Trade Extensions Conference – The Vasa And Happy Clients

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OK, so we are going to be somewhat “conference heavy” here for the next few weeks as we are in the heart of that season. We’ll try and make sure we give you the interesting stories though rather than  simply reporting on every set of PowerPoint slides we see!

So the award for most spectacular surroundings for a conference dinner is likely to go to Trade Extensions this year. The firm has its origins in Sweden (Uppsala) and the conference last week was in Stockholm, with dinner at the Vasa Museum. The Vasa is a spectacular ship that sank on its maiden voyage in the Stockholm waters in 1628 and was recovered in 1961. It is just a superb museum, not just for the spectacular vessel but for everything around it, as you can see and read about the history, context and social aspects of the story. It was an excellent evening.

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But on to the serious business. We will have several more articles here on some of the presentations. Magnus Carlsson who wrote this book about procurement at IKEA was excellent, and the practitioner sessions from the likes of Maersk and SKF were very strong, as was the session (on video) from Armin Scharlach of Accenture. More to come, as we say.

The overall theme was “Better Sourcing Design”. That had several meanings really – including the link between design and sourcing, as explained by Jonas Eklund from packaging firm Tetra-Pak, who talked about getting the most from your packaging design, and how procurement can work best with creative and design types like him. It can also mean “designing sourcing processes” in the most effective manner, and that was where speakers like Carlsson focused.

Indeed, there was a third link in the keynote from Sofia Svantesson who runs her own design business, Ocean Observations, and works with the Swedish government. Her area is the link between design, technology and the citizen, but she also talked about “design thinking”, a problem solving methodology which can be used in procurement and elsewhere. (Indeed, Pierre Mitchell from Spend Matters US has written about this recently). I don't really see it as a totally new concept, but it is worth reading more about it if you’re not familiar with it. She was also interesting talking about artificial intelligence, which took is into the whole "future of procurement" question in the Q&A after her talk.

We also had our old friend Rob Knott, now of Virtualstock, talking about the challenges he has faced in his wide career spanning financial services, the NHS, the Olympic programme and more. We liked his analogy on the NHS – “outsiders and suppliers sometime see it as a huge blue whale, but actually it is more like a school of small blue fish, sometimes swimming in one direction and sometimes going off randomly!”

Coming back to our hosts, with growth of 17% last year, Trade Extensions continues to progress in a strong but controlled manner, with centres in the UK and Sweden and an increasing presence in the US. I had to leave before the concluding sessions which were around the product and the next steps in its development though, so we will have to pick up on that separately.

But as we have said before, the nature of the product, handling the most challenging sourcing assignments, means that the customer base is in the main very large organisations.  Talking to delegates from some of those firms (Tesco, Cargill, IKEA, P&G) what comes though is that their relationship with Trade Extensions is very collaborative.

They don’t see Trade Extensions as a “supplier” but as a partner – and many of them have what you could almost describe as a “love” for the product which you rarely see in the software industry! It’s quite striking really and I can only guess they develop this real affection for the platform because it enables them to do such interesting things, and achieve real benefits.  We heard about that from a number of speakers, so look out for that in future articles here.

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