There is lots of debate in the blogsphere about what is strategic sourcing — whether or not it’s dead, alive, or a zombie. Over the past several months, discussions with consulting firms, large/small enterprises1, and technology vendors has revealed a few items:
“It’s called Strategic, but its not used Strategically”
Strategic sourcing, for the most part is seen as a procurement function, and typically, a transactional process leveraging tools such as RFx and Reverse Auctions in a tactical manner. Some large consulting firms who offer services, treat Strategic Sourcing services similarly and mainly are utilized as “staff-augmentation”. For manufacturing organizations, where materials can be 60%-80% of cost of goods, sourcing of direct materials needs to be approached as a Supply Chain challenge. Take the direct materials at the point of consumption and work backwards in the supply-chain several tiers, and understand costs. When the Supply Chain is worked cooperatively with suppliers, an organization can ask the question “How we reduce each others costs without adversely impacting each other’s margins”?
The Starting Point
One area missing in many Strategic Sourcing processes is a clear understanding of objectives of the process, the organization, or even a sourcing event. Is the focus on cost? A quick answer can be yes, but further details shows that enterprises are balancing cost with quality, supplier performance, and a host of other factors. A large consumer goods company recently awarded contracts which were 10% higher than the previous year to a different supply-base, due to very poor supplier performance the original supply base the prior year (late shipments). The objective of that sourcing event was shifting to more reliable suppliers while keeping the cost of the category within 15% of the previous year. Therefore, a 10% increase in costs actually exceeded expectations.
How are some enterprises leveraging Strategic Sourcing? They are leveraging strategic sourcing initiatives in other areas of their business.
Product Design Process Understanding cost structures, supplier capabilities and/or metrics when in the design process and adjusting as needed pays large dividends, since changes later on during the product lifecycle can results in much higher costs or longer innovation cycles. A consumer electronics manufacturer recently had to eliminate a product launch, due to the fact that a critical component, which was cost-effective at lower volumes, was more expensive at higher volumes, thus causing the product’s profitably to fall below acceptable levels.
Manufacturing Knowing which suppliers adversely affect production can be key in understanding qualitative factors (such as cost) vs. quantitative factors such as quality. If a specific supplier is 5% less expensive than others, but, due to inconsistent quality, causes lower yields, is that 5% in savings costing 10% in other costs such as product re-do’s, overtime, or waste?
Supply-Chain Strategy. By having extended supply chains, organizations now off-load much of development and manufacturing of their products to third parties. Should organizations take back some of this manufacturing, perhaps a final assembly step, in order to drive cost savings, perform better customer satisfaction (by offering custom final assembly), or achieve other objectives?
Is Strategic Sourcing Dead?
For some organizations, it may as well be, since top-performers leverage Strategic Sourcing in manners described above, or in other ways, thereby outperforming their industry peers. These top performers also take a multi-year view. For example, in year 1, develop an understanding of the cost structure of key materials or components. In year 2, leverage this knowledge and work with those suppliers who can attack the key parts of cost, lowering the overall cost of a product, thus increasing profitability, or maintaining profitability as the organization faces price-pressures. In year 3, the organization may start to drive out cost by (1) aggregating specific key components across it’s supply-base, (2) taking positions on these components in commodity markets, and (3) requiring the supply-base to purchase these components from the commodity positions.
1 Primarily Manufacturing firms in a variety of industries: Hi-Tech, CPG, Process, Oil & Gas, Pharmaceuticals, Discrete Manufacturing, etc.