What the Hell is Automated Spend Analysis?

While reading a “must-read” post on “next generation spend analysis” (which shall not be named or linked to because it was not must read and contained no useful information on spend analysis, and definitely did not contain anything that would make it next generation), the doctor encountered the claim that automated spend analytics yields spend intelligence. Now, despite claims to the contrary, there aren’t that many technologies in the Supply Management world that truly deliver spend intelligence (and that’s probably why there are only two advanced sourcing technologies that have been found to deliver year-over-year returns above 10%, namely decision optimization and spend analysis). Moreover, nothing about these technologies is automated — they require a skilled user to define the models, do the analysis, and extract the insights.

So if someone is claiming a technology offers spend intelligence, that perks up the doctor‘s ears. And if someone is claiming it offers spend intelligence and is automated, that really gets his attention because if it’s real, it deserves to be shouted from the rooftops, and, if it’s not, shenanigans must be called on the charlatans. And even though calling shenanigans on the charlatans won’t stop them, as proven by the fact that repeated exposes have been done over the years on mediums (who claim to talk to the dead, but really don’t) and televangelists (who claim God is telling them to raise money for personal jets even though they aren’t even religious, and if you don’t believe the doctor, then please feel free to donate to Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption), at least the truth will be out there for those willing to look for it.

the doctor knows what automated spend reporting is, what automated spend refresh is, what automated spend cleansing and enhancement is, and what automated spend insights are, but what the hell is automated spend analytics? And how does it provide spend intelligence?

So, the doctor did some research. According to a meritalk blog post, which defines it as a must for every Federal agency and which appears to be using Spikes Cavell’s spend analysis technology, it is the automated data collection, cleansing, classification, enrichment, redaction, collation, and reporting through cloud based systems, which makes sense, but this isn’t spend intelligence. This process will turn data into a collection of facts that provide the analyst with knowledge, and maybe even actionable insight, but not without human intervention.

A human will have to look at the reports and identify which opportunities are real and which are not. Simply knowing how much is spent by Engineering, spent on cogs, spent with Cotswell’s Cosmic Cogs, and shipped by Planet Express is not providing an analyst with any real intelligence. Knowledge on its own is not intelligence. Knowing that the average price paid per cog was $1.50 when the market price for the same cog appears to be $1.30 is not intelligence. Intelligence is know that the price of steel is projected to continue to drop due to an influx of new supply and a fall in current construction projects, that in a month the price is expected to be $1.20, that the best time to lock in a long term contract will be in six to eight weeks just before the steel price hits the expected low point, and how to go about sourcing that contract to get a long term price at or below $1.20.

Rosslyn Analytics, who claimed to launch the world’s first, and fastest, fully automated cloud-based spend data integration service, defines it’s platform as a web-based automated spend analytics platform, defines spend intelligence as an 8-step process that starts with planning and includes a detailed data analysis phase, both of which require human intelligence to complete.

Further searching turns up a post on Capgemini’s Procurement Transformation Blog from 2013 that clearly states that on their own, the analytics tools cannot interpret the data so the tools must be programmed and algorithms developed which “tell” the software how the data should be mapped and that even though we have now reached a level where human interaction with a data analysis tool is diminishing … human intervention is still required to tell software what can be learned.

These are just three examples where bloggers, consultants, and solution providers all agree that while much of the spend analysis process can be automated, human intervention is still required to extract intelligence out of the facts that the tool identifies.

There is no automated spend intelligence, and any claims to the contrary are false. the doctor sincerely hopes that this is the last time he sees this phrase, because if he ever sees it again, a rant of epic proportions is sure to follow (and fingers will be pointed)!

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