They’re a tool in a machine. Saying you trust a catalog to manage your spend is saying you trust a hammer to pound that loose roundhead nail back into the wall stud. It can, but only in the hands of a reasonably skilled laborer who can hit the nail on the head at an appropriate angle to drive it back in (and not bend it, knock it out, put a hole in the wall or knock himself unconscious on the recoil.
Similarly, a catalog is only going to serve its purpose and deliver value in the hands of an appropriately trained buyer or employee who knows how, and when, to use it.
And the fact that a spend management company had to pay Spend Matters to run an article that made clear 3 reasons catalogs can’t be trusted to manage low-value spend shows that, despite all this talk about strategic sourcing, category management, digitization (or any other flavour of this overused, always misunderstood buzzword you care to imagine), and cognitive procurement, Procurement, overall, is still in a sorry state of affairs overall.
Not only are we in the situation where at least a third of mid-size and larger organizations don’t have any modern solutions at all, and of those that do, a majority are still on what we’ll call legacy first-generation solutions which are cumbersome to use and low on power, but this also puts us in a situation where those un-enabled organizations don’t have the platforms to improve processes, reduce workloads, and allow the Procurement team to execute, and get comfortable with, more advanced and strategic sourcing methods.
To these organizations, a catalog looks like an answer to tail-spend prayers. Get a few master contracts for common low-value, low-dollar purchases, load them all into a modern, single search, single view, federated catalog, and allow people to buy whatever they need through the catalog. And while this is a valid strategy for some purchases, and can really take a huge workload off of an overworked Procurement team’s plates, it doesn’t solve all the problems.
As the article noted:
- Catalogs can Waste Time
Unless it is always-on, up-to-date (which could require a dedicated catalog manager), federated single view, capable of filtering to in-stock items only, and guided (showing the mosts popular or typically best choice when there are multiple options), an employee will spend way more time looking for the item then she might spend using it! Catalogs are not set and forget. They must be managed! Vendors don’t focus on this, especially if they don’t have a modern solution with strong vendor self-update capabilities (where a buyer only has to review vs. doing all the work), and a buying organization that chooses the wrong catalog solution can end up worse off than they were before they acquired a solution.
- Catalogs can Miss Savings
Procurement can always get a better deal on volume or discontinued items (and when its an internal item for consumption, sometimes it just doesn’t matter; such as pens that get lost before they are used, cleaning suppliers where packaging doesn’t matter, etc.) and when an item is getting purchased frequently enough, it’s best just to do a bulk order and put it in the store room. A catalog will never alert you when the time is right to take something out and do a bulk-buy.
And this is fine, as long as an organization knows that just like you can’t set and forget a catalog, you can’t forget to run the analytics on the purchases on a(t least) a quarterly basis, preferably monthly, to make sure the right purchases are going through the catalog and, at the same time, review the non-catalog P-card and T&E spend and see if other types of purchases should be put in the catalog.
- Catalogs can Introduce Hidden Risks
As the article notes, uninformed employees will sometimes bulk buy thinking they are saving money (even if the savings per unit is negligable), when in fact they are tying up capital when the item is low use and the other 10, or 100, will sit in the storeroom for months (or years). Sometimes they will scroll three pages in to find an in-catalog, non-preferred, item that they prefer (and costs twice as much, but because all inventory from office supplies vendor A is in the catalog at a flat 10% discount off of MSRP, just in case something else is needed than formally specified in the contract, they can do it). And so on. And if we’re talking electronics, and the organization doesn’t know how to secure certain non-standard devices, this could be very, very, bad from a data security and privacy standpoint.
Catalogs are a tool to manage tail-spend, but only one tool, and they need to be part of a larger tail-spend strategy to deliver value. Never forget that.