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.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”