How Do We Solve the Top Procurement Challenge?

A few weeks ago, we mused on what is the Top Procurement Challenge when the average Procurement organization has so many challenges to deal with and indicated, for many organizations, the top, immediate, procurement challenge might be to align Finance and Procurement on the ROI of platforms and processes Procurement wants to implement for the good of the organization because, in many organizations, not only do we have the situation where Procurement don’t get no regard, but we also have the situation where they don’t get no money for essentials either, trying to survive on life-support when over half of organizational spending goes through them and organizational livelihood depends on them.

But how do we accomplish this alignment? How do we align Finance and Procurement on the value of good Procurement processes and platforms when everyday Finance sees proposals from various departments proclaiming mega (but unrealizable) savings and has an instinctive negative reaction to any savings claim put in front of them. Especially when Procurement and Finance don’t speak the same language. As far as Finance is concerned, a model only depicts savings if it is described in terms of ROIC (Return on Invested Capital) or ROE (Return on Equity) against the organizational balance sheet. It has to include not only financial outlays and expected cost reductions but overhead, indirect costs, assumptions, and potential variations due to unexpected interruptions.

The model has to be conservative, all risks have to be clearly identified, and the best and worst case savings ranges have to be precisely defined, with conservative estimates all the way. The savings process has to be outlined, the timeframes (especially if implementations and integrations have to be accomplished) and ranges have to be specified, and contingency plans have to be defined for delays. Only then will Finance even listen and start to take Procurement seriously.

But even then Finance may not understand how Spend Analysis or Decision Optimization can save 10% or more. Especially when previous investments in “analytic” technology resulted in glorified reports that resulted in no savings and previous investments in “auctions” supposed to “optimize” spending with the market, which had limited success in the beginning, ended up increasing organizational costs when demand started to exceed supply and inflation returned.

And convincing Finance might not always be the best idea because explaining that Procurement is not doing an optimal job might result in negativity, or even hostility, from Finance that might believe Procurement is doing a very lousy job if 10% savings are feasible. Finance might not be capable of realizing that sometimes global sourcing scenarios are so complex that it is literally impossible to get a grip on everything in a spreadsheet and there is no way any human can find an optimal solution to a complex sourcing problem without a sophisticated decision optimization tool that might have to analyze millions of possible award scenarios to find the best one. Nor can any human attempt to make sense of millions of transactions with a real spend spend analysis system that allows the user to cube, slice, and dice the data in a myriad of ways looking for patterns that simple reporting systems will forever miss. Procurement could be doing an exceptional job under the circumstances but still be leaving 10% on the table — 10% that can never be claimed without proper technology.

It’s a puzzler to say the least.