Visible Commerce: The Value of Transparency

11 July 2019

5 minute read

Visible Commerce: The Value of Transparency

According to a 2017 Cone Communications CSR study, 78% of consumers want to buy from companies that are responsible, sustainable, ethical, and good citizens. With Visible Commerce, the possibilities to do so are virtually limitless.

 

Do you want to work only with suppliers who share your values around sustainability? You can. Do you want to free up working capital to expand into new markets? You can do that, too. Our vision of the future is a world of Visible Commerce – a world with full visibility, full transparency, and full responsibility. Just imagine what the ability to see every transaction, every exchange of goods and services brings to key decision-makers in your business.

Supply Chain Blind Spots = Risk

Too often, the big supply chain mistakes businesses make - be it fraud, inhumane work conditions, or life-threatening supply shortages - could have been avoided if companies had known who they were truly doing business with.

Did you know, for example, that during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, which devastated much of Puerto Rico, the US healthcare industry suffered a severe shortage of the plastic bags of saline solution used to deliver fluids intravenously?

There are very few manufacturers of these bags of saline and a significant proportion of their production was concentrated in a facility based in Puerto Rico. When Maria struck, the healthcare business was mostly oblivious to the impending crisis as they were simply unaware of where their saline IV bags were coming from. The scarce supplies soon sent prices skyrocketing some 600%, to the point where most hospitals simply could not afford them, having to make do with what they had in stock.

The lack of visibility into supply chains meant the ability to plan for and mitigate the shortage was lost.

Imagine, however, if the 50% of US hospitals that sourced bags from Puerto Rico were aware that their supply would soon be cut off. When the first hurricane warnings hit, their procurement teams would have immediately realised the need to turn to alternative suppliers and put an action plan in place to, quite literally, weather the storm. This is the power and potential of Visible Commerce.

For too long, technology and automation in business has meant that human connection fades into the background, effectively removing people from the value exchange. We made business none of our business. It led to issues like the saline crisis in 2017.

We cannot allow ourselves to continue this zombie-like way of transacting.

And while it may seem counterintuitive, the answer to this problem is the problem itself – technology.

Technology in the New Era

The technology that’s becoming increasingly embedded into our everyday lives can help turn us back around. The move toward Visible Commerce is a necessary evolution, but it doesn’t work if technology is siloed.

Technology that captures and collects financial data across procurement, finance, accounts payable, and the interactions between suppliers and buyers is hugely powerful. But technology that connects this data to an open network where participants can access and analyse these flows can be revolutionary.

This technology can restore familiarity with the people behind our transactions, not leaving us as “a push-button society,” only caring only about the lowest price or easiest option.

Realising a World of Visible Commerce

By embracing Visible Commerce and focusing on the human side of trade, companies can recapture visibility into who they are transacting with and at what true cost.

With careful training, complete visibility, and the right systems in place, companies can start to reform their bad habits and create a culture where compliance and responsibility isn’t just an afterthought. Instead, it will be a way of doing business.

With Visible Commerce, not only can companies better understand who they are doing business with, they can shape their own reputation by more carefully managing their associations with suppliers, customers, and partners.

Practical Steps Towards Visible Commerce

“All this sounds great,” you might say, “But how can I realise the benefits of Visible Commerce for my business?”

We’ve been helping our customers move towards a world of Visible Commerce for many years. One of the key elements of this shift is helping customers better understand, and where appropriate, adjust their supply chains to better align with their goals and values as an organisation.

Working with our partner ConnXus, we are able to map out how diverse customers’ supply chains are, allowing them to track, monitor, and increase the number of certified minority-, woman-, veteran- or LGBT-owned vendors they work with. Not only can we improve the proportion of diverse businesses in their supply chain, we can also help assess the economic impact of sourcing decisions and of companies’ tier 1 and tier 2 spend through job creation, healthier environments, social causes, and sustainable inner-city growth.

This kind of visibility and level of human decision-making is hugely powerful. This data is helping businesses become better corporate citizens, demonstrating their actions are meeting their ambitions, and creating real, tangible social impact.

Visible Commerce can also help businesses be more environmentally sustainable. The principle remains much the same – tracking suppliers’ credentials on greenhouse gas emissions, use of conflict minerals, water conservation, and many other metrics allow organisations’ finance and procurement professionals to make informed decisions about who they do business with and what impact they have on the environment and in society.

Supply Chain Transparency = Accountable Commerce

Organisations have long recognised the need to think about the wider impact of their operations and take actions to ensure they are behaving in a way that positively influences the wider society, ensuring their business is sustainable.

It’s fair to say that while virtually all businesses understand the issue, some have embraced addressing it far more than others. As we move closer to a world of Visible Commerce, this process will undoubtedly accelerate.

As the ability to track and measure impact improves, so too does the ability to make strategic decisions. And, if this data is readily available and decision-making is made easier, the external pressures to be more responsible, ethical, and sustainable increase.

3 Key Tips to Embrace 100% Visibility

Since we started talking about Visible Commerce, customers have been asking me how they can realise the kind of benefits we highlighted at our 2019 North American Basware Connect conference in Chicago.

Some of those benefits are possible today, some will require a little more work, but irrespective of what technology, systems, and processes currently allow, everyone can start their journey towards Visible Commerce.

The 3 tips I would offer to all customers, would be to:

1. Take steps to increase spend visibility – once you have a comprehensive view of spend, you can generate valuable insights for finance and procurement professionals as they analyse cash flow needs and make strategic decisions for the future of the business.

2. Ask senior leaders what are the risks/issues that matter most to them in operating the business – this could be ensuring the company lowers its greenhouse gas emissions, it could be working with more local, or women-owned businesses – and start tracking suppliers against these.

3. Once you have a sense of where your business stacks up against the issues you care about and how each of your suppliers impacts those metrics, start experimenting with sourcing and where spend is placed. You’ll soon find ways of improving the business’ credentials in these key areas of risk, without incurring significant increases in costs.

Ready to Learn More?

Visible Commerce comes from having 100% spend visibility of every step of your purchase-to-pay (P2P) process, from sourcing to payments and every step in between. To learn how the data and technology integrated at each P2P step can propel you further along your Visible Commerce journey, download our whitepaper. Questions? Contact us.