Tag Archives: technological disruption

The One Thing Everyone Keeps Getting Wrong About Digital Transformation

While digital technologies have made the pathway to digital transformation the opportunity that every organisation is seeking to capitalise on, what many organisations get wrong is the focus on the technology…

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There’s no doubt that we have been in the digital revolution for a while now. It may have been a slow start as we came to terms with the power and capability of our smartphones that precipitated the customer centric, anywhere-anytime shift.

Futurists pre-empted the transformation that was coming by positioning a future of mobility, IoT and artificial intelligence, while tech savvy organisations made some early investments and experimented with analytics and automation, learning very quickly how to capitalise on technologies many of us were still trying to define.

Fast forward 10 years and we surely must have everything worked out and locked down. After all, we have had enough time to observe those who have gone before and experiment ourselves, both as consumers and as leaders in organisations, irrespective of our role or industry. It should be the very definition of a no-brainer.

The Current State

Taking a look at the current state, things seem to be a little different. Yes, there have been tech-savvy organisations like John Deere who have managed to leverage digital capabilities and redefine their business model to open up new revenue streams. And we are all familiar with the digital disruptors coming from digital natives like Google, Amazon, Uber and Tesla.

And we have all heard the catch cry of Disrupt before you are disrupted. Indeed, it has probably been the opening for many a workshop on digital transformation initiatives making their way into the leadership programs of organisations.

Is it a money question then? There’s no doubt that the global financial crises, combined with the impact of increasing customer expectations and global competition have exacerbated financial pressure on organisations.

The internet has proven to be a double edged sword for many; enabling access to markets of consumers that would have previously been impossible, while also giving the very same consumers access to competitors, feedback and reviews of others, and pricing transparency that has not previously been possible. Everyone has had to up their game.

All About the Money?

With spend in digital initiatives estimated in 2018 at $1.3 trillion, it’s a tough position to advocate that the investment and focus has not been there. Digital initiatives are defined as any digital capabilities aimed at improving customer value, new growth and monetization opportunities and driving improved efficiencies.

So the categories are pretty broad, and the digital capabilities equally so. Moving from a spreadsheet to a web based form could be loosely termed digital, as could automating a process flow, experimenting with RPA, or enabling customers to order from a website. In essence, there are a multitude of different options before we even get to chatbots, customer preference insights, predictive asset maintenance and hypotheses generation.

So why do we keep hearing about how hard it is to execute effectively with consistent research telling us that 70 per cent of transformation efforts fail?

While digital technologies have made the pathway to digital transformation, the opportunity that every organisation is seeking to capitalise on, what many organisations (70 per cent of them as noted above) get wrong is the focus on the technology.

As an innovator in the early stages of the digital era, that may have been understandable. Working with the unknown, and by definition and nature, first-of-a-kind initiatives, it was important to understand what the technology could do and its limitations.

But in 2018, why does this still account for such an overwhelming focus of an organisations digital transformation agenda? The best way to deal with that question may be by taking a look at what the organisations that are in the 30 per cent who achieve success actually do.

People and culture matter

Watching my 10 year old nephew master the iPad with a skill and confidence I can only aspire to is an exercise in amazement and humility; amazement at all the functionality he is able to access to expedite what he is doing, and humility knowing that I am not ever going to come close.

Taking the ego aside, it reflects the very important point that the technology being used has degrees of perceived value generation and productivity firstly, only when it is used and secondly, with an increasing value the greater and more extensive the use.

So when we say people matter, what we really mean is digital transformation is a change to the way a company works and for the intended value to be realised organisations must incorporate education, training, and adoption strategies that help employees understand why the transformation is happening, how it will impact them, and how accepting and adapting to the initiative will enhance the way they work and the business performs.

Process Matters

It’s very easy to dismiss the process of any function or model as the thing that happens behind the scenes. It’s not usually the subject of an extensive marketing campaign and the people in many process areas may not even have a line of sight to the end customer. 

There may be an instances where consumers may complain about steps in the process that they may need to navigate to get something resolved. I need to admit at this point to being one of those annoying customers that will challenge how something works if I am caught up in a cycle of bureaucracy with some unfortunate contact centre assistant.

But process matters because so many organisations will deploy a technology solution and not or re-engineer a process to reflect the new way of working that the technology should enable.  As a result teams end up complaining that they are stuck with a new technology which does not work at best, and creates more work at worst.

The criticism then gears towards the technology not the implementation strategy that supported it.

Challenging Fundamentals

Business models matter: How organisations arrange themselves in a digital transformation matters. Traditional models are hierarchy based and decisions are made on positional authority. Team and role structures define who does what, and everyone’s role is clear and supported by a position description. Digital transformation challenges many, if not all of these fundamentals. 

Implementing change on this scale, for at its essence this is what digital transformation is, requires different ways of working and different mindsets. It requires acknowledging that your nephew may have more experience even at 10 years old, then you do, irrespective of a long career as an executive.

It’s about who knows what, not credentials that may be impressive, however not best suited to that particular piece of work. And it involves understanding that teams are dynamic, decisions need to be made differently, and a shared focus on outcomes is how digital value is generated and how digital transformations succeed.

How Prepared Is Procurement For The Arrival Of The Tech Disruptors?

If A.I. can’t tell the difference between an apple and an owl, can it really take over our jobs?

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The future has arrived. Technology trends have moved from being forecasted, to disruptors to being, well…here! But how prepared is procurement to step up to the challenge? Will procurement evolve to incorporate and embrace these technologies or will we miss the opportunity to be the next Spotify or Uber.

In this article we take a look under the hood at some of the “it” crowd and see how tech disruptors can be repositioned to be enablers.

Automation

Automation has often been referenced as the reason for mass job losses and replacement of people in the workforce. Is this a realistic view of what automation is?

Automation refers to the systemisation of processes to create efficiencies. It is a programme that executes a particular task that is typically something that is repetitive and monotonous (as opposed to A.I. which is mimicking multiple tasks and is attempts to apply causation responses).

Automation can be used to replace menial tasks and ultimately release people to do other things that are more worthy of their time. Automation can help people to repurpose their time and spend it in other areas of their job that can add more value to the business, like stakeholder engagement for example. This repurposed time enables people to focus on the strategic aspects of their role rather than being purely reactive and task orientated.

Blockchain

Blockchain is effectively a filing cabinet in the cloud. It records transactions (a “block”) and each block forms part of a chain. The chain becomes a valuable information source and creates a collective environment where everyone can access everything. It is this network that can revolutionize how we experience things as it can connect previously unconnected parts of a supply chain.

Some examples include customers being able to trace coffee beans used in their morning brew from plantation to cup. Or the ability to trace the cacao plant to a single chocolate bar.  Procurement could utilise this technology to link supply chains like never before and provide true customer centric solutions (be it internal or external customers).

The applications are endless, but are we ready for it? What steps are procurement taking to ready themselves for potential new ways of working?

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.)

This is perhaps the biggest tech taboo of all, the ultimate fear mongering scenario. The term A.I. can imply to some people that technology will be able to create its own intelligence and that the intelligence may keep on evolving – ruling humans obsolete. This is not correct! A.I. technology requires humans to tell it what the world is. Humans are required to create the codes, algorithms and software that make it work.

There are many things that A.I. automation algorithms can’t always get right, like the infamous owl vs apple fail. A.I. requires a human to tell it what is an owl and what is an apple but there are certain subtleties of being human that simply can’t be trained.

While this provides a hearty belly laugh at the expense of the technology, it helps to demonstrate the gulf that exists between A.I. being able to realistically replace humans. A.I. is not a threat to all people in the workforce.

A.I. can be used to enhance the customer experience for example chatbots. It can also be used to programme population of key contract information instead of someone having to manually type it out. The application for A.I. in procurement would create huge efficiencies to enable us to get on with the real work.

Cryptocurrency

The advent of bitcoin changed the basic concept of how we view money. It combined an old world concept with new wave technology. It didn’t burn out or fade away it is still going strong.

The advent of cryptocurrency helps to pose the question of what could be the bitcoin of the future?

Will procurement be able to trade online for goods and services? Why not! It was impossible to imagine bitcoin taking off many years ago and look where it is now. Will contracts for goods and services be required? If the divide between the supply and buyer side of the fence is dissolving then what purpose will contracts serve in the future.

Sore head?

If you have tech overwhelm, don’t worry. This is all you need to remember:

  1. Humans won’t be replaced any time soon
  2. Technology is here and if you haven’t noticed, you’re probably about to be bypassed
  3. Procurement needs to up its game with the incorporation of technology and see it as an enabler
  4. Creative thinking is the precursor to adopting and utilising technology effectively. Release people from menial tasks and engage them in different areas of the business

But wait, the blockchain action doesn’t stop here! Join us on October 15 with blockchain experts Shari Diaz, Innovation Strategy and Operations Program Director, IBM Watson Supply Chain and Professor Olinga Ta’eed, Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance in this webinar brought to you by IBM and Procurious. Click here to register for Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer.

Supplier-Enabled Innovation Is An Opportunity To Add Value

Businesses are tapping into the expertise of their supplier network to bring new products to market faster and streamline their processes.

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Where do new ideas come from? For many organisations, the answer is research and development. But imagine if the R&D department included not only your own people, but those from hundreds or even thousands of your suppliers too.

This is the promise of supplier-enabled innovation (SEI), which enables companies to tap into the expertise of their supplier network to develop new products and services or refine existing ones.

It’s not exactly a new idea, but according to David Rae, head of the Supplier-Enabled Innovation Center, it is an underutilised one. “If you have thousands of suppliers and a portion of them have R&D divisions focused on your sector, then you’d be mad not to tap into that resource,” he says.

Companies that combine their innovation efforts with those of their suppliers typically bring products to market faster, giving them a competitive advantage. The inevitable risks and costs of developing new products or services are also spread among a wide network of stakeholders. And due to their specific expertise, suppliers are often able to suggest product improvements that are unlikely to occur to internal teams.

It makes sense to partner with companies specialising in a particular area, says Omer Abdullah, co-founder and managing director of The Smart Cube, which provides procurement, analytics and research expertise. He uses the example of a packaging supplier to illustrate the point. “They’re the ones who have a vested interest in knowing what the latest packaging types are, what the latest packaging sizes are and what are consumers demanding,” he explains.

That’s certainly true in the case of Bayer, which works closely with suppliers such as Schott to find the best packaging for specific drugs. By collaborating early in the ampoule or vial selection process, with Schott contributing its expertise in how certain active ingredients interact with different types of containers, new medication can be brought to market in a quick and safe manner.

The procurement team are ideally placed to drive the innovation partnerships behind SEI, acting as the link between internal R&D, sales and marketing teams, and suppliers. Johnson & Johnson, for example, has focused on turning procurement into a team of “innovation scouts”, seeking out suppliers who understand emerging trends and plan their business accordingly.

This is one of the vital elements of SEI: if you can’t find innovative suppliers to work with, then the whole concept quickly falls apart. If you’re interested in using SEI to improve your R&D function, for example, “you need to take into account things like what percentage of their [the supplier’s] revenue they are putting towards R&D, their strategic goals and where they’re actually headed as a company”, says Mr Rae.

It can be tempting to focus on the current supply chain when selecting SEI partners, but this may not offer the kind of cutting-edge innovation that will really expand internal capabilities, says Simon McGuire, health systems leader for Philips UK and Ireland. “I believe a good procurement team will ensure any supplier activity is initiated with clear alignment and agreement on capability gaps and unmet customer needs, together with an ability to secure the required technology and skillsets from the marketplace,” he says.

An awareness of market trends and shifts, competitor moves and the company’s own patent pipeline is also a key part of an informed view of what suppliers might be able to offer. “For me the most essential element of a good supplier partnership that will deliver is the strong alignment of goals and visions, with clear definitions, responsibilities and objectives from the start,” says Mr McGuire.

Online platforms are a relatively common way of communicating innovation challenges to supplier networks. Philips, for example, has an open innovation portal called SPICE, which allows suppliers, companies and individual inventors to collaborate to both view Philips innovation challenges and suggest ideas of their own. But the success of these platforms depends upon suppliers receiving relevant, timely feedback on their ideas and transparency around the development of any proposals.

Indeed, the trust at the heart of any good partnership flows both ways. “Surprisingly, suppliers do not always take their innovation first to their largest or even their most profitable, highest-margin customers,” says Clive R. Heal, a procurement innovation expert who leads Voicinn, a group of global innovation keynote speakers, and founded and led the Roche Innovation Center of Excellence. “They target customers with whom they have the closest relationships and see the best longer-term growth opportunities.”

Both companies should also be clear about who will own the intellectual property (IP) for any new products or services before embarking on a partnership. For instance, would a licensing approach, with the company granted exclusive rights to use a particular technology or service for an agreed period, work best? Or is a joint IP model the better option? Many innovation partnerships fail to clear this hurdle due to competing interests, Mr Heal points out.

Regardless of which ownership approach is agreed, successful SEI initiatives nearly always follow a long-term approach to innovation, focusing on mutual benefits for both customer and supplier. In other words, a true partnership that runs counter to the “not invented here” syndrome still found in many businesses.

“Overcoming this is difficult,” says Mr Rae. “But with the disruption now happening – the platform business models cropping up, the growth in startups, the fact that innovation is taking place everywhere and not just in R&D labs – companies will have to change, otherwise they’re going to get disrupted too.”

This article, edited by Peter Archer, was taken from the Raconteur Future of Procurement report, as featured in The Times.  

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After A Slow Start, AI Is Starting To Make Its Mark

Procurement has traditionally lagged behind when it comes to technology, but does artificial intelligence offer an opportunity for things to change?

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is going to make business better, at least that is what the solutions providers would have us believe. Businesses will be more agile, more efficient and, importantly, more profitable. Yet it still feels procurement is behind the curve when it comes to AI adoption, despite those that have implemented things, such as machine-learning and AI-driven data analysis, seeing the benefits.

Simon Geale, vice president of client solutions at transformation procurement services provider Proxima, says: “It is early days. On the procurement side of things, we are seduced by the hype over practicality. Most of what we are seeing is either aggregating data or speeding up a process, so far.”

That is not to say that businesses are shunning AI. A recent survey by McKinsey found 47 per cent of companies have embedded at least one AI function in their business processes, up from 20 per cent in 2017.

McKinsey’s research showed that while most companies were adopting AI in areas such as service operations, marketing and product development, a significant number have started to use the technology in managing their supply chains.

Some sectors, such as retail, are adopting the technology far more rapidly in supply chain management than others.

It may be time for those businesses on the long tail of adoption to speed things up. Of those that have adopted AI in supply chain management, McKinsey reports 76 per cent have seen moderate or significant benefits.

So how are companies using AI? A survey by RELX Group late last year shows a focus on using AI and machine-learning principally to increase efficiencies or worker productivity (51 per cent), to inform future business decisions (41 per cent) and to streamline processes (39 per cent).

There are those in procurement who believe AI will destroy their jobs. Yet not all are convinced of this nightmare scenario.

Trudy Salandiak of the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply says: “Unlike many professionals, we think procurement will be future-proofed from being completely taken over by technology due to the human interaction and relationship management required.

“What it will do is provide much more visibility over supply chains to manage risk and seek out opportunities for innovation. It will also take away the process back-office side of the role to allow procurement teams to focus on more strategic areas.”

Ms Salandiak sees a role for AI in quicker and more accurate fraud detection, intelligent invoice matching and categorising vendors to rank their strategic importance in the supply chain.

AI chatbots have started to be used to help businesses articulate their needs with procurement, instead of completing lengthy requests on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. This echoes the voice experience consumers get through the likes of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Turkish telecoms company Turkcell has implemented a procurement chatbot, which learns continuously and simulates interactive procurement professionals’ conversations with business partners and vendors by using key pre-calculated user phrases and auditory or text-based signals. The chatbot interfaces with the company’s ERP system and it has enabled procurement professionals to cut out non-value-added activities and allocate their time to more strategic topics.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s Moyee Coffee has been working on a project in Ethiopia where farmers, roasters and consumers can access data as beans are moved from farm to cup. Consumers are able to use QR codes on the back of coffee packs to see where the beans have been sourced and how much the farmers have been paid, bringing unprecedented transparency to the supply chain. The project uses Bext360’s Bext-to-Brew platform with AI, blockchain and internet of things technology.

As consumers demand more authenticity and transparency, this trend is likely to continue.

The forecast value of AI to the global economy is being recognised by the World Economic Forum (WEF). In September, the WEF’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution unveiled a plan to develop the first AI procurement policy.

The work is being done in conjunction with the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. A pilot starts in July and it is hoped it will be rolled out in December. This will include high-level guidelines as well as an explanatory workbook for procurement professionals. A further eight countries have expressed interest in extending the pilot globally.

The reason for putting together a policy now is that “regulation tends to be too slow”, says Kay Firth-Butterfield, WEF’s head of AI.

“From the procurement perspective, it’s drawing a line in the sand, saying this is how we expect AI to be produced in our country and we will not accept AI products that do not meet these criteria. It is agile governance,” says Ms Firth-Butterfield.

The technology will also allow public sector employees to do more strategic work. “In government, there are back-office gains to be had to free up civil servants to do more,” she says, adding that work on AI procurement in the public sector is expected to transfer to the private sector.

“Governments want their citizens to be at forefront of developing and using this tech, and benefiting from the economic gains,” says Ms Firth-Butterfield. “Governments’ significant buying power can drive private sector adoption of these standards, even for products that are sold beyond government.”

The 53 per cent of companies that have not started implementing AI may like to start thinking about it now.

This article, edited by Peter Archer, was taken from the Raconteur Future of Procurement report, as featured in The Times.  


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What Can Yoda Teach Us About The Kraljic Matrix?

The Kraljic Matrix revolutionised Procurement in 1983. Now the world looks very different. Is it time for an upgrade?

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The year was 1983. This was the year that the Internet was created. Bill Gates unleashed Microsoft World on the market. Star Wars Return of the Jedi was playing in the cinema. I was nine. And a director at McKinsey in Dusseldorf wrote an article that would change Procurement forever. The author was Dr. Peter Kraljic. The article, published in the Harvard Business Review, stated: “Purchasing Must Become Supply Management“.

A Procurement Transformation

Kraljic recognized that the world was changing fast. He saw that if Procurement continued business as usual, it would expose itself to competitive pressure. If it was to survive, it would have to move into strategic supply management. This was the dawn of the Kraljic matrix. It would have a transformative effect on Procurement. The philosophy (that remains valid today) is that not all spend, all suppliers, all customers & are the same. So, Procurement needs to build tailored and differentiated strategies, notably taking into account profit impact and supply risk.

Fast forward to 2019. A lot has changed. The Cold War is history, and the Internet dominates the globe. The iPhone in my pocket has way more computing power than my first computer, a Commodore 64, also from 1983. Since Kraljic published his famous article, world trade has quadrupled and globalization has exploded. Procurement is operating in a much faster, bolder world than it was in 1983. It faces new challenges like Corporate Social Responsibility and ethical supply chains. In short, our current environment today is more “VUCA” (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) than it ever was.

The Next Evolution Of The Kraljic Matrix

“Since the early 1980s, pioneering individuals and companies such as Peter Kraljic, Michael Porter, and A.T. Kearney have pushed procurement professionals to think more strategically about the art and science of strategic sourcing. […] But times have changed. Today’s environment is more dynamic and is filled with greater uncertainty. The tried and true tools and tactics adopted over the last 30 years as the “gold standard” are not as effective as they once were.” Strategic Sourcing in the New Economy: Harnessing the Potential of Sourcing Business Models for Modern Procurement by Bonnie Keith, Kate Vitasek, Karl Manrodt, and Jeanne Kling

In some ways, the Kraljic matrix still works well. The segmentation at the heart of it remains valid. But the world is so complicated now, the matrix becomes more like a Kraljic Rubik’s cube. There are many more dimensions and parameters to take into account than there were back then.

Procurement now needs to win the Holy Grail of strategic supply management: value. Take Total Value of Ownership (TVO), for instance. Before, sustainability and risk were considered as nice-to-have, but not necessary. The TVO model places non-price information firmly within calculation of cost. This is a concept of sourcing in which the buyer has all the cards in their hand. But more than that, TVO enables the buyer to create bonus-penalty systems. In effect, it is a calculation of value that enables Procurement to identify how they can increase value after the award has been made.

Evolve Or Stay In The 80s

“My colleagues developed [the matrix] further and experimented with a nine-box version that allowed more flexibility. But always it must be adapted to the characteristics of the company where it is being used.” Dr. Peter Kraljic

The evolution of strategic supply management is challenging. Seeing the Kraljic Matrix as a Rubik’s cube is one thing. Solving the cube is something else entirely. Collecting the enormous amount of information and data that you need for this is almost impossible on your own. However, the change that makes the world so complicated also gives us the tools we need to keep pace: technology. Procurement must have a digital transformation strategy.

Also, and beyond tools like Purchasing Portfolio Analysis matrixes (that needs to evolve to be subtler), it is critical for Procurement organizations to look beyond the technical aspects of the profession. Procurement activities encompass more “soft” activities that require interpersonal skills. It is all about relationships and, even if tools help in defining the right type of relationship to build in a specific context, they fall short in delivering the “human” dimension. Also, that same dimension should be integrated in the tools and models we use.

The “experience” of working with procurement (for suppliers and for stakeholders) is as essential. Procurement delivers a service in a human-to-human context and becoming the supplier/customer of choice requires more than just tools. Digital transformation is not just about tools!

Therefore, just like Yoda “burns” the Jedi Books in “The Last Jedi” to teach Luke a last lesson by symbolizing the need to be able to move forward while being mindful and even respectful of the past, it may be the time for Procurement professional to “burn” the matrix.


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Transparency In Supply Chains And Blockchain: What Is The Most Common Trap?

Becoming aware of blockchain’s weak spots is an important first step towards taking full advantage of what the technology really has to offer.


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Is Blockchain coming of age in 2019?

Judging by the first half of 2019, it seems that the blockchain hype is finally deflating and there is an overall consensus that it will not save the world (at least not this year…). The growing trend towards pragmatism, which is now beginning to temper people’s expectations, is the best thing that could happen to blockchain. . .  A more down-to-earth approach is welcome because, like any technology, blockchain is not perfect, nor the solution to all problems. It is important to be realistic about its potential and limitations.

In particular, blockchain has limitations that threaten to jeopardise many recent high-profile initiatives to increase traceability and visibility in the supply chain. Despite seeming like the ideal technology to address growing concerns about these aspects, most (if not all) blockchain implementations have an Achilles’ heel: the initial digitisation of data to bridge between the physical and the digital world.

Becoming aware of these weak spots is an important first step towards taking full advantage of what blockchain really has to offer. Blockchain’s real value proposition

There are many potential and valuable use cases for blockchain, especially in Procurement and Supply Chain Mgmt.  

“If you talk to supply chain experts, their three primary areas of pain are visibility, process optimisation, and demand management. Blockchain provides a system of trusted records that addresses all three.” Brigid McDermott, vice president, Blockchain Business Development & Ecosystem, at IBM (source Blockchain and Supply Chain Finance: the missing link!, Finextra)

The most valuable characteristic of blockchain is that it serves as a backbone for “convergence”:

  • For better insights and actionable intelligence: Blockchain is the missing link in Big Data initiatives and the convergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and blockchain represents a breakthrough.
  • From an integration perspective: Blockchain-based supply chains allow three different supply chains (physical/informational/financial) to converge into a single digital one.

Blockchain has the potential to converge the two main ecosystems involved in trade finance — the financial ecosystem, which includes banks and suppliers, and the supply chain ecosystem. At the same time, the technology can provide a unified platform for multiple stakeholders, potentially avoiding difficulties that slow down operations” Béatrice Collot, Head of Global Trade and Receivable Finance at HSBC quoted in Blockchain’s Main Strengths Are Transparency and Instantaneity on Cointelegraph

While these features will certainly contribute to improved supply chain transparency, there is still a critical challenge that needs to be addressed: the digitisation of data at the beginning of the process. This crucial step constitutes a fundamental weakness of many current digital supply chains.

Blockchain’s Achilles’ Heel: Mind the Gap!

Traceability and transparency along the supply chain, from raw materials to final products, is a growing concern for organisations. New regulations from governments & institutions, customer expectations, and company’s self-interest in issues like sustainability, incident management, and efficiency, have created the need for an infrastructure to track, trace, and store data in the supply chain.

At first glance, blockchain may seems like the ideal solution. It creates a permanent record of all transactions at all levels of the supply chain, guaranteeing full traceability and establishing trust. So, many companies started to provide blockchain-based means of collecting information in their supply chain with the goal of making it accessible to customers as irrefutable proof about the origin of products and components.

A typical story goes like this: “Thanks to our application, you can take a picture of the QR-code on your product and view the entire supply chain of all components/elements that contributed to the final product you have in your hands.”  

This sounds great in theory, but there is an important caveat:

 “At the interface between the offline world and its digital representation, the usefulness of the technology still critically depends on trusted intermediaries to effectively bridge the “last mile” between a digital record and a physical individual, business, device, or event. […] And if humans […] manipulate the data when it is entered, in a system where records are believed ex-post as having integrity, this can have serious negative consequences.” What Blockchain Can’t Do, Harvard Business Review

The use of blockchain technology gives people a false sense of security because it relies on cryptography and various mechanisms to ensure that information stored on it can be trusted (identity, immutable record, etc.). But, as illustrated above, the digitization step when the information is recorded (a block added) is not protected by this same “guarantee.”. So, it is not because blockchain technology supports and enables a better transparency that it should be blindly trusted by customers or by procurement or supply chain pros.

The solution?

It is undeniable that blockchain is a form of digital trust. Much of the hype surrounding it has been driven by a broader trend in society: the erosion of trust in people and institutions. Blockchain is playing a major role in shifting that trust to technology and software. This explains, in part, why compliance and transparency are the use cases that are priorities for procurement and supply chain pros.

However, it is important to remember that blockchain’s reputation as “trustworthy” can be misleading, especially in the case of supply chain transparency. Manual operations are still part of the initial process of digitizing the data. Therefore, trusting data stored in the blockchain also means trusting that initial step that relies on human activities.

For this reason, building trust in business partners will continue to be a vital part of the procurement function’s role in the future. Introducing digital initiatives will not entirely remove the human element of the job, and Procurement practitioners will need to continue working on establishing trust and nurturing it with suppliers and stakeholders.

Also, from a technology perspective, there are already initiatives to close the gap between physical and digital as much as possible. Interestingly, they focus on physical objects (crypto-hardware) and not just on software. These objects are the child of RFID, connected devices, and blockchain, with the intent to create a convergence between the Internet of Things and the Internet of Value (blockchain) to create the Value Internet of Things (VIoT).

In addition to the human and technological answers that will both contribute to creating a truly integrated supply chain (physical + informational + financial), a third component will remain essential: critical thinking.

Trust and verify!

But wait, the blockchain action doesn’t stop here! Join us on October 15 with blockchain experts Shari Diaz, Innovation Strategy and Operations Program Director, IBM Watson Supply Chain and Professor Olinga Ta’eed, Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance in this webinar brought to you by IBM and Procurious. Click here to register for Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer.

AI and Procurement: Boldly Going Where No Team Has Gone Before?

The battle of “human vs. machine” is raging in Hollywood and, increasingly, in the workplace. What does the future hold for AI?

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2001: a space odyssey… Terminator… The Matrix…

If you were to believe some of the sci-fi blockbusters, you’d think our future as humans is pretty bleak. They all offer a dystopian view of the future where, if the machines don’t kill us, they enslave us.

The battle of “human vs. machine” also seems to be raging outside of Hollywood, and we humans seems to be losing more and more ground to machines each year. Some of this ground has been lost in the world of gaming. Over the past decade, machines have been beating us at increasingly complex games more and more often. Looking back at these “wins” for the machines, we can see some key stages in the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI):

•    Deep Blue won against Kasparov at chess in 1997. It was rather dumb but powerful. With brute-force & human-created logic, Deep Blue was able to test and evaluate every possible sequence of moves at every turn and choose the best one.

•    Watson defeated Jeopardy champion, Ken Jennings, in 2011 and was smarter than Deep Blue. It had to understand natural language and find the relevant knowledge from various sources like encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauri, newswire articles and literary works.

•    Google’s Alpha Go won against Go’s world champion Less Sedol in 2016. To achieve this result, it had to learn from humans from thousands of past games. This is because, unlike chess, which has a limited number of moves, Go is one of the most complex board games in the world, with more possible moves than the number of atoms in the universe. The second generation of Alpha Go learned by itself by playing against itself millions of times to discover what works and what does not.

•    Libratus beat four expert players of Texas Hold ‘Em poker. It also learned by itself and was able to understand behavior because poker is a game of luck, deception, and bluffing!

While very impressive, these victories also show that machines are still dumb when compared to everything that people can do. Machines excel at one thing and have the intelligence of a two-year-old or less for everything else.

What we can learn from sci-fi movies and the battles being waged on the gaming front, is that AI has many faces:

Today, despite all the hype and buzz, computers are still only at the narrow intelligence level. But even at this level, the potential applications of AI are endless.

As far as Procurement is concerned, the same applies: machines are far from being able to replace Procurement teams. Instead, new technologies have another purpose: augment people to achieve better outcomes.  This is a definite shift from the last waves of technologies, which were mostly focused on automation and staff reduction.

Machines in procurement get a promotion: from admins to colleagues and consultants

AI, in short, is all about learning from data to develop new insights and using this new knowledge to make better decisions. It is also about continuous learning and improvement. AI is a master of the “Kaizen” philosophy! This makes it a precious ally for Procurement and AI should therefore be considered as a team member within the broader Procurement ecosystem. Experience shows that “people + machines” get better results than people alone or machines alone.

Of course, in Procurement and in general, it is undeniable and unavoidable that AI will impact the future of work and the future of jobs. Work will continue to exist, despite potentially significant job displacements. While some jobs may disappear, new ones will come to take their place, and most will be transformed by the imperative of cooperation with smarter machines. Procurement jobs will also be impacted and future procurement professionals will require a new set of skills. For example, data analysis and modeling will become a core competency next to more traditional business and relationship management skills. This is because the “data analyst” component in activities will grow due to the collaboration with AI in order to:

•    Train AI and ensure that data is relevant, complete, and unbiased

•    Monitor outputs (recommendations, actions, insights, etc.) of the AI system to ensure relevance, quality, take more contextual / soft aspects into account, and safeguard against AI shortcomings.

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

To conclude on a more positive and optimistic note than where this article started, I have taken inspiration from another sci-fi classic.  I believe that the future lies in a new type of cooperation between humans and machine.

The duo Dr. Spock and Captain Kirk illustrates, to some extent, how such cooperation is possible and can offer the best of both worlds. By combining Captain Kirk’s instinct and emotional intelligence with Spock’s logic and reasoning skills, they were able to successfully tackle any challenge they encountered.

New developments like explainable AI (XAI) and “caring AI” will make machines of the future even more human and will allow them to take an even more active role in our personal and professional lives. AI will continue to augment us, not replace (or kill or enslave) us.

So, Procurement people, live long and prosper!

Food, Glorious Factory Food! – Challenging the Tech Status Quo

If procurement continues to accept the technological status quo as some kind of given, we’ll continue to be fed the same poor diet. Paul Blake explains why it’s time to challenge the hard-and-fast rules we’ve adopted for so long without question. 

Register as an online delegate for the London Big Ideas Summit 2017 here.

Have you ever wondered why food made in factories is so awful?

Please don’t assume this is going to be a rant about organic carrots and the danger of the shop-bought cake. Let me reassure you that it’s on the contrary.

There’s nothing quite like a home-cooked meal 

Modern living and demands on personal time mean that conveniently available, ready-to-eat food is a fact of everyday life. Everything from jam to lasagne is made in factories, often with minimal human interaction. This can be a very good thing in many ways.

So, if we accept that industrially manufactured food is a thing, one question still remains. Why is it just not as good as the homemade or handmade equivalent? Again, we should allow for the dependency on precisely whose hands are involved. But, all things being equal, a dish made by a competent cook, from scratch will out-score a factory-made one.

At first glance, it might seem obvious. Factory products resource lower cost raw ingredients, preservatives and flavourings for longer shelf-life. No wonder your canned chilli ain’t a patch on your own efforts. This is basic profit-driven economics. And, it’s true, you get what you pay for.

But there is another, more subtle reason, that factory food doesn’t quite hit the mark. A reason that is in no way immediately apparent. And it has to do with our relationship with technology.

Robots that POUR!

For a dish to be easily manufactured in a factory, in large quantities, on a production line, it is crucial that the components, from raw ingredients to part finished elements, are able to be pumped.

How do you get the meat sauce for your lasagne from its cooking vat to the line where it’s assembled? The sauce, the pasta and the béchamel must be sent through a pipe, and often for a considerable distance. The pumping of certain traditional ingredients, such as butter, is impossible. As such, the food industry has had to identify, develop and sometimes engineer alternatives.

The infrastructure, the routing process has had such limitations that it has defined the very nature of the outcomes that are possible. But, as the presenters of the great BBC technology show of the 70s and 80s, Tomorrow’s World, used to say “that is, until now!”

The food factory of the future will be populated, not by machines that pump – but by robots that POUR. And with that simple change, a whole new world of possibilities opens up.

By analysing how a chef systematically puts a dish together, and replicating that, with industrial upscaling, into a robotic process – and eradicating the notion that the conventional wisdom of “pumpability” was some kind of hard-and-fast rule. This new paradigm in food production could forgo the need for chemically-altered shortening agents. You know those ones that taste terrible (requiring added salt as a mask), have dubious health impacts but which, can  at least,  be pumped along a pipe.

Limitations in procurement

In business, and without doubt in the procurement business, we have precisely that same relationship with the technology available to us. We’ve been limited in the quality of the results we can produce because of how the tools and technologies we use are built.

Until recently, the software used in procurement has restricted the procurement professional to working in ways determined by how the software was written, and not by what is best for the outcome. This means procurement has become attenuated to these limitations and now accepts them as hard-and-fast rules.

A good example of this is the notion of “best of breed”.  This uses the most sophisticated software tool available for each step in the source to pay process. We’re indoctrinated to see lists of features and functions as the sole measure of suitability of software.

Dividing up the entire spend management process from strategy planning to invoice payment into a set of silos, and then equipping each step with the best tool for that task might at first seem to be a sound approach.  But this is only if you look at the steps in isolation. That’s just the same as looking at each ingredient in your recipe and only considering whether you can pump it around your factory.

How can tech make procurement processes more palatable?

In procurement, the separation of sourcing from contract into entirely different systems does nothing to promote positive outcomes and the isolated software components actively compound the difficulty of realizing savings and value.

However, technologies are emerging that are permitting us to look at the entire source to pay process as a single business requirement.  This allows us to consider how the various “ingredients” interact and work with each other to create the optimum result.

In the future, we will no longer be restricted to working the way the software dictates. Whilst a good part of the process may be run automatically, we will get to determine the ideal set of inputs and outputs to suit us.

The emergence of AI founded on big data, mobile, always-on connectivity and, crucially, the unification of strategic procurement and day-to-day purchasing into a single operational environment are changing the effectiveness of the procurement operation.

Challenging the status quo

By accepting the technological status quo as some kind of given, we will only continue to be fed the same poor diet.

Returning to the analogy, we don’t have to reject the notion of manufactured food entirely. Not if we can see that technology can actually make it better, possibly even better than we can do ourselves. There’s a thought!

The same applies completely to the idea of the automated supply chain. It needn’t (and won’t) be the death of Procurement. The smart use of new technology will actually give our industry new lease of life. As long as we stop adhering to the outdated technology rule book.

There is another way. The time is now.

Paul Blake is Senior Manager, Technology Product Marketing at GEP Worldwide. He’ll be speaking at the 2017 Big Ideas Summit next week. Join the conversation and register as a digital delegate here.

Are You A Procurement Starter Or A Finisher?

Are you a starter or a finisher? According to IBM’s Barry Ward, you’d better be both! Barry discusses the key skills most critical to procurement in the coming years.

Anton Brand/Shutterstock.com

Barry Ward, Procurement Brand Manager, Global Business Services at IBM is a keynote speaker at Big Ideas Summit 2017.  He’ll be explaining the big ideas behind Watson and the opportunities that cognitive tech presents to procurement. When we spoke to Barry ahead of the event he was keen to remind us that, despite rapid tech developments, traditional procurement skills are far from being made redundant.

How do you stay productive and current in a world of fast-paced innovation?

  • Collaborating with colleagues
  • Networking with others – using social media and other channels
  • Building and nurturing an ecosystem of organisations that are leading or developing solutions that may have or will have an impact in your function

What key skills are critical for procurement in the next 5 years?

We will always need traditional procurement skills such as the ability to be a strong negotiator, to communicate well internally and externally, to be a starter and a finisher. But, on top of this I think the importance of an open mind and curiosity in terms of the role that technology can play in the future is going to be more important than ever.

There will be an increasing need for project management skills, change management, relationship management skills. This is on top of the usual and still critical traditional procurement skills such as category expertise or negotiation skills. I can also say that there is a growing importance in soft skills: communication, teamwork and collaboration and problem solving.

How has technology, the Internet of Things and e-Procurement affected IBM?

Technology has placed a key role in IBM’s transformation over the past 20 years or so. Its importance is perhaps more critical in the the current phase of our procurement transformation. Understanding how digital technology can transform the supply chain and our source to pay activities is critical in terms both driving our efficiency and effectiveness but also to showcase how procurement can drive value throughout our organisation.

This positions Procurement in a much more strategic role than ever before. Procurement data is much more visible than ever before.  Insights through combining unstructured and structured information augment our knowledge, with alerts being posted to mobile devices instantaneously means that buyers can have much better assurance of supply continuity, of being able to understand price opportunities and to focus their time and energies on higher value activities than ever before. Lower value work will become automated or systems-driven. This is all good news for Procurement.

One clear impact of this transformation is that our key stakeholders now have very high expectations of high performance from Procurement personnel, perhaps more so than ever before, but the rewards are clearly evident in terms of the value that individuals can bring as well as the procurement organisation as a whole.

How valuable have mentors been in your career?

Mentoring is a highly personal thing. Some people need to have guidance and direction particularly in an organisation that may be widely spread and fast-moving, and if you are looking to move around different functions. Similarly for those who are in a smaller organization, mentors can bring an external, broader perspective.

Others are confident of their own abilities in charting a course for their own development and progression. I have had mentors in the past, particularly when I was in the early stages of my career. The more confident you are of your attributes and ambitions the less I have found that I needed mentoring. I spend time mentoring others mainly from within IBM and mainly from other geographies.

How did you first become interested in procurement?

I didn’t know very much about Procurement in my time as an undergraduate. It was not a profession that had much coverage when I was at University, unlike Finance or Engineering.

My first job as a business graduate was as a Purchasing Analyst running Bill of Material queries in a MRP system for a large manufacturer. This brought me into contact with many parts of the organisation including procurement. The procurement manager at the time was quite an intellectual and gave me a broad view of the role that procurement can play in an organisation.

Clearly he influenced me as I have spent my subsequent career in procurement and supply chain roles!

How will cognitive technology impact procurement professionals?

Cognitive technology will transform the role of the procurement professional and the impact that he or she can make for their organisation. It will be able to remove some of the more prosaic parts of the procurement role, such as data gathering and analysis, together with augmenting a buyer’s knowledge thus enabling them to spend more time on higher value tasks and ultimately make better decisions and be more effective.

Procurement professionals will need to understand how cognitive technology works – so they can be alert to potential mistakes that can happen from cognitive solutions, so that data input from these solutions is relevant and accurate.  It will eventually help, and force, them with their career progression as well as developing their expertise.

Join the conversation and register as a digital delegate for Big Ideas 2017

Resistance Is Futile, Disruption Is Coming!

Massive changes are coming to procurement pros, whether they like it or not! Is it high time we started embracing, instead of resisting, them?

Mark Stevenson is one man who understands the key trends heading our way. An expert on global trends and innovation, he will be setting the scene with our opening keynote at the Big Ideas Summit 2017 in London.  We caught up with Mark ahead of the event to get to know him a little better!

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m an entrepreneur, an author, an occasional comedy writer, a musician, and, as some people like to define me, a futurologist, but I’m not at all keen on that particular term.

What don’t you like about the term Futurologist?

I think it’s a fairly dodgy profession overall if I’m honest. There are no qualifications required and it’s often associated with prediction and, of course, you can’t really predict the future, you can only make it. Also people who identify themselves as future-experts are as apt to be shaped by the culture in which they are embedded or dogged by their own prejudices and wish-lists as the rest of us, and tend to predict accordingly. For instance many futurologists are overly tech focused. My work is more about the questions the future asks us about the interplay of technology, economics, society and politics. My job is to help people and organisations to ask the right questions about the future and then convince them to answer those questions in a way that makes the world more sustainable, humane, compassionate and just.

 What are the key challenges procurement and supply chains face in the next decade?

Supply chain issues are hugely important at the moment and supply chain professionals are having a lot of questions asked of them.

The first challenge to overcome is achieving greater supply chain transparency. Plenty of procurement professionals, particularly in larger organisations, have no clue where they are actually buying from. When the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013 killing over 1,000 factory workers, many high-street brands were called out and, it materialised, ignorant of their involvement. Tragedies like this have forced high street companies to better audit their supply chains but there’s still a long way to go.

Secondly, organisations need to make their supply chains more sustainable by adopting science-based targets – addressing agricultural sustainability and reducing carbon emissions to give a couple of examples.

You’ve often advocated science-based targets in the past. Could you explain the concept in more detail? How could procurement apply these targets?

Science-based targets are a really simple idea and a very good way to think about sustainability. When it comes to dealing with environmental sustainability companies tend to say ‘this is what we can do, this is what we’re aiming for’ but, in reality, it doesn’t mean a whole lot when a multinational organisation vows to reduce its carbon emissions by 10% by the year 2034! That’s a recipe for planetary disaster.

Instead, organisations must figure out what they have to do based on scientific facts. The Science Based Targets campaign (a partnership between

Carbon Disclosuse Project, UN Global Compact, World Resources Institute and WWF) helps companies determine how much they must cut emissions to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Coca- Cola, Walmart and HP signed up to this and if they can do it, anyone can.

And, by saving the world you’re also saving your business. Companies who take this stuff seriously will out-perform because they’ll become more efficient and they’ll attract the most forward-thinking, young talent who want to work for companies of which they are unashamed.

In your experience, how open are organisations to new technology trends?

Not very! Organisations tend to be comfortable operating as they always have done.

Upton Sinclair put it well: ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’ Take Blockchain, it could take away the untrustworthy parts of banking: bankers, who will naturally resist this particular technology!

Another example is driverless tech- it doesn’t take an expert to predict that the 3.5 million US truck drivers would be wary of such an advancement – and rightly so. So we have to find a transition plan for them – which culture resists. But it’s a business responsibility to prepare for the changes and approaching transitions, you have a duty of care to your employees and not being future-literate is a dereliction of that duty. Remember, Blockbuster, the DVD rental company went bust the same week that Netflix released House of Cards.

If you had one key message for our delegates at Big Ideas, what would it be?

Wherever you work and wherever you end up in the next 15-20 years, remember that it’s going to be a very turbulent time. Massive disruption lies ahead and the bad news is that our current institutions and businesses are unfit for purpose. Ask yourself: what’s my best effort for myself, my family and for society (and remember they’re all related). If you don’t, you can prepare to be very irrelevant and very unhappy!

Join the conversation and register as a digital delegate for Big Ideas 2017