over winter vacation about 16 years ago, I started taking saxophone lessons. Not only has it been great fun, I’m now in a band!

Our webinar, Out of Office: Your Career Break (Through), takes place at 1pm on 10th August 2017. Register your attendence for FREE here

This article, written by Art Markman was originally published on Fast Company.

Art Markman, PhD is a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organisations. Art is the author of Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership, Smart Change, and most recently, Brain Briefs, co-authored with his “Two Guys on Your Head”co-host Bob Duke, which focuses on how you can use the science of motivation to change your behavior at work and at home.

The Impact Of Blockchain On Procurement

Blockchain won’t wait for you to be ready for it, which means it’s time to brush up on your knowledge and understanding right here, right now! 

Blockchain technology will not only impact procurement and procurement professionals but is expected to be more pervasive in our business and personal lives than the internet itself. To put the enormity of impact on procurement and procurement professionals in perspective picture yourself twenty years ago trying to explain how the Internet is going to change things. Where would you even begin?

Like the Internet the Blockchain is a network. In the case of Blockchain comprised of decentralized “ ledgers”, many are referring to it as Internet 2 or more commonly the Internet of Value or Internet of Trust.

The benefits

The most important thing to understand is that Blockchain addresses many of the most critical problems we’ve encountered doing business on the internet.

1)  Security: Practically speaking the Blockchain is unhackable.

2)  Transactions are verified by network participants (consensus), eliminating the need for third-party intermediaries’ (banks) costly, time-consuming and predominantly manual settlement processes. In addition to slowing down our supply chains banks alone have estimated these processes are costing them more than $20 billion annually.

3)  Eliminating high transaction processing costs for high volume/low margin retailers who accept credit cards could significantly add to their bottom line.

4)  Once transactions are verified they are secure and immutable. (unchangeable)

5)  The immutability of the Blockchain means that supply chain provenance can be assured. This is particularly important for conflict minerals, pharmaceuticals, food and many other supply categories where provable chain of custody is critical.

6)  Payments can be made directly from buying entity to selling entity “ledgers” by-passing intermediaries (banks, brokerage, clearing houses, title companies, etc.)

7)  Payments can be automatically triggered based on the codified terms of “ Smart Contracts” stored in transaction blocks.

8)  Blockchain capabilities will change, if not eliminate the role of accounts payable and accounts receivable departments.

9)  Blockchain enables the concept of micro-units and micro-payments. It is estimated that approximately one -third of the world’s economic opportunity exists for products and services such as energy or digital rights where backend settlement costs currently constrain those markets.

10) It is also estimated that 25 per cent of the global population does not participate in the global economy because they have no bank accounts and/or credit cards. Without these tools they cannot participate in the Internet economy. The primary reason they do not have these economic tools is because they cannot prove their identities. Immutability of the Blockchain can enable these people.

What do I need to understand?

The capabilities I’ve outlined just scratch the surface on how Blockchain impact all of us. Aside from the aforementioned, as a procurement professional are several important things to understand.

1)  Blockchain is a much wider and more pervasive concept than Advanced Cognitive Systems, Big Data, Predictive Analytics, Robotics, 3-D Printing or even the Internet of Things. In fact these technologies will become infinitely more practical and secure because of Blockchain.

2)  Do not think of Blockchain and BitCoin, FinTech or Crypto Currencies as synonymous. They are not.

3)  Do not think that it will take 20 years to mature and be mainstream. The estimate is 5-7 years for full maturity.

4)  Do not assess progress by the US/Euro FinTech Community. While they were the first to recognise Blockchain’s inherent value and arguably have the most to gain by adopting it, they also have the biggest hurdles to overcome and could very well be last to cross the finish line.

5)  Don’t make the mistake of waiting to become knowledgeable about Blockchain; it is the most highly disruptive technology we’ve seen since the Internet and it won’t wait until you are ready for it.

Michael Shaw is CPO and Executive Board Member of Sourcing and Procurement Executives (ACSPE) and Chief Information Officer at Blockchain Executive.  This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

IBM & SAP Ariba Join Forces To Transform Procurement

Procurement today needs to be about insights and intelligence. Will a new SAP Ariba and IBM collaboration be the function’s force for good?

Last week, tech giants IBM and SAP Ariba made the announcement that they would be joining forces to transform the future of procurement.

Together, the two will launch a hub for delivering cognitive procurement solutions to redefine the source-to-settle process. Additionally, the companies will launch a Cognitive Procurement hub to further the development of intelligent procurement solutions and services.

SAP Leonardo, IBM Watson and SAP Ariba will be used  to pool together intelligence from procurement data and predictive insights from unstructured information.

Procurement, according to IBM, is about to get smarter, faster and more efficient.

“Today marks a major milestone for procurement,” said Alex Atzberger, President, SAP Ariba. “With the deep horizontal integration capabilities native within SAP Ariba’s mature platform and the innovative capabilities of SAP Leonardo and IBM Watson delivered by the industry’s most experienced and trusted providers, companies can realise an even more intelligent source-to-settle process for managing all categories of spend that creates value across the entire business.”

What does the future hold for IBM & SAP Ariba?

IBM Watson represents a new era in computing called cognitive computing, where systems understand the world in a way more similar to humans: through senses, learning, and experience. Watson solutions are currently being built, used and deployed in more than 45 countries and across 20 different industries.

On the SAP Ariba Network, buyers and suppliers from more than 2.5 million companies and 190 countries can discover new opportunities, collaborate on transactions and grow their relationships.

By partnering, SAP Ariba and IBM will use their data insights to increase procurement efficiency and intelligence, as well as improving spend visibility.

“We’ve built a cognitive procurement platform trained specifically to understand procurement transactions and unstructured data such as weather, non-standard part numbers in contracts and complex pricing structures,” said Jesus Mantas, General Manager, Cognitive Process Transformation, IBM Global Business Services. “By combining the power of IBM Watson on the IBM Cloud with SAP Ariba, we are leaping existing procurement benchmarks and delivering unprecedented value to our joint clients.”

Watch below to hear Jesus Mantas and Alex Atzberger discuss the partnership in more detail:

What’s the media saying?

IBM Emptoris customers are sure to be questioning what this announcement means for them.  Part of the deal includes IBM gradually retiring Emptoris products over a multiyear timeline and encouraging its customers to migrate to SAP Ariba.

As Jason Busch points out on Spend Matters “it is clear that the partnership provides significant time for current IBM Emptoris customers to fully evaluate all of their options, including the potential to transition to SAP Ariba or to select other providers.”

An IBM spokesperson, speaking to The Register,  commented that “we are encouraging Emptoris clients to transition to SAP Ariba. We will work closely with them providing support and transition services. Clients can continue to use Emptoris.”

Duncan Jones, Vice President, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research questioned the details of the announcement.  He wrote, “the press release does not say when the collaboration will deliver anything that customers can actually implement.  SAP has a long history of premature announcements and releases, so I’ll wait to see actual software being used by real customers before I get excited about this initiative.”

What do you think about SAP Ariba and IBMs’ partnership?  Is it something to be excited about or are you, like Duncan Jones, a little skeptical? Let us know in the comments below. 

In other procurement news this week…

The Future Belongs to AI

  • 19-year-old world champion Ke Jie upon commented that the “future belongs to AI” after losing a game of ‘Go’ to Google’s AlphaGo robot
  • Go is an incredibly complex Chinese board game whose conquering by computers is seen as kind of a holy grail, and was not expected to be possible for another decade
  • The AlphaGo robot “learned” by speeding through the equivalent of playing 80 years straight to develop its technique and strategy
  • A robot that can learn from experience to handle new situations can tackle any problem a human could

Read more at The Hustle 

Slavery Referrals On The Up

  • Kroll’s analysis of National Crime Agency data found there were 1,575 referrals for labour exploitation in 2016
  • 70 per cent of these (1,107) were adults and 30 per cent (468) were minors
  • Kroll said the increased numbers cast a spotlight on an issue that is of increasing concern to businesses, particularly in sectors such as retail and manufacturing
  • Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 businesses with an annual turnover of £36m or more must make public the steps they are taking to ensure modern slavery is not taking place in their business or supply chain

Read more on Supply Management 

Amazon to Open First Store in New York

  • Last week Amazon officially opened its first brick-and-mortar store in New York City – its seventh in the US
  • The physical location uses millions of Amazon customer ratings and reviews as its guide to providing customers with a unique shopping experience
  • The shop houses 3000 books organised into categories that you wouldn’t find at your typical bookstore such as  “Books with More Than 10,000 Reviews on Amazon.com”
  • Amazon Books is planning to open five more locations soon, including stores in New Jersey and another in New York City.

Read more on UK Business Insider

What’s The Catch-22 In Procurement Technology?

From here to eternity: what does the future of procurement technology  look like? Download Wax Digital’s Procurement 2020 report here

Procurement technology has undergone a long road of change that has consequently altered procurement functions, processes and the very nature of the business itself. But while we spend much of the time understanding how technology is governing what we do today, it’s how technology is shaping the procurement role in the future that should be our focus.

There is a widespread belief that procurement ‘intelligence’ could significantly change the goalposts for the profession, and go beyond informing and processing data, to predicting, learning and deciding.

Procurement technology’s Catch 22

With analytics and intelligence comes a dilemma. Do you outline the questions you need to answer before you perform analysis, or use the data to work out the answers to ‘what you didn’t know, you didn’t know’? It’s a catch 22 scenario.

Thanks to big data and artificial intelligence (AI), this dilemma is becoming easier to manage. A procurement system using intelligence exhibited by machines can learn from users’ mouse clicks, purchases, and line of information to make its own choices, rather than requiring approval from users.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that procurement skills and knowledge will become any less sought-after. But those in demand are likely to change, perhaps even for the better, if cognitive technologies allow experts to think, consult and use their human skills more wisely.

Our panel’s three key intelligence priorities were:

  1. Anticipating supply and demand decisions

    The power of big data enables procurement systems to foresee the needs of the business, such as anticipating demand based on historical spending or seasonal demands. And the data that systems are based on will only expand as new internal and external dimensions are added to the mix, such as social media and newsfeeds, assessing demand more accurately. Intelligent systems may then begin to question human decisions, such as the validity and need for supplier orders and assessing the risk and ongoing performance of suppliers. Supercomputer IBM Watson’s ability to answer questions shows AI’s and sophisticated analytical software’s ability to surpass a human’s ability to answer high-functioning questions, and to work as an instructor to human processes.

  1. Uber-personalisation

    From marketing to IT, departments across the organisation use purchasing systems, meaning that there are different roles and backgrounds to accommodate. Through machine learning, procurement could lead the way in uber-personalisation, in which its systems are integrated with others such as ERP and CRM to determine and define each users’ preferences and needs.

  1. Intelligent supply relationships

With the introduction of AI comes a potential new landscape of supplier management, as eTendering, eSourcing and contract management have the potential to become more automated. This could see systems monitoring supplier behaviours and performance based on buyer feedback, or keeping a close check on adherence to contract terms; and possibly even interpreting eAuction behaviours and leading negotiations to make sourcing decisions on the procurement professional’s behalf. 

Even with vast use of intelligence, the procurement department will still require human involvement. While intelligence can be used to purchase everyday office products such as paper, strategic projects like building a new office will require procurement’s involvement in business planning and meetings, meaning that procurement professionals should strengthen their strategic skills in this area to ensure that they’re indispensable. But a new type of ‘colleague’, which is highly efficient and has extreme attention to detail, could well be on the way. Combining intelligence with vital people skills is how you can make procurement a strong and effective force in the business.

Learn more in Wax Digital’s Procurement 2020 report, a set of future gazing in-depth interviews with global senior procurement professionals and experts.  Integration of procurement technology in the wider business was the first topic. 

Resistance Is Futile, Disruption Is Coming!

Massive changes are coming to procurement pros, whether they like it or not! Is it high time we started embracing, instead of resisting, them?

Mark Stevenson is one man who understands the key trends heading our way. An expert on global trends and innovation, he will be setting the scene with our opening keynote at the Big Ideas Summit 2017 in London.  We caught up with Mark ahead of the event to get to know him a little better!

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m an entrepreneur, an author, an occasional comedy writer, a musician, and, as some people like to define me, a futurologist, but I’m not at all keen on that particular term.

What don’t you like about the term Futurologist?

I think it’s a fairly dodgy profession overall if I’m honest. There are no qualifications required and it’s often associated with prediction and, of course, you can’t really predict the future, you can only make it. Also people who identify themselves as future-experts are as apt to be shaped by the culture in which they are embedded or dogged by their own prejudices and wish-lists as the rest of us, and tend to predict accordingly. For instance many futurologists are overly tech focused. My work is more about the questions the future asks us about the interplay of technology, economics, society and politics. My job is to help people and organisations to ask the right questions about the future and then convince them to answer those questions in a way that makes the world more sustainable, humane, compassionate and just.

 What are the key challenges procurement and supply chains face in the next decade?

Supply chain issues are hugely important at the moment and supply chain professionals are having a lot of questions asked of them.

The first challenge to overcome is achieving greater supply chain transparency. Plenty of procurement professionals, particularly in larger organisations, have no clue where they are actually buying from. When the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013 killing over 1,000 factory workers, many high-street brands were called out and, it materialised, ignorant of their involvement. Tragedies like this have forced high street companies to better audit their supply chains but there’s still a long way to go.

Secondly, organisations need to make their supply chains more sustainable by adopting science-based targets – addressing agricultural sustainability and reducing carbon emissions to give a couple of examples.

You’ve often advocated science-based targets in the past. Could you explain the concept in more detail? How could procurement apply these targets?

Science-based targets are a really simple idea and a very good way to think about sustainability. When it comes to dealing with environmental sustainability companies tend to say ‘this is what we can do, this is what we’re aiming for’ but, in reality, it doesn’t mean a whole lot when a multinational organisation vows to reduce its carbon emissions by 10% by the year 2034! That’s a recipe for planetary disaster.

Instead, organisations must figure out what they have to do based on scientific facts. The Science Based Targets campaign (a partnership between

Carbon Disclosuse Project, UN Global Compact, World Resources Institute and WWF) helps companies determine how much they must cut emissions to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Coca- Cola, Walmart and HP signed up to this and if they can do it, anyone can.

And, by saving the world you’re also saving your business. Companies who take this stuff seriously will out-perform because they’ll become more efficient and they’ll attract the most forward-thinking, young talent who want to work for companies of which they are unashamed.

In your experience, how open are organisations to new technology trends?

Not very! Organisations tend to be comfortable operating as they always have done.

Upton Sinclair put it well: ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’ Take Blockchain, it could take away the untrustworthy parts of banking: bankers, who will naturally resist this particular technology!

Another example is driverless tech- it doesn’t take an expert to predict that the 3.5 million US truck drivers would be wary of such an advancement – and rightly so. So we have to find a transition plan for them – which culture resists. But it’s a business responsibility to prepare for the changes and approaching transitions, you have a duty of care to your employees and not being future-literate is a dereliction of that duty. Remember, Blockbuster, the DVD rental company went bust the same week that Netflix released House of Cards.

If you had one key message for our delegates at Big Ideas, what would it be?

Wherever you work and wherever you end up in the next 15-20 years, remember that it’s going to be a very turbulent time. Massive disruption lies ahead and the bad news is that our current institutions and businesses are unfit for purpose. Ask yourself: what’s my best effort for myself, my family and for society (and remember they’re all related). If you don’t, you can prepare to be very irrelevant and very unhappy!

Join the conversation and register as a digital delegate for Big Ideas 2017

How The Space Elevator Could Open Up Interplanetary Supply Chains

The prohibitive cost of lifting payloads out of the Earth’s atmosphere is hamstringing humanity’s conquest of the solar system. The space elevator may soon make chemical rockets a thing of the past.  

space elevator

At the Coupa Inspire conference in May this year, keynote speaker Richard Branson announced plans to have Virgin Hotels orbiting the planet within 40 years.

Branson’s famous “anything is possible” attitude was on display, as he breezily talked of shuttle trips between his space hotels and the surface of the moon, and observatory domes where guests can marvel at the Earth from above.

Branson’s audience predominantly consisted of procurement professionals, many of whom were turning their minds to the challenge of maintaining a supply chain in space.

Considering the vast amount of goods and services that flow through any mere terrestrial hotel, the prospect of supplying a space hotel, or any other off-planet settlement, is daunting.

The Payload Challenge

It’s unbelievably expensive to send cargo into space. These days, all eyes are on SpaceX. Elon Musk’s company is leading the way in reducing the cost of payload delivery through lean operations, integrated engine production and reusable spacecraft.

At full capacity, the Falcon 9 rocket can lift cargo to low-earth orbit at US$1233 per pound ($2719 per kg). NASA is paying SpaceX $133 million per mission to resupply the International Space Station. This equates to $27,000 per pound ($59,500 per kg) of cargo delivered.

Reducing the cost of payload delivery is one of the highest priorities for Musk, who has stated that $500 per pound ($1100 per kg) or less is an achievable goal.

Even with payload cost being driven ever-lower, the expense still makes the prospect of a regular delivery service (such as a space hotel supply chain) prohibitively expensive.

Tech Insider recently published a playful article working out the hair-raising costs of some of the unnecessary items NASA has launched into space. They calculated that astronaut Kjell Lindgren’s bagpipes, for example, would have cost anywhere from $54,600 to $259,000 to deliver.

The International Space Station’s espresso machine weighs 44 pounds (20kg), and would have cost between $400,400 and $1.9 million to deliver.

The Space Elevator – A Better Way to Lift Cargo into Space

Arthur C. Clarke predicted that the space elevator would be built “about 10 years after everyone stops laughing”. That’s because at first glance, it seems like pure science-fiction. The thing to understand about how the space elevator would work is that it isn’t a tower or ladder to space, but rather a tether.

Space elevator structural diagram

The Earth-end of the tether would be attached to the surface near the equator, while the other end would be anchored to an object in space (most likely a space-station) beyond geostationary orbit, or 35,800km in altitude. The tether would therefore be held stationary under tension as the space station tried to “pull away” from the planet.

At present, no material exists with the tensile properties required to construct the tether, but teams all over the world are working on the challenge.

Recently, carbon nanotubes, boron nitride nanotubes, and diamond nanothreads have all been considered viable new materials, enabling scientists to inch ever closer to the required tensile strength.

There are many other challenges involved, but commentators agree that once the tether question has been solved, the other components of the elevator will be relatively simple to design and construct.  

A Freight Train to Space

Once constructed, laser or solar-powered ‘climbers’ would ascend and descend the tether, taking materials and passengers to geostationary orbit. Payload prices could be as low as $100 per pound ($220 per kg), with two added advantages.

Firstly, proponents predict a working elevator would be significantly safer than chemical rocket technology. And secondly, the climbers would operate continuously.

Journalists often write about the space elevator in the singular, but there is no reason why the planet would only have one. In fact, it’s likely that multiple competitive nations (and private enterprises) would insist on having their own.

Opening Up Space

With working space elevators, the enormous expenditure of fuel used in boosting chemical step-rockets up through our atmosphere will become a thing of the past.

Spacecraft will no longer be needed for surface-to-space lifts or descents. Instead they will only be needed to move from point to point in space. After an initial boost, a craft in space simply falls freely along its trajectory, with only short-term adjustments and deceleration required.

Space elevators need not be limited to Earth. Within the next century, we may “drop” shorter tethers to the surface of the moon and Mars, with regular cargo and passenger services plying their way between the space stations at the top of the elevators. The complex task of keeping a Moon or Mars colony supplied would become much more feasible.

But that’s thinking a long way ahead. In the medium-term future, Branson’s luxury space hotel may well sit atop a space elevator, supplying its every need.

In the short-term, any day now we may read that scientists have discovered materials strong enough to construct the tether. At which point – as Arthur C. Clarke predicted – everyone will stop laughing.