Tag Archives: procurement technology

“Hey, Procurement…” The Rise of Chatbots in Supply Management

Procurement tech guru Bertrand Maltaverne explores the benefits, limitations and pitfalls of chatbots in procurement – with some animated examples!

“Hey, Siri,…”

“Alexa,…”

“OK Google,..”

Digital assistants are ubiquitous. We talk to them (Siri, Alexa, Cortana, etc.). We chat with them (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Skype, WeChat, etc.). They are in our phones, in our computers, and even in our homes. Now they are also making their way into our offices!

Procurement professionals need to start taking notice, because chatbots present a valuable and unique opportunity to provide better services and experiences for internal customers and suppliers. They can also support and assist procurement professionals with their daily activities, becoming virtual colleagues or consultants.

Of course, as with any new piece of technology, it is important not to succumb to the hype and to be aware of the technology’s limitations and constraints before deploying bots everywhere.

Value = Outcomes AND Experiences

The term “Conversational Commerce” was coined by Chris Messina in 2015. In his article, he focused on how messaging apps bring the point of sale to you. He first introduced the idea of assistants that people could interact with to buy things from a company. This is precisely what Amazon did and has popularized with Echo (the hardware) and Alexa (the AI-based assistant that “lives” inside Echo).

The idea of voice or text-based interactions with a bot can be extended to much more than B2C and to “buying things”. The value proposition of such technology is to digitise interactions and conversations while also making technology more accessible.

Here are some of the benefits:

  • Gains in efficiency and effectiveness because of tailored and context-aware interactions. Chatbots remember everything, they know where you are, and can tap into data from all your other applications.
  • Less time and effort needed to learn how to use Procurement technology: conversations replace graphical user interfaces (everybody knows how to type or speak; no need to use explicit and codified instructions).
  • Interoperability and accessibility: users chat in the application or channel they prefer (SMS, Instant Messaging, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Alexa, Twitter, etc.). All bots leverage one common robust back-end system that processes and interprets natural language.

All in all, chatbots contribute to the creation of omni-channel and replicable but unique user experiences for stakeholders, suppliers, and for the Procurement teams themselves. Improving experiences is one of the pillars of the digital transformation of Procurement. In addition to delivering business benefits (savings, risk reduction, innovation, growth, etc.), it contributes to making procurement a supplier/customer/function of choice.

“Every time [customers] interact with a product, a service, a person, or an automated system, they judge how well the interaction helped them achieve their goals, how much effort they had to invest in the interaction, and how much they enjoyed the interaction.” Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business by Harley Manning, Josh Bernoff, and Kerry Bodine

Use Case 1: Guided Buying (Chatbot as an Admin.)

This is a use case that is very close to B2C: a Procurement assistant is deployed to handle demands from the rest of the organisation in order to replace or “augment” traditional eProcurement solutions. Requesters interact with a bot that proposes solutions based on:

  • the needs identified during the conversation,
  • the Procurement strategy (preferred suppliers, preferred items, contracts in place),
  • other factors (purchasing history, real-time availability of products, context, etc.).

The approval process also happens via chat. If available, the chatbot adds the approver to the conversation, creating a group chat. Or, the Procurement Assistant opens a new one-to-one conversation with the relevant approver. Approvers can then ask the chatbot how much of the budget is left and then immediately approve/decline the request without leaving the chat. The same can happen for other process steps (order confirmations, goods receipts,etc.). The assistant initiates discussions to ensure the process is compliant and efficient.

Use Case 2: Operational Support (Chatbot As a Colleague/Consultant)

Chatbots can also be invaluable assistants in operational support. The most straightforward and immediate application: query management. A chatbot can become the single point of contact for internal and external queries about purchase orders, invoices, and much more. Several companies are already successfully using such capabilities in their Procurement portals to provide quick answers to a vast amount of queries, which leaves their teams with time to focus on  more complex requests and value-adding tasks.

It can even go further as the following scenario demonstrates:

Now, let’s compare what happened above with a scenario in the context of siloed organisations and where such technology wasn’t used. The purchaser would probably have learned about the earthquake on his way to work while checking the news on his smartphone. He would only have been able to assess the situation and prepare contingency plans once he arrived at work, losing valuable time. In may organisations this would take hours or even days because access to information is spread across multiple systems. This would result in a very different reaction time compared to the example above, where the cognitive agent reacted almost immediately after the event and prepared recommendations during the night.

Pitfalls and limitations

Relying on conversations instead of graphical  user interfaces has many benefits, especially for the mobile worker or casual user. However, there are limitations and challenges.

Voice-based conversations are the most natural ones and are also the most challenging from a technological perspective, especially in a B2B context. This is due, in part, to the international nature of business. For example, names of people or companies are not familiar words that a chatbot can quickly recognise, and to make things worse, they are often not in the same language as the one used to converse with the bot.

In addition to technical challenges like these that will likely be solved someday, there is a more human challenge: the conversational paradox. It explains why chatbots are still not widely used.  The paradox is that something very natural (a conversation) is done with another unusual counterpart (a machine), which turns the experience into a very unnatural one. So, when asking a chatbot something, the first questions people are confronted with are:

  • what instructions can “it” understand?
  • what words should I use to make sure I will be understood?

This represents  both a significant barrier to usage and a risk for adoption. It is therefore important to design and deploy chatbots with that in mind and:

  • not to use them as the only communication channel (it should be one among many others),
  • not to oversell the technology as being human-like (it inflates expectations and is a guarantee for failure),
  • to provide cues and guidance (like the menus/lists in the examples above)
  • to have a smooth and almost transparent hand-over to a real person if the machine fails to understand a user.

Conclusion

“By 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.” –Gartner

Conversational user interfaces are still a novelty, especially in B2B. However, they will become more widely used as technology makes further progress and people get more used to it. So, for Procurement, now is the time to investigate their potential as an additional way to provide a streamlined and personalized user experience both inside and outside of the function.

In addition to  delivering the right outcomes, experiences are also a crucial component of the value that the rest of the organisation gets from Procurement. Customer satisfaction is at stake.

The implementation of chatbots, like any other technology, has to be pragmatic, defined by clear use cases, and should not be viewed as a solution in itself. Chatbots will not solve all of an organisation’s problems, , but they can be used as a means to an end!

Time to learn how to say: “Hey, Procurement…”

Digital Transformation Skill Gap Shock

Only six per cent  of CPOs possess the strategic leadership trait of being able to lead digital and analytical transformation in their organisation. What’s going on with the skill gap?

It seems that everyone’s talking about digital transformation. Every procurement team globally lies somewhere on the maturity curve that begins at one end with 1990s-style manual processes, to world-beating teams who are embracing tech enablers such as predictive analytics and cognitive technology. Procurement publications (including this one) are writing article after article about the wave of exciting new technology coming down the Industry 4.0 pipeline, while the profession’s biggest conferences always have digital transformation experts high on the agenda.

Key findings in Deloitte’s 2018 Global Chief Procurement Officer Survey, however, suggest that digital transformation isn’t as high as priority for CPOs as we might think. When just over 500 procurement leaders across 39 countries were asked to identify the most common leadership traits in procurement, they listed:

  • acting as a role model – 23 per cent
  • collaborating internally and externally to deliver value – 20 per cent
  • delivering results – 14 per cent

Yet, as the report points out, strategic leadership traits are not widely evident:

  • positive disruption – 5 per cent
  • leading digital and analytical transformation – 6 per cent
  • innovation – 8 per cent

Similarly, modern technology usage is low, with only one-third of those surveyed using technologies such as predictive analytics and collaboration networks. Only one-third of procurement leaders believe that their digital procurement strategy will enable them to deliver on their objectives and value, even though analytics was nominated as the single factor that will have the most impact on procurement in the next two years.

The authors call out these disappointing results twice in the report:

“Progress and adoption has been slow over the past year and the survey findings show that procurement leaders remain hesitant about investigating new digital tools and technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and blockchain.”

“Despite recognising digital technologies, their impact and imminent uses, few organisations appear to be progressing at the rate that their c-suite executives consider necessary for achieving overall goals. Indeed, in the majority of areas, the level of impact has declined and the forecast application of new technologies is low … The level and speed of digitalisation across procurement functions is lower than expected and needed.”

So, what’s going on? The answer might be found within the report itself, across the following three areas:

  1. CPOs don’t know where to begin

The main barriers to the effective application of digital technology identified in the report include a lack of data integration (46 per cent), quality of data (45 per cent) and a limited understand of data technology (27 per cent). This suggests that one of the reasons for the disappointing adoption of technology is that CPOs are still coming to terms with the overwhelming task of getting their house (their data) in order before they can effectively roll out a tech enabler such as cognitive procurement.

  1. CPOs are losing faith in their digital strategy

Deloitte found that only 4 per cent of procurement leaders believe that procurement has a big influence in delivering their organisation’s overall digital strategy. Only 6 per cent believe their digital strategy will help them to fully deliver on their objectives and improve enterprise value, while only 18 per cent have a digital procurement strategy supported by a complete business case. The trend in the report appears to be that procurement leaders are struggling to understand the impact of digital technology. One of the stand-out pieces of commentary in the report contains the following:

“Applying digital technologies to the procurement function will enable strategic sourcing to become more predictive, transactional procurement to become more automated, supplier management to become more proactive, and procurement operations to become more intelligent.”

 3. CPOs are not investing in digital capability

Remember last year’s report? The main callout in 2017 was that 60 per cent of CPOs didn’t believe their teams had sufficient capabilities to deliver on their procurement strategy. This figure has improved slightly and now sits at 51 per cent, yet digital skills still remain a red flag. The report found that nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said that their procurement teams possess little or no capability to maximise the use of current and future digital technologies, but only 16 per cent of procurement leaders are focusing on enhancing the digital skills of their teams. Overall, 72 per cent of CPOs are spending less than 2 per cent of their operating budgets on training and development programs for their teams.

Download the full report here: https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/operations/articles/cpo-survey.html


In other news this week:

 

Procurious celebrates International Women’s Day – Get Involved!

  • Women account for just 20-35 per cent of procurement association memberships, represent just 30 per cent of procurement conference attendees and 20 per cent of speakers, and earn up to 31 per cent less than their male counterparts
  • To address this disparity, we founded Bravo, a Procurious group that celebrates and promotes the contributions of women in procurement last year
  • Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8th March 2018 Procurious are running a new campaign, “A Wise Woman Once Told Me…”.  We want procurement pros across the globe to take part and  finish that sentence.  Write the best advice you’ve been given by a woman, be it a colleague, mentor, friend or family member and share your advice on both Twitter (Tagging @Procurious_ and #Bravoprocurement) and in the Bravo group on Procurious 
  • We’ll be amplifying all of your great advice to the global procurement community and, to encourage more procurement pros to join Bravo Movement, we’ll donate £1 to Action Aid for every person that joins Bravo before 10th March 2018

Contact Laura Ross via [email protected] to request your  “A Wise Woman Once Told Me…” digital kit.

 

KFC Supply Chain Cock-Up Continues

  • KFC has yet to reopen all of its UK stores after nearly 700 of the the fast food chain’s 900 stores were shut down after the company ran out of chicken last week.
  • Speculation about what went wrong has focused on DHL, which had taken over the contract only one week previously. DHL has one centralised warehouse in contrast to the previous contractor, Bidvest, which operated from six.
  • The hashtag has been trending on Twitter, while KFC’s marketing team has been praised for its handling of the crisis.

Read more: http://www.wired.co.uk/article/kfc-chicken-crisis-shortage-supply-chain-logistics-experts

 

Trump announces steel and aluminium tariffs

  • President Trump has announced a 25 per cent tariff on imported steel and a 10 per cent tariff on imported aluminium.
  • The tariffs are designed to punish China for what the White House has described as unfair trade practices, while reducing blue-collar job losses and wage stagnation.
  • U.S. steel production has fallen from 100 million to 82 million metric tonnes over the past decade, with imports increasing in consequence.

Read more: Reuters

How To Conduct A Cognitive Symphony

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

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

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

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

Conducting a Cognitive Symphony

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

Day One: Building Your Orchestra

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

Day Two: Orchestrating Your Melody

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

Day Three: The Rehearsal Room

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

Day Four: Getting the brass on Board

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

Day Five: The Conductor

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

Podcast Speakers

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

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

Anna Madarasz Analytics & Cognitive Lead IBM

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

Peter Hrabovski Analytics and Automation Lead, IBM Global Procurement

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

How does the podcast series work?

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

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

How do I access the podcast series?

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

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

*straight to your email inbox!

Are the podcasts available to everyone?

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

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

Procurement Process vs. Chat-Bots

What are chat-bots? What can they do? Are they soon to replace all procurement functions?!

Software Robots (called Bots/Bot) are dramatically disrupting procurement processes involving human interface. They will have a high appeal on the transactional and digital side of procurement processes and will gain growth in the coming years with cognitive and machine learning tools.

The strategic interfaces in procurement planning, strategy, performance management and relationship building will continue to be human-centric (people oriented) but will increasingly rely on the Bots to support them with structured knowledge readily available.

What are “Chat-Bots” and how do they differ from RPA Bots?

A Bot is a software program designed to perform a task which would be done by a human being.

Like any software, these Bots can be programmed to perform almost anything where the workflow can be programmed and information digitalized with the added advantage of the advents in Artificial Intelligence which improves the human-machine interface.

The key difference between a Bot and any standard software is that the Bot generally has the capability of working across a couple of system environments.

With recent advancements in human language translation capabilities (like IBM Watson, Microsoft’s LUIS and equivalent) a lot of software are now capable of interacting with human beings in a seamless “human-like” manner and these Bots are referred to as “chat-bots” (chatting bots).

They usually handle the human front-end interfaces and then interact with the back-end systems to accomplish the task. They are distinctly different from the RPA Bots which are primarily back-end (non-human facing) software that will perform the task based on the system-generated routine as opposed to the chat-bots which are triggered by human interaction.

The chat-bots can then be further classified into

  1. Information chat-bots Provision of information based on the human input. “Speak or Enter flight number” and the chat-bot will provide the flight information. (However, it won’t be able to book the ticket for you!)
  2. Interactive/Smart Chat-bots Ability to perform certain tasks based on customer input. These type of chat-bots can book tickets for you or even resolve defined issues based on rules “explain your problem in a few words and I will try to help you”
  3. Machine Learning chat-bots Self-learning chat-bots which learn from previous interactions and adjust their interactions as time goes on. These chat-bots are still evolving and are going to disrupt the legacy notion of “dumb bots”

Which areas of Procurement are more “Bot-able”?

In a typical Source-to-Pay process the following areas of Source-to-Pay processes are more likely to be linked to Bots with a clear carve-out of the processes which will continue to be human-centric.

What are the Benefits of Bots in Procurement?

The Procurement Bots add a significant value to the business on the following fronts:

  1. Improved Reliability Bots help improve the reliability of the process by taking away the human fallibility and the results are far more reliable.
  2. Reduced Cost-to-Serve Taking away the human tasks also helps reduce of the cost of the transactions especially if done on a large scale for highly repetitive tasks.
  3. Reduction in Cognitive Bias Humans handling any repetitive tasks are always prone to cognitive bias and resulting errors. Bots eliminate the cognitive bias from the workflow (Although they limited by the cognitive bias built into the program itself).
  4. Reduction in cycle time Since Bots work 24×7 and in real time bots have demonstrated a 20%-95% reduction in cycle time associated with tasks/processes.
  5. Resource allocation Resources can be diverted to more strategic aspects of procurement. When the Bots can take away the repetitive tasks away and help assist the procurement professionals they are now more devoted to handling the more strategic/value adding aspects of procurement.

What are the risks of Bots in Procurement?

While the Bots bring about a great deal of value to the organisations they have risks that need to be considered during evaluation and implementation:

  1. Snow-balling of errors created due to Bots The chances of errors created by Bots is heavily reliant on the business rules captured in the software. If not watched closely these un-intended errors can balloon very easily since there is no human being watching these errors.
  2. Loss of Organisation Capability on process knowledge As organizations implement Bots the organizational knowledge on how these processes work erodes and when escalations happen there are very few people who have an end-to-end view of these processes.
  3. Local customisations may not be picked up in Bots While Bots also help standardise the processes by removing the human bias element they also run a double-edged sword of missing out on certain local requirements that might not have been built into the program thus resulting in manual interventions or an inefficient process.
  4. Lack of Human Interface impacts perception/relationships While the Bots are becoming smarter in terms of aping the human interface they are not perfect and they often run into situations where the user gets frustrated at not being able to get across.

How will Bots Transform Procurement function?

Bots will revolutionise how the procurement function is perceived currently through its ability to work/analyse across systems at the speed of thought.

What are the other factors to be considered in the Procurement Bot transformation journey?

Besides the obvious elements of the business case the following considerations need to be factored in during Bot Implementations:

  1. Long term alignment with System architecture design

Even though the Bot implementations are extremely light implementations lasting a few days to a few months – it is imperative that the long-term alignment with system strategy be considered before embarking upon these initiatives

2. Human Org Capability considerations

Consider both existing and future org capability to implement and maintain the Bots. They will require different skill sets and both are equally important to the success of the value from the Bot.

3. Characteristics of the process and the Bot-ability

Strong considerations should be given to the alternatives available. Bot is not a panacea for any process issue and should be treated accordingly.

The Logic of This “New Reality” is that people collaborating with ‘bots’, within a current Procurement Department that possesses effective work-flow processes can be integrated with ‘bot’ utilization.

The myth that Bots will replace Procurement function is a little overstated.  Procurement function will continue to be a human-centric (people oriented) organisation

Taking The Heat Out Of The Resolution Room

If you can’t take the heat get out of the resolution room! Or invite Watson! 

We’ve all been there. Something’s gone terribly wrong with a major customer delivery. Emails are flying around and there are rumours from HQ that “heads are going to roll”.  Everyone concerned has been summoned to “THE meeting” in order to resolve the supply chain issue.

We know what happens next; fists slamming, red faces, an embarrassing lack of data and a lot of verbal ping, pong. Eventually, a resolution is found.

But what happens when Watson is in the resolution room? Could this take the heat out of your supply chain disputes?

 What is a Resolution Room?

A Resolution Room provides the organisation the ability to collaborate quickly to resolve supply disruptions. Users can discuss and resolve issues with other colleagues, business partners, or their suppliers. What distinguishes Resolution Rooms from all other collaboration platforms is Watson.

What does it mean to have Watson in the resolution room?

The big benefit of Watson being in the resolution room is that it recommends experts, provides insight from all data and actionable advice based on learned best practices.  Over time, it leverages Watson’s capability to develop a body of knowledge by learning how issues were best addressed in the past.  This enables greater speed and accuracy in responding to future events.

“Watson provides the opportunity to deliver business value and insights from all of these data insights – structured and unstructured, data from weather patterns, news, D&B and supplier IQ,” explains Joanne Wright, Chief Supply Chain Officer, IBM.

“It does this with speed and accuracy. No more are we saying ‘OK…let’s get the data and meet again tomorrow’ because Watson takes my team’s input and incorporates that into the next iteration as we go.”

Watson In The Resolution Room: A Case Study

IBM Watson is always a room participant, so you can draw on Watson’s expertise using natural language to ask a question, for example: @Watson what is the status of order ABC123?

Imagine the following scenario; A Late Shipment alert in the Ops Center reveals that orders of your most popular drone are in jeopardy because the shortage of the entire supply of a critical part, a lithium battery, has been delayed. You create a Resolution Room to manage the incident collectively.

Watson is in the room.

Whilst your team discusses how best to manage the problem you have the ease of asking Watson questions such as:

  • Which customer has the most sales dollars that will be late?
  • What are the financial impacts of any late orders?
  • Have we experienced this problem before? Who are the experts who have worked on these similar issues in the past?
  • Are there any alternate suppliers for part number 46001?
  • Why is there a shortage of lithium batteries?

Watson can provide answers to questions such as these based on the data available in the data model and in other Resolution Rooms. Learning over time, it becomes smarter and able to provide better insights about your supply chain.

Click here to try a Resolution Room demo. 

Got a big idea you want to push through a big company or simply want to learn more about Watson and the Resolution Room?

Sign up for next week’s procurement webinar, How IBM Built the Cognitive Supply Chain of the Future. hosted by Tania Seary and featuring IBM’s Chief Supply Chain Officer Joanne Wright. 

Data. Tech. Talent. Giving Procurement The Edge

Today’s challenging business environment is marked by social and economic uncertainty, weakness and volatility in emerging markets, and increasing geopolitical risk. How can  procurement teams ensure they have the edge?

Dramatic changes in the role of the procurement function over recent years have meant a remit that exceeds traditional operational responsibilities, often having a critical impact on shaping business models. The challenge is to continue adding value – addressing new opportunities and risks, and becoming a strategic business function – without increasing overall cost.

CPOs need to think differently about three key assets – data, technology and people – and how to bring them together to deliver for their stakeholders.

Data deluge

Today’s procurement teams face a deluge of data from internal and external sources, and in the digital age, new data streams are emerging every day. Many companies have yet to overcome the problems of poor quality data, held on disjointed legacy systems. Historical spend data is often uncategorised and needs significant cleansing before it can form the basis of a forward-facing outlook.

So, while procurement teams can access an immense amount of information, it’s a challenge to deliver valuable, actionable insights. Used wisely and effectively data can deliver robust insights to underpin every decision and tackle today’s challenges head on. Mismanage it, and it can swamp internal teams and lead to indecision and paralysis.

Tackling technology

Technology is frequently seen as being the answer. We heard an enormous amount about digitalisation, and the promises of AI and ML in 2017, yet few organisations are ready to adopt these new digital technologies. Many procurement operation teams recognise they have yet to make the most of existing technology, and tackling the problems that come with legacy systems, so their focus is on getting the basics right.

The first task is to understand which technologies are applicable to organisational challenges and maturity, and this assessment is important to create a digital roadmap for the future. Technology is only an enabler – not the complete solution – and needs to be fine-tuned to match individual business contexts.

People power

In theory, putting data and tech together creates intelligence, but all too often the process fails to produce relevant insights. It is the third asset – people – which can have a major impact on the potential to generate valuable business information.

There are plenty of talented individuals in existing procurement teams, yet many CPO’s believe their teams lack the skills required to turn strategy into results. They recognise that unless they have greater visibility and insight, it’s difficult to make the right decisions. For category and contract managers, the largest skill gap is in analytics, where teams struggle to use levers including external market intelligence, supplier portfolio optimisation and actionable spend analysis to best effect.

As procurement’s influence in the organisation grows, innovative technology gets introduced, and new data streams become available, roles of procurement professionals also evolve. This necessitates continuous review and addition of new skills and capabilities which may not exist in the current team.

Helping hand

We have launched a white paper looking at what solutions can be used to overcome the data challenge, decode technology, and plan how the skills gap can be resolved, to help procurement teams become more active influencers and respected decision makers in 2018.

2017 Rewind- The Impact Of Blockchain On Procurement

As part of our 2017 Procurious rewind, we’re taking a look at the top blogs of the year. Blockchain was one of the hottest topics on the site this year. It’s time to brush up on your knowledge and understanding right here, right now! 

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

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

The benefits

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

1)  Security: Practically speaking the Blockchain is unhackable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do I need to understand?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Ready For The Procurement Rebels And Revolutionaries In Your Team?

We know Gen Z don’t fit into the traditional workplace – but how can procurement organisations embrace these revolutionaries to benefit from their rebellious nature and leverage their innovative approaches? 

As a procurement manager with very rigid, process driven procurement software in place, how do you plan to manage the potential chaos that will come from the millennials in your current workforce and the Generation Z’s about to enter it?

Firstly, let’s address three ways of dealing with this issue. Do you ignore them, do you suppress them, or do you take time to investigate what these natural rebels and revolutionaries can offer?

Both groups are born entrepreneurs; they mesh work and play together, they’re smart beyond their years and they have a clear picture of what they want from a career.

Technology has been a major influencer in the develop of a new type of professional. It has provided access to vast amounts of information and has become the great equalizer, playing a major role in their disruptive nature at home and at work.

In my experience, I’ve found that both millennials and Z’s are self-starters – they work smarter and harder than you may think and have disproved time and again the “lazy” stereotype. They’re not averse to working outside normal business hours and use their daily commutes or downtime to get work done because they want to complete it promptly.

The tech catalyst

So, we know that millennials and Z’s don’t fit traditional workplace rules, so how can organisations benefit from their rebellious nature?

Technology is the catalyst of this rebellion. It meshes the world of work and play into a single environment; one where users expect the ‘Amazon’ type experience they get at home on Sunday to be mirrored in how they use technology at work on Monday. ­­

What do you say to the team member that walks into your office to tell you that your existing procurement software is drowning the team? They then show you an app they downloaded over weekend that allowed them to create RFQs, connect and chat with suppliers, make decisions and save a ton of their time and your money.

Revolutionaries are born from discontent. They’re frustrated at the status quo, and those who lead them are searching for a better way. It can be a challenging process, but these young rebels – or, to use a modern term: these entrepreneurs – are simply seeking more effective and flexible ways to work.

A new approach

So how would you react to the above scenario? It starts by changing how you approach the thinking behind the solution. This means recognising that innovation is no longer a top-down exercise that remains in the exclusive domain of senior management teams or corporate retreats.

Real innovation today is being driven from the ground up by those rebels within our teams that simply want a better work experience and are not afraid to try new technology or methods to get better outcomes.

It wasn’t that long ago when ‘agile’ was a term used only in software and development teams. I now see sales teams working with scrums and management teams having daily stand ups – it’s just one example of the new way of thinking and doing that is helping business work faster in today’s instant world.

Does this mean that it’s time to let the revolution rise and allow the rebels to take over the organization? Well, not entirely – it’s about getting the balance right.

It’s time for procurement leaders to stop lamenting about being seen as the roadblocks within their organisations and to look to your millennials and Z’s as a talent pool rich with ideas, innovation and passion.

They will challenge, they will make mistakes, but it is time to move beyond the current boundaries you’ve set, and remember – you were a rebel once, too!

About the author

Alan Paul is a thought leader and CEO of sourceit, a technology company that has led the market in the development of simple and easy-to-use sourcing applications for indirect categories.

Sourceit offers three different products for buyers:

  • RFQ – time saving request for quote software for all indirect categories,
  • Market – a specialized procurement and job management application for marketing services, and
  • Catalog – an inventory management and on-demand product/services ordering application.

Visit the website: sourceithq.com

Blockchain: Are You Bothered?

There are so many misconceptions around blockchain and its potential impact. Will the fundamental concept of blockchain really have a significant impact on procurement, finance and supply chain?

Last month’s Procurious London Roundtable was sponsored by Basware

Blockchain is the coolest technology of the moment and the hype surrounding it only appears to be growing year upon year. Whilst the concept was first used for Bitcoin, the digital currency, its potential is far wider, and many industries are actively investigating the possibilities of using blockchain-based solutions.

But despite organisations around the world jumping on the Blockchain bandwagon and advocating for its enormous potential, do the majority of professionals understand precisely what it is, what it can do and the extent to which it will impact our businesses?

At last month’s Procurious roundtable, Paul Clayton, Head of New Service Development, Basware put us through our paces with an overview of blockchain technology and his insights as to why procurement pros need to be cautious not to overestimate it’s bearing on the function.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is simply a digitised, decentralised and cryptographically secured ledger of transactions.

“The biggest misconception” Paul begins, “is that there is only one blockchain. There are actually many blockchains in use today throughout many different industries.”

“Blockchain is actually only a concept, whose origins go back to academic work in the early 90s, rather than a thing. The concept was first publicly used to allow the crypto-currency Bitcoin to be traded virtually, anonymously, and without the need for a centralised bank.”

“Blockchain technology says where something has been transferred to and retains a trace of the transfer. Conceptually a blockchain acts like is a single ledger, a source of the truth if you like. In reality, it is physically distributed where there are actually multiple ledgers, known as nodes, that all work together to come to consensus on where something has been transferred to, which is then shared between them.”

An obvious advantage of this technology, is that it’s very difficult for you to break the integrity of the ledger. “There are multiple copies of the same ledger and so if someone hacks one it becomes immediately obvious that it is different.”

The flaws at the heart of blockchains

Whilst a blockchain itself is safe, an application using it remains hackable – Security researchers and hackers have proved it’s possible to hack someone’s Bitcoin wallet and empty it of crypto-cash. Mt. Gox infamously lost 7 per cent of all Bitcoins in circulation in 2014, which were worth, at the time, approximately $473 million. It also appears to be an uphill battle trying to prosecute someone for taking a Bitcoin

It’s can be too transparent – With public blockchains, once a transaction and its associated data have been placed onto a blockchain, anyone and everyone who has access to it can view everything, whether you like it or not

It’s not the most elegant solution – The very nature of the deliberately distributed ledger with multiple copies (nodes), means that you have multiple nodes undertaking exactly the same piece of work ie working out where something has been transferred to. From a pure computing power point of view, for certain applications, this is a highly inefficient way of doing things.

The blockchain for Bitcoin for example, has already had to be re-designed to increase its scalability as the number of Bitcoins in circulation and the growth in the associated transactions meant that the ledger became too unwieldy and it was taking too long for it to update.

You can still lose things!

Even if you know where something went, you can still then lose it. Who could forget the unfortunate James Howells, who mistakenly threw out a hard drive containing 7,500 Bitcoins, now estimated to be worth $7.5 million

 

Blockchain for business

There are some who would argue that these problems have been addressed and eliminated for blockchain for business. Paul is not one of them!

“The distributed nature of ledgers means blockchain is good at maintaining the integrity of who owns something but what it cannot do is determine whether the person who put something into a system owned it in the first place.”

This means, when making a transaction via a blockchain, the recipient needs to be able to trust the supposed owner of the thing that is being exchanged. “You are, essentially, reliant on the veracity of the source of what goes in to the blockchain.”

For example:

Does the “owner” actually own the rights to the house they are trying to sell you?

If you’re exchanging metals, does the “owner” have documents to prove they have the rights to the gold?

It might be good at preventing a fraudulent transfer of an asset but blockchain is “next to useless at establishing if a person owned something in the first place”

“As a ledger system it is extremely inefficient, almost clumsy in the way it works. In certain circumstances, where there are a high volume of transactions it uses so much computing power it’s almost not worth it.”

“And it’s for these reasons that, whilst it will have applications in many areas from supply chain through to electronic voting, blockchain won’t change the world!”

Where is the value for procurement?

“Is there value in blockchain tech? Yes. Does the value match the hype right now? Not even close!”

“From a procurement point of view the biggest area of impact right now is most likely to be in supply chain applications. There are obvious applications for the transfer of title and bill of lading. Of particular interest in this space right now are supply chains that can be subject to fraud such as pharmaceuticals and food

Going beyond that the application of so called “smart contracts” to a blockchain can help automate certain business processes. Smart contracts, are pieces of computer code attached to a blockchain that automatically execute an action once a set of agreed criteria have been met. For, example, a smart contract could be used to automatically pay a supplier once the buyer has received their goods without the need for invoice processing and payment.

” In 2017, blockchain is word of the year, it’s absolutely everywhere. But it’s not earth shattering, it’s not the third generation of the Internet its just an interesting concept with some obvious benefits and flaws.”

Last month’s Procurious London Roundtable was sponsored by Basware

You will be Assimilated: The Collective Intelligence of Procurement

For those who remember “The Borg” from Star Trek, you’ll remember the notion of a dispassionate alien mind-being that would suck up your individual mind to subsume into the collective intelligence.  Resistance is futile. 

Crazy stuff, right?  Or maybe not.

Flash forward to today.  For most people, your every move is being tracked by your smartphone, social media apps, web browsing, and credit card transactions.  Ever wonder why Google and Amazon are basically giving away their helpful devices and AI assistants?  You are being watched.  You are the product (not the customer).  You are the raw materials of a collective intelligence being built upon your individual experiences and desires.  In other words, the proverbial machine is watching and learning from you (in order to sell to you, er, rather, to “better meet your needs”).

But, this is all consumer stuff, right?  B2B is different, right?

Sort of – but it’s not THAT different.  And with all the regulatory pressures coming on consumer data privacy, as compared to much of the privacy that you sign away your rights to when you enter an employment contract, the tables may actually turn here. If you’re using a popular cloud-based Procurement system, you are also being watched (many providers analyse your system behaviour to figure out how you navigate the system and how to help you… yes, the chatbots are coming). If you use a procurement “business network” or eMarketplace (e.g., Amazon Business), your suppliers are signing away some of their intellectual property – whether they know it or not.  And smart companies are trying to gain a market intelligence advantage through digital business strategies in the supply chain. There’s a reason why GE created Predix; why Flex funded Elementum; why DHL sells supply chain risk technology; and so on.  Adoption creates insight and intelligence… and advantage.

All this isn’t necessarily bad for you though.  It serves up price benchmarking, risk intelligence and improved system usability.  It also signals how the world is moving away from “empty apps” that push documents around in workflows and move towards systems that are building intelligence to make your apps “smarter”.  This intelligence is typically built using machine learning fed by large data sets that help improve repetitive tasks like spend classification. Of course, AI is a bigger topic, and there are 23 distinct areas in AI for procurement and supply chain that we’re following that I can’t cover in a single blog post!  For example, contract management is a great example where AI is already having an impact and this will be very disruptive in the Legal services (e.g., Legal BPO) area.

Still, building your collective intelligence for your firm doesn’t necessarily require AI.  You can avail yourself to some good old-fashioned knowledge management built up from the various collectives that are all around you:

  • The internal corporate collective. Learn from consulting companies and build presentation storyboards of your procurement projects that created change and value – and use them to win over skeptical stakeholders.
  • Your supplier collective. Your current supply suppliers, previous suppliers, “almost suppliers” (who bid on your business), and potential suppliers via crowdsourcing are a wealth of knowledge – if you know how to tap them through supplier innovation programs and proper supplier management processes.
  • Your customer collective. This includes not just internal stakeholders, but external customers as well.  For example, Lenovo uses its social customer mining tools to identify key customer/demand information that can be passed upstream to suppliers.  On the flip side, many similar intelligence tools are being deployed on the supply side with varying results (that’s a whole topic for another day).
  • The installed base collective. Your procurement app providers, consulting providers, and managed service providers are likely working hard to extract and productize your individual intelligence into a re-saleable collective intelligence. Choose a provider that is working on building collective intelligence into its overall platform strategy.
  • Your peer/community collective. There are lots of communities out there right now where you can learn from your peers – and many of them are free. You’re learning right now by reading this on Procurious, so you’re already well on your way!

We even practice what we preach at Spend Matters when we tap into this collective intelligence of procurement technology users by capturing end user satisfaction (think Net Promoter Score on steroids) and using it as an entire axis of our “SolutionMap” vendor scoring model/methodology.  And, yes, there’s a freemium version (it has eight procurement technology areas mapped out based on five different buyer personas from which you can select)!

The bottom line is that although we all start with a certain amount of individual intelligence, it’s the collective supply market of intelligence that is all around us if we can learn how to tap it, build it, and wisely bring the right intelligence back to our individual selves (and we’ll even be able to augment that individual intelligence into our own personal bots and ‘digital twins’).  And since procurement should be enabling stakeholders to also tap that collective intelligence of supply, it couldn’t be a more important competency to build right now.

So, go bravely into that supply market and assimilate yourself into the collective intelligence of procurement and be smarter and better from that experience.  It’s really what life is all about, isn’t it?

This article was contributed by guest author Pierre Mitchell, Chief Research Officer and Managing Director at Azul Partners.