Optimization Backed Sourcing Platform … Or Bust Part III

This is the third part of a five part series that revises and ties together key ideas outlined last year on Sourcing Innovation across multiple posts. Regular readers will be familiar with much of the content, but the integrated perspective should help to cement the ideas in regular readers and new readers alike.

This post is largely based on It’s Not Optimization, It’s Strategic Sourcing.

In our last two posts we outlined a complex scenario that could not be accomplished with a traditional sourcing suite that was just a loosely coupled set of modules that did basic sourcing tasks and provided many reasons why the power of the suite did not even come close. Simply put, we have not only reached the point where it is impossible to define a sourcing event of any magnitude without hitting at least a few of the nine dimensions of complexity but we have also reached the point where the data collection, manipulation, and analysis requirements are so intensive that only a sourcing solution built on, and backed by, a true optimization engine is going to be able to handle the data, manipulation, and analysis required.

Now, we’re not saying that the right strategy for every event is optimization, but we are saying, as per SI’s already classic paper on Optimization, What Comes Next, that we have reached the point where you cannot determine the right strategy without optimization to at least build and solve a baseline cost model given current market prices and expected bidder increases or decreases from the last event to determine whether or not optimization might be helpful.

For example, while a 3% savings potential might be enough for a (strategic) sourcing auction or optimization-based multi-round RFX, a 3% drop in expected product cost does not necessarily imply a 3% savings potential. If that drop is from remote suppliers that ship down lanes where costs have risen 10% and shipping is 30% of the overall total cost model, there is likely no savings potential. The right strategy is likely a renegotiation with the incumbent for a contract extension or a spot market buy. Similarly a 2% drop in price combined with a 5% drop in logistics costs could equate to a 3.5% savings potential under the right circumstances, which is substantial on a 50M+ category.

Plus, with bundled discounts, volume discounts from suppliers and carriers that take effect at different price points, different import and utilization costs for each supplier, and an ever increasing plethora of capacity constraints, mandatory award splits to minimize risk, secondary goals of minimal environmental impact, and so on, it’s often impossible to determine what the lowest cost solution is and, thus, if the cost increase associated with assigning a (greater percentage of the) award to a preferred supplier seen as being more valuable in the long term is actually worth it.

In many situations, there’s just no way to do a strategic analysis and justify a strategic decision without a basic level of true mathematical optimization capability that can take all costs and constraints into account. Spreadsheets were breaking under the strain of basic sourcing requirements years ago. Now these sheets are just shards of glass — which will eventually cut you if repeatedly handled.

That’s why you have to not only graduate from a suite to an integrated sourcing platform but, when you do so, select one with integrated optimization capability. While you won’t need to use optimization in every event, you’ll always have the option and always be able to use the advanced mathematical capability to determine both the savings potential and, sometimes, even the odds of success (as you will be able to iterate through dozens of what-if scenarios based upon expected supplier and carrier bids and proposals).

But while we have clarified why traditional suites, built from a set of loosely integrated modules, are not modern sourcing platforms ready for complex sourcing, we have not clarified why many of these suites cannot be upgraded to sourcing platforms. We will address this in our next post.

Optimization Backed Sourcing Platform … Or Bust Part II

This is the second part of a five part series that revises and ties together key ideas outlined last year on Sourcing Innovation across multiple posts. Regular readers will be familiar with much of the content, but the integrated perspective should help to cement the ideas in regular readers and new readers alike.

This post is largely based on It’s Not a Suite, It’s Just Sourcing, Part II.

In our last post we made the rather bold claim, which is probably going to irk a lot of vendors, that it’s NOT a Suite, It’s JUST Sourcing. SI likes vendors that are trying to build solutions to solve their customers’ pain points, and has chronicled the efforts of many over the years, and thus isn’t doing this series to be irksome. SI is doing this series because it’s not 2005 anymore, it’s 2015 and the nature of, and need for, Sourcing has changed as global trade has become more complicated, supply chains have lengthened, risks have increased, and sourcing has become more complex. Today, sourcing absolutely has to be more strategic and Suite Sourcing is NOT Strategic Sourcing. In today’s post, we’re going to begin to clarify why.

Our last post outlined a hypothetical, but realistic, example in the high-tech space, discussing a typical, primary, sourcing event for a company that assembled custom-built high-end workstations for software developers and engineers. We started by discussing the primary factors that the Sourcing analyst was likely to identify as well as two strategies the analyst was likely to take. This led to a perceived event progression and a plan that looked like it was easily executable in you average modular sourcing suite. We did this to make it clear why many companies fall for the fallacy that you can attack sourcing in a step-wise fashion using a modular suite, and, as a result, why some vendors still believe that a modular suite is the way to go. The reality is that, at a quick glance, it does look like this is the right approach and that there is no reason to question it — even though there is a big reason. Namely, the approach is wrong.

The reason being is that, in reality, the event is not going to go as planned.

Specifically, it will not be an analysis followed by an RFP followed by a single auction / optimization analysis followed by a push into the contract management system. One or more, with emphasis on the more, of the following will happen:

  • the RFX will come back and some of the requested bid fields will be empty because the supplier is no longer producing the product
  • the RFX will come back and there will be new products that the buyer did not know about with new bids (and new interdependencies to be mapped)
  • the logistics carriers will come back with quotes much higher than expected and/or a logistics carrier or 3PL will withdraw (due to overcommitments) and lanes will vanish
  • stakeholders or key customers will change requirements post RFX issue and you will have to go back and ask for prices on next generation products, which might still be in final design stages
  • the baseline optimization will come back with completely unexpected results and once the analyst uses spend analysis to dive in, the analyst will find a number of outliers in the incumbent bid and realize that she has to go back and ask for verified or corrected data
  • the auction will end with three suppliers almost equal on baseline scoring and extensive analysis will be needed to determine which supplier gets 50%, which supplier gets 30%, and which supplier gets 20% in the 50/30/20 split dictated by the stakeholders to minimize risk

In these situations, respectively

  • the analyst will have to identify a larger supply base and send the RFX to more suppliers
  • the analyst will have to research the new products and decide whether to accept them or not and then, possibly, ask the supply base to bid on (comparable) products in a revised RFX
  • the analyst will have to invite more carriers to bid and consider alternate lanes, possibly from secondary (air)ports to secondary (air)ports
  • the analyst will have to create revised specs and go back to the supply base for additional prices and options
  • the analyst will have to backtrack to the spend analysis step on the submitted data, followed by a request for bid verification and a repeat of the optimization on revised data
  • the analyst will have to go back to the analysis step to identify which bid components were strongest for each supplier and then compare that to existing supplier scorecards (to determine likelihood of on-time delivery, quality guarantees, price consistency, etc.)

In other words, the event is not going to go as planned and it’s not going to be a sequential progression from analysis to RFX to auction/optimization to award. Moreover, most events are going to see multiple occurrences of the above hiccups and require an almost random workflow that uses all of the sourcing capabilities of a suite multiple times.

Moreover, the transitions back and forth will need to be seamless. If an analyst has to push data out of the optimization “module” into the “analysis” module for detailed data and outlier analysis, then push the data, with insights, back into the “RFX” module for revised RFX data collection, and than push the revised RFP data back into the “Optimization” module for revised analysis only to find out that the lane cost is coming out higher than expected in the preferred award, indicating that there is still an additional opportunity if logistics costs can be lowered, then this “modular” workflow quickly becomes a nightmare.

Plus, in this situation, the analyst will have to do an in-depth analysis of the logistics cost to determine if costs can be lowered simply by inviting more carriers to bid, analyzing primary and secondary lanes, or doing something progressive like using the organization’s sourcing expertise to help a provider lower their overhead with better insurance rates, communication plans, and office & computer supplies from the organization’s GPO contract. Then, after this analysis has been done, which will likely take the form of multiple what-if optimizations using various cost models, the analyst will have to go back to the RFP, issue the revised RFP with more options to current and new suppliers, push the data back into the optimization module and continue.

In a modern sourcing project, one cannot separate data collection from cost modelling from analysis from bidding from optimization — it is all one integrated sourcing process that lathers, rinses, and repeats until the solution is found and the event is done. And any provider that thinks you can separate pieces out and take a modular, piecemeal approach and build up to a suite, one module at a time, is still living in 2005 and should be approached with caution. It’s not a suite, it’s just sourcing. And, as indicated in our previous post, and as will be discussed in more detail in a future post, it’s not optimization, it’s strategic sourcing.

Optimization Backed Sourcing Platform … Or Bust Part I

This is the first part of a five part series that revises and ties together key ideas outlined last year on Sourcing Innovation that were spread across multiple posts. Regular readers will be familiar with much of the content, but the integrated perspective should help to cement the ideas in regular readers and new readers alike.

This post is largely based on It’s Not a Suite, It’s Just Sourcing, Part I.

For a while now, Sourcing Innovation has been effectively saying that if you do not have an optimization-backed sourcing platform, you’re not ready for the modern era of complex sourcing. And SI means it. This isn’t to say that you can’t get value from a modern suite that covers the end-to-end sourcing lifecycle, or that you can’t get value from a first generation optimization platform, because you can — especially if you haven’t had these solutions before. However, every last-generation solution has a limit on the value it can deliver. Some of these limits are low, and some of these limits are quite high — so high, in fact, that it can take years, and sometimes a decade or more, for the average organization to hit the ceiling. But once that ceiling is hit, the organization has to know what comes next to continue extracting value from the supply chain. So this is a post about what comes next for the average organization and, most importantly, what comes now for the leaders who have already realized that their first generation optimization modules and / or first generation suites are failing to deliver the value they need today.

The reality is that, these days, Sourcing needs to be much more strategic and is thus not an activity that can be accomplished as a discrete set of loosely connected tasks where you can pick and choose what you need ahead of time. Strategic Sourcing is an activity that needs to both analyze the need and the market situation and respond to the stimuli the market is providing in a dynamic fashion.

This can not be done according to a pre-planned, limited set of tasks. To clarify, let’s take a hypothetical, but realistic situation. Let’s say that the company is a high-tech retailer selling custom assembled high-end development boxes to software development and engineering shops. This company will not be buying pre-configured Dell and HP machines, targeted to the consumer market, but custom configured boxes using high end motherboards, which may be manufactured by the same production houses that manufacture boards for companies like Dell and HP, high end Intel and AMD processors, ultra-fast high density DRAM, high-end solid state drives, mid-tower cases with extra fans, etc.

This might sound like a relatively easy sourcing event as there are a relatively small number of acceptable motherboard manufacturers, DRAM manufacturers, drive manufacturers, case manufacturers, and only two chip manufacturers, but even 5 * 5 * 5 *5 * 2 = 1350 and each manufacturer might have over a dozen acceptable options — and it’s hard to say up front how many of these combinations are not only viable, but acceptable (as even though it might be feasible to connect the components, there might be driver or other issues that affect compatibility or performance). In addition, new manufacturers arise once in a while and old manufacturers fail or sell out. Last year’s customer spend pattern is not the same as the spend pattern two years ago, and until year-over-year is analyzed for multiple years, you have no idea of the average deviation.

In other words:

  • you may or may not need a pre-event spend analysis to determine potential volume leverage points, the opportunities with supply base consolidation, and expected savings potential, all depending on when the last event was run, how much data you have, and current market data points
  • you may or may not need optimization; if you restrict the bid to pre-configured systems, because business is up 40% and you need a quick event to get through the rest of the year with plans to do a more detailed analysis in 6 months, you can probably get away with a weighted auction, but if bid options are open, you will probably need optimization to handle all the data
  • you may or may not need multiple RFX rounds, so you may or may not need a supplier portal to handle the communication necessary for a multi-round event

And this is all fairly obvious, so you are probably thinking

  • if I need the analysis, I invoke the spend analysis module, get my insights, and plan my strategy
  • then I invoke the RFX module to create the RFX
  • if I am doing multiple rounds — I have to configure the Supplier Portal instead of just sending out the Excel spreadsheets (which I would import on return otherwise)
  • when the data is retrieved, validated and cleaned up then I either
    • push it into the auction for a weighted auction or
    • push it into the optimization module for optimization-backed analysis
  • when I have my winners, I push the data into the contract management module for draft contract creation

… easy-peasy, right?


This is the real world, and it never works this way, as we will discuss in our next post.

Societal Sustentation 48: Workers’ Rights

Now, as we discussed in our original damnation post, this shouldn’t be a damnation because worker’s rights are a good thing, and, assuming one is ethical, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with giving workers the respect and rights they deserve. The problem is, as we previously stated, is that, in the corporate world, not everyone is ethical. Not only do we have to deal with the fact that 1% of the population are psychopaths, but the fact that the top four professions that attract psychopaths are the people who run the corporate world, namely:

  • CEOs
  • Lawyers
  • Media / Publicists / PR / Marketers
  • Salespeople

The only other profession absolutely necessary for a company of any size to survive is an accountant to keep the boxes and make sure they are in order when the tax man comes knocking. In a nutshell, your company is evil, and the only real question is how evil on the scale from skim a bit off the top to sell guns to a known guerrilla group that will use them to commit mass genocide.

And if your company is just a little bit evil, then you know for sure that somewhere, lurking in the shadows of your supply chain, is an organization that is likely so evil that it is using child labour, slave labour, and mistreating both in the process. One has to remember that not all countries have good workers’ rights laws, and this is true of developing countries in particular, and anywhere the men with guns and money have more power than the elected officials, it doesn’t always matter what laws are on the books.

All that matters is that, with the introduction of various anti-human trafficking acts around the world, such as the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act and the UK Modern Slavery Act, if your supply chain uses slave labour, your company is on the hook. Thus, as a Procurement professional, you have to be sure your supplier is compliant, and that they make their suppliers compliant.

And forcing your suppliers to sign a paper that they will comply with your fair labour and fair wage policies isn’t enough, especially if they are outsourcing the work or using multiple locations (unbeknownst to you who only sees the primary “show” location which, just like a model home, isn’t the real thing).

First of all, you investigate them through third parties. Contact companies like Ecovadis and Sedex Global that collect and collate third party and NGO data on suppliers to see a history of their sustainability and ethical practices. Make sure there have been recent audits by trustworthy third party organizations that advocate worker’s rights and that those reviews have passed, contacting additional organizations if you need to. Force the supplier to sign a contract stating that they are fully aware of the regulations you must conform to with respect to worker’s rights and that not only will they follow and adhere to all regulations for their workforce, but that they will only work with suppliers who accept the same. Moreover, they accept full legal liability should they fail to do so and are responsible for all costs borne by your organization should workers’ rights violations occur, be it fines from a government organization, legal defense costs, or reimbursement for goods seized. (And make sure the contract is legally binding in their country and that you can enforce it in their court of law.)

Secondly, monitor on an ongoing basis. Maintain a subscription to at least one organization that regularly reviews, and collates ethical data on, the supplier in question and monitor for any indications that not all may be above-board.

Third, include a mandatory provision that the contract may be immediately terminated for breaches of mandatory worker and human rights by them or any supplier in their supply chain. And don’t be afraid to follow through and shift demand to the secondary supplier the minute a breach is confirmed.

It’s probably not enough, but it’s a start.