How Do We Drive Technological Advances? Part III

In our first post, we noted that an organization must master the three T’s — talent, transition, and technology — to excel in Supply Management, and lamented that an average organization has not yet (truly) mastered any of the T’s, with technology often being the T in which the organization is the furthest behind in. We lamented on the lack of advice on what to do to drive organizational advancement and dove into a recent article from Chief Executive on Seven Strategies for Driving Technological Advances in the hopes that it might provide a guide for an organization wishing to catch up on the technology curve.

Unfortunately, after reviewing the piece, the verdict was not very good. While the article was well intentioned, and gave SI hope that the adoption problem was understood, the advice contained within really wasn’t that good. While it would certainly encourage a progressive leader to be more receptive of new technology, it’s not going to encourage the organization as a whole. So what is a Supply Management Leader to do?

First we take a page from BravoSolution’s playbook on High Definition Adoption Measurement and Measure what the organization is using, and, most importantly, what the organization is not using relative to the organizational goals.

For example, if the organization obtained an e-Sourcing platform with e-RFx, e-Auction, and Decision Optimization a year ago, and 50% of the team is using the e-RFx, 25% of the team is using the e-Auction solution, and only 5% has ventured into Decision Optimization, there are obviously problems across the board. First of all, unless there is a really esoteric category where all of the suppliers are stuck in
That 70’s Show, just about every Supply Manager should be using the e-RFx. In addition, it’s likely that 25% of the categories could literally be set up on e-Auction auto-pilot and that the additional savings that may be obtainable on another 25% of the categories would be worth the extra effort, indicating that at least half of the Supply Managers should be using the e-Auction tool. And even if the team is not ready to trust allocations from a decision optimization tool, at least half of the team should be using the team to compute a minimal spend baseline to guide analysis and negotiations. This means that usage of each tool is at most 50% of what it should be.

The next step is to Identify the likely causes of non-use. Is it lack of awareness of the tool? Is it lack of awareness of the potential capabilities of the tool? Is it lack of awareness of the key features of the category that would make it suitable for e-Sourcing? Or is it, more likely, Fear of the Unknown?

Aware of what will hurt you
You’re prepared to remain this way
So sad yet safe with your afflictions
Afraid to start a brand new day

These words, writ and recorded by Siouxsie and the Banshees almost twenty-one years ago, are probably the best descriptor of the average pseudo-technophobe in a modern multi-national Supply Management organization. They know not using technology will hurt them, but they are safe with their affliction, and prepared to remain technophobic as they are afraid to start a brand new day — and possibly a brand new, technology enabled, career. And it’s completely illogical. It’s like

We all get the strangest feeling
When we’re standing mighty tall
To jump from seventeen floors
And crash into free fall

It just doesn’t make any sense. If this is the case, you have to identify it. Then, once you’ve identified the issues holding your team back, you have to Resolve them. Start by identifying common-sense resolutions that will be comfortable and affect the team on an emotional level, even if such resolutions are not the most efficient or logical. For example, if the issue is that a Supply Manager doesn’t think auctions are appropriate for a category that he can save 20% on simply by pitting the two leading office supply vendors off each other, you may have to ignore the fact that, if the volumes are high enough, this will enable suppliers with 3PL capabilities to also bid directly and all bids to be compared on landed cost and instead focus on how it will automate data collection and award and allow the Supply Manager to get the same result with much less work. This will in turn allow him to run more events, save more money, and maybe get a bigger bonus. And if it’s fear that the technology acquisition is an intermediate step to manpower reduction (once everything is automated), you have to demonstrate to the team that it can’t run on auto-pilot (even if it can for a few simple e-Auction categories) and that a human always has to drive the technology to get results (and disable any auto-pilot modes that may be built in). Once the team realizes that the tool is to enable them to do their job better, or that it is easy to use, then you can always turn on automation or incorporate advanced features.

Then, once the initial trepidations are overcome, you have to Train your team on the Technology. Start with a SWOT analysis viewpoint as the team has to understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for cost avoidance and reduction it will enable, and the threats that the technology poses to the organization if your competitors use it and you don’t. Then move onto transition training and demonstrate how to move from current, mostly manual processes, to newer, mostly automated, technology-enabled processes that let the team focus on the strategic opportunities and leave the time-wasting tactical processes to the technology. Finally, focus on category specific training tailored to the use of the technology for strategic and high value categories.

Finally, you have to Hatch the organization out of its shell. This means getting off the egg and letting them break free. This will require Trust, Empowerment, Acknowledgement, and Mentoring on their terms, not yours. You have to trust them to their jobs and empower them to make decisions. You have to acknowledge that their will be mistakes and a learning curve, but with mentoring and guidance, they will be identified, corrected, and the organization will be better for them. In other words, you will have to rely on true TEAMwork. Not an easy task, but a doable one.

In other words, the key to Technology Adoption is MIRTH (Measure-Identify-Resolve-Train-Hatch). Furthermore, MIRTH is a suitable acronym because, when done right, and technological advances pervade your organization, there will be gaiety, jolity, and joviality — a state of affairs that is sadly lacking in many organizations today (that are not on the Top 100 employers list).