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Richard Williamson Looks for Industry Collaboration to Support Digitalization

In this third and final article based on talking about the 3-D’s (Digitalization, Decarbonization, and Decentralization) with Gen10, I talked to Richard Williamson, CEO, Gen10 about digitalization…..

Richard Williamson of Gen10 is of the opinion that digitalization in commodities really requires industry standards to deliver the largest benefits possible. As an example, he talks about how twelve laboratories send assays in different formats and asks why all assays couldn’t be in an industry-standard format? “After all, there is no competitive advantage in not having a standard,” he told me. There are many other areas where industry standards would help the ability to digitalize, automate and optimize business processes in the industry, he feels. Despite that, he sees many opportunities for digitalization efforts to be focused while awaiting standards to evolve.

Gen10, he tells me, has been around long enough to have experienced the last time standardization was being discussed – the promises of XML in the early 2000s – when they initiated the CottonXML project. Working with representative companies from across the supply chain, the CottonXML project, run by the American Cotton Shippers’ Association, identified and defined around 20 standard schemas to help companies share common data in a more efficient, error-reduced way. “We were providing systems for traders, marine cargo insurance, inspection services companies and laboratories, as well as the electronic cotton contract for the International Cotton Association – all based off the same underlying software. We could get our clients connecting and sharing information so we were uniquely placed to approach the industry with the idea of developing open industry standards. At the time, adoption was difficult because many trading companies’ systems were not yet capable of embracing this new ‘internet thing’.”

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Fast-forward to today, the thing I like best about blockchain is that it gets the topic of standardization back on the agenda. But remember, this is about the exchange of data which can often be most effective bilaterally, without the need for some (blockchain) platform in the middle. Without it, we won’t be able to move forward with these platforms and my concern is that they will run out of runway before companies are able to adapt and adopt these new opportunities. And it will raise cynicism once more until the next cycle when we’ll be hoping for quantum computers to design and implement the standards for us.

On the topic of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), he also has interesting perspectives, “Currently, I think robots are being used almost as a band-aid,” he told me. “Because of the long-held perception that legacy systems can’t easily be changed, RPA tools are being used as a band-aid to help solve that underlying issue but, this is actually avoidance of the issue, which is the nature of the system being used,” he argues. “First of all, it’s not difficult today. Today, we are able to do a global roll-out for seven business units, harmonizing processes and reporting in 6 months with our collaborative cloud-based CTRM – probably the same time it takes to implement an RPA project for a subset of routine tasks. Added value is to be had by implementing systems and solutions that have been developed with collaboration – sharing data and processes – as a cornerstone of their design and then,” he says, “automation, ML/AI and other tools can then be used to extract maximum benefits. There’s a Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs around the whole thing.”

Richard cites a couple of examples including the area of pre-approvals on invoices for costs using cost tolerances and flagging just those invoices that require human intervention or prices/penalties and premiums tied to lab results from assays. In the latter case, he tells me that in the absence of a protocol, they need to be pragmatic and deal with the ‘now’ so Gen10’s solution uses OCR to read PDF documents automatically loading the lab data and recalculating prices and so on all in an automated fashion. You can see why he would like to see a standard industry format here.

The need to digitalize has been accelerated by the pandemic work from home environment and also rapid technology adoption across the industry generally,” he says. “This means that all organizations should be asking whether their technology is still sufficient for their needs in today’s business environment. Your technology may have been acceptable 10+ years ago but the pace of technological change in recent years has been tremendous and is only being accelerated by lockdowns,” he said. He points to Gen10’s own commodity management ecosystem, CommOS, which he says lets you consume/re-use external data, set rules to automate certain processes, and connect with others via web services with ease, as an example of a solution that is already configured to be part of a digitalization project with its emphasis on workflows, automation and approvals, and real-time updates.

Think insurance reporting and certificates, broker statements, stock reports, lab results, [blockchain] platforms. Our mission has always been to improve data flows through supply chains. Our job now is to prove to people it’s not as difficult as they may have thought to get started on their digital transformation project.”