In supply chain and procurement, what has changed since COVID-19? Find out what 4 influencers think here.
In every industry, there’s a few powerful individuals who drive the conversation. These fortunate few are the ones that propel industries forward; they are the ones who decide what’s trending, what’s next and what our future might look like. They’re influencers, and within the procurement professional, we’re blessed with many whom we all aspire to.
And this year, with COVID ravaging our supply chains (and not to mention lives) as we know them, we’ve needed industry leaders and influencers more than ever to help guide us through and tell us what’s next. So that’s why, recently, we sought out the opinions of 30 of procurement’s top influencers. They shared some of their most profound and intriguing insights into what the COVID experience has been like for them, what they’ve learnt and what they expect to see in the future.
Here’s what they told us:
Inspiring supply chain stories
There’s no doubt that the past few months have been challenging for procurement professionals worldwide, with many stories of interrupted supply chains, logistics issues and much more. Yet in among the mayhem has been some truly inspiring stories. Here at Procurious, almost daily, we heard of businesses, teams and people that were going above and beyond to help.
This was something that our influencers noticed, too. One thing that caught the attention of Supply Chain Queen Sheri R. Hinish is the incredible generosity of suppliers. She explains:
‘I was particularly impressed by Under Armour’s (clothing brand) sister company, Sagamore Spirits. They provided thousands of units of hand sanitizer for local businesses, communities, and residents.’
Indeed, there were hundreds of suppliers who, seemingly overnight, transformed their production from items such as high fashion to scrubs. But for Kelly Barner, Managing Director of Buyer’s Meeting Point, the inspiration came not from suppliers, but from the extraordinary efforts of procurement professionals who previously may not have been noticed:
‘Businesses everywhere are sorting out tough problems. But behind those problems are armies of unlikely characters self-organising to make things happen.’
‘Business leaders should pay attention and notice who runs toward the fire. It might not be who they expected.’
Learning from COVID-19
One quick Google search will reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of articles dedicated to what the supply chain profession should learn from the coronavirus pandemic. There’s been discussions of everything from the need to move manufacturing from China to Mexico, to better managing cash, dialling down just-in-time operations and everything in between.
Dr. Marcell Vollmer, Chief Innovation Officer at Celonis, a process mining software company, believes that the pandemic has been a reminder of what we all already knew, but may yet to have embraced:
‘The number one lesson I think we all need to learn from COVID is to prepare and leverage technology to get full transparency and control over your end to end processes.’
‘We all need to be using technology to prepare ourselves for unforeseeable events as much as possible.’
Marcell’s learning here is sound – for years, we’ve all known that Industry 4.0 is coming, yet COVID may have accelerated its onset.
For another influencer, Diego De la Garza, Senior Director of Global Services at Corcentric, the COVID learnings were about the way we worked. Specifically, Diego thinks that the pandemic has made us more productive:
‘Working from home, it has impacted productivity, for the better. My team has been able to dedicate more time to critical tasks, while at the same time balancing work with family.’
‘Still, it’s remained ultimately very possible for everyone to collaborate and perform efficiently.’
Aspirations for procurement post-COVID
For seemingly as long as the procurement profession has existed, many of us have wanted more and better. We’ve wanted to be strategic, to have a voice and influence, and to finally add the value we know we’re capable of delivering.
Will the pandemic represent the ultimate opportunity for us to do so?
Sheri R. Hinish, Supply Chain Queen, thinks the answer is a big, fat resounding yes:
‘Supply chain has never had as big a seat as the table as they do right now.’
‘My hope is that we embrace a paradigm shift from “lowest price” to shared value and responsibility. Everyone now sees that supply chains are the conduit that power the world.’
The performance of procurement throughout the crisis
59% of procurement and supply chain professionals say the Fortune 500 should reduce globalisation by bringing manufacturing back home. But is it practical?
The best way to describe the supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19: pervasive and severe.
Our research found that 97% of the organisations experienced a supply chain disruption. Let that sink in for a second. We knew the supply chain impact of COVID-19 was extensive. This finding takes it up another level – indicating the disruption was near ubiquitous.
So what’s next? The majority of procurement and supply chain professionals (73%) are planning seismic strategy shifts post-pandemic – and rightfully so. Changes under consideration include expanding supply bases, adjusting inventory strategies, increasing financing for key suppliers and localising supply chains. The latter is the most ambitious, and will be the hardest.
Obstacles to Bringing Manufacturing Back Home
The idea of reducing globalisation in response to COVID-19 is both popular and logical. Nearly 60% of those surveyed believe the Fortune 500 should reduce globalisation by localising supply chains and bringing manufacturing back home.
But as every industry veteran knows, doing so is easier said than done. Modern supply networks and production strategies were built to be global. Reversing this will require fundamental strategy, technology and financial changes.
Consider the core drivers of supply chain globalisation. First and foremost: it’s about costs. The never-ending race to the bottom has made low-cost country sourcing the norm for procurement. At the same time, products – especially smart technologies – are getting more innovative, complex, personalised and sophisticated by the day. This forces manufacturers to outsource critical components to other manufacturers, who outsource to sub-suppliers, and so-on. The sheer expertise and technical capabilities needed to produce smart and connected products (consumer electronics, cars, healthcare equipment, etc.) goes well beyond what one manufacturer could reasonably provide on their own.
As Harvard Business School professor Willy Shih puts it: “A consequence of these complex interdependencies is a deep tiering of supply chains, with manufacturers dependent on their first-tier suppliers, which, in turn, are dependent on a second tier, which are themselves dependent on a third tier, and so on. Visibility into third, fourth, and more distant tiers is challenging, making wholesale replacement of anyone in the chain, let alone the entire chain, extremely difficult.”
In other words: reversing decades’ worth of low-country sourcing strategies, supplier specialization and network expansion will be complex, time-consuming and costly.
While organisations will take the necessary time to evaluate the brand, supply chain and product ramifications of such a change, the national implications are more urgent. Nations across the world – including Australia, the UK and the U.S. – are making big investments to bring manufacturing, especially for critical healthcare supplies, back home. This problem erupted early in the COVID cycle due to global shortages of masks and ventilators, and has become more pronounced as countries prepare to develop vaccines, once approved.
The issue: According to the Financial Times, World Bank data shows “manufacturing’s share of the economy in the US, UK and Australia has shrunk to its lowest level in more than 30 years to 11 percent, 9 percent and 6 percent respectively.” In a time of crisis, where life-saving equipment is needed as soon as possible, the delays creating by strained, outsourced supply chains are highly limiting, to say the least.
What’s Next for Procurement and Supply Chain Leaders?
The pandemic was a wakeup call. But what happens next remains uncertain. Will enterprises invest to reconstruct supply chains, or decide to make more targeted strategy and resource tweaks? Will they see this pandemic as a black swan event or a fundamental course-changer? Only time will tell.
We want to hear what you’re planning. Share your thoughts below.
But what exactly is Industry 4.0 technology in the supply chain? And how can you get your team up to speed?
What application is there for Industry 4.0 tech in supply chain?
Put simply, the fourth industrial revolution (or Industry 4.0) is a drastic change in the way things are made and distributed.
Such rapid tech advancements are triggering a digital overhaul of the supply chain. Some of these technologies include:
· Artificial Intelligence (AI)
· Internet of Things (IoT)
Here’s a bit more about those technologies, and how they relate to the supply chain.
What it is: Blockchain is a network where people can store digital records in a shared, unchangeable way. There is one version of the truth, which helps build trust between different parties in the supply chain.
Carrefour’s produce and meat suppliers record a product’s journey from farm to store shelf using IBM’s enterprise blockchain network – IBM Food Trust. That way, a customer simply scans the product QR code with their smartphone, and they can instantly learn the product’s provenance.
That connectivity allows them to operate a large organisation as flexibly as a start-up. Just how flexible is it?
“We can produce the base and then choose the colour for a lipstick right at the very last moment,” as Operations Chief Digital Officer Stéphane Lannuzel puts it.
What it is: 5G (or fifth generation) wireless technology will make it faster and easier to connect on mobile phones. You’ll be able to download videos at lightning speed, and say goodbye to awkward lags when videoconferencing. It has bigger capacity than the current 4G, meaning you can connect a lot more sensors and smart devices at once.
The firm predicts that in the US, around one-third of production roles could change profoundly over the next decade. That means the way you interact with all stages of supply chain management will change as well.
So it’s essential to get up to speed, and help your team prepare too.
So what’s the best way to do that?
First, a skills analysis
Once you have a plan for new technology adoption, look at the skills you need to make it happen.
But the cost of training is far less than the cost of your company being left behind because it didn’t adopt new technologies fast enough.
The right training looks different for every company. You might choose in-house, external, or even a mix.
One popular option is the IBM Sterling Supply Chain Academy. It acts as a complement to other training you offer, giving your team access to skills aligned to market demand.
Your team can learn the needed skills to:
Build smarter supply chains
Deliver on customer needs through smarter fulfillment
Reduce the cost, complexity and risk of supplier onboarding and management
Why any of this matters
Ultimately, getting up to speed on Industry 4.0 technologies is about more than transparency or agility.
Global supply chain disruption has accelerated the need to make changes towards the way people make and buy goods.
That means supply chain professionals have the opportunity (and responsibility) to use their purchasing power for good, according Professor Olinga Ta’eed, Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise & Government.
When you couple large amounts of money with positive ideology and advanced technology, Professor Ta’eed says it’s the “biggest instrument to change the world.”
“Let’s use that money to nudge society into better ways [and] behaviour,” he says.
“Doing well, doing good, making fiscal sense of this value creation across stakeholders. There’s no other domain positioned to really deliver that long-term value other than supply chain because we are truly end-to-end.”
“Supply chains have the ability to save lives,” she adds. “We are literally seeing this unfold before our eyes.”
2020 has been a year like no other. Which of course means we need an update in our go-to career tips…
Unfortunately, careers often look better with hindsight. If only I hadn’t taken that role, we often think, or perhaps, I could be better off if only I’d learnt to better negotiate my salary.
Fortunately for you though, those types of concerns or regrets might not be something you have to worry about after you read this article. We all need some good news right now, so to bring you five of the most life-changing career tips of 2020, we chatted to one of the most-experienced supply chains recruiters in the world, Tim Moore. As the President and Owner of Tim Moore and Associates, has single-handedly placed thousands of high-ranking supply chain executives into roles all over North America for the best part of almost three decades.
He sat down with us to share ‘something money simply can’t buy’- hindsight.
Tip 1: Stand out – you may soon have some competition
When it comes to global supply chains, it’s fair to say that the coronavirus pandemic has changed absolutely everything. From food to medical supplies, the crisis has caused all of us to consider just about every element of what we do, from how we manage suppliersto what technology we use and why.
It has also brought significant awareness to the importance of a resilient, secure and reliable supply chain. This, in turn, says Tim Moore, has led to an increased interest in completing your supply chain qualifications:
‘Thanks to COVID-19 and the awareness of Supply Chains there will be a long overdue “spike” in the number of new students enrolling in supply chain courses.’
‘Fortunately, I think there are now many degree programs ready to cater to this boom and help rectify today’s shortages of supply chain talent.’
Is an increased interest in a supply chain as a career going to pose a threat to today’s seasoned supply chain professionals? Not really, says Tim, but if you are at a more junior level, standing out when applying for jobs will become more important than ever.
Fortunately though, more qualified junior talent in supply chain will be of great support to teams this year who have a lot to grapple with throughout the pandemic and beyond.
Tip 2: Your profession has skyrocketed in importance and awareness – make the most of it
Prior to writing this, we Googled whether there was such a thing as the ‘Year of the Supply Chain’ (sort of like the Chinese Zodiac “Years Of”). Sadly, there wasn’t.
But if there was, undoubtedly it would be 2020.
At no time in history has supply chain management been as crucial and all-defining as it has been this year. Suddenly, procurement and supply chain has gone from an overlooked ‘function’ to the crucial heart of the organisation. If ever you wanted to be strategic, get noticed and truly ‘take a seat at the executive table,’ now is the time to do so, says Tim. But you have to be strategic and proactive.
He truly believes that this year will be career-defining for many supply chain professionals who step up and take the initiative:
‘There has never been a time since the second world war, when the supply chain profession, and the techniques they bring, have been so important and visible to the senior executive within the firms that employ them.’
‘Every supply professional has learned lessons about the vulnerability of their particular supply chain(s) – and should be proactive taking steps to reduce the risk of disruption in the future.’
‘You can’t afford to wait and gamble that it won’t happen again…it will.’
Tip 3: Salary surveys may give good insights – but be careful how you use them
With the supply chain profession being elevated in importance, and businesses (hopefully) edging towards recovery as the year continues, opportunities may increase for people in the hunt for a better salary. But Tim cautions everyone to be very careful when it comes to the old ‘grass is greener’ salary argument.
Tim has seen many supply chain professionals become disgruntled because they believe they are being underpaid. Yet the places they get their information may not be what they seem:
‘I’ve heard some people say that “money talks” and they’ll crack open an industry salary survey to try and determine whether they’re ahead or behind others in terms of the salary curve.’
‘The thing is, those surveys can be almost impossible to fully interpret, and are often misleading to the casual reviewer.’
Especially this year, Tim says, salary survey results may not be able to tell you much as many companies are freezing pay levels and asking employees to take pay cuts. The ‘greener grass’ may in fact not be green at all when it comes to pay.
Yet should you still use these salary surveys as leverage in your own pay discussions? Tim says:
‘In any salary discussion, it’s important to know what your range should be, based on firms of the same size, in the same industry and of the same profit level. But really, it’s hard to glean this information from a survey so likewise, hard to use this as leverage.’
‘Pay discussions should be based more on your achievements and your tenure with the firm, whether the firm has been profitable and frankly, whether or not there has been recent layoffs or downsizing.’
Tim cautions, though, that now might not be the right time to ask for a salary increase:
‘In some cases, people should be happy to have a job, let alone be seen as gouging their employer for demands for a salary increase.’
Tip 4: Consider the big picture – and put your negotiation skills to good use
The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on economies, lives and jobs losses, and that means that inevitably, some supply chain professionals might find themselves without work this year. This is a terrible outcome, of course, but when the market picks up Tim does genuinely believe there will be more opportunities than ever.
But when and if we all decide to accept an offer of employment, Tim believes that we should consider the ‘big picture’ of what an employer is offering; as it will be more important than ever before:
‘When considering a new opportunity, of course look at the salary range, and compare this to your competitors and your industry at large.’
‘But remember, as your supply chain training has taught you – salary, like price, is only one element to consider. Think long and hard about other benefits, for example: educational reimbursement, membership in your local supply chain association, bonuses if any, (and how frequently they’re paid), stock options, and healthcare and dental coverage.’
‘Post-COVID, increased benefits may be easier to achieve than a dramatic salary increase..’
When it comes to negotiating your package, however, Tim believes that supply chain professionals need to remember their training:
‘I’ve always maintained that you never get paid what you’re worth, but you ALWAYS get paid on how you negotiate and how well you have interviewed.’
‘It’s surprising that so many supply chain professionals go blank and completely forget their negotiation training when presented with a job offer. After you feel confident that you’ve checked all of the boxes and know you’re the right fit, just like with negotiating with vendors, you can always ask for: 1. Time to consider it further, 2. For the offer to be put in writing, and for those adventurous 3. “Is that the best you can do?”’
With the final request, Tim says, if you execute it politely and professionally, you may be able to leverage up your offer.
Tip 5: Ask the hard questions
With unemployment approaching an all time high, many of us may be forced into a ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ type situation, where we simply take the first job we can get. But nonetheless, Tim says, you should research the company you plan to join, because if you do end up having to leave after a short amount of time, it may not look great on your resume.
In order to research the company you plan to join, Tim recommends the following:
‘Find out about everything. Look up the organisation’s products and services, read their financial reports, look at their social media accounts. Make sure you take detailed notes in all of your interviews, and don’t be afraid to ask why they’re interested in you and how you might fit exactly within the role in their eyes.’
‘But more than that, ask some harder questions. Ask WHY the position is available, and what happened to the previous individual in the role? Enquire as to how long they were in that role? You’d be amazed at what you can uncover!’
There’s very few professions that will be able to claim that 2020 was a great career year. But for many of us in supply chain and procurement, we might just be able to surprise ourselves.
Will you negotiate harder for your salary increase or greater benefits this year? Or are you concerned about competition? Let us know in the comments below.
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How do you lead through difficult times? What four key roles should all leaders play?
This year has been one of the most challenging in modern times for business leaders, organisations and employees worldwide. And as many famous quotes allude to, nothing is tested more in challenging times than leadership. Many leaders step up and shine, yet just as many fall victim to stress, anxiety and frustration, leaving them a shadow of their former selves.
So how do you make sure you’re the former?
One person that knows how to lead in the best of times, as well as in the worst, is Vice-President of AI Applications and Blockchain at IBM, Amber Armstrong. Amber’s illustrious career at IBM started when she joined the company as an MBA graduate 13 years ago, and she’s quickly risen through the ranks.
Amber joined us for our latest podcast episode in the IBM Career Bootcamp series to delve into all things leadership and in particular, how to lead through difficult times.
Here’s what you’ll learn in the podcast:
What does being a great leader actually mean and how would you define your personal leadership style?
Over the years, the definition of leadership has evolved enormously. Leaders, recognising that the more authoritarian styles of leading are no longer effective, have begun to diversify their styles away from command and control and towards a more inspiring vision of what leadership should be. But is inspiring others the sole role that leaders need to play nowadays?
Not at all, according to Amber. Amber thinks that there are four things every leader needs to do in any organisation. In fact, Amber believes that these four things are so important that she had her team of executive managers agree to them as part of a leadership pact.
Amber is clear on what she thinks these four things are:
‘Leaders should, in my opinion, set the vision, communicate clearly, prioritise relentlessly and finally, coach.’
Throughout her career, Amber has used these four priority areas to not only lead others, but also to gather feedback and learn and what is and isn’t working. Beyond these things though, Amber has also put considerable thought and effort into her leadership style and has come up with a personal mantra that describes how she personally wants to lead:
‘From a personal brand perspective, I aspire to be known as someone who is passionate, focused and kind.’
‘And in moments when things get particularly tough, there’s one particular thing I try to have more of.’
How do leaders develop their own personal style? Should they do this through experience or through someone like a coach?
Amber’s personal leadership style is well-known and admired at IBM. But how do we all go about developing our own unique version of that? Amber has developed her style through a combination of experience and also through working with an executive coach, and she believes both of those things helped her get where she is today.
From an experience perspective, Amber believes that it was through making mistakes and having empathy that she came to develop her current style:
‘I joined IBM 13 years ago after I graduated from business school, and fortunately, I’ve been given a lot of opportunities here. This has led to many successes and also countless mistakes, but I’ve taken the opportunity to learn from each and every one of them.’
Amber remembers one particular period in her career where she came to understand the critical importance of kindness as an element of her personal leadership style:
‘At one point, I was told I have to give a lot of people bad news, news which would affect their personal lives.’
‘I put up a sign at my desk with my mantra, the words passionate, focused and kind. I felt such comfort having those words there, it helped me to turn them into a reality throughout that difficult time.’
Recently, Amber also started working with an executive coach who has further helped her shape her leadership style. This has been beneficial for one specific reason, she says.
Can you lead without necessarily having a leadership position?
Amber has had an extremely successful career, and now manages a large number of people, including fifteen other managers. But for those of us who may not be in such senior positions, or perhaps those of us who may not be leading anyone at all, is it still possible to be a leader?
Absolutely, Amber says.
In fact, there’s one thing she thinks all leaders need to do, regardless of our level of seniority:
‘If you want to lead, you need to take care of yourself first.’
‘For me, I do three things to take care of myself. Firstly, I run a mile, I make sure I sweat. Secondly, I walk 5,000 steps every day and then thirdly, I meditate for ten minutes. Self-care is so important.’
Beyond self-care, Amber also wants to let us all in on a little secret, and it’s an important one. In a nutshell, even leaders with a great amount of authority (those who are senior and have a lot of responsibility), don’t really have authority unless they can garner respect. Amber explains:
‘To be a leader, you need people to respect you, you need them to trust you. So even if you’re an authority figure, sure, you can force people to do things but that isn’t leadership.’
‘Leadership is about creating clarity and building respect. You need to be able to influence others in a positive way.’
Also in the podcast:
What needs to change about our leadership styles in these challenging times
The pink recession
And much more.
Amber Armstrong’s podcast on leading through difficult times is part of our IBM Sterling Career Bootcamp. Designed to power your mind and help you excel, the Bootcamp consists of 6 electrifying podcasts with internationally renowned experts and speakers. Sign up here if you haven’t already.
When things get too hard, do you ever want to give up? Here’s how to persevere when you get that uneasy feeling
This year more than ever before, we’ve heard the word ‘new normal.’ We know that life may not go back – soon or ever – to what it was before. But how do we adapt to that? And when things get tough again, which invariably they will, how do we persevere through the challenges and come out on top?
One incredible person who certainly knows a thing or two about how to adapt and persevere is Nicky Abdinor, a clinical psychologist, ability advocate, and founder of the non-profit, Nicky’s Drive. Through her work as a psychologist and her own incredible life experience, Nicky deeply understands what it means to adapt and persevere, and her advice is an inspiration to us all.
Here’s what you’ll learn in our incredible 15 minute podcast with Nicky:
What does adaptation and perseverance really mean?
Nicky is not simply a scholar who understands a concept – adaptation and perseverance have been her personal life mantra since she was born. Nicky was born without arms and also with shortened legs. Nicky’s parents, who had no idea that she had a disability until she was born, were totally unprepared for it. But instead of focusing on what Nicky couldn’t do, her parents decided to focus on what she could do. Growing up, Nicky firmly remembers her parent’s attitude towards everything:
‘From the beginning, my parents decided to focus on my strengths. Instead of thinking “oh, can Nicky do that?” they instead said “How can Nicky do that?”’
Given her disability, things that came easily to others were not always easy for Nicky. She didn’t focus on that. Instead, she quickly learnt to be flexible in how she approached challenging situations, and adopted a problem-solving mindset. Everything she did, she approached with curiosity and decided that adversity could be to her advantage.
Adaptation and perseverance, Nicky, represents exactly this. Having the mindset and flexibility to navigate difficult situations, and persevering through them, even under challenging circumstances.
How do we overcome a lack of self-belief when we need to persevere?
At times, all of us struggle with our own self-belief, and it can get in the way of us persevering through challenging situations. We have to turn that self-belief on, says Nicky, and simultaneously turn off the voice in our heads that tells us we can’t do it. And she has an intriguing recommendation for how we do so:
‘To overcome the idea you might have in your head that “I’m not good enough,” you need to recognise that your brain has its own hard drive, and it has the tendency to store things that are quite critical.’
Nicky gives a good example of this – something that we can all relate to:
‘Say you did a workshop and you asked for feedback, and nine out of ten people said they loved the workshop. But one person said they didn’t learn anything.’
‘The hard drive of your brain would be more likely to store the feedback of that one person, and you might dwell on that.’
In order to overcome that hard-wired negative feedback, Nicky recommends you focus on one thing and one thing alone. Discover what that is in the podcast.
How do we get better at adaptation and perseverance?
For Nicky, one of her favorite quotes that is now more meaningful than ever, is from Viktor Frankl, author of ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.” After his time in Auschwitz, he wrote:
‘When we’re no longer able to change our situation, that is when we are challenged to change ourselves.’
What this means is that in many situations, we may not have control of much, but what we do have control of is how we perceive those situations, and how we change our behaviour accordingly. This might sound easy, says Nicky, but behavioural change is hard. It takes more than simply reading an article entitled ‘10 steps to stop procrastinating’ or ‘5 steps to a more positive mindset,’ for example.
If we want to make sustainable changes in our behaviour, Nicky says, we should ask ourselves these four important questions:
What is the behaviour I want to change?
When do I need to change it?
How can I change it?
Why do I want to change this behaviour?
Nicky emphasizes that we need to be clear about our answers to these questions, though, one question is far more critical than the others for a very important reason. Find out what it is and why in the podcast.
How do we pick ourselves up again when we’re down?
A big part of perseverance is picking ourselves up when we’re feeling down. Usually, when we’re down people tell us to focus on the good things in our lives. More importantly, Nicky actually believes that we need to be a little more accepting of the vast spectrum of our emotions:
‘In order to persevere, we actually need to accept that the entire range of emotions, from joy to sadness, are part of life. We don’t need to feel happy all the time.’
‘When we try to avoid difficult feelings, that can do more harm than good. Right now, we’re all on an emotional rollercoaster. We need to allow ourselves to feel.’
In order to smooth the rollercoaster though, Nicky recommends we do a few important things. Discover what they are in the podcast.
Nicky Abdinor’s podcast on adaptation and perseverance is part of our IBM Sterling Supply Chain Career Bootcamp. Designed to power your mind and help you excel, the Bootcamp consists of 6 electrifying podcasts with internationally renowned experts and speakers. Sign up here if you haven’t already.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Failswhere we set you up for a total tech-success.
COVID-19 creates new career opportunities for procurement and supply chain professionals, despite recent job losses and pay cuts.
COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the job market. The most recent U.S. analysis reveals that 21.5 million Americans remain unemployed. In the European Union, 397,000 people lost their jobs in April, according to the EU’s June report. Globally, Citi projects that 44 million people around the world, excluding China, could lose their jobs due to the pandemic.
The procurement and supply chain function is not immune. Our research, which was conducted between 4/28 – 5/12, found that 20% of supply chain and procurement departments experienced job cuts due to the crisis. Diving deeper into those numbers:
Nearly half (48%) said the job cuts were limited to about 10% of the team
15% said their teams experienced cuts of 50% or more
Similarly, 23% of respondents said they were forced to take pay cuts. Of these:
38% saw pay cuts of about 15%
32% saw cuts of about 25%
10% saw cuts of about 33%
19% saw cuts of 40% or more
Millennials took the most pay cuts (32%), while Boomers took the least (18%).
While these numbers are alarming on the surface, they may not be as severe as they appear. A recent U.S. survey from the Census Bureau found that 47% of adults said they or a member of their household had lost employment income since mid-March. This may indicate, on a comparative and anecdotal level, that procurement and supply chain practitioners have somewhat been spared.
The harsh reality: Given the magnitude of job loss across the world, it was always a matter of how much, not if, procurement and supply chain functions would get hit. Across many industries, it simply did not matter how talented you are, or the results you produced. Many organizations saw revenues drop by nearly 100%, which naturally (and unfortunately) affects employment.
The good news comes in what’s next. Our research found that the majority of organizations are valuing procurement and supply chain like never before. More than ever, procurement and supply chain leaders play a critical role in organizational resiliency, recovery, cost controls and business continuity.
Go-forward job confidence reflects this thinking. On a scale of 1 – 5, weighted job confidence for the next 12 months is 3.96—meaning procurement and supply chain practitioners are more confident than not. Nearly half (43%) said they were extremely confident they would have a job 12 months from now, compared to only 5% that said they were not confident. We see this confidence mark as an incredibly positive sign considering the employment turmoil around the world.
Could this confidence – along with the newfound appreciation for procurement and supply chain – lead to more promotions? While it’s safe to assume most organizations will take a tepid approach to compensation and spending for the foreseeable future, we believe this crisis will create fresh career and financial opportunities for Generation Next. If anything, this crisis – and the strong performance of teams across the world – crystalizes the importance of investing in people, technology and the overall function, which should open up more (and new) doors.
Building on this dynamic, the majority (73%) of organizations we surveyed are planning seismic shifts in supply chain and procurement strategy post-pandemic, including supply base expansion, inventory management changes, and reductions in supply chain globalization. These changes represent fundamental shifts to traditional approaches, and will require substantial smarts, experience and an immensely committed and results-driven team for success. All of this points to higher demand for great people.
There’s no escaping the chaos caused by COVID-19, especially when it comes to jobs. But for procurement and supply chain leaders, the light at the end of the tunnel is bright.
With only 1 week to go until our Career Bootcamp, we are taking a walk down memory lane and looking at our favourite podcasts from last year.
Can you believe it? In just one week we’ll kick off this year’s most essential Career Bootcamp, covering the one thing we know you need this year more than anything: a resilient mindset.
In case you missed this, this incredible Bootcamp will help you power your mind and supercharge your ability to innovate, play to your strengths and be more resilient.
But before next week, we thought we would take a look back at last year’s Career Bootcamp and all of the inspiring insights to come out of it.
One of our favourites was this podcast. Director at MIT Sustainable Supply Chain, Alexis Bateman, discusses her experiences through the lens of sustainability, where she gets her energy from and, like all truly successful leaders, why it’s just as important (if not more important!) to develop your team as well as yourself…
Not only is this next speaker a World Para-triathlon Champion and won Paralympic Gold in hand-cycling at Rio 2016, but Dr Karen Darke MBE is also an author and broadcaster, with an area of expertise on the subjects of challenge, change, resilience, sustainable wellbeing and maintaining a positive mental state.
Karen Darke is the strongest adventure athlete you’ve never met. This is why…
Have you ever wondered about the concept of biohacking? Do you think that people could unlock even more potential in themselves by using technology, gadgets or implants in their brains?
Well, as far-fetched as it might sound, Neuroscientist and Professor at Kellogg School of Management, Professor Moran Cerf, has devoted his career to this idea.
Responsible for all strategy, execution and transformation of IBM’s global end-to-end supply chain, and delivering to clients across more than 170 countries, Ron Castro, Vice President at IBM Supply Chain, is ideally positioned to share his wealth of experience and give his Bootcamp tips in this podcast…
Finally, to discuss his career journey, what habits he’s developed to differentiate himself, and what he’d advise a younger version of himself about when it comes to accelerating his supply chain career, Stephen Day rounds out our wonderful speaker lineup for 2019.
This year’s Career Bootcamp with IBM Sterling Supply Chain is set to be bigger and better than ever before. Through 6 awe-inspiring podcasts from June 22-26 featuring a stellar line-up of speakers, the Bootcamp will help you to:
Be more creative and innovative as Mok O’Keefe, Founder, Beehive Innovation, takes us all through practical strategies to help you and your team have bigger and better ideas.
Adapt and persevere as clinical psychologist Nicky Abdinor talks about how to thrive in times of uncertainty.
Be more resilient as Roh Singh, Founder of Populis and Excelerate You, enlightens us on how to overcome fear and doubt.
Alex Bailey, CEO and Co-Founder, Bailey and French: Alex will help us all identify our strengths, but more than that, she’ll help us leverage them to boost our careers.
Rob Baker, Author and Founder, Tailored Thinking, will discuss how we can use those strengths to craft a job that we love
And finally, VP and CMO of AI Applications and Blockchain at IBM, Amber Armstrong defines what it means to be an inspiring leader, especially during challenging times.
Today we released the results of our How Now? The Supply Chain Confidence Index. The research reveals that nearly all (97%) of the 600+ professionals we surveyed experienced a supply chain disruption related to COVID-19. In response, the majority (73%) of organisations are now planning major shifts in supply chain and procurement strategy post-pandemic, including supply base expansion (38%), reductions in supply chain globalisation (34%) and increases to inventory levels (21%).
When asked where COVID-19 had the biggest single impact on their supply chains:
31%: Decreased demand for products and services
26%: Lack of available supply due to production downtime and shutdowns
21%: Logistics and transportation slowdowns and delays
“We expect to see seismic strategy changes in the months ahead that fundamentally alter the makeup of global supply chains,” said Tania Seary, founding chairman and CEO of Procurious. “For decades, low-cost country sourcing and offshoring was the foundation of global supply chains. The pandemic has many executives considering reducing globalisation—and for good reason. But these changes won’t come easy.”
Reflecting on lessons learned, 39% of those surveyed said they were blinded by a lack of supplier and geographic risk and 29% said they didn’t understand the upstream supply chains of their suppliers. Fifty-nine percent of respondents believe the Fortune 500 should reduce globalisation by localising supply chains and bringing manufacturing back home.
Confidence Remains High, Despite Looming Uncertainty
Uncertainty around when the disruption will peak continues to loom. Procurious found that while 34% of business leaders believe the worst has come and gone, nearly half believe the peak impact will occur within the next six months.
“The message from frontline practitioners is that the end to these supply chain disruptions is not near. Most professionals believe the crisis will peak in or after June,” said Seary.
As a result, supply chain and procurement teams will continue to play a key role in recovery and resiliency initiatives. During the crisis, 40% of respondents said their recommendations were solicited more than usual internally, and 22% said they now have a seat at the executive table.
This growing platform has inspired a new generation of professionals to further pursue careers in supply chain and procurement. Procurious found that 62% of all respondents and 71% of millennials said their interest in procurement and supply chain has increased as a result of the pandemic.
“We found that most practitioners stepped up in a big way and responded effectively to a crisis that literally brought the world to a halt,” said Seary. “The spotlight on performance will lead to increases in budgets, tech investments and board-level involvement, and create new opportunities for practitioners to make their mark at the executive level.”
Analyzing employment trends, Procurious found that 20% of supply chain and procurement departments experienced job cuts and 23% of departments were forced to take pay cuts. However, go-forward job confidence remains high. On a scale of 1 – 5, weighted job confidence for the next 12 months is a 3.96—meaning employees are more confident than not.
The full report, which dives deeper into COVID-19’s effect on supplier payments, technology investments, jobs and supply chain and procurement operations, as well as plans and predictions for the future, is now available for download.