Tag Archives: technology adoption

Blockchain Will Not Save The World (At Least Not This Year…)

Blockchain hype has spread like wildfire… But it’s time for a reality check…

Don’t—

Don’t—

Don’t—

Don’t—

Don’t believe the hype

Don’t Believe the Hype” is a song by Public Enemy that dates back to 1988 and (if loosely interpreted) carries an important message that can be applied to blockchain technology. Blockchain is almost everywhere, and—let’s face it—it’s getting a lot of hype.

It is very surprising that  such a new and relatively obscure technology like blockchain has received so much  exposure so fast, even in mainstream media. Blockchain hype has spread like wildfire, and this is largely because blockchain is the underlying technology behind Bitcoin, a digital currency (a.k.a. as cryptocurrency) that received a lot of coverage in the media.  In the wake of the cryptocurrency craze, blockchain has continued to attract more and more attention.

Time for a reality check

The response to blockchain exemplifies many of the issues that are commonly  associated with introducing new technologies. Firstly, the market’s inflated expectations do not match the reality of blockchain’s current applications and actual capabilities (see for example: “187 Things the Blockchain Is Supposed to Fix”). Secondly, many consider blockchain as an end in itself when it is actually just a tool that serves an objective or purpose. These are probably the two factors that are doing the most damage to the credibility and future of this technology, despite the very promising applications of blockchain.

At its core, blockchain is a form of digital trust, which has a number of potential uses and applications in business because trust is one key component in such a context. However, some of the characteristics of this technology that make it so valuable are also limiting the scope and possibilities of blockchain’s real-world applications beyond trials and prototypes. As with many other things, it is a matter of trade-offs. There is not a single, universal, and magical solution to every problem. So, before blindly jumping on the blockchain bandwagon, it is crucial for Procurement and Supply Chain professionals to know what blockchain is, understand its value proposition, and to be aware of what challenges and issues may be associated with using it.

Limitations and challenges of first-generation blockchains

You can trust data contained in a blockchain because of the way records (blocks) are added and managed. Unlike other methods of data management, blockchain is a decentralized (peer-to-peer) network composed of nodes. There isn’t a single “party” managing and owning the data, but rather a network of independent nodes that operate the network. This removes the risk and temptation of manipulating data. Even if someone was tempted to tamper with the data ,  they would need to find a way to  change it at all “n” nodes of the network simultaneously, which is more or less impossible, or, at the very least, extremely difficult.

A second aspect of blockchain that makes it such a secure data management option is its unique form of record keeping. “Miners” verify every new record and they must reach a consensus to allow a new record to be added to the chain. On top of this, each new record (“block”) contains a link to the previous block, meaning that it is impossible to change or remove a record without editing the entire chain. This is why data in the blockchain is immutable, which is one of the key value proposition of blockchain (although immutability and the new GDPR do not really work well together…).

Looking at the process above, it is easy to imagine that adding a new record in a system like blockchain takes more time than it would in centralized databases. This is because many actors (nodes) are involved and they have to perform tasks (mining) to verify the transactions (and that also serve as prevention against hacking and attacks). So, in its current form, blockchain is a somewhat slow technology when compared to what already exists. For example, Visa processes and verifies transactions more than 7,000 times faster than what happens on the bitcoin network.

Another issue is that, all the nodes of the network store all the data contained in the blockchain. This drastically increases the size of the blockchain, making it slower as it grows and more and more difficult to manage. In short, a blockchain network would explode and become  unmanageable very quickly in a number of real-life scenarios, such as, for example, if blockchain was used to track the origin of materials and parts across all tiers in a company’s supply chain.

There are also other potential threats related to security. Blockchain technology  relies heavily on cryptography and peer-to-peer networks that make it very robust and resilient. However, history has shown that almost nothing is unhackable. The blockchain may be incredibly difficult to hack but someone with the right motivation, tools, and probably a lot of time could, one day, hack it. And, as the blockchain’s popularity grows, so does the potential pay-off for successful hackers! Also, even if we were to assume that the blockchain is  totally unhackable, the systems around it are not. Systems and programs connected to the blockchain may be vulnerable to attacks and/or to bugs.

All in all, the blockchain technology is not a magic solution for every problem. Like any other technology, some trade-offs make it a more or less viable solution. For the blockchain, the trade-off is between three properties: scalability, decentralisation, and security. Today, you cannot get all three!

New and future  generations of blockchain could make it a viable option

A lack of scalability is probably the most serious limitation of blockchain, and it will probably determine the life or death of the technology. The first generations of the blockchain network, like Bitcoin, do not scale at all and are even incredibly dangerous if you look at sustainability issues and energy consumption. Newer generations are addressing this issue by introducing new designs and concepts.

For example, they are moving away from the consensus/mining mechanism that older generations use, which is based on the “Proof of work” concept (miners must perform more and more complex calculations and need more and more computing power and energy to complete them). “Proof of Stake” (PoS) is a newer and much more energy conscious algorithm that will address the “cost” of blockchain and make it a viable option.

Another example of how blockchain technology is being updated can be seen in the radical changes being made to the blockchain’s design. In new conceptualizations of blockchain, the design is moving away from linear models, where one block is only linked to the block before and after it (like links in a chain), and are instead moving towards networks of blocks, where one  block is connected to n other blocks. The benefit of this model is that operations on records can occur simultaneously on several branches of the network.

Too bad to be true?

It is true that there are essential trade-offs (scalability, decentralization, and security) to be aware of and to consider before adopting blockchain technology and moving towards a form of digital trust (which means trusting the software more than other parties). However, in many situations, the benefits offset the challenges and make blockchain the best alternative. A recent real-world example of this is the use of blockchain in a refugee camp as a means to address identity challenges and issues. As Houman Haddad, the UN executive behind the introduction of blockchain technology in a refugee camp in Jordan explains:

“Of course we could do all of what we’re doing today without using blockchain,” he says. But, he adds, “my personal view is that the eventual end goal is digital ID, and beneficiaries must own and control their data.” From “Inside the Jordan refugee camp that runs on blockchain” published in the MIT technology Review in April 2018

Another way to look at the trade-offs/dilemma is to consider what can be achieved with blockchain that was previously impossible. An interesting example in the Procurement / Supply Chain sphere is Productivist a service provider that wants to address the “manufacturing surplus” by connecting, , manufacturing companies and their customers via the blockchain.

Some say I’m negative,

but they’re not positive

But what I got to give,

(The media says this?)

So,  don’t believe the hype…

Instead, proceed cautiously and be aware of what blockchain can and can’t do. Blockchain is undoubtedly a powerful and exciting technology, but it is not yet fully mature and has several limitations, which explains why it still is far from being widely adopted, despite all the hype surrounding it. However, the newest (and future) generations of blockchain (that will probably part ways with “blocks” and “chains”) will make blockchain a more viable application than what is readily available now. These new generations, just like the older ones, will not save the world, but they represent a real and unique opportunity to create a platform/protocol which (new) businesses can build on, and which can help them grow.

Procurement Leaders: Stop Talking About Headcount Reduction!

If you want your procurement teams to be more open to adopting cognitive solutions and less scared of them, stop talking about headcount!

BUTENKOV ALEKSEI/Shutterstock.com

There are many factors that require careful consideration to bring about effective cognitive solutions.

It’s akin to conducting a group of musicians – it might be possible (easy even!) to attain a pleasant sound from a solo instrument… 

But, if expertly managed,  you could accomplish a symphony from the entire orchestra! 

This week, our podcast series will guide you through the five steps required to conduct a dazzling cognitive symphony. 

On Day 4 of Conducting A Cognitive Symphony Marco Romano – Procurement Chief Analytics Officer, Global Procurement, Transformation Technology, IBM talks on the common pitfalls in the adoption of cognitive solutions, the most impactful actions procurement pros can take to increase the speed of adoption and how to overcome the fear factor!

The Fear Factor

“How the leadership works with the teams to remove barriers (operational, physical and psychological) will ultimately have a huge influence on the rate and pace of adoption of cognitive and analytics solutions” explains Marco in his white paper. 

When it comes to the fear factor, “there is no doubt that there is a concern that rich insightful analytics will show opportunities that imply the practitioners have historically failed in their jobs.

“There is also no doubt that there is fear that cognitive solutions could replace some of the activities currently carried out by practitioners.”

One factor that causes this fear is the “poor messaging on why you want to commit these tools, and what the desired outcome is which creates fear and resistance, to adoption and change.”

How can organisations manage their employees fear to ensure the adoption of cognitive solutions isn’t impeded?

Stop talking about head count!

When procurement professionals look at something that brings new information and insights that haven’t been available before, it leads them to question a number of things:

  • Is it a challenge to what I’ve done before?
  • Is it a challenge to the accuracy of what I’ve done before?

and, ultimately:

  • Is this technology going to make what I do now redundant?

“Fear is something that we see. CPOs are constantly talking about robotics, automation, right?”

“And very often, I hear head count being brought into the discussion, Head count reduction being brought into the same discussion with cognitive analytics, and whilst that might be the eventual outcome, I think it’s a dangerous way to enter into the dialogue”

“If that is the primary driver, to reduce head count in the organisation, I find that very often that’s reflected in your metrics. It’s reflected in the behaviours. And in turn, it’s reflected in poor adoption, and resistance by practitioners.”

“You’re creating that fear of job security. And invariably, I find practitioners push back, and they’ll find they spend their time trying to justify why a tool won’t work for them.”

“To overcome this you need the right methods, but secondly, and very importantly, I think you need to provide practitioners with the road map on how to change, and sharpen their skills in this changing environment.”

Educate your teams

Procurement professionals need to have an understanding of the strategy and impacts new solutions will have.

You need to be able “to show the practitioners how the change benefits them, not just the enterprise” Marco explains.

“And this sounds really basic, but it is so important. [You need to be able to show them]  I’m going to help you spend less time on those lower value, tedious, time-consuming tasks, allowing you to focus on the higher value activities.  Most professional practitioners that I know, prefer to spend their time on those higher valued tasks -negotiating with suppliers, rather than crunching numbers”

That’s the first thing. But the second thing  is, providing them education and training, on this new data skill set. I think you very quickly erode that resistance. They see a path for them, within the enterprise, within the organisation, but you’ve given them a marketable skill, which in turn removes resistance and fear.

“I’m not talking here about turning practitioners into data scientists. I’m talking about arming them with knowledge about how they impact data, teaching them the art of the possible, with regards to how technology can help them to be more effective consumers of that data, and insights.”

Striving to conduct a cognitive symphony but in need of some expert guidance? Our podcast series runs throughout this week and will have your orchestrating cognitive success in no time! Register here.

Has Technology Tipped the Scales on Your Work-Life Balance?

Information on demand. Constant connectivity. Global coverage. Are these a boon to our working lives? Or can there be too much of a good thing?

We live in a world of unprecedented connectivity. No matter where we are in the world, we have a host of information at our fingertips. Which is great when it comes to accessing vital data on the go, but could be having a detrimental impact on our personal lives.

The benefits of being constantly connected are easy to see. But it’s leading to a situation where people struggle to switch off when they’re not in the office. Checking emails on the way to work, or before going to sleep. Doing that “last bit of work” on the train home. Catching up on work over the weekend, or even the night before returning to work following a holiday.

Work phones and laptops, internet-based document storage and the increase in working from home leaves that bit of temptation to do a little bit more. After all, if you clear some of those emails tonight, you can start afresh tomorrow. Right?

Wrong! If this sounds familiar to you (and yes, there are plenty people in this position) then you should think hard about what you’re doing. No-one minds working beyond contract hours or staying a bit later when there’s urgent work to finish. But why, when there aren’t pressing deadlines, do we voluntarily give up our free time, weekends, or even our holidays to do extra work?

At best you get a reputation for not being able to switch off. At worst, it can impact on your personal life, and could even create an expectation that you’ll be on hand to respond to any query, no matter when it’s been sent.

Right to Disconnect?

Some countries are helping workers rebalance their scales. At the end of 2016, a new law was introduced in France, which meant that organisations had to give employees a “right to disconnect”. Companies had to work with employees to establish a basis for out-of-hours or home working, or make clear what expectations there were of workers.

In other European countries, companies are allowing employees to delete any emails that are sent to them while they are on holiday. Given the choice of a clean slate on your return to the office, it might also help remove temptation to access your inbox in your own time.

The Millennial generation is the first to really confront this issue (though this doesn’t mean other generations aren’t failing foul of it too). However, it’s hard to diagnose an issue until you know what it looks like. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek sheds light on some of the key points in this video.

(The key part is at 3:15, but if you have time, then it’s worth watching the whole video.)

So how do you change these habits and start to regain control of your work-life balance? Here are some top tips:

  1. The Phone. Down.

It might not always be possible, but it’s time to create some space between you and your phone. It doesn’t need to be all the time, but having no-go areas in your home, or certain times when your phone is off is a good place to start.

If you have a dedicated work mobile, then leave it somewhere that you’ll just pick it up as you leave the house.

Why not start by not having your phone next to your bed overnight? This will help to remove the temptation to check emails first thing in the morning or last thing at night. It might help you sleep better and start your day off on the right foot.

  1. Time Off is Your Time

You’ve earned the right to some downtime at the weekend. You’re entitled to your annual leave, and to enjoy it as time away from the office. And you’re entitled to be left in peace outside of working hours. Don’t voluntarily give this time up checking your email or finishing work.

It’s not always going to be cut and dried. But try to set yourself a time to stop working each evening, particularly on a Friday. This is particularly important if you work from home. Try to create a separation between work and home.

After all, does it really matter if that email is sent now, or document completed, when no-one else is going to see it until Monday anyway? Your brain will thank you for it (and your family/friends/loved ones probably will too!).

  1. Stop and Smell the Roses

Life doesn’t have to be lived in front of a computer screen or glued to a phone. Get outside and enjoy spending some time away from your desk. Challenge your friends and family to leave their phones behind (or in a bag at least) when you’re out.

Keep phones, tablets, computers, and technology away from the dinner table. Who knows, we might even rediscover the lost art of conversation!

Some of this is tongue in cheek. Most of it needs to be taken with a healthy dose of realism and knowledge that we can’t just drop technology. But we can make it work for us, instead of making it seem like a completely indispensable aspect of our lives.

So take control of your technology, and tip your work-life balance scales back in your favour!

Surviving The AI Revolution

Will you be a survivor of the AI revolution? You’ll need to be well equipped and prepared for anything…

This article was written by Naveen Joshi.

Artificial Intelligence is speeding the robot revolution and can be responsible for replacing a huge portion of the human workforce with machines, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it, other than preparing for AI revolution.

Artificially intelligent robots are finally set on replacing humans in the labor pool, and due to this, the society can shift dramatically. Until the AI revolution is complete, humans can either try to slow the automation of the workforce or start preparing for AI.

If the popular media are to be believed, AI is coming to steal your job and threaten your life, as we know it. The AI revolution is indeed underway and for ensuring that you are prepared to make it through the times ahead, we’ve listed a few guidelines for you.

Recognising the AI Revolution

The first step for winning every conflict is to understand your target. It is important to acknowledge that the concept of AI is not in the future; it is already here and people are using it on a daily basis. For example, because of the AI technology, Netflix knows what to suggest you watch next, and Google predicts where you are heading when you jump in your car. AI also encompasses disciplines such as machine learning, using which companies are finding patterns in data and learning to predict trends, as well as speech processing, computer vision, and robotics. Moreover, it also encompasses deep learning, which is inspired by the model of the brain. Deep learning systems work by mapping inputs to a set of outputs based on features of the thing being examined.

Identify where AI Thrives

With sufficient knowledge of AI technology, you can now start to understand where AI is optimally positioned to take over. Have a look at your market trends and conditions and take note of tasks that require huge amounts of big data processing. For example, companies are now looking through everyone’s click patterns on Google to figure out what someone wants.

Essentially, AI works best for any task that requires a huge amount of repetitive processing. If this sounds like your job, you might have to start thinking of a survival plan. You can also access websites that evaluate your automation risk, to find out what researchers have calculated for your field.

Devise an Action Plan and Start Preparing for AI

The best strategic action plan is to form a treaty. You should accept that AI will increasingly become a part of our society and look for possibilities to collaborate. There is a huge potential for AI to assist in places where humans are today falling short, precisely because of the processing power. Companies are already using AI for aiding clinicians in medical diagnosis, personalizing customer experiences, and creating agricultural methods that reduce the cost to the environment. AI has the ability to learn very well but it cannot learn flexibly. You can. There are new jobs now available that did not exist a few years ago. If you are allowing AI to do the grit work, this can create an opportunity to embrace the attributes that humans excel at, namely social intelligence and creativity.

As with every big and impacting change, there are fears about new technology like AI. Ultimately, the way you can survive the impacts of an AI revolution is by embracing the partnership. By understanding the potential that AI has to improve the world, you can look around for those opportunities to implement positive change.

Naveen Joshi is Director at Allerin Tech Pvt Ltd. This article was orginally published on LinkedIn. 

In Business Relationships, It’s All About H2H (Human to Human)

Simona Pop shares her Big Idea on why procurement technology needs to promote – not obstruct – trust, transparency and common goals.

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

We know that many organisations are still mired in decades-old procurement processes. Besides the inherent inefficiency of paper-based workflows, spreadsheets and other manual tools, the real concern lies in their opacity.

One of the things I’ve learned working with various businesses and multiple stakeholders within supply chain and finance is that there is no real B2C/B2B divide. It’s all H2H: human to human. The concept was coined by Bryan Kramer and is the real foundation for every single business relationship we cultivate, internal or external.

Now, human beings are complex creatures, but for all their complexity, they greatly appreciate simplicity. Finding, understanding and communicating the complex in its most simplistic form is the recipe for success when it comes to relationships.

And a more recent way of translating the very complex into simple formats is technology. For many however, the subject of technology is a double-edged sword to be approached with extreme caution. It is seen as both a huge challenge and an opportunity depending on the maturity of the business and its stakeholders. Zooming in on procurement departments in particular, distinct feelings of inertia and unease prevail when it comes to tech.

So many procurement professionals I have sat down with continue to apply traditional tools to the purchase-to-pay process even though better, more efficient alternatives are available to them. The reasons? That mighty focus on cost savings is undermining the VOI (value on investment) and the temptation to keep things as they are because “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it or risk it” is holding organisations in a “vintage” status quo that’s affecting their competitive edge on a daily basis.

The current climate is very much a head in the sand affair. Procurement processes that have been around for the past 10, 20, 30 years are characterised by a great degree of opacity. The reason for this is the historic dependence on paper, manual work and fragmented software systems. This opacity means the relationships between departments/stakeholders within a business are not exactly what you would call fully functional. There was a time when things had to be this way because that was the best there was. That is no longer the case and pretending nothing has changed is far more dangerous than “risking” change.

Always reacting to situations as opposed to being proactive towards challenges is a symptom of traditional process that needs upgrading. The ability to stimulate internal collaboration and valuable relationships is affected by the permanent race against time. There isn’t one finance professional I’ve met who isn’t completely incapacitated by “month end” as a result of delayed purchase approvals or lack of a PO system. Incomplete or delayed information passing between departments opens the door to fraud and perpetuates false data. These draining complexities can be simplified by shining a light on proceedings. That light? Technology.

Technology is an agent of empowerment, not a antagonistic nuisance that must be adopted just because everyone else is doing it, with no real merit of itself. The key advantages technology brings are speed and transparency. Moving the information processed from paper/desktop to cloud/mobile and delivering it in real time as opposed to post-fact is all about simplicity. Eliminating the need for 100 spreadsheets, lengthy manual approval chains and data entry clerks will empower people from the bottom up, the top down and across the board. Accessing objective information and using it in real time will ensure each task is performed to the best standard and in full compliance.

A move towards value-based relationships is already happening as businesses are acknowledging that well-functioning relations are worth as much as good prices or good bonuses. Trust, common values and clear, real-time communication are all hallmarks of good service. Something every business needs to achieve to stay competitive, right?

In conclusion, using technology to empower the talented people across the P2P process is the key to better relationships and ultimately, better business. Accessing data in real time and performing tasks on the go will not only make people better practitioners but better collaborators too. The human-to-human foundation of successful business is based on trust, transparency and common goals. Given the goal of procurement is to make a business successful, promoting trust, efficiency and transparency should be a natural move.

This article was first published on Spend Matters.

Stay tuned for more Big Ideas from Simona Pop as we lead up to the Big Ideas Summit 2017!

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

Getting Millennials on Board the Collaborative Procurement Bandwagon

Could the secret to e-procurement adoption success be Millennial engagement? Could more collaborative approaches be the key?

fotozick/Shutterstock.com

This article was first published on My Purchasing Center.

No matter how good your e-procurement solution is, its success depends on user adoption. Getting employees to purchase through an e-procurement system is a hurdle that needs to be overcome in any organisation, particularly when it comes to engaging Millennials.

This generational powerhouse is having a major influence on corporate culture and how we interact with technology and communicate with each other.

This generation, which grew up with technology and social media, is accustomed to getting information at the tap of a finger, participating in digital communities, and relying on online reviews and opinions.

And they have come to expect this same level of convenience, immediacy and ease of use with the enterprise technology solutions – including the procurement systems – they use.

Raising Millennial Interaction

Understanding how millennials interact with technology is critical to increasing adoption of procurement systems. And as their significance and numbers in the workplace increase, so too does the importance of recognising their needs.

So how can you effectively engage them? Here are five strategies for increasing Millennial adoption of procurement systems:

1. Make it Relevant

To minimise rogue buying, make sure your system is relevant to the daily work lives of the users. Ensure it is as fast and easy to use and as user-friendly and intuitive as consumer sites. This means offering users efficiencies that resolve challenges unique to their specific roles.

Create a seamless process, enabling users to quickly and easily find what they are looking for and submit travel and expenses on-the-go. By creating these user-friendly systems and processes, you will encourage users to make the best decision possible because it’s the easiest thing to do in the natural course of their work.

2. Leverage Critical Intelligence

Gather knowledge from users across the enterprise to tap into the wisdom of the crowd and promote success. Create your own crowdsourcing environment on your procurement system.

Allow employees to suggest the items they need to do their jobs best so that procurement teams can negotiate the best contracts for those items. Help users save time by creating a system that recognises their needs and serves up the right information at the right time.

Create social opportunities. Consider setting up a reviews section where employees can post and read products and services reviews from their colleagues. This section could also promote corporate social responsibility by allowing them to share information on suppliers with green practices.

3. Instil a Bottom-up Approach

Instil a bottom-up approach to system design, roll-out and management. Empower users to drive and improve the process, instead of trying to control people and force them into compliance from the top down.

By making users active participants in strategic company initiatives, they will have a sense of ownership and feel more engaged. This also ensures you’re delivering a system that meets users’ needs and one that they will like using.

4. Foster Awareness of Actions

Foster awareness across the user base by incorporating gaming and making it fun. The Pokémon Go craze, which has caught on like wildfire, shows the appeal that games have with millennials.

You could create healthy peer competition by showing employees how their efforts compare to their peers, such as who are the smartest shoppers, and who are the most frugal travellers. Recognise them on the system with bronze, silver and gold achievement levels.

Share the visibility you have into spend, and track usage and measurable results across the enterprise so employees can see the value they are adding, how their actions directly contribute to company goals and what others are doing to achieve success.

For example, show the progress your company is making on overall savings goals, user adoption and total spend under management. This will create the mindset that every person who buys goods and services is not only helping to optimise processes that streamline their daily tasks, but also creating spend data that can be used to make better decisions and save money for the organisation.

5. Reward the achievers

In our research, we’ve found that the number-one reason users drop out of a process is because they don’t understand what’s being asked of them and feel their actions are not making a difference.

Create a greater level of awareness by acknowledging company “rock stars” – employees who make big strides toward company goals through consistently demonstrating desired behaviours.

You can reward these individuals through points and badges. For example, “Speedy Approver” for those in the top percentile of the approval cycle. Or “Compliance Champion” for those requesting items that are on contract 98 per cent of the time.

These strategies will help you build a collaborative procurement culture that not only engages millennials, but all of your employees. As users better understand greater company goals and are incentivised to participate, they will gradually shift their spend behaviours to strategic, deliberate approaches that help realise collective goals.

You will not only turn Millennials and other employees into stewards of company funds, but your company will also benefit from the cost savings, and optimised processes that collaborative, strategic purchasing delivers.

Tehseen Dahya is General Manager, North America for Basware, a leading provider of networked purchase-to-pay solutions, e-invoicing and financing services.