Tag Archives: tech

Still Trying To Understand Blockchain? Here’s The One Thing You Really Need To Know

Blockchain is so much more then cryptocurrency, and despite the scepticism, it is here to stay.

By Dean Drobot/ Shutterstock

I’ve had a blog on blockchain on my mind for a while. As far as business buzzwords and hype, it has to be right up there with the best of them. Everyone is talking about it, or asking about it. Questions can be quite generic ranging from what exactly is it, what does it do and do I need to care about? And then then are the questions of scepticism and challenge including; is it even real, and does it even do anything? Amongst all of that, is the one we have all heard, or perhaps been the one we have actually asked; that’s got something to do with bitcoin, doesn’t it?

Ah, bitcoin.  We’ve all heard about it now and many who have followed the heady rise have had the dream of making millions from the cryptocurrency. Hitting dizzying heights of USD$19,000+ in 2017, we were all wondering why we had not invested in 2016 when it was hovering around the USD$600 mark. Thankfully, we were able to quickly congratulate ourselves for not being susceptible to the whims of the market when it fell to USD$3,000 earlier this year. And if you’ve been watching it over the last few months? Well it’s back at USD$10,000+, so you may be either celebrating or experiencing another round of FOMO.

So, what has all this got to do with blockchain? For many, the two are essentially the same, or the mention of one prompts an association with the other. If you only feel like you need to know one thing about blockchain, it should be that it is not bitcoin. Is it connected to bitcoin?  Yes, in so far that the technology that underpins bitcoin is what we call blockchain. But blockchain is so much more then cryptocurrency, and despite the scepticism, it is here to stay. Here are a few other considerations that may be helpful once you make the disassociation from bitcoin:

Understand the maturity level

The demand and potential for blockchain application saw Venture Capital firms invest more then $1 billion in blockchain start ups as early as 2017. McKinsey classifies blockchain as being in the Pioneering stage of technology development. While there are a plethora of use cases that have been identified by organisations and also by governments, many are at ideation stage. Others have progressed to proof of concept stage. As with anything that is new, there has not been enough time to implement at scale and observe the impact across a whole industry or organisation. That is a question of time and opportunity more than likelihood or value, and there is no doubt that as the technology matures and more experimentation takes place, the more we will learn. The prediction from many industry leaders is that it will become as ubiquitous as the internet. Until then, it is important to manage expectations around what it can and will do. 

Know what to use it for

As with many emerging technologies, the temptation to pioneer and innovate has led many organisations to force a solution of blockchain into a problem or opportunity that it may not be right for. We need blockchain or blockchain will solve this is a refrain that has been heard in many a meeting across industries and geographies. And it could be exactly right. But the important thing to remember is that the principle of value and outcome applies to all new technology, even one as cool as blockchain. Work out what problem you are trying to solve; if it involves many parties, transparency, and trust, it may be exactly what you need. The financial sector has been leading the way with blockchain in KYC (Know Your Customer) initiatives to improve detection of fraud and integrity of financial transactions. In addition to the commercial benefits of mitigating monetary losses, banks and other financial institutions are also expecting to realise efficiencies from process savings. With savings of between 20-30 per cent estimated, it is an experiment worth undertaking.

It will change industries and practices

Blockchain provides a level of transparency, validation and security that has been needed, but has not been able to be achieved previously. Why are these important?  Questions of origin and ownership have become increasingly important as we become more digital savvy. In some processes, it has always been a critical dependency with onerous and time consuming operational activity to execute it. Property is a great example of this. Do you have a right to sell this property, will I be the legal owner if I proceed with the transaction?  In other cases, it may be a factor in a decision making process. As a consumer, how do I really know where this food item has come from? Is it really organic, or is it simply a marketing strategy? Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior are leveraging blockchain as part of an offensive strategy to deal with counterfeit goods. Initially applying to new items, the eventual intent is to be able to authenticate the item through the resale process and therefore manage it throughout its lifetime.

So, is blockchain more then bitcoin? Absolutely. And while it is still in its very early stages, keep watching. As a technology, there is no doubt that it in its infancy but this should only temper expectations and not prevent experimentation.

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“I Just Don’t See How Blockchain Can Apply To My Business”

Blockchain naysayers are echoing the words of short-sighted CEOs in the early 1990s who refused to recognise the disruptive potential of the Internet. American Blockchain Council Executive Director Jack Shaw demonstrates why businesses need Blockchain as a cornerstone of their digital transformation strategies.

Business Technology Futurist Jack Shaw is a keynote speaker at Procurious’ upcoming Big Ideas Summit in Chicago. Register now as a digital delegate.

Very few procurement functions are not currently going through some sort of digital transformation. Typically, the transformation includes building digital tools to enhance customer engagement, robotic process automation for rules-based activities, the use of big data and analytics to bolster decision-making, IoT integration, moving your business to the cloud, and – for some – bringing cognitive computing on board.

What’s missing from this daunting to-do list? The integration of Blockchain technology.

Jack Shaw explains why Blockchain needs to be a fundamental part of every business’ digital strategy: “Blockchain is unique among emerging technologies. Other technologies, such as IoT, can be extremely powerful as a ‘point solution’. This means they apply at a particular point in the business process, or even at a particular geographical location in the supply chain, to increase accuracy and speed.

“Blockchain, however, provides the infrastructural glue that ties these disparate technologies together into a single, coherent business ecosystem. You can have thousands of participants accessing timely, shared data, which allows you to step back and think about how the whole system can work more effectively.”

Two exciting benefits Blockchain technology will bring to the supply chain

Speed: Shaw talks about the incredible increase in speed of international trade transactions that Blockchain can deliver. “When I spoke at a global big data conference in China recently, a delivery of cotton from Houston U.S.A. had arrived at the local Chinese port three days earlier. With an international shipment like that, the paperwork involved normally takes around 10 days to settle. However, this particular shipment had been arranged with Blockchain and scanning technology, and it took a mere 10 minutes in total.”

Validation of providence: Supply chain professionals know the importance of transparency when it comes to sourcing products. Even if your first, second or third-tier suppliers seem legit, there’s also the risk that something illegal exists further down your supply chain, such as conflict minerals or modern slavery. With Blockchain, every step of the products’ lifecycle can be tracked and validated, all the way back to the extractive industries. As Shaw says, “Lack of visibility will no longer be an excuse.”

Cybersecurity and Blockchain technology

While it isn’t a magic bullet for cybersecurity challenges, Blockchain creates a level of trust that’s well beyond anything that has existed previously. Transactions are readily accessible (and transparent) for those who are authorised to see it, and un-hackable by those who aren’t. Not only are financial transactions more secure through Blockchain technology; it’s also very powerful for protecting data.

Shaw cautions that hackers could still find their way in by feeding incorrect data through in-house systems. “In a way, Blockchain will step up the requirement for improved data integrity. Technology such as cognitive computing only works if the data is valid.”

The Internet of Things (IoT) is another frontline for cybersecurity. “How do you know that the data you rely on to make decisions is actually from a particular device, and that it hasn’t been hacked or spoofed? Blockchain can provide an immutable record that uniquely identifies a data-providing ‘thing’ to ensure that you know your information is coming from that source.”

Shaw gives the example of odometers, where unethical car dealers can hire digital hackers to alter the mileage. Bosch has recently integrated Blockchain technology with odometers which upload digital readings hourly. “You can extend this concept across big data, analytics and cognitive”, says Shaw. “It only works if the data is valid, and Blockchain is one way to ensure that.”

Blockchain technology will be one of the many disruptive forces discussed on 28th September at the Big Ideas Summit in Chicago. Register now (it’s FREE!) as a digital delegate to access all the news and content from the event.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose: Why The Young Are Snapping Up Tech Jobs

Job satisfaction comes down to three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Does this explain why millennials are dominating in the tech industry? 

Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock.com

Numerous industries have been accused of many different types of hiring bias and flawed hiring policy.

The service industry, for example, has long been subject to questions about its lack of affirmative action in this area based on the demographic of candidates that tend to be allocated these roles. The same applies even within typically diverse workforces.

Hiring bias at its worst

Few sectors have faced the intense scrutiny aimed at the tech world in recent years, owing to its pervasive reputation for hiring vastly disproportionate percentages of younger males.

A quick Google search of “industry hiring bias” results in almost an entire first page of links to think pieces about Silicon Valley.

There are countless arguments to be made on the subject, many of which rightly focus on the urgency of addressing this gender imbalance. One popular proposal for tapping into the vast, and shamefully underused, female talent pool suggests funding schools to better promote careers for women in computer science.

But if the tech industry is also heavily skewed towards youth, how long would those careers remain satisfying for?

Job satisfaction at the biggest tech firms

This latter question prompted a recent research project by online compensation and benefits analyst Payscale. By gathering data from almost 35,000 workers across 17 of the biggest tech firms in the world – including eBay, Google, Cisco, Facebook, Samsung, Intel, Apple and Microsoft – researchers attempted to gain an overview of how employees’ job satisfaction levels mapped on to various metrics such as median age, early and mid-career pay levels, and total years of industry experience.

When transposed as a series of infographics, the data seems to highlight some marked trends across the board: in particular, workforces with higher average ages in the study group (notably IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and Samsung) were among the lowest-scoring in terms of overall job satisfaction.

Moreover, many of the same names also placed highly in terms of their employees’ length of tenure with the company and total years of industry experience, while coming in amongst the lower rankings for both early- and mid-career median pay levels. Taken at face value, this immediately presents various possible scenarios.

One natural observation would be that the ‘more satisfied’ workers were often among those being paid the most relative to their experience, which, let’s face it, doesn’t seem much of a hot take.

What appears to be a fairly direct inverse correlation between median age and reported job satisfaction is potentially more interesting, but the question remains as to whether this phenomenon is in any way unique to the tech industry. After all, there’s every chance that the methodology of the study simply benefits companies who have a high turnover of younger, less experienced workers, whose expectations and needs are typically less complex at such an early career stage.

Are millennials best-suited to tech jobs?

When it comes specifically to tech roles, and the fact that they’re so commonly filled by younger-than-average staff (the national median age for a US worker is 42; at Facebook, it’s just 29), many people don’t think it’s quite that simple.

The much-quoted author, speaker and ‘business guru’ Daniel Pink, responsible for such widely read titles as Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, might be chief among them. Pink’s theories around what ultimately leads to lasting job satisfaction focus on the triumvirate of ‘autonomy, mastery and purpose’. In other words, a sense of independence, a feeling of capability, and a genuine motivation to keep plugging away.

Millennials entering the tech industry may be particularly well-placed to tick all three of those key boxes because of, not in spite of, their age. Pink notes that, having grown up in an environment of always-on connectivity that didn’t fully exist 20 years ago, millennials are finding it much easier to adapt as the internet rapidly erodes the decades-old concept of a standard office-based work week.

He also points out that today’s all-pervasive digital culture means new graduates no longer seek to separate their work and social lives to nearly the same extent as previous generations did. As a result, the boundary between professional performance and success in other areas of millennials’ lives is arguably less clearly defined; this in turn becomes an obvious source of general motivation that perfectly suits the thrust and structure of many cutting-edge tech firms.

Combatting age discrimination

The extent to which these sorts of theories hold water is very much up for debate. What we do know is that the debate is heating up: last year, Bloomberg reported that in just eight short years, 226 complaints pertaining to age discrimination had been registered against the top 150 Silicon Valley firms.

While tech employers continue to perform well in global Best Employer lists, the conversation will certainly benefit from some longer-term data as we start to develop a clearer picture of career movement across the wider industry in the coming years.

Long Tail Spend 101: New School Approaches

Procurement ought to care a whole lot about long tail spend and lay out the best way to manage it in the “consumerisation of tech” era…

I have no doubt that agility, innovation, and adding value to the business should be of paramount focus to procurement teams evolving beyond cost-center status. Who wants to be in the back office pinching pennies while the rest of the business struggles to keep up with the new rules of the digital revolution? But as leaders keep one eye on those critical matters, the other must still cover the basics of the procurement practice to deliver the right experience and results. That means continuous tracking and improvement of spend influence, which includes long-tail spend management.

Long tail spend 101

Long tail spend is not strategically managed or under management. This means any spend without a contract framework agreement or negotiated work order. In organisations that have invested significant effort into strategic category management, managed spend tends to be around 80 per cent of all expenditures, leaving long tail spend at 20 per cent. It also includes a small, but significant amount of spend with managed suppliers, which is known as hidden tail. This spend includes purchases made from managed suppliers, but these purchases are outside existing contracts.

The remaining tail spend tends to come from roughly 80 per cent of the total number of suppliers. Often this will be fragmented: ad hoc purchases from multiple suppliers, low-value transactions at one-time vendors, non-purchase order spend, off-contract spend, etc. When all the long tail spend is added together it becomes the biggest overall supplier! This biggest supplier costs you a lot of effort and time, which is not clearly visible within the organisation.

What is the business value of tail spend management?

Until recently, the generally accepted figure for how much sourcing organisations can save through managed tail spend has been 1 – 5 per cent (the less mature the organisation, the more the saving). However, analysts at The Hackett Group, concluded that this figure might be higher: as much as 7.1 per cent. High-value maverick buying that should have been strategically sourced was cited as a factor in raising this figure (30 per cent of respondents estimated 10 per cent or more in savings). This underlines the importance of gaining visibility of tail spend.

Apart from up to 7 per cent  savings, what are the other benefits of managing long tail spend? First, by better managing long tail spend, you can significantly reduce the number of transactions and the related costs of procurement, and in other departments such as finance. This will help minimize the number of internal resources (sometimes senior) working with tail spend suppliers to further reduce procurement costs. These savings can be significant considering that the administrative cost of each pound spent can be as high as 35 per cent. Improving the visibility of low-value spend suppliers will create opportunities to identify sourcing savings and supplier consolidation.

Second, increasing strategically managed spend, and managing long tail spend, will result in increased contract compliance, leading to further savings. Added to this, suppliers are more likely to offer increased discounts when they are the sole providers for a specific category, or when a set volume of purchases is guaranteed.

Third, beyond cost savings, managing long tail spend helps eliminate noncompliant suppliers and consolidate larger suppliers, which leads to reduced business risk, and a reduced risk of fraud across the supply chain. This also increases the chance of your organization being compliant to external legislation.

The visibility challenge

One of the main difficulties with long tail spend management is poor data visibility, caused by factors such as complex supply chains; different IT systems and data sources; and, fragmented and disconnected business processes such as sourcing, contract management, and procurement. Also, the sheer number of suppliers, items, transactions, and the high number of business stakeholders can simply overwhelm some organizations.

There are often not enough available resources with the right skills to analyse the problem and set a corrective action plan. Unfortunately, neither strategic category managers nor operational procurement agents tend to have the knowledge or skills to handle the long tail. Organizations that don’t have clearly set policies or well-defined processes are more likely to lack effective control. Part of this process must be constant maintenance to prevent slippage. A good analogy for this aspect is that of keeping a garden. Just as a neat and orderly garden will become overgrown if neglected, maverick spend will creep into the spend cube. This results in a higher percentage of noncompliant purchases, often with low-value transactions and small-volume suppliers.

Finally, there is often a lack of adequate tools to help the organization analyze and manage long tail spend in an efficient manner. A purely manual approach to tail spend management quickly becomes cumbersome and error-prone without the right tool support. There is no quick fix for overcoming these obstacles, but the benefits of doing so are estimated by different sources to be between 15 – 20 per cent through reduced procurement cost, increased efficiency, supplier consolidation, additional sourcing savings, and decreased business risk.

The smart approach to long tail spend management

Organisations should first analyse their spend data with a thorough spend and supplier assessment. This type of spend analysis exercise helps gain an understanding of the current state and will serve as a foundation for a business case in readiness for the next step. The next step is to gain top management and stakeholder backing. To be successful with a long tail spend management initiative, it is necessary to have the buy-in of your C-suite, i.e., the CPO and CFO, by means of a solid business case and clear description of the savings outcome.

Establishing the support of top management will also help with the third step, which is to set-up clear policies and processes to drive the long tail management initiative. This includes compliance policies, preferred vendor lists, no purchase order–no pay policies, etc. The processes should also include automated procurement, with catalog suppliers, as well as spot buy, and free text orders channeled through a tactical and operational procurement team. The next step involves, selecting and implementing the right tool to the complete solution for long tail spend management. Consider an easy-to-use eProcurement system with a good search engine featuring rich content, efficient buying channels, and support for spot buy and tactical eSourcing.

Finally, setting up a dedicated team to monitor long tail spend suppliers is key to a complete solution for long tail spend. Spot buying and operational-free text orders at preferred suppliers will run more efficiently with a dedicated group managing the process. It is also possible to outsource this work to an external team.

In closing, it is important to realise that there is no silver bullet to managing long tail spend. Without clear policies or processes to guide an organisation on what to do and who needs to do it, there’s little that can be done to optimise and manage tail spend. By combining the right tools with the right approach, you can gain an additional level of visibility and savings, and, in turn, greater spend influence.

This post was adapted from the IBX Business Network white paper, Using Long Tail Spend Management to Achieve Savings, published in 2016. Tradeshift acquired IBX in early 2017.