Tag Archives: technology

Technology For Dummies: Your Easy Guide To Everything From Automation To Robots

Here’s your simple explanation of six technologies that will change the future of procurement.


Are you tired of nodding along when people throw around terms like ‘blockchain’ and ‘machine learning?’

Fear not. Here is your simple guide to six technologies that will change the future of procurement. Spoiler alert: some of these are already here and shaking up the supply chain.  

Quantum computing

What it is: Quantum computing is an entirely new kind of computer based on the science of quantum mechanics. Sounds intimidating, right? Don’t worry – this stuff is pretty cool.  

Quantum computing is exciting because it’s not just some super powerful version of the computers we already have, explains physicist Shohini Ghose. “Just like a lightbulb is not a more powerful version of a candle, you cannot build a lightbulb by building better and better candles.”

It’s far more advanced than our current computers, so it can solve problems that we can’t even begin to solve now.

How it works: If your personal computer had a personality, it would be a stubborn person who can only see things in black and white. The answer can only be 0 or 1. That’s known as a bit.

Quantum computing is more open minded. It knows life isn’t that straightforward. The answer could be 0 or 1, or anywhere on the spectrum between the two. That’s known as a qubit (pronounced cue-bit). That spectrum makes quantum computing super powerful.

As Wired’s Amit Katwala puts it: “If you ask a normal computer to figure its way out of a maze, it will try every single branch in turn, ruling them all out individually until it finds the right one. A quantum computer can go down every path of the maze at once. It can hold uncertainty in its head.”

That tolerance for uncertainty opens up a world of possibilities, like uncovering new chemicals or speeding up the discovery of new medicine.

Katwala adds, “If you can string together multiple qubits, you can tackle problems that would take our best computers millions of years to solve.”

Is it really that exciting? Well, in IBM VP of Research Bob Sutor’s words: “I think it’s going to be the most important computing technology of the century.”

Why it matters for procurement: Quantum computing will vastly improve logistics problem solving.

IBM (one of the biggest players in quantum computing) gives the example of global shipping. If companies could improve container utilisation and shipping volume by even a tiny fraction, it would save millions and reduce the carbon footprint. That’s the scale of quantum computing’s ability.

It can also help supply chain managers improve decision-making and manage risk by responding in real-time to changing market demand.

Internet of Things (IoT)

What it is: The Internet of Things (IoT) is taking real-world objects and connecting them to the internet.

You’ve seen this with the boom in ‘smart appliances’. These home appliances are internet-enabled, letting you turn on your coffee maker, start a load of laundry, and even pre-heat your oven with just a smartphone.

How it works: The Internet of Things lets you create a network of devices that can ‘talk’ to each other and share data.

And this explosion of smart products will only get bigger. In fact, there could be more than 41 billion IoT devices by 2025. Why? Cheap computer chips and widespread Wi-Fi.

Why it matters for procurement: Even though the Internet of Things is widespread in homes, the biggest market is actually businesses. The so-called Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is already commonplace – especially in manufacturing through the use of sensors and other monitoring devices.

These internet-enabled devices give companies greater control, and even help ensure safety. For example, pharmaceutical companies use IIoT temperature sensors when transporting vaccines to make sure they stay at the right temperature.

McKinsey notes that sensors are also used to monitor container-fill levels: “This real-time transparency allows the logistics team to manage the material flow more accurately and order raw materials and other inputs closer to the date they are needed, reducing inventory.”

The firm says these monitoring abilities are even more important in a post-pandemic world.

Machine learning

What it is: Machine learning is the ability of a computer programme to ‘learn’ and adapt based on new data, all without the help of a human.

How it works:  The programme sifts through huge amounts of data looking for patterns. Then companies use those patterns to inform decisions and influence customer behaviour. It’s how Netflix chooses what shows to suggest for you. The more you watch on the platform, the more data it has about you and the better it can predict what you’ll like.

Why it matters for procurement: There are many use cases for machine learning in the supply chain. One especially relevant one is improving demand forecasts. At the moment, it’s hard to account for all the variables in supply chain. As McKinsey points out, there are long-tail items, extreme seasonality, customer preference changes, and media coverage that all render forecasts useless.

Yet with machine learning can help companies reduce forecast errors by up to 50%. And equally important, it can reduce lost sales due to product unavailability by 65%.

Another example comes from professional services firm EY. The firm was asked by a major shipping port to help with the logistics of 100 vessels coming and going each day. When predicted arrival times were off, the port faced expensive bottlenecks. So EY used machine learning to analyse different sources of data – like tidal patterns and historical arrival information. It combined that with satellite navigation for more accurate tracking. As a result, the port saved more than $10 million from increased accuracy.

Through machine learning, computers can process more data points about a business than a human could ever hope to analyse. That means unparalleled visibility in the supply chain.

Enterprise blockchain

What it is: A blockchain network is a way to store digital records so different parties can all access the same version of the truth.

The records are unchangeable, which helps build trust by taking away human bias and politics.

How it works: Enterprise blockchain is a blockchain network that is specifically for businesses. It’s different from other types of blockchain because it’s private. The only people who can access records are those who have been invited.

Apart from blockchain records being transparent and unchangeable, they can also improve speed.

For example, the United States Food and Drug Administration recently finished a pilot programme with IBM to track and identify prescription drugs using blockchain. The results? It now takes two seconds to trace medicine, instead of 16 weeks.

Why it matters for procurement: Of all industries, blockchain has made the biggest impact in supply chain and logistics. Several companies already use the technology to keep tabs on what’s going across the supply chain.

One example is US retail giant Walmart, which requires all lettuce suppliers to be part of its blockchain network so it can track the product’s journey from farm to shelf. They use IBM’s enterprise blockchain as part of the IBM Food Trust.

Some retailers are using this traceability to improve customer confidence. They include QR codes on packaging so customers can simply scan with their smartphones and see a product’s history.

Human augmentation

What it is: Human augmentation is using technology to give humans increased physical and mental abilities. One example is an exoskeleton, which is a wearable robotic suit that makes humans stronger. And you thought Iron Man was fiction…

Most technological advancements seem to take humans out of the equation. Yet this area is all about improving human capability with technology.

How it works: Essentially, human augmentation is about making up for human design flaws.

As David Cearley, VP analyst at Gartner, said, it’s about “moving from designing for humans to architecting humans themselves”.

Gartner describes four main types of human augmentation: sensory (hearing, vision, perception), appendage and biological (exoskeletons, prosthetics), brain (implants to treat seizures) and genetic (somatic gene and cell therapy).

One example is the ability to control a machine using just your mind. By popping on a wearable device, a person can operate machinery with the power of thought. Who’s developing such a device?  The US government, of course.

And it’s not alone in seeking new ways to enhance performance. Gartner predicts 40% of companies will use human augmentation technology by 2025.

Why it matters for procurement: The obvious use for biological augmentation like exoskeletons is in warehousing, automotive, and manufacturing. Benefits include letting workers lift heavy things with minimal effort, protecting them from bodily injury, and working longer without fatigue.

And companies are already realising those benefits. Car manufacturer Ford has used exoskeletons for workers since 2018.

Robotic Process Automation

What it is: Robotic Process Automation (RPA) means using software to automate processes with “bots”. These bots do simple, repetitive tasks like data entry and reconciliation.

How it works: Bots are programmed to use your company’s IT systems, just like a human would.

By automating repetitive tasks, companies cut down errors. These bots can also perform tasks much faster than humans. Consulting firm Deloitte says it takes a bot one minute to do what it takes a human 15 minutes.

It gives the example of a robot pulling data from a PDF into an Excel document, using that information to generate an invoice, then sending the invoice by email automatically. The idea is letting the bots do the repetitive stuff, freeing you up to do higher-level thinking.

Why it matters for procurement: RPA has huge potential for supply chains and procurement. In fact, shipping company DHL uses it to automatically invoice carriers and schedule delivery appointments.

And shipping company Maersk relies on bots to complete 38 different procurement processes, like reporting and requisitioning.

Likewise, industrial company Siemens uses bots to get quotes from companies that aren’t current suppliers.

At this rate, it might not be long until automated sourcing becomes the norm in procurement.

Does automation make you nervous about your role?

You aren’t alone, says Natalie Chapman, Head of Urban Policy at the UK’s Freight Transport Association (FTA).

“Anxiety about mass automation is widespread; in one study, 34% of UK workers surveyed believed automation would result in large job losses and that few will be replaced by new and different roles,” Chapman says.

Encouragingly, though, she adds that FTA research shows technology will be complementary, replacing routine tasks rather than job roles.

“In response to the rise of automation in the workplace, skills demand will change in the coming years,” Chapman says. “The need for workers skilled in manual dexterity and precision will decline – as these tasks can be completed by machines most easily – and in its place, employers will seek staff skilled in analytical and innovative thinking, creativity and emotional intelligence.”

So, the good news is the robots aren’t stealing our jobs. At least not yet.

Want to know more about all things tech? Tune in to our recent series Major Tech Fails where we set you up for a total tech-success.

Forget The Pretty Face, It’s The Content That Matters

Don’t be seduced by a sleek user interface or fancy bells and whistles – it’s the solutions ability to address your most critical spend categories, use cases and suppliers that really matter in the long term.


It’s easy to be taken in by the shiny exterior of a product, it’s pretty packaging, isn’t it? As we all know, companies use clever product branding and marketing to draw us in and boost their sales. And the pretty-packaging strategy is no different when it comes to tech solutions. 

Think about the last tech solution you or your organisation purchased. More than likely it had an appealing design, intuitive user interface, and web 2.0 look and feel.  Or maybe you were drawn in by the way the system looks in mobile or app form? These are all design features intended to lure in a tech buyer.

But is design really what matters most when it comes to making a success of your tech implementation?

Success Requires More Than Just a Pretty Face

Once you’ve decided to purchase a new tech solution, you pull together your shopping list of requirements. Key stakeholders add to your list of requirements and then each requirement is stack ranked based on need.  “Must-haves” vs. “nice to haves” are thrown together into an RFP.  Tech vendors check all the boxes and impress you with their demos.  By the time you see the third or fourth vendor, you start to believe, any one of these vendors can meet our requirements and help us achieve the success we desire.    

Then the system demos take place and that pretty packaging comes into play. There’s a risk that all the focus on the shiny new objects distracts from what really matters. So how do you stay focused and stick to your requirements and select a tech solution that’s right for you? 

Here are my three tips to keep your mind focused and ensure your head isn’t turned by the razzle-dazzle of a great sales presentation.

1. Keep suppliers top of  mind 

One of procurement’s key relationships is with the suppliers that we use. Choosing a solution that puts the suppliers’ user experience at the top of your priority list is pivotal to making your tech implementation a success.

Your business case probably includes reducing supplier-related work. As far back as 2015, Hackett Group research estimated that e-invoicing could cut costs by 31 percent and supplier enquiries by 24 percent – big wins for you and the team if you get the implementation right.

But this goes beyond making it easy for suppliers to transact efficiently, it includes making it easy for suppliers to keep their content up to date.  Supplier data, certifications, qualifications, financial info, and catalog info are just a few things that suppliers can keep up to date to make it easier on you and your team.   

During your selection process, don’t forget that suppliers are no different to any other user of new tech. They expect it to be free and easy to use or they, like your end users, will do all they can to go around the system.

Successful supplier adoption of new tech can be critical to making your implementation work. If buyers ensure that regularly used suppliers are onboarded correctly and ready to go at go live, then adoption will be a whole lot easier for your end users.  Why?  Because the suppliers they are used to transacting with, will be easily found in your new tech.   Resist the pretty packaging and keep your supplier experience top of mind.

2. Ensure your new tech effectively addresses the categories that matter most

Imagine you have just installed your new tech and your end users engage the platform only to find that their spend categories are not enabled.  It doesn’t really matter how intuitive the user interface is or how much it looks like Amazon.com.  If they can’t engage with their suppliers and buy from the categories they typically buy, they will not adopt your new tech.  

Buyers of tech can easily be persuaded to focus on the shiny new object.  Don’t be distracted, stay focused on what really matters for your end users.  What spend categories must your new tech address to deliver the value your business case promised?  

Make sure your new tech supports the categories and departments that are large spend areas, but are not effectively managed today.  If your new tech can match the spend coverage you have today, while also positively affecting categories and departments that you have typically struggled to manage, you will see wider spread adoption and a significant increase in spend under management.  Your end users will feel as though they have been heard and will appreciate that you are implementing a solution that appears as though it was built for them.

3. ‘Keep the main thing the main thing’

In the razzle-dazzle of the tech demo, it’s easy to lose track of the critical use cases that separate success from failure. Tech companies will want to show off their most fancy stuff, but that is not typically where success is found.  In fact, many that focus on the shiny objects don’t focus enough attention on the use cases that matter most.  

For example, what’s the real use of an Amazon-like procurement system when a very small percentage of your spend is actually “shopping” for items?  It is also a very low bar for any system to shop for a laptop, put it into a shopping cart and route it for approvals.  That changes though if your end users are shopping for MRO and/or research items where shopping is the norm.  

We are also seeing a trend for organizations moving toward systems that are able to effectively address use cases for both direct and indirect.  This is certainly an area that you don’t want to assume your new tech can effectively address.  Take the time to engage the right stakeholders and let their voice be heard.  Bringing them in after contracts are signed is way too late. 

Ask yourself – does the tech solution give me what I need? Are core functions as they should be? Is the user experience for suppliers and end users acceptable for your standards? Does the solution cater to your key categories and departments? You will find there is a big difference between updating your processes to fit best practices to minimize customization and feature requests with your new tech and trying to fit a square peg in a round hole on the other. Make sure you’re clear on what your critical use cases are and the features that you will need to support them. Consider how much you are prepared to change processes to fit within your new tech and document everything so all parties are on the same page on what needs to be done.  This will help clarify which tech is a better fit and which solution is better aligned to support your industry and organizational uniqueness. 

It’s great to have a tech solution that has a pretty face. But the lure of pretty packaging may lead you down a path that’s just not right for you, your team or your business. Use my 3 tips during your selection process to ensure you get a solution that will deliver the outcomes you are expecting. 

To go deeper on how to find your perfect tech match, download our e-book ‘How To Select Source-To-Pay & Procure-To-Pay Systems That Deliver Results‘ and tune in to our series ‘Major Tech Fails.’

Working From Home Is Resilient, But Is It Sustainable In Procurement?

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted Procurement in unimaginable ways. Running Procurement from home is possible, but is it sustainable?


The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the workforce in ways we have never experienced, affecting also Procurement departments and Procurement Outsourcing (PO) providers. Shared service center locations first across Asia and then the rest of the world became hot spots, leading to a rush of company initiatives to enable procurement professionals to productively work from home. IBM was successful in moving 99% of its Procurement Outsourcing teams from 60 centers across 40 countries into a home office environment in only 10 days without service degradation (1), proving that running a Procurement business working from homeis possible and productivity can be maintained when a business can react quickly, but is it sustainable? Have critical activities just been postponed or is this is the new business as usual? Three considerations for sustained resiliency.

#1. Make regularly working from home part of your team’s DNA

While many of us are used to working from home in some capacity, over 80% of our procurement professionals have never done so on a regular basis.  And just because our workforce can work from home does not mean they are able and willing to do so long-term.

But returning to the office means finding the balance between safety and productivity for our teams, and deciding whether to aim for a quick return to the office or a more comprehensive re-modeling toward “borderless workplaces” where staff works from a combination of office, client site and/or home. Returning to the office is based on smart, quick and simple fixes: social distancing, mask wearing, and setting up sanitation protocols, such as rethinking where and when we eat and gather, how we open and close doors and use elevators. Re-modeling more fundamentally looks at how we work and defining what the worker’s purpose and intent is inside the office. Buildings become much more purpose-driven; deliberately sought out for team meetings, new employee onboarding, and collaboration sessions, with more hot desks and larger shared spaces, instead of being the default place to go for work.

But no matter in what capacity we return to the office, working from home regularly or even primarily will have to become part of our DNA going forward, as future infection waves are likely to force us out of offices again multiple times over the next few years.

Achieving this will require us to focus more than ever on internal communication. We have already seen a personalization of written communication over the past few months, with people expressing genuine care for each other, but we need to also listen to our employees and keep an eagle-eyed focus on engagement. By taking time for one-on-one discussions, acknowledging everyone’s individual challenges, ramping up appreciation and recognition, and ensuring we create virtual spaces for socializing we can maintain a sense of belonging and feeling of pride. On a collective scale, short pulse surveys can be a simple way to gauge the team about how they feel and adapt measures for greater engagement and productivity.

Ultimately our teams and their willingness to be flexible will be the first line of defense for sustained productivity in the new world.

#2: Bootstrap adjustments in operating models to accelerate your digitalization journey

Just a few months of working from home on a large scale have successfully increased the sense of urgency for digitalization and more intelligent end-to-end workflows. IBM and our clients have already seen an explosion of home-grown dashboards and trackers, aimed at gaining more visibility into procurement operations, allowing for more granular insights and daily views of the business. In the spirit of agility, we should initially allow for the creation of these “quick and dirty” data collection and visualization tools, even if it is manual and there is duplication. As we learn more about what our post-COVID-19 world will look like and the effort required to maintain a plethora of semi-manual tools becomes a burden, we can start distilling down to only a handful of tools and a new operating standard, creating the enablers for a broader roll-out of “no touch” procurement solutions, including traditional tools like catalogs, as well as newer solutions like marketplaces, chatbots, guided buying assistants, robotic process automation, and analytics to accelerate speed to insights and decision making.

Even more delicate and trust-based processes like Category Management and Strategic Sourcing can benefit from digitalization, for example by running “Virtual Sourcing Bootcamps” with business stakeholders using a series of video calls to map out purchasing plans, identify additional addressable spend and define more robust category wave plans for the year.

Additional incentives can be created for those internal clients or BPO customers who are resistant to a more permanent work from home delivery environment by redistributing real estate charges and differentiating expected employee productivity to create a price differential between home- and office-based setups.

#3: Learn to build trust virtually as a buyer and a seller

Until recently, meeting face-to-face was a non-negotiable prerequisite for the signing of large contracts, which we at IBM have experienced both as a supplier of Procurement Outsourcing, but also a buyer agent with our own and our customer’s suppliers. Finding a way to make customers comfortable pulling the trigger on multi-million-dollar contracts with little to no human contact is going to be a key success factor for our new future.

In the outsourcing world, visiting one or more delivery centers is a staple in every sales pursuit, but with increasingly distributed teams and a desire to reduce non-essential business travel, we are now showcasing our teams and their capabilities virtually. Using a mixture of live and pre-recorded videos, online whiteboarding tools and virtual roundtables with practitioners we have been able to create an authentic virtual delivery experience to aid in the sales process.

Experiment with virtual collaboration tools not just internally, but get comfortable using them with clients and suppliers to co-create, or hear from experts and practitioners that wouldn’t otherwise have been flown in. Focus your travel dollars and effort on one key meeting or workshop and augment it with a few virtual “visits” to round out the picture.

Summary

Leading a borderless workplace Procurement team is possible and can even deliver superior results if employees are engaged, but ensuring sustainability requires active shaping of your team’s DNA, a more digitalized operating model and the confidence to build trust in a virtual environment. Sometimes creativity requires constraints to really flourish, and let’s use the existing restrictions as an opportunity to emerge from this crisis stronger than when we entered it.

By Matthew Bounds & Martin Esser. For more information about operational resiliency, read:

·       Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Services for business continuity and resiliency ibm.com/bpo

·       Building operational resiliency for anytime, anywhere and any situation

Footnote: (1) IBM Services blog, “Building operational resiliency for anytime, anywhere and any situation”, May 4, 2020, https://www.ibm.com/blogs/services/2020/05/04/building-operational-resiliency-for-anytime-anywhere-and-any-situation/

How To Prove The ROI On Your Tech Solution

Your tech solution should be delivering the benefits and ROI set out at the start of the agreement – but how do you prove this to your CFO?


Making a substantial investment in a technology solution is not something that any organisation takes lightly.  Getting the green light to go ahead often involves significant stakeholder engagement, a comprehensive sourcing and supplier selection process and, of course, making the business case for the investment required.

Once you’ve gone live with your new tech, your C-suite will want you to report back and validate if the money they invested was well spent?  Are you on track to achieve your projected return on investment – that essential ROI?

So, how do you prove your technology is providing the benefits outlined in the business case? How can you demonstrate that savings are actually being achieved?  Ideally, you can go to a single savings tracker that contains all of your key metrics and ROI outputs.

But if you’re leaving things to the post-implementation phase to capture and easily report on that information, then you’ve probably left it too late.  I’ve seen the inability to demonstrate and prove ROI being one of the key factors leading to a major tech fail. 

1. Know What Your Organisation Requires in Terms of ROI

Your process of identifying and delivering on ROI needs to start at the inception of your tech implementation project.  You need to be clear on what your organisation needs in terms of ROI.

Before preparing your presentation for project approval, make sure you know the answers to these key questions:

  1. What is your cost of capital?
  2. What does your organisation require in terms of payback?
  3. Over what period does your organisation measure Net Present Value(NPV)?
  4. What kind of return on capital expenditures does your organisation require?
  5. What projects were recently approved and what projects were recently rejected?  Talk to those that were involved and see what lessons you can learn so you don’t make the same mistakes.
  6. What other projects are you competing with?  How can you position your project as a bigger priority than the rest?
  7. Based on your project size, what is the process for obtaining approval?
  8. Who are the key players?  Once you know the process, identify the key players who will be determining your project’s fate.  What are their priorities and how can your project align?  If possible, get introduced to them and start building a relationship.

This will help you eliminate any potential surprises you may encounter as you seek for approval of your business case.Key here is to not make assumptions on what goes into your business case and what will, or will not, be approved. 

2. Know Your Numbers

Begin with knowing and owning every number in your business case.  In order to deliver, you first need to have sufficient detail of your targets.  If not, how will you ever know what you are aiming for and if you achieved them?  I mention that because I find many business cases are template-driven and lack the defendable detail when it goes under the spotlight.

For example, many times I will see a blanket percentage applied to all spend.  Or an efficiency savings applied across all POs and invoices.  Basically, I see many organisations adopt a one size fits all approach to many of these business cases.  That may work for some organisations, but it doesn’t for many of the CFOs we work with. They want to know specifics. 

They also understand that each category of spend is different and should be treated as such.  What is realistic to be achieved in one category, may not be realistic for another.  What was achieved by one organisation does not inherently mean that you can experience the same result in your organisation. 

There are a lot of factors and assumptions that must be considered in the process of creating the business case.  .  This includes being able to know how each category of savings was calculated, so when the time comes to present the business case for approval it is easily defended

We coach our clients to never go into a meeting with their CFO to get their project approved if they are not 100% clear on how each number in their business case was calculated.  If they don’t know their numbers at the start of the project, they will have a really difficult time knowing how to realize those savings after go live. 

You have to know and own your numbers better than anyone. Those that don’t, rarely succeed.  If you don’t know how those savings will be realized and what the critical path and key performance indicators are to realize those savings, it will be very easy to get distracted during implementation and lose sight of what is most important.

If you want to be able to go into your CFO’s office and show off how you have over-delivered on your promise of savings and efficiency, then it would be wise to take the time to know and own your numbers before you kick off your next project. 

 3. Measure What Matters

Part of our success blueprint process is making sure we’re clear how to capture and report on the measurements that are going to demonstrate positive ROI. Being clear about cost baselines is an essential starting point.  Making sure you are clear as to how you’re going to capture the following financial metrics can help ensure your ROI can be tracked throughout the life of the project:

Make sure to capture any REVENUE impacts:

  • Are there back end supplier rebates that the project is improving?  
  • Are you enabling product innovation that can be tracked? 

How will the project contribute to less spending:

  • Operational Spend reductions, your plan to track future spend and compare your historical spend 
  • Where your project creates the opportunity to avoid historical spend altogether.  Is that historical spend in an existing budget or is it leakage that needs to be tracked?
  • And where are there reductions in capital expenditure or overall lower Total Cost of Ownership?  As an example, are there license and hardware costs from retired systems that are removed from the budget? 
  • And lastly, resource utilization and efficiency: Are you doing things faster and better and thus requiring less resources?

The Right KPIs are going to drive the project ROI.  They need to be presented and agreed upon during business case approval.  From there, the path to monitoring the financial benefits are easier:

  • Building Dashboards that can handle the data and calculations for your metrics.  
  • Capture the current state as well as your goals over time, and then track the advances throughout the implementation and rollout.  

This will translate to easier benefit analysis.

In the absence of the right dashboards and savings tracking process, resistances within the organisation have stronger voices during any project setbacks.  This ultimately can erode the confidence inside and outside the project team.

Soft benefits go alongside your financial benefits, though they are usually much harder to quantify accurately. They can be factors such as your employees having improved utility, skill, and even joy with their activities.  That investment in your people should be measured and recognized continuously.  It should be captured through periodic feedback surveys as well as activity audits. 

Engaging with end-users and suppliers both at the outset and on an on-going basis will give up-to-date information and allow for changes to be tracked.  Ensuring cross-function coordination is also necessary, as the tech solution will touch all areas of the business.

There is no single solution to providing a fully accurate ROI calculation.  Take the time upfront to fully quantify costs, including those that may require more research to identify.  Capture processes and work patterns so that efficiencies can be identified.  And secure key stakeholder sign-off, so you’ll have consensus on what returns you expect and how it will be measured.

How Covid 19 Affects What Gets Measured

We cannot ignore the times we are in. CEOs and CFOs will be adjusting key KPI’s.  Whether you are driving change or reacting to their changes, as Procurement and Supply Chain leaders, it is imperative that you are in synch with leadership. 

In recent times, more and more companies are measuring their performance towards diverse, green and ethically compliant spend goals.

And now Covid-19 has forced risk avoidance into the front lines of KPI tracking.  

The agility of your supply chain will become an essential measurement.  For instance the percentage of your business that can be fulfilled through alternative distribution channels, modes and suppliers will be key to measure.

And all these primary and alternative options will come under more stringent risk criteria.  Risks will be evaluated by geography, ethics, politics, as well as financial stability.

In Closing

It’s a cliché, but what gets measured gets managed and what gets managed gets measured.  

Whether you choose to implement a savings tracking module within Source to Pay or not, I feel that it is very important to create a standardized intake and validation process for each KPI.  Pair that with a robust and flexible analytics solution to best monitor those KPIs that roll up to the overall project ROI.

Those that have followed these footsteps, are confident when they get the request to meet their CFO in a few hours to review how their project is tracking towards the business case.  They are actually excited because this is what they have been waiting for – a great opportunity to not only prove the ROI, but to also advance their career. 

To go deeper on how to find your perfect tech match, download our e-book ‘How To Select Source-To-Pay & Procure-To-Pay Systems That Deliver Results‘ and tune in to our series ‘Major Tech Fails.’

What’s Under The Hood? Identifying Potentials Gaps With P2P Providers

4 must-have requirements for your next P2P solution 


Finding the best Procure-to-Pay (P2P) solution to meet your organization’s needs and goals is no small feat. The ideal P2P solution will take the entire organization to the next level through improved realized savings, compliance, and operational efficiencies.

So, how do you identify a best-in-class P2P solution? To start, I’ve outlined these must-have characteristics below.

4 must-have requirements for your next P2P solution 

1. A single data source.

The best P2P solutions host all information in a single database. A single, searchable data source enables a consumer-like online shopping experience that end users and suppliers will embrace. Having a unified data hub:

  • Decreases total cost of ownership
  • Provides one portal where suppliers and vendors can collaborate
  • Improves user adoption by allowing users to quickly find, compare, and purchase across multiple suppliers in one interface

2. Process and data flow visibility.

Visibility enables procurement teams to strategically source goods and services to expand cost saving efforts. Procurement can use data to negotiate better supplier terms and drive effective purchasing behaviors.

Best-in-class P2P solutions have robust analytics with both automated reporting capabilities and the ability to produce ad hoc reports. Users gain strategic insights into and control over real-time savings, spend by supplier, and spend by region, to name a few. In addition to spend analytics, behavioral data on the most popular items purchased, top search terms being used, and search terms with no resulting products are available within a click of a button.

3. Intelligent workflow capabilities.

A best-in-class P2P solution should allow you to trigger workflows based on user profiles. Intelligent, automated workflows in next-generation P2P solutions minimize time spent on manual processes, and can even make existing automated processes more effective.

Many organizations waste time chasing down invoice discrepancies (missing details, quantities do not match, misalignment with purchase orders). Best-in-class systems automate this process with business rules triggered by missing information. Administrators construct and configure the business rules to reconcile the inconsistency, deny the invoice, send it to an employee with AP permissions, or push it through without changes.

Intelligent workflows do more than automate workflows. Data and insights collected on employee efficiencies can reduce tactical labor and better allocate head count accordingly.

4. Dynamic cloud-based software.

When analyzing a best-in-class P2P solution, it’s important to understand how the software will be implemented into your environment. Why? Because how the software is implemented will directly affect your total cost of ownership.

Break down prospective P2P software into these four categories:

  • On-premise: Software is a single instance, built on-premise behind the company’s firewall. IT owns the licensed software and codebase, so only they can make configurations and customizations to the software. Most ERPs exist in this manner.
  • Hosted Cloud (SaaS model): Code is still designed for hosting on-premise, but lives in the cloud. Vendors are responsible for making any changes to the codebase.
  • Built for the Cloud: This is a self-service software. No code needs to be written to make any changes. The business owns the system, making it easier to maintain.
  • Living and Breathing Cloud: This type of software has all the benefits of “Built for Cloud,” but also leverages all of the benefits of the cloud provider (such as Amazon Web Services) to expand and contract. This technology is built for maximum performance, extremely fast loading times, and scales to handle maximum traffic on the system.

The technical capabilities of any P2P solution are obviously important, but don’t overlook these questions during the evaluation process:

  • What do customer references say about this vendor?
  • Will this vendor help lower total cost of ownership (TCO)?
  • Will this solution easily integrate with other solutions in the P2P landscape?
  • How will this vendor support the procurement team and company’s vision?
  • What is the pricing model and fee structure? Does the model allow for growth?
  • What is the implementation plan, and what is the support structure for post go-live? 

When you’re choosing a Best-in-Class solution for your organization be sure to look for signs of integrity and trust. They may not be on your list of requirements, but you’re choosing a partner for your organization, and when the going gets rough you’ll need an organization you can trust above all.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 24 April 2020 by Katie McEwen. It has been republished here with permission.

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Why A Source-To-Pay Ecosystem Is Best-Practice

Learn why end-to-end, source-to-pay (S2P) suites are no longer a feasible option for modern businesses and instead, organisations should turn to partner ecosystems.


Master of all? Or specialise?

Once upon a time the “one size fits all” vendor approach seemed ideal. It definitely held appeal as it seemed to be an ideal way to cover all an organisation’s S2P needs while only requiring one vendor.

But now, the industry has matured to learn that no vendor truly offers a full source-to-pay (S2P) suite that is best-in-class across all modules. Not to mention, the time it would take to roll out and maintain such a solution. In the past decade, vendors attempted to support the entire S2P process, however, as buying organisations strive to digitalise procurement and sourcing, it’s becoming apparent that a single suite is typically not enough to accomplish their goals.

Understanding your S2P ecosystem

Similar to wireless providers that switch between towers to ensure you never lose service, a proper S2P partner ecosystem makes sure you cover all areas of business spend, by using a multivendor approach. As noted in Gartner’s “Predicts 2019: Sourcing and Procurement Application Vendors Embrace APIs and the Ecosystem Approach”, “Growing partner ecosystems are making it easier for organisations to take a connected, multiple-solution approach to sourcing and procurement automation.” “By 2021, major source-to-settle and procure-to-pay vendors will have more than doubled their preconnected partner ecosystems.”

While the bulk of importance is directed towards automating purchasing, payments, and a flexible supplier network, there are many value-add services that surround the S2P process. Services like supplier management, risk management, and contract lifecycle management often only offer basic functionality from suite providers claiming an “end-to-end” solution. Best-practice suggests selecting one vendor for the core areas of focus, then supplementing with other products and services from specialised providers. Companies should evaluate the data in an ecosystem to ensure core information is shared between partners so that analytics can be applied on data across the systems.

To understand the value of a vendor’s product ecosystems and to evaluate the effectiveness of its community, Gartner recommends requesting the following:

  • Data from the vendor outlining the number of ecosystem participants, the trajectory at which the ecosystem is growing, and insight into those that use it regularly.
  • Metrics that disclose the number and frequency of documents, components or templates being uploaded by the vendor to the community (often called an online library).
  • A summary of the past three years of product updates originating from, or inspired by, suggestions by ecosystem partners.
  • Customer references that you can contact directly for an assessment of the vendor’s product ecosystems, and any user groups that they may participate in.

Analyst perspective

In an interview with Magnus Bergfors, in conjunction with Spend Matters, Magnus details why, at one point and in some circumstances, an end-to-end suite.

He explains, “An end-to-end source-to-pay suite often seems more appealing than a specialist solution at first glance. And there are advantages to it — there’s no doubting that. The most practical one is from an IT management perspective. Your business will have fewer solutions to deal with and fewer integration points with an end-to-end approach. Second is that you get a similar look and logic across multiple solutions, making it easier to use. The third advantage is in the analytics where you can have data from multiple modules succinctly located in one place.”

Bergfors reveals that though there are many appeals to a singular S2P suite, it’s not always the best option. There are inevitable problems, including “…that your organisation sacrifices specific functionalities with a unified suite. When you sacrifice too much, it starts impacting your ability to manage your spend and stay agile in your operations.”

Additionally, he warns that “A lot of the end-to-end suites in the market today aren’t natively developed or integrated and are instead made up of acquisitions, some of which are better integrated than others.” So, even if a S2P suite claims to be end-to-end, it might operate more like a patchwork of solutions than a cohesive unit.

Join Basware at Connect Digital – free webinar series

Join Basware for our new Connect Digital webinar series where Magnus will further discuss his views and we’ll offer the opportuning for a live Q&A session. Find details for the webinar below.

Determining Your Future Tech Strategy – Spend Matters

Wednesday 10 June 2020

Hear from leading industry analyst Magnus Bergfors from Spend Matters on how to best determine your technology strategy and get the most out of the increasingly diverse and broad options available in the procurement technology market.

Register here

How To Find Your Perfect Tech Match

Being swept off your feet by a new partner is something most of us have experienced – but how do you know that you’ve found the perfect match when it comes to your tech solution?


Choosing a new tech solution isn’t a task you do every day.  It’s no doubt something that you’ve considered for a while.  You’ve attended all the conferences, read all of the analyst’s reviews, talked to your peers, and dreamed about what life would be like with your new tech.  You’re keen to modernise; to give your organisation the functionality that it needs.  And with so many solutions out there, surely it won’t be hard to find the one that’s right for you.

But finding that perfect match is not as easy as it seems.  All the solutions can start to look the same after a while and you are looking for more than just a pretty face.  You are looking for a long-term relationship that could last for half a decade or more.  Get it right and it’s a match made in heaven; get it wrong and you could have a major tech fail on your hands.

So how can you navigate that selection process and find yourself a tech solution that’s a perfect match?

1. Don’t Settle

Finding your right partner should be based on thinking about what’s right for you.  Be careful of jumping in too fast just because you heard your preferred solution worked for someone else.  Go deeper and look for solutions that address your industry’s biggest challenges.  Also identify what makes your organisation unique and make sure your new tech addresses your organisation’s uniqueness. 

This is even more important today due to the cloud.  You see, in the past, on-premises software could be customised to do almost anything you needed it to, as long as you had the time, money, and resources to get it done.  When you find gaps in cloud-based solutions, you have to apply for a feature request and hope they prioritise your request or end up having to settle for an inferior solution. 

This is why identifying those gaps up front before you finalise your selection is so important.  This is a primary reason on why we are such big proponents of our clients completing a Phase 0 (or a Success Blueprint as we call it) prior to making their final selection if they consider their environment complex.

You can also start to narrow down your list by looking at solutions that are going deep and specialising in your industry.  You may also start by using tools like the Gartner magic quadrant to focus your search to the “Leaders.”  Then go beyond that initial approach to refine your search.

Think about what the new world’s going to be like with your perfect match tech provider, but don’t settle until you find the solution that is right for you.

2. Questions are your ally

If you’ve ever been approached by a tech solution provider, or engaged them as part of a software selection, you’re sure to have experienced the full ‘sales pitch’ approach:  tales of brand-new, cutting-edge software that is designed to solve any and every problem; presentations filled with all that  sales speak.

Make sure you don’t fall prey to traditional “sales speak” and you seek the underlying truth.  The only way you will find what that truth is, is by asking the right questions.  We go in greater detail on the top 5 most common and what questions you can ask to find the truth in our Major Tech Fails, sales speak blog and podcast.

When looking at new tech solutions, there’s no such thing as a silly question. When you start, go in armed with a list of questions with a score card that you can use for each vendor.  It is important to follow a proven process to evaluate each vendor so they are treated fairly and asked the same questions.  You will know you have the right questions if key points of differentiation between vendors are identified and called out.

3. Are you compatible?

Unless you are starting a business from scratch or taking a scorched-earth approach to tech solutions, you are going to have legacy systems that will need to be integrated with the new one.  Don’t think that starting a new life with your perfect match tech solution is going to be easy.  Compatibility will be something you need to work on.

At RiseNow we take a systematic approach to identifying compatibility risks so that the challenges, use cases, resources, level of effort, timelines, etc. are known up front before the implementation project starts to eliminate any potential surprises.  As we see, these surprises are what typically cause projects to go over budget, not finish on time and miss expected results.

But these surprises can be avoided.  For example, we had a client a couple years ago that was in search of a new S2P system.  They were in talks with all the typical S2P system providers, but they knew their issues were bigger than what technology alone could solve.  They were not sure how best to address these, but were willing to engage us prior to the implementation kick-off to resolve those issues so they didn’t become problems during the project.  We did just that which allowed us to finish the implementation in 7 months and deliver on the key success criteria that got the project approved.  Had we skipped their engagement before the project, I am certain the project would have gone over budget, not finished on time and would have missed the objectives. 

Are you seeing a pattern now?

4. Beware of the people pleasers

If something looks and sounds too good to be true, it usually is. When a tech solution provider tells you that their system does everything you want and more, it should give you pause. The people pleasers are after your business and some will say almost anything they think will work to convince you.

No tech solution will be 100% perfect. Perfect would be someone willing to say no to you, but also willing to work with you to minimise the no’s, identify viable alternatives or solutions that work for you, and focus on ways to maximise your value, especially in this economic climate.  You see, there is no magic bullet when it comes to tech solutions, so if someone comes offering one, you are probably better off looking elsewhere.

If not, we have seen organisations forced to settle and then trade off functionality and adoption of suppliers/end users because it is now too late to reconsider. No one has an unlimited budget for tech and, like all relationships, there’s going to need to be some give and take.

5. In for the long haul?

Finally, the key part to finding a perfect partner is knowing they are willing to go the distance with you and they’re in it for the long haul. For procurement tech, a partnership could be anywhere from 2 years to 10, so it’s critical that the tech partner also sees the relationship in the same way as you do.  We call this “organisational alignment.”  Do their values align with yours?  Are they looking for a sale, or do they truly want to partner with you?  How committed are they to your industry?  Do you have access to their executive team in case you run into problems? 

Are they willing to put in the work to make the partnership a success? Will they be open to questions, discussions and problem-solving to build to success? If you and your team feel aligned, then your perfect partner may be closer than you think.

If you’re looking for the perfect partner in tech, there are plenty of pitfalls to avoid. Not every supplier is going to be right for you and it might take some time to find the perfect match for your business.

The good news is that there are tech suppliers who want the same thing: a successful tech implementation set up to succeed and not to fail, by being clear what you want from the outset, asking the right questions and being open minded to improving your processes when required to better fit your perfect tech match.

To go deeper on how to find your perfect tech match, download our e-book ‘How To Select Source-To-Pay & Procure-To-Pay Systems That Deliver Results‘ and tune in to our series ‘Major Tech Fails.’

How To Make Your CEO Fall In Love With Your Tech

What are the best ways to ensure you have your CEO’s backing for a tech implementation project?


You’ve come up with your specification and your supplier selection is complete. Your chosen tech solution has beautiful features and the potential to fulfil your wildest efficiency dreams. But you’re worried that the attraction won’t spread through your organisation starting at the very top.

How can you make your new tech solution an irresistible proposition for your CEO? Here are my tips for making sure it is impossible to resist.

1. Reduce the risk

I’ve met many CEOs in my career. I am sure that yours is no different from the rest. Their priority is to deliver strategic business goals and improve the bottom line. So it’s highly unlikely that a tech implementation over in procurement is front of mind.

Your CEO reads the news and see stories about IT project cost and time overruns. And their brief is to protect company reputation at all cost. While procurement may not always be top of their agenda, it’s important that your tech is a success story rather than something that keeps your CEO up at night.

And what I’ve found in all the tech implementations that I’ve been involved in is that managing risk should always be prioritised.

Set deadlines and milestones at the outset that you know your team can achieve to reduce the risk of project time overruns. Work with your provider and implementation partner at the start of the project to identify financial resources that will be required and any contingency funding that you need to put in place. You could even carry out a full dry run process (that we call blueprints) where we work to anticipate and eliminate risks and surprises.

These blueprints also bring alignment between your solution provider and implementation partner at the start of the project. This means all parties agree on:

  • resourcing
  • timeline
  • costs

Incorporate a contingency into your implementation plan. This means you won’t have to go back to your CEO and ask for more money if, for some reason, your blueprint changes or something doesn’t go as planned.

By actively managing risk you can set your project up for success and secure its position in your CEO’s heart.

2. Keep your promises

Your CEO wants any project that is approved to be delivered without deviation from the agreed scope. And the good news for you is that the evidence shows tech implementation projects now regularly achieve the objectives that they’ve been set.

One of our Fortune 200 clients’ CEO recently challenged our project team with an ambitious project objective: “I want you to implement a solution that everyone uses and everyone loves.”

We managed expectations by making sure that the blueprint was focused on the objectives of the project. This provided the guard rails to keep the team focused and not let them veer off the agreed project course.It’s important to remember: if the most perfect workflow or tech solution design does not meet the objective you set out to achieve, then you’ve broken any promises that you’ve made.

You can stay in scope by choosing an experienced implementation partner, who can help to keep things on track. Make sure their values align with yours and they have experience helping others move to where you want to go. Don’t forget your implementation partner becomes an extension of your team, and if their values are not aligned with yours, it will directly impact success.

When selecting an implementation partner think about their staffing approach:

  • how do they compensate their people
  • what’s their company culture and morale
  • will you have access to executives if you need to escalate

Doing the thinking upfront with your project team about scope, implementation partners and key deliverables can help ensure your project objectives are achieved.

3. Make it an attractive proposition – and deliver

To make your tech solution attractive to your CEO you’ll need a compelling business case. And what an attraction the promise of savings and efficiencies is – particularly when this justifies the investment involved. However, as with promises made in any relationship, you need to do what you say you’ll do.

You need to carry out robust work upfront to fully quantify what can be achieved.  Involve Finance in the process and get them to sign off on savings you’ve identified: getting their buy-in will help when the time comes to demonstrate these benefits are realised.

Once implementation starts, make sure you’ve got robust monitoring processes in place. You might also want to track benefits delivered on the way. There’s no better way to retain the CEO’s backing than being able to produce evidence that your promises aren’t being broken.

4. Focus on good times, not bad

As with any tech implementation, there are likely to be challenges along the way. And you don’t want talk of bad times to reach the ears of your CEO.

Perhaps one of your teams needs to work in a new way. Maybe the functionality isn’t quite what you recalled from the demo. It’s important that you actively manage these opportunities for improvement and change rather than leaving them as opportunities for negative comment and discontent.

On a global implementation for a US-based Fortune 500 client, we ran into some very heavy resistance from the Project Champion and his direct reports. Every idea, potential solution and decision was met with a litany of questions and the suggestion that our solution just couldn’t be rolled out.

Not only was the timeline in jeopardy but the team was dysfunctional and riddled with a lack of trust and response. Fortunately for the team, that negativity didn’t filter up to the CEO, or the project would have been doomed to failure right from the start.

By focusing on local solutions, we managed to change the direction of that project. We focused on meetings and briefings that were face-to-face. Getting in front of detractors and people with concerns was one of the most effective ways to reduce resistance and concerns. Within a couple of months, a positive attitude towards the project was achieved and progress was back on track.

And as making any implementation is all about people, how about adding a bit of pizazz to your implementation by using a collaboration app? It maps and tracks where your stakeholders are at. With graphs and charts at your fingertips, there’s no better way to bring the project to life and demonstrate the buy-in from your people when you present it to the CEO and the Board.

Using a continuous improvement approach, you can make sure that any challenges are addressed. This way, the only noise your CEO hears is the sweet sound of success.

If your tech implementation is effectively delivered, it won’t be difficult for your CEO to fall in love. Great timing, promises kept, an attractive business case and a focus on good times – not bad – will make your tech solution just impossible to resist.

Did you know that Matt has just teamed up with Procurious to launch ‘Major Tech Fails’ – a series looking at everything from implementations to getting buy-in. Register here

Deciphering The Sales Speak – 5 Common Phrases Used In The Sales Process… And What They Really Mean

The top 5 software sales claims may seem familiar – but what do they really mean, and what questions should you fire back?


As procurement pros, we like to think of ourselves as experts who can cut through the fluff of the sales pitch and get down to what we think really matters.  

But let’s face it . . . some salespeople are so darn good that even the sharpest of us can’t quite sort the wheat from the chaff. And with procurement software sales teams often being some of the best in the business, well, we have our work cut out to decipher their code for ourselves.

I have had more than a few years of experience trying to work through this myself and though practice may not always make perfect it definitely gets us closer to where we need to be.  So, from my years of experience in being involved in more than 500 software evaluations, and being the one who has to make it all come together as the implementer, I want to help you navigate through the language and the catchphrases that we often hear from software sales teams.

Here are my top 5:

1. ‘The integration is easy’

One of the most common things we hear from sales teams that are trying to speed their way to a sale is that “Integrations are easy.”  Getting the system to do what it’s supposed to while talking to other systems is pretty straightforward. We all want to believe it, but as you find out when you are involved in an implementation, there is real work that must be done that is not easy, and someone has to do it.

I always laugh when I hear this stated in front of my clients IT teams.  You see, IT knows the work that is involved in a project like this and are certain that the word “easy” does not belong in the same sentence. They also know that anyone that does call it “easy,” is most likely someone who has never attempted to do this type of work.   

When you hear this it’s a good idea to have your questions ready, including:

  • What business objects are typically in scope in a project like this?
  • If you have multiple ERP’s, will each of them need to be interfaced with?  Who will be responsible for transforming each file?
  • Who will be doing the field level mapping?
  • Is there a middleware or any prebuilt connectors that can be leveraged?
  • Where has this middleware or connector been used before?
  • Do they have similar volumes/scale/complexity?
  • What  system dependencies are there?
  • What systems have you integrated with – even what version of systems? 

No question is too basic here – in my experience keeping it direct and to the point works best. 

2. ‘Your suppliers are already connected to our network’

A word can mean different things to different people and the secret to understanding the sales-speak here is to work out what ‘connected’ really means. It can mean your suppliers have participated in a sourcing event or once received a PO from another customer.

It can also mean that they have log-in information and have received all of the really great welcome emails that new suppliers are bombarded with that they have no idea what to do with. Or it can mean they are actually transacting through the system and are receiving POs and payments from other customers in the manner in which you intend they start doing for you.. In that case, they’ll know exactly how to work out what they need to do to make your life and theirs easy as you get your new system implemented.

Ask lots of questions here, especially when it comes to your big suppliers, the ones that would spell chaos for you if things didn’t go to plan . . . it’s not a bad idea to ask them where they’re at in the process of being enabled with other customers and identify any potential issues you may have before you get too far.  

3. ‘Training and change management aren’t needed for your end users and suppliers’

We all love digital technology – and sites such as Amazon and Google are designed to make it pretty easy for us to use them without the need to be trained. But we can probably all agree that many systems built for the enterprise seem to struggle to bridge the gap on major process and use case changes that take someone out of their comfort zone.  Even if it appears easier. Especially when their job does not involve them being in the platform all day, every day. 

Here’s where it is important to put yourself in the role of the user and see the system through their eyes. It’s even better to get them involved early and ask them how much change they anticipate for their department/region/etc and what type of support they will need to be successful.  

Don’t let the salesperson, or an enthusiastic user, convince you that you don’t need any change management resource. You can work out how much is needed – and, if your salesperson is right, it might not be that much. But it’s always a smart move to let your stakeholders and suppliers know what is happening, why and how it is going to impact them.  If you get any resistance, you will be thankful you have change experts at the ready to address it.

4. ‘You don’t have to have clean data prior to starting implementation’

You don’t have to follow a recipe when cooking something for the first time. But it will help – unless you like surprises and don’t need them to be good ones. Your sales team will say this because, honestly, who wants to spend time on boring stuff like data cleansing . . . especially when we all know it can take 4 to 12 months to clean up if you’re lucky? And they’re smart enough to know that too much time and effort upfront without real results can kill the deal. While we all want to get on with the really cool analytics, there’s a reason you need to do your groundwork.

If and when you hear this one, go ahead and ask the question we all know: What about the saying ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’? You never know: your sales team may be able to share some new things they have tried where data cleansing hasn’t been needed. And they might have some examples of where this has worked before – and that’s definitely worth finding out about. If not, put a plan in place now for how your data will get cleansed and adjust what modules you purchase, sequence of rollouts and your implementation plan accordingly.  

5. ‘Don’t worry about transforming your processes as the technology has best practices already built in’

‘Leverage’, ‘optimise’, ‘game-changer’ . . . It’s only a matter of time before your salesperson drops the gold standard of corporate buzzwords in – ‘best practice’. While the phrase can be meaningful, most of the time it’s a sales pitch to get us over the line. We can implement a new system and get to best practice at the same time? Sign me up! But best practice means different things across organisations, industries and sectors.

When you hear this, two things need to happen. Firstly, take a look at your implementation plan and make sure it includes a review of all of your direct and related processes. And secondly, take a look at the ‘best practices’ that are included. They may be right for you, and now is is a great time to update and improve dated processes. If not, you’ll have done your review and know that what you have ended up with is the best thing for your business.

So when you hear these or similar claims as part of a sales pitch for software, remember what they typically really mean. Be prepared with questions for the sales team to ensure that the tech solution you sign up for really is a good fit for your organisation.

Did you know that Matt has just teamed up with Procurious to launch ‘Major Tech Fails’ – a series looking at everything from implementations to getting buy-in. Register here

Information Hoarders Be Gone

Knowledge is power, but knowledge is now being democratised and made accessible to all, thanks to the development of AI.

Long live the democratisation of data

Is there someone in your work life who is hoarding information? Holding the data cards very close to their chest? Making it difficult for you to succeed because they have vital information and know-how shackled up close to their desk?

Good news – their days are numbered!

Knowledge is power, but knowledge is now being democratised and made accessible to all, thanks to the development of AI.

A democratisation of data

In supply chain, data plays a very critical role; data about suppliers, shortages, shipping and shelf life, the list goes on. And supply chain professionals are inundated with making sense of all this data.

Traditionally, to unlock the value from this data we’ve needed a group of people with deep technical skills in our teams to gather, manage and query.  Exhausting and time-consuming work, leaving little space or brain power for problem solving and decision making.  The need for these skills has concentrated the power of data in the hands of a few, rather than the wider team.

Nobody knows this better than the supply chain team at IBM.  With thousands of supply chain employees, over $40 billion in spend and millions of SKUs to manage from over thirteen thousand suppliers in their supply chain across 175 markets, there is a lot of data to keep track of.  There is a real need to ensure every supply chain professional has all the information to make the right decisions at the right time.

I reached out to IBM’s Chief Supply Chain Officer Ron Castro – firstly to congratulate him on his Manufacturing Leader of the Year by the National Association of Manufacturers. However, I also asked him to participate in our Supply Chain Career Boot Camp and then went on to quiz him on the detail behind why Gartner had been recognised by the IBM Supply Chain team as a Finalist in their Chainnovator Awards.

Given the scale and complexity of the IBM supply chain, Ron and his team turned to AI to augment the team’s capabilities.

Ron’s experience leading teams across the globe resulted in a really pragmatic approach.  AI was used to upskill supply chain talent and engage with subject matter experts. The analytics and tools developed gave wider access to data insights for their supply chain pros around the world.

Now, everyone in IBM’s supply chain can make better decisions and be creative – which is just the kind of capability needed in this new and challenging decade ahead.

There’s no more tedious data capture and formatting for the IBM team.  No more worrying that they’ve missed something in the never-ending news stream or even the weather forecast.

The Human + Machine Personas

For many years, the IBM Supply Chain team has known that one type of tech solution couldn’t fit all the needs of their team.  Everyone has different data needs according to their role – some are forecasting, others are planning and many are executing or delivering.

IBM’s approach is simple – it’s people-centred.  Data personas were created to map each supply chain team member’s requirements.  Now AI serves up data in the format and time that suits their needs. 

IBM Sterling’s AI helps you:

  • Gain visibility into data from across your systems and silos
  • Understand external events and their impact on your supply chain
  • Get ahead of events and buy yourself time with predictive insights
  • Capture and share knowledge and best practices with digital playbooks

By creating these personas, IBM Sterling uses AI to provide just what the forecaster needs to augment their brain and make the decision to keep those supply chains flowing.

Unlocking Collaboration

The final piece of the jigsaw is a concept that’s close to my heart – collaboration. 

IBM Sterling’s AI reviews unstructured data in its many and varied forms.  Whether it’s emails, discussion threads or reports, AI now has the power to find insights from previously inaccessible data sources such as team conversations, social media and news feeds, and weather reports… and serves it back to the person who needs it, when they need it.  AI makes key suggestions like:

  • Why don’t you consider this? – “They used it in the UK when weather conditions were similar”
  • Is this a change in risk level?  – “The last time this supplier’s lead times dropped to this level there was an underlying shortage issue”

It’s exciting thinking about the improvements in supply chain from the introduction of AI Augmentation.  I think we’ve only scratched the surface and can’t wait to see what happens as the power of IBM Sterling’s AI is unleashed on our supply chain brains.