Daily Archives: September 7, 2011

Innovation in Sourcing

Today’s guest post is from Chetan Raniga, who is General Manager, Americas at Trade Extensions.

As someone who’s been in the strategic sourcing field for over ten years as a consultant and product manager, it’s been interesting to see the rapid evolution of sourcing solutions over the past few years. Leading solution companies now realize that users need solutions that feel familiar; that’s why Excel integration is common among leaders in the supply management arena. It’s the same reason Coupa has screens that almost mirror Amazon.com — providing an interface and workflow that’s both familiar and intuitive. Another example is the use of dashboards — the charts and alerts in Trade Extensions remind users of Mint.com, a popular personal finance site, though they show vastly different types of data!

Here are some other changes for the better:

Collaboration and Workflow:
The sourcing solutions of the past were extremely tactical (e.g., automating the process of running an RFQ or auction for a specific category), and therefore, didn’t give buyers the ability to share ideas, exchange documents, and view the real-time status of their sourcing initiatives. Now, platforms provide robust project management capabilities with Gantt charting, custom workflows (e.g., only have new suppliers go through the qualification step), document sharing, and Skype-like chat features. A buyer can see exactly which suppliers, team members, and stakeholders are online, and instantly communicate with them. Audit trail and logging capabilities have also gotten stronger, which is important for the confidence of both buyers and suppliers in using these platforms. Multiple teams are now using these platforms to share data. For example, a Direct Materials sourcing group can incorporate freight pricing from a tender conducted by the Logistics team. The group can use the platform to determine which items will use the suppliers’ freight (delivered pricing) and which will use the 3rd party carriers’ freight (FOB plus freight).

Systems of the past didn’t provide the flexibility that we have today in collecting inputs. Labels such as ‘Price per Unit’ would be hard-coded or the cost formula would only support a limited number of operators and functions. Data entry was also cumbersome and error-prone since it involved either manually entering or copying-and-pasting vast amounts of data. Today’s solutions integrate with Excel, so that existing data and formulas can be easily leveraged. For example, item, demand, and cost component data stored on separate Excel spreadsheets can be uploaded with one click. Even better, some solutions allow users the ability to customize the supplier’s bid form. This is critical to change management since companies can continue to use their existing bid forms in the bid gathering phase but obtain the decision support and reporting benefits in the analysis phase. These improvements have led to even shorter RFQ/P creation times.

It’s also now possible to run auctions with optimization (a step forward in utility from the original concept of reverse auctions), and to run RFQ/Ps with feedback — blurring the line between RFQs and auctions but also going further by providing custom feedback (e.g., a custom message of “Not Competitive” is shown when the bid is x% greater than the median price).

Usability in the Analysis Stage:

The one sourcing area that has lagged in adoption has been the use of optimization (which the doctor has defined as the application of one or more rigorous analytical techniques to a well-defined model to generate the absolute best decision from a multitude of possible alternatives in a rigorous, repeatable, and provable fashion). It sounds complicated, and in the past it really was. For example, if a customer wanted to see what the result would be if all the business went to incumbents at their current proportions, then she’d have to create a rule limiting allocation for each item and affected supplier. That’s painstaking when you have a couple of hundred items — but most projects had thousands of items! Nowadays, in a modern optimization solution (which include the solutions by Trade Extensions and BravoSolution), the buyer just selects one rule, written in plain English (as shown below).

Even better, new platforms allow buyers the ability to create rules in Excel and then upload them. In the example below, the buyer is setting limits by plant and supplier simply by completing a table.

The solutions of the past didn’t offer much in terms of reporting. Most had a couple of pre-defined reports that exported to Excel. Buyers had to spend additional time modifying the reports — even changing labels and creating pivot tables — before they could present the results to their peers and managers.

Solutions today have made major strides in this area. Leading spend analysis tools (which include BIQ as well as Trade Extensions) allow users to create custom reports that can be saved as templates and re-used. The ability to choose specific dimensions (rows), columns (facts), and other information means that users no longer have to go outside the system for further manipulation. Some tools even allow the ability to drill-down/up on data (e.g., view allocation data by country first, then by region, then by state, and finally by city/plant).

We have heard buyers comment that their analysis time is shortened by three-and-a-half (3.5) weeks on average by using the new decision support and reporting capabilities mentioned above.

Thanks, Chetan!