Derk Erbé
Research Vice President, Supply Chain, Procurement and Energy 
Learn more about Derk Erbé
The Dark Side of Shareholder Value: Its impact on the very people it’s designed to benefit
June 26, 2017 | Derk Erbé

Our industry requires a shift in mindset from providers, buyers, AND investors. We need to rethink shareholder value and the integral link it has with the very element it seems to be bent on eliminating – people. In a thought-provoking post, my colleague Phil Fersht called out the fact we are in the people elimination business, wondering how it got so bad. My take: there are two key aspects in this debate; the way we view talent and the (unintended) consequences of decades of shareholder value doctrine.

The importance of talent for the future of services

Buyers need to deal with their cost reduction obsession and recognize talent is still the differentiating factor for their business success – and will be for the foreseeable future. Domain expertise, talent, and local people are critical components of the value service providers produce. This is true in any industry, but for example in oil & gas and the utility industry, the service providers that are perceived as delivering the most value by buyers are those that invest in talent, local people with deep industry expertise, and innovation prowess. These folks are not the cheapest, but bring exponentially more insight and impact on results. Buyers have shared ample examples of service providers that help them tackle the sticky industry problems by bringing the talents of industry experts, data scientists, technology experts and the client’s domain experts together. This teaming leads to multidisciplinary cross-pollination to design and deliver solutions that combine technology, industrial process and ideas and proven concepts from other industries.

We are on the verge of a shift in the way we work, and the outcomes we produce

The future value delivered by the outsourcing industry won’t be people running the accounts payable process, but in knowledge-intensive, decision-rich processes. You need the talent to make the technology work effectively – to drive the results and business outcomes. If we again look at the oil and gas and utility industry, organizations are starting to recognize the talent they need to compete in the new economy aren't smitten with the work and reputations of the oil & gas industry or utilities. The reality is that the competition for data scientists, for instance, is not Shell versus Exxon Mobil, but Exxon Mobil versus the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook and a host of start-ups. Service providers can offer more interesting career paths and are a source of talent that can plug the quantitative and qualitative skills gap these industries face. Long story short; focusing on talent, continuous education and business value creation is the viable path forward for service providers. 

The creed of shareholder value and its disconnect from reality

Too many people are still worshipping the totem of shareholder value, a theoretic and flawed notion from its conception. We are in a slow transition to more stakeholder value focus, more fitting our interdependent world that needs more cohesion and inclusiveness.

Ever since the invention of the term shareholder value, it was adopted as the dominant discourse by Wall Street and institutional investors. It, among other factors, has led to a short-term, myopic circus that reduces the horizon of executives to 90 days, de-humanizing our enterprises. It’s a fact that we are richer than ever before and there is less sickness, famine, and war (you wouldn’t say it if you watch the news). But there are still large swaths of the world struggling to improve the standard of living. And even in the world’s richest countries, large groups of people don’t feel better off. They feel left behind, disenfranchised and powerless. This is about half the population in countries like the US, the UK and France, evidence Brexit, Trump and Marine Le Pen’s rise. 

We need to go full circle on shareholder value
Coming back to shareholder value; it’s time to go full circle. Take a minute to think who is behind the vast pools of capital institutional investors manage… It’s us, the people saving money for their pensions. Shareholder value is a construct that served the money managing industry well but forgot to look at the wider interests of the actual owners of the money…. those shareholders are also your employees. Shareholders are not the clever folks on Wall Street, they are the representatives of the ‘normal people’ in your neighborhood and your company, the people who save their money in a pension fund or 401k.

If you take a narrow interpretation of ‘fiduciary duty,' you can get away with the fallacy that returns on investment is the only metric of interest. But what if you fail to let that money you invest create prosperity for the people you invest it for in their real life? If your addiction to dividends and higher share prices is ruining the jobs of your future beneficiaries? It is time to bring the financial economy and the real economy closer together. 

We can’t ignore the externalities of business any longer. People elimination is one of the challenging externalities that is a short-term lever executive in our industry seem to see as the inevitable answer to competitive pressures and new technologies (RPA, AI). 

The Bottom Line - Taking social responsibility seriously is a critical and foundational aspect of doing business anno 2017

Only ten years ago, when I was doing research about investment preferences of pension fund beneficiaries and their ability to influence pension fund investment policy, corporate social responsibility and socially responsible investing were a theoretic discussion, often painted as the domain of idealistic, money-hating tree huggers. Not anymore. Since the 2008 financial crisis, everyone understands CSR is a real thing, a source of durable value creation, competitive advantage and not a fad you only use as window dressing. CSR has come a long way since. It’s time for service providers and buyers, along with governments, to come up with credible policies to make sure talent is up for the new tasks at hand, to truly augment people with the new technologies instead of using this as an excuse for the next round of layoffs.

America Last: Why Trump’s running away from ‘Paris’ is so foolish
June 14, 2017 | Derk Erbé

I have refrained from political commentary since Trump took office because so much has been unclear. Not that his stated views during his campaign that climate change is a Chinese hoax and climate rules are designed to hurt American businesses or his appointment of staunch climate change-deniers to the EPA and Department of Energy, promised anything good. But now the long awaited, reality TV decision about the Paris Climate Agreement showed the real Donald Trump meant what was really going to do what he promised: The United States will “withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord,” “seizing all implementations right away."

Trump frames the climate change fight, not as one of our world’s biggest challenges but an economic zero-sum game of the US against the rest of the world. In his speech, Trump tried to tie leaving ‘Paris’ to the protection of the American people. This is a narrative weaned from reality.

Here are some sobering facts to put Trump’s decision in context

  1. Withdrawing from Paris doesn’t impact much in the medium term, regarding real climate policy and action. Withdrawing from the agreement will take a full four-year period. Ironically the US can only officially withdraw the day after the 2020 presidential election.
  2. Paris is a voluntary agreement, of which many critics claim lacks teeth. Every nation sets its own goals. Obama pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 26 percent during the 2005 – 2025 timeframe. The US could have simply adjusted its ambitions and goals if it felt Obama’s goals are unattainable. Trump has already gutted the Clean Power Plan, an essential part of Obama’s efforts to reduce emissions by fossil fuel burning electricity plants and increase the use of renewable energy and energy conservation.
  3. Many “legacy” energy jobs are already gone. Coal jobs won’t come back, nor will the jobs in Oil & Gas that were lost in the downturn over the last three years. Coal has lost its ground and competitive edge to natural gas, solar and wind. Mostly for competitive pricing reasons, not policy reasons. Coal companies acknowledge this, saying they don’t see a future for coal and jobs will continue to diminish. The production of oil and gas has rebounded from the slump of 2014-2016, but jobs have not. This is due to new efficiencies in the field, primarily driven by automation.
  4. The new jobs re in clean energy and Paris promotes their creation. The jobs Trump is so eager to create are not in the fossil fuel industries but in clean energy. The solar industry is the biggest engine of job creation in America. In 2016, one in fifty new jobs was in the solar industry. Grid modernization driven by renewable energy has created 100,000 new jobs in 2016, according to the Department of Energy. The Paris Agreement created a lot of momentum for the adoption of clean energy. For the first time in history, the world united to curb emissions and set a framework to act against climate change. The Paris Agreement provides a big push for the energy transition that is underway across the globe, a transition that some experts expect to create a ten-trillion-dollar economy for renewable energy and is already creating large numbers of blue-collar manufacturing, installation and service jobs in the US.
  5. Any deal on climate change is terminal while Trump is in power. There won’t be a new deal of a re-negotiation of the current agreement, as Trump alluded to in his Rose Garden spectacle.

Will it change US progress in the inevitable move to renewable energy?

The simple answer is no. Besides the damaging effects of Trump’s actions at the federal level, for businesses, states, and cities, the only common sense course of action is to continue down the path of renewable energy.  Directly after Trump’s decision, California, Washington, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Minnesota, Delaware, Virginia and Puerto Rico – representing roughly 35% of the US economy – formed the United States Climate Alliance, vowing to uphold the Paris Climate agreement within their borders. Eleven other states, including Maryland, Ohio, North Carolina and Illinois, have also supported the Climate Agreement.

The historic Paris Climate Agreement has already been ratified by most parties to the treaty and was signed by all countries except Nicaragua, who find the agreement not far-reaching and aggressive enough, and Syria, for obvious reasons. The Paris agreement is an agreement with intentions, not with automatic actions. The interpretation and subsequent actions heavily rely on industry and civil society. And they are now further encouraged to take action. While the Trump administration is doing everything to shut down forward-looking energy policy and climate change policy on a federal level, such as overhauling Obama’s Clean Power Plan, on a state and city level, the majority is acting; investing in renewable energy resources, adhering to the Paris Agreement guidelines. Since Trump’s announcement, governors, mayors and business leaders have spoken out and showed their intentions to stick with ‘Paris.' California’s governor flew to China to sign an agreement with the Chinese to collaborate on climate and clean tech, emphasizing the resolve from states to act and move forward.

A symbolic policy shift with diplomatic and reputational impact first and foremost

The announcement to withdraw from ‘Paris’ is a symbolic move more than anything. And it is symbolic for all the wrong reasons 

  • The backlash is starting to show; there is a negative impact on the reputation of the US – the rest of the world effectively sees Trump’s move as the withdrawal of the US from the world stage. The diplomatic backlash will be felt beyond the climate realm.
  • Impact on American businesses - US businesses fear they will be at a disadvantage seizing the opportunities in the renewable energy market, while they, until Trump’s decision, where well-positioned to lead in the global clean energy market.
  • It highlights the missed opportunity to jump on the renewable energy train. Trump is missing a great opportunity to make a concerted effort on infrastructure and the job creation in the renewable energy market. Last year, one in fifty new jobs in the US was created by the solar industry. Think about that. And only 50.000 people work in coal. Pick your battles, Mr. Trump. Instead of trying to save a small number of coal mining jobs with the red herring of ‘clean coal’ and withdrawing from Paris, focus on re-training coal miners for the manufacturing, installation and service jobs in the wind and solar industry.

The bottom-line: Trump will be gone when Mar-a-Lago is swallowed by the sea

As Oscar Wilde famously said: “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Trump’s announcement was short-sighted and removed from reality and science, catering to a small fraction of people with extremist and ancient views on climate and energy 

The good news is that the clean energy transition is well underway and won’t be stopped by the Trump administration, not in the US and certainly not abroad. But, as many critics of the climate agreement emphasize, it might be too little too late. The Paris deal was a strong message from all nations, coming together in the endorsement of curbing global warming and the impacts of climate change, but the climate fight needs more ambitious goals and most importantly actions. The world can’t wait any longer and play an economically motivated game of chicken, with the well-being of our planet at stake. 

Here Cometh Cognitive Procurement with SAP Ariba and IBM joining forces
May 17, 2017 | Derk Erbé

We are now seeing real commercial business applications getting serious about their cognitive potential, with the new announcement of SAP Ariba and IBM joining forces to cognify contracting and sourcing processes, as a start. At HfS, we believe this is just the start of core business applications being immersed in cognitive capability to deliver a new threshold of business value for enterprise clients.

In the recent HfS Procurement As-a-Service Blueprint, IBM, an HfS Winner’s Circle industry leader, invested in transformation-led delivery with a ‘Consult to Operate’ strategy, focusing on on-demand consumable digital processes for procurement fueled by analytics and cognitive.

Looking ahead to 2020, HfS recently wrote: "Towards 2020 IBM will be leading in the cognitive procurement services space. Underpinned by a strong BPaaS platform, most clients will look at IBM first when it comes to new cognitive technology-driven services with vastly improved data analytics capabilities. The biggest challenge for IBM to succeed with cognitive procurement is to bring clients along this journey".

The goal of this partnership is to take cognitive procurement to the next level. SAP Ariba and IBM are creating two centres for Cognitive Procurement, in Palo Alto and New York. The cognitive procurement capabilities will be expanded through a joint go-to-market strategy and a joint development roadmap. But there is more to this deal… 

"Making procurement awesome on steroids"

Asked what the biggest benefit of the partnership is, Moray Reid, IBM Procurement's Global Offerings Leader, took SAP Ariba’s motto up a notch; "Make procurement awesome on steroids”, by really bringing leadership to the procurement space and enabling smart new technologies to allow customers to make better decisions in real-time. SAP Ariba and IBM truly believe this is a case of ‘better together’.

In a recent article - 'What will The Procurement As-a-Service Provider Landscape look like in 2020?’ - HfS wrote, "IBM has a massive supply chain, which it smartly leverages in its procurement offerings. IBM is bullish on cognitive procurement. IBM BPS is morphing into Cognitive Business Solutions. Its own procurement provides a great playground for applying and road testing all the new cognitive procurement solutions, giving it an advantage over providers who don't manage procurement for their own organization or have less 'cognitive savvy’ clients”.

The partnership with Ariba is a serious step forward for the cognitive procurement ambitions of both organisations. SAP Ariba is a dominant player in the procurement space, with a mature, horizontally integrated platform, the world’s largest business network and end-to-end suite of source-to-settle applications that cover all categories of spend. SAP Ariba and IBM are developing the first cognitive use cases together and creating new services, adopting IBM’s Consult to Operate model, leveraging consulting capabilities in operations to deliver value on an outcome basis. One of the use cases under development is in contract intelligence; Watson sifting through structured and unstructured contract data to gain insights and improve contract compliance, a big step towards actually achieving benefits, one of the toughest challenges in procurement. Part of the work will further the development of intelligent procurement solutions and services, with IBM and SAP Ariba working side by side to explore applications of emerging technologies, including blockchain.

What’s in it for SAP Ariba?

SAP Ariba needed a new differentiator as competition is heating up and competitors, like Tradeshift and Coupa, accrue assets and client wins. With SAP Leonardo alongside Watson, it gets a credible cognitive engine. Further, to leverage network effects and grow its value, the network needs to expand by adding more suppliers. Bringing IBM’s huge supplier base on board will boost the value of the Ariba Network increasing its size and scale.

What’s in it for IBM?

Emptoris has been a good foundation for IBM’s procurement services and BPaaS delivery, but lacks the network. Instead of betting on two horses, by continued development of Emptoris for internal use and partnering to provide the business network capability to clients, IBM will, over the coming period, transition all its BPaaS offerings to SAP Ariba. This is a big operation, but it makes a lot of sense. There must be hard assurances and safeguards in the partnership agreement, otherwise it’s a risky bet to put your As-a-Service/BPaaS future in the hands of a partner.

Competing on multiple fronts

Watson is IBM’s big platform bet of the decade – its main challenge is being a bit too far ahead of its time, pushing a cognitive story at clients that simply are too bogged down in other initiatives to take the time and consider the ROI of injecting cognitive capability into their processes. Positioning it as one of the largest procurement platforms makes a lot of sense from the perspective of not only competing for Procurement As-a-Service services with other providers, but also allowing IBM to be a technology provider to competitors via SAP Ariba. If you can’t beat them on the services front (you can’t win them all), at least get a piece of the action via the procurement platform side.

What’s in it for buyers?

Many buyers see cognitive procurement as the next frontier, but don’t have a clear understanding, or plan, on how to make it work for their organisations; the majority of procurement organizations perceive themselves as far removed from advanced innovative procurement capabilities. They are fixing the basics, getting procurement technology to work and pondering the opportunities RPA could bring the procurement function. The gap between cognitive procurement and the (perceived) level of maturity and change readiness of procurement is the hurdle IBM needs to take to make its cognitive ambitions reality or be at risk of running too far ahead of the game.

IBM and SAP Ariba will focus on a step-by-step approach to ease clients into the world of cognitive procurement, the key being small steps with tangible benefit. Buyers who need to see a serious roadmap and a partner with deep domain expertise and consulting capabilities gain a valuable option for their journey to the future of procurement.

Questions left to be answered

How will other partners react? Eleven out of fifteen service providers in the 2016 ‘Procurement As-a-Service Blueprint’ have a partnership with SAP Ariba. Just as when Wipro announced its strategic partnership and investment in Tradeshift earlier this year, the SAP Ariba and IBM folks will be fielding a lot of calls from concerned partners. What will this mean for their partnership with SAP Ariba, IBM or both? How much influence and access will IBM have on SAP Ariba’s architecture, roadmap and governance? How valuable is our partnership to SAP Ariba, now IBM stepped to the plate in such a manner?

The bottom-line: Procurement buyers; there is light at the end of the cognitive procurement tunnel

Two giants putting their weight behind cognitive procurement is a big step in taking the promise of cognitive into the realm of procurement.

Hand holding will be required to take clients along the journey and IBM and SAP Ariba vow to be the ones to extend their hand.

HfS will closely follow the value this partnership will create for service buyers, particularly in the fields of strategic sourcing and category management. How will those upstream procurement areas benefit from the cognitive capabilities on top of a business network? Can it find clever ways to address the scarcity of category talent and expertise? Is this partnership bringing true digital procurement closer, with pulling more suppliers onto the digital platform than before?

Focusing Watson on processes that can significantly benefit from tangible cognizant results, especially areas like contract management and general sourcing, is a smart way forward.  HfS expects IBM to follow this with other initiatives across other business processes where the firm has real strength and depth, such as HR and F&A – and eventually broader supply chain.  We should also expect further forays of Watson in the healthcare sector, where IBM has proven credibility supporting medical research and life sciences work (see our earlier report on Watson’s potential in medical research).

Facing A Perfect Storm of Disruption. How is the Utility Industry Dealing with Existential Challenges?
May 17, 2017 | Derk Erbé

In the HfS Blueprint Report for Utility Operations, we take a close look at how you can better find support for business model creation, IT/OT integration and customer experience improvement in engagements.

Electricity is the lifeblood of our economy and society. Electricity is what makes your smartphones, computers, TVs, refrigerators, and lamps work. Many core processes in our lives and businesses are electricity dependent, and electric appliances are everywhere. Gas, coal, oil, nuclear, water, wind, and sun – all of these resources are used to power the grid, the world’s largest machine and one of the humankind’s greatest engineering achievements. And today’s infrastructure is overwhelmed.

The current infrastructures are built for a bygone era. Utilities need smarter and seamlessly connected grids that allow renewable production and local energy generation. The emergence of micro-grids and residential- and utility-scale battery storage for electricity, for example, will give a push to local energy systems. But, integrating all these new technologies, building new business models around them and improving customer experiences require utilities to drastically change its way of working. This is where smart utilities leverage service providers.

Employing Utility Operations services to get ahead of being disrupted

The HfS Research Blueprint Report for Utility Operations provides a comprehensive overview of services for the utility industry. This Blueprint looks at business process services, information technology services, and engineering services across the utility value chain areas of generation, market operations, transmission, distribution and metering, marketing and retail, and cross-value chain BPO, engineering, and ITO services.

This report analyses and reviews how the market is evolving toward more business-outcome focused, flexible, and collaborative services and how service providers are (or are not yet) meeting the needs of utility organizations. It also includes profiles and assessments of 14 providers of Utility Operations services.

Top challenges include: 

  • Modernizing the power infrastructure to support renewable integration and optimization 
  • Leveraging digital in the grid infrastructure
  • How the power generation fuel mix changed for good
  • Changing customer expectations
  • Disruption of business models
  • New competitors enter the arena
  • Cybersecurity: of paramount importance, but still often overlooked

These challenges underscore three key market dynamics:

  1. Utility Operations services adoption accelerates. The market is vibrant and in growth mode, with several service providers reporting high growth rates for their Utility practice, outpacing other horizontal and vertical practices. This strong growth is a sign of an industry pulling the services lever hard to make up for lost ground. Having been reluctant and conservative about investments in technology and now, in the face of so much disruption and technology-driven opportunities, utilities are partnering with service providers to catch-up. For their part, many service providers have started to strike the right cord with a mix of outcome based services, partnerships, strategy and messaging around technology-driven areas like smart grid, smart metering, renewable energy integration and intelligent automation.  There’s a refresh underway for partnerships in this market.

  2. The value of partnerships. No one company can deliver all the services and solutions required for the transformation the utility industry is experiencing. In the digital age, breaking down silos, creating end-to-end processes and information flows, and unleashing the actionable insights derived from advanced data analytics are critical imperatives for survival. We see this in the convergence of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) and in the increasing role of digital platforms across the value chain. Leaders in the utility industry are forming partnerships as brokers to find and bring together the best capability to impact. Examples are utilities that partner with service providers and Original Equipment Manufacturers to create resilient, autonomous, solar micro-grids incorporating equipment, battery technology, sensors, analytics and on-demand services. The result is a resilient emergency demand response solution.

  3. Plug-and-Play services emerge. We see interest emerging among service buyers for plug-and-play digital business services, particularly for analytics and retail platforms. These modular, on-demand services give utilities the advantage of easy implementation and the ability to tap into a business outcome, increasing speed to value. Plug-and-play services are in the initial stage of development with significant progress forecasted over the next few years as service providers become more comfortable with being platform developers.

Bottom Line: Utility executives, you will find guidance in this report to reinvent customer experiences, processes and operating models, and to tap the unmatched potential of renewable energy, digital technologies, and storage.

The challenges outlined in this blog and the Blueprint report form an existential threat to the utility industry as we know it. Utilities must face these challenges head-on or risk becoming irrelevant, with others - new entrants or savvy current competitors - taking its role in the value chain and its customers. The service providers in the Utility Operations Blueprint are reliable options to partner with and charge ahead together.

HfS Premium Subscribers can click here to download your copy of the new 2017 Utility Operations Blueprint Report. It includes coverage of the following service providers: Accenture, Atos, Capgemini, Cognizant, Cyient, EXL, HCL, IBM, Infosys, Luxoft, TCS, Tech Mahindra, Tieto, Wipro.

How a chicken, Clay Christensen, Nikki Beach and a bunch of Utility executives provide a sunny outlook
May 05, 2017 | Derk ErbéBram Weerts

This week we crossed the Atlantic to meet the cream of the crop of the utility industry in Miami for the International Utilities and Energy Conference, hosted by Accenture. A packed agenda entertained the brightest minds in the utility space from around the globe.


We were in for a surprise: from the first session to the closing key-note it was one big future-oriented gig, focusing on business value instead of enabling technology. No sales pitches from the provider (many providers can learn from this), zero bad jokes... and a highly engaged audience (yes, we are still talking about utility executives here) that wanted to smell, touch and work towards a better future with more and better client interaction. They all want to be more profitable but more important (for real) greener! Their customers demand it; the infrastructure is ripe for an upgrade, and so the question is, why not make it happen?

Fossil is the new uncool, and renewable energy (with loads of digital components for their clients) the new hipsters, the future of utilities!

Let us explain with a couple of fantastic examples that had a high impact on your peers at this week's event. Over to you Derk!

Thanks, Bram. We had an interesting time for sure. Let me give you some quick pointers on the new, the unexpected and the future that headlined IUEC 2017.

A dizzying barrage of industry shattering disruptions thrown at attendants

As one Utility executive put it; the first day of the event was a succession of shock and awe, fear and nausea. Florida Power & Light CEO Eric Silagy set the stage immediately; the unstoppable force of renewables and how being clean is good business. It is a vision that not everyone dares to execute on as radically as Florida Power & Light, but they are doing it without hesitation. CEO Silagy provided an excellent example of lowering his customer's bills by taking the most polluting oil and coal plants offline.  


In this picture, you see a perfectly well-operating oil based power facility Florida Power & Light just blew up (after many people try to stop them) to build a far cleaner and more profitable (not only for them but also their clients) and this is just one of many examples. Don't wait, just do it. There are always excuses, but just doing it will pay off in the end.

Further, he explained his strategy for relationship building with the regulators, being proactive and ahead of the curve and highlighted Florida Power & Light’s investments to build a more resilient infrastructure to deal with (the ever increasing) hurricanes’ ravaging effects in his service area.

Salim Ismail of ExO Works and Singularity University, talked about Exponential Organizations, and the drastic competitive forces these present in many markets. As electricity shifts from a scarce resource to an abundant resource, the dynamic of the market changes. Exponential organizations find business models to leverage abundance. Ismail explored Airbnb, GE and Ford’s journeys. One key takeaway that resonated with the audience is how innovation in large organizations is almost impossible. Innovation needs to be positioned at the edge, insulated from the internal organization. Large organizations have immune systems that attack any threats to the status quo, i.e. innovation. This is particularly relevant to utilities; being large, engineering-oriented and traditionally conservative organizations.

Accenture’s Digital guru Mark Sherwin brought his analogue chicken Penny to illustrate digital business models (his chickens and eggs turn out to be some of the world’s most expensive when factoring in the services he gets offered through digital channels to make his and the chicken’s life easier, from predictive food delivery to chicken hotels).

MIT professor George Westermann implored the audience to challenge pre-digital assumptions, as those hamper real transformation, reinforce the status quo and limit the ability to think outside the current frame of reference. Unintentionally providing great input for Design Thinking exercises.

Accenture’s Chief Strategy Officer Omar Abbosh shed light on disruptive forces over the last decades, from mainframes to IoT, AI, and Quantum Computing. He provided a great comparison of how he and Accenture’s leadership reinvented the strategy five years ago to rotate to “the new,” completely overhauling the organizational structure to change the culture, and how utilities are on a similar trajectory.

Vlogger and, more importantly, former monk Jay Shetty reflected on the Millennial mind, demystifying and busting myths. It turns out; millennials are not as scary as you might think. Jay called on the audience to incorporate four ‘Millennial mindsets’ (which are great for anyone by the way): the leadership of a coach, the fresh eyes of a child, community thinking and the mindset of a coder.

Missy Cummings, one of the first ever female US Navy’s fighter pilots and currently Duke professor of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory Duke Robotics, talked about the highly relevant topic of drones and other unmanned vehicles and robotics’ potential in the utility industry. One of the key points she made addressing the fear robots will destroy jobs, is robotics and automation will likely create more jobs than destroying them, albeit different jobs requiring different skills, providing examples of people and robots working side by side in aviation.

It was time to evaluate all this and time to hit the Miami’s South Beach and more specifically Nikki Beach. The first feedback trickled in, and people had a lot to think about. Clearly, the platform that is IUEC worked.

Day two focused on more practical, “how to” examples and some great new research findings from Accenture and Bloomberg New Energy Finance about the industrialization of renewables, and Accenture’s global lead for Smart Grids Stephanie Jamison presented fascinating findings from a study of distributed generation (DG), focusing on business disruption of DG and the lack of clear forecasts utilities have around the impact of DG integration.

What stood out

At previous editions of IUEC, there were still reservations amongst executives about how fast digital and renewable energy would force change upon them. Those reservations are completely gone. Overall, utility executives have a positive outlook. Solid examples and cases are providing proof points and inspire the way forward, but there still a lot of work to be done.

A terrific event was wrapped up by living legend Clay Christensen, the godfather of disruptive innovation and Silicon Valley’s favorite guru. He gave the audience an excellent perspective and frame of reference of disruptive innovation and clues to shift capital investments to disruptive innovations to prevent becoming the next Blockbuster.

The Bottom Line

It is all about disruption and making a play instead of being played. Harvard Business School professor Christensen expressed his desperation for his industry - higher education - being disrupted with lightning speed by online learning and corporate universities. He did not worry too much about Harvard itself, but many universities are not that well funded and will be disrupted by new forms of learning leveraging technology. His response, without any hesitation, to a question about disruption in the utility industry was: “If you all pray for me, I will pray for you.”

From Derk and Bram; Godspeed, safe travels back home and until next time.

How Infosys Seizes the Momentum for Change in Oil & Gas
April 13, 2017 | Derk Erbé

Oil & Gas has gone through a crippling crisis in the last three years. What are service providers doing to help Oil & Gas recover? This question plays a central role in our 2016 Energy Operations Blueprint, HfS’ inaugural report on the services provided to the oil and gas industry. Infosys is an As-a-Service Winner’s Circle provider with strong roots in the oil and gas industry and a clear vision for the services needed to pull the industry out of the slump it has been in since the oil price collapsed in 2014. Since the 2016 Blueprint, the oil price has rebounded and is stabilizing between $50 and $55 per barrel, giving the industry some more breathing room and a momentum for change.
Time to have a conversation with Robin Goswami and John Ruddy. Robin heads Infosys’ Energy practice in the Americas. John in the president of Noah Consulting, Infosys’ 2015 acquisition that bolsters its capabilities in Oil & Gas.

Robin Goswami

John Ruddy

Derk Erbé, Research Vice President, Supply Chain, Procurement, and Energy: Robin and John, thanks for sharing your vision for the Oil & Gas industry with our audience at Horses for Sources and candidly discussing the challenges of operating in a struggling industry. Infosys impressed us in the Energy Operations Blueprint, with its vision for the evolution of services that this industry needs to pull itself out of the downward spiral since 2014. Even though this is a very volatile environment with challenging economic circumstances, Infosys has continued to invest. How do you see the current situation in Oil & Gas?

Robin Goswami, Vice President and Head of Energy Practice Americas, Infosys: We are starting to see some recovery but there is a growing realization that this is not going to be a quick recovery, but more of a gradual one, like what we saw in the '80s downturn.

In 2014, everybody thought this would be a six-month downturn, by early 2015 it looked like a one-year downturn. Only in late 2015, was there a realization that this could last a lot longer and would be much harder to predict. The last ten years now seem more like a spike, with the market having settled to a new normal of $50 a barrel of oil.

Due to the downturn of the last couple of years, companies have stopped most capital projects, whether in IT or the field. They are trying to optimize what they have. At some point, they must start looking at different ways of doing things including radically different ways of leveraging technology. This is where offerings like Infosys Mana – the knowledge based artificial intelligence will play a significant role in driving automation and innovation.  So far, this has happened in spurts and pockets. We've seen a couple of companies try to do it, but most of these have been the smaller to medium sized ones in a desperate situation. We have not seen the bigger companies do this just yet, but lately, are starting to see a changed mindset and some positive signs as a result.

We'll see a lot more interest in the things that we've been trying to talk about for the last year, year and a half or so. Automation, how can that help to significantly reduce operational expenditures? Analytics, how can you leverage analytics to get a lot more efficient and predictive analytics around equipment failure.  

John Ruddy, President, Noah Consulting: The industry is learning how to be profitable in a $40 per barrel world, and that the days of anything more than $60 are over. They are learning that they need to be profitable at this price point, and that's driving much leaner, much more efficient operations and much more reliance on automation, machine learning, and analytics. We're starting to see modest growth because our clients recognize that this is their direction. They've stabilized following the workforce reduction, which was very significant. I believe they're now starting to become leaner, more agile organization that they need to be to survive in today's market.

Derk: Do you feel they are making the shift in mindset from cutting down costs in existing processes and with workforce reduction towards how to create value in a different way and create new value?

John: Now that the price is somewhat stabilized, we see the emergence of a focus on how they become a lean, responsive organization. We see a big focus on operational technologies around real-time data, and that the digital oil field wave that happened 10 -15 years ago is now re-emerging with IoT being the main catalysts, with even more sensors, and even more data and even more automation are happening.

We see a big push into more Cloud based As-a-Service models out there. In fact, the operators are forcing the software providers to move there more quickly than the software providers had anticipated. There is a very strong desire on the demand side for an As-a-Service ecosystem and the operators at one point were reluctant and are now pushing very hard for that type of a model to be offered by the vendors.

Derk: We're on the verge of a very interesting period in oil and gas. Would innovation go slower or faster if the oil price were slightly higher?

Robin: Innovation would go faster if the oil price were slightly higher. Our clients have been focusing on primary goals, ensuring that they stay just cash flow positive. They don't have the cushion to invest in innovation. If the oil price was slightly higher, I think that the money would be there. I also feel that if the price were to push 80 or 90 a barrel all of this would be forgotten, and we would be back to doing business the way we were before. But if the price consistently stays in the 50s, it will drive some efforts and activity to bring up the level of investment in innovation.

Derk: There is this fine line for innovation, investments and having the ability and willingness to innovate. Where do you think we’ll find the sweet spot?

John: I think $50 to $60 per barrel might be the sweet spot for a lot of innovation, a lot of demand to be addressed, especially with the smaller workforces that are out there and to a certain degree, a refreshment of the workforce regarding the average age coming down. I think you're going to find more millennials driving automation as well. The voice for innovation will be a little bit louder perhaps than it was pre-downturn. I do think that the $50 to $60 sweet spot would have allowed more innovation to be applied to the clients. There are modest pockets of it happening with prices in the $40 range. $50 to $60 will open the floodgates for people to be innovative. Anything more than that ($60) and people don't care about innovation anymore.

Derk: The industry has adapted to this ‘new normal’ of $60 per barrel as the peak price. What does that mean for the focus of your oil and gas practice and your competitors?

Robin: Oil and gas is a cyclical industry, and we're in a down cycle, but we've got to continue to invest. I strongly believe that when it does come back, the folks who have invested will reap the rewards of their investments. We continue to focus on oil and gas and are seeing some positive movement. The tough part is the fact that our work is split between OpEx and CapEx and the CapEx side of the work really came to a halt. We've got clients who are doing work on analytics, data lake projects, or initiatives to get more efficient, but it's small compared to the amount of work pre-downturn. You can count the number of ERP implementations currently happening in the industry on the one hand. That was completely different four years ago. At any given point in time, four or five projects were kicked off. That has not happened recently at all. In terms of competition, we used to have eight or nine competitors bid for the same projects. That has drastically changed, a lot of competition has re-focused or exited this space.

We have seen a lot of companies that in the past never looked at outsourcing who have now started to approach the market and say, "Let us explore working with outsourcing companies that can do IT a lot more efficiently than we can do it ourselves." It has opened some opportunities. But the opportunities are still few and small. We are doing well from a perspective of winning them, but the squeeze in capital expenditure has hurt all the service providers.

We acquired Noah Consulting in late 2015. We continue to invest in oil and gas. We see a modest growth of some CapEx-projects, though not in a big way. The significant change that happened over the last year was people trying to find more efficient ways of doing their expansion. Whether it is the large or the small players, everybody is trying to use this down phase to optimize how their operating expenditure is leveraged.

We are focusing on delivering value by proposing automation (Infosys Mana) and leveraging digital to optimize the operational costs and are starting to see success.

Derk: What is the key to creating more of an innovation-minded culture and boost As-a-Service adoption in this hundred-year industry that doesn’t like to change and frankly lacked the incentive to change most of the time?

John: The key is education. A lot of it is repetition. A lot of it is helping to stimulate some of that demand and get our industry comfortable with new ideas. I'll give an example. There is a lot of innovation happening in Infosys, for instance in our Palo Alto offices. We were out there a couple of months ago. The first thing you notice when you walk into the lobby is a science lab type experiment set up with plants. There are different basil plants. Each plant has sensors measuring the nutrients in the soil and the amount of light and the amount of water that they're getting. Each plant is generating a growth curve, and they're learning from each other. They're looking at each other's growth curves and adopting best practices and dropping bad practices, and are using our AI platform Mana.

That's being used in the other industries, but not yet adopted by oil and gas in a large manner, but it's applied to this little science experiment. That was an inspiration for us. We looked at that and take that same exact concept and took it out to an oilfield and have pumpers learn from each other. Have the pumpers look at the Geoscience strata for that field. They're from the same field, comparing that pad to the one a quarter mile away and the pumpers look at the data and learn from each other and look at economic conditions.

We're test driving those innovative concepts. It's an industry that avoids disruptions. We're working towards it, but it's an educational process. We show them the possibilities and help them get more and more comfortable with innovation. Some clients are first movers, prove the benefits and the rest of the industry will follow. The onus is on us to find that first mover, and that's what we're out there doing.

Derk: If you were given the keys to the oil and gas services kingdom and you can rule the services world for a week, what's the one thing that you would do to change the industry for the better?

Robin: That's a tough one. John, I'll let you go first.

John: Having the keys to the kingdom, one very broad-based public relations thing that I would do is I would promote natural gas as a clean fuel alternative. Why aren't there more compressed natural gas vehicles? Why aren't there more natural gas power plants? I know there is an uptake in those, but not to the degree it could be. There is a huge environmental and climate change concern, and our industry has the answer to that, and that's natural gas. As king, I'd be out there to get the public comfortable that natural gas as a clean fuel alternative that should be embraced and not pushed away.

Robin: I would like the companies to look at the industry and say "Look, we all know, oil and gas will be there in our lifetimes. We will come out of the downturn at some point. Lets leverage this downturn and look to use technology to change our model. This is an opportunity for us to reset our entire cost model, our entire way of operating with technology for the next decade.”

Right from the beginning of the downturn, we've had a view from the outside. We are very much part of the oil and gas industry, but we have the luxury of having the bulk of our business focus on IT services, so any impact from oil and gas is well cushioned by the rest of the Infosys business. That gives us the cushion to make acquisitions, invest and enables us to continue what we are doing. That is not an advantage, unfortunately, that most oil and gas companies have. They are unfortunately dealing with the day to day of trying to keep positive cash flows and are forced to react to weekly, monthly, quarterly pressures and none of them have been able to step back and say, "Let's assume this is a three year or a five-year downturn and let’s try to do things differently". Definitely not when it hit in 2014.

I saw this as an opportunity in late 2014, for companies to completely change their model, move to other service models, look at analytics, automation, Internet of Things, to radically work differently with technology, not only IT, technology overall. Most of them were unable to take that opportunity. The longer the downturn continues, the more you are, in a sense, in a hole where you are trying to just survive. The amount of cash that companies had in 2014 and 2015 was just not there in 2016. Those initiatives could have been taken on in 2014 and 2015. It has become way more difficult, a lot more challenging, now. And this is the one thing I would like us to do differently.

If I had the keys to the kingdom, that is what I would do. Try to move away from the quarterly, the monthly survival and look at leveraging technology to change the model.

Derk: The saying is “never waste a good crisis” and they're wasting a good crisis to change. Would you recommend having a different dialogue with the financial markets, because that's part of the issue for oil and gas companies? They want to do the same for the shareholders as they did when the oil price was $100. Does that need to change or they're addicted to doing the same as ever before?

Robin: I don't think we have a choice, Derk. I think we have reached a stage where $80 barrel of oil is not coming back shortly. The boom won’t be back for a while and we must reset expectations and look to do things differently and leverage technology a lot more.


What will The Procurement As-a-Service Provider Landscape look like in 2020?
March 17, 2017 | Derk Erbé

We have ranked the major service providers in the Procurement As-a-Service market in our 2016 Blueprint grid, see Exhibit 1. 

Exhibit 1: HfS Procurement As-a-Service 2016 Blueprint Grid

Click to enlarge

Looking further into the future, who will dominate the space in 2020? Three providers are set to remain at the helm for the foreseeable future: Accenture, IBM, and GEP.

IBM has a massive supply chain, which it smartly leverages in its procurement offerings. IBM is bullish on cognitive procurement. IBM BPS is morphing into Cognitive Business Solutions. Its own procurement provides a great playground for applying and road testing all the new cognitive procurement solutions, giving it an advantage over providers who don't manage procurement for their own organization or have less 'cognitive savvy' clients.

Towards 2020 IBM will be leading in the cognitive procurement services space. Underpinned by a strong BPaaS platform, most clients will look at IBM first when it comes to new cognitive technology-driven services with vastly improved data analytics capabilities. The biggest challenge for IBM to succeed with cognitive procurement is to bring clients along this journey. The vast majority of procurement organizations perceive itself as far removed from advanced innovative procurement capabilities – they are fixing the basics, getting procurement technology to work and pondering the opportunities RPA could bring the procurement function. The gap between cognitive procurement and the (perceived) level of maturity and change readiness of procurement is the hurdle IBM needs to take to make its cognitive ambitions reality or be at risk of running too far ahead of the game.  

Accenture has a significant head start to all other providers, having invested and developed capabilities through acquisitions like Procurian and putting technology into every procurement engagement, leveraging one-to-many advantages for years. Now Accenture is betting on modularity to give them sustained advantage with current clients. And opening markets with medium-sized enterprises, for whom the business case of outsourcing procurement never added up.

Accenture seems to have a more 'wait and see' stance when it comes to cognitive procurement, investing in capabilities and use cases, but not willing to bet the farm just yet. Be confident they’ll pounce when the time is right and gobble up any procurement related cognitive and artificial intelligence capabilities they might lack. We expect via acquisition, maybe not of the magnitude of Procurian, but an inorganic technology growth strategy makes sense.

GEP plays in an increasingly contentious market, with its procurement BPO brethren gobbling up smaller niche firms, investing heavily in technology and partnerships. As the largest pure play procurement service provider and a pioneer in procurement technology, the onus is on GEP to continue its leading position and ‘best in class’ technology. We expect technology and services to converge more and GEP may emerge as an acquirer of cognitive capabilities as cognitive and AI in procurement are on the rise. 

Which are the providers emerging to challenge the leaders?

The early 2017 activity is driven by Indian heritage providers WNS and Wipro. They show their ambitions and make steps to move up the strategic value chain and incorporate more procurement technology into their service delivery and offerings.

WNS, with the Denali brand as a strategic procurement services arm, will have moved into the As-a-Service Winner's Circle by 2020. The strong vision and upstream procurement capabilities from Denali put together with the execution prowess of WNS leads to cross-selling opportunities and investments in tech-enabled new services. The downstream procurement side of the business will have moved to procurement platforms of WNS' partners, with WNS managing the platforms.

Wipro announced an investment and strategic partnership with Tradeshift, which is emerging as a top 3 digital procurement platform and arguably the only real “platform” in the space. This will turn out to be a smart move for Wipro, addressing a technology gap in its procurement offerings and developing on top of the proven platform that is Tradeshift, leveraging an existing and expanding network and adding Wipro Holmes capabilities. On top of this, the partnership with Tradeshift has the potential to help Wipro move up the strategic value chain, with more upstream services and shifting technology-based services to new commercial models faster.

Genpact continues to move up the strategic value chain, and between now and 2020 will have sought to bolster the technology layer in its Procurement As-a-Service offerings, something it lacks compared to other As-a-Service Winner's Circle providers in 2016. Genpact’s conundrum is choosing between organic growth to add technology prowess to its BPO capabilities and acquisitions to get there faster. With a poor track record with acquisitions – Headstrong comes to mind -  we will follow their ability to make the RAGE Frameworks acquisition work and how the newly obtained Artificial Intelligence capabilities are transferred to procurement solutions.

Infosys builds out the procurement practice on AI, analytics and platform technology. ProcureEdge and Mana will continue to converge and bring innovation in downstream and upstream procurement. The lack of enthusiasm for BPO from Infosys’ top brass is a big concern. To make a concerted move in the Procurement As-a-Service space, Infosys needs a bigger commitment to BPO in general and more focus on bringing all the pieces (Mana, ProcureEdge, category management and strategic sourcing talent and capabilities) together.

Proxima leapfrogged incumbent legacy procurement BPO providers with high value, on-demand As-a-Service services, leveraging technology and expertise. Building out technology led point solutions (beyond current offering in Commercial Management) and marketing pure subscription-based services, a fairly new area for Proxima, will be a major effort to cement a leadership position in Procurement As-a-Service.

All signs point to buyers looking for more modular services – fitting well with Proxima’s focused approach and offerings. However, if the market would shift back to demanding end-to-end procurement services, Proxima would have to quickly acquire more end-to-end capabilities.

Fading into Obscurity?

In an earlier version, I wrote: “Capgemini will have lost most of its appetite for the BPO side of procurement, while IBX remains a technology asset in the increasing tech-focused procurement services market”. Reality caught up, and Capgemini sold IBX to Tradeshift last week - essentially selling its biggest asset in procurement. Combined with the seeming lack of focus for BPO in Capgemini’s C-suite post iGate acquisition, we can conclude it exited the Procurement As-a-Service market in early 2017, well before 2020. IBX needed significant attention and investment from its parent to compete in the procurement platform market, and Capgemini decided it wouldn’t stomach this.

HPE is now the home of Xchanging, once a force to reckon with in procurement outsourcing. Xchanging dropped from the As-a-Service Winner's Circle in the 2016 Procurement As-a-Service Blueprint and are in danger of sliding down further in this space. Neither 'interim-owner' CSC nor HPE are big on procurement outsourcing, a market HP neglected in the last decade, although it had the biggest supply chain in the world to service and leverage.

The Bottom Line – From Cost Obsession to Value Creation

Looking into the glass bowl, we expect the procurement As-a-Service market to continue to build value for providers and service buyers as the value of digital solutions, analytics, procurement tech platforms and cognitive automation takes hold. Albeit with a smaller number of providers, which have a full stack approach ranging from upstream strategic capabilities to platform-based execution of transactional procurement – delivering business outcomes on a subscription model.

In 2020 the market will be bifurcated into the ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-nots’, the ‘Haves’ being those providers with technology, platform based delivery and upstream procurement capabilities, offering flexibility, agility, modularity and superior digital customer experience. 

With affordable, modular services making procurement services accessible to midmarket enterprises, a new hunting ground for service providers is gradually emerging. Moreover, emerging digital clients, which may be less than $50m in revenues, but have high volume transaction needs, will need to access procurement services.  It’s not going to be all about size and scale, but also profitability and transaction volume.

Providers will be venturing, more and more, into direct spend delivery models, supporting clients to drive value and efficiency with cognitive, AI capabilities. As enterprises like to keep control of sourcing of direct materials and services, this will be a collaborative, partnership approach as opposed to full-blown outsourcing.


Procurement’s Survival Manifesto on a Knife-Edge as the As-A-Service Model takes hold
March 09, 2017 | Derk Erbé

We're witnessing the most far-reaching evolution in Procurement’s existence with ambitious procurement professionals desperate to elevate the profession to a much more strategic level aligned with the needs of the business or face irrelevance in the wake of emerging digital procurement solutions and rapid automation of transactional procurement processes. This means procurement leaders need to reposition procurement as a strategic ally that supports the business stakeholders it is designed to serve.

The evolution of Procurement As-a-Service solutions is making day-to-day procurement needs become increasingly easy at access in an affordable on-demand model. Our Procurement As-a-Service Blueprint shows the steps service providers have made in morphing their service offerings to combine people, technology, and processes into these on-demand, flexible services, with pay-as-you-go, As-a-Service pricing, and subscription based models.

Procurement As-a-Service delivery models are already having a significant impact on the market thus far; with the expectations of procurement services buyers rapidly changing. The average size and length of outsourcing engagements have plummeted from large ($50-100 million) and long (8-10 years) to small ($3-6 million) and short (1-3 years). This greatly impacts ambitious service providers’ revenue models once they have realized the ability to scale modular, agile services delivered via a utility model and increase their overall profitability. This is in addition to delivering high-value upstream procurement activities in strategic sourcing and category management to build out their end-to-end procurement capabilities.

Customer Demands and Technology Drivers will relentlessly continue to Disrupt Procurement

Let’s explores how the landscape will evolve and who we expect to rule the Procurement As-a-Service space.

The big survival challenge for procurement is threefold;

  1. Redefining Talent: The old-school procurement professional has become legacy and needs to be completely reoriented or retired. Focusing on (transactional) procurement with the sole purpose of saving as many costs as possible is a dead end - it's counter-productive in the new business world, especially when it’s increasingly easy to leverage digital procurement solutions to source purchases at the lowest prices and conduct most transactions digitally without the need for human interaction. The name of the survival game for procurement is relationship management; becoming the spider in the web that consists of internal business stakeholders, suppliers, service providers, partners. Next to relationship skills like empathy and business acumen, the new skills that need developing are critical thinking, creativity, and complex problem-solving. And being able to use technology to improve processes and ultimately experiences.
  2. Embracing Technology is Critical: Standardized procurement platforms combined with cognitive automation is the only way forward. Procurement tech platforms like Ariba, SMART by GEP, Coupa, Tradeshift have demanded a lot of attention the past few years and have emerged at the core of procurement. Processes are clustered, integrated and delivered by platforms. Processes that are not suitable to be on these platforms are the focus of robotic process automation. The next wave of technology affecting procurement and sourcing is cognitive and artificial intelligence.
  3. Delivering the customer experience must be embedded into all procurement activities. The pièce de resistance is creating better experiences for customers, being end-customers, buyers within the internal organization, suppliers, partners and your customers' customers. It's about creating buying experiences that meet the needs of more mature internal buyers, underpinned by seamless, straight through transactional processes. Effective procurement is all about enabling much more collaboration and innovation to take place with suppliers, providers, partners and customers and amongst them.

Don’t Blame Middle Management for Change Inertia
March 06, 2017 | Derk Erbé

There is a staggering gap between C-level executives and middle managers when it comes to dealing with the change digital-enabled business models and new services paradigms force upon us. The journey to the As-a-Service Economy is met with enthusiasm by the C-Suite (see Exhibit 1). But their middle management has a different take: shying away from big transformational initiatives and focusing on more tactical interventions. Are you all living in the same world?


Click to enlarge

We should not blame middle management for the inertia we witness in many industries, including the business and IT services industry.

Anxiety and resistance are logical reactions to change. People don’t like change, as it threatens the status quo, what they know and worked hard for. This is the playground of the sunk cost fallacy. “We worked so hard to get to where we are: we can’t throw that away. We need to keep going to maintain what we have”. C-Suite respondents in our large surveys show they’re not willing to throw good money at keeping the status quo. That is the big point: change is inevitable. The way a company deals with change will increasingly be a deciding factor for survival and competitive advantage. 

The Ball is in the C-Suite’s Court 

Having a vision is one thing, enabling implementation and executing the vision is significantly different. Middle management's lukewarm reaction to change is understandable and frankly not surprising. There is a lot of uncertainty about new technologies such as autonomics, robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, and cognitive computing. There are wild predictions about robots destroying people’s jobs. People are wondering how they will be impacted; what do the changes mean, what will my job look like in this As-a-Service economy, do I have the skills to be successful?

Uncertainty is the enemy of the ability to embrace change. 

The answer? Educate, show results and impact. Also, are people incentivized in the right way to lead sweeping change? Or are they incentivized to drive incremental improvement? Aligning incentives to the ultimate goal is paramount.

"Beam me up, Scotty"

Wouldn't we all want to just be there, at the destination? Counting the times, you would love to say, “Beam me up, Scotty” … But alas, if you need to go somewhere, you must endure the journey.

It is a journey to change, and all road warriors know making a journey is not always fun, it is pretty exhausting, and you often have to deal with unpleasant adversity. 

Investing in disruptive technologies is one thing. Successfully implementing them and going through the change process as a business is another. C-Suite respondents are likely to bring in external help in the form of transformational leadership or change agents to redesign the operations.  However, to be successful, they need to inspire, motivate, and properly measure and provide associated incentives and rewards for the team.

Often when a sports team is dysfunctional, the leadership tries to shake things up by firing the coach and bringing in new blood. On the one hand, a new perspective can change the dynamics of the team for the better. On the contrary, there is an entirely pragmatic reason to fire coaches; it is much easier and cheaper to fire one coach than to fire all players. This logic holds true for enterprises as well. An external stimulus is good, but getting rid of the middle management is impossible and threatens the going concern (aka the revenue generating machine).  See here the dilemma for the large incumbent with legacy operations trying to fight off the nimble new entrants, who simply don’t have to drag all the baggage with them. 

A Plan is as Good as its Implementation

Leadership is critical; don’t let there be any doubt about the destination, the Northern Star. But, involve the rest of the company to map out the journey. Let them be a part of the solution. Our research shows the gap between C-Suite and middle management is significantly smaller when asked about using creative problem solving (Design Thinking) to reach the As-a-Service end-state. 54% of C-Suite and 43% of middle management think Design Thinking will have a significant impact on the journey. 

Unleash the Knowledge and Creativity of the Company

Years of operational excellence, Lean and Six Sigma have beaten all creativity out of operations and middle management. You get what you pay for. So if you pay for hundreds of green KPI’s, you get hundreds of micro-managed green KPI’s.

C-level leadership has to set creativity free, unleash the innovative power of the workforce. Granted, corporate Japan is not the prime example of free-spirited creativity, but they have a thorough understanding of the power of expert knowledge. Toyota's concept of the Creative Idea Suggestion System brought them a lot of good (and paradoxically they copied it from the American firms they tried to beat). For service providers, a big challenge will be to integrate the innovation labs and all the beauty created there into the legacy beast. Innovation labs can quickly become ivory towers. And no-one likes the people shouting from ivory towers.

Revamp Imagination by Creating a Culture Capable of Dealing with Constant Change

Our take on change? Use the old concepts of Total Participation and Employee Engagement and focus it on creative, lateral problem solving and Design Thinking (instead of operational excellence and Lean Six Sigma) in an era of increasing volatility, uncertainty and technology driven change.  Bring in academics, analysts, practitioners, other ‘thinkers’, but most of all the company’s own brain trust.

We are not arguing everyone will be a good fit in the new era, or that the goal is to keep everybody on board and happy. But an inclusive strategy to alter the culture is ultimately the most promising trajectory for change.

Our subscribers can download our upcoming Blueprint Report on Design Thinking in a few days here in our ever-growing research library.

Supplier Relationship Management in 2017: It’s all about talent, standardizing processes, and RPA
February 14, 2017 | Derk ErbéBarbra McGann

A smart business operation uses the right combination of talent and technology to drive desired business outcomes. Third party suppliers are crucial for that combination, and our new research shows an increasing focus on the relationships with suppliers to standardize contract management and governance, centralize management of strategic suppliers, recruit and engage talent that has relationship building and critical thinking skills, and better leverage self-service platforms and automation in procurement and supplier management.

The big emerging trends in SRM:

Based on our new research, including discussions at the HfS Summit, our annual Shared Services and Outsourcing survey with KPMG, and interviews with executives from financial services, healthcare, logistics, high tech and other industries, we’ve put together this picture of the “state of supplier and partner management” in the IT and business process services industry:

  • Ambitious procurement / sourcing leaders are positioning themselves as advisors to plug capability gaps – partnering with the business units to define strategy; coordinating across business units, IT, and legal; defining standards for governance (reinforced through templates and automation); using training to ensure the more distributed relationship management is active and following a framework.
  • Organizations are increasingly standardizing and centralizing business operations functions - often incorporating outsourcing in hybrid / global business services models. IT has been the first mover here, with business functions following – F&A, Procurement, and HR as well as industry specific support. We expect centralization and shared services to continue, with selective and targeted use of outsourcing (on and offshore) and RPA in a model many are calling “no-shore.”
  • There is a similar move to centralize supplier/partner governance and contract management, often separate from the relationship management. Relationship management is more difficult to centralize, and typically happens when the suppliers are providing IT or BPO through a shared services unit. Once centralized, governance and contract management is increasingly automated; and relationship management gets more focus.

Exhibit 1: Top 3 Desired – and Hardest to Find – Capabilties for Business Operations

Source: HfS Research in Conjunction with KPMG, State of Business Operations 2017 N=454 Enterprise Buyers

Click to enlarge

  • Supplier management talent is increasingly oriented toward relationship building, decision-making, and analytical skills. Subject matter knowledge of the function is a basic capability that’s needed; negotiation and contract management “can be taught.” Executives are also increasingly interested in candidates with technical skills (or interest) in determining the right mix of talent and technology for managing optimal business results.
  • Procurement is setting the pace for evaluating and implementing robotic process automation and cloud-enabled platforms for more self-service. In our state of industry study, 57% of enterprises are in the process of evaluating/implementing RPA for procurement processes.
  • Across the board, we have found a move to consolidate and prioritize/tier suppliers for better negotiation capability, more effective and compliant oversight, and a more collaborative and engaged approach to partnering versus managing “off the side of the desk.”
  • It doesn’t matter what your operating model is if you don’t have the right talent. The right talent will make the relationship with the supplier effective for the business.

The bottom line: There are three critical components to effective supplier management that stand out in our research

  1. Alignment and tiering of suppliers with business objectives
  2. Standardized and coordinated supplier relationship management and contract management and governance
  3. The “right” talent to broker and manage relationships and results

In general, companies are on a journey to have a more strategic approach to supplier management and believe it will take a matter of years to get there because of the cultural shifts required. We explore these themes further in our recently published POV, “The Rise of Supplier Relationship Management,” available for download (free with site registration).