From Mines to the Cloud: the Modern Supply Chain
For most people, the bauxite mines dotting the coastline of rural Weipa, Australia, might seem like the ends of the earth. But for the world’s aluminum producers, the massive deposits of ore they contain represent the beginning of complex supply chains whose end result is the airplanes in which we fly, the siding with which we cover our homes, and the foil in which we reheat our meals.
On a personal level, the mining industry represents yet another beginning: my journey into the procurement business. When I set out on my career three decades ago, I could scarcely have imagined that cloud-based digital technologies would someday render places like Weipa less remote, supply chains more transparent, and business-to-business commerce more immediate. Yet certain lessons from those early days in the mining industry remain unchanged despite the years.
Above all, buyers and suppliers demand a positive outcome experience in the form of tangible results. Years ago, that meant delivering on time, per specifications, at consistently high quality. It meant keeping one’s word. It meant investing in relationships for the long run. Today, these same priorities hold true—but it’s also about expecting more from our spending and the way we manage it by taking greater advantage of data, insights, and advanced analytics. And it all starts with procurement.
Procurement networks equip business leaders with the visibility needed to maximize customer value. In addition, the transparency they make possible creates an ecosystem within which organizations harness the data-driven insights they need to anticipate disruptions to the supply chain—whether natural disasters or labor unrest or even armed conflict—and remedy them before they can dent the balance sheet. The next generation of procurement is bigger than transactions. It’s bigger than processes. It’s strategy and execution to drive real value, real results, and real impact for organizations. This is the next step forward in intelligent spend management.
SAP’s , for example, has the powerful ability to help during times of crisis, enabling organizations to manage risk and keep the promises they’ve made to customers. In fact, in response to the current state of global supply chain disruption, we have opened access to SAP Ariba Discovery so any buyer can post immediate sourcing needs and any of the 4 million suppliers on Ariba Network can respond at no cost through December 31, 2020. For additional details, visit .
There must be trusted partners within the supply chain. To deepen that trust, a 360° view of spend is critical. This newfound visibility, possible through a cloud-based business network, extends to all categories, from direct, maintenance, and indirect goods to external labor, which on average comprises . From the insights gained through , businesses achieve tangible results and measurable outcomes grounded in predictive analytics.
Meanwhile, keep in mind that digital networks create efficiencies in other ways too. They unshackle procurement professionals from the tactical tasks traditionally associated with the source-to-pay process by eliminating full steps, thanks to machine learning and robotic process automation, freeing up personnel to focus on strategic activities, such as on product development, shaping a mutually beneficial outcome experience, integrating aims into their operational systems, and shoring up the effectiveness of their .
Years ago, effectiveness in the supply chain—or in any endeavor, for that matter—required cementing the bonds of trust with the diverse sets of people who rely on each other’s success. The same principle remains true today. When I worked in Weipa, the people most vital to success, apart from our end-of-line customers and the traditional owners, were our miners. Still, no matter how different the cultures that converged there, we all put customers first.
Fast-forward to 2020, and digital networks reinforce the very same customer-first mentality—one that also offers a wider opportunity for diversity and inclusion but across greater distances and broader sets of stakeholders. For example, a procurement platform, aided by artificial intelligence, can ascertain whether one’s trading partners award business to organizations owned or managed by historically underrepresented groups of people. It can also determine whether a potential partner has in place the governance structures necessary to root out forced labor from the supply chain or to ensure the responsible stewardship of natural resources. In times of increasing complexity and uncertainty, business leaders must balance responsiveness with responsibility.
Across operational and reputational factors, digital networks extend visibility to encompass the full circle of procurement and supply chain requirements. Yet, in a sense, they bring me full circle as well. From my humble beginnings in Weipa to my current role in Silicon Valley, much has changed in the technology of procurement, elevating it to the forefront of competitive advantage. What endures is the paramount importance of relationships and the need for business leaders to seize the technology available to fortify them.
Nybl: Saudi Startup to Expand AI Solutions
According to co-founder Nour Alnahhas, nybl was formed for the greater good. A visual data mining and machine learning platform, the platform will help organisations streamline their operations. ‘We wanted to centralise our vision around AI and machine learning’, said Alnahhas. ‘Something not just for profit, but added value. Conscious capitalism’.
Nybl aims to democratise artificial intelligence by making it possible for anyone to build an AI solution. What website builders like Wix and Squarespace did for site design, nybl will do for AI—allowing even non-coders to feel comfortable creating solutions. In fact, Alnahhas calls it a ‘Shopify of AI’, or a third-party platform that helps businesses deliver better service.
With hubs in Kuwait, the UAE, North America, and India, nybl is focused on launching operations in Saudi Arabia, Alnahhas’s home country. When the company first launched, it was difficult to convince Saudi Arabian businesses to work with a startup. Yet now, nybl has proven itself. ‘We had support in the UAE, so now we’re coming back’, said Alnahhas.
Alnahhas has launched a pilot with Saudi Aramco and has slowly built partnerships with paper, heating, HVAC air conditioning, and manufacturing companies. In addition, the Saudi government has started to invest in the Kingdom’s National Strategy for Data and AI, which means that nbyl, as a tech startup, has finally gained credibility.
No War for Talent
One of the most critical parts of nybl’s expansion will be hiring the right individuals. Thankfully, there’s a current surplus of talented researchers, developers, and data scientists within the Kingdom. Like nybl’s Alnahhas—educated at the University of Houston, the Wharton School of Business, and INSEAD— many Saudi Arabians have benefited from government-sponsored education abroad.
Last year, Saudi Arabia signed several partnerships with tech firms to advance the Kingdom’s skills in artificial intelligence. ‘It’s exciting to be in Saudi Arabia where there’s alignment and support’, Alnahhas concluded. ‘You’re getting an increasing talent pool. And even old and big family conglomerates are finally changing to use AI’.