Today we welcome another guest post from Brian Seipel a Procurement Consultant at Source One Management Services focused on helping corporations understand their spend profile and develop actionable strategies for cost reduction and supplier relationship management. Brian has a lot of real-world project experience in supply chain distribution, and brings some unique insight on the topic.
I wrapped up a large spend analysis initiative recently. The project spanned a dozen international operating companies with over two dozen stakeholders pitching in. By the end, we analyzed roughly one million transactions from dozens of disparate systems. It was a lot of work to be sure, but it also provided an unparalleled view into over $1 billion in spend.
Despite the heavy lift, this analysis was critical. It served as the foundation for identifying strategic sourcing projects slated to save this organization millions. The benefit far outweighed the cost.
This is not always the case.
We live in an age where analytics reign supreme. Some organizations staff whole teams to churn out an uncountable (and maybe uncontrollable) number of spreadsheets, reports, and dashboards filled to the brim with data. Other organizations hire third parties like yours truly or implement state-of-the-art analytics packages to crunch these numbers. Either way, end users are left with more data points than they’d ever care to actually use in their decision-making processes.
I feel like I’ve slammed a lot of hyperbole into a few short paragraphs. Let’s dial it back with a simple statement and follow-up question: Even in this data-forward world, organizations need to ensure that we’re not wasting valuable resources on analyses that don’t warrant it. So how do we tell which efforts are worth the time?
Let’s break that down into a few more specific questions.
What direct impact are we trying to make?
This sounds like a throw-away question, but it isn’t. Think of the last ten reports you personally handed off to your boss or your boss’ boss. If I were a betting man, I’d say you could take at least one of them out of your weekly stack without the end user even noticing. Why? Because the people consuming these reports are inundated by data. They don’t have time to sift through reports generated for the sake of bureaucracy.
If you can look at a report and not know what specific challenge it helps solve, odds are good the answer is “none.” Sync up with the end user and confirm it provides the value you think it does.
How much of an impact can we expect?
A spend analysis has a clear enough direct impact on a defined challenge – we need to understand where money is going, to which suppliers, at what point in time, in order to identify projects to reduce cost. That said, some spend may not warrant the attention.
This may sound a bit like a “chicken vs. egg” issue, since we often can’t estimate value before we dig into the numbers. That said, we should have general figure in our mind before investing the time. Saving 20% on office supplies is great when your Staples bill is six figures. Drop that to a few spare thousand every year and the value just isn’t there.
How much buy-in can we expect?
Are relevant stakeholders likely to pursue the projects your analysis shines light on? If not, do you have the leverage, authority, or sheer charm and charisma needed to turn them? I’ve seen plenty of projects die on the vine because of hesitation or outright hostility on the part of key stakeholders. Investing in analytics for projects destined to fail before they start is a sucker’s game.
?There’s a decades-gone-by phrase that old timers in the IT industry will recognize: “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” The elements of fear, uncertainty, and doubt that made it effective back then are still relevant today. Think of the last time your office’s internet connection dropped off, even for a few minutes. Were you thinking about the cost savings your new provider offers? Cost savings may be good, but IT knows reliable uptime is better and is what makes or breaks them.
How deep does our dive need to be?
It pays to get down into the weeds when creating a spec list or generating an in-depth market basket. Once you’ve established the value of a project, it makes sense to invest in it by pulling the devil out of the details. Ending on a detailed note doesn’t mean we need to start the same way, though.
I pick on office supplies a lot when giving an example here. Let’s go back to that six figure Staples spend from earlier. How many pens, pencils, dry erase markers, reams of paper, and other supplies make up that figure? We’re looking at potentially thousands of line items. Remember the goal of our spend analysis – identify projects that can lead to cost savings. Do we really care about each individual line item right now? Will knowing how many black ballpoints versus blue felt tips make project identification easier? No – in fact, spending too much time on this granular detail now will only waste time and lead to potential lost opportunity costs.
I understand the knee-jerk reaction to traverse that DIKW (Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom) pyramid, I really do. It often is the right call. At the same time, there’s something to be said for taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture.
Every action we take needs to have purpose. Don’t waste time on a report today just because you ran it yesterday. Understand how your analysis fits into your organization’s goals and, if you find it doesn’t, cut ties so you can focus on more impactful endeavours.