TealBook is a specialist in the procurement space as a subset of the supply chain; a deeply complex network of relationships, and multiple data sets, where workforces depend on long-standing relationships and frequently enter information manually.
With his deep understanding of the supply chain and the core business challenges around that, Chief Technology Officer Arnold Liwanag saw a great opportunity to apply this sector knowledge with his artificial intelligence (AI) background, when he joined the Toronto-based startup in August of 2021.
Previously a student of the works of Geoffrey Hinton, a renowned British-Canadian cognitive psychologist and computer scientist most noted for his work on artificial neural networks, Liwanag was one of a lucky few in the world to be studying such a nascent topic in the early 2000s, which led to an early career of cleaning data, integrating it, and ensuring it was of good enough quality to input into the early AI systems that were in development at the time. He has led AI strategy at PwC and overseen many large-scale technology implementations.
His mandate at TealBook is to drive the engineering and implementation of the product and ensure the business is constantly innovating, relative to the technologies that are available in the market and inserting that into the TealBook platform.
“I own Data Ops and within this, Data Governance, Data Quality and the processing of information to complement where the shortcomings are. A big part of my role is also to decide how we're using artificial intelligence technologies and be able to train those models to perform better over time,” said Liwanag.
The problem of bad data
Particularly in the procurement space, supplier data is about the collection of the information. Liwanag explains: “It's very difficult to convince the universe of suppliers out there to deliver that information in the same way. With the landscape as it stands today, suppliers work with many buyers, and all these buyers want specific information to be able to transact with you. And then, in that situation, each individual buyer is asking that one supplier the same question 30 or 40 times.”
This tireless process causes supplier fatigue as they enter this information in multiple portals and maintain this information over time.
Liwanag added: “People change, situations change, and information changes. So you can see how that problem gets out of scale very quickly. We’re talking about a dynamic environment where things are constantly changing in terms of your buyer landscape, the technologies they're using, and the supplier itself is changing constantly in different dimensions, so then maintaining data across those different systems consistently, in the manual fashion, essentially becomes unsustainable.”
According to Liwanag, it's about the ability to maintain accurate records over time: “That's really the big data problem and we call it portal fatigue from the supplier perspective, in the sense that they're just inundated with forms,” he said.
The data foundation and benefits to CPOs
Within the walls of TealBook, its data foundation is vital. The company has set up the data foundation to be perfect for the needs of chief procurement officers (CPOs). The data points alone do not have a significant value until combined into one global view, which drives high-value insights that CPOs can use to build better sourcing strategies.
“For CPOs, their mandate is often savings. So with the data foundation, they have the ability to extract and integrate information, and data from multiple poll systems, that they may have within their technology environment to execute various processes. By leveraging TealBook and merging that information with our data set, they can drive additional insights that they weren't able to do previously. The data foundation integrates these silos of information within typically large technology environments and drives these cross-system insights through an enterprise view,” said Liwanag.
TealBook’s singular centralised ‘source of truth’ provides CPOs with an excellent opportunity to get a global view within their enterprises, and even within different departments and divisions. TealBook also possesses a super set of information on supplier data that it can inject and merge with internal operational system data sets, further enhancing systems that CPOs are already invested in.
TealBook in the procurement ecosystem
According to Liwanag, procurement, as a function in an organisation, has been transformed from being more cost-centre-oriented to now being innovation-driven, guiding or driving transformation within the business in a more proactive sense. The scope of impact that a modern procurement function has on the organisation is massive.
“The amount of spend that procurement is responsible for is enormous. And often it can run up in the billions. The expectation is now to drive innovation with the supplier base, using data as the foundation for being able to do that. A very important trend and it’s what we're bringing to the table for procurement leaders,” said Liwanag.
He added that outside of the portal approach, which is the typical model that a lot of technology players in the procurement space use, TealBook also uses AI methods and engineering techniques to autonomously collect a lot of that information, both from public, private, and proprietary sources.
“We're very strategic and creative about how we apply these different methods. We aggregate, integrate, and normalise that data set into a strong source of truth. And then, on the dissemination side or the distribution side through data foundation, we can ingest or push that information into the different technology environments for our client host. That way, they are getting accurate, real-time information on a consistent basis, as the supplier landscape changes and the client changes as well,” he added.
Important considerations for procurement leaders
Liwanag insists that the most important quality for an enterprise procurement leader is a data-first mindset. Even outside of procurement, he believes this is the trend to help make intelligent decisions for the company, or for the strategy.
“Having reliable, trusted information at their fingertips and feeding that into important decisions and processes that procurement leaders are faced with every day, to make mission-critical decisions or activities, ensures these are executed effectively and with the quality that they want. Without good data, you can't make good decisions and without good decisions, you can't be highly competitive in the space that you're trying to compete in,” he said.
Agile may be a buzzword, according to Liwanag, but he says the theme or the principles behind agile are very relevant in a highly dynamic world, especially when there are major disruptions: “One method to become more agile is to not only maintain and maximise good relationships with existing suppliers, but also to tap into insights from a broader supplier network to maintain agility as things change,” said Liwanag.
Liwanag insists there will always be extraneous factors contributing to the changing landscape. This forces companies to understand who they need to work with and how they need to work with them.
“I call that the extended enterprise, which these days is critical to enabling that agility,” he said.
A highly innovative future with technology at the fulcrum
Continuing the theme of the data foundation at TealBook, Liwanag is effervescent in his praise of the technology he has inherited and how that can transform the procurement space.
“The mandate for me is to really harden and scale what we have. Then also layer in additional innovations to really drive better outcomes in terms of data at scale. The ability to autonomously ingest information from more unstructured sources”, he says, “which is a very difficult task, quite frankly, when you're doing it at scale.”
As the TealBook client base grows and more suppliers are integrated into its system, the level of scrutiny grows as more people use the tools.
“A lot of the decisions that we make from the technology roadmap are rooted in data quality. I’m always asking myself: ‘How can we ingest and disseminate information at scale, for numerous supply buyers and buyers, while retaining the quality of our information for our supplier base?’,” said Liwanag.
The CTO adds that TealBook is delivering valuable insights now, but these may be known as “targeted process enablement activities” in future.
“If we become the trusted source for supplier information, at a global scale, with the types of insights and information we can glean from that data and provide for our various stakeholders, it will be unprecedented,” he said.