Tag Archives: procurement risk

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For a start, cutlasses have been replaced by high-speed landing boats, automatic weapons and even rocket-propelled grenades.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

What Procurement Dangers Are Lurking In The Shadows?

Just as the organisation’s CIO has been struggling with “shadow IT” the CPO is now faced with similar challenges as company employees armed with a credit card and a browser can buy almost anything online.

For years the enterprise CIO has been struggling with Shadow IT which has been described as “IT systems or solutions used within an organisation without the approval, or even the knowledge, of corporate IT” . This is often referred to as the consumerisation of IT.

Various IT industry analysts reports state that Shadow IT is somewhere between 30-50 per cent of the total IT spend in large organisations and this is a large number considering that this is IT spend that has not gone through the sanctioned IT function.

Shadow IT has transitioned into Shadow Procurement thanks to the rise of digital cloud marketplaces

The ‘shadow’ problem is no longer confined to the CIO with
the CPO also facing a growing population of enterprise staff
that procure and subscribe to many services in the cloud that havent been through the sanctioned process and often they are not allocated to the correct budget codes.

Thanks to the public cloud there are many new digital marketplaces that have lowered the barrier to entry for the end user for procuring a range of products and services (e.g. Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, Google, Rackspace, Microsoft, even crowd sourcing).

Also of concern is that shadow procurement can also include the teams of people hired by the business to provide various services across the business (often these costs are hidden in project budgets or expense codes and not shown against the correct budget categories).

While the CPO aims for compliance the shadow procurement means a further loss of control

For the CIO the issue of Shadow IT often means they are excluded from the decisions of how the IT services are supported as well as assessing the risks of what is being purchased such as security.

Similalry for the CPO the issue of Shadow Procurement often means that they are excluded from important commercial decisions particulalry when the staff member blindly clicks the “accept terms and conditions” button when buying products and services online. These online terms will always favour the supplier and may not satisfy the commercial appetite or the target price point. Only when things come unstuck will these accepted terms and conditions see the light of day.

The rise of shadow procurement flies in the face of the respected analysis of CPO surveys over recent years that continue to place “Procurement Compliance” as one of the top three challenges that the CPO is focused on addressing*.

When Procurement is seen as beeing a blocker then Shadow Procurement is likely to be, or become, an increasing problem

While I have discussed that the rise of the easily accessible digital marketplace has contributed to the increase in shadow procurement there are likely to be a range of other factors that will also determine the size of the problem in your own organisation:

Business and Procurement mis-alignment

Where procurment is seen as a blocker and the process takes too long then the employees will find a way to work around Procurement to achieve business and project goals

Lack of clear roles and responsibilities and an inneffective governance structure

Where the roles are not clear and the governance is inneffective, or not well understood, then the employees may take this as a green light to hire a shadow team within their project or business unit. In some organisations it can become an unnofficially sanctioned fixture

Many organisations are decentralised and large programs/projects operate separately to the Business-as-usual functions such as Procurement

Because many companies are decentralised and indirect spend is spread across departments and projects, there is typically little input from procurement.

Little or no use of big data analytics to understand the indirect spend occuring as part of the Shadow Procurement problem

  • Indirect spend is often very difficult to understand as the shadow procurement buyers don’t use a formal process in purchasing goods and services for the indirect spend. indirect purchases are often made off contract.
  • Therefore spend data is not effectively leveraged or analysed, or spend data is typically incomplete and not coded by the commodity or category.
  • Instead, spend data is linked to accounting or expense codes, and purchase orders are either not created or if they are created they can be vague or created “after the fact.”

Procurement have not leveraged digital disruption putting themselves in front of employees like their “shadow suppliers” have done

  • If your employees rely on digital and mobility solutions to buy, then you have to have a procurement solution that is mobile-centric and digitally-enabled
  • Automation of a quicker quoting and approval process is just one key factor

The Bottom Line For The CPO

  • Partner with stakeholders to better understand their needs, supplier relationships and processes. Show them that you’re not just trying to find a lower price at the expense of their quality requirements, supplier relationships or the time they have available to move
  • Embed procurement staff into their project teams to bridge the misalignment gaps
  • Adopt an “agile procurement” approach to shorten the time it takes to complete the procurement cycle. An RFP is not always required and there are many opportunities to leverage flexible and agile thinking
  • Invest in big data analytics to understand the company’s indirect spend amount, categories and how many suppliers are currently being used in each category. Leverage consultants spend analysis tools or request data from suppliers to achieve better visibility into your spend data
  • Implement an eSourcing tool to better manage indirect categories supported by automated processes

The Key Procurement And Technology Trends for 2019

The times, they are a-changing, and so are the markets and environments that procurement operates in. What then are the key trends in procurement and technology you need to watch for in 2019?

View Apart/ Shutterstock

As I am reliably informed by my Christmas-mad colleague, there are only 125 sleeps (as I write) left until Christmas. That means there’s a little over 18 weeks until the year ends, so it’s time to start looking forward to what’s coming in the next 12 months.

2019 is set to be a seismic year around the world. Major changes, such as further geo-political upheaval, the looming spectre of global trade wars and tariffs aplenty, have the potential to disrupt supply chains and set metaphorical trip wires for procurement professionals everywhere. And, as we’ve already heard, it’s rarely been more important to get a solid grips on the key factors in the market and external environment.

So gather round as we gaze into the opaque mists of the future and make some educated insights into the key procurement and technology trends waiting around the corner.

  1. Supplier Management

Let’s start with an oldie, but a goodie. Wait, I hear you cry, supplier management isn’t a new trend! We’ve been talking about this for years. Well, if we’ve talking about it for years, why aren’t we any better at it? And why is it that it’s one of the key areas a large number of procurement teams fall down on?

Like it or not, your suppliers hold the key to all your wildest procurement dreams. Innovation, top and bottom line cost reduction, avoidance and savings, stress-free supply of services and goods and free cake for all! (Ok, maybe not that last one!)

In their Vision 2020 publications, pwc state that the top 25 per cent of procurement functions will have gone beyond incremental improvements and be implementing fundamental change to process and policy alike. This includes how they interact with suppliers and shifting focus from cost and value to Return on Investment (ROI).

These outcomes all hang on better supplier relationship management in order to tease out further innovation from suppliers (who are seen as partners, rather than sponges to wring cash out of) and closer collaboration to source solutions to problems we don’t even know we have yet.

At the heart of this is great communication. Select the right suppliers and talk to them more. You never know, you might just learn something!

  1. Blockchain and Digital Adoption

Unless you’ve been living in a cave on a remote hillside (or perhaps a Faraday cage in your basement), you should have heard by now about blockchain.

From blog articles to webinars, it’s one of the hottest topics in procurement right now, and is likely to still be throughout 2019. Blockchain is and will continue to be a key tool in shaping the transparency of a supply chain. Information is shared and transmitted easily and safely, while the technology allows an “immutable signed and time stamped record of identity, ownership of assets, transactions or contractual commitments”.

This transparency will have the added benefits, and some drawbacks, of making procurement and CPOs more visible in the public environment, say EY. Procurement will wield greater power and have greater opportunity to interact with external stakeholders. But, at the same time, organisational processes and procurement will play out in a public setting like never before.

In line with blockchain’s increasing influence, there is a predicted rise in digital adoption and use of the Cloud. An estimated $1 trillion of IT spend will be moved to the Cloud by 2020, according to Gartner, as organisations look to make their IT services more agile.

  1. Social Value

There is a prevailing opinion amongst the procurement professionals I speak to that 2019 will be the year for social value and sustainability to really take hold. Organisations have begun to realise that cost and quality are only a part of the overall package and not only do they need to be seen to be doing more in the community, but they need to follow through on it.

That goes for the wider supply chain too. Using work practices and value-adding benefits for communities into tenders will become the norm and procurement will no longer be able to award contracts on cost without taking the wider impact into consideration.

  1. Next-Gen Workforce and Automation

Disregard what you’ve heard very recently regarding automation, machine learning and AI as scaremongering. Yes AI will take on tasks and people may have to move to new roles, but it’s not a future that we should be burying our head in the sand about. It’s a natural human reaction to fear change, but procurement needs to muscle up and be brave in order to evolve and survive.

Infosys estimates that AI and procurement automation will eliminate human intervention in 15 per cent of digital spending by 2019. If that’s the case, then procurement needs to embrace the change and develop, train and retain its Next-Generation workforce to meet the demands of new roles where human interaction and input is still key.

  1. Risk

From Brexit to trade wars, risk is going to be possibly the biggest trends for businesses as a whole in 2019. The organisations who will thrive in this unstable environment will be the ones who are best prepared to deal with the unexpected.

Deloitte believe that procurement will become the forecasters of risk in an organisation, raising the profile of the function as it factors total cost of risk and risk mitigation in supply chains into contracts and tenders.

Risk runs throughout the other trends that have been suggested above. Brexit, protectionism and trade wars make supplier and supply chain management all the more important. The increasing need for cyber security as technology advances is something that cannot be ignored.

Procurement is ideally placed to deal with all of these risks, but it needs to put its hand up and be at the front of the queue, or face being left behind and marginalised at a time when the function has a crucial role to play.

The Private Company Paradox

Procurement is going to have to do some extra work when it comes to evaluating private companies.  Kelly Barner outlines the common pitfalls to be ready for…

Benoit Daoust / Shutterstock

Many procurement teams have been tasked with diversifying the supply base. This often means partnering with small, diverse, or locally-sourced suppliers.

One challenge that arises is that many of the companies that qualify for such programs are privately owned. The lack of information that usually accompanies private ownership is at odds with procurement’s transparent supplier evaluation frameworks. Add to this the fact that participating in an RFP process just to be ‘diversity fodder’ is onerous and potentially even harmful to small businesses, and we’re left with a paradox:

How can procurement stay true to our mandate while also finding mutually beneficial opportunities for small and diverse businesses?

Procurement will have to do some extra work when evaluating private companies. Here are some common pitfalls to be ready for:

1. Limited or no access to current financials

This begins in the opening section of an RFx: ‘Please attach your company’s most recent corporate financials here.’ To which the supplier responds, ‘N/A: we are a privately held company and as such do not publish our financial statements’. That may be true, but it does not eliminate the need for the supplier to demonstrate that they are financially sound enough to justify an award.

2. Inability to determine risk levels

Procurement has to determine if there are concerns about the supplier’s ability to stay in business. What does their revenue pipeline look like? What are their customer retention rates? Keep in mind that this is a challenge with all companies, not just privately held ones. Procurement has to ensure that private companies are not hiding behind their ‘privateness’.

3. Few customers able to serve as relevant references

While private companies are not always new or small, it is a common combination of characteristics. The customers of small, privately held companies may be as tight lipped as the company they buy from. In fact, some may view their relationship with the private supplier as a competitive advantage or not want to accept the risk associated with speaking for or against such a company in the customer reference checking process.

4. Missing rigor from the expectations of shareholders

Being privately held means drawing capital from angel investors, venture capitalists, and sometimes employees or ‘friends and family’ investors. Who can procurement look to when trying to ensure that the leadership team faces appropriate challenges to their decisions?

Part of this dynamic needs to come from the relationships between leadership team members. Hopefully they (if not their private investors) are willing to fight to ensure the company stays on track.

5. Looming prospect of acquisition

Most private companies are on a journey towards either IPO or acquisition. While both can be disruptive for customers, having a privately held supplier acquired by a larger company is perhaps the greater concern. What changes will be made to contracts or terms of service?

Will the relationship be valued in the same way? Not having the answers to these questions (in large part because the private company’s leadership team doesn’t have them either) can make it hard to commit to a long enough term contract that both parties realise the desired level of value from the arrangement.

Being a private company shouldn’t be the only reason not to consider an otherwise qualified supplier for a contract. The problem is a circular one: if procurement doesn’t have access to the same level of information we do with publicly traded suppliers, how can we determine if they are qualified or not? The answer is likely to be a combination of pushing for additional information and accepting that some of what we are looking for isn’t available. As with all strategic decisions, we can never be 100 per cent certain that our choice is the right one. All procurement can do is maximise the availability of facts to ensure that the decision to contract a private supplier – like all other procurement informed decisions – is based on analysis, not assumptions.

Always Let Procurement Be Your Guide…

As we move from the age of mandate into the age of guidance there is enormous opportunity for procurement pros to make themselves known and heard…

SAP Ariba’s Vice President, James Marland, believes that the procurement function is moving from what he calls the Age of Mandate into the Age of Guidance – and that’s a great thing.

“The Procurement Department seemed to consist of people who delighted in saying ‘no’. In order to get anything bought by the organisation you had to jump through a whole series of hoops: but that’s not really how people want to engage with their suppliers.”

He argues that an advisory role is by far the preferable option;  “procurement needs to be helping people to do their jobs, not getting in the way. If too many barriers are put in front of them people will just buy it in a different way, perhaps putting it through an Expense Report.”

‘Advisory procurement’ is not a controversial suggestion by any means. As James highlights, almost all areas of our business are transitioning to become more advisory in their approach. HR, for example, are likely to discuss with their employees how to manage their pensions, rather than dictate to them how it must be done.

In the past, IT might have handed you a laptop to use but now many organisations employ a ‘bring your own device to work’ scheme.

“The Age of Mandate was very much about rules and policies: telling people what they can’t do. And really, in Procurement we interposed ourselves into our stakeholders’ business process: kind of ‘got in the way’.  And we were measured on savings.”

But now we can measure procurement on much more important things.

How procurement can guide the organisation

Procurement is in a truly unique position to impart organisation-wide change whether it’s managing risk or encouraging a more  purpose-led approach to business.  But these changes have to be executed in the right way.

‘Why can’t I buy it online, it’s cheaper than the corporate catalogue?’

This is the sort of question procurement teams are all too used to hearing from different areas of the business.

But huge, branded corporations have to be extremely careful when it comes to managing their supply chains and supplier lists.  No one in the UK could forget the huge 2013 scandal that occurred when horsemeat was found in some of the processed beef products sold by a number of supermarkets. You might also remember that Tesco, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl were all implemented and exposed by the press.

Of course, it wasn’t their suppliers who bought the horsemeat. It wasn’t even their supplier’s supplier’s supplier’s supplier.

But we always remember the brands.

“Historically, procurement hasn’t done a brilliant job in explaining this sort of risk to the business” James argues. But rather than simply saying no “we need to be able to offer a range of solutions to the business that still allows them to buy what they need to buy, whilst removing the fear and risk of things like poor ethical practices in the supply chain.”

“It must be easy for users to consume. Not, for example, complicated supplier lists that no one knows about.”

In other words; whilst an organisation might send out a mandate from the top that, for example, they want to buy more locally, it won’t necessarily work if the procedures aren’t put in place to make it possible.

A business striving to make the office more accessible can’t succeed by simply adding another dozen questions to every RFP.

Instead, procurement can implement systems whereby inclusive filters are automatically applied.

“You need to make it so it’s easier to do the right thing than to do the wrong thing,” James explains.

So why does James think procurement is best placed to guide the business in doing the right thing?

Put simply “we spend all the money.”

“You can boycott your corner shop and that’s great. But if procurement can persuade a big mining company to employ local people differently that could have a huge impact on the world.”

“A lot of social change is about placing large resources that a company has into the economy. Most of the transactions in the world, 80 per cent are B2B and most of that comes through a procurement desk.

“We’re privileged to have such an effect and it’s a responsibility that we are stewards of the global economy.”

James Marland, Vice President – SAP Ariba, spoke at last month’s Big Ideas Summit. Check out his interview here. 

4 Ways Procurement Could Better Manage Risk

Procurement pros need to get better at managing risk. Because supply chain disruption can come from any angle, whether it’s caused by a supplier site failure, environmental or geopolitical factors, or even adverse weather… 

If it’s not already, risk management should be a top priority for businesses. The consequences from not actively identifying, managing and mitigating supply chain risk can significantly impact an organisation’s profitability, not to mention brand reputation and potentially, its sheer existence.

riskmethods set out to determine the current “state of risk management and mitigation” in today’s global business ecosystem by surveying more than 250 senior procurement executives from across the globe. The study unveiled important findings around how prepared procurement leaders are to tackle rapidly evolving business environments brought on by new, more complex threats, and the current methodologies employed to manage risk in the supply chain. Here are four areas the survey explored, which indicate where procurement teams are failing in terms of risk management.

  1. Preventing disruption

All senior procurement professionals identify ‘avoiding significant disruption to the supply chain’ as a top priority, but when survey respondents were asked whether their organisation had a significant disruption in the past 12 months, more than 47 per cent indicated that they had experienced between one and five.

Additionally, a surprisingly high 13 percent indicated that they had 20 or more significant disruptions in the past year. Arguably the most alarming statistic – 12 per cent of respondents did not even know whether there were any serious disruptions to their supply chain during this time.

This is a testament to the 12 per cent’s minimal visibility into their operations. According to this data, nearly all organisations faced a disruption in the past year, speaking to the prevalence and nature of supply chain threats at they continue to increase. 

  1. Improve ability to uncover risks

The current landscape has made it critical for procurement professionals to have real-time, thorough views into potential risk and their impacts to make well-informed purchasing decisions. Many organisations have implemented some form of tracking mechanism for risks, but how often the data is updated is another issue.

When we asked respondents about the frequency in which data is refreshed, less than one third of respondents answered continuously. This is an alarming percentage.

Risk monitoring in today’s digital business environment needs to be a 24/7/365 task. Organisations that aren’t receiving continuous updates are falling behind and can’t possibly be making the best decisions for their business.

The underlying cause of this lack of complete information is usually associated with traditionally highly manual processes. Not only is the manual approach an extremely tedious and time-consuming task, it also takes away resources from other critical objectives. Most importantly, it severely limits big-picture insights and increases the chances of a serious supply chain disruption. When survey respondents were asked what level of automation their organisation employed to refresh critical information, less than one per cent of respondents indicated that it is completely automated.

An additional 39 per cent indicated that they were in the low to moderate rage of automation, relying heavily on manual tools such as Excel in conjunction with some outside sources. A full quarter of respondents indicated that they have no automation capabilities at all and are completely reliant upon manual search.

  1. Supplier risk impact assessments are key

Understanding a supplier’s potential impact on the business is key for procurement teams when it comes making purchasing decisions. For example, if a major supplier gets hit by a severe weather event which causes a delay in shipping, that could cause a ripple effect that halts production and eventually leads to a loss in revenue.

When survey participants were asked if their organisation had a mechanism in place for measuring the impact a supplier has on the business, almost half said that their organisation had no structured assessment of supplier criticality or impact.

Having no such assessment means organisations are at times putting their fate in the control of someone’s best guess. Organisations must have clear visibility into their supply chain, including which suppliers have the greatest potential impact, so they can refocus resources on reducing risk and preparing for a crisis.

  1. Organisations must be better equipped to mitigate emerging threats

While being able to identify potential risk is a crucial procurement workflow, having the ability to act on that information and mitigate evolving threats is equally, if not more, important.

Only slightly more than 20 per cent of study respondents indicated they have plans in place. An additional 27 per cent indicated that no such plans exist and 53 per cent indicated that there were only partial plans in place. These numbers demonstrate how difficult it is to evolve into a mature organisation when it comes to prioritising risk because businesses lack the necessary level of stakeholder collaboration.

Supply chains will never be free of risks, but an organisation’s ability to prepare for, identify and mitigate emerging threats will set them apart from the competition. Procurement teams can’t possibly make well-informed business decisions without a risk management strategy in place. As the number of risks continues to increase in this environment, the need for accurate, actionable insights will only become more critical.

When it comes to risk management, companies need to consistently be moving forward as the current threats will only continue to evolve.

Download the report: Procuring Risk: The State of Risk Management and Mitigation in Today’s Global Supply Chain to read riskmethods’ full findings.

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.

Procurement Pudding (It’s A Trifle Complicated)

Nothing says Procurement quite like a classic trifle; it’s intricate, it’s complicated, but if you get it right… everyone wants a piece of it!

As the holidays descend upon us, it’s time to start winding down the gears to relax and – inevitably – reflect on the year that was!

Time with family and friends for me is synonymous with food! Because I almost always spend this time of year in the southern hemisphere, it’s a summer menu. It’s more about prawns and pavlova than pork and pancetta (although the latter does make it onto table anyway!) But, of course, that other p … the “p” we all love – procurement – is never far from mind and always on the menu for discussion!

During the year I have been fortunate to speak to procurement and supply chain audiences around the world about the trends we are seeing on Procurious and the impending impact of Industry 4.0 on our profession. In order to provide a framework for thinking through all the challenges and opportunities, I have been sharing a rather quirky analogy by comparing the well-loved English pudding – the trifle – to procurement and supply chain today. Putting up a giant image of a pudding on the big screen at a conference is also a great way to get your audience’s attention!

For the uninitiated, constructing an English trifle involves carefully layering sponge, jelly, custard, fruit, cream, and often garnishing with a heavy sprinkling of nuts.

Yet each layer remains distinct, and that’s how I think of procurement today – a series of self-supporting layers that feed into and out of each other. To manage our roles, we need to understand the strengths and weaknesses or the “setting points”, of those layers if we’re to stay ahead.

Let’s think through some of those layers.

Navigating the Nuts

Let’s start with the top layer of nuts. A generous sprinkling of the unexpected! This is how I think about the Black Swan events that seem to occur with alarming regularity these days. We need to be thinking about these unthinkables – hurricanes like Harvey that de-commission whole cities, man-made catastrophes like the Tianjin port disaster, not to mention recent terrorist attacks. If we can’t predict them, we can at least prepare for the unexpected, take pre-emptive action against disasters that could destroy our supply chains and analyse areas of high-risk.

Geopolitical jelly

Brexit is just one example of how our supply chain forward planning can become somewhat suspended by macroeconomic and geopolitical changes. In Europe, the UK’s decision to activate Brexit is having clear ramifications including a rise in nationalism that’s reflected across Europe. Currency fluctuation and workforce migration also impact procurement and supply chain. The costs to import goods within supply chains will increase; there could be a loss in freedom of movement both in goods and services for UK and EU businesses, and procurement talent could also be considerably affected if the talent pool is reduced.

The Fruits of Progress

We all have front row seats at the parade of new and exciting technologies that are driving the 4th industrial revolution. The rise of the Internet of Things, robotics, blockchain and artificial intelligence will create what we are calling Procurement 4.0.

Cognitive procurement & supply chains are the most exciting developments to happen during my 20-year career. These innovations will enthuse a whole new generation of procurement professionals to join our ranks, but we need to be flexible, agile and able to foster a culture of continuous invention to stay on the leading edge and avoid extinction.

The Foundation Layer

Finally there’s the layer in which we hold the power: Procurement.

Procurement is the sponge at the bottom of the trifle. No matter how many unstable layers of fruit and jelly and custard are piled on top of us, we remain intact. We successfully juggle with the events and changes over which our stakeholders and suppliers have only limited control.

Fortunately, social media helps. I don’t know about you, but when my phone is pinging through the night with texts and emails from the other side of the globe, I’m often tempted to turn it off. But I don’t, because for all the downsides of being constantly online, the benefits of being connected are immense.

Three out of four of our respondents to our Gen Next Survey believed that being well-connected online actually improved on-the-job performance. By using resources like Procurious, not only can we maintain the layers of our trifle by staying aware of these constant changes, but we can also gain access to an enormous diversity of ideas and enthuse the next generation of procurement talent.

The Cream of Procurement Talent

To meet the challenge posed by the top layers of the trifle – unthinkable events, geopolitical earthquakes and disruptive technology – attracting the best and brightest to the profession is vital to our success.

To do that, we need to think hard about how we are bringing on Generation Next, and giving them every opportunity so their impact is not just local, but global.

While we’re talking about talent, here’s another “unthinkable” to ponder – our Gen Next survey also discovered that over 70% of our 500+ survey takers intend to leave their organisation within the next five years. How can we respond to this? The worst thing to do is to keep up the pretense that every member of your team will be sitting at the same desk in ten years’ time. Instead, it’s time to throw away the retention plan and accept the reality that today’s workforce is increasingly mobile.

But this doesn’t mean giving up on developing your team. If you’re known as a supportive manager who gives others the opportunity to go on to a stellar career, you’ll become a talent magnet in the profession. Just image the level of superstar talent that you’ll attract if you develop a reputation as someone who produces future CPOs!

Cutting Through The Complexity

Change management is such an integral part of every senior procurement professionals’ role, and often involves driving change within your organisation and amongst suppliers on a global scale.

The good news is that we’re exactly the right people for the job. Procurement’s position as the conduit of supplier intelligence, our ever-growing level of influence in our organisations, and our keenly-honed negotiation and communication skills make us natural change-management gurus.

Remember that trifle?

The challenge for today’s procurement leaders to deftly cut through all those quivering layers of economic, social, political and technological complexity to serve up a slice of procurement solutions in such a way that your audience will devour your change agenda with gusto! 

Bon Appétit!

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.

Three Risks Every Procurement Organisation Needs To Manage

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

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

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

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

  1. Loss of supply continuity

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

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

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

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

  1. Reputational damage

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

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

  1. Regulatory noncompliance 

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

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

Risk and Reward

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

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