A few months ago, Infosys invited me to attend its Confluence conference in San Francisco, and I’ve been meaning to write it up, but have struggled. The reason why is that I took so much away from it and have been trying to figure out the best way to parse up some of the insights.
I’ve been to a lot of business conferences. Maybe 200 or so. And I’ve been to a few Infosys conferences, too. They are usually decent, and I always try to find something interesting from a procurement and supply chain viewpoint rather than the usual shared services contexts of F&A, CRM or HR.
This is where Infosys plays well. Infosys is strong at selling mega BPO/ITO projects and it does very well in global transactional P2P outsourcing. It has also been trying to push into strategic sourcing, including its acquisition of Portland Group (almost five years ago!). Infosys is making inroads into tail spend management and is doing some interesting things in analytics and intelligent process automation (or “robotic process automation” as some like to call it for some reason), but it still has some way to go in procurement overall.
Anyway, I have to admit that this conference was perhaps the most thought provoking vendor event I’ve ever been to. This year’s edition of Confluence, like others, continued to feature some “practical and tactical” customer experiences, including in procurement. But this year’s event was different — profoundly different. It was decidedly focused on innovation and the merging of the digital world and the physical world. Even the event’s after party concert was focused on such convergence. It featured Carlos Santana playing aside Indian music star A.R. Rahman. (As an aside, Carlos’ drummer Cindy Blackman (also his wife) is a beast of a drummer — she reminded me of Terry Bozio.) You can actually view video replays and downloads of most of the Confluence sessions for yourself, which is pretty cool in its own right.
I have some great quotable quotes from folks like Alan Kay (one of the true Silicon Valley pioneers) and Bran Ferren (ex-head of R&D/creative tech at Disney who invented Revo sunglass coatings and many other innovations), but I think the best sessions were from Hugh Herr at and Hiroshi Ishii, both from MIT. Herr is truly the bionic man — a double amputee mountain climber who now leads multi-pronged research to “hack biology” and extend/augment our biological systems with both digital and physical systems. (Here’s an infographic on the session, but you can check out a video series that Wired did on him.) Ishii’s session focused on the confluence of physical systems and digital systems to “seamlessly couple the dual world of bits and atoms by giving dynamic physical form to digital information and computation.” (You can check out a video of him here and his group’s work here.)
These pioneers will definitely help you “empty your cup” and appreciate new ways of thinking. Procurement will need to increasingly find such external innovation beyond the procurement/SCM world to bring to help drive internal innovation. Increasingly, procurement will help connect innovations in supply markets and bring them to customers to co-create with them and create entirely new value streams. This idea of adding innovative new services rather than just delivering existing services more efficiently may seem basic, but it’s core to expanding and evolving your value, whether it’s at a personal level, a functional level (e.g., procurement) or at an enterprise level like a major BPO firm like Infosys. It’s also harder than it seems, but can be done with the right approach and with the right leadership. This will be the subject of the next edition of this series, where I’ll discuss the real star of Confluence (although he wouldn’t want to be called a star): Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka.