The Sourcing Emperor Has No Clothes!

Today’s guest post is from Dalip Raheja, President and CEO of The Mpower GroupĀ (TMG) and a contributor to the News U Can Use TMG blog.

As we pointed out in our last post (where we killed off the old sourcing process), Strategic Sourcing has always been fundamentally flawed. It clearly did not deliver the promised results years ago and it isn’t delivering the right results today. Furthermore, I would argue that the results that Strategic Sourcing is delivering may not be totally accurate because the unintended consequences that the function creates (more on this later) may actually destroy value. The current process is penny wise and pound foolish. That’s never a strategy for long term success. What we need is a new way of looking at this function. We need a set of next practices to elevate us beyond what current best practices recommend.

Now, there are many “defenders of the faith” who have argued, quite vehemently, that the TRUE process is not flawed; it was just never executed right. Semantics. What’s interesting is that not a single one of them has argued with our fundamental premise, that Strategic Sourcing has failed to deliver promised results and that it may have actually destroyed value along the way. I guess there’s no point in trying to change their minds as long as they agree, and they wholeheartedly do, that the traditional Strategic Sourcing process must be changed. Are you at least intrigued? Enough to at least join in the debate, regardless of which side you take?

As we alluded to in our last post, sourcing has always been focused on cost. And while cost cannot be ignored, a process that is rooted in cost cutting simply cannot be considered a strategic process for any sourcing organization. Cost has never been a long term strategy for most corporations. I’ll put it another way. Long term growth was never achieved on the foundation of cost cutting. And while we are not trying to use scare tactics generated by recent headlines outlining the major hiccups for some of the world’s largest and most admired corporations (like Toyota, Apple, BP etc.), a significant portion of the conversation around those blunders is focused on how squeezing costs out of either the supply chain (the entire system) or just the supply base (and there is a difference) was at the root of the problems.

Cost cutting is not viewed strategically (or favorably) by the rest of the Supply Chain either. If you think otherwise, then tell me, have you asked them? This might help explain the absolutely horrendous change management issues that we have all faced as practitioners. Cost reduction is not very high on the goal sheet of any of our major internal stakeholders, other than the CFO. And if it is, it’s either there temporarily or was imposed by someone else. What your stakeholders and their stakeholders will say is that they want Exceptional Business Results (EBR) that drive long term competitive advantage. Since the focus on cost or Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) ignores many of the other elements that contribute to EBR, it may actually be sub-optimizing the entire system. While I do understand that we have moved from the traditional three-bids-and-a-buy to using TCO calculations, risk analysis, supplier management, decision optimizing, and all of the other best practices out there that you can buy in cubes, magic boxes, checker boards and benchmarking quartiles, it’s still not enough! Since the initial goal of the process is cutting costs, it will always be like rolling a large boulder up the devil’s staircase. We lose the argument with the entire system before we even start the conversation because they see the goal of cutting costs as a threat to the rest of those elements in their system that are contributing value towards EBR. In most cases, they are right. Most of the time, Sourcing doesn’t even know what those elements are — forget about knowing what their impact is on the EBR. This also explains why Strategic Sourcing has never been fully integrated into the Supply Chain and why many still continue to think of those two functions as separate from each other.

In addition, the argument that we proposed almost ten (10) years ago, that the sourcing process cannot be strategic and competitive differentiator if everyone else is also doing it, still holds. Think about it. We are all using basically the same process, going to the same supply base and trying to extract the same leverage using the same techniques. What we have just described is a “commoditized” process. Beating down the same suppliers that all your competitors are beating down for the same 3-5% savings just isn’t strategic. Call it something else, but it isn’t strategic!

We can continue to differentiate ourselves on the basis of improving this “commoditized” process using best practices OR we can fundamentally alter the game by using a set of next practices. We can either compete against others or we can move our organizations to competition free zones. We can either benchmark ourselves against others who are all in the “commodity” world or we can re-define the measurement system so there is no benchmark for a while. We can either move up and down the traditional TCO curve or create and relocate to a totally different value curve. We can either defend our position in existing markets or create new markets. How great would it be to get the best terms for a contract without ever needing to negotiate? That’s what I’m proposing.

There are intended consequences and unintended consequences to all Strategic Sourcing decisions. Some of these consequences have a positive impact on the overall value while others have a negative impact. Some of these are known consequences while many are unknown consequences. Since the Strategic Sourcing process is based on TCO, it often only takes into account some of the variables needed to create Exceptional Business Results. As it stands, the Strategic Sourcing process is constrained from ever incorporating all of the variables mentioned above (intended consequences, unintended consequences, positive and negative, etc.). The result, many times, is a decision that clearly optimizes at the TCO level but sub-optimizes at the system level. (Exceptional Business Results Sourcing optimizes at a systems level). Tweaking the current process with best practices will certainly give you some benefits but it will clearly not lead to any type of sustainable transformation or EBR. For that you need next practices. And over the last year, we’ve created a suite of services to help our clients capture increasing value through each step-change of the Strategic Transformation. That is the summation of our argument.

While some organizations have clearly made very good progress in elevating the role and strategic importance of the sourcing / supply chain function, I think it is safe to say that we are nowhere close to being where we all thought we were going to be by now. Wouldn’t you agree? We will also be discussing this and similar topics on our own blog, News U Can Use. Come by and weigh in on the discussion!

Thanks, Dalip!

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