Daily Archives: September 29, 2009

Is China Starting to Clean Up its Act?

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from Dick Locke, Sourcing Innovation’s resident expert on International Sourcing and Procurement. (His previous guest posts are still archived.)

There’s an interesting discussion going on over on Spend Matters about whether or not China is manipulating its currency. Well, I think it’s interesting because I’m participating. I don’t believe pegging a currency to the US dollar meets a normal definition of “currency manipulation.” Your mileage may vary, of course. The discussion can be found in last Friday’s Rant.

One of the other participants brought up the issue of China’s poor environmental standards. That’s true, as has been true of all developing countries. Back in the late 60s, Tokyo was one of the more polluted cities on earth. Traffic police wore oxygen masks. Electronic signs in Ueno and other places posted the CO and CO2 levels in the air. By the mid 80s the place was pristine. No outside pressure was brought to bear. The Japanese just got fed up and fixed the problem. It usually takes some degree of economic development before this starts to happen.

I’ve always hoped the same thing would happen in China. It looks like it’s starting to happen. I’m glad, because China is too big for the environment to continue to accept their volume of pollution. Most importantly, it’s happening because of internal Chinese policies, not foreign pressure. Thomas Friedman has a column in today’s New York Times titled “The New Sputnik“. It’s about Red China becoming Green China. (You can read the opinion for yourself.) Friedman is less than totally optimistic, saying pollution is going to continue in parallel with development with solar and wind industries. He also points out that the US seems to be missing this market and most solar cells are coming from China already.

Dick Locke, Global Procurement Group.

Service Leaders Speak: Ben Scott of The Claro Group on “The Opportunities Provided by The Great Recession”

Today’s post is from Ben Scott, a manager with The Claro Group.

As the country and economy slowly awaken from what some experts have called ‘The Great Recession‘, procurement managers are presented with a unique opportunity to take advantage of the changes to their suppliers’ landscapes. Undoubtedly, many suppliers have felt the pinch from the last few years but yet are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Nonetheless, as many suppliers look around today, these suppliers notice that the competitive landscape that used to exist has been dramatically altered. Bankruptcies, mergers, acquisitions and continued globalization have played a part in changing the supplier landscape both domestically and internationally. However, now that a turn-around appears to be underway, supply management professionals should review their supplier agreements, research the supplier marketplace and determine what categories are ripe for sourcing.

One such category that has seen its economics change, while being prevalent at many companies, is temporary labor. Over the past two years as unemployment has increased, the temporary labor talent pool has improved proportionally. As a buyer of temporary labor, an increased supply yields two distinct benefits. The first is courtesy of Adam Smith’s invisible hand where supply and demand has depressed wages. The second is that more capable workers are readily available and eager to prove themselves.

Once it is clear that there are benefits to be captured, the supply management professional should determine the most effective sourcing approach. Through a well thought out approach, a supply management professional can capture significant benefits. A supply management professional can choose from techniques such as incumbent negotiation, request for proposal or reverse auction. From recent history we have found that incumbent negotiations coupled with an RFP to gauge the marketplace is a very effective method for capturing savings. Regardless of the sourcing method you choose, keep your eyes on the pay rates and mark ups. Also keep in mind non-price savings mechanisms such as a volume based rebate program. In addition to hard cost savings, the supply management professional can capture more talented temporary help. The cumulative result is paying less on a per hour basis while getting greater efficiency out of the temporary labor that is brought in.

A second category that has become more prevalent over the past few years is corporate cards (“p-cards” or “T&E” cards). Traditionally p-cards were not thought of as a category that was “sourceable”. However, as supply management professionals have searched for additional areas in which to create value for their organizations, p-card negotiations have become more popular. At first glance it seems counterintuitive to think that banks and financial service companies would be willing to “come to the table”, however, our recent experience tells a different story. Banks are looking to rebuild their client portfolio with companies that have a proven track record of earning profits and generating cash. Therefore, if your company has a healthy balance sheet, this is a good time to place your p-card business into a competitive environment. Once again the recession and nascent turnaround has played a role here. The federal government has pumped billions of dollars into the financial system with the instructions to begin lending that cash out to businesses to restart the engines of the economy.

If you believe your company can stand to improve its corporate card agreement, the first step is to begin discussions with your current incumbent. However, often times an incumbent won’t really offer much value until there is the threat, real or perceived, that it stands to lose the business. That is why, unless extraordinary conditions exist, executing a RFx and entertaining bids from other suppliers is recommended.

The two examples used in this article are just the tip of the iceberg. Nearly every supply management professional will have responsibility for categories that have seen dramatic shifts similar to those illustrated here. The first, and arguably the most important, step in capturing savings is to understand the dynamics in the supplier marketplace. Constant monitoring of supplier marketplaces is a best practice that all supply management professionals should practice, but the benefits of such activities can be magnified in times such as these. By staying in tune with changes to your suppliers’ landscape, supply management professionals will be able to act quickly when opportunities such as these present themselves.

Thanks, Ben.

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