Daily Archives: November 19, 2007

the doctor Wonders Why The Elephants In The Room Are Often So Hard To See

This is sort of a continuation of last Monday’s blogologue where I wondered if the sourcing nation has a Prozac problem. While thinking about why the new solutions are being ignored when they should be the target of evaluations (and positive feedback, so that even if they don’t work for you today, they will tomorrow), it occurred to me that this is because there is a larger problem – the market is blind to what the true problems are, and most of the big vendors aren’t doing much on the user-education front. The reality is that if you don’t understand you have a problem, and in some cases a big problem, you won’t be looking for a new technology to solve it. Thus, the elephants in the room are often going unnoticed while the vendors focus your attention on the fuzzy bunnies.

In an attempt to make sure they don’t go unnoticed again, I’m going to pull down the blinds they’re hiding behind and expose you to three of the biggest elephants that your vendors might not want you to know about.

Optimization is not a set of reports that tell you the lowest cost supplier by unit cost or landed cost, the ability to calculate the cost of a random sample of award simulations and select the best one, or heuristically simplifying a model until you can run it in the framework provided to you by a third party provider that provides you with an engine – it’s the ability to allow an end-user to build a model that realistically models their situation, allows them to account for all of their costs and business constraints, and then solves that model using sound and complete optimization algorithms (such as those based on MILP) to come up with the optimal award across suppliers. Furthermore, it lets the user create multiple what-if scenarios to see what would happen if certain constraints were relaxed or new constraints were added and then lets the user compare those results side by side.

It’s not electronic invoice presentment and payment or supplier networks or e-Procurement that saves you time and money, it’s compliance – and that requires the ability to match invoices to items to contracts before an invoice is accepted and approved for payment. The fact that an invoice is from a vendor contracted to provide the items in question is not enough – office supplies distributors are notorious for overcharges and electronics vendors are notorious for not adjust pricing downward over time to insure their customers get the “best market price” that is in the contract.

Finally, when it comes to spend analysis, it’s the analysis! I don’t care how much cleansing, categorizing, and enrichment the latest product offers – it doesn’t mean diddly squat if you can’t do the analysis you need to do. Static top n vendors, top n categories, and top n commodity reports on one inflexible cube doesn’t cut it. You need to be able to build multiple cubes on the fly, on arbitrary dimensions of interest, and segment by range as well as rank. It’s not the top 10 suppliers with the greatest percent of spend, it’s the top 10 suppliers with the greatest variance in spend – chances are these are the ones overcharging you. It’s not the top 10 commodities with the greatest percentage of spend – it’s the top 10 commodities being bought off contract as this is where you need to curtail maverick spend first. It’s not the top 10 categories with the greatest percentage of spend, it’s the top 10 categories with the greatest variance in spend across departments or channels – as these are the ones that need better sourcing strategies.

So the next time someone tries to sell you a comparative reporting toolset on top of a simulation engine and pass it off as optimization, ask them these questions. The next time someone tries to sell you a supplier network or EIPP solution as the answer to all your procurement compliance problems, ask them how it automates three-way matching between invoices, goods receipts, and contracts and tags those invoices for human review that are questionable. And the next time someone tells you it’s all about the cleansing, say “no thanks, I’m looking for solutions, not religion“.

Sustainability Should Be Soldered Into Your Platform

I think we can all agree that sustainability is important – very important. You might be in business to make money, but the only way you’re going to make money is if you stay in business. The only way you’re going to stay in business is if you’re sustainable, because, otherwise, you risk running out of resources, money, or, and I’m not kidding, customers. The earth is finite, so it stands to reason that there is only a finite amount of any resource. A company has a finite amount of money, and wasting it is the quickest path to going out of business. Today’s consumer is concerned about the environment – harming it will drive them away, and with no customers, you have no business.

So how do you achieve this magic of sustainability? Well, you can achieve it the same way you achieve everything else in business – hard work, perseverance, and ingenuity. But the real trick comes in sustaining sustainability – and the best way to do that is to have not only supporting processes and methodologies, but a supporting platform as well.

A supporting platform can help you keep track of your initiatives which can range from your office recycling program to your global waste reduction initiative. Recycling efforts within a single large office building can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. As noted in Building the Green Supply Chain, the Boulder Community Hospital reduce, reuse, and recycle program saved the hospital $600K a year. On a global scale, Walmart saved 2.4M in shipping just by reducing packaging requirements. And Interface Inc, in their effort to move to a zero environment footprint, have saved more than 260M in the first decade of their sustainability program.

More importantly, it can also help you get control of your global sustainability initiatives when it comes to environmental impact reduction, social responsibility, and prevention of animal cruelty. Unlike internal waste reduction initiatives, which often do not exceed the complexity of making sure the used toner cartridges were shipped back to the manufacturer, global sustainability initiatives require you to also insure your supply chain does not violate the initiatives you commit to. Just because you don’t have a sweatshop, pump out toxic emissions in excess of the Kyoto protocol, or skin cows alive does not mean that your suppliers do not.

In order to insure that you have a supply chain in compliance with your initiatives, you have to track relevant information from your suppliers and have them track the corresponding information from their suppliers. This is an insurmountable challenge unless they can provide you with the information you need directly into your systems, as the average large company has dozens, if not hundreds of essential tier 1 suppliers and thousands of less critical suppliers. This requires a web based platform capable of securely collecting, storing, indexing, aggregating, and unifying all of the relevant information from each supplier.

Furthermore, depending on where you want to do business, sustainability might be more than just an initiative – it might be a fact of life. If you want to do business in the EU, you need to comply with REACH and RoHS, and possibly half a dozen other directives. California has introduced its own green legislation, and parts of Asia, suffering from severe pollution as a result of the rapid build up of manufacturing capability over the last few decades to meet the demands of American and European multinationals focussed on low cost country sourcing, may not be far behind. You have to not only maintain all of the documentation necessary for compliance purposes, but have to be at least 99.999% certain you are in compliance before making a shipment into the region. If even the tiniest removable part of your electronics system, such as the removable power cord, is not in compliance, your entire shipment could be blocked, seized, or destroyed.

This dictates the need for a platform that tracks not only all information related to your sustainability programs, but all product related information from raw materials through final production. This is the only way to minimize your risk of non-compliance. That’s why Aravo is Sourcing Innovation’s Vendor of the Week. As one of the first companies to offer a Sustainability Management Solution (SMS) tightly integrated with a Supplier Information Management (SIM) solution, I think they deserve to be recognized for tackling such an important problem.