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What Are The Most Valuable Tech Skills In Procurement Right Now?

The future of procurement is digital. Experts share the tech skills you need to thrive in that future.


The future of procurement is digital. How can you make sure you’re part of that future? By understanding what your company needs from procurement, then using the right digital tools to meet those needs.

Here are the most valuable tech skills in procurement:

Supplier risk management

Companies want better supplier risk management, especially in the wake of COVID-19.

Our recent Supply Chain Confidence Index showed 27% of respondents didn’t have the tools they needed to act quickly in the crisis.

That’s why supplier risk management technology is top of procurement leaders’ list of digital priorities.

Employers now expect procurement teams to move faster and mitigate risk long before another crisis hits.

End-to-end supply chain visibility

A by-product of proper supplier risk management is increased visibility, according to Hau Lee, Professor of Operations, Information and Technology at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“You need end-to-end visibility about your supply network (capacity, inventory, disruptions, production yields, lead time, bottlenecks, social and environmental performances, their financial conditions, etc.), and your demand network (orders, demand forecasts, backlogs, channel inventory, promotion plans, and disruptions),” Lee says. 

There are a host of tools out there to improve visibility. One is IBM Sterling Inventory Visibility, which is a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS). It compiles all of your inventory information from different platforms so you can see available product in real-time.

That’s just one example. Lee recommends educating yourself about other available tools that improve visibility. These harness technology like the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, and deep data analytics.

Reduce complexity in global sourcing

Professor Lee says understanding the intricacies of global trade, and how technology can reduce complexity, can make you an extremely valuable asset.  

“Today, you need to be aware of the tens of thousands of bilateral trade agreements that exist between some key trading countries for products and components that may affect you,” Lee says. 

And not just for minimising disruption. Where and how you source products can have a major impact on your bottom line.

Lee uses the example of breaking up a product and sourcing parts from different countries, like sourcing frames from Cambodia while the other parts from China. That way, you can use Cambodia as the country of origin instead of China, which can save you a great deal in taxes and custom duties. 

“As countries start to gradually recover from COVID-19, attention will be shifted back (it has already started) to trade wars, tariff frictions, and protectionism,” Lee says. “Databases from WTO, for example, should be useful. Some experts call this “tariff engineering,” and there can be big differences.”

Conduct due diligence on suppliers for complete transparency

Ethical sourcing is already a hot topic, and it’s even more scrutinised now. Your company’s reputation is on the line, and you are held accountable for how and where you source materials.

It’s certainly a top concern for your company’s executives. They desperately want assurance that suppliers are reputable. Luckily there are digital tools that help you do your due diligence for potential suppliers, Professor Lee says.

“For example, many big brands have already been using IPE, the Chinese website that captures environmental violations in China, as a source of data to do due diligence of their prospective suppliers,” Lee says.

In fact, companies like Nike use apps to connect with the factory workers and educate them, Lee says. “[That] allows them to have better visibility of the conditions of the factories (instead of just relying on imperfect factory audits to monitor), and at the same time help to improve productivity there.”

Interpret data in a meaningful way

Being able to understand and interpret data is sorely needed in procurement.

This is especially true before you bring in new tech systems, says Susan Walsh, Founder of The Classification Guru.

“An area that’s often neglected is data preparation or cleansing before the implementation of any new software or systems,” Walsh wrote in a recent blog. “By the time it’s discovered there are errors in the data, staff have lost faith in using the software and are disengaged, claiming it doesn’t work, or they don’t trust it because it’s wrong.” 

Research from Deloitte shows CPOs struggle with an organisation’s data complexity. If you can untangle data and whip it into something meaningful, you’ll have a job for life.

Step away from the admin

The beauty of procurement technology is cutting out admin and simplifying processes.

The ugly side of that same technology is displacing people who currently handle that admin. That’s why you need to gain useful skills beyond manual data processing if you want a future in procurement.

But where do you start, especially if new technology seems overwhelming?

Craig Carter, Professor of Supply Chain Management in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, says start with the basics.

“Supply management professionals need to have a general understanding of all of the technologies that are being adopted or are on the horizon – AI, blockchain, descriptive analytics, and predictive analytics,” Carter says.

But don’t panic, as Carter adds that understanding does not mean mastery. You don’t need to become an expert overnight.

Technology is coming

Don’t be surprised if this future tech is on your desk a lot sooner than you think. The pandemic has only accelerated the adoption of technology, as shown by our Supply Chain Confidence Index.

When asked which technologies show the most promise for helping to mitigate future pandemics and supply disruptions, 49% said predictive analytics and 38% said AI/ machine learning.

Ultimately, companies will do anything they can to minimise risk. Which is why procurement is so perfectly placed to contribute.

All you need to do is prove you have the answers they need, says Professor Carter.

“What is necessary is a demonstration of a procurement professional’s strategic value,” Carter says. 

“Procurement professionals who can critically analyse, think strategically, and build relationships will continue to be in demand.”

Join Procurious to connect with 40,000 other ambitious procurement professionals and get free access to networking, industry news, training and much more. 

How 4.0 Tech Is Cracking The COVID-19 Code: Procurement News

How to use Industry 4.0 technologies to weather the Covid-19 crisis


Industry 4.0 technologies have come into their own in helping combat COVID-19.

China confronted the virus with a futuristic mix of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robots.

Now that the epicentre has moved to the western world, leaders look to China for clues to stop the spread.

Here’s a look at how China’s use of 4.0 tech is now influencing the way America and Europe identify, treat and track the virus.

Predict

A voice of warning

Speed and accuracy of information are everything in a crisis.

The first global warning of the virus didn’t come from the World Health Organization (WHO) or the US government.

No, it came from artificial intelligence. A Canadian company named BlueDot used an algorithm to identify the possible outbreak days before WHO made its announcement.

BlueDot uses AI to analyse news reports and internet data to detect the spread of infectious diseases. The algorithm predicts where diseases will spread, based on millions of flight itineraries.  With this information proving invaluable, BlueDot is now working with countries in North America and Southeast Asia to predict virus hotspots.

Diagnose

Faster testing

There are widespread complaints of testing shortages.

On top of that, there are concerns about the long process of taking a sample, analysing it in a lab and reporting the result.

Luckily, necessity remains the mother of invention. Several companies are racing to invent easier, faster ways to test.

Researchers at UK universities are trialling a smartphone app that can give results in just 30 minutes. The app is linked to a small device that analyses a nasal or throat swab. No lab necessary.

And an invention from an American-based company can give positive results in five minutes using a device the size of a toaster.

Managing supplies

It’s no surprise that supply chains are still recovering from the shock of the pandemic.

Hospitals are experiencing a testing swab shortage, owing to supply chain disruptions from suppliers in Italy and China.

Several hospitals are making their own test swabs with the help of 3D printers. One medical provider in New York, called Northwell, is printing 3,000 swabs a day. Side-by-side test results show the 3D-printed swabs are just as reliable as the traditional swabs.

There’s also a swell of companies using 3D printing to make facemasks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

Fever pitch

Authorities in China found a safer way to take temperature: augmented reality (AR) glasses.

Someone wearing the glasses can identify a person with a fever from 10 feet away.

To finish reading this article, join our exclusive Supply Chain Crisis: Covid-19 group. We’ve gathered together the world’s foremost experts on all things supply chain, risk, business and people, and we’ll be presenting their insights and daily industry-relevant news via the group. You’ll also have the support of thousands of your procurement peers, world-wide. 

The article is available in the documents section once you’ve logged in. 

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

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

By GreenCam1/ Shutterstock

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.

AI Focus on Efficiencies and Productivity

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.

Chatbots for Procurement?

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.

AI Procurement Policy

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.

Reorganising Time for Strategic Tasks

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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Is AI The New Electricity?

For supply chain professionals, the drive to use AI is there. But how do organisations get to the point when AI-enabled supply chain management is the norm?

By kung_tom/ Shutterstock


“Electricity changed how the world operated. It upended transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, health care. AI is poised to have a similar impact. Artificial Intelligence already powers many of our interactions today. When you ask Siri for directions, peruse Netflix’s recommendations, or get a fraud alert from your bank, these interactions are led by computer systems using large amounts of data to predict your needs.”

Andrew Ng – Stanford University – March 2018

According to the results of our latest survey, Procurement 2030, supply chain pros are well aware of how impactful AI could be for their profession. Indeed, 92 per cent of professionals believe the profession will transform by 2030 as a direct result of new technological innovations. And 51 per cent predict that, with the help of AI, supply chain professionals will become an agile group of strategic advisors.

The intention to utilise technology is there. But how do organisations get to the point when AI-enabled supply chain management is the norm?

Getting started, and knowing where to start, is tough going – as with anything new and unknown. We know that many supply chain pros are concerned that implementing AI into their supply chains is a complex step. In fact, our survey takers ranked it as the technology they feared most difficult to adopt. But are their fears unfounded?

We want procurement pros to be pushing the limits on Industry 4.0, and the first to adopt new technologies.

And so, in our latest webinar – How AI Saved My Day Job: Confessions from a Supply Chain Pro we’ll be demonstrating that AI is the real deal by giving you the insider information, the low-down, on what it is delivering right now for supply chain teams.

Webinar speakers

We’ll be speaking with supply chain professionals who are already implementing AI in their organisations and have discovered that AI does provide a demonstrable bottom-line impact across all supply chains structures. Speakers include:

  • Rob Allan – Program Director, Supply Chain Insights Offering Management – IBM
  • Tania Seary Founder – Procurious
  • Connie Rekau – EDI Manager – The Master Lock Company
  • Nickolas Bonivento – EDI Manager – Anheuser-Busch InBev

When is the How AI Saved My Day Job webinar?

The webinar takes place on 15th May 10am ET / 3pm BST. Sign up or log in via the form above and we’ll be in touch ahead of the event to provide details on how to join the webinar live.

How do I listen to the How AI Saved My Day Job webinar?

Simply sign up here and you’ll be re-directed to the Supply Chain Pros group where you can access heaps of related content. You will also join the webinar mailing list, so we can provide you with details on how to access the webinar before it goes live.

Help! I can’t make it to the live-stream of the How AI Saved My Day Job webinar?

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

Do I have to be a member of Procurious to access the How AI Saved My Day Job webinar?

Yes. To access the webinar you’ll need to sign up to Procurious. You’ll be joining a community of 30,000 like-minded procurement and supply chain peers and gain access to all Procurious’ free resources. You’ll be joining a community of 30,000 like-minded procurement and supply chain peers and gain access to all Procurious’ free resources.

Could AI revolutionise your supply chain and save your day job – allowing you to make better decisions, more efficiently and in a more repeatable way over time? Let’s find out!

Good News-Bad News Week for Global Tech Giants

The good news is that one of your favourite social networks is booming, the bad news is that one of your favourite tech companies is not.

Good News Bad News

It’s been something of a good news, bad news kind of week for a number of major global organisations this week. On one hand, alongside the success of the Big Ideas Summit 2016 (we couldn’t resist one last mention…), Facebook is bucking the trend for growth in 2016.

On the other hand, continuing (and very public) supply chain issues, as well as declining sales, put Apple firmly in the bad news column. And outside of the tech industry there was bad news in global manufacturing, as it became clear that lessons don’t appear to have been learned in Toyota’s supply chain following recent earthquakes in Japan.

Golden Quarter

At a time when other technology companies are beginning to feel the pinch, and slow growth is causing some real concerns, Facebook appears to be bucking the trend with its good news announcement on its first quarter growth.

Q1 of 2016 was the company’s strongest single quarter growth since 2014, with an overall revenue increase of 51.9 per cent. Combined with an increase in user activity (it’s estimated that two-thirds of Facebook users are on the site or app every day), it served to place Facebook far out in front of its competitors in both the social media, and tech, fields.

The revenue growth has been put down to a marked increase in the sales of mobile advertising on both its original platform, and on Instagram, which it purchased for over $1 billion in 2012.

What’s more, there is plenty potential for more good news, as Facebook is yet to release advertising for it’s other 2 major platforms – its Messenger service, and Whatsapp. There is also the release of Oculus Rift, the company’s virtual reality headset, to be taken into account, although this is unlikely to happen until next year.

‘The Fruit’ in Decline?

Facebook’s good news came as welcome relief for investors and markets, particularly in light of other first quarter announcements from the large technology companies came in under expectations.

Twitter’s earnings fell short of Wall Street predictions, with $595 million, compared to an expectation of over $607 million. Bigger problems for Twitter were a less than expected growth in user numbers, hindering the platform’s ability to drive advertising revenues.

However, the biggest news (though some might say not as surprising) came with the quarterly announcements from Apple. For the first time in 13 years, Apple reported a fall in quarterly sales, at nearly 13 per cent, to $50.6 billion. The tech giant expects this trend to continue in Q2, with estimated sales falling to around $41 billion.

Apple were not alone in feeling the effects of the slowing Chinese economy, where its sales dropped by more than a quarter. However, there was some good news for Apple fans. CEO Tim Cook told analysts that, “The future of Apple is very bright”, with a 20 per cent growth in revenue from Apple Music and App Store areas of the business.

However, many analysts are concerned that, in a market saturated with smartphones, unless the iPhone 7 is a game changer, then this decline could continue. With an announcement, and launch, expected later this year, it seems we will just have to wait and see.

Vulnerable Supply Chains

Technology wasn’t the only bad news area this week either. Toyota have come under fire for not learning the lessons of Japanese earthquakes in 2011, with their supply chain again showing severe vulnerability following earthquakes in the country in recent weeks.

Following the events of 2011, Toyota set out to create an “earthquake-proof” supply chain, working with suppliers to create the RESCUE (REinforce Supply Chain Under Emergency) system, aimed at spreading the risk in the event of future natural disasters.

The new supply chain was put to the test in April, and despite early promise, it seems that the same vulnerabilities in the supply chain still exist. The manufacturer shut 26 of its 30 Japanese production facilities in the middle of April, only reopening 5 at the tail end of the month.

With both Honda and Nissan now operating at full capacity, with minimal shutdowns, it seems that Toyota has yet to learn its lesson.

Do you work in the technology industry? What do you make of the latest announcements from Facebook and Apple? We’d love to hear from you – you can get started in the comments section below.

As ever, we’ve been keeping an eye on all the major headlines just for you…

Congress Votes Yes on Russian Rocket Purchase

  • US Congress have voted to purchase $540 million worth of Russian rocket engines, despite a ban on trading
  • The intention of the 2014 procurement ban was to end US reliance on Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines
  • The US relies on these engines to launch national security satellites into orbit, as the US-built engines are still under development
  • Critics say the $540 million will be spent by Russian on modernising its military

Read more at Space Daily

Japan Fury at Australia-France Deal

  • Australia has awarded France the submarine ‘deal of the century’
  • The $AUS50bn submarine contract is the largest defence deal in Australian history, but the move has infuriated Japan.
  • Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries submarine had been seen as early favourites for the contract.
  • In an unusually blunt criticism, Japan’s defence minister Gen Nakatani described Australia’s decision as “deeply regrettable”.

Read more at The Telegraph

Slow Progress on US-EU TTIP

  • Progress is slow on negotiations for a comprehensive Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, between the EU and the USA
  • Negotiators said they would push for a comprehensive TTIP before US President Barack Obama leaves office in January.
  • Among the deepest divides concern Europe’s food safety rules that exclude American beef raised with hormones, genetically modified foods and Europe’s many local food naming rules.
  • The deal exclude European demands for greater access to US federal, state and local government procurement, which often carries “buy American” or local content standards.

Read more at Euractive

Gorman Failing Overseas Workers

  • Australian fashion brand Gorman has come under fire for not doing enough to protect overseas workers in its supply chain
  • The 2016 fashion report by Baptist World Aid Australia graded Gorman as an ‘F’ for policies on preventing exploitation of workers in overseas factories
  • Although the organisation has an ethical compliance statement on its website, fans and wearers of the brand have reacted angrily to the company’s alleged lack of action
  • The company’s founder, Lisa Gorman, has now stated that they will be publishing supply chain audit reports on its website in the coming months to help prove transparency

Read more at The Guardian