For those who remember “The Borg” from Star Trek, you’ll remember the notion of a dispassionate alien mind-being that would suck up your individual mind to subsume into the collective intelligence. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.
Crazy stuff, right? Or maybe not.
Flash forward to today. For most people, your every move is being tracked by your smartphone, social media apps, web browsing, and credit card transactions. Ever wonder why Google and Amazon are basically giving away their helpful devices and AI assistants? You are being watched. You are the product (not the customer). You are the raw materials of a collective intelligence being built upon your individual experiences and desires. In other words, the proverbial machine is watching and learning from you (in order to sell to you, er, rather, to “better meet your needs”).
But, this is all consumer stuff, right? B2B is different, right?
Sort of – but it’s not THAT different. And with all the regulatory pressures coming on consumer data privacy, as compared to much of the privacy that you sign away your rights to when you enter an employment contract, the tables may actually turn here. If you’re using a popular cloud-based Procurement system, you are also being watched (many providers analyse your system behaviour to figure out how you navigate the system and how to help you… yes, the chatbots are coming). If you use a procurement “business network” or eMarketplace (e.g., Amazon Business), your suppliers are signing away some of their intellectual property – whether they know it or not. And smart companies are trying to gain a market intelligence advantage through digital business strategies in the supply chain. There’s a reason why GE created Predix; why Flex funded Elementum; why DHL sells supply chain risk technology; and so on. Adoption creates insight and intelligence… and advantage.
All this isn’t necessarily bad for you though. It serves up price benchmarking, risk intelligence and improved system usability. It also signals how the world is moving away from “empty apps” that push documents around in workflows and move towards systems that are building intelligence to make your apps “smarter”. This intelligence is typically built using machine learning fed by large data sets that help improve repetitive tasks like spend classification. Of course, AI is a bigger topic, and there are 23 distinct areas in AI for procurement and supply chain that we’re following that I can’t cover in a single blog post! For example, contract management is a great example where AI is already having an impact and this will be very disruptive in the Legal services (e.g., Legal BPO) area.
Still, building your collective intelligence for your firm doesn’t necessarily require AI. You can avail yourself to some good old-fashioned knowledge management built up from the various collectives that are all around you:
- The internal corporate collective. Learn from consulting companies and build presentation storyboards of your procurement projects that created change and value – and use them to win over skeptical stakeholders.
- Your supplier collective. Your current supply suppliers, previous suppliers, “almost suppliers” (who bid on your business), and potential suppliers via crowdsourcing are a wealth of knowledge – if you know how to tap them through supplier innovation programs and proper supplier management processes.
- Your customer collective. This includes not just internal stakeholders, but external customers as well. For example, Lenovo uses its social customer mining tools to identify key customer/demand information that can be passed upstream to suppliers. On the flip side, many similar intelligence tools are being deployed on the supply side with varying results (that’s a whole topic for another day).
- The installed base collective. Your procurement app providers, consulting providers, and managed service providers are likely working hard to extract and productize your individual intelligence into a re-saleable collective intelligence. Choose a provider that is working on building collective intelligence into its overall platform strategy.
- Your peer/community collective. There are lots of communities out there right now where you can learn from your peers – and many of them are free. You’re learning right now by reading this on Procurious, so you’re already well on your way!
We even practice what we preach at Spend Matters when we tap into this collective intelligence of procurement technology users by capturing end user satisfaction (think Net Promoter Score™ on steroids) and using it as an entire axis of our “SolutionMap” vendor scoring model/methodology. And, yes, there’s a freemium version (it has eight procurement technology areas mapped out based on five different buyer personas from which you can select)!
The bottom line is that although we all start with a certain amount of individual intelligence, it’s the collective supply market of intelligence that is all around us if we can learn how to tap it, build it, and wisely bring the right intelligence back to our individual selves (and we’ll even be able to augment that individual intelligence into our own personal bots and ‘digital twins’). And since procurement should be enabling stakeholders to also tap that collective intelligence of supply, it couldn’t be a more important competency to build right now.
So, go bravely into that supply market and assimilate yourself into the collective intelligence of procurement and be smarter and better from that experience. It’s really what life is all about, isn’t it?
This article was contributed by guest author Pierre Mitchell, Chief Research Officer and Managing Director at Azul Partners.