Basware Connect 2019 Chicago: ‘Visible Commerce’ — A Look at the Future of Visibility Itself

Basware CMO Lars Madsen, from left, Spend Matters Founder Jason Busch and Eric Wilson, Basware GM of North America, answer questions Wednesday, April 24, at Basware Connect 2019 in Chicago. (Basware photo)

Two speeches this week at Basware’s Connect 2019 customer event in Chicago gave glimpses into the future of how procurement technology can make businesses faster, stronger and more efficient — as well as make them better businesses for people and society.

To do that, businesses will need to harness all the data that’s being generated by devices, apps, the internet of things (IoT) and other technology to offer unprecedented visibility into all transactions — a new concept called “visible commerce,” said Eric Wilson, senior VP and general manager of North America for Basware, a global leader in networked source-to-pay solutions, e-invoicing and financing services.

Wilson, in his opening remarks Wednesday to about 200 procurement and finance professionals, said visible commerce is a call to action to embrace technology and data to create “a better business, better society and better humans.” Visible commerce embodies the transparent exchange of money, goods and services — and where the availability of data empowers people to make effective, ethical business decisions.

“Visible commerce is believing that technology and humanity are interdependent and not in competition with each other — it’s a symbiotic relationship that enables us to be stronger and faster, but we need to make certain that we are also better because of it.”

Basware aspires to visible commerce because of the multiple missteps made by companies — from fraud to inhumane work conditions to life-threatening supply shortages, Wilson said. These types of mistakes could have been avoided if companies had known who they were truly doing business with, he said, adding that by focusing on the human side of commerce companies can also recapture visibility into who they are transacting with and at what true cost.

He said the move toward visible commerce is a necessary evolution now that technology is becoming imbedded into our everyday lives. It will restore a sense of knowing the people behind the transactions, not just leave us as “a push-button society.”

It’s also good for business, he said, because 78% of consumers say they want to buy from companies that are responsible, sustainable, ethical and good citizens.

“Visible commerce is complete transparency,” Wilson said. “All the flows of money, goods and services around the world, all of it. There's not just the transactional transparency. It's not just the visibility into the buying transactions and the selling transactions. It's visibility into who, not just what, but who is behind those transactions.”

Having full transparency into knowing who your supplier is can help with issues like sustainability, risk mitigation and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Wilson said visible commerce can expand our views of the marketplace to see where it’s growing, where it’s weak or where dangers like fraud may lurk.

One example of a weakness he gave was hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and its effects on the U.S. hospital system. It turns out that much of the saline bag manufacturing was done there, and when the hurricane savaged the island, that production was disrupted, creating a shortage of supplies at hospitals. With greater visibility into the supply chain— not just “suppliers” — that risky sole source of production could have been identified sooner, mitigating any risks of a disruption.

Wilson said Basware doesn’t believe it has the only answer to get to this better society, but he said the company’s foundation puts it in a good position to strive for that goal. Its background in supporting open networks is key, he said.

“Networks connected to networks and suppliers connected into that network  creates this vast ecosystem — that is what allows for this world of  visible commerce,” Wilson said. “Open networks, transparency — those are the kinds of things that have to happen for us to achieve complete visibility, and Basware is an organization that is founded on those types of principles.”

He explained that adopting technology, like what’s happening with the digital transformation of business, is the required first step, then comes visible commerce.

“We in this room are core to making that happen,” Wilson said. “Embrace technology as a means for us to become better businesses and a better society.”

That message dovetailed with the theme of the next speech, which highlighted issues related to visible commerce.

In his speech, Jason Busch, the founder of Spend Matters, a solution intelligence website for procurement technology, said visibility these days also has a personal role for people and he challenged the audience members to personally use the flood of data to gain insights that will help their businesses grow, not just help procurement run smoother.

“I encourage you to not just have a cocktail party knowledge of what's happening but really dig in to the facts,” Busch said. “There are so many different opportunities out there.”

In his overview of the global economy, Busch said that it’s important to learn about the issues that affect business, like tariffs. While most would agree that tariffs aren’t ideal, he said that profits for 12 of 18 industrial sectors tracked by MetalMiner, a sister site of Spend Matters, showed an increase in 2018, despite tariffs being imposed by the U.S. and counter-imposed by China and Europe. Many of these sectors even realized five-year EBITDA highs, he said.

Busch also focused on specific developments in procurement — namely the rise of three supply chains: the physical one that’s most well-known, but also the financial supply chain and the information supply chain.

He called the physical supply chain the “motherhood and apple pie” of the procurement world, meaning that it’s the one we know best and rely on most for goods and services.

In the other two supply chains, he shed light on how they tie into Basware’s efforts to expand the concept of visible commerce.

In the information supply chain, sharing data and building networks is key. You need to know who your suppliers are, what the provenance of your products is and who you’re doing business with, Busch said. “The notion of what my suppliers are doing is very important to me,” he said.

In discussing visible commerce, Busch referenced the risks that Wilson mentioned in the Puerto Rico saline bag shortage. And Busch recalled another famous procurement fail. “We can go back to the whole China quality and sourcing scandals 10 or 15 years ago involving melamine,” he said, adding, “What has really changed is the development of a real appreciation for what has happened with our suppliers. There's been a whole industry that grew up initially around supply chain risk management, which now makes us all aware of the information supply chain.”

He said the information supply chain is as important as the physical one because of the power of information these days.

“What your suppliers do impacts you, impacts you in the headlines. It impacts you in terms of business practices,” Busch said.

He sees the most opportunity in the financial supply chain — the youngest of the three areas. It involves optimizing working capital in trading communities, tracking transactions so taxes can be paid and facilitating the use of discounts to benefit suppliers and buyers alike.

Access to capital is the crux of the problem, Busch said.

“If you are a small business — and I can speak for this personally — and you're in a cash crunch, the opportunity you have to accelerate payments today is often really limited.

“If you want a revolver, you've got to jump through hoops. If you want to do inventory financing, you've got to jump through hoops. So the notion of a cash-efficient supply chain simply isn't there yet.”

He noted that technology by the likes of Basware is helping to get the financial supply chain “past the chasm” of problems.

“There's a huge opportunity here, not just to be a good corporate citizen. … If you put in place a supply chain finance program — a long tail program on the discounting front — you can be selfish and you can also help your supply base effectively if you put the right principles in place.”

After the speeches, audience members had a chance to connect with the speakers, asking questions via the event’s mobile app. One query got to the heart of the matter: How close are we to “visible commerce”?

“It’s a real possibility and a needed outcome,” Basware’s Eric Wilson said. “It will take time, but we should be taking the journey step by step to get there.”

The two-day Connect 2019 sessions were about connecting with customers, but Basware also is pushing the envelope to restore the human element to business and give customers unprecedented insights with visible commerce.

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