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IS COGNITIVE DOING YOUR HEAD IN?

Seven tips for making headway with your cognitive sourcing project.

I will never forget visiting the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington for the first time 30 years ago and seeing the Apollo capsule. Like so many others, I was amazed at how basic the technology was that took us to the moon.  I remember saying to my travel buddy, “Hey, this looks like my 1969 Toyota Corolla!” (my first car). Of course, back then, that was the very latest technology when humanity had its first “moonshot” opportunity.

My point here is that as procurement professionals, we may be sporting 30, 40 or 50-year-old hardware (our bodies!), but we need to make sure we are using 2018 software (our brains and capabilities) to get the very latest technology embedded in our organisations.

I mean, if cognitive is here, and it’s our moonshot opportunity to change the trajectory of the profession and there’s millions of dollars waiting to be saved, we don’t want to be left back on the rocket staging launch pad as an observer!

The challenge for all of us is to determine whether and how we implement this hot new capability.

Step one is to be clear about your corporate drivers. In my experience, companies are always going through one of six phases (please note the “status quo” is never one of them). Sometimes, they are going through multiple phases at the same time!

These directions are set from the top… hard coded. So if you want to get your cognitive sourcing project off the ground, you are going to have make sure your project aligns with one of these corporate objectives.

One of the key movers in the space, LevaData, is offering a hard ROI of 10 to 30% incremental cost savings, guaranteed. I asked them how we could link cognitive projects into the generic 6 corporate phases and this is what they had to say :-

  • Efficiency – massively reduce manual data validation, spend analysis, and sourcing event preparation activities
  • Compliance – engage approved vendors and qualified alternate sources of supply through auditable RFX process (vs. email and spreadsheets)
  • Transformation – elevate procurement and strategic sourcing as internal orchestrators, working cross functionally with engineering, finance, manufacturing, and sales to managing emerging supply risks and opportunities
  • Innovation – accelerate new product introduction and optimize cost and risk through the product life-cycle
  • Cost-down – improved negotiation insights lead to sustainable cost management year over year, capturing cost reduction opportunities as well as minimizing cost inflation risks
  • Growth – enable scaleability and responsiveness to forecast and market changes from months to weeks or days.

Getting BIG, innovative ideas and game-changing concepts through BIG Companies is not easy.  To successfully land cognitive technology in your organisation, you’ll need to:

1. Have courage and commit yourself. It’s important to have full confidence in your cognitive project and be prepared to put your credibility on the line and stand up for it at all costs. Once you’ve decided that it’s worth committing to, give it everything and don’t give up.

2. Do your homework.Make sure your cognitive sourcing project is closely aligned with a key corporate objective. Collect and scrutinise the data on the benefits of introducing cognitive and make sure your business case is bullet-proof. You need hard-nose, quantifiable benefits to support investing in the cognitive project and these numbers need to be backed up by the people who count (predominantly operations and finance).  Do your pre-work, build your support team. As you work your way around the organisation convincing people of the need to change, refer to your support network often: “Johnny in finance is firmly behind this, he helped me with the numbers”.

3. Think Big, Act Small, Accelerate Fast. Keeping the vision in mind, find a small representative project, experiment and demonstrate the ROI with Cognitive capability. Sell the outcome and accelerate fast. I would encourage you to think about what that project might look like and figure out ways to get it off the ground.

4. Pick a sponsor (carefully!). Think carefully about who would be the best sponsor for your cognitive sourcing project.  Make sure they have power and influence – and make sure they are supporting you for the right reasons and believe the project is important for the business. Try to avoid sponsors who are purely supporting cognitive for their own career advancement (I know this is hard to uncover at the outset). This is because your project will be dumped as quickly as it was taken up if it suddenly falls out of favour – which is another reason to make sure your project is aligned to key, quantifiable business objectives.

ONLY refer back to your sponsor when you reach a critical deadlock at an important milestone.  “Keep your powder dry” throughout the project, otherwise you will be too much of a drain on their time.  You need to make it easy for them to be your sponsor. Bring them in for the photo opportunities and the critical decision points.

5. Create a support network. I’ve often said procurement can be a lonely place, because you may be the only person in your company, or even in your industry, doing what you do! That’s one of the many reasons why I started Procurious, to help people connect and learn from each other.

Procurious is the perfect place for reaching out to others leading the cognitive journey within their own organisations. Over five thousand Procurious members visit our discussion board every month to share ideas and offer advice to their peers. Our blogs are read by thousands of professionals daily and spark debate, with members feeding their own commentary and ideas into the global community.

Our digital Big Ideas Summits, along with all the other networking, discussion and eLearning on the site, inspire a global generation of procurement leaders and business intrapreneurs, challenging them to take a more innovative professional approach.

Your network is also a powerful tool for endorsing what you are recommending, for example you can refer to your network – “I know Janie at ABC company (our competitor) and they are already implementing cognitive”.

6. Be human(!) in all your interactions. Up, down, and across the supply chain, it will be interactions between people that will be the real determinants of success and failure in an increasingly robotic era. To prosper in this next Industrial Revolution, we need to play to our human strengths – collaboration, connection, innovation, influence – the things only we humans can do.

7. When you get knocked down, get back up again. If you’re going to succeed in getting your big idea through a big company, you have to be incredibly resilient. You will have nay-sayers telling you why cognitive is not going to work, so keep going back to the data that demonstrates how this will support the business objectives. That is your strongest defence.

So, like any other project that is doing your head in, the implementation of cognitive can best be tackled by breaking it down into distinct steps. It’s going to take grit and more than a little determination, but the potential rewards are stratospheric.

Tania Seary will deliver the closing keynote at LevaData’s Cognitive Sourcing Summit on 13th September 2018 in Santa Clara, CA.Find out more.

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