The Innovation Category

Category Manager at Greeting Card Company Brings Sentiment and Feeling to Dying Supply Chain

Alex Decker, a senior category manager at a well-known greeting card company, has developed an innovative supply chain management approach that promises to breathe new life into an industry disrupted by digitization. For over 25 years, Decker has been responsible for sourcing paper stock and ink, the two main materials inputs to the production of traditional paper greeting cards. Not long ago, he suddenly be became interested in innovation and in holding onto his job until retirement age.

Are Your Supply Chain Peers Already Implementing Blockchain?

Last summer, our sister site Trade Financing Matters’ David Gustin wrote: “I guess someone must have told ‘American Banker’ and many other publications [that] you put blockchain in the title and people will at least open the article.” We admit to having no shortage of enthusiasm for writing about blockchain technology and its exciting implications for supply chains here on Spend Matters. As we wrote back in 2015, “Certainly you’ve heard of bitcoin. But do you know about blockchain, the technology behind bitcoin? If not, you should. We believe it has the potential to be one of the top technologies in the supply chain.”

How to Smooth Manufacturer-Supplier Relationships Through AP Automation

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Howie Hahn, senior sales engineer at Esker.

Success in manufacturing depends on the mutually beneficial relationships between manufacturers and suppliers. Each party relies on the other to live up to its obligations, if either expects to move towards long-term success and growth. But business, like life, doesn’t always go as planned. Even relationships based on trust and mutual benefit can get rocky.

The key is to make sure that the inevitable bumps in the road don’t morph into ill feelings, mistrust or, worse, lawsuits. One tool that can help ensure that manufacturers and suppliers maintain smooth relationships is accounts payable (AP) automation.

ICYMI: Data Analytics, the New Frontier for Workforce and Services Procurement

One of the hottest topics in procurement these days is data analytics (including big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing and algorithmic decisioning). Therefore, in case you missed it, we’re dusting off this primer on data analytics from mid-2016. It's still valid as ever and ready to read in one sitting.

The Benefits of Treating Your Suppliers Like Partners

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from James Gellert, chief executive of RapidRatings.

Suppliers and buyers haven’t always had the best relationship beyond the transaction. Historically, the relationship was focused on getting the lowest price and reliable delivery. While this made sense on paper, it inevitably created a zero-sum game, as suppliers were often seen as expendable. Suppliers knew they could be replaced at any time and therefore had little interest in being flexible or working in the purchaser’s best interest.

While many companies have since rethought this Draconian approach and have been successful in creating overall value beyond the transaction, those companies that have truly realized the benefits of treating suppliers like partners are able to transform themselves into a more focused, nimble and cost-effective global competitor.

Wednesday, May 31. Downtown Chicago. Sourcing, AI and Optimization.

I rarely pimp things I'm participating in, but I'm really excited to go back to my FreeMarkets roots tomorrow (May 31) at this breakfast and morning session in Chicago on the future of strategic sourcing and e-sourcing. The event is free, and it’s open to procurement practitioners and consultants.

Keelvar is hosting the event and the topic is about the massive transformation (thanks to artificial intelligence [AI], robotics, optimization and more) starting to take shape in strategic sourcing and e-sourcing. Alan Holland (Keelvar) and Josh Brogan (A.T. Kearney) are speaking as well.

Inside the Executive Suite with Jose Varela, CPO of 3M: Cognitive Computing Pointing the Way Forward

Jose Varela, vice president of global sourcing for 3M, took the time to chat with Spend Matters about how one of the global industrial leaders in innovation sees the challenging sourcing and risk landscape both today and into the future. (ICYMI, here’s Part 1.)

What’s clear is how the maturity of the overall organization and the forward-thinking nature in 3M’s DNA result in streamlined collaboration, both internally and with the company’s myriad suppliers — more than 100,000 around the world.

But how is Varela’s organization using technology — procurement tech and otherwise — to compete with the big boys in 2017 and beyond? And how hard does he have to work to prove the value his procurement organization provides to his boss?

The Rise of AI in Procurement: Separating Hype from Reality

cognitive computing

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Dr. Alan Holland, founder and CEO of Keelvar.

A first-mover advantage ensues for firms that reach the tipping point of attaining superior performance with AI over humans. But there is also a pre-emptive rush to be ahead of the curve. Businesses are trying to understand before their competitors which AI-backed solutions will offer most value. It’s important to separate the hype from reality.

G2 Crowd’s Chicago Party: A $30 Million Funding and the ‘No Magic’ Man

I stopped by a party Wednesday that is all too uncommon in Chicago: a tech firm celebration. Specifically, I received an invitation from fellow Enterprise Irregular Michael Fauscette to attend a party celebrating G2 Crowd’s recently announced $30 million funding round, and I decided to take him up on it. G2 Crowd is Azul Partner’s (our parent company) downtown Chicago neighbor and one of the few research/analyst/tech shops in the Midwest. But unlike other tech analyst firms, G2 is taking an approach to tech research centered entirely on crowdsourcing reviews from users — and then analyzing, packaging and publishing the data in various formats.

All Smoke, No Fire: A Procurement Practitioner’s Thoughts on Digital Procurement (Part 1)

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on digital disruption from a procurement professional’s perspective.

“Digital” is smoking hot for CPOs right now. “Disrupt” is the newest square on Corporate Buzzword Bingo. Really? As someone with a front-row seat to the inner workings of procurement teams, I don’t see it. I was dismayed at the lack of content on this topic on the agenda of the most recent ISM conference in Orlando. All is way too quiet on the digital front in procurement. In the business environment today, the “why” of this inertia doesn’t matter. The need to do something, on the other hand, does.

The Collective Intelligence of Supply (Part 1): Introduction

As you may have guessed by the title, this blog series is not going to be a tactical how-to guide for implementing low-level procurement techniques or comparing software providers. Rather, I’m writing this as the supply strategist’s guide to digital business.

There is a lot of content out there on digital “disruption,” including for procurement, but I personally find most of it laden with jargon, and not very instructive on what to do about it. This is a shame, because the fundamental transformation and evolution of value chains offers so many opportunities that supply professionals can seize upon if they understand the changes and how to harness them.

This series will be written as a series of short essays that will (hopefully) help readers understand these detailed drivers behind this digital evolution and what that means from a supply chain and supply management standpoint. Most important, I’ll try to give some practical insights and recommendations on how to best tap these innovations as we all evolve toward higher levels of machine intelligence.

Before we dive in, it’s important to realize that the “collective intelligence” story isn’t about artificial intelligence (AI) per se but really about a convergence of methodologies, strategies, techniques and technologies that are converging.

Read on to see this series’ outline on the successful supply professional’s journey to this collective intelligence that’s being built in the supply chain and how to begin preparing for it.

The Impending Slow Death of “Empty Apps” in Procurement (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how “empty” applications (i.e., data models and application logic served up via forms and workflow) that need to be spun up from scratch by each customer, and offer no scale across customers, are not going to be competitive in a few years.

For example, most buying organizations pursuing automated supplier qualification workflows in supplier management end up creating mega qualification forms that represent the sum of the regulatory requirements and internal requirements that are in force rather than the supplier questionnaires getting automatically tailored based on the spend requirements that in turn link to the appropriate questions based on appropriate internal/external policies and regulations.

But this is starting to change. New applications and application suites that offer mass personalized functionality in terms of flexible data models, metadata, machine learning and “composite applications” (that embed relevant microservices) will offer huge advantages over traditional software models that basically treat the applications like machine tools (even though the tools are deployed over the web).

I will give a few more examples of embedded services and then turn your attention to some other approaches that applications providers are pursuing to move away from feature function wars and move towards building a collective intelligence on behalf of their procurement customers. This changes the game to build new capabilities beyond automation and to deliver outcomes beyond savings.

In the last installment, I talked about DaaS (data as a service) and embedding microservices into the applications so that “micro best of breed” app services can be embedded into the core processes of large application suites. In fact, it’s already happening. I mentioned digital signatures for contracts and APIs for supplier risk queries, but there are other opportunities! In this installment, I call out providers like SAP Ariba, Amazon Business, Okta, Tradeshift, Slack, Microsoft and Aquiire, but the lessons are what is important. OK, let’s get on with it with our list of services to augment the empty apps.