Monthly Archives: November 2011

De-Mystifying Economics

A few months ago, Bob Rudzki pointed out a great article on economics that appeared over on the Talking Points Memo (TPM) site this summer where the CBO Schools Tea Party Freshman on Basic Economics.

The article, which reprints a letter from Douglas W. Elmendorf, CBO director, starts off by noting that changes in government spending can affect the economy in two different ways: in the short term, by changing demand for goods and services and over the long run, by changing the potential supply of goods and services. Then it goes on to note that economic activity can deviate for substantial periods from its potential level in response to changes in aggregate demand and that increasing government spending can increase aggregate demand and thereby narrow the gap between the economy’s actual and potential levels of output. But most types of government spending have this short-run effect on demand and changes in government purchases and transfers create demand-side effects that are usually only temporary because they raise or lower output relative to what it would be otherwise only for a while because, over time, stabilizing forces in the economy tend to move output back toward its potential.

In other words, government intervention has only a temporary effect and can not be depended upon to increase demand for your products in the long term. In order to increase demand, you need to understand that demand — which is the desire to own, the ability to pay, and the willingness to pay — is dependent upon price point. It could be the case that while only 100 people want your product at $100, 100,000 could want it at $80.

Thus, if the organizational goal is to increase demand, the price point will have to be effectively lowered — and if the organization is going to get through tough times, it’s going to be dependent upon supply management to either reduce costs, increase quality, or find a way to offer more (value-add) features without increasing the price point. That’s why supply management is one of the most critical functions in today’s enterprise and why they need better tools and technologies to achieve their goals. And a few SCRAPS to help them keep the focus to get there.

Logistics Managers Need Scraps Too!

A recent white-paper by Management Dynamics Inc. on Current Trends and the Potential for Automation in Transportation Management noted that better informed decision-making on freight route planning, carrier selection, shipping scheduling and costing, load planning, guidelines compliance and auditing, invoicing, and reporting results in greater logistics operational efficiencies yields significant cost savings. No surprises here. We’ve known that for a while.

The research further shows that many shippers have yet to automate these critical freight management and transportation procedures. No surprises here either. That’s why we have leaders and laggards. Leaders have automated many of these procedures, or are at least working on automating these procedures, and laggards are, sometimes, still using phone and fax, like they did BC*.

The research also found that one fourth of survey participants claims their company spends more than 15% of their overall revenues on freight transportation shipping efforts and the percent paid out on international freight services is also considerable. This is to be expected considering how many companies decided to outsource half a world a way and the recent spike in oil prices (as well as piracy off the Somali coast). Similarly, only one fourth of respondents automates mission critical applications for calculating rates and selecting routes and carriers. The leaders do it, the laggards still do three-bids-and-a-buy. Finally those [shippers] that do [use a contract management solution] are lowering their transportation spend through improved carrier selection, fewer errors and risks, and greater compliance with approved shippers.

So what’s the problem? Especially when solutions have existed for most of the functions for almost a decade? Simply put, the logistics managers are overwhelmed. In order to manage a shipment, as alluded to in the first paragraph, a logistics manager needs to be aware of the contract (in the Contract Management System, CMS), the spirit of the bid (included in the bid package contained in the Request for Proposal, RFX), the rationale behind the selection of new lanes (which stems from the optimal model, stored in the Strategic Sourcing Decision Optimization solution, SSDO); get the current rates (from the Transportation Management System, TMS), calculate the number of LTL or FTL loads needed (based on product weight and volume, contained in the Product Life-cycle Management solution, PLM), gather the necessary data for the manifests, import, and export documentation (contained in the Global Trade Management solution, GTM); generate the shipping order and goods (in a customized e-Procurement solution, eProc), receive status updates (through a Logistics Management solution, LM), accept the invoice and make a payment (through a Procure-to-Pay solution, P2P), and insure the goods are recorded as current inventory (through the Inventory Management System or Warehouse Management System). Let’s recap, they need to be fluent with CMS, RFX, SSDO, TMS, PLM, GTM, eProc, LM, and P2P solutions, at a minimum, plus any systems that their 3PL and freight providers use to provide data, any enterprise resource planning (ERP) or manufacturing resource planning (MRP) solutions that contain data they need or capture data their internal customers want, and any visibility and risk management solutions used by the Supply Management group as a whole. For an average logistics manager with an Associate’s Degree, at best, who started his career where it was just a matter of getting a truck to the loading bay on time, this is overwhelming. Instead of making his life easier, modern supply management technology has overwhelmed him.

He needs a solution that not only tells him what he needs to focus on today, but that identifies where the data, and only the data, he needs is in these various systems — with wizards or workflows that take him through what he needs to do. And until he gets it, he’s going to defend that fax machine with his dying breath.

So if you really want your TMS, WMS, LMS, or 3PL system to gain widespread adoption, remember to throw the old-school logistics manager a few SCRAPS. If you do, you might find that the state of the industry changes seemingly overnight.

Rampant M&A Does Not Indicate the Demise of Best-of-Breed

On the contrary, it symbolizes the emergence.

But let’s back up. A few months ago, Supply Chain Digest, with a piece on the Consumer Goods Supply Chain Landscape asked if Best of Breed [is] a Dying Breed. Noting an increasingly accelerated accelerated spate of mergers and acquisitions among leading supply chain best-of-breed solution providers, they called into question the long-term efficacy of some of these solutions, as well as the viability of these software companies themselves on the premise that there would soon be no best-of-breed vendors left for a consumer goods manufacturer to choose from.

If there were only N vendors, and the rate of M&A kept increasing, then, yes, we would reach an end-state where there were no best-of-breed vendors left. But this reasoning ignores one very important reality — most startups chase the biggest opportunity, which is typically where they perceive the most action to be. If the most action is in the M&A of best-of-breed, then new companies will see the most value in being best-of-breed and, as a result, we will soon see the emergence of a whole new slate of best-of-breed vendors. And while it’s true some won’t be sufficiently capitalized while others won’t hit upon the right technology, leading to their untimely demise, the reality is that a fair number will make it and that some of these, by the law of large numbers, will be even stronger than the remaining best-of-breed players today.

So, while the choices may be limited for the next year or two, the reality is that the number of options available to your average CPG manufacturer will soon explode. As for the other concerns, they’re not too worrisome either. Let’s take ’em one-by-one:

  • vendor future uncertainty
    Manugistics and i2 were considered market leaders and potential acquirers, not acquirees but were still acquired. The reality is that even a billion dollar enterprise can be swallowed up by a larger company, or, as a few spectacular acquisitions have evidenced, go from market leader to an almost forgotten business unit (like Netscape and Lucent) so this is not a concern restricted to best-of-breed.
  • ongoing support
    As most best-of-breed players have moved to (multi-tenant) SaaS or update subscriptions, which keep a customer on the current version, support is not the issue it once was. Plus, most will agree to code escrow, so, even if the vendor went away, the product could still be supported. Plus, once a best-of-breed vendor reaches a certain size, a number of consultancies acquire a competency and while resources might be expensive, support resources are not unattainable.
  • risks
    No solution is without risk. And a small best-of-breed vendor can be more financially stable than a large aggregator leveraged to the max and highly dependent on aggressive sales targets to meet payroll.

So don’t lament the recent M&A binge of best-of-breed players. It only means that new ones will arise and that more innovation is, eventually, on the way.

Supply Chain Realtime Adaptive Priority Solutions — Where Are They?

In these uncertain times, what the supply chain really needs is Supply Chain Realtime Adaptive Priority Solutions, SCRAPS. Reading article after article that reiterates the age-old need to reduce risk, conserve cash, and target the most-fruitful opportunities first while simultaneously reading article after article about the same-old technology, with no innovation in sight, I am starting to look for the SCRAPS.

After asking who is going to upset the market in 2011, and seeing nothing but solution renovation from a few vendors in 2011, I’m not only wondering where the innovation is, but why for the most part (outside of a few vendors who have been improving their existing platform offerings greatly), there have been no (fundamentally) new technologies for a couple of years now. (Even though I know the answer in a lot of cases, and it’s NDA.)

We need something, even if it is only SCRAPS. And, to be honest, SCRAPS might be just what we need. Given the growing plethora of technology platforms, suppliers, geographies, internal customers, and market segments that we need to manage with very limited resources, we need a better way to stay on top of what is most important — TODAY, tomorrow, and the day after. And it’s no longer as simple as simply tracking promised award dates, contract expiry dates, order dates, shipment dates, delivery dates, promotion dates, and other dates of interest.

If a print media campaign has been delayed because a product has been delayed, how important is it to make an award today? If the contract expiring is for plant watering, is it really urgent? Especially when you could just hire a high school kid to come in once a week. But if you need seven days lead time to get those all-beef patties and you’re supporting restaurant operations where all-beef patties are 40% of orders, unless your cube is on fire, you better get that order in. Similarly, if you’re in the apparel industry and a ship date has been missed, given the lifetime of fashion, you better be ready to jump on a plane if necessary to find out what happened. And if a shipment you need tomorrow gets held in customs, you need to know about that right now, not in two days when the product doesn’t show up as expected. And you better be cognizant of when marketing decides to hold its promotions and be prepared to shift your priorities appropriately. If demand doubles, the last thing you want to do is stock out.

Thus, we need technology solutions that can re-organize and re-prioritize tasks and issues that need your attention based upon what’s the most important today, taking into account risk and opportunity (with immediate risks and short-term opportunities getting the highest priority), and not based upon traditional project timelines. And, more importantly, we need solutions that can take the different tasks and risks being captured by your sourcing (spend analysis, RFX, eAuction, optimization, contract management), procurement (requisition management, invoice management, P2P, etc.), transportation and trade (document management, 3PL & transportation management, regulatory compliance management), and risk management solutions and integrate them into a cohesive picture of what is important now, short term, and long term and that can “calendar” them into daily, weekly, and monthly priorities so that you can focus on what’s important, ignore what’s not, and find time for long term strategic planning (by only focussing on real fires and not prank smoke bombs).

Thoughts? Do we need a few SCRAPS?

CBTM #2: Our People Are Our Key Asset

Today’s guest post is from Dalip Raheja of The MPower Group, who declared that Strategic Sourcing is Dead last year, and who has returned to stir up a new hornet’s nest.

Our people are our key asset! How many times have you seen this on the walls of major corporations? If this is true, then should we be applying some sort of asset maximization strategy to this key asset? I would assume that any expenses (training, coaching, recruiting, etc.) associated with maximizing this key asset have a very high priority and are one of the last items cut from budgets? By the way, how much of your capital dollars are you allocating to this asset? To truly embrace this thinking, you have to adopt a mental model of viewing your organization as a consulting company whose only value producing assets are the employees. In our last post, we laid out the case for Talent Management. In this post, we will address Competency Based Talent Management (“CBTM”) and then talk about some of the key issues in developing and executing a CBTM strategy.

The first step is determining the Intended Consequences (“IC”) of your Sourcing/Supply Chain organization. These ICs need to be directly derived from, and tied to, the overall corporate objectives and strategy of the company. Are you an organization measured by the year-over-year price savings that you get from your supply base while reducing lead time and improving quality? Or are you an organization that is measured by the impact you have in reducing sales cycles, increasing margins on existing deals, and streamlining the time to market of new product introductions? Think of this as defining the market you are trying to serve as a consulting company. Are you aspiring to impact tactical and operational Value Drivers or are you also looking to directly impact the overall corporate goals and strategy and therefore be a direct part of the elusive CEO’s agenda? That will help you determine the required characteristics of the asset base you will need to deliver on the Intended Consequences. This role definition then becomes the foundation for your desired competency model. From there, it’s on to determining where you are today, the gaps between where you are today and where you need to be, and then making sure that you have an asset maximization strategy in place that is funded for the next 3-5 years to close the gaps. Voila! All done! Obviously it’s a bit more complicated than that and we will be happy to share a very detailed model and an approach to getting it done. Here are a number of challenges that you should be aware of:

  • Commit only when you can deliver to expectations.
    CBTM will raise the expectations of the employees so make sure you are ready to launch and deliver.
  • Designing the solution is only a start.
    Focus on the adoption issues and invest as much in them as in solution design, if not more.
  • Competencies are applied skill and knowledge towards the Intended Consequences.
    The focus has to be on demonstrated application whether you are recruiting or promoting.
  • Shortage of talent is a symptom, not a cause.
    Apply systems thinking to the entire life cycle of Talent Management (recruiting, training/development, performance evaluation, career development and succession planning). Otherwise, you will always be recruiting.
  • Hold your direct reports accountable for success of CBTM.
    Ensure it’s in their goal sheets in a meaningful way.
  • It’s not a tactic — it’s a strategy.
    Account for appropriate time for the strategy.
  • Think asset portfolio maximization.

In our upcoming posts we will address some of the Next Practices associated with each of the five phases in the Competency Based Talent Management life cycle.

If you are interested in getting involved or would like to follow this topic further, here are a series of critical activities coming up:

  • Release of the results of the Executive Forum we just facilitated at the IACCM Global Forum for Contracting & Commercial Excellence on Talent Management.
  • A major research project to not identify the problem one more time but to identify Next Practices to solve the problems.
  • A webinar with IACCM on CBTM.
  • A White Paper to focus on Next Practices in CBTM.

Please contact Crystal Jones at crystalj <at> thempowergroup <dot> com for more information.