Daily Archives: March 7, 2011

Always Put Function Before Specifications When Buying

It makes no difference whether your organization is in the public sector or private sector and no difference whether it’s a service, product, or piece of technology. It goes double if the buy requires a (long-term) contract. And it doesn’t matter if there are government, health-and-safety, or other regulatory requirements (as these can always be worded in functional terms or shifted over to manufacturing or raw material requirements).

The reality, and Stephen Guth of the Vendor Management Office will back me up on this, is that as soon as you create a specification, you (essentially) lock in a (small set of) vendor(s). And just like 80% of the cost is locked in during the design phase of new product development (NPD), 80% of the price is locked in as soon as you limit yourself to a vendor (or two). Just like raw materials, components, and machines have relatively stable prices in a narrow band, your average vendor, with stable overheads, supply, manufacturing, and/or service delivery costs, has a relatively stable price band that its sales representatives will not be allowed to deviate from, often because the vendor cannot afford to because of its overhead cost.

Plus, it’s never about the product or service, but the value received from the product or service. Consider a tablet manufacturer. The end customer doesn’t care about the CPU, they care about the performance it delivers. Most customers don’t care if it’s AMD or Intel, just that the performance is on par with best-in-class. Consider outsourced back office accounting. Does it really matter what packages are used or how many resources are assigned to the team? No. What matters is whether acceptable standards are followed, how fast the monthly reporting is completed, and how much the service costs. And consider technology. When one is buying a new e-Sourcing system, the specific 400 features on the drop down lists don’t matter. What matters is whether or not it supports RFX, e-Auction, “What-If” Decision Optimization, and Contract Management; whether or not the workflows can be tailored and/or integrated to your existing Supply Management Systems; and whether or not it’s the most cost-efficient delivery model for your organization. The minute you use a “vendor-supplied” RFx or think you need 20 specific features is the minute a single vendor locks you in and doubles the price because no one else will have their specific feature list, but yet, for an average organization, ten off-the-shelf packages will be equally as effective for the organization in its quest to achieve Supply Management Value.

So forget the specs and focus on the function. That’s the best way to maximize value (and minimize sales person power).

Will Printing Bring Production Back Home?

A recent article over on Supply Chain Digest that asks how soon will “printed” parts revolutionize supply chains — and the world brings up a great discussion point when it notes that consumer product areas could be revolutionized by the approach and some people [are] wondering if the dynamics will, in some cases, lead to domestic digital production of some items versus offshore manufacturing in low cost countries. When you consider that 3-D printing is getting better, faster, and cheaper everyday and is already used to produce

  • aircraft titanium landing brackets
  • industrial gloves made out of nylon, stainless steel, or titanium
  • mobile-phone cases where the shape and colour is personalized for each user
  • dental crowns custom shaped to a patients mouth
  • medical implants

and that these printers can currently handle a wide range of materials including

  • plastics
  • glass
  • metal
  • ceramics
  • nylon

and that

  • 20% of the outputs are now finished products (and not just prototypes) and
  • 50% of the outputs are expected to be finished products by 2020

it makes a great case for moving to digital printing to keep costs down since the only costs are the cost of the machine, the room to put it in, the power to run it, the materials to feed it, and the engineer to come and do preventative maintenance after every X products. No HR costs for assembly workers and, most importantly, no exorbitant shipping costs, which are rising every day as the price of oil is now climbing again.

Plus, the ability to give each and every user a “custom” product without a price increase and still do mass production is enticing. It’s a great way to corner a market if your organization can do it first. And the supply chain can spend more time focussing on improving, and lowering the price of, raw material supply instead of renegotiating logistics contracts and battling fuel surcharges every six months. Furthermore, if a product can be printed faster than it can be air freighted half-way around the world, even if volumes are too high to be met entirely with a printing operation, it’s a great risk — and cost — mitigation strategy.