Tag Archives: technology

Is Blockchain The Next Big Thing For Supply Chain?

What does blockchain mean for your supply chain?

By Oleksandr Nagaiets/ Shutterstock

Few people working in supply chain roles have a clear understanding of how this fledgeling solution called blockchain is, or could be, applied in their organisations. There is much hype and misinformation in the marketplace and much of it is due to the unproven nature in practice and unknown long-term costs of blockchain applications.

So what is blockchain?

Without getting too technical, the underlying principle of blockchain is to provide a secure environment where encrypted business transactions between buyer and seller can happen without the need for third parties such as banks and clearing agents to intervene. According to McKinsey,

blockchain is an internet-based technology that is prized for its ability to publicly validate, record, and distribute transactions in immutable, encrypted ledgers”.

Immutable, in this case, means that each link in the blockchain is completely secure and unbreakable. Blockchain’s format guarantees the data has not been counterfeited and that information can be read by any authorized party.

There are two main types of blockchain applications, one private and the other public. In the commercial environment, the networks are mostly private, this type of operation is sometimes referred to as “permissioned”.    Read more detail about how Blockchain works here.   

The world before blockchain

This diagram below is typical of a traditional sales transaction with many intermediaries.  Currently, these intermediaries process, verify and reconcile transactions before the ownership of the goods or services can pass from seller to buyer. How many people does it take to move a container of avocados from a Kenyan seller to a UK buyer?  At least thirty, but more importantly, there are over 200 individual transaction events and communications involved. 

What traditional buyer-to-seller transactions look like today  

What supply chains could look like tomorrow  

The world after blockchain

In a private blockchain network,  the procure-to-pay process is streamlined so that documents are matched triggering payment and creating a verifiable audit trail.   Nestlé is breaking new ground in supply chain transparency through a collaboration with OpenSC – an innovative blockchain platform that allows consumers to track their food right back to the farm.  The initial pilot program will trace milk from farms and producers in New Zealand to Nestlé factories and warehouses in the Middle East.

What does blockchain mean for your supply chain?

How can this fledgeling technology be beneficial? According to McKinsey, there are three main areas where blockchain can add value:

  1. Replacing slow, manual paper-based processes.
  2. Strengthening traceability which reduces quality and recall problems
  3. Potentially reducing supply-chain IT transaction costs  (maybe?).

The answer seems to lie in its potential to speed up administrative processes and to take costs out of the system while still guaranteeing the security of transactions.  Blockchain has the potential to disrupt or create competitive advantage, but the biggest barrier to its adoption is that so few have a good grasp on how it can be of use in their operations.

The potential benefits

  • faster and more accurate tracking of products and distribution assets, e.g. trucks, containers, as they move through the supply chain  
  • reduction of errors on orders, goods receipts, invoices and other trade-related documents due to less need for manual reconciliation 
  • a permanent audit trail of every product movement or financial transaction from its source to its ultimate destination.
  • trust is created between users through using a transparent ledger where transactions are immutable, secure and  auditable

What are the obstacles?

1.The cost

Implementing a blockchain solution may require expensive amendments and upgrades to existing systems which is both costly and time-consuming. Who pays and what is the return on investment?

2. Change management

There will be a need to convince all involved parties to join a particular blockchain and collaborate for mutual benefit. More openness will be needed, the old ways of protecting information won’t work. There is likely to be some mistrust initially especially around market share and sales data.

3. Rules and regulations

Legal advice is essential to understand what regulatory frameworks must be complied with. There are no accepted global standards for Blockchain that align with maritime law, international customs regulations and the various commercial codes such as Incoterms that govern the commercial transfer of ownership.  

4. Security

Is Blockchain really unbreakable?  Hackers would not only need to infiltrate a specific block to alter existing information but would have to access all of the preceding blocks going back through the entire history of that blockchain, across every ledger in the network, simultaneously. Even with encryption, cyber-attacks are a concern and cybersecurity costs money.

Transacting using “smart” contracts

Blockchain can be used to create “smart” contracts that execute the terms of any agreement when specified conditions are met. The “smart” part is a piece of computer code that predefines a set of rules under which the parties to that smart contract agree to interact with each other. Not recommended for beginners.

What industries will benefit most? 

Industries with the greatest potential are those that deal with extensive paperwork such as freight forwarding, marine shipping, and transport logistics. 

Tracking ofautomotive parts as they move between manufacturing facilities and countries is an attractive application as interfaces between motor manufacturers and their 3PL transport partners are complex and often not well-integrated. Toyota is venturing into developing blockchain solutions for its core parts supply chain operations.

Vulnerable and highly regulated supply chains such as food and healthcare

can benefit due to their need for transparency. Real estate has great potential due to the mass of records and documents involved such as transfers of land titles, property deeds, liens etc.  

Avoiding the hype

Gartner says that although blockchain holds great promise, often the technology is offered as a solution in search of a problem. They advise that “to ensure a successful blockchain project, make sure you actually need to use blockchain technology. Additionally, much of what is on the market as an enterprise “blockchain” solution lacks at least two of the five core components: Encryption, immutability, distribution, decentralization and tokenization.”  Gartner’s long term view is that blockchain will only move through its Trough of Disillusionment by 2022. 

Will it work in your supply chain?

The jury is still out on whether blockchain will really create a competitive advantage. Also, the cost of running a blockchain in time and resources is the unknown factor. For companies thought to have efficient supply chain operations with trusted partners and reliable databases, such a complex solution may not be needed. A supplier portal that is housed in the cloud may be more than adequate when coupled with an established ERP system.   

5 Days Without Technology

I spent five days disconnected from technology; this is how, and what I did instead…

By Africa Studio/ Shutterstock

Irrespective of what time of the day you are reading this blog, there is one certainty. You would have spent some time on line whether it was for business purposes or for personal engagement. If you are anything like me, you would have checked the weather before heading out on an early morning run. Not exactly sure why given we all know what Melbourne is like in winter. Cold! You might have gone with some social media scanning. Liked something on Instagram? So have 3.5 billion others. Checked your facebook? You’ve joined 1.5 billion users. Looking for professional connection or posts of interest amongst LinkedIn’s 575+ million users? Let’s not even get to all of the other platforms that have proliferated. After all, it’s not just the social, social media. Chances are you have also been on email, read the news on line, messaged or What’s App’d a connection, or possibly had a call via Zoom or Skype. Even likelier you have had to make your way somewhere and needed an Uber. Phew, busy morning, even busier day! But with so much to do, isn’t it lucky that it is all there on our smartphones or laptops, smart TV’s, or home assistants,  making our lives so much easier. Or is it?

Last year I had the opportunity to be in Asia for a trip that was intended to be a holiday. It seemed smart to tie in business meetings to make the most of the fact that I was in the region. I rescheduled work commitments, let colleagues know I was away and shared my itinerary with family and friends. There was no question of whether I would take my phone and my laptop with me. After all, that’s what the modern day break looks like and with the business tied in, it wasn’t even an option to think about leaving even my laptop behind.

Admittedly and somewhat proudly, I can admit that by the end of week one the laptop had not exactly been in overdrive. It languished after a couple of video calls and a handful of emails. The phone was a different proposition altogether. Rides to organise, destinations to get to, places to eat to check out, messages to family. A combination of business and leisure that made the time not just busy but always-on.

Fast forward another week and an opportune trip for work has unexpectedly taken me to Myanmar. The great thing about being digital that we all know, is that anywhere, anytime, can make all sorts of options possible. So when a friend suggested staying a little longer and exploring what is a fascinating country, I was in. Able to work from anywhere, subject to time zones and availability, makes so many things possible. Wi-fi and mobile data (which can be a financial minefield) make the possible, practical. 

Sounds like a great trip so far, but where is the disconnect you may be wondering? Well that’s got something to do with a trip to a place in Myingyan. You most likely have no idea where that is, and that’s ok, as neither did I. What I did know was that it was wonderful eco-lodge nestled in the heart of a village that offered a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in local life. What I didn’t know until we got there? There was no wi-fi.  I had just arrived for a 4 night stay in a picturesque, but remote village, without a way to get on-line except for a very inconvenient overseas mobile data plan. So what I did I do? I messaged everyone to share the contact phone number and let them know I would be out of touch for the next few days. And then I put my phone and my laptop away.

When I got back to Melbourne a few weeks later and was telling friends about my experience, responses ranged from humour, to dismay, to fascination; How did I survive? How did I spend the time? And unexpectedly from others Would I do it again? Here are the three things I shared with everyone that have stayed with me even now

1. Nothing beats personal connection

It seems simple enough and we all know it to be true, but the flipside of technology means that we often choose to digitally engage with someone instead of actually talking to them. Staying in this wonderful place, talking to the people who lived and worked there, and wandering through the local village created an interpersonal connection that would not have otherwise been possible.  There was laughter, compassion and empathy as well as intellectual challenge and thought. It took me back to being in Greece during the GFC and talking to people about the impact on them. Understanding that a country is its people, and not always its government is something we forget.

2. Your perspective drives your context

For those who know that I have been known to buy a pair, or five, of designer shoes in my time, the idea of me spending time in a remote village with no wif-fi, dirt roads and mosquitos seems unfathomable. The bet may have been that I would have been in desperate need to get back to the city and return to something a little more ‘normal’. What in fact happened, was the opposite. I was humbled by the simplicity of those I met, their stories, and their community and it serves as a wonderful reminder to me even today, that we all define the context we operate in, and what we choose to call a challenge or opportunity.

3. Make time to think, plan, act

Free from reaching for my phone, checking emails, the weather (yes, I did attempt a run on those very treacherous roads), I was able to be completely present every day through every interaction. And it was a valuable way to create space in my mind for things I had been putting off, challenges I needed to work through in my head, even ideas I wanted to explore more but did not have time to think about. Going old school with pen and paper (although I did take photos of my notes) inspired me to refresh and get clarity on what I needed to do when I got back home. All the work was done and well thought through without the distraction of the competing priorities we often have to manage.

It was not a complete surprise to reach the end of the stay and realise it wasn’t enough time so the four nights actually became five. Who would have thought that would be the case on day one. And finally getting to the next destination? I’m pleased to say that it took another day for the technology to really come on again.

The 4 Fundamental C’s of Success – Part 1: Clarity

How do you thrive in the new world where we need to be in control of our mind and embrace technology as it becomes more powerful. In a new article series we explore the four fundamental C’s of success.

By Sander van der Werf/ Shutterstock

How do you thrive in the new world where we need to be in control of our mind and embrace technology as it becomes more powerful. In a new article series we explore the four fundamental C’s of success. In this first article, Charlotte de Brabandt explores the importance of clarity.

To have clarity is to have the ability to be coherent and intelligible. It means to be able to have a clear mind, with thoughts focused on that which you intend them to be focused on. Gaining clarity comes when you think straight using intelligence and power , becoming aware of what is really important to you and to letting go of all other thoughts. Those without clarity never accomplish much of anything because their minds are full of unnecessary thoughts. As such, they can’t see clearly where they are going in life, making it difficult to make decisions and move forward. With clarity you can focus on the correct direction to lead you to the results you aim for. You are able to focus on your goals, and making decisions to attain those goals becomes simpler saving you time and energy and increasing your success. If you are unclear about what your goals are, then your results will be unclear too. Clarity is all about what you really want to achieve, so to start attaining clarity, ask yourself, “what do I want?”

This might be financial, physical, emotional or literally anything you desire. You absolutely must know what you truly want so you can work effectively to achieve it. From this point you will start to think straight without the endless confusion in your mind you perhaps once had. Once you know what your set of goals are, you can start making a clear plan of action in order to start attaining those goals. There will be many steps in your plan of action and at this stage you won’t know what they all are. If you do, then your aim is not set high enough! Write down the steps you know you will have to take to achieve your goal, but be aware of the unknown steps ahead and be flexible as you progress towards your goal. You may encounter different paths or opportunities on your journey towards your goal that will change your plan, be open to them. The important thing is to keep clear what the main objective is and stay focused along the way. As you progress along your journey towards your goal, every next step will be presented to you and your job is to take action on the presented step in order to move forward and receive the next.

As you continually visualise the attainment of your goal with focus and emotion, simpler ways to achieve your goal will be presented to you and you will continue to build your belief in the achievement of that goal, no matter how big it might have seemed at the beginning. Often making decisions is difficult. Even when you know your goals and aims, decision making is like a muscle, which has to be worked. In the beginning of your decision making process it will help to write down all of your options and eliminate them one by one, taking time to meditate on it until you can see with clarity the best decision for you to make . Lay your options out clearly and accurately so you are able to think with clarity about taking the correct next step. Then once that step is decided upon, do not look back, do not look to the side. Stay focused and bring your goal to your physical reality. As you continue to make decisions, meditating on what is best, your intuition will grow stronger and you will be able to make your decisions with more speed and accuracy. Remember making fast decisions is an important step and with clarity and a strong intuition, your ability to make fast, accurate decisions will become very simple.

“The clearer you are, the simpler things become”

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

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

By Dean Drobot/ Shutterstock

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

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

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

Understand the maturity level

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

Know what to use it for

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

It will change industries and practices

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

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

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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.


By Billion Photos / Shutterstock

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!

5 Steps To Providing Procurement As A Service 

The core activity of Procurement 4.0 will be to deliver <<as a service>> in the same way that cloud technology has evolved…

By Black Salmon/ Shutterstock

At Ivalua Now The Art of Procurement earlier this month, Emmanuel Erba, Group Chief Procurement Officer – Executive Vice President -Capgemini discussed what the journey leading us to Procurement 4.0 could look like.

In an unprecedented period of technological disruptions, we simply cannot escape them. Emanuel advised that procurement professionals choose to see this as a realm of opportunity and question how to deliver all the promises of digital transformation to our clients.

The procurement environment is changing and this must be embraced or the profession will sink like a stone, he warned.

Unpredendented disruptions

  1. Cloud : Cloud is now the primary way of delivering and consuming IT – it’s the new normal. No one can imagine running a business without cloud computing
  2. Cybersecurity:  Last year, 689 million people globally were victims of cybercrime. By 2020 60 per cent of businesses will suffer major service failures. In today’s world, no CEO goes to bed certain that tomorrow their company will not to be impacted by a cyber threat. Cybersecurity needs to be integrated within our systems
  3. Business Platforms: These are a core feature of our current landscape. Business platforms have enabled getting the client closer to the supplier
  4. Industry 4.0
  5. AI and automation: This will strongly disrupt data gathering and processing. Repetitive and mundane tasks will be automated

What would your CEO say if you asked them what their priorities are? It’s likely that the way you manage costs is not high in the agenda. It’s important to understand what top management wants and what your clients expect and then work out how your procurement team can address these needs.

Emmanuel believes that the core activity of procurement 4.0 will be to deliver <<as a service>> in the same way that cloud technology has evolved.

Five forces driving the market towards <<as a service>>

  1. Time to scale – The speed at which the biggest brands are growing is ever-increasing. For organisations including Youtube, Amazon and Android the time taken to go from 0-80 per cent WW market share is only five years
  2. Disintermediate– Direct access to the resource to capture value – for example Uber, AirBnB and Apple
  3. Go to market – GTM via most powerful marketplaces powered by AI, automation, analytics. For example, digital ads sold Teslas with $70 million in advertising investments
  4. Revenue share – All of these factor are funded by 20-30 per cent revenue share model and leverage of client assets
  5. Investment power – Free cash flow generated enables immense CAPEX ability and acquisitions

5 steps to providing procurement <<as a service>>

For procurement, the 4.0 wave should

  1. Integrate disruptions – let’s not ignore disruptions, Emmanuel argues, they are much more powerful than us!
  2. Gear its people to embrace – Globalise!
  3. Position its role as aggregator of services, either internal or external, and map them to the business outcomes of the organisation
  4. Adopt the platforms that will increase the speed of execution, the automation and the data insights
  5. Think not only bottom line impact but being a Growth Enabler

In the <<as a service>> world, you don’t need to integrate everything vertically, but rather focus on your key differentiators and aggregate other services in the most effective way thinking in terms of meaningful outcomes.

Procurement as a service can address sizable needs both in direct and indirect spend. As Emmanuel revealed Procurement cloud addresses a $5 trillion scope.

Procurious attended Ivalua Now The Art of Procurement earlier this month. Find out more here.

Could RPA Make Procurement Jobs More Human?

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

By Viktor Gladkov / Shutterstock

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

Despite this, many procurement professionals do not have the time to focus on the human side of their job. Data collection, reporting, transactional activities, urgencies, etc. are all tasks that eat up their precious time and prevent them from focusing on relationships that could generate more value and better outcomes.  This problem isn’t new and is the main driver behind the constant, growing interest in procurement technologies that automate processes and increase efficiencies.

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

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

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

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

RPA: Copy/paste on steroïds…

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

Source: IEEE Guide for Terms and Concepts in Intelligent Process Automation (whose purpose is to provide standard definitions of concepts, capabilities, terms, technology, types, etc. for emerging process technologies)

This technical definition of what RPA is and how it works can be summed up with a simple analogy. Imagine that you have to repeatedly copy data from one Excel file to another to produce a monthly report. One way to eliminate these mundane, low-value, tedious tasks would be to create a macro that would do all the copy/paste for you. In addition to saving hours of your precious time over the course of the year, it would also reduce the risk of errors. This is, essentially, a simplified definition of what RPA is about. It’s a way to automate repetitive and scripted actions that are usually performed manually by users (not just copy/paste!). It is a form of business process automation.

The typical benefits of RPA are:

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

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

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

If RPA only Had a Brain…

There’s no getting around it: RPA is a very dumb technology.  It does exactly what it’s told, blindly executing whatever set of rules it’s given. Such technology has been in use for years but on a limited scale. However, with the advancement of other, smarter technologies opening up new opportunities to make RPA more useful and less “dumb,” it is experiencing a revival. AI is one of the emerging technologies revitalising RPA, and stirring up hype. These days, it’s rare to see RPA without an AI component, which has also lead to a lot of confusion between RPA and AI.

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

Source: IEEE

By nature, RPA and AI are very different technologies:

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

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

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

RPA Applications for Procurement

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

The Hackett Group on Procurious

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Pizza, Medicines and Death Rays: The Future of Drone Delivery

We’re still a long way away from drone deliveries and drone-run supply chains being the norm – so what’s the current state of drone delivery worldwide?

There’s no question that the world has gone drone mad. If you didn’t receive one for Christmas (bad luck), you’ll probably know someone that did. But, despite all the hype, we’re still a long way away from drone deliveries and drone-run supply chains being the norm.  

So what’s the current state of drone delivery worldwide?

The idea of drone deliveries for useful things is a lot more fun to think about than drones being used for dropping bombs or killing people with death rays – so let’s focus on that for the time being.

Drones are already capable of being deployed for many types of delivery services such as pizzas in urban environments and desperately-needed medicines flown by drones to remote, inaccessible villages. 

In many instances, drone technology has advanced so quickly that it runs afoul of the local laws. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States says that, without special permission, a drone needs to be flown in the line-of-sight of the operator and that a drone cannot be flown from a moving vehicle. 

Perhaps pizza-delivery observation towers could become a new industry in America?

In this article I outline some of the societal benefits of drone delivery, the risks associated, the prevalence of drone delivery today and what the future holds.

Societal benefits of drone delivery

Some of the societal benefits of drone deliveries include economic considerations, improvements in emergency response systems, overcoming delivery problems to remote areas and pollution reduction. 

  • Economics

The most difficult part of any delivery challenge is “the last mile” (metaphorically speaking). This is the portion of the supply chain pathway from the warehouse to the customer’s/buyer’s home or office. Drone delivery is faster and saves money on fuel costs, fleet maintenance of commercial vehicles and labour costs for human drivers. 

  • Emergency Response and Healthcare

In some medical emergency situations, a few minutes could make the difference between whether someone lives or dies. Delivery drones can bring first aid supplies, needed medicines, blood for transfusions, and medical equipment. For example, those suffering from a heart attack might get help from an emergency drone, which maintains communication with paramedics and can deliver a portable defibrillator.

The paramedics are able to observe through a remote video what is happening and instruct those giving aid to the heart-attack victim on how to use it.

  • Pollution Reduction

If drone batteries are recharged via renewable energy systems, such as solar power, the air flight is pollution free. The only downside to drone use is noise pollution. Whilst it might not be very noticeable when a single drone is flying, imagine a future where there are overly-active, drone-flying corridors.

To address this problem an inventor, Edgar Herrera, has developed a blade-less drone, which flies in complete silence. The drone is not yet in production but the design is spectacular; solar-powered, silent-flying, drone delivery is nothing short of revolutionary.

Drones and Privacy

Privacy is a big concern for many people when it comes to commercial drone use and the main reason that legislation came into being all over the world. In many places, using drones for surveillance is a crime. Authorities are increasingly concerned about delivery drones being used for terrorist acts or criminal purposes. In Europe, a study published by RIMMA noted that drones had been flown over nuclear power plants and used to smuggle items into prisons and carry drugs across the U.S./Mexican border

These are just a few of the reasons that legislation has been put in place all over the world – to protect critical infrastructure from unauthorised drone surveillance or attack.

Commercial drone flyers that operate a drone delivery service need to be careful not to break these laws or lose control of their drones because the penalties are harsh.

Consumers have other concerns regarding drone delivery services besides safety, privacy, and security. eMarketer reports than 72 per cent of consumers worry about problems with packages, such as theft or damage. Drones equipped with video surveillance technology can reduce these criminal risks but these cameras raise further questions about privacy and security.

This is an area of opportunity for supply chain managers and entrepreneurs to focus on providing solutions. 

Drone delivery around the world

USA

In the USAThe FAA has been slow to allow commercial drones for delivery services. Drone flying is still restricted to line-of-sight, which makes drone delivery less efficient and not possible in all areas. 

  • In 2015, the USPS starting testing postal delivery using Horsefly drones and since October 2017, REMSA, an ambulance and emergency services company partnered with Flirtey to deliver portable defibrillators for 911 emergency calls in northern Nevada. 
  • Fortune reports that Uber is testing food delivery by drones. Google, FedEx, Intel, and Qualcomm are working with the Department of Transportation on commercial testing of drone delivery services. 
  • Forbes reports that big efforts are being made by Amazon, Target, Walmart, and many others to incorporate a viable, commercial drone-delivery service in their long-term strategic and logistics plans. 

UK and EU

  • The UK is moving faster than the US to approve the widespread deployment of commercial drones, which should hit the market in 2019 or 2020. Amazon has made significant advancements in the UK. 
  • The European Union is in the process of creating laws to regulate commercial drone-flying corridors of airspace called U-Space to allow a wide deployment of drone delivery services. 
  • Since March 2017, in Switzerland, Matternet has been working with the government mail system, Swiss Post, to deliver emergency medical supplies.
  • In December 2014, the French postal service, La Poste began testing drone delivery systems. 

The future of drone delivery

If the regulators cooperate, commercial drone delivery will become a widespread reality to be enjoyed by consumers and those in need of urgent medical supplies and emergency services worldwide. 

It is most-likely that large-scale, commercial drone-delivery deployments will occur in Europe, the UK, and Australia during 2019 with Amazon and Google leading the way. In China, JD.com is moving ahead with widespread deployment very quickly and Alibaba is advancing as well using drone delivery to support offshore islands. 

McKinsey reports that the drone delivery industry in the USA alone, grew from $40 million in 2012 to $1 billion in 2017. Madison estimates the global market depends on what happens with the regulations. Ultimately, the global market for commercial drones may reach over $127 billion annually. 

This article, written by Mark Sheehan, was originally published on My Drone Authority.

How To Enable Smarter Procurement Today

If AI is the light at the end of the tunnel, why are there so few success stories to be found? How do we enable smart procurement?  

Success with today’s broad set of complex objectives requires Procurement leaders to think strategically and process ever greater volumes of diverse information. Unfortunately, this is an area with significant room for improvement at most organisations. A survey of over 400 procurement leaders by Forrester found their top priority to be “improv[ing] business insight on purchasing activity through reporting and analytics.”

The obstacles to more informed, strategic decision-making are quite consistent. The study, entitled “Enabling Smarter Procurement” found three common issues

1. Firstly, despite efforts at automating processes, too much capacity is still consumed by operational or manual activities. Teams must free capacity to work on new projects, conduct analysis and plan, but are struggling to do so.

2.  Secondly leaders struggle to access relevant insights when and where they are needed. The volume of information now available is of little help if not digestible, simply leading to information overload.

3. Compounding this, respondents also cited poor data quality as a key challenge. Duplicate supplier records, inaccurate data and poor integration between systems all were cited as sources of data quality issues.

Fortunately, new technologies are available that can empower procurement to address these and other challenges and rise to the occasion. AI in particular is finally coming of age and often viewed as the answer to many of Procurement’s challenges. The same survey found that 71 per cent of business leaders plan to adopt AI in procurement over the next 12 months. Yet if AI is the light at the end of the tunnel, why are so few success stories to be found?

A key reason is the approach taken to implementing AI solutions to date. As vendors struggle to burnish their innovation credibility, there has been significant marketing ahead of capabilities which has led to unmet expectations post implementation. As capabilities are now coming in line with past marketing, this problem will subside. Of greater concern, the innovation race has led to nearly an exclusive focus on the algorithms, leading to poorly designed implementations. Less innovative but equally important areas, especially data quality, are being ignored. AI relies on a solid foundation of data, in terms of volume and quality, so solutions that offer clever applications alone are sure to disappoint.

To remedy this problem, organisations must implement AI in conjunction with cleaning up their data, rather than using poor data quality as an excuse for inaction. Source-to-Pay suites that are built upon a unified data model partially address the challenge by generating clean data that can be mined by AI applications across all processes. For example, suites with a single supplier record can provide true 360 degree visibility of supplier performance and activity, and enable AI applications to predict potential risks.

That still leaves issues with existing data or data in other systems. Here, master data management solutions should be leveraged that can actually fix issues in back end systems, linking vendor and item master records across systems. This further improves visibility and the potential for new and better insights.

Empowering procurement to make more informed, strategic decisions is no longer an option. There is simply no other way to effectively meet the broad set of objectives now expected. Fortunately, new technologies are finally reaching the level of maturity where they can have a transformative impact. By implementing AI applications in parallel with initiatives to improve their data foundation, leading organizations are both enabling smarter procurement today and ensuring they are well positioned to leverage tomorrow’s innovations.

Ivalua sponsored today’s London CPO roundtable. If you would like to attend or sponsor a Procurious roundtable please contact Olga Luscombe via [email protected] 

Is It Time For Procurement Pros To Go To Market?

Going to Market (Place) : The Future of Procurement goes live on 13th November. Sign up now.  

Could a  B2B e-marketplace transform the lives of your procurement team? What are the key benefits of using a marketplace and why are some procurement leaders reluctant to take the leap?

We hear from Molly Dobson, Head of Enterprise Customer Success – Amazon Business and Mary Hetherington, Director of UK Group Procurement – AXA to get the low down on the future of marketplaces, how they can benefit procurement professionals and what reservations are still held by the profession.

Whist digital marketplaces have evolved over time, and come and gone with varying success, the core functionality remains in that they are a central place where people gather to buy and sell goods and services.

“The digital marketplace isn’t a revolutionary concept.” explains Molly. “But it definitely has been more prevalent in our personal lives than our professional lives – e.g. Uber, Airbnb and Amazon.”

Having said that, “early innovators really did introduce a concept in procurement that still underpins the business marketplaces of today. These are capabilities like electronic procurement, reverse auctions and buyer discovery.”

Molly outlines the three core components of any procurement marketplace:

  1. Breadth of choice

The  first core characteristic of a marketplace is having that “wide range of choice within a single interface, which is why we all like to use marketplaces within our personal lives. Within a marketplace like Amazon Business you can access 250 million products from toilet paper to precision test and measurement instruments, to professional medical supplies.”

2. Competition 

“Users of a marketplace get access to multiple sellers for the same offer. Each of these sellers is competing against one another to get your business and with this competition you can have reduced commitments to some of those long, inflexible contracts. We like to talk about a marketplace being dynamic in that sense.”

3. Transparency 

“In a marketplace you can have transparency of product and seller reviews and pricing and delivery options. You really get the capability to compare all of your options and make informed buying decisions.”

“In the procurement space, in particular, you have additional requirements with things like the ability to integrate with other procurement applications.”

Marketplaces and maverick spend

Mary recently began piloting a marketplace at AXA.

“In the short space of time that we’ve been [trialling a marketplace] it has really surprised me the depth of information that we can attain about who’s buying what, the types of goods and services we’re buying,  at a very low level which hasn’t always been that transparent in the past.

“This is really useful for a large organisation like mine where we’re supporting several different business units with very diverse sets of requirements and lots and lots of small purchases. It gives us the opportunity to consolidate information and identify rogue spend very quickly.”

Measuring marketplace success

AXA has been measuring the success of its marketplace with three metrics; customer satisfaction, billing and fulfilment and  management of information.

  1. Customer satisfaction

Customer satisfaction on the solutions and the process around Amazon Marketplace is one metric AXA have been using to measure success.

“We all know that Amazon is the go to place for purchases. We use it in our private lives and people like that experience so we want to try and give our business customers some of that experience and flexibility when dealing with business purchases.”

2. Billing and fulfilment

Making sure that billing and fulfilment of the goods is effective, [that it] interfaces neatly with our purchase to pay solutions  [and] that we get the granularity we want on our invoicing.”

3.  Great management of information

It’s important to ensure procurement leaders can make well informed decisions about their future spend and future requirements.

“It can take some work to get [a marketplace] off the ground, [fitting into] your strategy [to a point where  multifunctional leaders can buy into it.”

Marketplace adoption

So what’s holding procurement teams back when it comes to adopting marketplaces. Mary Hetherington, Director of UK Group Procurement – AXA believes part of the challenge is procurement’s need to achieve a healthy balance between enabling the business and applying controls.

“We need to show flexibility but also proportionality when we’re looking at different sizes of purchasing,” she argues.

“The challenge with a marketplace is ensuring we determine the appropriate level of control that gives that flexibility to the business but doesn’t compromise any of our existing  preferred supplier  arrangement or bypass certain checkpoints of governance as a finical services organisation that we need to carry out.

“The key here is pitching it at the right level to ensure both the procurement team and the business get the solution they want.”

Are marketplaces the future of procurement? What are the pros and cons? We discuss in new Procurious webinar. which goes live on 13th November.  Sign up now (it’s free!)