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Capitalism's Gone Wrong - And Your Organisation Can fix It

Monday 4th November, 2019

Every few decades capitalism goes wrong – or at least so says John Penrose MP, speaking at SAP Ariba’s ValueX conference on Tuesday. Not necessarily a sentence you’d expect to hear from a Conservative MP just before a General Election. But these are extraordinary times. Set just one day before what was supposed to be Brexit day, but instead turned out to be Non Brexit Day III, the only certainty seems to be more uncertainty. So what toBMA House outdoor space courtyard do?

Sitting in the solid confidence of the Lutyen’s designed BMA House, an organisation developed to protect doctor’s rights in the heart of affluent Bloomsbury, it’s easy to consider that perhaps there are just too many of us who’ve been living in an era of comfortable complacency. But as our wonderfully be-hatted SAP Ariba MC, James Marland pointed out, that complacency is being rocked by a new generation of activists. In fact, holding a cereal packet aloft, he said even his nine year old was inclined to ignore the marketing and turn to the back and check the provenance. But with demonstrations on the streets of our capital cities across the world – a change to a more sustainable future is the only sensible way forward. And the Intelligent Enterprise and procurement can help lead the charge.

Because, as John Penrose pointed out, if we continue to live in a world where those under 40 feel the system is stacked against them, that system will blow. Being able to clean the supply chain of dirty money, is a way of cementing ethics into the system. The Modern Slavery Act goes some way to promoting that, but organisations need to develop their own culture and systems to support corporate social responsibility. And increasingly, if you want to attract investors, you’d better be signed up to the  charter. No investor is looking to invest in a system of the past and as John Penrose said, it’s up to us to fix this latest iteration of the problem with capitalism. Automation, combined with intent is a way to embed that along a supply chain – ensuring that visibility runs through and beyond the top tiers of suppliers.

In fact that was something that Ian Washington and Christopher Courtney of Deloitte pointed out in their presentation. Industry 4.0 is all about connectivity and deeper insight along our businesses internally and externally and over 84% of business leaders see digital transformation as a top objective. But that’s going to be a bit of a struggle when only 50% felt they knew how to optimise their data properly! But – as with most things – the key is knowing where to start and what you want to gain out of the transformation when you do. But f you focus just on the tech, you’re going to miss out. It’s about people too. Skills you can teach. It’s a lot more difficult to teach softer skills like emotional intelligence.

Alongside some pretty depressing facts from PwC (white collar work reduction by 30%, disposable income down, increase in climate disasters) they shone a light on necessity led innovation. With water shortage affecting supply, companies like Heineken are leading the way in meeting the challenge with a solution. Their latest techniques now use 30% less. But it’s fair to say that all these factors will have a profound affect on our supply chains, procurement and business overall.

And that may be facilitated by blockchain. No really. By a show of hands, appetite in the room for Blockchain being a game changer was around 50% with around 40% of unbelievers and the rest shuffling their feet. But as Carlton Hopper of IBM said, blockchain is maturing faster than the internet was in the 90s. And with around 20 million containers live on it now, it looks like he might be right. It’s no hard to see that customers being able to click in-store and find out exactly where a product has been will win big sustainability points.

And it really does feel like CSR is no longer just a “nice to have” as Sian Sutherland, CEO of A Plastic Planet said – businesses have a duty to “do no harm” in the same way that previous decades have seen the demise of tobacco – we may be on the brink of something similar for the packaging industry and plastic use generally. With 33x more plastic in the soil than in the ocean, contaminants in our food and water and in the air we breathe, will start to change our usage as our health suffers. Being digital first, with intelligent use of automation and connected IOT, means that you’ll be best placed for trend analysis and be able to predict possible disruption. Looking at the company's impact on the environment, CEO of Unilever said “We’re in the business of branding pollution” It has to change.

As our world becomes less certain, it makes sense to control what you can. Adding end to end automation to your processes is certainly one way to do that. But you also need to think carefully about the type of culture you’re driving and promoting. If not, today’s nine year old may very well look at your company’s boilerplate at some point in the future and simply decide to swipe left.