Fred Laluyaux, President and CEO of Aera Technology, a Decision Intelligence company that helps make business agility happen with its innovative cloud platform.
During the conversation, Fred shared his thoughts on tribal knowledge, automated decision making, massive scale, Silicon Valley neighbours, Harvard scholars and wine.
1. What’s Aera’s mission?
Aera’s focus is to help non-digital-native companies gain the business and decision agility that is required for them to perform in our fast moving, evolving world.
In the last decade, challenges with decision making have increased as uncertainty, competition, pace of change, and the need for agility have grown exponentially.
And just in the last few years, the world has seen a dramatic increase in the need for accelerated decision making as a result of COVID and now Ukraine, and many other disruptions happening in supply chains.
The era of establishing monthly/quarterly/yearly plans and executing them on an ongoing basis is changing. Every day brings new changes and challenges in the business environment that require adjustments to plans.
The Great Resignation and the growth of the gig economy are also critical factors. People don’t stay in their current jobs for as long as they used to. Throw COVID into the mix and you now have people not coming into the office or choosing a different job entirely.
This impact is significant because companies have historically responded to change and managed exceptions with people. For example, people collecting data, making recommendations, and getting stakeholders aligned on a decision for a new direction.
It turns out that people have been the safety stock for business volatility. So what do you do when the people on the shop floor to the top floor are no longer there?
Tribal knowledge is getting lost. For many companies, they are trying to run efficiently on a daily basis and cutting costs, but it isn’t enough. As a result, you don’t have the same intelligence built up over time in the organisation.
All of these factors are requiring organisations to make better, faster, more intelligent decisions. They need a pool of resources, which is shrinking, and this is where Aera helps — through our ability to digitize, augment, and automate decision making.
We’ve created the first purpose-built Decision Intelligence platform that allows organisations with very complex ecosystems to augment and automate decision making; not just on a strategic basis, but by optimising decisions on an hourly basis where business conditions continually change.
Our platform generates recommendations for thousands of decisions a day, helping companies optimise their supply chain and other business functions.
That’s why Aera exists and that’s our unique value.
“One of the big things we’re focused on is digitising tribal knowledge to help make decisions.”
2. What have been the most significant decisions and milestones in the Aera journey so far?
Building the technology has been a big adventure. The first milestone was launching our Aera platform!
Shariq, Aera’s Co-founder and CTO, and I had been building this for many years prior to launching in 2017 and the initial decision was to launch and find investors who believe in our vision.
Our journey has been very interesting! When you launch, you tend to stay small, with a reduced scope and close to home, but we decided to partner with some of the world’s largest companies, with a goal of working with the best-in-class organisations in supply chain and procurement.
The second milestone I wanted to demonstrate right away was proving that our technology could scale. It’s very nice to come up with a great idea for Decision Intelligence, but if it doesn’t work at scale for a massive CPG or life science company, then you’ve really missed the mark.
In June 2021, we released our full service composable platform, so it took about four years to really innovate and build every component of our platform.
It has taken a long time with a lot of capital deployed, but the result is that the technology is delivering value for companies, and at scale.
We were able to assemble an experienced team that has done this before, so we had the knowledge and connections and knew where we wanted to be and how to get there.
Recently, another big milestone was our announcement of Aera Decision Cloud™, which is a comprehensive, composable, trusted, and scalable platform that allows organisations to digitise decisions, from manual and augmented, to fully automated. Our clients started in supply chain and procurement and it’s very clear that in order to resolve Decision Intelligence issues in their supply chains, they have to connect to demand, spending, planning, procurement and so on, and Aera Decision Cloud™ connects these in a single model.
“The release of Aera Decision Cloud is a key milestone as it
delivers the technology and capabilities for Decision Intelligence.”
3. What do you look for in the perfect customer?
We have experienced an evolution in the perfect customer. As we built the company and technology, the perfect customers were large multinationals — CPG, life sciences, manufacturing, and others — with best-in-class practices. Our initial goal was to demonstrate the value of digitised decision making for organisations with the most complex operations and supply chains.
This is how our journey started. When you look at the outcomes our customers are achieving, you can see the value of Aera Decision Cloud™ as a self-service, open platform.
Today, we are more focused on a broader scope of customers. The ideal customer is one that is struggling with a fast-changing environment and has people constraints which could potentially threaten the core of their business.
The opportunity for augmenting and automating decision making is big…we work with organisations where distribution channels and procurement processes are changing, requiring Decision Intelligence to achieve their transformation goals.
I like to think that we are the innovators…we build innovation, and our clients are the disruptors.
“Aera builds the technology and customers implement it…
it disrupts the way you work, think, operate, and potentially disrupt your ecosystem as well.”
4. What are the foundations of a great team?
I’ve learned with my last company, when you’re based in Silicon Valley and are selling enterprise software next door to Google and Meta — all these incredible companies — you can only compete with your purpose and mission.
You need to make sure that you attract the team members who have a passion for what you do.
I always say if you have a passion for technology, supply chain, procurement, or like to read about it on the weekend and it’s what you love to do, then Aera welcomes you. We are continuing to build an environment that allows people to express themselves.
I believe a great team is one aligned with the mission. It’s a team with a purpose, and if that’s at your core, then the diversity and experience and personality, it all follows.
Many of the people who have joined us love data science and optimisation —
they don’t necessarily know about procurement at first, but they learn and add layers to their stacks of knowledge, which then enables impact.
These are the types of team members that get really excited when a client meets with us and says,
“This is the business impact that we have been able to achieve with your technology and it’s immediate.
We have been able to digitise more than 12,000 decisions each month with 74% auto acceptance,
enabling amazing outcomes for our business.”
When you have your hands on the keyboard and you build this kind of technology, it’s very rewarding.
For us, it’s all about the mission, vision, and making sure that we attract people that are passionate about what we do — whether they are data scientists or procurement experts — and they can express themselves.
5. As we emerge from COVID what will you be doing differently?
For Aera, there is no change in our mission. Yet, the way we operate as a business has changed quite a bit. Prior to COVID, I would not have thought about a hybrid work model like how we are operating today.
For example, sitting down with a client or a partner and whiteboarding a solution that’s never been done before, is more difficult.
Pre-COVID, I was a bit old school, and we had a very high-touch model. We would spend a lot of time with our partners and our customers onsite and do long workshops. In this hybrid work environment, we quickly learned to transform the technology and our methodology to enable rapid deployment and implementation to cut time and add value.
For a successful hybrid workplace, it’s important to define and establish the best model for your needs — whether that’s meeting in person to prepare for a major conference, doing product sessions, or identifying the work that can be done, just as well, remotely. At Aera, this is the type of balance we’re achieving.
6. What is the vision for Aera for the future?
We believe work is going to fundamentally change. The digitisation of decisions is a given, and it’s going to transform the offices the same way that machines have transformed supply chains.
We are in the middle of that revolution right now. At Aera, we are transforming the future of work by enabling employees to spend less time on repetitive and transactional activities related to decision making — hunting for data, building reports, aligning stakeholders — and more time on value-added activities like strategy, creativity, and teamwork. Professor Fuller from Harvard Business School, who is on our Aera Board, calls it ‘dull work’, which can be digitised to give companies the agility to scale and perform.
This will also change talent recruitment and acquisition — people want to work for companies that are adopting the technologies we are talking about. The days of working with spreadsheets and other antiquated systems are changing.
Our technology is purpose-built to help companies realize new efficiencies, optimize resource use, and reduce waste by predicting and planning demand and more efficiently managing operations.
7. How are you doing good for the planet?
A lot of sustainability issues are generated by inefficiencies in decision making. The technologies we are building and our customers are implementing are going to have a massive impact on sustainability.
For example, we were with one of our clients in Germany and they were looking at Aera’s report on carbon footprints with sustainability metrics. If you’re a planner, operator, or logistician: how do you factor sustainability into the decisions that you make daily?
It’s great to have all these metrics, but operationalizing these into decisions that are optimised across multiple dimensions, is something that requires digital support.
How do you optimise for customer service levels, shipping, pricing goods, and more, with sustainability in mind? Yet, with Aera Decision Cloud™, you can see the factors that need to be adjusted — whether it’s rebalancing inventory or changing shipping methods — and how these decisions will impact outcomes. These are decisions that are too complex for a human operator to make.
Without Decision Intelligence, you cannot cope with the level of requirements and types of decisions that sustainability and compliance demand in a world that’s moving so fast.
INSTANT FRED INSPIRATION
1. What is your favourite book or blog and why?
I read all the time, but going back to when I was a teenager in Paris, I read The Great Gatsby, which was the start of my appetite for the US. I’ve not read it for 20 years, but it still sticks with me!
2. Who is your favourite inspirational leader and why?
Right now, it’s got to be President Zelensky — his leadership and passion are providing hope to all of us.
3. What is your favourite app or piece of technology?
I use the Seven app every day. You can do workouts in seven minutes which is handy for when I’m travelling, which is a lot.
4. What is your favourite cocktail?
5. What’s your favourite way to celebrate a success?
With a glass of wine!
1. Build technology that can scale massively.
2. The decision-making resource pool is shrinking whilst the decision-making demand is rapidly increasing.
3. Be agile enough to adjust to the ever-changing environment throughout your operations and ecosystem.
4. You can only compete with your vision, mission, and passion.
5. Creating is challenging in a hybrid environment.
6. Digitisation of decisions is a given and it’s going to transform the offices the same way the machines have transformed supply chains.
7. People want to work for companies that are embracing innovative technologies and new ways of working.
About Aera Technology
Aera Technology is the Decision Intelligence Company that makes business agility happen. Aera’s innovative cloud platform integrates with your existing systems to digitize, augment, and automate decision making in real time. In the era of digital acceleration, Aera helps enterprises around the world transform how they respond to the ever-changing environment.
Our industry is moving forward faster and faster, empowered by innovative, progressive digital procurement solutions created and led by inspiring teams. ProcureTechSTARS are the digital procurement company CEOs and Founders that are leading the change, they are entrepreneurs, engineers and architects collaborating to transform procurement and the enterprise. In an open conversation with these leaders Lance Younger will be discussing the highs and lows of building the future now, the challenges they’ve faced, their perspective on accelerators and hot topics, and what keeps getting them up in the morning (and keeps them up at night).