Tag Archives: procurement technology

Why Procurement Will Soon be One of the Most Sought After Professions

As jobs disappear and the roles of tomorrow don’t even exist today, what makes Procurement and Supply Chain professionals so hot in demand?


We’ve seen in the past year how easily the entire global job market can be disrupted. With luck, businesses and economies will recover, but there’s nothing “normal” about where they’ll be in the coming years. Thanks to industry 4.0, work as we know it is on the cusp of big change — in fact, some experts and futurists are hesitant to even predict what kinds of work will exist twenty years from now. What we do know is that it won’t involve many of the jobs we’re so familiar with today.

It’s not just manual labor that is likely to go away. Doctors, lawyers, and even police officers will also see their professions being increasingly automated. The outlook isn’t bleak, it’s just uncertain. But what practical information can we take away from that … and what does it have to do with procurement?

The vital nature of procurement in business

Let’s start by answering the question, “What is procurement, anyway?”

Procurement is the sourcing and purchasing of goods and services for business use from an external source. All businesses use a variety of products, services, and supplies in their day-to-day operations, but most of them don’t manufacture or create those things themselves. Instead, they buy them from other businesses, and procurement specialists are the people who oversee this process.

Take Apple, for example. Apple “produces” millions of devices per year, but manufactures very few. Instead, the company relies on a complicated web of supply chains from which it gets goods and labor. Woven together, these various supply chains create the things we recognize as Apple products and services — everything from iPads to Apple TV+. It’s not just electronics and technicians that Apple needs, either; it also has to have desks and chairs for its employees, paper and appliances for its internal business services, security guards and parking lot attendants for its headquarters, and the list goes on.

Procurement is obviously a big part of doing business. But what makes it one of the most desirable fields for younger workers to target?

In 2019, the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work boldly predicted that “Today’s skills will not match the jobs of tomorrow, and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete.”

While the future of many jobs is unknown, procurement is one that’s here to stay. Aspects of the profession will undoubtedly change, and it will certainly be bolstered by exponential technologies like artificial intelligence and data science, but overall, the skills that underpin successful procurement practices today will remain relevant throughout the foreseeable future.

Largely, those skills consist of cognitive flexibility and critical thinking, good decision-making, emotional intelligence, and an innovative mindset. And those (surprise) are among those that experts and employers alike say will be most important during the next decade.

X-Factors that make procurement so dynamic

The desirability of procurement as a profession goes beyond job stability. As much as anyone else, the people overseeing where goods and services come from have a unique opportunity to influence a company’s profitability, sustainability, and ethics.

Environmental impact

Green, sustainable, or eco-procurement is a growing part of the field, and it centers around building supply chains that cause minimal damage to the environment. This can mean identifying opportunities to work with providers who are conscious of waste reduction or energy conservation, for example. In the case of individual suppliers, the impact might seem marginal, but as procurement policies increasingly reflect our collective push toward sustainability, providers that aren’t eco-conscious will slowly get pushed out in favor of competitors that are. It’s the procurement professional’s privilege to lead that charge.

Diversity and inclusion

It’s not feasible, in most cases, to force an equality mindset onto a business or other organization — nor would it be effective. The pathway to lasting change involves creating an environment in which the businesses that already embrace equality rise to the top, and those that don’t are required to face the organic consequences. This, too, is something procurement professionals have a special ability to influence. Just like with sustainability, a company’s procurement department can create a ripple effect in the industry at large simply by giving preference to suppliers that embody the company’s own ethos regarding diversity and inclusion.

Powerful trajectory

Much of the reason that Apple has achieved such amazing success even following the death of Steve Jobs lies with the fact that Tim Cook is intimately familiar with the importance of procurement to the business model. Cook was hired by Jobs as Apple’s Chief Procurement Officer in 1998; by the time he took the top executive office in 2011, Apple’s supply chain was widely held to be the best among big tech firms. The skills and knowledge that make a good procurement professional, in other words, serve as a strong foundation for success on an even bigger scale — in Cook’s case, it was the biggest scale in the world.

Looking ahead

As jobs disappear, consumer needs evolve, and the work paradigm shifts, the ability to “go with the flow” is becoming increasingly important. Not only is procurement an area that benefits from that ability — it can also impart it. In return for bringing their skills to the field, professionals who choose procurement will be rewarded with the chance to usher in large-scale change, guiding not just companies but entire industries and economies in worthy directions.

Stephen Day is Chief Procurement Officer at Kantar and an accomplished International Executive, with expertise in operations management, supply chain, and more.

The Christmas Supply Chain – But Not as you Know it!

Airmiles on a sleigh? Elves and Modern Slavery? Sustainable fur for Santa’s suit? Industry 4.0 technologies could change the very fabric of Christmas supply chains…

If you’re anything like the team here at Procurious HQ, it doesn’t feel we’ve recovered from last Christmas, let alone be ready for this year! While the festivities kick-off, we can’t help but think about the key role Procurement and Supply Chain play in making the holidays have all the joy and cheer you could possibly need.

However, it’s impossible to fail to see how the traditional Christmas supply chain will be altered in years to come and it’s all down to innovation and Industry 4.0 technologies. And there’s one organisation that might really see some changes. That’s right, we’re talking about Santa.

Now, as none of us have been fortunate to venture into Santa’s workshop at the North Pole (not for the want of trying…), we don’t know what technology he already possesses. A veritable Christmas-load of magic, yes, but is it time for a Kringle 4.0 upgrade to make sure he’s staying up to date with current trends.

Let’s have a peer into the supply chain to find out…

Airmiles, UAVs and RPA

Global population growth may have slowed to around 1.05 per cent per year, but it is still on the rise and expected to hit 10 billion by the late 21st Century. What this means is that Santa is going to have to find a way to exceed the already blistering 650 miles per second he has to travel in 2020 to ensure that he completes his deliveries on Christmas Eve.

What does this mean for Rudolph and the other reindeer? After over 300 years of delivering presents, could reindeer be on the way out and be replaced by a more innovative solution to help Santa out? As technology develops further it might even be possible for the traditional sleigh to become an Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle (UAV), or perhaps for reindeer to be overtaken by RPA.

Both solutions come with their own drawbacks. The airmiles on the sleigh are gargantuan on an annual basis, though with it being powered by magnetic levitation (or magic) the carbon footprint is at least very low. There is a limit to the current technology on time in the air for UAVs, as well as how far away a pilot can be before the signal is lost. And if the sleigh is a UAV, who is going to eat all the mince pies and carrots and deliver all the presents?

Blockchain and Sustainability

There are few conversations around Industry 4.0 without some mention of Blockchain and traceability. But with the volume of gifts that are given around Christmas increasing exponentially, it’s something that is more important than ever to aid traceability of products, but also their source raw materials and the individuals who made or used them.

Now, we know that the Elves (more on them in a minute) make all the toys for Santa, but Santa still needs to source his raw materials from somewhere. When considering sustainability, we also need to look to a future where Santa’s suit is trimmed with sustainable fur and he’s using a sustainable, or Vegan-friendly, leather for his harnesses and boots.

Santa, of course, should be using blockchain to ensure that all his wood is grown in sustainable forests, all his electronics are free from conflict minerals, and his second, third and fourth et. al. tiers in his supply chain are free from Modern Slavery.

Which brings us back to the elves. We would hope that they are provided with the best of living and working conditions and countless sources have told us how much they enjoy their jobs. But we should still be able to request their employment contracts under a Freedom of Information request. Just to make sure…

Optimisation and Risk Mitigation

With the supply chain becoming increasingly complex, as well as the increasing number of deliveries, Santa needs to find a way to optimise his supply chain. He already has key stakeholders to provide input, as well as having access to the myriad data from global sources. Santa may be able to use technologies like IBM’s Resolution Rooms, which facilitate discussions and create references and knowledge for future problem solving.

A key risk in 2020 is COVID-19. Not only will Santa have to load his sleigh with presents, but he’ll need gallons of hand sanitiser and a face covering for each household. Crowdsourcing ideas or using Resolution Rooms would be a good way for him to set an effective strategy for how to handle this.

Finally, one key aspect of supply chain optimisation is focusing on your strengths and outsourcing other activities. Santa may well decide that his strengths lie in present delivery and bring in other stakeholders to provide logistical and technical support.

Who’s the Boss?

What has also become clear during 2020 is that organisations that don’t recognise gender equality are doomed to failure. You only have to look at the success of the Procurious Big Ideas Summit to recognise the role of successful female leaders in business now and in the future. Fortunately, Santa already has a female leader who can play a more critical role as the organisation’s CEO – Mrs Claus.

As the organisation grows and so do the challenges of the global supply chains, Mrs Claus will play a pivotal role in the smooth running of operations, ensuring Santa has the freedom to focus on delivering presents. Mrs Claus brings a strong leadership to the North Pole, making sure strategic planning begins in plenty of time and that the right decisions are made. It’s high time Mrs Claus got the credit she deserves from the rest of the world!

The Future is Bright…

No matter what the future of the Christmas supply chain looks like, we all know it’s in good hands and (hopefully) making best use of the Industry 4.0 technologies available. Take time to consider all the work that goes into this when you wake up on Christmas morning and find your presents waiting for you (we’re assuming you are all on the nice list…).

It truly is a technologically driven Christmas miracle!

Five Steps To Become A Procurement Tech Champion

Upgrading your team’s procurement processes is daunting. This guide will help you choose the right tech solution and make your project a raving success


So you’ve had the same procurement system for years. Or Covid-19 may have exposed just how unsustainable paper and manual processes can be?  Is the status-quo no longer enough?

Maybe you’re thinking this is your chance.  Supply Chain is now front-page news and the talk of your C-Suite. Within this new climate, leaders are questioning whether they have the right people, the right tools, the right processes and the right model for success.   How many of the shortcomings of your group would have been mitigated or eliminated if you had the right tools? 

Is it time for a small refresh, like a new Source-to-Contract platform?  Or maybe you’re after something bigger – like a complete Source-to-Pay system.

No matter the scale of change, more organisations are choosing to mitigate their risk and ensure success with completing a Success Blueprint prior to going to contract with their new tech.

After all, you don’t want to be part of the 33% of IT software projects that overrun on time, or the 66% that overrun on budget.

Luckily, we’ve got advice from expert Matt Stewart, Founder of RiseNow. He’s helped over 200 companies implement procurement systems, so he knows exactly how to make your change a success.

Here are your five steps to conquering an upgrade in your procurement tech.

1. Decide if it’s time to replace your existing system

If your users and suppliers have turned against your platform and are refusing to adopt due to usability and/or its inability to address their most important use cases, it may be time to move on.  For other organisations it may not be as bad as it appears.  If that is the case, don’t get caught into thinking the grass may be greener if it is possible to make some tweaks to configuration, redesign some processes, and reinvigorate your end-users with some proper training and change management. 

Be careful who you listen to as you seek advice and counsel on what you should do.  Make sure you align with a true advocate that isn’t trying to just sell you more software that you don’t need.  Also make sure they know your industry, use cases,  and are experts in the S2P/P2P space.  

We will be going into much more detail later in our Major Tech Fails series on how you to know when it is time to replace vs. Optimize what you have in “How To Know When It Is Time To Replace Your Tech.” 

2. Build a blueprint

You’ve compiled a list of absolute requirements, extensively searched the market and gathered feedback from key staff and stakeholders.  You feel confident that you’ve landed on the best solution for your business… right?  Maybe not.

Success stories start early on, well before contracts are signed and implementation begins.  Too often, organisations are lured in by the solution that provided the best demo, had the most eye-catching features, or offered the lowest price-tag, as we talked about during “How To Avoid the 5 Most Common Tech Mistakes”.  The trick to avoiding these obstacles?  Knowing about them in the first place. 

A RiseNow Success Blueprint accomplishes just that.  A success blueprint, or what others called a Pre-Engineering Study or Phase 0, is our proven process that brings alignment between all parties before you hit the ground running  It gives you the ability to anticipate issues that are likely to occur in the implementation and allows you to plan in advance to prevent delays and cost over-run situations.

By actively managing risk, you can set your project up for success.

3. Justify your case for change

Investment in a new tech solution is not something an organisation takes lightly.  To make your tech solution attractive to your CEO you’ll need a compelling business case.  But if you’re relying on the post-implementation phase to demonstrate that efficiency is actually being achieved, it’s probably too late.

You need to be clear from the start about what your organisation needs in terms of return on investment and decide exactly how you will report on the measurements that will demonstrate positive ROI.  Measure what matters.

Begin with knowing and owning every number in your business case.  Take time upfront to fully identify realistic savings opportunities by critical area and to quantify costs, both during the implementation and post go-live operating costs that may require more research to confirm. 

Follow these steps, plan to measure what matters, and when the time comes to defend your case for investment you can more easily defend it.  Your executive team will have the detail behind the numbers to fully buy-in, and you’ll have built an implementation plan that is realistic, predictable and achievable. 

4. Put it to work

You’ve secured the resources you need, built your blueprint, selected your perfect tech and proven your business case.  Ready to put your new solution to the test? 

Remember that implementations are ongoing projects, not just business as usual.  Implementations are all about people, decisions, and level of commitment.  Whether it’s end-users, suppliers or partners in the business, new tech has an impact on their everyday functions.  You want stakeholders engaged, informed and excited.  Make sure to weave your “why” into every stage of implementation.

Don’t underestimate an investment in change management.  A tailored communication strategy, understanding of stakeholder impacts, and a solid training approach can drive effective adoption.  Getting in front of detractors and people with concerns is one of the most effective ways to reduce resistance and concerns.  Focus on continuous improvement and keep in mind that no tech solution will be 100% perfect. 

Change happens because of people – not despite them.

5. Prove it

It’s finally time to prove the value of your new procurement tech and report back on your ROI.  Refer back to your criteria for success.  Through these previously identified KPIs and value targets, create dashboards and reports that are easy to visualize.  Note how your organisation has clearly benefitted, archive deliverables and adjust.

Retaining buy-in is critical to the ongoing success of your implementation.  Bear in mind that some pain points and aspects of your business process will always remain, no matter your tech.  Having a realistic approach to what and when you’ll deliver will put you on the path to success.

We cannot ignore the current climate; Covid-19 has forced risk avoidance to the forefront of KPI tracking.  The agility of your supply-chain will become an increasingly important measurement.

Times of crisis create opportunities for growth.  Organisations that capitalise on these opportunities, using them to invest in their people, processes and technology, will stand out. 

So once more, maybe this is your chance.  What kind of leader will you be?

Join us for our upcoming webinar – Major Tech Wins – where we joining forces with RiseNow’s Matt Stewart to chat with CEO of Supply Chain Sherpas, Joe Walsh, Director of Digital Procurement at PPG Industries, Michelle Welch, and Procurious’ Helen Mackenzie. Register here for your free digital ticket.

Could RPA Make Procurement Jobs More Human? – Best of the Blog 2019

The new “hot” technology generating hype in 2019 is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Here’s how it can help procurement…

RPA - procurement
Photo by Matan Segev from Pexels

This article was written by Bertrand Maltaverne, and first published in February.

Procurement is, by nature, in the business of relationships. Whether it’s managing suppliers or stakeholders, the success of any procurement organisation relies heavily on building relationships between people.

Despite this, many procurement professionals do not have the time to focus on the human side of their job. Data collection, reporting, transactional activities, urgencies, etc. are all tasks that eat up their precious time. They prevent them from focusing on relationships that could generate more value and better outcomes.  

This problem isn’t new. It’s the main driver behind the constant, growing interest in procurement technologies that automate processes and increase efficiencies.

What is new, though, is the pace of innovation and the hype around some of the latest technologies.

Emerging technologies have begun to dominate discussions in the procurement space, and it has become impossible to avoid debates, articles, publications, etc. on artificial intelligence (AI) or blockchain. The new “hot” technology that has been generating a lot of hype in 2019 is Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Before jumping on the RPA bandwagon, it is critical to look beyond the features to understand the bigger picture. In the case of the latest RPA technology that has integrated AI, it is about making procurement jobs more human by offloading even more mundane, robotic tasks to… robots!

The goal is to augment, not replace, people by combining the best qualities and capabilities of both human and machine to achieve better outcomes.

RPA: Copy/paste on steroids…

“[RPA is] a preconfigured software instance that uses business rules and predefined activity choreography to complete the autonomous execution of a combination of processes, activities, transactions, and tasks in one or more unrelated software systems to deliver a result or service with human exception management.”

Source: IEEE Guide for Terms and Concepts in Intelligent Process Automation

This technical definition of what RPA is and how it works can be summed up with a simple analogy. Imagine that you have to repeatedly copy data from one Excel file to another to produce a monthly report.

One way to eliminate these mundane, low-value, tedious tasks would be to create a macro that would do all the copy/paste for you. In addition to saving hours of your precious time over the course of the year, it would also reduce the risk of errors. This is, essentially, a simplified definition of what RPA is about.

It’s a way to automate repetitive and scripted actions that are usually performed manually by users (not just copy/paste!). It is a form of business process automation.

Typical Benefits

The typical benefits of RPA are:

  • efficiencies to free-up resources usually spent on manual tasks and re-focus them on core business (efficiency fuels effectiveness)
  • better consistency and compliance in data entries by reducing errors
  • from a system/IT perspective, RPA is a valuable workaround to break data silos. It avoids the costs (investment, change mgmt.) and risks associated with replacing an existing system or creating interfaces. RPA solutions sit on top of the existing infrastructure and simply simulate user actions to take data from system ‘A’ and put it in system ‘B’.

RPA has limitations and it is important to be aware of them and consider if the trade-offs are worth it. Some of them are:

  • RPA can do one thing and only one thing. If there are changes in the source or in the destination systems, then it will stop to work correctly
  • It requires extensive programming to ensure that the RPA solution takes all cases into account. If not, it will not work or, even worse, it will create even more issues as it is very consistent in executing rules. If something is off, the same error(s) will be consistently repeated
  • For the same reason, it is vital to ensure that processes are running well before implementing RPA

If RPA only had a Brain…

There’s no getting around it: RPA is a very dumb technology.  It does exactly what it’s told, blindly executing whatever set of rules it’s given. Such technology has been in use for years but on a limited scale.

However, with the advancement of other, smarter technologies opening up new opportunities to make RPA more useful and less “dumb,” it is experiencing a revival. AI is one of the emerging technologies revitalising RPA, and stirring up hype. These days, it’s rare to see RPA without an AI component, which has also lead to a lot of confusion between RPA and AI.

“[AI is] the combination of cognitive automation, machine learning (ML), reasoning, hypothesis generation and analysis, natural language processing and intentional algorithm mutation producing insights and analytics at or above human capability.”

Source: IEEE

By nature, RPA and AI are very different technologies:

Because most business processes require a combination of “DO” and “THINK,” newer generations of RPA solutions integrate AI components to:

  • Understand input via natural language processing, data extracting and mining, etc.
  • Learn from mistakes and exceptions
  • Develop/enrich rules based on experience

It is this new, smarter generation of “RPA+AI” solutions that has broader applications as a valuable tool for Procurement.

RPA Applications for Procurement

“It is not the type of business process that makes for a good candidate for RPA, but rather the characteristics of the process, such as the need for data extraction, enrichment and validation.”

The Hackett Group on Procurious

RPA is particularly well-suited for operational and transactional Procurement because these areas are characteriSed by countless manual activities. Here are some examples:

  • Automation & elimination of mundane tasks
    • Invoice processing: It is possible to drastically reduce efforts and cycle times to extract essential information from an invoice and perform an m-way match by using a combination of RPA and AI (Optical Character Recognition + Natural Language Processing)
    • RFx preparation: Tasks related to data collection (quantities from ERPs, specifications from PLMs or other file sharing systems, etc.) and even the drafting of RFXs can be streamlined by using RPA.
  • Data compliance and quality
    • Supplier onboarding: RPA can automatically get more supplier data or data needed to verify registrations or certifications by crawling the web or other data sources.
    • Data mappings and deduplication: RPA can be a great support in Master data Management (MDM) by normalising data (typos, formatting, etc.) and by ensuring that naming/typing conventions are respected.
  • Support to gain better insights
    • Supplier score-carding: This is an activity that requires thorough data collection. RPA can be leveraged to collect data from various sources and integrate the information into one system either for internal purposes and/or for the preparation of a negotiation or business review
    • Contract analysis: RPA can crawl file sharing systems, network disks, and even emails to collect and gather contracts in one central location. Then, it can extract key terms and store them as metadata in a contract management solution.

Conclusion

RPA, combined with other technologies, is an efficient way to connect data silos to win back valuable time. It can remove the “robot” work from the desk of procurement teams so they can focus on the human side of their job.

On top of that, procurement organisations can gain tremendous insights from implementing RPA because it can make new data digitally accessible and more visible.

However, it is important to keep in mind that RPA is only a workaround; it does not break silos like an end-to-end procurement platform would do.

7 Companies Pioneering Artificial Intelligence in Procurement

With so much written on Artificial Intelligence it’s hard to know where to look. However, there are companies from whom we can take our lead.

artificial intelligence
Photo from Pixabay on Pexels

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest topics in business right now. It’s also a bit like teenagers and sex. Everyone seems obsessed with it, everyone feels left out, few actually know what they are doing, so everyone claims they are doing it.

There is so much hype about AI we recently collaborated with Procurious on a quick AI challenge for CPOs at the Big Ideas Summit in Chicago. From their savvy answers you’ll see that many procurement leaders understand the value of AI. What we need as a community is transparency on how it affects us here and now.

The new book AI in Procurement explores many realistic use-cases for artificial intelligence within procurement. The authors Sammeli Sammalkorpi and Johan-Peter Teppala were among the first to pilot AI solutions in procurement software and scoured much of the literature available today on the topic to write their book.

Don’t worry. We won’t get in to too many details about the mechanics and jargon of AI. Before we go through the examples from procurement, there is just one thing to understand.

Artificial Intelligence in Procurement

Many people have a somewhat distorted view of AI. They may remember futuristic movies where chrome-plated androids interact in human-like ways, or computer systems that have natural language conversations.

In reality, most AI applications today are a lot more boring and inconspicuous. You’re likely to interact with AI when you search for address details on Google Maps, or look up a playlist of music on Spotify. It’s already a part of the software you use every day, but you rarely see it.

This is much the same in business. Most of the applications of AI we see in procurement come as solutions to existing problems humans have a hard time solving. They are enablers, rather than replacements to human expertise.

AI in Procurement presents the concept of “human machine collaboration” to explain how AI builds on the strengths of both humans and machines.

7 Examples of Artificial Intelligence in Procurement in 2019

Now that we’ve covered the background, let’s dive into those fresh AI examples across seven different areas of the procurement cycle.

Supplier risk management

AI can be used to monitor and identify potential risk positions across the supply chain. For example, RiskMethods identifies new and emerging supply chain risk events by handling data gathered from different sources, helping to identify emerging risks faster.

Purchasing

AI can be used to automatically review and approve purchase orders. For example, it allows employees to order office supplies without requests for approval, making the process leaner and more efficient.

To state an example, in Tradeshift’s platform a chatbot called Ada can be used to check the status of purchases or automatically approve virtual card payments, regardless of the user’s location.

Accounts Payable Automation – Machine learning is increasingly used in accounts payable automation. ML assists in identifying errors and potential fraud in large amounts of automated payments. An example of this is Stampli, which leverages machine learning to speed up payment workflows and automate fraud detection.

Spend Analysis

At Sievo, machine learning algorithms are widely used in spend analysis to improve and speed up a number of processes, including automatic spend classification and vendor matching.

For example, if you have DHL, DHL Freight, Deutschland DHL, and DHL Express in your data, the machine learning algorithms are easily able to consolidate these together as DHL for increased visibility and data coherence.

Supplier Information Management

Big data techniques enable new ways to identify, manage and utilise supplier data across public and private databases. Tealbook is one platform that applies machine learning to supplier data in order to create and maintain accurate supplier records across all systems and areas of the business.

Strategic Sourcing

AI can also be used to manage, guide, and automate sourcing processes. Keelvar’s sourcing automation software uses machine learning for the recognition The reality of AI in procurement 59 of bid sheets and specialises in category-specific eSourcing bots such as raw materials, maintenance and repair.

Contract Management

AI has many potential use-cases in contract management. Seal Software uses optical character recognition (OCR) and advanced text analytics to clean up and consolidate information contained in contracts.

We’re likely to see many more successful examples of AI shared across procurement functions in the coming years. The more we share as a community, the better we get.

If you would like to dive deeper into the topic, you can get early access to AI in Procurement as a free download before the printed book comes on sale on Amazon in 2020.

Three Reasons I’m Excited About Blockchain

Blockchain – is it the answer to procurement and supply chain’s prayers?  Or is it over hyped, another ‘technological innovation’ that promises much and delivers little?

blockchain
Photo by Mert Guller on Unsplash

I must admit I was leaning towards the pessimistic camp – when were those great use cases really going to happen?  I signed up for the Procurious webinar to find out more about how this new technology is impacting supply chains – and what I learned was very exciting:

Blockchain Lets You Focus on What Is Important

One of the pieces of work we all wish would disappear from the day job is the time-consuming process of supplier onboarding. 

Webinar guest IBM Sterling’s Shari Diaz told us about a blockchain-enabled onboarding process that would “give the procurement professional all that time back”. 

Describing immutable records that the supplier would update themselves and third-party validation of accreditation, Shari encouraged us to think of a world where master data management had transferred from the buyer to the supplier.

Imagine what you could do if you didn’t have to worry about more mundane tasks within your role and could instead give more focus and energy to strategic projects!

A New Way of Measuring Value

One way that Professor Olinga Ta’eed is taking forward the development of a blockchain is through the not for profit Transnational Transaction Procurement Foundation.  Since its launch earlier in 2019 the TPP foundation has grown to over 165,000 members, impressive numbers! 

Olinga set out the goals of the TPP as being practical – to “fathom out” use cases like how we can capture and report things like intangible assets using blockchain to give a broader picture of an organisation’s true value.  

Olinga thinks this new reporting will be liberating for procurement professionals allowing a more strategic focus to the role. 

How much more value could we demonstrate if we could capture and record it?

A Re-Alignment of Values for the 21st Century

Both webinar guests thought that the greatest potential for blockchain will be the ability to articulate the alignment of values.  As we move into a world where values are becoming more important, blockchain is going to provide the traceability and trackability that consumers demand. 

As Shari observed “there’s a huge trend for supply chain to be able to demonstrate their values and consumers are starting to speak with their dollar”.

Shari also stressed that blockchain can enable our eco systems to work together.  “Enterprises [typically] depend on partners for 65 per cent of the value they deliver to their customers.  The more collaborative and connected we are – the more efficient and effective we’re going to be”.

So, blockchain technology is ready to give us time back, new ways of measuring value and for our values to be realigned. 

Our webinar guests have given procurement and supply cause to remain optimistic and in fact licence to dare to dream big.

I’ll leave the last words to Professor Ta’eed,

“Blockchain will light up the path for procurement to align with mankind – making procurement and supply chain the single greatest instrument to change the world”.

A recording of the Procurious-IBM Webinar – Blockchain Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer – with panel members Shari Diaz, IBM Sterling, Professor Olinga Ta’eed and host Tania Seary, Procurious is available here

Progress or Perish: How to Push our Profession to the Next Level

Traditional procurement roles will perish if significant progress isn’t made. But how can the profession progress enough to deliver true value?

By @lindsayhenwood on Unsplash

By Ben Tulloch, Managing Director at Accenture

Ask any business executive in Australia how procurement has made their life easier, and they’re more likely to tell you that it’s been a roadblock.

Despite the profession’s brilliant minds, appetite for improvement, and advanced solutions from AI to blockchain and beyond, only 20 per cent of procurement tech projects down under prove successful. The issue, it seems, is something more deep-seated. The modern Australian enterprise is not geared for rapid evolution.

By the time Aussie companies have dedicated years of effort and distraction to available solutions, the market has advanced beyond recognition. What we really need is the ability to rapidly prototype and test ideas, implement them at scale and do it all again next month.

A lack of agile skills has left Australia lagging behind the EU and US. In fact, we’re probably at a 3/10 in terms of our capabilities and maturity, still using procurement tech and processes that harken to the 1970s. As we’re so late in implementing the basics, how can we even begin to place ourselves ahead of the curve?

Progress: The role of the traditional procurement manager will perish if it doesn’t change

There’s a fearmongered risk that jobs will be lost to advanced technologies. At some level, that’s correct: if a theatre nurse implemented AI to predict, trigger and record stock orders in the blockchain, they wipe out the P2P function of procurement. But this doesn’t spell disaster, it opens up new opportunities for growth.

If we can remove the administrative element of the job, procurement professionals can progress from a traditional role and take a more strategic view, rather than just buying stuff. They can leave a legacy and make a tangible difference – socially, environmentally and economically. For example, readily available blockchain solutions have the ability to eradicate modern slavery by providing ultimate transparency across supply chains.

But the skills needed to run a digital control tower or AI stock predictor are different. We’re going to need system integrators, program managers, design thinkers, full-stack engineers, mathematicians and AI experts. How do you rapidly shift engrained national mindsets – quickly and cheaply? A culture of co-design, ecosystem partners and using the success of tangible use cases to build trust are key.

‘Design Thinking’ is the Next Step

One of Accenture’s government clients had small armies of people trying (and failing) to keep up with updating pricing lists. Place an order, and it was most likely attached to the wrong stock number. As a result, buyers lost trust in suppliers and vice versa.

Now imagine if those master pricing lists were housed on the blockchain – transparent, secure and updated in real time? That technology exists, it’s cheap and takes only weeks to implement. But this isn’t a tech problem, it’s a change problem.

In the startup ecosystem, design thinking is in their DNA. Even three months is considered a long time, and products evolve continuously to keep up with market changes. These newer generations of Australian innovators would laugh our outdated tech and processes out the room, instead turning to a slick new app or platform that can be pushed to market within weeks.

But if procurement brought a startup solution to the CMO of a large Australian enterprise, it would likely be met with, “they’re not on our preferred supplier list.”

The Business Case for Innovation

The return on investment for agile solutions is not only profound, it’s immediate. We’ve been working with a major airline in Australia on using AI to predict, prioritise and elevate invoices for large suppliers, and manage changes in very complex supply chain relationships. In doing so, they’ve removed all paper processes, increased transparency, and seen a significant ROI in only three months.

Another major telco client has been tackling customer service with an omnichannel conversational platform that can replicate complex human conversation, comprehend voice, text and multiple trains of thoughts – not just spit out an answer to a direct question. Within months, the bot has compressed contract changes from 3.5 days to 8 minutes. This relatively inexpensive solution has potential solutions for the entire procurement profession.

The best part is that the platform was in live testing by week three. That’s on a live contract with live scaling and live data, three weeks after the idea was suggested. That’s design thinking in action.

The Art of the Impossible

Showcasing the impossible is powerful. If I utter the word ‘blockchain’ to an old-school Australian organisation, they’re likely to palm it off as a futuristic dream. But show them a functional, cheap and efficient blockchain contract in action and they’ll get it. Demystify advanced technology for your workforce, and take the objection off the table.

Collaborate with industry partners to forge a path forward that benefits everyone – not just your company. Start with the problem, and isolate solutions. Sure, there are technical and personal risks involved in evolution. But there are risks with everything in business. Not every idea has to be rolled out permanently across your entire enterprise. But not taking steps towards the future is the biggest risk of all.

At this month’s Big Ideas Summit, procurement professionals will be coming together to understand, challenge and solve the profession’s biggest problems. I’ll be speaking to the power of design thinking in facing the future of procurement, and how an “Industry X.0” mindset can pave the way forward.

The bottom line is that if you do nothing, people will find their way around you. The best way forward is to recognise that you’re not alone – Australia lags behind with you – and then get on the front foot and be ready to progress.

Food Allergy Deaths Avoidable With Blockchain

The recent cases of tragic deaths caused by food allergies has opened afresh the debate on fully transparent supply chains.

Many of you will have seen or read news reports in the past couple of weeks regarding the tragic deaths of two women due to severe allergic reactions to eating pre-prepared food. In both cases, the food in question was purchased from the same retailer, though the resulting actions from the cases have been markedly different.

The cases have highlighted industry-wide issues regarding food packaging and labelling relating to allergens, as well as reigniting the debate on where the responsibility lies for food content and allergen checks within the supply chain.

Inadequate Labelling and Mis-sold Products

The first incident occurred after a woman ate a pre-prepared baguette that had sesame baked into the product, but had not been listed on the product’s ingredient list on its packaging.

A recent inquest found that the retailer had “inadequately labelled” its products, failing to highlight the presence of sesame in the food. While the organisation agreed with the coroner’s verdict, it has thrown a spotlight on industry packaging requirements, particularly when it comes to listing potential allergens.

The second death was as a result of a severe allergic reaction to the presence of dairy protein in a pre-packaged sandwich. However, unlike in the first case, the retailer has pointed the finger of blame squarely at one of its second-tier suppliers, claiming it was mis-sold a guaranteed dairy-free yoghurt.

The supplier in question, with whom the retailer has since ended its relationship, has rejected the claim that its product was to blame. They had their own supply chain issue in February 2018 when they were forced to recall some of its products due to undeclared milk, resulting in it ending a relationship with a third-party supplier. The supplier has denied that the recalled product is the same product as caused the allergic reaction, though the retailer and two independent authorities have conducted tests showing that the yoghurt in question had levels of contamination.

Where the fault lies for the contamination will be established in due course. And though this ultimately pales in comparison to the tragic loss of life, it does raise a couple of serious questions: Where does responsibility lie for ensuring product quality in the supply chain? And what can organisations AND suppliers do to ensure full supply chain transparency?

Introducing Blockchain to the Food Industry

The debate on the first question will continue to rumble on. In reality, the responsibility lies with every party, irrespective of which tier they are in the supply chain. That said, the buck ultimately stops with the end user, retailer or seller to ensure products are fully labelled and they are satisfied they are selling a quality (and safe) product.

The answer to the second question may be closer than you think, however. Blockchain has been discussed at length on Procurious and its applications in the supply chain are well documented.

Plus it helps that the world’s largest retailer, Walmart, has just unveiled its new food industry blockchain ambitions in China. The retailer plans to use the existing, proven, technology to ‘overlay’ the supply chains in the notoriously complex industry.

And with major producers such as Dole, Nestle and Unilever on board, as well as IBM as a technology development partner, this does have the signs of being the first step on a (long) road to success.

Success that could usher in new processes for how food information is obtained, stored and shared, allowing all parties to track the provenance of food from farm to table. This will give all levels of the supply chain the transparency required to know products are both safe and of the highest quality.

With what has been in the new recently, with impacts that none of us can predict and that potentially extend further than any of us know, this may also represent the first step to ensuring the similar tragedies don’t happen again.

Read more on Walmart’s food industry blockchain ambitions here.

Transactional Supply Chain Activities: Your Days Are Numbered

The days of transactional activities in supply chain management are numbered and look set to exit our organisations very rapidly…

Chris Crozier, Chief Digital Officer – Orica International has seen first-hand how the perception of supply chain management has changed over the years.

As little as thirty years ago he can remember there being “very little recognition [of the profession] and the nuances around the skillsets required. In fact, most people talked about the smartest people in the room being in marketing and I saw that there was plenty of opportunity around skillset affirmation around supply chain.”

On Day Three of Career Boot Camp we speak to Chris about the evolution of the supply chain management profession, the importance of embracing new technology and implementing digital transformation.

Supply chain management across company borders

As someone whose, very impressive, career has criss-crossed several industries, Chris is a keen advocate for supply chain professionals working across functions.

“Supply chain is such a beautiful function where you do get that end to end view of an organisation,” he explains.  “We need to make sure that we leverage that and the relationships we have with other functions [including] any career opportunities  – not just for ourselves but for our teams.”

He warns against leaders becoming too defensive of their supply chain talent; “I think that’s a real blind spot in some of the supply chain functions as they stand today. So share the talent and surround yourself with highly capable people but be prepared to move them in and out of supply chain.”

In seizing any opportunities to move talent in and out of teams supply chain pros are facilitating the creation of “a really virtuous cycle of understanding” and ensuring that there are “supply chain evangelists in other functions.”

Indeed, working in both tech and supply chain has proved to be the perfect balance for Chris, “one of the things you get from working in supply chain is a broad analysis and encompassing oversight of the organisation and I think that’s what technology also requires. So there was a lovely fit between the technology understanding that was necessary in a CIO role and that broad business perspective you get from [working in] supply chain.

“Having that very broad business understanding meant I could provide that bridge between business requirements and a technology outcome.” 

The impact of technology on supply chain  

As is the case with every single function in every single organisation, supply chain professionals will be significantly disrupted as a result of incoming technologies.

And Chris, a self-proclaimed advocate and evangelist for the technologies coming through his door believes it is imperative for supply chain professionals to have a decent understanding of the latest technology in order to be successful in the long term.

Professionals need to know “how to apply it, where to apply it, how to leverage it most effectively and, most importantly, what’s coming in in the future that can help you to be even better in your role and therefore have a more productive organisation and ultimately underpin the broader company that you work for.”

Chris believes that the days of transactional activities in supply chain are numbered and will exit the organisation very rapidly, which is, of course, bad news for the supply chain professionals who are doing these transactional activities! “We will move to the world of the seamless end-to-end supply chain, which we were talking about in 1998-1999! We were all talking at that stage about real-time supply and demand activity.”

And Chris believes we’re fast approaching that point today with “the compute power that we have available, the network capacity we have available and the technology we have available.”

“People will talk about blockchain and other technologies and, yes, that’s all part and parcel of the way forward. But ultimately supply chain professionals now need to continue to go up the value curve.

“A lot of the things we do around competitor intelligence, around negotiation strategy and so on will be superceded by the technologies coming through the door.”

“Those things are just going to become endemic as tools for professionals in supply chain so we need to be on top of that, prepared for that and able to leverage that because it’s going to hit us very soon.”

Chris Crozier is speaking on Day Three of Career Boot Camp 2018. Sign up here (it’s free) to listen to his podcast now.

Procurement’s Missing Puzzle Piece

How can the missing puzzle piece make it easier for procurement teams to operate sustainably, improve supply chain transparency and eliminate corruption?

As procurement professionals we’re always talking about how leveraging innovative technology can add value to our organisations.

But less frequently addressed is how technology can make it easier for procurement teams to operate sustainably, improve supply chain transparency and eliminate corruption. 

In our latest Procure with Purpose webinar we’ll be exploring how the latest and greatest in technology innovations can not only help procurement pros deliver business value but also drive and enable purpose-led practice.

Join us on October 10th when we’ll discuss the tech that’s helping procurement  teams to collaborate with their suppliers and  improve transparency; how to communicate the importance of using tech to improve purpose-led procurement and why businesses must integrate tech-led purpose-driven practice into all of their decision making.

How do I register for the webinar?

Registering for The Missing Puzzle Piece: How Technology Can Empower You To Procure With Purpose couldn’t be easier (and, of course, it’s FREE!)

Click here to enter your details and confirm your attendance. We’ll send you a email with a link to the webinar platform in the run up to the event.

I’m already a member of Procurious, do I still need to register?

Yes! If you are already a member of Procurious you must still enroll to access the webinar. We’ll send you a email with a link to the webinar platform in the run up to the event.

When is it taking place?

The webinar takes place on 10th October at 10am EDT/ 3pm BST. Sign up or log in via the form above and we’ll be in touch ahead of the event to provide details on how to join the webinar live.

Help! I can’t make it to the live-stream

No problem! If you can’t make the live-stream you can catch up whenever it suits you. We’ll be making it available on Procurious soon after the event (and will be sure to send you a link) so you can listen at your leisure!

Can I ask a question?

If you’d like to ask one of our speakers a question please submit it via the Discussion Board on Procurious and we’ll do our very best to ensure it gets answered for you.

What is the Procure with Purpose community?

Procure with Purpose is a community for procurement pros who want to deliver value beyond cost savings and efficiencies – shining a light on the biggest issues from Modern Slavery to Environmental Sustainability – and on you, our members, who are already driving exponential change.

Webinar Speakers

Oliver Campbell, Director Procurement & Packaging Engineering

Oliver is a Director of Procurement & Packaging Engineering at Dell Technologies.  He has become one of the most influential thought leaders in the packaging industry by combining innovation and supply chain best practices.  Under his leadership, Dell introduced industry changing materials such as bamboo, mushroom, and molded paper pulp for more environmentally healthier packaging.

Most recently, Dell launched Ocean Plastic packaging with the aim of creating an industry response to tackle the task of the ocean plastic crisis.  Through founding NextWave, a cross-industry consortium of like-minded companies, Dell is creating a commercially viable, and scalable, supply chain that is focused on keeping plastics out of the ocean and in the circular economy.

Oliver’s accomplishments have been highlighted for their business and social influence by Fortune in their 2017 Change the World Companies, and by LinkedIn in their 2017 Top Companies to Work For.  Additionally, the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show recognized his pioneering work in Ocean Plastic with a Best of Innovation Award.  Mr. Campbell holds Bachelor and Master Engineering degrees from Cornell University and an MBA from The University of Texas.  In his free time, you can find him training for his next triathlon.

Justin Sadler Smith, Head of United Kingdom & Ireland, Ariba Cloud Procurement at SAP Ariba

Justin Sadler-Smith is head of SAP Ariba UK and Ireland, procurement and supply chain thought leader, and cognitive procurement ambassador. He is one of a growing number of procurement leaders around the world who helps procurement and supply-chain teams ensure that fair labor practices are in play across their global supply chains by harnessing innovative technology and increasing competitive advantage

Padmini Ranganathan, Global Vice President – SAP Ariba

Padmini Ranganathan is Vice President, Products and Innovation for Supplier Risk, Compliance and Sustainability solutions for SAP Ariba.  In this role, she is responsible for product strategy and engineering and leads a team of experts focused on delivering solutions that enable risk-aware, sustainable and ethical supply chains.

Prior to SAP Ariba, Padmini led the Analytics for Industries solutions marketing team at SAP which brought to market the first analytical applications and content for “art of the possible”  industry and line of business application scenarios. Before joining SAP, Padmini worked at Oracle, where she was part of the procurement product management team that delivered the first web-based, self-service applications for procurement and a technical consultant in the areas of order management, inventory & distribution, procurement and manufacturing.

Padmini is a passionate advocate for bringing technology to business users that simplifies and enriches their daily work and decision making. And as the Products & Innovation lead for SAP Ariba’s Procurement with Purpose initiatives, she is dedicated to helping businesses balance their costs with conscience and make an impact on the larger world.

Padmini has a post-graduate diploma in computer science from UC Berkeley, California, and a bachelor’s degree in commerce with a major in Cost & Management Accounting from Bangalore University, India.

Sign up for The Missing Puzzle Piece: How Technology Can Empower You To Procure With Purpose ahead of 10th October.