What is Visible Commerce?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

5 minute read

What is Visible Commerce?

What will the future of commerce look like? That’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves at Basware for some time.


In the keynote address at our user conference in Chicago last month we introduced the term Visible Commerce – our vision of a future in which transaction transparency yields better business outcomes and a more empathetic, responsible economy.

What is Visible Commerce?

We believe that a world of transparent exchange of money, goods and services, enabled by the ready availability of data, empowers people to make more effective and more ethical business decisions. This is something we call Visible Commerce.

Visible Commerce in concrete terms is complete transparency into all the flows of money, goods, and services around the world. This refers not only to the transactional transparency of things like buying, selling and paying transactions, but also much more holistic transparency into who (not what) is underneath all those transactions, what they stand for, and why we should care.

Beyond the concrete definition, Visible Commerce is about harnessing the power of all the amazing technology that we've built as a society to not just become faster-cheaper-more efficient, but to truly become better businesses, a better society, better people.  

To truly understand this concept, we must remind ourselves how commerce emerged and evolved.

The Evolution of Commerce

Commerce is woven into the human existence. It’s been happening since the beginning of time. Cavemen started exchanging obsidian and flint during the Stone Age – bartering what they could spare for what they need.

Currency followed shortly afterwards – from cattle, to shells, to metals, and eventually coins, paper, and gold – humans invented money and assigned value to the goods and services they exchanged.

Soon physical connected networks of traders, like the Silk Road, pushed trade across physical boundaries – strengthening commercial links between major powers.

From here trade expanded rapidly – goods exchanging hands, country to country, household to household, person to person – human to human.

This continued over many years, pushing major paradigm shifts – colonization, democratization, the industrial revolution, and now digitization.

Emergence of eCommerce

Then in 1971, a single transaction opened the door to modern trade: the first online sale. It was the beginning of faceless buying – goods could be bought with the stroke of a keyboard instead of the shake of a hand.

Online transactions soon became commonplace and ecommerce blew the world of business wide open. The ability to order and pay for goods with the literal push of a button changed everything. Not only commerce, but the entire world as we knew it.

This drive for innovation and our “push button” society put the power in the hands of the purchaser. But it’s come at a cost; our human connection is fading to the background.

In the modern business world, it’s very easy to forget who we’re really doing business with.

What’s wrong with a push button society?

Faster. Cheaper. More efficient. None of that sounds bad for business, you might say. Why do we need to go beyond that to get to Visible Commerce?

Let's consider some business examples.

Just this year, Google and Facebook voluntarily paid out $172m in fake invoices to a single man posing as a legitimate supplier.

Apple, a company known for their product quality, has begun significantly investing in supplier quality after finding students were being forced to work for more than 11 hours a day as “intern volunteers.”

In these cases, transactional efficiency wasn't enough. It was necessary to have visibility into the underlying suppliers behind those transactions, as well as the holistic picture of the supply chain when viewed in the aggregate of all those historical transactions.

Visible Commerce isn’t a pull from automation, efficiency, and convenience; it’s a push toward higher expectations from one person to another.

Visible Commerce is believing that technology and humanity are interdependent, not in competition with each other. It’s a symbiotic relationship that enables us to be stronger and faster, but we need to make certain that we are also better because of it.

Visible Commerce & procurement, finance, payables and treasury

As you can see from the examples we provided earlier, finance and procurement are not removed from this effort. They, in fact, are critical to it. 

Source-to-pay is not merely a back-office function of procuring supplies and paying invoices. It is the foundation of the transparent, connected, responsible economy – the way business prospers and people thrive.

If, in the examples we saw earlier, systems, technology, and data were all connected and were producing critical information related to supplier risk, fraud detection, and potential supply chain disruptions, could those companies then have used their uniquely human abilities to make better decisions? Yes. And that's Visible Commerce.

The ironic thing is in order for you to make those informed, more human business decisions, in order to be more human, you must first fully leverage the technology at your fingertips.

Basware is uniquely positioned to support this future world of Visible Commerce.

A world where technology and transparency enable better bottom line business decisions, more ethical business decisions, and more human business decisions.

Join us on the journey to Visible Commerce.

Ready to learn more?

Automation, digitization, and global trade are the three macrotrends set to change the way Finance and Procurement function over the next two years. Read the latest EIU report, sponsored by Basware, to learn how to manage and prepare for these developments. And if you have any questions, contact us.