Daily Archives: December 10, 2007

the doctor Goes Mental On Optimization Myths

In my last post, I went mental on three of the most dangerous myths out there with respect to e-Auctions. In this post, I’ll attack some of the more brain-dead myths that are out there with respect to optimization. For more great information on decision optimization, I recommend checking out the e-Sourcing Wiki paper (Strategic Sourcing Decision Optimization: The Inefficiency Eliminator) that was originally authored by the doctor, the doctor‘s joint podcast with Next Level Purchasing (Part I and Part II and Free Transcript with Editorial Notes brought to you by Sourcing Innovation and NLP), and the posts in the Decision Optimization category here on this blog.

Myth 1: I need a PhD to use optimization!
It used to be the case that you needed an advanced degree to use the overly complicated command-line tools that represented the first generation of commercially available optimization products, but that hasn’t been true for quite some time. Today, companies like Emptoris and Iasta offer very simple wizard-driven user-interfaces that can be driven by any business analyst or sourcing professional which are often easier to use then your ERP or BI tools!

It’s literally as simple as selecting the relevant auction or RFx data, defining your demands for each item at each distribution center, identifying invalid freight lanes, specifying supplier capacity restrictions, identifying any business rules (such as dual-supply, 70-30 split) and defining any discounts or “preferred award” valuations (if I buy from Quality Delivered, the joint marketing campaign will be worth $10K). Then you click “optimize” and the optimal award for your scenario is spit out. If you don’t like it, you can copy the scenario, add or remove some constraints, and see what your idea of an optimal award is costing you and make the smart decision.

Myth 2: I can’t afford optimization! It’s too expensive!
Having been involved in this industry for a while, I know that early solutions were very expensive – usually starting in the seven figure range for an average company. But that’s true for every new generation of technology, software or hardware, it’s costly at first, as companies need to recoup their massive R&D investments, but gets cheaper over time. Today, a mid-size company can get a true enterprise quality strategic sourcing decision optimization solution for its sourcing department starting in the quarter-million to half-million six-figure range – and this will include a (shared) C-Plex license and (shared) dedicated hardware resources if they use an on-demand model such as that offered by Iasta.

Myth 3: My problem’s too large / complex for optimization.
Again, the technology has come a long way in the last decade. Not only can massive problems (which couldn’t have been solved in months a decade ago) now be solved in a matter of hours, but the types and quantity of constraints available have greatly increased. If your model is truly humongous, just remember that both CombineNet and Algorhythm regularly solve problems that take millions of variables and hundreds of thousands of equations to specify. As for complexity, even the solution by the relative newcomer, Iasta (which has adopted a best-to-market strategy) supports the four basic categories of constraints required for true decision optimization (capacity, allocation, risk mitigation, and qualitative), flexible discounts that will allow you to implement just about any cost structure you can devise, and freight costs for a true total landed cost model (as you can also define adjustments to capture utilization costs).

Myth 4: We’re very sophisticated when it comes to e-Auctions. We’re not going to save enough money with optimization to make it worthwhile.
Wayne Campbell said it best when he said and perhaps monkeys will fly out of my butt!“. Although it’s theoretically possible that you could be making the perfect buy – every time – without any decision optimization, in reality, the chance that this is true is about as close to 0 as you can get. I’ve NEVER encountered a situation where optimization didn’t provide a company with a cost savings opportunity in any moderately complex bid (and, these days, what bid is not moderately complex?). Furthermore, Aberdeen has found, both in their 2005 study AND their 2007 study, that advanced sourcing and negotiation methods, which includes decision optimization, saves a company an average of 12% beyond what they would save just using e-Auctions. That’s a lot of cash you’re leaving on the table.

There are more myths, but this is a good start – and hopefully enough to convince you to check these solutions out. Decision optimization for strategic sourcing is worth the investment.

Supply Management in the Decade Ahead IV: Impacts to Business Models & Strategies

In Part I of our review of Succeeding in a Dynamic World: Supply Management in the Decade Ahead, we overviewed the various external forces that will impact a company’s supply chain. In Parts II and III we took deep dives into the eight major forces that were identified specifically by supply managers who took part in the survey. In this post, we will address the impacts that these forces, and others, are going to have on business models and strategies in the decade ahead.

According to the report, the following five strategies, designed to improve the financial performance of companies and impact both their income statement and their balance sheet, will be the most salient in the decade ahead.

  • Focusing on Cost Competitiveness
    Due to the constant increase in available products from developing economies with low labor costs and the need to offer products and services at lower prices in developing markets, companies will need to take an extreme cost management focus. This means that supply management will have to achieve year-on-year cost reduction targets while developing supply strategies to offset or dampen the effects of unfavorable commodity price swings.
  • Aggressively Managing Resources
    The prediction is that many companies will be focused on increasing the return on their asset base and will choose assets that can be managed in such a way as to maximize productivity. Simultaneously, they will choose to reduce their asset base by outsourcing manufacturing and business processes or reducing working capital such as inventories and receivables. They may also invest in businesses with higher returns while exiting business with marginal or low returns on assets. Supply will have to find sources of capital equipment that is flexible, has high uptime, and that can be competitively leased rather than purchased. It will be increasingly involved in VMI (Vendor Managed Inventory), consignment inventory, and pay-on-use or pay-on-shipment inventory plans.
  • Pursuing New Revenue Sources
    Businesses will pursue revenue growth over the next decade through a combination of incremental and radical changes to their business models. A major challenge will be the need to enter emerging markets and compete against low-priced domestic markets to increase, if not maintain, market share. Supply will be tasked to find suppliers that can support growth strategies such as innovation and global expansion.
  • Targeting Specific Customer & Market Segments
    Same old, same old and supply will need to find suppliers that can support shrinking product life-cycles and constant innovation as well as suppliers with market-specific knowledge and the capabilities to manage the upstream supply chain to insure it adheres to sustainability and regulatory requirements.
  • Improving the Level and Speed of Innovation
    First to market will continue to be an important, and profitable, business strategy. Supply management will need to identify suppliers that can support shrinking product life-cycles and constant innovation while bringing knowledge of changing consumer tastes.

There’s no surprises here … and very little change from the state of affairs today. Companies have been focussed on cost-competitiveness for quite some time, have already begun to aggressively manage their resources to maintain that cost competitiveness, have always pursued new revenue sources, and have been targeting specific customer and market segments aggressively for at least the past 50 years! The only noticeable change is that innovation will have to continue to be sped up on a regular basis to allow a company to compete at the same level it is competing at today.

What I would have liked to see is some more aggressive predictions on the strategies that are likely to emerge over the decade ahead. For example, I predict the following trends will begin or continue through the next decade and that some early adopters who get it right will gain massive advantages over their competition, at least in the short term:

  • Vertical movements towards Keiretsu
      A keiretsu is a set of companies with interlocking business relationships and shareholdings. As private equity firms continue to take public companies private at an aggressive pace, they are going to look for ways to to maximize the value of their continually expanding portfolios. Some will pursue vertically oriented strategies and encourage their companies to form synergistic business relationships that will start to mirror the traditional Japanese keiretsu system.
       In addition, as certain verticals continue to come under intense competition from new entrants, public companies within those verticals will start to band together in an effort to more effectively compete as a group than as a set of completely independent entities. Although this will not be a widespread strategy, it is likely to emerge in the near future.
  • Increased Niche Specialization Around Talent Pools
    With talent harder and harder to come by in developed economies, some companies will choose to focus only on one or two business functions (for which they have an unusually large talent pool compared to industry norms) and literally outsource every other aspect of their business. Just like some major brands today outsource almost everything to contract manufacturers and do not own much more than their brand, the offices their employees work in, and the equipment they use, more and more companies, including non-brand name ones, will adopt this model. Some will specialize on design. Some will specialize on integration. Some will specialize on the manufacture of a single, common, component. You’ll also see this model in consulting as well – some of the bigger players struggling to survive in the more aggressive global marketplace will spin out or sell off divisions until they are focussed not only on one or two offerings, but often niche plays within those offering. For example, it won’t be just engineering design, or even automotive engineering design, but automotive frame engineering design.

In Part V, we will address the new and expanded missions, goals, and performance expectations for supply management as identified by the report.