Daily Archives: February 2, 2011

Retailers Are Struggling with Cost vs. Value

According to a recent article over on the National Retail Federation’s Retail’s BIG Blog, retailers will continue to be challenged by balancing the demand for value and keeping prices down. In addition, seventy-six percent of participants said the top supply chain strategic initiative for 2011 is cost reduction/cost containment. This should not be a surprise. It’s the tail end of a lingering recession, thanks to the jobless recovery — and this translates into less dollars in customers’ pockets to spend. Raw material and transportation prices are going up again, and this translates into higher costs. Unless the value is there, customers are not going to spend.

However, this does show the heightened need for next generation sourcing techniques throughout the supply chain. Retailers need to get the right high-value products on their shelves at the right price. Manufacturers need to source the right high quality materials at the right price. Material suppliers have to source the right high-value components at the right price to process the raw materials. And each has to insure that the materials flow up the chain at the right time to minimize inventory and distribution costs. Not easy without systems and processes that keep the modern value chain in sync.

BravoSolution Masters High Definition Sourcing with the Business Centre

Yesterday’s post introduced us to BravoSolution‘s Next Generation Sourcing paradigm that they call High Definition Sourcing. Built on their Collaborative Sourcing framework, BravoSolution’s High Definition Sourcing paradigm realizes that for collaborative sourcing to be truly effective, the following additional requirements must be met:

  • all affected parties have access to the tool and can contribute relevant data,
  • data entry must be as simple as possible,
  • data that already exists somewhere else on the platform need not be reentered at any time, and
  • selected data must be capable of being pushed out with a single click to any tool on the platform that requires it.

In other words, BravoSolution has realized that the ultimate key to long-term e-Sourcing success on an e-Sourcing platform is usability — and usability is more than simply letting people enter data in an Excel spreadsheet and upload it through a browser. It sounds simple, but the sad truth is that it takes an average enterprise software company (at least) ten years to realize what usability really means (and some never figure it out). And even though the more progressive enterprise software companies realize after about five years that usability is important, it still usually takes them a few tries to get it right (if they even try).

The big problems with first generation suites are:

  • the monumental effort required to define an event for a high-value or complex category where a considerable amount of price and non-price data elements are required,
  • the subsequent monumental effort to collect all the data, and
  • the monumental effort to do it all again when the category has to be re-sourced.

If the tool does not allow the buyer to create an event template (and many of the low-end first generation tools still don’t have this ability), then the buyer pretty much has to start from scratch next year. This is one of the biggest limiting factors of wide-spread tool adoption. If it takes weeks (or months) to do an event, then the Supply Management organization can only do a few dozen each year.

The key to e-Sourcing success is a platform with the ability to:

  1. define an event of a known (category) type with the click of a mouse,
  2. dynamically determine minimal data requirements (and allow a supplier to define as little or as much data as they want, or need, to),
  3. but still handle as much data as can be thrown at it, while the platform tools
  4. make use of and manage existing data.

While most of the progressive e-Sourcing platform providers recognize the first two requirements, and have some capabilities in that regards (usually by way of templates and conditional RFIs), only a handful can handle massive amounts of data well. Most providers haven’t figured out the right way to use and manage existing data — for which there are a couple of valid approaches.

Supplier masters or MDM (Master Data Management) is not enough because, where events are concerned, there is the need to collect and manage multiple rate sheets, term sheets, and bid sheets and to maintain these over time. A supplier will have standard quotes by region or mile, bid sheets for certain high-volume lanes, and then specific quotes for a buyer if a certain volume is agreed to on lanes the supplier is best capable of servicing. All of these rates are valid depending on the situation — and all should be maintained. Furthermore, each set of bids should be usable in any and all events (and scenarios) where they are valid. And in a well-designed tool, it should be trivial to attach the bid sheet to the event (or scenario in the event). And I mean attach, not import. Most tools import, which creates another copy of the data, which is not automatically updated if the supplier creates a new rate sheet that has to be maintained separately. That’s okay if the buyer wants to create a “what-if” scenario and manually override bids, but if the buyer just wants to use standard rates, it’s not acceptable.

In a well designed tool, a buyer will be able to create and run an event simply by selecting an event category (which will load the workflow that has already been defined), defining a few dates, inviting suppliers (from a known list), and populating the event by selecting all of the appropriate data already in the system (current/standard quotes, KPIs, volumes, etc.). Creation of a simple or low-value category, when everything about the buyer’s procurement and shipping preferences are already known, should be a single click, just like checking out on Amazon.com. And the most complex of categories should only take a few hours to configure. No one has days (or weeks!) to create an event any more, and with the workflows known, standard questionnaires in the system, and standard pricing and last year’s responses already known, all a buyer should have to do to create the event is define any changes (in volume, delivery location, sustainability, etc.) from the last event and all a supplier (who has bid before) should have to do is define any changes since last year. The only effort required should be in the analysis, and even that should be partially automated (as the standard price and change reports should be run automatically as well as the baseline, basic rules, last-year’s allocation, and comparison optimization scenarios). A buyer shouldn’t have to work, only think, because that’s what the organization is paying its top Supply Management professionals for.

BravoSolution has figured this out and created their Business Centre where a user can not only log in to their management console (complete with dashboard) to see what they are doing, what needs to be done, what has been done, etc. but can also manage all of the events and data in the system (and, if they are a power user administrator, customize the workflows as appropriate). When a user wants to create an event, they select a category type with a click. They can then add suppliers with a few more clicks, attach last year’s data or standard bid sheets with a few additional clicks, import supplier performance data with another click, and, if enough data is already in the system, run starting reports and baseline scenarios before a single supplier responds. It’s a simple concept (that many first generation e-Sourcing platform providers continue to overlook) with a powerful implementation. But what is even more impressive is how it’s easily integrated with the custom RFX category workflows and how much value this gives a buyer. Tomorrow we’ll discuss one of BravoSolution‘s pre-packaged category RFXs, that they have created by working with leading Supply Management organizations over the years, and discuss how easy it is, with the right platform at the organization’s disposal, to take Sourcing to the next level.