Who lets a salesman into a procurement conference? Imposter I hear them cry!
Risk taking conference founder Matthias Gutzmann linkedin.com/in/matthiasgutzmann opened Digital Procurement World 2019 with the inspiring story of how he gave up his job to pursue his idea of starting a new type of conference, and thanked his Mum and Dad for letting him move back into their house. Any adult willing to move back in with parents to follow their dreams deserves success in my eyes.
When I was hustled into a side room after the opening talks, it wasn’t to be asked if I was at the wrong conference, it was because I had applied for and been selected to take part in the IBM sponsored Hackathon event. Another risky idea from Matthias, this time encouraged by IBMs Bob Booth linkedin.com/in/bobebooth. So not only am I a salesman at procurement event, I am a salesman at a hackathon at a procurement event, in Amsterdam, without a bike. At this point I said goodbye to my comfort zone.
Group Dynamics v Great Ideas
What do you get if you cross a salesman, a procurement analyst, and a data scientist, with a company founder, 2 IBM mentors and a PhD student of AI and Cognitive Science? started no joke ever.
Over the years I’ve clocked up plenty of hours working with great procurement people in the technology sector, so I rocked up armed with a few reasonably bright ideas. Other than a few experienced “hackathoners”, most of us didn’t know what to expect. Students and professionals alike had heard about the abundance of free food and felt that was a reasonable pay off for helping IBM invent some new patents to file.
The room was buzzing with dreams of the €3000 prize pot which was surely to be issued on a big pretend cheque, causing the winner many issues with carry-on baggage restrictions.
Proceedings kicked off with the inevitable introductions process, and I was soon clammy palmed when I realised we were doing the whole personality trait self-analysis thing. I thought so hard about what personality characteristics I would like to have that I forgot all my bright ideas. I thought I had played it safe and stuck my post it note near Bobs on the quadrant, but it turns out he (and now I) were both rather extreme.
Despite my scepticism (very possibly fear) of the personality trait exercise, it sent me off on a path of self-discovery which framed my 2-day experience. The bright ideas about digital procurement innovation ebbed and flowed, but the group dynamic remained constantly delightful. Early on, I gingerly proposed we adopt a leaderless approach, not wanting to appear too assertive. Nobody objected, so clearly they enjoyed this. Although I have to wonder, if by suggesting this method, I had therefore become the leader.
To Sleep or Not to Sleep
Our Team were challenged to create new value and measurements in procurement. We all know that procurement only care about savings, right? I think this was why they let a few outsiders in, to think differently. The challenge called for bold and brave, but it had to be feasible and ready to demo by the next morning. I believe our team’s solution was the only one of all the entries that was truly new and innovative. The atmosphere was positive as we set to work and ploughed on past dusk, powered by pizza with some sleeping in situ and some coding through the night. Another team were having a tough time and abandoned their idea near the end of the first day only to start again from scratch. After the morning rehearsals, we felt our team were sitting pretty.
Our team decided to measure the positive and negative experiences internal stakeholders and suppliers have when dealing with procurement. The industry currently relies on measurements from the structured data in ERP, SRM and CRM systems. SLA attainment, adherence to process, and savings amount for example dehumanise the people behind it all.
A lot of the real value, and human endeavour, in the procurement process is not captured because it resides in emails, phone calls, meetings and video conferences (unstructured data).
The traditional measurements don’t capture the behaviour of the people involved that lead to the outcomes. By using Sentiment Analytics and Natural Language Programming we can capture this data, and correlate it with the structured data, to discover which behaviours, sentiments and language relate to the positive outcomes.
We can then use all the clever AI, Machine Learning, Cognitive stuff to identify the good the people do and try and get them to do more of it, whilst also gaining insights that could teach the future robots what to do. I’m probably not making it sound very simple, because it’s not. Keep going, the judges said.
How did it all end?
The final vote was taken by the conference audience via the event app. Maybe championing “the value of people” at a digital conference, offended the bots that counted the votes so unfortunately our team didn’t win.
The team that was having trouble the day before, who ended up designing another solution in half the time, ended up coming second. An excellent advert for agile working and the principles of failing fast but coming back stronger.
The whole experience has been great for me – pushing myself well out of my comfort zone into a world I didn’t think a salesman was even allowed into. I’ve always held a long-term goal of starting or being part of an actual think-tank and this positive experience has re-energised me. Well done to the winners who were cool throughout, coded through the night and communicated their concept with excellence. Although when I stepped on the plane for home, I did have a little laugh thinking of them trying to get that cheque home.
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