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Storms, Sand and Cavemen – it must be spring eWorld

15th March, 2019

The arrival of daffodils, snow drops and extreme weather, courtesy of storm Freya, can only mean one thing – yes, the return of spring eWorld! And if spring’s all about new life and new beginnings, last week’s eworld hit the spot beautifully. Breaking away from Westminster’s QE11 Centre for the first time in 7 years, the event moved to the Grand Connaught rooms. I don’t know if it was the sweeping staircaseeworld march 19 or the beautiful high ceiling, but the room was alive with energy. A good move. And from speaking to attendees and exhibitors, it seems everyone agreed.

The free to attend event for procurement, supply chain and finance executives always pulls a good crowd, and there looked to be about 300 attendees or thereabouts. A good smattering of exhibitors too, Proactis as the headline sponsor again and some other regulars like Wax Digital, SAP Ariba and Tradeshift as well as relative newcomers to the event, like Mercateo and Ivalua as well as some I’d not heard of before, like LIGHTest.

The morning’s sessions kicked off with a keynote by the CPO of Dutch telecoms giant, KPN - Michelle Baker, looking at how to survive in a tech led future. And if any busienss knows how important that is, it’s the telecoms industry. KPN's world was knocked sideways by the arrival of the smart phone and apps like Whatsapp that destroyed their SMS business. But the company responded powerfully and wanted a procurement function to match – one that was open to change.

With the bird’s eye view across the business that procurement has, organisations expect the department to be the bridge builders, to bring innovation in from the outside. With accurate use of reporting metrics and analytics, procurement can become more predictive. Your long tail may be where your next innovation lies and you need to be ready to recognise that. To be able to do that, Baker advises us to be deep. In other words, ignore the noise and concentrate of the aspects of work that really matter. And yes… that does mean stepping away from your mobile.

Being productive was something that Mercateo were focusing on their roundtable session looking at how to save 40% of costs by digitising indirect spend. If the £180 costs per manual PO are accurate, there are some big numbers to be saved. The trouble is, long tail savings are usually more about process efficiency, rather than bankable savings. Some great conversations flowed around what is, and what isn’t indirect spend and an enthusiastic debate about the general state of data – the consensus of which was “could do better.”

And better data is something that Andrew Leach, supply chain risk consultant wishes he had when faced with what he thought was a minor problem in his supply chain. A sand supplier in his long tail was about to go bust. A shame perhaps, but these things happen, and sand’s sand right – that stuff is everywhere. Turns out that was wrong. The sand was used to make a turbine blade, without which engines could not be made, without which, planes would not fly. Big problem. Made bigger when he discovered that the sand supplier was their sole source. A problem that took 9 months to solve. To mitigate against something like this, organisations need to make sure that they understand their entire supply chain, not just the top tier. As Leach said - everyone has a sand supplier – and you need to be ready for it.

Sometimes being the sole source can lead to some unusual business relationships as Daniel Ball of Wax Digital pointed out in his session. It’s quite an art to tell a tale of procurement and hold an audience gripped, but the story of how Pepsi briefly became the 7th largest navy in the world was certainly the one to do it! And it’s one we’re going to come back to in a later article.

But ultimately, supplier management is about relationships and understanding people. Something that Organisational Psychologist, Becca Brighty explored in her presentation. It’s not often you see the words “neuroscience” in the title of a session at a procurement event, so intrigued, I joined the packed-out room of people who clearly felt the same way.

Brighty challenged us to think differently and consider how our brains have evolved since cavemen times – clue: not much.  And that being the case – how to get the best out of people. Our brains are prediction machines that thrive on certainty. So, in times of change we need to be sure that we carry our teams with us – even if that change is negative, people are happier knowing what that negative thing is.  She pointed out that we tend to maximise threat and minimise reward and that this can have debilitating physical and mental consequences. If you have a team that is feeling threatened they are likely to be less productive and engaged. So in times of change, it’s important to think of people first, not just as PR gloss, but to have the strategy front and centre.

You know you’ve been to a good event when people are talking about it afterwards and if you find yourself talking about it in your own time. I think we’ve all been to events where the view from the window is more interesting – but those that open a new window in your caveman head are something to be celebrated.