Tag Archives: procurement risk management

Ignore Supply Chain Risks… At Your Own Peril!

Despite the general consensus that risk management is important, recent studies have found that many companies still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do…

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“The Supply Chain stuff is tricky!” – Elon Musk at Code Conference in 2016.

When someone like Elon Musk says that something is tricky, it means something! The examples that Musk mentions in the video show that modern supply chains are becoming more global and more complex. This complexity also leaves organisations exposed to more risks because the current business environment is characterised by VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity).

The uncertainty surrounding Brexit aside, other recent events, like growing tensions with China and Iran, are daily reminders that today’s global business ecosystems are precarious. And it’s not just the potential for international conflict and instability that is making business riskier. Many countries have also introduced new regulations on sustainability (modern slavery, conflict minerals), or diversity, which add new risk factors in terms of compliance.

Make Risk Management Part of DNA

Between business continuity aspects, legal or normative aspects, and protection against a public backlash whenever malpractice is discovered in an organisation’s supply chain, there are more than enough reasons to make risk-management part of a company’s DNA.

Despite the general consensus that risk management is important, recent studies have found that many companies still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.

Some of this work should include building better relationships with suppliers and colleagues. As I mentioned in a previous article, these relationships can play an important role in helping companies identify and mitigate certain types of risk — but not all. In addition to being on good terms with suppliers, companies will need to cover many other aspects to manage risk effectively and protect themselves.

These days, procurement organisations cannot afford to ignore leave risk management off their list of top priorities. There are many reasons for this. Here are three of the most important ones.

Reason #1: Risk is everywhere

I don’t want to sound alarmist, but we live in a troubled and complex world. There is no shortage of events that could jeopardise and/or disrupt a business, potentially impacting their profitability, business continuity, image, and reputation.

Protecting your business from these disruptions is challenging, because they can originate from so many different sources. Natural disasters, accidents, social events, changes in regulations, intellectual property infringement, quality issues, and attacks on cybersecurity are just a few examples.

“Governments are also taking action by engaging in an escalating global competition to maintain and improve national competitiveness in the 21st-century digital economy. […]. While such cross-border competition is by no means new, the geopolitical undertones in this battle for dominance raise the risk that the digital economy will continue to fragment, complicating global supply chains and the operations of international companies, and acting as a drag on economic growth.”

A.T. Kearney in Competing in an Age of Digital Disorder

Another key factor is that our world is changing faster than ever. Just look at the political, technological, and societal changes that have taken place in the past few years; many of them fuelled directly or indirectly by the impact of digitalisation.

As a consequence, the lifespan of companies is shrinking, year over year, as illustrated by the evolution of lifespan of companies in the S&P 500 index. All organisations are in danger, not just the large ones, and that includes your company and the companies you buy from.

Survival Through Prevention

Despite this reality, risk management has been a relatively passive domain for a long time, and it has frequently (and problematically) been equated with crisis/incident management. People were looking into risk management after an event had already happened; i.e., too late!

This was because the world of yesteryear was more stable and pretty predictable. In today’s world and in the future, the accelerating pace of change and the expanding globalisation of the economy mean that anticipation is crucial.

The risk management of today and tomorrow is about survival and making the right procurement decisions, which requires procurement to think about what “comes after” and how certain choices can make a company more or less safe in the long run. Prevention is better than cure!

“[An] enterprise is facing increasing danger that key sourcing decisions will prove uneconomic sooner, and with more damaging consequences than would normally have been anticipated by risk equations that presumed the older supply chain model. Starkly put, the odds of supply chain disruption are growing and will grow even greater in the future.”

CSCMP’s Supply Chain Quarterly

Obviously, what represents a risk depends on many factors and varies from one company to another:

  • Companies in B2C may be more vulnerable to risk related to their image and their reputation. If something happens that jeopardizes either of these, their brand could suffer.
  • Companies or organizations from the public sector and/or selling to administrations may be more vulnerable to regulation changes.
  • Standards/regulations regarding fraud and ethics may also vary from one sector to another.

Reason #2: Black swans are not an excuse to ignore risks

“Everybody has plans until they get hit.” -Mike Tyson

Anything can happen, even a shootout at the Mexican border, as told by Musk in his interview. Such “black swans” exist, and planning for the seemingly impossible is another lesson learned from “Best in Class” organisations regarding risk management: being prepared for problems enables companies to react faster to unforeseen events. They become anti-fragile!

It’s true that, by definition, risks reflect potential future disruptions. The goal is to foresee them and define ways to reduce the probability that such events ever happen and/or to reduce their impact if they do happen. Unfortunately, there is no crystal ball for Procurement; no one knows for sure what the future holds.

The only solution is to imagine different scenarios for potential problems. These scenarios can either be based on experience (problems that already happened to other organisations) and based on brainstorming (a.k.a. risk identification).

This may sound like daunting work, but it’s worth it. Organisations that have invested time and energy into identifying risks, assessing them, and defining ways to mitigate them are better at managing incidents they did not anticipate.

Reason #3: Supply chain issues are costly

There is no universal “best practice” recipe per se; only best practices in a certain context. But, what is certain is that not taking care of risk can be costly.

A 2018 study by the Business Continuity Institute and Zurich Insurance Company examined the financial impact of supply chain disruptions. The findings revealed that not only disruptions have a cost when they occur, their effects can do lasting damage. It takes months to recover and, in many cases, there is no full recovery!

So, in the war against risk, being prepared, defining various scenarios and recovery plans/actions, having the right skills, and the proper technology makes an organisation more resilient and more agile when something unexpected happens because:

  • they can re-use a predefined recovery plan
  • they have the processes and governance in place to act and decide fast
  • the people in the organisation have risk management in their DNA

Want to get your wheels turning towards a supply chain career one could only dream of? Then don’t miss our upcoming Career Boot Camp with IBM – a free 5-part podcast series with some of the very best of the best. Check it out here: https://www.procurious.com/career-boot-camp-2019

Lessons In Risk Management: Unity Is Strength

In a digital future, relationships will continue to matter when it comes to risk management…

By View Apart/ Shutterstock

I recently attended a procurement event, and, over lunch, I had an interesting discussion with other procurement practitioners about supply chain risk management (SCRM). One of the people at the table stated that his organisation was not looking into increasing its SCRM capabilities because technology cannot help in preventing issues to happen. To reinforce his theory, he told us what had recently happened to his company. The factory of one of his key suppliers was reduced to ashes by a fire. That incident led to disruptions that, according to him, technology could not have helped preventing or mitigating the impact.

Even if it is true that SCRM technology cannot have a direct impact on the cause of incidents, it is not a reason to ignore potential threats and behave like an ostrich, sticking its head in the sand. The story above is one of the many examples demonstrating that organisations don’t learn and reproduce the same mistakes, again and again.

“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results.”

Albert Einstein

SCRM technology together with SRM and Category Management can have an impact on reducing exposure by, for example, highlighting sensitive areas (single sourcing of critical components, suppliers in dangerous zones…). They also can help in reacting faster than the competition when problems occur. And there are many examples of that. However, there is more to it…

Being the customer of choice helps

During that same conversation, I mentioned another story I had read about as it was to some extent similar but with a very different outcome.

A buying organisation using a SCRM solution had received a notification that an incident had happened at one of their supplier’s factory. Therefore, the buyer in charge was able to

  • immediately contact the supplier to discuss with him
  • build a business continuity plan.

The immediate action was to have the supplier produce the component in one of his other factory that had some free capacity.

In addition to the speed advantage that technology provided, the buying organisation benefited from the good relationship he had built with the supplier. Because they were considered as a customer of choice, the supplier gave them access to possibilities that less preferential customers probably would never have had.

Get help from bigger than you

The story above reminded me of another one, with a different twist. I heard it a few months ago at a procurement conference in Czech Republic. A buyer (I will call him John) had in his portfolio a certain raw material. He was buying modest quantities of it but the material was nevertheless critical. Also, only a handful of suppliers were selling it. John knew that, in case of peak in demand, he would never be the one served first. In order to prevent shortages, he developed a clever alliance strategy.

John attended a fair where he knew that the major sellers and buyers of that raw material would be. Using the research he had done before the event and his observation skills, he connected with the big players on the buy-side of the market because he knew they would have better contracts and conditions that his. Conditions that would most probably integrate capacity agreements.

Months later, when demand peaked John did not contact his supplier to try to convince him to deliver to him; he knew it would be a vain effort. Instead, John reached out to a buyer (Bill) who he had met at the fair and with whom he had built a good relationship. He explained his situation to Bill. After listening, Bill explained that he could help because he had a contract that stipulates that the supplier must cover his needs as long as they vary within a certain range. As John’s needs were small in comparison to his, adding them to his would remain in the contract’s terms. After agreeing on the condition of this deal, Bill called his supplier to inform him that he would need larger deliveries. The supplier agreed and delivered the requested quantities to Bill who then forwarded what John needed.

In a digital future, relationships will continue to matter

John’s story has a particular resonance for me as I had lived a relatively similar situation when I was a buyer. But, I hadn’t done my homework like John, so I could not seek the help of a larger customer to help me. It took months and lots of efforts to recover.

These stories illustrate that Procurement professionals have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The fact that black swans exist is no excuse for not being ready! It also means that having the people, process, technology, and data to:

–                 identify weaknesses and risks

–                 build contingency and mitigation plans

–                 constantly monitor risk sources

These are the conditions for being proactive and not passive with regards to risks. Also, they should not forget the importance of nurturing relationships as business is human-to-human, H2H, (and no more B2B or B2C). At the end of the day, organisations having a competitive advantage are the ones that get the best out of their relationships with technology AND people; augmenting/enhancing each other.

How To Seize The Opportunities and Manage The Risks

Where supply chains are already complex, increased visibility throughout the supply chain and closer monitoring of risk are becoming more common…


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In 1992, Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama, the American political scientist and author, published the much-praised The End of History and the Last Man, which suggested that the spread of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism meant that the final and ideal form of human government was now clear and established. He foresaw “the end of history as such.”

It’s clear that 25 years on, life has not quite worked out like that.

The world continues to be as unpredictable as ever, with the rise of unexpected leaders such as President Trump, the emergence of China as a global superpower, Brexit, wars in the Middle East, and many other developments. All we can say about the future is there is still plenty of history left to be written, and anyone who tells you they know what is going to happen is a genius, crazy, or simply a liar.

Look for opportunities

But of course, times of change bring huge opportunities, too. The digital revolution has turned industries upside down, with disruptive market entrants seizing market share. Some incumbents adapt well and others don’t. Emerging markets hold great potential, too, which many western firms have been slow to pick up on. For instance, by 2050, Nigeria will be the third-most-populated country in the world, with more citizens than the United States.

It is also amazing how rapidly the politico-economic situation appears to change today; a few weeks ago, the press was reporting that the United States and Europe were about to enter a trade war. One meeting later, all seems well again, and the “U.S. and EU reach deal to calm trade war fears,” as The Guardian reported.

Where does this apparently ever-increasing pace of change leave the procurement professional and the organisations in which they work?

I’ve previously compared Brexit to the over-hyped “millennium bug” (Y2K) and related challenges stating that unlike Y2K, where there was a defined risk and problem to solve, Brexit poses significantly more uncertainty and therefore perhaps a wider range of risks to review.

That uncertainty is central to the challenge for organisations. We know there will be issues to be faced; tax, customs, and trade complexities, for example. But it is impossible to know yet exactly how Brexit will affect the business environment at the national, sector, or individual company level. So although it might seem tempting, this is not the time for procurement executives (or indeed anyone in business) to pull the blankets over our heads and ignore the situation – the “wake me up when it’s all over” approach, we might call it. The UK was, after all, an independent nation for many, many years before it joined the EU. 

We know life will go on after March 31, 2019!

 Be prepared

Indeed, fortune favors the prepared. Scenario planning, looking at the “what if” questions, is essential for organisations that can see their business being potentially impacted by Brexit. And whatever happens, procurement or supply chain leaders, with their focus on the external world, have a particularly important role to play.

Where supply chains are already complex, increased visibility throughout the supply chain and closer monitoring of risk are becoming more common with the help of leading edge technology including blockchain and “cobots”.  Increased deployment of blockchain solutions, for example, enhances frictionless, secure transactions and smart contracts, minimising paperwork and effort to manage compliance with increased regulations. While it’s early days for blockchain adoption outside of financial services, almost all major manufacturing organisations have ongoing work in this area.

But let’s finish with two key takeaways for procurement leaders based very much on currently available technology. Both relate to areas where digitalisation should continue or even be accelerated to position the organisation well for Brexit and a period of change.

First, make sure your procurement “fundamentals” are in good shape.Digital technology provides the means to do this more effectively than ever: robust vendor master data; visibility on spend and suppliers; and accurate, relevant, timely data about spend and spending plans, suppliers, and contracts. Understanding the supply situation in its widest sense is essential if the organisation wants to be well positioned to handle future change, shocks, and opportunities.

Second, consider the specific need for supply chain risk management to be robust, effective, and dynamic. That covers not just political risks, of course, but also financial risk, reputational risk, “man-made” risk (e.g., labor disputes at supplier plants), or natural disasters. It also needs to consider multi-tier supply chain risk, not just immediate suppliers. Technology is a key enabler here, as well, but organisations need to consider skills and mindset too when it comes to effective risk management.

To sum up, while no one would pretend that there won’t be issues, problems, and costs associated with Brexit, for the UK and indeed other countries, there will be opportunities, too.

SAP Ariba are sponsoring Big Ideas Summit London on March 14th. Sign up now as a digital delegate to follow the day’s action wherever you are in the world. 

Piracy Still Rules On The High Seas

Piracy may not quite be the world’s oldest profession, but for thousands of years plundering and pillaging on the high seas has struck terror into the hearts of more honest seafarers… 
Are you responsible for sending your people into danger? In a new Procurious blog series, The World’s Deadliest Supply Chains, we investigate the most high-risk supply chains out there.

Piracy may not quite be the world’s oldest profession, but for thousands of years plundering and pillaging on the high seas has struck terror into the hearts of more honest seafarers.

Along the journey – or should we say voyage – these seafaring brigands have developed a cuddly reputation as harmless Captain Featherswords with bushy beards and eye patches, bearing a Jolly Roger for show more than anything.

Even the feared 17th century English pirate Blackbeard was romanticised posthumously after a life of pillaging and murdering in 1718.

Of course, there’s nothing innocuous about latter-day piracy, which remains the scourge of merchant shipping in some of the world’s busiest transit lanes.

For a start, cutlasses have been replaced by high-speed landing boats, automatic weapons and even rocket-propelled grenades.

Modern cargo and tankers might not look vulnerable, but despite their gargantuan size they’re crewed by just a handful of people who – by convention – are unarmed.

The extent of piracy has always ebbed and flowed, but it re-entered the public consciousness when the disintegration of the Somalian state in the early 2000s spurred a surge in piracy across the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

Recent activity has focused on the Gulf of Guinea and, more specifically, Nigerian waters.

Other modern piracy hotspots are the Straits of Malacca, Gibraltar and the Philippines. There have even been reports of ‘river piracy’ on the Danube in Serbia and Romania.

The enforcement problem with modern-day Blackbeards is that most of the piracy occurs on international waters, with many countries willing to turn a blind eye.

Over the last 10 years, the trends look to be heading the right way: according to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre, in 2017 there were 180 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery, compared with 267 attacks in 2007.

Of these, 15 resulted in 91 crew being taken hostage, with another 13 attacks resulting in 75 crew being kidnapped (that is, taken off the boat).

Sadly, three crew members were killed and six were injured.

The IMB’s updated figures suggest some slippage: in the first six months of 2018 there were 107 reports of successful or attempted attacks, compared with 87 for the same period last year.

Of these, 69 resulted in the pirates boarding and 11 in the ships being fired upon.  Across seven incidents, 102 crew members were taken hostage, compared with 63 previously.

Geographically, piracy is an ever-shifting activity: none of the 107 reported attacks was in the old hot spot of Somalia, while 31 were in Nigeria and 25 in Indonesia.

Unlike in Captain Phillips – the 2013 celluloid account of the US mariner’s struggle with Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean – the US navy is unlikely to steam to the rescue.

But the long-term trends suggest increased vigilance on the part of ship owners and a somewhat belated response from navies and maritime authorities.

In a celebrated case, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency recently apprehended 16 pirates attempting to board a tanker six nautical miles off the coast of Pulau Tinggi.

Given the vastness of international waters and extent of shipping activity, no boat can rely on protection being close at hand, and captains are adopting their own measures to protect crews and cargoes in vulnerable regions.

These remedies include razor wire on decks, hoses converted to sea water cannons, hardened bridges and even the use of mannequins as ‘armed’ guards. The high-end yachting sector has deployed laser dazzlers that can temporarily blind attackers before they board.

Not all of the solutions are high tech. Earlier this year, pirates attempted to board the merchant ship MV Kudos near the island of Sibago in the Philippines. They were fought off after the crew adopted the medieval siege trick of pouring boiling water on the assailants.

Of course, prevention is better than cure and crews in vulnerable areas are advised to maintain a 24-hour watch and radar vigilance.

The IMB’s not-for-profit piracy reporting centre provides an around-the-clock service for Masters to report hijack attempts and suspicious activity, with regular updates.

Despite the distress caused by modern pirates, at least their demands for monetary gains are clearer and easier to accede to than, say, the demands of politically inspired terrorists.

Unlike the chest of gold doubloons in the past, loot can take several forms.

In some cases, the culprits demand hostage money, leading to delicate negotiations as ship owners determine just how ambit the claims are.

(The 2012 Danish movie A Hijacking documents the bewilderment of a ship’s crew as the hijackers and the ship owner’s dispassionate head office bean counters quibble about what their lives are worth).

In extreme cases the pirates hijack the ship itself and take it to a friendly port for a new identity. In other cases, the contents of the ship’s safe and the crew members belonging will suffice.

The resilience of piracy is linked with poverty and upheaval resulting from civil war: they’re desperate acts carried out by desperate people. In the case of Somalia, fishermen became pirates after foreign boats took advantage of the lack of government by overfishing or dumping toxins in the waters.

In other cases, it’s the work of highly organised gangs.

Given the varying motives, we can never quite be sure why pirates are pirates, so let’s just say it’s because they ‘arrrr’.

A Little Less Hesitation, A Little More Risk Taking

As human beings, we are naturally averse to risk and uncertainty. But our lives are little more certain than a game of poker – and we’d do well to embrace that! 

Caspar Berry, professional poker player extraordinaire,  knows exactly what it means to take risks. But he admits that it can be a scary business.

“People are broadly hard wired to be risk-averse and that’s not a bad thing per se. It keeps them alive. Its kept our species alive for however many thousands of years.”

“What we call risk aversion is essentially a desire to succeed in the short term. And a desire to succeed is another way of describing a fear or aversion to loss and risk.

“It’s a legacy of a period when we were, like almost every other animal, driven by only short term goals; eating, sleeping and procreation. It’s only a problem when we couple this with a desire to achieve long term goals like sales figures.  In this scenario our desire to succeed in the short term, to close every sale we try and make for example, conflicts with this long term goal and it becomes a problem.”

Life is like a game of poker…

Caspar was first introduced to Poker by a friend when holidaying in Las Vegas in the summer of 1999.  “With my background in, and love for, economics, I got it immediately. Poker is just a game of resource allocation on a terrain of uncertainty which, when you think about it, at a fundamental level is all that we ever do in business and life every day!”

And that’s Caspar’s philosophy in a nutshell. He equates the uncertainty of our everyday, working lives to  game of poker to explain our inherent risk aversion whilst encouraging us to challenge that natural instinct to flee from risk. “I try to show in my work how and why the world is more uncertain than we like to think a lot of the time and why we create that illusion – in order to be able to get through the average day.

“We need certainty and we need the illusion of control in order to be able to function. we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves… it’s in our genes!”

The benefits of risk

If it’s in our genes why on earth fight it? Is there any real benefit to injecting a little extra uncertainty if it pains us so very much to do so?

Apparently, yes! According to Caspar studies show that the more we acknowledge and embrace uncertainty the better our judgement and decision-making apparatus.

“There’s not a lot we can do about most uncertainty: manage risk where we can; mitigate it where possible. But the economics of risk and reward say that resource allocation is most efficient where we can embrace uncertainty, think probabilistically and stop looking for the outcome most likely to succeed.

“By riding the volatility to some extent we can get better ROI as a result.

“Certainty is nice but efficiency and the bottom line is what is important. Take a long term view, accept greater ‘negative’ outcomes’ and ‘negative metrics’ and focus on the metrics that matter.”

Does Caspar believe we should take more risks in our working lives?

“We should. But it’s easy to say. In order to be able to do so we need to be aligned both with our own expectations and those of our organisations.

“It’s no good one person saying they’re going to accept greater volatility for greater long term returns: the person who judges them whether it’s themselves a colleague or boss, also needs to be on the same journey. I don’t judge anyone negatively for not being able to push the latitude and risk level but it’s important to engage in a conversation in order to try.

“Its our own results we’re sabotaging, sometimes inadvertently, if we don’t!”

Caspar Berry spoke at Big Ideas Summit London. Register as a digital delegate to hear more from him and catch up on the day’s action. 

4 Realities of a Cloud Spend Management Implementation

Implementing new tools and systems is enough to make the bravest of procurement pros shudder with dread. So what are the four biggest risks associated with cloud spend management implementation…

With a wide array of cloud-based applications on the market, many organisations are saying goodbye to out-dated, legacy systems and adopting new Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. These tools are changing the game in spend management, providing companies with increased visibility across all areas of spending and identifying new opportunities to drive cost savings.

However, despite all of the obvious benefits associated with these cloud systems, implementing a new tool across an enterprise can still be very challenging. For example, change resistance is often problematic when it comes to encouraging end users to utilise new systems. Without proper planning, you risk running into multiple issues that could derail the process and prevent a successful implementation.

Below are the top four risks associated with implementing cloud-based spend management solution:

  1. Getting Suppliers On Board

To successfully implement a new spend management solution, supplier enablement is imperative. The amount of work that’s necessary to get all of your suppliers on board with the implementation is commonly underestimated. In order to get it right, you should develop a supplier enablement strategy that carefully outlines each step of the process. Make sure you clearly communicate all of the changes that will take place, what your expectations are for suppliers, and how implementing the new tool will improve day-to-day workflows.

  1. Navigating the Integration

Don’t believe all the hype that you hear during sales demo—take everything with a grain of salt and follow up with questions about the integration process. Even if the integration sounds simple, remember that somebody has to do the work. There are several things to address regarding integration: Who is doing the mapping and file transformation? Which Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system will be used? Whose standard is being adopted?. You will also want to learn the integration method and inquire about any limitations per integration object. Make sure the vendor spells out all of these details before you sign a contract. This will guarantee you aren’t met with any unwelcome surprises down the road.

  1. Achieving End-User Adoption

Although it has become much easier with SaaS-based source-to-pay (S2P) and procure-to-pay (P2P) systems, achieving end-user adoption is still one of the biggest challenges that organisations face when implementing a new tool. The resistance to adoption typically begins when specific use cases are overlooked or not addressed appropriately. Lack of support from senior leadership, poor communication, and inadequate training can also be roadblocks to end-user adoption. You can avoid these roadblocks by considering all applicable use cases and crafting a detailed communications plan that includes all key stakeholders.

  1. Addressing All Use Cases

To avoid resistance and ensure your new spend management tool is meeting your needs, make sure you have selected a solution that will address each unique use case. Ask yourself: Who will be using the tool and for what purpose? Simply having an assortment of features and functions isn’t enough. In order for the implementation to be a success, you need to make sure you understand how the tool’s features and functions specifically address all of the use cases to ensure the solution meets your business needs.

Although it’s certainly important to keep these major risk factors in mind, don’t let these challenges get in the way of implementing a cloud-based SaaS solution at your organisation. Creating a carefully outlined implementation plan will help mitigate risks and ensure the process goes smoothly for everyone involved.

Are you having trouble selecting a new spend management system or navigating a complex integration? Contact RiseNow today for a free supply chain consultation to help get you started.

This article, written by Matt Stewart, was originally published on Rise Now 

How To Prepare For Post-Brexit Procurement In The Dark

Procurement pros know the worst and best case Brexit scenario… But how do we prepare when faced with such a lack of concrete insight? 

The Brexit process has been a triumph in politics over practicality.

We may know roughly what the government wants to achieve politically, but the practical solutions for achieving those goals and the real-world impacts these solutions may entail are still unclear.

Despite this lack of concrete insight, it is often falling upon procurement departments to scope and prepare remedies for the uncertain future.

International Supply Chains

UK supply chains are inherently international, with much of what we export made up of things we import, so any changes to the regulatory environment has the potential to cause disruption as supply chains adjust.

It is not yet clear just how much Britain’s regulatory environment will continue to be aligned with the EU post-Brexit, as the two main possibilities – something like Norway with continued single market membership, or something like a Canada-style free trade agreement – offer distinct paths.

In one we commit to maintaining alignment with the EU, but in the other we choose to break free from the EU framework in order to open ourselves up to trade deals with the likes of America, where the regulatory environment is significantly different.

The two options do not exist on a spectrum, rather being distinct sets of tools that we can use to forge our future trading relationships.

The Invisible Border

The government’s commitment to maintaining an invisible border between Ireland and Northern Ireland however, has somewhat tied the government’s hands in this regard, as it essentially makes full alignment the default option.

The government still seems intent on diverging eventually, but having put forward no reasonable suggestions as to how these two objectives can be reconciled, businesses are finding themselves having to plan for the hardest kind of Brexit. Modelling the impacts of WTO rules is possible, and whilst doing so is only indicative of the worst-case scenario, it is a useful exercise in highlighting the key risk areas where contingency planning should be concentrated.

What can international businesses do?

For international businesses, the first port of call is to establish a fresh emphasis on supply chain relationships and risk management.

Many businesses will need to evaluate the possibility of finding new suppliers in order to build a level of flexibility in their supply chains that can help mitigate any disruption. Both UK and EU businesses will be looking into the possibility of switching to domestic suppliers and attempting to beat down prices if the costs of international trade increase.

If Britain does indeed exit both the single market and the customs union, as per the government’s stated intentions, it is very likely that procurement departments will need to face up to changes in contract terms, tariffs, and new non-tariff barriers such as rules of origin alongside potential changes in the identity of suppliers themselves.

This means addressing the chance of increased time and hassle getting goods across borders, as well as potential changes in local regulations if new suppliers are located outside of the EU.

When will these changes happen?

Uncertainty around when these changes may ultimately come into play, and how much of an advanced warning businesses will be given is another major issue.

At the moment it is looking likely that changes will be minimal until at least 2020, but beyond this we can expect to once again enter the realm of politics trumping actual progress.

The reality is that in the absence of reliable information, many firms may continue to take a wait-and-see approach in the hope that disruption is minimal, and currently we don’t know enough about the future to reveal the most appropriate course of action. If one thing is clear, it is that Brexit has put the role of procurement within British businesses under the limelight.

Nick Ford will be speaking at Big Ideas Summit in London next month. To find out more information and register to attend in person or as a digital delegate visit our dedicated site. 

5 Tips On What To Do When Things Go Wrong In Procurement

We share 5 tips on how to manage procurement difficulties when the policies and guidelines fall short and things start going wrong…

Sundays Photography/Shutterstock.com

Over the course of the last decade, a lot has changed in public procurement. Among other developments, international organisations have gotten more involved in public procurement policy, creating toolkits (think O.E.C.D in Paris), and standardising how procurement is integrated in national strategic plans and development projects (e.g., World Bank programs, and that of other regional and international financial institutions).

There’s also been a big push for procurement legislation to be implemented in evolving and emerging markets, ensuring greater transparency of government spending. In addition, the private sector has found itself more involved in public-private partnerships, and procurement rules have evolved to accommodate this growing trend.

Despite these efforts, one area still lacks sufficient guidance: what to do when things go wrong in procurement!

This article will share 5 tips on how to manage public procurement difficulties when the policies and guidelines fall short. The objective is to avoid or limit potential occurrences that may adversely affect the execution of procurement processes, while maintaining that the expected result must be in conformity with applicable laws, regulations and procedures.

1. Classify problems based impact

Begin by consulting the internal policies and procedures for procurement, and take note of language related to complaints, protests, challenges or errors. Once you identify whether a principle of procurement or an organizational policy has been violated, you must attempt to classify the impact of the problem.
Procurement problems can have either a high, medium, or low impact on the outcome of the process. High impact problems typically affect mandatory aspects of a procurement process and often lead to cancellation. Medium impact errors, may result in a high risk of failure of some aspect of the procurement and can lead to a flawed or failed procurement process. Low impact problems, may be signalled by a disgruntled bidder through a written complaint, or even a formal bid protest, but often lack evidence.

Low impact issues frequently result in “paused” procurement proceedings, reputational damage, or reluctance of potential bidders to respond to future opportunities. You should have a pulse on your organisation’s risk tolerance thresholds. If your organisation is comfortable managing risks, then there may already be a plan in place outlining the resources to assist you in managing procurement difficulties. However, if the organization is risk-adverse, then you will need to develop your own plan, pooling all available resources.

But, before you pull out all the stops, assessing the impact helps to categorise the problem by understanding the procurement risk, then applying practical measures to mitigate.

2. Separate ethical issues from operational ones

Literature on integrity in public procurement tends to focus on conflict of interest, fraud and corruption. Other than advice on disclosure, recusal, or reporting on these incidences, little additional guidance is provided to procurement professionals, unless they’ve received specialized training.

Certainly society has a vested interest in ensuring that public funds are used for their intended purpose, not only because we all benefit when the funds are used for the public good, but also because those funds come from us; the tax-paying public. It is therefore critical that ethical concerns in public procurement be managed apart from operational challenges.

When the principles of fairness, equal treatment, and due process are violated, they can taint the credibility of the entire process, and that of involved public procurement officials to a degree resulting in termination of employment. Worse yet, integrity matters can lead to criminal liability.

Fortunately, there are tools and mechanisms specifically designed to address ethical dilemmas including: ethics codes; declaration and waiver forms; internal and accounting controls; segregation of duties; and access to ethics officers, among other options.

All of the above should be implemented vigorously from the top to bottom of the public procurement hierarchy to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

3. Keep and follow a procurement audit trail

An audit trail is documentary evidence of the sequence of activities that have affected, at any given time, a specific procurement procedure. It ensures there is an internal control environment that supports a transparent procurement process.

In procurement, the audit trail consists of two main categories:

A. Information about the actual data generated; it’s the who, what, where, what kind, and how many documentation of the procurement process; and

B. Information about how data was analysed (e.g., notes kept by evaluators, information flows in committee, identifying who will be responsible for what, etc.).

Procurement professionals should be informed of the scope of the audit, which would provide a window on the risk areas requiring special attention in any procurement organization. Procurement errors tend to revolve around completeness, timeliness, and accuracy of processes. Resulting recommendations often point to areas for improvement in procurement planning, tools, training, monitoring and reporting, and staffing resources. Pay particular attention to those.

4. Integrate other resources across your organisation

Procurement challenges whether in the form of bid protests, professional error in the process, failure to adhere to the terms of the solicitation, or the like, should not be managed in a silo by the procurement department. Going it alone is not an option!

Team effort is particularly necessary when managing public procurement spend. A good team scenario would involve four to five staff, including:

i)  the manager of the affected department;

ii)  the procurement professional in charge of the process in question;

iii)  a legal procurement expert who can explain the legal implications for the organization and enforce the organisation’s legalstrategy, including who can bring a challenge, under what rules, in what forum, and potential legal consequences;

iv)  a subject matter expert (on call) who can provide specific information on the product or service being procured, including market conditions; and

v)  a financial or accounting member who understands the budget lines of the organisation and keeps tabs on potential expenditure linked to the procurement error or challenge.

5. Seek external expert guidance

Best efforts should be made to resolve the matter internally, however, sometimes, the internal resources are insufficient. If your organisation permits seeking external assistance, and there are no available in-house “experts” with the experience to assist, then external resources may be the best option.

In addition to international agency guidelines, other tools to explore include:

i) national laws, with associated guidelines on how to manage procurement issues;

ii) specialty firms for procurement professionals, offering on-line consultations; and

iii) local, national, and international trade associations which offer case studies, “thought” pieces, and news-setting precedent from procurement experiences gathered from global sources. Many professional associations also offer webinars and chats with other procurement professionals, which allow anonymity, while offering a chance to share experiences and seek guidance to facilitate answers to the most difficult of procurement problems.

In the end, whether in procurement or any other field, experience is your most important ally. The more experience we gain, the more we develop the competencies necessary to manage procurement challenges, along with the confidence to do so with ease. Each challenge brings important lessons, and each lesson will help you overcome new obstacles the next time things go wrong in procurement.

Debt as a Source of Risk in the Supply Chain

What debt conditions, putting pressure on our global economy , should procurement pros make themselves familiar with? And how can we mitigate supplier risk? 

This blog was written by William B. Danner

Two leading authorities on corporate financial health, Dr. Edward Altman, Professor of Finance, Emeritus, at New York University’s Stern School of Business and creator of the Altman Score, and CreditRiskMonitor Founder and CEO Jerry Flum, recently presented a webinar to hundreds of supply chain and credit professionals about today’s mammoth corporate debt problem.

As the primary point of contact between their company and suppliers – not to mention a first line of defense against third party risk – procurement and supply chain professionals should be concerned with the degree to which public companies are leveraged today.

Dr. Altman and Jerry Flum identified three unprecedented debt-related conditions, putting pressure on the global economy today that procurement should be aware of from a risk mitigation perspective:

1. Compare debt to GDP

One of the best ways to put debt levels into perspective is to compare debt to GDP. In the U.S., total debt is currently at a historically huge 3.5 times GDP. Of this total, corporate debt is large and growing. Overall debt levels are so large we must be concerned about the investors who own this debt, not just the borrowers. A 10% decline in value would destroy wealth equivalent to 35% of GDP, with a major effect on spending. Junk debt (high-yield bonds and leveraged loans) has soared to $2.5 – 3.0 trillion world-wide.

2. Benign credit cycle

Now in the 8th year of what is usually a 4-7 “benign credit cycle”, many executive teams have let their guard down, forgetting the lessons of the past. As Dr. Altman explained in the webinar, a ‘benign credit cycle’ has four characteristics:

  • Low default rates
  • High recovery rates when bonds default
  • Low interest rates, yields, and spreads
  • High liquidity

In other words, credit is cheap and easily available to publicly traded companies, which leads many companies to take on more debt. A great deal of debt has been issued to pay dividends and buy back stock, making corporations riskier.

3. Corporate valuations

Corporate valuations are inflated, with market values far higher than historical norms. Private equity firms are paying as much as 10 to 11 times cash flow for acquisitions. High stock prices make corporations less risky, but stock prices can fall.

Whether companies give in to the mania or make a disciplined choice to break free from the pack, procurement and supply chain professionals can take action to mitigate supplier risk and prepare their companies to handle the downturn when the next recession inevitably comes.

Suggested Steps for Supply Chain Professionals to Mitigate Supplier Risk :

1. Build in a monitoring process

Don’t stop with an initial vendor screening. Companies’ financial health can change and even a periodic review simply isn’t good enough. Avoid surprises and react quickly to change.

2. Get to know the vendors you do business with well

Ask questions such as:

  • “Who is the corporation we are paying? Is it under a different name?”
  • “Are they actually manufacturing the product or is someone else?”
  • “Where are their operations?”

Be cautious, especially if you are not getting clear answers.

3. Don’t over-do it

Not all your vendors will present a problem if they enter financial risk. Ask yourself:

  • “Is the commodity/product easy to replace? Is this a one-time contract?”
  • “Or, could this vendor create a major issue with our ability to ship on time, the quality of our product, or with our customer satisfaction?”

Only if you find that it’s a “yes” to the second question do you need extensive review.

4. Incorporate financial analysis in your key vendor review process

Be sure to include multiple periods of financial statements in your review to see trends. If you are finding it difficult to get financial information, be wary. 

5. Compare your vendors with the financial condition of their peers

You may find more secure sources of supply.

6. When appropriate, take a hard look at the financial stability of your vendor’s suppliers

They are part of your supply chain and could be a significant exposure.

7. Have an open and honest communications process

You’ll want to explore with your vendor the performance factors that directly impact you such as shipping reliability, product quality, etc. but also financial stability. Knowledge is power and knowing all the facts gives you the time to identify and prepare alternative source(s) of supply.

8. Look at more radical options if a vendor looks too weak

  • Make vs. buy decision
  • Engineer a stronger vendor into the supply chain
  • Buy the troubled vendor, or
  • Help arrange for a preferred vendor to purchase the troubled vendor.

The fact of the matter is that today’s debt situation is historically unprecedented. We can’t be certain of the timing of a change in the financial markets, or what will serve as the trigger, but a shift is coming – so now is the time to prepare and put your processes and procedures in place.

The full webinar can be viewed here.


William B. Danner has been president of CreditRiskMonitor since May 2007. Bill has more than 35 years of financial and information services experience. 

Prior to CreditRiskMonitor he worked in brand strategy and business development consulting for financial services clients at his own firm, Danner Marketing. Previously he was at Citigate Albert Frank, a marketing communications company in New York City, where he worked on a variety of leading financial services accounts including Reuters Instinet and the CFA Institute. From 1997 to 2001, Bill was Vice President of Market Development at MetLife’s employee-benefits business. Before joining MetLife, he was at Dun & Bradstreet, most recently as VP Strategic Planning. He spent the first decade of his career at GE Information Services and GE Capital.

Bill earned a BA in economics from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Automation: Who Says You Can’t Manage What You Can’t See?

If your business is engaged in international commerce, you’re probably struggling to toe the line with supplier risk management. Automation, alerts, and third-party data are your best defence.

Managing supply chain risk is no walk in the park. Exogenous events like the recent terrorist attacks in Barcelona have drawn attention to the EU’s rules to combat terrorism financing through stricter anti-money laundering (AML) regulations. These rules impact many companies that are increasingly added to the law’s scope: possibly yours.

Meanwhile, modern slavery violations can surprise even the most astute contract or supply chain managers who may have unknowingly relied on invalid or falsified information. In the U.K., The Modern Slavery Act 2015 includes a Transparency in Supply Chains clause, which requires companies operating in the U.K. to address modern slavery in their supply chains. If you’re at a big company, you’re probably on the hook to comply.

Once you add in the more common types of risk, such as the financial or credit health of your suppliers, changing markets, and natural disasters, the sense of how challenging it is to manage them all—in the age of digital disruption with fast-paced change and volatility—can quickly become overwhelming.

Fortunately, there is technology and automation to help you maintain control, gain visibility into your supply chain, and mitigate much of these risks. The right technology can help you proactively steer your organization clear of minefields that can damage everything from reputation to sales. And it’s only getting better.

 Start with real-time monitoring and alerts

The first step is to identify the most likely disruptions to the supply chain, like a natural disaster or a work stoppage at a supplier’s supplier. One way to deal with this type of risk is with real-time monitoring. Real-time monitoring of your suppliers means that you can receive an alert whenever there is a potential for disruption. Such alerts can help you find an alternative source of supply, maintain production, and avoid missed deliveries or even a plant shutdown.

Real-time alerts should be an extension of an overall solution consisting of a platform and business network. This is the ideal foundation to set up, monitor, and manage a portfolio of suppliers to ensure that all essential documentation about labor practices, certifications, certificates of insurance, and so on, is in place before you start doing business.

Integrate third-party data sources

Documentation and data about your suppliers can come from many sources, not just what you gather during an onboarding, contracting, or surveying exercise. There are plenty of third-party sources that have standalone solutions and open APIs or integrations into supplier management platforms that let you address various dimensions of supplier risk and to set up corresponding alerts.

If your company is engaged in trade and has a 10,000-euro or more money transfer in any way, it will need to comply with the EU 4th AML Directive. In addition to digitally onboarding your supplier base, you may want to automate KYC / KYB (know-your-customer, /-business), AML (anti-money-laundering), and EDD (enhanced due diligence) requirements. These steps will help you comply with the directive

One provider that is using cutting edge technology like distributed ledgers is Austria-based Kompany. Their counterparty verification data allows users to streamline the supplier verification process at the point of onboarding (and continually) with up-to-the-minute alerts on any material changes to supplier vitals. Their information comes directly from the commercial registers. Kompany even includes PEP (politically exposed person) screening and sanction lists.

Who says you can’t manage what you can’t see?

Other popular sources of company and industry data include Moody’s (credit ratings), EcoVadis (sustainability scorecards and ratings), riskmethods (transparency into risk exposures in 1-n tier supply chains), and Made in a Free World (visibility into modern slavery), to name a few. These data sources can help you continuously monitor for risks and evaluate your risk portfolio during the sourcing process.

Through technology and regulatory technology systems like those described above, you can design an automated, customized, and intelligent risk management strategy. In turn, this can boost trust between you and your suppliers and you can plan more confidently in an environment full of uncertainty.