Category Archives: Technology

Visybl: Asset Tracking for the Modern Supply Chain

Every company has not one, but three, supply chains. The physical, that deals with the movement of goods. The financial, that deals with the payment for goods and services rendered. And, finally, the information, that controls the flow of the goods and money by way of messages between parties. While SI, and most Supply Management blogs, focus on the optimization of the information transfer and the financial costs, if the physical chain doesn’t flow as expected, the financial costs can skyrocket and the information can disappear.

For the physical supply chain to flow smoothly, there are two requirements. One, the obvious, goods have to flow from A to B as required to meet organizational and end customer needs. Two, the resources necessary to process those goods, both in terms of people and physical assets, need to be available and accounted for. This is often overlooked. If a forklift is needed at the warehouse to unload a shipment, and all of a sudden the forklift is not there, that’s a problem. If a raw material or chemical shipment has to be inspected for purity, and all of a sudden the mass spectrometer goes missing, problem. And so on.

So, today, we’re going to discuss a company that helps you keep track of those assets necessary to keep the physical supply chain flowing in a relatively new way, but at a very low cost compared to traditional methods. Traditional methods for tracking goods in the supply chain typically revolve around RFID, which requires each good to be tagged (which is not a problem, as RFID chips cost pennies) and requires readers at each waypoint, and GPS tracking. While RFID is great for tracking movement of goods, as someone just needs to scan the pallets at each waypoint, its poor for tracking goods in a warehouse as you need readers at least every 30 feet (as the max read distance of a Gen2 tag is a mere 12 meters). And while handheld readers are cheap, high-end UHF readers can cost up to 2K, with each antennae up to $200.

GPS tracking is not a good solution for individual good tracking either. GPS tracking requires a GPS device that can upload location data through a cellular network connection. And while you can bulk buy basic GPS units these days for $10 or less, each requires its own SIM card, and while SIM cards are also cheap, cellular providers charge a hefty price for access to their networks (relatively speaking), even if you buy in bulk. You’re easily spending over $100 (or $1,000, depending on where and the resiliency and battery lifespan of the GPS unit you need) a year to track an asset, so while this is very reasonable for tracking a truck carrying $100,000 (or more) of cargo, not so much for a $5,000 workstation that you’d rather not see carried out the door. Especially if you have 100 that you’d like to track and monitor and the odds of more than a couple being carried off are low.

That’s where Visybl comes in. Using Bluetooth Low Energy technology, it has developed low cost beacons that transmit an identifier and temperature that can be picked up by modern smartphones (that support Bluetooth LE) and local wi-fi enabled cloud-nodes that continually monitor their presence. And since Bluetooth has a range that is 10 times that of Gen2 RFID, an organization can not only monitor a wider area with less units (up to a factor of 10, depending on building layout), but do so at a considerably lower cost as these bluetooth LE wi-fi nodes don’t cost much more than a high-end router (which is around $200).

Moreover, since Visybl sells asset monitoring as an integrated hardware / software service, where you can track all assets through the interface in real time and get alerted when they leave or enter an area (and if temperature goes beyond an accepted norm), the only upfront cost is the cloud nodes. By adopting low-cost technology, they provide all of the standard beacons (and replacements on failure) free. And the cost is very affordable. Pricing starts at 2.95/month/asset (beacon) for the full service with considerable discounts at the 100, 1000, and 10000 level. This not only makes monitoring of lower cost assets (such as workstations, warehouse equipment, etc.) even in the $1000 range affordable (as it would generally be in the 1% per year or less range of asset cost at high volume levels), but advantageous as a company that was on-the-ball would be able to use this to negotiate lower insurance rates as the insurers that cover supply chain and physical assets like to see asset monitoring as part of the company’s operations.

However, insurance savings are not the only ROI of the Visybl solution. There are also considerable savings associated with:

  • manpower savings in auditsyou know which assets are on your premises, and where they are within 300 feet (which is the limit of Bluetooth range), and, since most buildings will have walls, floors, etc. that limit range, within 150 feet
  • manpower savings in asset location whenever a low-use asset is needed, there is always time spent looking for it, especially in MRO – many people fail to realize how much time is lost looking for even 300 hundred assets over the course of a year — if it’s an hour per asset, that’s almost 8 weeks of lost productivity
  • un-utilized or under-utilized asset identificationif an asset never moves from the range of its primary node, and that primary node is in storage, then the asset is not being utilized and should be evaluated for sale or replacement

The web-based solution is very easy to use, allows tags with associated asset details to be bulk uploaded in a spreadsheet, and supports map-based display if you store assets across different geographic locations. Beacons and nodes can be added, configured, and re-configured as needed (if you change the position of a node or reassign the beacon to a replacement asset), and the alerts easily customized to your needs. Plus, the technology has the advantage that all beacons can be read by all nodes, so if you and your supplier, that you lend assets to for special projects, both use Visybl, you will not only be alerted when the asset leaves your premises, but when it enters the supplier’s premises — no need for RFID. (And since the beacons only transmit an id and signal, there is absolutely no privacy concerns — only Visybl and the owner of the tag know who owns the tag and what is attached to.) [Or, if an asset walks out the door and ends up near a location with a cloud node, you'll at least have an approximate location to give to the authorities and insurance company when you file your report and claim.]

Visybl also offers an API that allows the data to be pulled directly into your inventory or asset management application, and even supports Amazon echo for simple status queries. It’s a great low-cost asset monitoring solution whose value increases as more customers adopt it, and it will do great things towards pushing monitoring technology costs down across the supply chain.

Seal Software: Breaking the Seal to Identify Contract Value

Seal Software is a provider of contract discovery and contract analytics software that is different than your standard CLM (contract lifecycle management) module built into your e-Sourcing or e-Procurement suite (which is designed to negotiate and track contracts, awards, milestones, and related documents). And unlike many CLM providers that just focus on Procurement, Legal, or Sales, Seal Software is designed to support Legal, Procurement, Sales, M&A, and IT — making it a fuller enterprise CLM solution than many of its peers. In fact, in large organization with tens of thousands of contracts, Seal Software is often used in conjunction with a traditional CLM solution.

This is because Seal’s strengths of contract discovery and contract analytics are quite unique. Seal’s contract discovery capability can automatically locate existing contractual documents wherever they may reside, automatically extract key contractual terms and clauses, and automatically populate other corporate solutions including Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM).

The discovery engine can handle multiple file format types (text, doc[x], PDF, jpg, etc.) and work across local hard drive, network drives, file shares, and even cloud-based repositories — anything with a UNC path or API is accessible. It then uses advanced semantics and machine learning to analyze the contracts and identify the clauses and critical information that the organization has deemed to be of interest.

It does this by comparing all files discovered to standard contract templates and identified organizational contracts to find contracts. It then determines the type, category, and whether or not it is a (potential) duplicate. Finally, it runs all (unique) contracts through descriptor templates that identify and extract the clauses, terms, and date elements of interest.

But the power of Seal only starts at discovery. Once the contracts and elements are identified, the analytics solution not only allows the user to access all contracts that meet a specification or search; filter down based on timeframe, search, or other elements of interest; and create reports, but to also identify all contracts that contain clauses or terms of interest that were not previously of interest. If all of a sudden a new regulation comes into effect and the organization now has to determine whether or not all of its contracts are compliant with a new privacy requirement or contain clauses to ensure compliance. All the organization has to do to find all contracts with a relevant clause, paragraph, etc. is find a few contracts with clauses and sentences of interest, define any additional phrases or terminology of interest, and tell the system to re-process all contracts and it will find all contracts, structured or otherwise, that contain associated phraseology. The semantic engine can learn from examples and key-phrase definitions.

And the analytics can be used during negotiation and review too. The platform allows for the definition of policies that will auto-detect clauses and phrases in suggested revisions that can alter the intended meaning of the actual contract and bring them to the attention of the reviewers. It can also highlight contract areas using non-standard language or language identified by legal to be (high) risk. And this review can be done in the contract creation platform of choice. Seal’s newly released Analyze this Now capability allows links to be embedded that send the contract to seal which sends back a marked-up highlighted docx file that highlights everything of interest and concern. (In Microsoft Word, it’s a simple plug-in.)

It’s a very powerful solution for large (global) organizations that often have well over 10,000 or even 100,000 contracts that need to be tracked, analyzed, maintained, and negotiated in accordance with a plethora of business rules and industry (and government) regulations. When you consider that even enterprises with revenues below $250M have an average of 8,000 Procurement contracts (as per Aberdeen Group), most of which are not in the e-Procurement system (and not effectively managed and tracked), the importance of discovery and analytics cannot be underestimated.

For a deeper dive on Seal Software, and its capabilities, see the recent Pro series by the doctor and the prophet over on Spend Matters (Part I, Part II, and Part III) [membership required].

Procurement Does Need to Worry About Mexico …

In a recent post over on Spend Matters, we were given 3 Reasons Why Procurement Needs to Worry About Mexico. Namely, the facts that:

  • Trump could rewrite, or rescind, trade agreements
  • Financial Barriers could come in many forms and firewall trade
  • Internal unrest (due to rising gas prices, etc.) could disrupt supply

All of these could cause chaos for Mexican dependent supply chains. But this could open up opportunities. Let’s take them one by one

No trade agreement? No problem. Tax hikes can go both ways. The US will impose import quotas and high duties. But so will Mexico, because there will be no reason not too. Sure, the US might buy more from Mexico than Mexico buys from the US, and it might hurt Mexico, but if trade agreements are torn down, it’s not just Mexico that will suffer in this way, and retaliate. As a result, there will be opportunities to sell into other countries. It just takes contingency planning. Start now!

Financial barriers can come from any direction at any time. This is just a reality of global supply chains. Leading supply chains are always monitoring global trade regulations, current and forthcoming duties, new rulings, exchange rates, and other financial barriers — and incentives — and have backup plans to take advantage of changes, and avoid penalties, when necessary. Every barrier that is raised is typically followed by a barrier that is taken down somewhere else by another party looking to take advantage of the shake-up. Those who monitor their global operations will find another door opening for every door that closes.

Mexico, like many countries, has a history of unrest — and a history of dealing with it. This is likely an issue that is being blown out of proportion. It’s true that the unrest, and disruptions, could get worse before they get better, but they are not likely to bring the country to its knees or cause any significant or long-term damage to your supply chain. Basically, it’s just a matter of monitoring for potentially disruptive events, which is something a leading Procurement organization should be doing anyway, and taking preventative action upon the identification of a potentially disruptive event.

In other words, given that an organization, in response to these potential threats, should be:

  • exploring global options,
  • monitoring global tariffs, taxes, exchange rates, and coming changes, and
  • monitoring current events that could potentially impact the organization’s supply chain

the organization can use this to their advantage and identify new global markets before their competitors, take advantages of differences in tariffs and exchange rates to lower costs, and shift supply to backup locations when a primary location is affected, or about to be affected, by an external event. So, Procurement can worry about Mexico, or use it as the reason to finally implement supply chain monitoring, and benefit from that decision.

Cognitive Procurement is Coming …

But precisely what form will it take?

Over on LinkedIn, the procurement dynamo asks what is the role of machines in the future of Procurement? Why? Because, in some cases, machines are now, supposedly, threatening the knowledge workers because they can collect and process more information, memorize way more than we can, and enable us to do things that were previously impossible.

And that is true, but they are still not intelligent. They can emulate intelligence through (evolutionary) programming, they can make predictions (using advanced mathematical based algorithm) that hit the mark much more often than the average analyst, and they can find connections we miss. But at the same time they can emulate grave stupidity when they decide to direct you to the camping supply store when a Brit asks for a torch, make false predictions when they just compute the trend without taking into account supply and demand, or connect carpentry to stock trading because both deal with floors. All algorithms have breaking points, especially near untested boundaries. But you don’t know where they are or when they’ll be hit.

The reality is that even though some knowledge workers are being displaced, the need for knowledge workers to create, maintain, and improve these algorithms … and find new areas in which they can push capability forward. Every time an algorithm or machine displaces someone out of an existing job, a new job is created, even if it’s not that apparent. True, a good software solution can replace 10 to 100 workers doing brute force tactical or grunt work with one or two drivers, but someone has to build the software, sell the software, maintain the software, and start a new initiative to build the next generation. Plus, when a company isn’t focussed on non-value add activities, they can dedicate teams to identifying and chasing value-add activities — who might even create new lines of business, and new jobs, in the process.

So yes, the procurement dynamo is right, the future will be man and machine, in a delicate dance, and the focus will be on cognitive activities, but mainly on the human side … finding ways to properly apply, and verify, new technology. Weeding out the false positives with intelligence, identifying the false negatives with insight, and finding new applications the machines themselves will not.

Thus, the true form of cognitive procurement is smarter Procurement Professionals with more TQ than they have today.

Simeno – Global Catalogs for Global Businesses

Simeno, which is not yet a household Procurement name in North America, is a provider of a SaaS-based e-Procurement that has been around since 2000 and that has been offering catalog management solutions and services since 2002. Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Simeno has grown to be a rather large provider of such solutions in the EU and around the world. With 250,000 users in 60 countries, including users from dozens of Global 3000 companies, Simeno is still growing steadily, having recently opened offices in Germany (Hannover) and the USA (Chicago).

In addition to offering catalog management, Simeno also offers supplier-onboarding, catalog maintenance, and the custom requisition form creation services for their clients so all of their client spend — product and service — can flow through the system. But they are heavily focussed on selling long-term Procurement solutions centered around their catalog-based Procurement solution that can be integrated with the ERP, AP, and other relevant Supply Management solutions that can support the relevant parts of the Source-to-Pay cycle.

The core of the SIMENO solution is the catalog management capability which, like other leading platforms, allows clients to integrate punch-out catalogs, their-own catalogs, and vendor-provided catalogs (in various file formats) and search across all catalogs in real time. Simeno not only focusses on integration, but on fast upload and even faster search. Simeno can process extremely large updates (in the GB) in minutes, search catalogs of up to 10M items in 1.5 seconds and provide a real-time glimpse into what’s happening from a buying perspective in their global organization in just a few seconds.

This catalog solution is offered as a private cloud solution, where access to public catalogs and punch-outs can be as broad, or restrictive, as the organization wants it to be. The platform can be used in conjunction with, or as a replacement for, other catalog and purchasing systems, and can integrate with, or replace Oracle iProcure and SAP SRM UI5. Simeno regularly integrates with a host of ERP solutions and best-of-breed Sourcing / AP systems and can set up workflows to take data in and push data out as needed, which is all part of the initial set-up.

The catalog also supports 22 languages simultaneously, including accents and special characters, product and supplier centric views, and very easy requisition and purchase order creation. The form-based “guided-buying” solution works so well that some organizations have over 1,000 predefined forms, and define more as needed using the detailed form builder that can be used to create forms customized to the organization’s needs.

Simeno is very powerful, and there is a full solution around the platform with RFX, contract management, requisition, purchase order, and invoice management. For more information on these extended capabilities, and deeper insight into Simeno, check out the recent >Spend Matters Pro series (Part I, membership required) by the doctor and the prophet. The deep coverage is worth the time it takes to review it.