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Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Innovators Poised to Reap Rewards as Fintech Reshapes how Money is Used

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Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Innovators Poised to Reap Rewards as Fintech Reshapes how Money is Used

Emergent fintech such as distributed ledger-based blockchain technology and the cryptocurrencies built thereupon are rapidly transforming the face of the financial industry, reshaping how money is used at an essential level. An explosion of fintech companies marks the dawn of this new era, quickly turning the financial institutions that historically have played middlemen into dinosaurs as an increasing number of businesses and individuals turn to peer-to-peer (P2P) and peer-to-business (P2B) transaction options. This is a hot market for disruptive fintech developers such as Virtual Crypto Technologies Inc. (OTC:VRCP) (VRCP Profile), with its cryptocurrency transaction confirmation application programming interface (API) Bit4Sure, real-time cryptography-based algorithmic cryptocurrency transaction validation engine NetoBit and crypto point-of-sale (POS) offerings such as NetoBit Pay that use the NetoBit application. For payment tech giants such as Square, Inc. (NYSE:SQ) and Worldpay, Inc. (NYSE:WP), or P2P lending innovators such as LendingClub Corporation (NYSE:LC), the iron is now ready to strike and blockchain powerhouses, such as Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc. (NYSE:BR), will add considerable force to the hammer blows as the industry forges a new future for money.

Fintech Cutting Out the Middleman

The stage has been set for a genuine sea change in relevant areas of the financial industry. From payment technologies to lending and raising capital, even insurance and the kinds of accounts or wallets people use – a bevy of alternatives are already live or are coming online in the near future.

The number of options available to end users in particular has multiplied seemingly overnight, providing a whole slew of new ways to deal directly with other people or entities, cutting out the financial institution middlemen altogether. Global fintech funding was more than $31 billion last year, with the United States representing around half of that figure, according to KPMG Fintech. Analysts see the sector maturing away from experimentation into value-driven opportunity hunting based on proven solutions.

With more than 2,446 Bitcoin (Crypto:BTC) ATMs currently installed across North America, it is now easier than ever for people to purchase and convert money via cryptocurrency such as BTC and then cash out into traditional fiat currency. However, only around 36 percent of existing Bitcoin ATMs allow users to exchange crypto for cash, with the majority considered one-way machines that only allow users to directly purchase crypto. Transaction fees and times have been the biggest gripe by end users, and it is now understood by many in the industry that eliminating these two barriers will likely trigger an even more massive influx of new crypto participants.

Crypto Tech, a Peer-to-Peer Revolution

The global crypto ATM market is on track to surpass $285 million within the next eight years, running at a smoking hot 45.8 percent CAGR on the strength of increased crypto awareness and popularity – popularity bolstered by the public’s receptivity toward key ideological elements such as decentralization of the underlying blockchain network(s), as well as transaction security and constant technological innovation. A striking example of such emergent fintech transforming the financial industry is evident in a report where Steve Forbes recently touted crypto as the future of raising money in the $40.6 billion global film industry. A seemingly bold claim, until you notice that initial coin offerings (ICOs) raised a record $5.6 billion last year.

Building a Better Crypto Mousetrap

With the official launch of the company’s proprietary API-driven Bit4Sure cryptocurrency transaction confirmation solution in early May, Virtual Crypto Technologies Inc. (OTCQB: VRCP) has effectively annihilated the 10 minutes to 24 hours it can take to confirm the purchase or sale of bitcoins. Alon Dayan, co-founder and CEO of Virtual Crypto, noted how strategic this achievement was for the company, characterizing it as a major step towards VRCP’s overarching goal of building consumer confidence in the cryptocurrency marketplace. By removing much of the risk associated with such autonomous transactions through real-time transparency, Virtual Crypto has indeed taken out one of the aforementioned barriers to bringing more people into the space. Bit4Sure essentially allows users to confirm a transaction before it is included in a mined block on the chain, and it does so via a readily available and intuitive app that works with Android and iOS. It is also available via web browser at bit4sure.com.

The solution is a compelling proof of concept, exposed to the average user through easy-to-use protocols. However, the API is the real gem here and is attractive to exchanges, payment processors and wallet developers who can subscribe, thereby gaining access to the company’s proprietary algorithm model. The Bit4Sure API lets developers integrate real-time transaction confirmation as well as the ability to actively track the market activity of any cryptocurrency, empowering end users and shielding them from digital payment risks such as double-spending fraud or delayed transaction hassles.

Broad Ranging Vision and the Tech to Back It Up

The company has a clear vision of becoming a driving force for the widespread adoption of crypto, with a hardware/software umbrella spanning ATMs, tablets, PCs and mobile devices. Virtual Crypto’s two-way NetoBit ATM supports most local currencies, multiplexes together several exchanges to provide the best prices/rates, and allows for real-time withdrawal and transfer of funds in mere seconds. NetoBit Pay closes the gap on the merchant end of the spectrum with a simple-to-use retail POS. And because every transaction is guaranteed up to $3,000, businesses can rest easy, leaving their minds free to engage in crypto-based transactions without fear of being ripped off.

The company has a clear vision of becoming a driving force for the widespread adoption of crypto, with a hardware/software umbrella spanning ATMs, tablets, PCs and mobile devices. Virtual Crypto’s two-way NetoBit ATM supports most currencies, multiplexes together several exchanges to provide the best prices/rates and allows for real-time withdrawal and transfer of funds in mere seconds. NetoBit Pay closes the gap on the merchant end of the spectrum with a simple to use retail POS. And because every transaction is guaranteed up to $3,000, most consumers can rest easy, leaving their minds free to engage in crypto-based transactions without fear of being ripped off.

Virtual Crypto has established itself as a business-oriented developer that dramatically improves the cryptocurrency trading experience for individuals and businesses – those who benefit the most from faster execution and lower costs. The company may seem like a small fish in a gigantic pond, but it may provide offerings and competencies that even the biggest fintech players are taking note of.

Among those fintech giants, Square (NYSE:SQ) garnered attention recently when it hit an all-time high (and held it) on news of its approval for a BitLicense from the New York Department of Financial Services, opening up the commerce of Bitcoin in that location via the company’s popular Cash App. The Cash App solution is a direct competitor to PayPal’s (NASDAQ: PYPL) mobile payment service Venmo. The fact that Square barely eked out a profit in Q1 from BTC buying and selling activity and yet still doubled down on its objectives showcases how hotly contested the digital-first money-transfer services market is. With prepaid and private label cards accounting for some $6.4 trillion last year alone, such crypto-powered e-payment systems could make a killing by alleviating the inconvenience of card minimums for customers, as well as lowering and stabilizing merchant’s swipe fee rates.

Since the J.P. Morgan (NYSE: JPM)-assisted acquisition by Vantiv, Worldpay (NYSE:WP) has become one of the most actively traded payment processors in the game today. Worldpay handles over 40 billion transactions a year via 300 payment types, in 146 countries, across 126 different currencies. The company has recently drawn attention as a high-profile publicly traded target amid an outbreak of market participants looking to lock down the underexposed fintech space, which has seen very few public listings despite record levels of venture capital funding. Those participants include Augmentum Capital, the venture group backed by Lord Rothschild, which recently deployed a well-capitalized VC arm. Worldpay drew heat in February alongside Visa (NYSE: V) when major crypto exchange Coinbase laid the blame at their feet after the exchange’s customers were charged multiple times for the same transaction because of a merchant category code glitch.

Long hailed as a pioneer in marketplace lending, LendingClub (NYSE:LC) uses technology to spur faster credit decisioning and drive loan origination to new user experience highs. The company has seen its model stall somewhat as competition comes into the market from sources like Marcus, the lending and deposit-taking digital consumer platform launched by Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) in 2016. LendingClub’s aggressive model has been groundbreaking, with rapid origination of unsecured personal loans and the generation of revenue as the loans are eventually sold or offered to investors, traded and then serviced. However, this aggressive model has led to loan stacking by fraudsters and desperate borrowers, putting increasing pressure on the Icarus-like LendingClub to fall back to earth and act just like every other digital lending platform, with its primary emphasis on competition for the most creditworthy customers.

A global fintech player with its roots in blockchain tech, Broadridge Financial Solutions (NYSE:BR) recently completed a second practical pilot use of blockchain for investor voting alongside Santander (NYSE:SAN) at the annual general meeting, in collaboration with J.P. Morgan and Northern Trust (NASDAQ:NTRS). This event followed fast on the heels of Broadridge receiving a new patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that allowed the company to begin implementing distributed ledger technology in its proxy voting product suite, ProxyVote. ProxyVote could revolutionize aspects of corporate governance in capital markets, particularly when it comes to tackling new issues, including compliance with the EU’s Shareholder Rights Directive 2.

The Big Boys Could Learn a Lot from Smaller Developers

It is plain to see that with innovation and first-mover advantages can come unforeseen risks and model implementation issues. As cutting-edge fintech enabled by cryptocurrencies and their underlying blockchain technology works its way into more and more practical applications, it may be essential for innovators to remain grounded in proven solutions like those offered by companies such as VRCP. With more than 1,000 cryptocurrencies on the market today and only minimal uptake by end users, delivering confidence will be a key concern moving forward and fintech developers must remain laser focused on creating positive user experiences through transparency, ease of use and affordable fees.

For more information on Virtual Crypto Technologies, please visit Virtual Crypto Technologies (OTCQB: VRCP).

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The UK’s National Data Strategy – Too Much Love?

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The UK’s National Data Strategy – Too Much Love? 1

By Julian Hayes, Partner at BCL Solicitors LLP

“We want the UK….to be the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business”. With this ambitious aim, the Government has laid out its National Data Strategy, focusing on unlocking the value of data, establishing a pro-growth data protection regime, and championing international data flows to promote economic development. Already a feted success, the UK’s digital sector now stands behind only the US and China in global venture capital funding and directly employs more than 1.5 million people in London and other major UK cities. Despite its laudable aspiration, however, the Data Strategy signals post-Brexit regulatory intentions which risk inhibiting and choking off the future growth of this successful UK industrial sector.

Bonfire of data obligations?

Though it emphasises the importance of public support and maintaining trust in how personal data is used, the Data Strategy highlights business’ lack of clarity about current data protection rules, takes implicit aim at the burden of the current data regime on innovators and entrepreneurs, and laments costly over-compliance and consequent risk aversion. In response, the Data Strategy foreshadows alleviating data compliance obligations, particularly for SMEs, once the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020. Although the Data Strategy carefully avoids specifics, the complexity of the GDPR’s principles-based system and one-size fits all approach have long been a bugbear for micro-enterprises. Indeed, acknowledging concern in its recent two-year review of the GDPR, the European Commission (EC) itself urged national data regulators to lend SMEs a helping hand by offering ready-made templates, training and consultancy helplines. Nevertheless, the EC rejected calls to exempt smaller businesses from GDPR obligations, arguing that data risks were not dependent on an operator’s size.

Cross-border transfer dilemmas

Equally contentious is the Data Strategy’s approach to cross-border data transfers, cited as being of fundamental importance for economic development. The Data Strategy complains that such transfers of personal data are currently being inappropriately constrained and celebrates that the UK will be able to make its own ‘data adequacy’ decisions to allow for extra-territorial personal data transfers in a post-Brexit world. Unlike EC adequacy decisions which involve consultation between the Commission, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) collectively representing EU data regulators, and member state representatives, UK adequacy decisions will be in the gift of the Secretary of State, subject only to Parliament’s rarely used negative resolution procedure. The Data Strategy effectively suggests UK adequacy decisions will be ‘up for grabs’ in future bilateral trade negotiations.

The transfer of personal data from the EU to ‘third countries’ has been a running sore in relations with the US which has not been granted an EC adequacy decision. The European Court of Justice (CJEU) has twice torpedoed hard-negotiated EU-US personal data transfer mechanisms, first ‘Safe Harbour’ and most recently the ‘Privacy Shield’ on which an estimated $7.1 trillion of annual transatlantic digital trade relied. US-UK trade documents leaked to the media in late 2019 suggested the US was seeking to weaken European data protection in its ongoing free trade negotiations with the UK.

These revelations merely added to pre-existing concern in Brussels, based on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act (IPA), that Britain’s legal regime already falls short of offering an “essentially equivalent” level of personal data protection to that enjoyed in the EU. Aspects of the IPA have been repeatedly criticised by the European Courts, most recently in Privacy International’s challenge to the UK’s bulk retention powers. UK data sharing with third countries for law enforcement purposes has also raised concern in Brussels, with reservations at the UK’s participation with non-EU allies in the ‘Five Eyes’ agreement and expressions of disquiet by the EDPB and Members of the European Parliament at the implications for personal data protection of the UK-US bilateral data sharing agreement signed in October 2019.

Data adequacy – wait and see

Against this unpropitious backdrop, the prospects of Britain being granted an EC adequacy decision by the end of the Brexit transition period – something which the UK is pursuing – appear somewhat forlorn. From the Commission’s perspective, in the face of concerns over US authorities’ access to personal data, how could it grant an EC adequacy decision to the UK, allowing the free flow of EU personal data to Britain when the UK could, in turn, grant its own adequacy decision to the US, theoretically facilitating EU personal data to flow westwards to the US without what the EC regards as adequate protection? Even were the Commission to grant a EC adequacy decision to the UK, it is likely the decision would quickly face challenge in the CJEU from privacy campaigners. In any event, with the Data Strategy foreshadowing imminent changes to UK legislation, how could the Commission practically compare its own data protection regime with one which is morphing into something as yet undefined? Logic surely dictates it would delay making an EC adequacy decision until the future outline of the UK’s data protection regime becomes apparent.

Tech unicorns tethered

Avowedly aiming to drive UK economic growth by alleviating the deadweight of data protection obligations, the Data Strategy envisages digital entrepreneurs and innovators of the UK’s digital economy powering the country to success after the COVID-led downturn. But with the status quo of the Brexit transition period drawing to a close and an EC data adequacy decision potentially on-hold until the UK’s data protection regime becomes settled, the UK’s tech start-ups may in fact find themselves hamstrung by having to satisfy the EC’s data protection requirements in other ways, including the use of Standard Contractual Clauses and Binding Corporate Rules, if they wish to do business in Europe, adding an unwelcome layer of bureaucracy and expense to their overheads. Looking across the Atlantic, even if a US free trade deal is agreed, those same UK unicorns which the Government wishes to prosper would confront the formidable stranglehold of the US tech giants when seeking to break into the North America market. That would leave them reliant on the altogether smaller domestic market which would likely inhibit their growth. Despite the Data Strategy’s good intentions, its inadvertent consequence may in fact be the stifling of the very sector it was designed to assist.

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How to overcome the ‘groundhog day’ effect Of remote working

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How to overcome the ‘groundhog day’ effect Of remote working 2

By Chris Farmer, leadership and management training expert and founder of Corporate Coach Group

The ongoing pandemic means that for many people their place of work has been the lounge, the spare room or the ‘home office’ for more than the past six months. While it might have been a novelty at first, for many the lack of human interaction and spending so much time within the same four walls is becoming monotonous and this could lead to common bad habits which could destroy productivity and peace of mind.

In order to improve productivity and retrain the mind as we head into the winter period, here are some simple but powerful techniques you can use to make the most of working from home.

Don’t work in the room where you rest, relax or entertain yourself

Everyone is affected by their environment. We form strong mental-emotional associations between a particular activity and its location. When we are in a restaurant, we feel like eating; when we are in a swimming pool, we do NOT feel like eating.

When working from home, the associations between “Work” and “NOT-Work” become blurred because the two activities are taking place at the same location.

Consequently, both activities suffer. We feel we are never quite “at work”, and we feel we are never quite NOT at work. We feel we are in a strange “No man’s land” between the two states, and it is unsettling.

It is vital to separate our “work-space” from “rest space”. Ideally, you should have a separate room where you do all your work and NONE of your rest. Your living room is not where you work. If you do not have a separate room, then at least have a separate chair, and face an opposite wall.

We know people who work in their lounge. They sit in the same chair that they will be in, that evening, when watching TV. This is a mistake.

Dress for work, even when at home

Everyone is affected by the clothes they wear. When a police officer, a nurse, or a firefighter gets ready for duty, they put on their uniform. Why? Because every profession has its own identity; and every identity has an associated appearance.

Just because your physical place of work has changed doesn’t mean that your appearance needs to as well, and that’s not just because of video calls and meetings. It’s the same principle as working from your living room, if you adopt the identity of working in your casual clothes you will likely have the same mindset as you do when not at work.

We all know people who hang around the house in their dressing gowns and slippers, working with one eye on the TV and this is not conducive to productive working.

Dress as if you were going to work. Groom yourself as if you were going to work, because you are! When you have finished work, it is equally important to change back into your scruffs and relax.

Don’t allow the media to become your new best friend

People who work at home do not have the company of their colleagues, and so may turn to mainstream news for company. Everyone is susceptible to the suggestive influences of the media, which would be fine, if the media was objective and reasonably optimistic.

Unfortunately, the majority of headlines suggest; “It is bad and it’s going to get worse” and while it’s important for all of us to be aware of the latest updates regarding the pandemic and wider current affairs, it can also have the tendency to fill the mind with negative, pessimistic information.

The constant low-level hypnotic suggestions have an inevitable negative effect on our thoughts, feelings, actions and therefore our outputs. Avoid spending all of your time soaking your mind in the news agenda where possible such as through Facebook or Twitter and concentrate your attention onto something more productive to add value to your life.

Form a “Mastermind Alliance” with like minded people and talk to them every day

We are all profoundly affected by the company we keep and the voices we listen to.

Forming an alliance with two or three like minded individuals who (preferably), you do NOT work with, but who are in a similar position as you can be a really effective way of reminding yourself of the bigger picture and that in a sense we’re all in this together.

Your Mastermind Alliance may be from different companies or even a different industry but it is key this is composed of people who have an upbeat and can-do attitude.

Talk to them every day. The purpose of your mastermind alliance is mutual inspiration and emotional support. We ally ourselves with a small number of the right people: people whom we admire and who will challenge us to be at our best.

Keep good health habits; eat, sleep and exercise well

One of the basics that in particular needs to be prioritised as we head towards the winter is the focus on good health habits.

Why? Everything that we do in life requires energy – even if it’s just engaging your brain to perform your daily work from your desk at home. Energy defines your capacity to do work and it must be generated effectively to allow for maximum productivity.

This means you must maximise sleep, nutrition and exercise to generate sufficient energy while also minimising other negatives such as alcohol, calorific food and smoking, or using coping mechanisms such as comfort eating.

Instead, maximise the quality of your Sleep, nutrition and exercise.

  1. Sleep eight hours a night
  2. Eat small but eat well
  3. Exercise three times a week
  4. Avoid alcohol where possible

Keep your eye on the end goal

I know many of us are fed up of hearing this advice but it really is important to remember that this pandemic will not last forever. Life will return to some normality again and it’s important that we all continue to focus on our long term aspirations which we had before this all kicked off in March.

The human mind can tend towards one of two states: “goal focused” or “drifter mentality” and it’s important to focus on the former.

When working from home our biggest danger is that we lose our focus. We become distracted, disenchanted and we lose our edge. The solution is to continually monitor our state of mind and to do everything necessary to maintain a “Goal focused mentality”.

Goal focused mentality means continually setting goals: Set goals to:

  1. Improve your Work life balance (deliberately and knowingly separate your work activities from your non-work activities)
  2. Improve your dress code, grooming and appearance
  3. Maintain your professional identity
  4. Reduce your time on social media
  5. Engage the services of your mastermind alliance
  6. Increase the QUALITY of your nutrition
  7. Increase the quality of your sleep
  8. Reduce the amount of alcohol
  9. Increase the quality of your exercise programme.
  10. Generate more energy.

The only way out of trouble is to go forwards, by setting goals, formulating plans, motivating ourselves to take priority actions, and continually adapt ourselves so we are able to make progress, even when working from home.

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Supply Networks: The Future of Procurement

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Supply Networks: The Future of Procurement 3

By Sean Thompson, EVP of Network and Ecosystem, SAP Procurement Solutions

No supply chain has been spared by the impact of the coronavirus. Some parts of the world are indeed seeing businesses slowly look toward recovery and a gradual move to a ‘new normal’. But we cannot ignore that small shops and multinational corporations alike will continue to face challenges with regard to their manufacturing, distribution, logistics, and demand functions, as well as their overall financial well-being and that of their business partners.

A contributing factor to this disruption is the traditional, linear supply chain model, where each step is dependent on the one before it. Inefficiencies at one stage result in a cascade of inefficiencies down the line. And when the buyer and supplier are located at either end of the chain, it’s easy to see how collaboration breaks down and end-to-end visibility is nearly impossible.

The resulting reactive and uncoordinated response makes it challenging for procurement teams to know exactly which suppliers, sites, parts and products are at risk, and therefore, extremely difficult to secure new sources of supply in a timely manner.

Fostering the Partner Ecosystem

As businesses grapple with the ramifications of COVID-19, they must learn key lessons as they look to recovery. At the crux of this is rebuilding and restructuring resilient supply chains for a better future. This means moving beyond the traditional linear supply chain model to the implementation of a dynamic, collaborative supply network.

Unlike traditional supply chains, supply networks shift away from singular, point-to-point processes to a many-to-many structure that enables 360-degree visibility. Once an organisation is connected to a network, they become both a buyer and a supplier and gain broad visibility into the interconnected operations of their trading partners. Beyond allowing companies to identify emerging trends or issues more easily, access to a network also enables them to collaborate with new partners, improve cash flow, develop new products and accelerate sustainability.

Connecting to a network that includes producers, vendors, distribution centres, warehouses, transportation companies and retailers contributes to a businesses’ overall ability to move with agility, respond more quickly to demand and address unforeseen circumstances like those we’ve seen this year.

Building the Business Pillars of the Future

The global COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly accelerated the need for organisations to transform and respond to the unplanned and unprecedented. As a different world takes shape, longer term strategies for supply chains and operating models need to be re-assessed and prioritised in order for an organisation to advance in the following three key business pillars of the future: resiliency, profitability, and sustainability.

Sean Thompson

Sean Thompson

Digital transformation will play a major role for an organisation to withstand future disruptions and help pivot them toward recovery when disruptions do occur. In turn then, supply networks offer a holistic approach that enables greater transparency between trading partners and help organisations make decisions in real-time. Unlike linear supply chains, supply networks optimise operations and break down functional silos to enable organisations to realise the untapped potential of existing capabilities and achieve higher performance as well as greater value. Indeed, this is demonstrated by recent data from Bain & Company, which reveals how companies with resilient supply chains grow faster because they’re able to move quickly when market demand shifts.

When it comes to an organisation maximising its profit margins, resiliency and profitability go hand in hand. Businesses that run reliable, automated supply chains generate increased revenue because digital supply networks can smooth over any friction, and in turn, maximise the output. With automation and transparency in place, the ROI handles itself and the network becomes a profitability-driving tool.

Finally, businesses should always consider their sustainability goals; not only across their organisation, but within their supply network too. Beyond the need for creating long-term value, sustainability can foster innovation and encourage new ways of thinking that can ultimately lead to increased revenues, stronger customer relationships and improved brand perception. One way this is often addressed is by looking to reduce carbon footprints as a result of operations. However, sustainability exists deep within supply chains, like modern slavery and single-use plastics; these need to be addressed in equal measure too.  The use of technology can help spot inefficiencies and risk so that today’s business leaders can instil long-lasting change and dig into the supply chains of their partners and suppliers, prioritising those who are also making sustainability a priority too.

It’s a New Dawn

Transforming from a supply chain to a supply network should support a business’ total digital transformation strategy. By taking advantage of the latest digital tools, businesses can remain resilient and scale at a rate that creates a competitive advantage.

An example of this done successfully is demonstrated by the Danish manufacturing company VELUX Group, which automated 64% of its 20,000 monthly order lines after digitally transforming supply chain operations and streamlining supplier collaboration. Now, the VELUX Group seamlessly conducts transactions with more than 200 vendors and enjoys improved processes, accelerated delivery dates and more time saved.

Digital supply networks are built to anticipate disruptions and mitigate risks. They leverage technology and data analytics to provide a continuous flow of information which allows business leaders to gain a holistic insight to all areas of the business. While moving to a supply network requires fundamental changes to many aspects of an organisation’s planning – from strategy, to business processes, to IT – the ability to keep up with fast-moving market dynamics is essential in today’s business environment more than ever.

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