(Spend) Analytics vs. (Decision) Optimization

I had a very interesting conversation with Eric Strovink, my co-author of the Spend Analysis and Opportunity Wiki about the power of analytics and how they can reduce the complexity of award optimization when applied after an RFP or Auction to the point where, in his view, optimization might not even be needed at all.

Most of you probably think advanced analytics, like those provided by BIQ, are only for Spend Analysis. In this regard you’re wrong. Dead wrong. But I understand why. Most spend analysis products are built on the idea of one cube built on historical transactional data merged from the ERP, AP, and any other spend database you have in your posession, spend, and augmented with external sources – which is then essentially frozen (even if it is updated daily with data). The good ones come with dozens of built in best-of-breed reports, and allow you to build hundreds more – but on that one cube. Therefore, you can’t use it on your RFP or auction data, because it’s pre-award data – and not the transactional data that’s allowed in the cube.

But what if instead your organization had a spend analysis product that allowed you to build a spend cube any time you wanted – on any data you wanted – on any dimensions you wanted – and then throw it away when you’re done? Then there would be nothing to stop you from building a cube on your RFP or Auction data, building reports by supplier, by cost, or by property (minority supplier, quality, historical on time delivery), building cross tabs and tree maps, and then changing the cube to look at the data a different way.

You wouldn’t need optimization or a plethora of deterministic reports to find out who the lowest cost supplier was, who the highest quality supplier was, who the lowest cost supplier was relative to your quality metric, or any other query that can easily be answered by rank and cross-tab queries.

You’d still need optimization, because it couldn’t tell you the best way to make the 50-30-20 split between three top suppliers subject to your qualitative and on-time delivery requirements when your freight costs vary to each local ship to location, but it would greatly simplify the optimization process. First of all, you could easily see which suppliers do not make the cut in quality or in on-time delivery metrics and eliminate them with a couple of rankings. Then you could quickly analyze total cost rankings based on presumed 100% awards to each suppliers and quickly determine that you could only do the split between three of the top five bids, since the rest of the bids are just too high consider. Furthermore, you could eliminate the need for the quality or on-time delivery constraints since you have eliminated all suppliers that do not meet the requirements. Now you have reduced model size and model complexity, and significantly decreased solve time.

In addition, with all the insight you are able to gain with true analytics on the RFP or Auction data, you are much more likely to get the model right the first time. No more running a model, getting a solution, deciding the solution doesn’t quite work, adding a constraint, and running again. Furthermore, you no longer have a need to run a model with the just the quality constraint, or just the on time delivery constraint, or just the 50-30-20 constraint to determine how each constraint impacts the “best award”. For a sophisticated model where you might have run a few dozen what-if scenarios in the past to understand the interaction of the various costs, factors, and constraints in your quest to build the “right” model, you might now only need a few what-if scenarios to get it right.

And, more importantly, optimization becomes a lot friendlier. You know you have the right data, you know you have the right costs, you know you have the right factors, and you know you have the constraints. In other words, you know you have the right model – which means you know you have the right answer, even if you are a novice! No longer do you need to rely entirely on the math to get it right – the math is only needed in the final step!

That’s Spend Management 2.0! (Sorry Tim.)