(Strategic Sourcing Decision) Optimization: Can you afford NOT to do it?

Last week at reSouce 2008, Iasta provided 5 optimization case studies of recent projects that they did for, or in conjunction with, their e-Sourcing clients (who have free access to basic Decision Optimization in a basic suite license as well as access to enhanced Smart Optimization, with extensive freight support that includes support for LTL and TL at buyer-defined freight brackets, for an additional fee). In one of the projects, they only saved a measly 5.5%! That’s only 55,000 of savings for every 1,000,000. Pocket-change to your CFO, right?

Well, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m being sarcastic. Iasta not only proved the twice-discovered Aberdeen result that optimization saves 12%, on average, above and beyond e-Auctions, but that, for categories with untapped opportunities, this doesn’t capture the true savings that can be extracted from categories that can’t be efficiently analyzed without optimization. Although two of the projects were below 12%, at 7.0% and 5.5% in the worst case, three of the projects were not only above average, but two were considerably above average, clocking in at 35% and 40% savings, respectively. The first project was a new national roll-out for Dairy Queen, who would have spent 29% more had they gone with their pre-optimization strategy for award distribution, transportation, and inventory management. Instead, they walked away with approximately 1.8M in savings while reducing analysis time by over 2/3rds. The second project was a national award of temporary labor contracts for a large insurance company who would have spent 25% more had they used their traditional spreadsheet analysis methodology. Instead, they walked away with 20M in savings AND reduced the analysis phase by over 75% – completing a project that normally took over a month in less than a week. Furthermore, the project that only achieved 18.2% savings was also quite significant – as it was on a 110M hardware category for Conoco Phillips – who also walked away with over 20M in savings. I say “over” because the 75.6% cycle time reduction they achieved also allowed them to capture an additional 1.6M in savings because they were able to complete the project in 2 weeks, instead of the usual 6+ weeks.

Thus, I must ask you again – why aren’t 75% of you even considering optimization? Can you really afford to leave millions … if not tens of millions … on the table when prices are skyrocketing across the board, revenue is falling, and your job is on the line? Especially when a savings of even 5% on a 2M-3M category can be the difference between the company being able to afford your salary over the next year? (And, to be honest, the chances of you not racking up a cost avoidance of at least 5% with optimization on any category of even moderate complexity are quite low.)

Is it because you think it’s hard? Although I would have conceded this point to you even three years ago, and would still concede this point to you if you are using the wrong vendor who still believes that everyone can use a mathematical programming language interface, the fact of the matter is that some vendors, like Iasta who has put a lot of R&D into making optimization usable by the average buyer over the last few years, now offer solutions that you can be up and running on with only a day or two of training. Now, it’s true that you won’t master some of the more advanced features that quickly, but when even the basics will shave 5% to 10% off the total cost of the award, that’s one heck of a good start and your mastery will improve with each project you do. Furthermore, now that most vendors with UI-based optimization products, like Iasta, now offer you a multitude of options to get started, which include full service and guided support in addition to self-serve, you are free to start at your level of comfort. And when buyers with only a few months under their belts are creating scenarios beyond what people like myself could envision as model designers, and suggesting enhancements that experts like myself (who have been designing these types of solutions for eight years now) never even thought of, you begin to understand that it’s really pretty easy compared to the state of affairs of a few years back.

Of course, you do have to know what you are doing – and as I pointed out above, you do need a little bit of training. But it’s often a lot less training than you think, especially if you’re a self-starter (which you should be if you’re in sourcing these days) and willing to take steps to self-educate. In addition to readily available buyer-training (most vendors will give free demos, free support, and schedule training on short notice for their customers – and do it on your site if that’s what you want), there are also a number of resources out there that you can use to begin to understand what optimization is, what it can do, and how you can begin to use it. There’s the optimization archives on this blog, the optimization archives on e-Sourcing Forum, the optimization wiki-paper on the e-Sourcing wiki (which also forms the basis for the chapter on strategic sourcing decision optimization in the e-Sourcing Handbook), the Next Level Purchasing podcasts (part I and part II), and the extended transcript with commentary (as well as the introductory purchasing tips article). And your vendor, with extensive experience, will be able to help you identify relevant issues for any project you wish to undertake.

It might take a little bit of effort initially, but when your analysis time is reduced by 50%, 66%, and even 75%, it will be more than worth it … especially since successive projects will be faster still as you’ll already have the data templates ready for future projects as well as the basic scenarios you need to build and compare defined. Plus, you’ll have to do less projects to meet your savings / cost avoidance targets … which means that you’ll hit your bonus faster. And, if nothing else, isn’t that reason enough for you to take the leap?


As I have already fully disclosed, Iasta is a client and I am responsible for much of the model that their product (and Smart Optimization in particular) is based on, but the UI innovations are entirely Iasta’s, as are the results reported.

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