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Brexit, Beasts and Bots – eWorld had it all

9th March, 2018

The first eWorld of the year always acts as the starter gun for the industry events – a springtime shot in the arm after the relative quiet of winter. So it was a bit of bad luck that this year it fell on 28th February, just when London had a visit from the Beast from the East and no doubt beat several records for the heaviest snowfall, coldest temperatures etc.

But procurement and P2P professionals are made of stern stuff, and were not to be put off by a bit of snow, even of the beastly sort. Overall, attendance didn’t seem to be badly affected, and in fact it seemed to me that the weather gave an extra boost of energy and battle spirit to the event.westminster abbey eWorld

Held at the QE11 Centre in Westminster, eWorld has worked its way into the fabric of essential events for procurement advancement. And it’s easy to see why – centrally located, with a great variety of speaker sessions, free to attend and some of the best vendors to chat to in the industry. Along with some regular exhibitors like Tradeshift, SAP Ariba, Basware and Wax Digital, there were others that I hadn’t come across before, like Mercateo and Determine.

The day’s sessions were opened by Jamie Foster, Group Procurement Director of McLaren, who stressed the importance of being able to take a step back as a leader – not to push things forward because you’re convinced it’s the right way – but to get stakeholder involvement right from the beginning. He pointed out that it’s costly and time consuming to make changes at the end of a project. Ongoing transformation takes time and recruiting the right staff, ready to embrace change and move with the company is key. He suggests leaving your ego behind and be a business leader first, functional expert second.

In fact that was something Tania Seary, founder of online procurement business community, Procurious, touched on in her session “Beat the Bots.” Despite all being used to robots and robotics taking centre stage at events these days, there’s still a certain amount of fear and uncertainty when in comes to knowing what effect they’re going to have on our lives. Tania suggests that the important thing to remember is that we aren’t robots, so to stop trying to compete with them. Instead, focus on the things which make us human. Things like our emotional intelligence. In other words our empathy, ability to compromise and strategise. Ask yourself how likely it is that your job could be done by a computer, then get on the front foot. Be the driver of the project in your organisation. And as obvious as it might sound – be sure that you’re bringing your whole self to work – because that is what makes you different, diverse and difficult to replace and replicate.

Our “humanness” was very much in evidence at Andrew Daley's, Director ofeWorld Jamie Foster McLaren Procurement and Spend Management at Edbury Daley, session on preparing for Brexit. An emotive subject at the best of times, Andrew bravely kicked off the session with a poll to see who voted Leave and who voted Remain. Anonymously of course! Then asking them how prepared they were, out of the 40 or so people in the room, only 4 said that their organisation was getting ready. Generally there seemed to be a feeling that the lack of direction from central Government made being prepared difficult. Organisations don't want to put a lot of work in, only to find it’s been wrong or unnecessary.

The consensus however, was that business needs a frictionless customs process and many expressed concern over the impact of tariffs on their supply chain. Another major concern was the recruitment of suitably qualified staff, and in fact Andrew pointed out that he had lost a member of staff himself as an indirect result of the Brexit decision and the uncertainty caused.

But not everyone thought it was a terrible idea. A large minority said that although in the short term, it was likely to be disruptive, longer term things were likely to be more positive. But as someone pointed out, although certain sectors will bounce back, we’ve never experienced a time when all industries will be hit at the same time, so it’s difficult to forecast. I would have liked to have heard from someone in the NHS, as their medical supply chain from Europe could be affected by tariffs and currency fluctuations, and any difficulty in recruitment from the EU will have a major impact. The future of research into new medicines and medical technologies could also be affected. Around 750 UK-led clinical trials, including multiple EU member states could be at risk if there is no plan on how to approve and manage these multi-national trials with European partners after March 2019.

And the result of the poll? Well, at the beginning 79% were for Remain and 21% for Leave. By the end of the session – one person had changed their mind, moving from Leave to Remain. Though, we didn't find out who!

And with more snow and high winds blowing around the building – we also took the decision to leave ourselves. A little earlier than planned, but listening to various mutterings – I had to agree – it certainly had the all the makings of the wrong kind of snow.