Monthly Archives: May 2019

YOUR SI (Repost)

To the tune of “UHF
by Weird Al Yankovic, who completed the soundtrack to the cult classic UHF 30 years ago today.

Put down your old-school textbook
Throw out your online Guide
Put away your jacket
There’s no need to go outside

Don’t you know that we control the horizontal
We control the vertical, too
We gonna make a sourcing leader out of you
That’s what we gonna do now

Make it your home-page
Don’t touch that dial
We got it all on Your SI!

Kick off your sneakers
Stick around for a while
We got it all on Your SI!

Don’t worry ’bout ISM
Forget about the glitz
Just resize the window
And kill your favorites
We got it all, we got it all,
we got it all on Your SI!

Disconnect the landline and leave the iPhone in the drawer
You better put away your paper
Prime time ain’t no time to weave
Time to go and make yourself a TV dinner
Press your face right up against the screen
We gonna tell you things you’ll wanna believe
If you know what I mean, now

Make it your home-page
Don’t touch that dial
We got it all on Your SI!

Kick off your sneakers
Stick around for a while
We got it all on Your SI!

Don’t worry ’bout ISM
Forget about the glitz
Just resize the window
And kill your favorites
We got it all, we got it all,
we got it all on Your SI!

UHF should be your Procurement cult classic.  It was the first movie to teach us what happens if we try to drink from the firehose, attend an expert class as a beginner, or don’t keep track of what is in the supplies closet. 😉

AI Won’t Solve Your Talent Problem!

Talent is Still the Biggest Issue Facing Procurement Today … so what are you doing about it? (Besides still cutting the training budget as soon as cashflow gets tight and delaying necessary system purchases because you can’t take a long term view.)

As SI has repeatedly said, Procurement Pros need to be jacks of all trades and (almost masters of all but in reality) masters of one (Procurement) (Trend #17), and that’s no easy feat when the skills and knowledge a Procurement pro needs to do her job effectively increases every year.

And new AI / Cognitive technology doesn’t decrease the skill sets and knowledge required, despite what one may think. In fact, it only increases it Why? First of all, do you have assisted intelligence, augmented intelligence, or a cognitive system that is as close to true AI (artificial intelligence) as one can get with today’s technology? And, more importantly, does your Procurement Pro understand what you have, what the differences are, and what the respective limitations are.

If the solution is just assisted intelligence, then it’s an automation solution (RPA) with some expert knowledge encoded to handle typical situations with certain assumptions. If the assumptions are invalid, will the software detect them? If the situation goes beyond the realm of typical, will the software detect it? And even if the software does, will it be able to do anything without expect guidance? An example of assisted intelligence is an automated auction where the platform automates the sourcing of an item or service designated for auction among pre-approved bidders and goes from demand specification to final award without human input. But will it detect if the bids are complete? Within expectations? That bidders are bidding on the right product or service? Maybe the buyer assumes shipping included, but the bidders aren’t including shipping, and since the system only has a ceiling, it doesn’t know that the bids are way too low, and awards to the lowest bidder, that is actually the highest as the bidder is the furthest away and has the highest transportation cost.

Same goes for augmented intelligence. However, with augmented intelligence, the software goes beyond simple RPA with fixed expert rules — it is able to analyze a lot of parameters and pick the closest matching scenario and associated workflow. For example, an opportunity analyzer that takes into account current market pricing, supply availability, bidder responsiveness, current market trends (upward and downward), projected demand, etc. and advises the buyer on the type and timing of the sourcing event as well as the best workflow. But what if the market pricing is a week out of date and the market price just jumped up 20% (due to a fire in a major supplier’s plant) and reversed the trend? That changes everything, but the solution may not detect it and instead advise the worse sourcing event.

Cognitive platforms that continually monitor the situation are better, and if they learn from the actions the expert users take over time, better still, but they still can’t cope with an exception al situation they haven’t been coded for, or trained for. For instance, even if they detected that last minute spike in pricing that reversed the pricing trend and, thus, changed the optimal sourcing strategy, will they understand why the spike happened and the best alternate strategy? Or will they default back to the recommending the default strategy in a situation where costs are increasing … e.g. switching from auction to multi-stage RFI with optimization-backed analysis? Neither is right in this situation. In this situation, its extend the current contracts with your non-affected suppliers, increase the number of units, and lock in supply early, even if cost is higher.

In all these situations, only a knowledgeable, experienced, and sometimes expert Procurement Pro is going to be able to make the right decisions … and a novice relying on the systems is going to make the worst, and most costly, decision imaginable.

There’s no true AI, no all knowing software, and no replacement for a real expert.

The reality is that, at the end of the day, these systems make your experts more efficient — and multiply their productivity — they don’t replace their expertise.

It’s Been Four Years Since I Told You About The Procurement Damnation of Project Management …

… but what has your vendor done to abate it? There’s a reason that the new iteration of Spend Matters’ Solution Map, designed by the doctor, has two subcategories dedicated to Workflow and Project Management (and two other sub-categories dedicated to Data and Document Management) … and that’s because of the importance of project management to your sourcing and procurement efforts.

Remember, while project management works good with the physical world, it doesn’t work so good with the virtual world. For example, where software development is concerned, there is a rough definition of what is desired, but the beginning and end is a best estimate that is no more accurate than a wild guess in some cases, the resources required (while defined as software architect, developer, network specialist, etc.) are not well understood (as a non-skilled software architect cannot define what makes, or identifies, a good software architect), and the amount of money required is relatively unknown (due to uncertain work effort requirements, unknown support requirements, etc.). And that’s just software.

When it comes to supply chain, the difficulty is intensified. There’s the management of the sourcing, the management of the negotiation and contracting cycle, and the management of the procurement. But before that, there’s identifying the right supplier, which requires detailed understanding of the product technical requirements and the supplier production capabilities. There’s identifying the expected costs, based upon understanding material costs, labour costs, energy costs, tariffs, and overhead. There’s managing the supplier relationship. There’s dealing with disruptions and disasters. And taking corrective actions.

Most supply chain projects don’t have well defined beginnings, or endings, or static workflows. There’s no one-size fits all and the platform needs to be able to adapt.

But even before we get to workflow and adaptation, we first need the ability to define a project and a workflow to support it – be it a full strategic sourcing project with supplier discovery, supplier selection, multi-round RFI, and online negotiations; a simple 3-bids-and-a-buy RFI for a services engagement; an automated auction for regular MRO purchases; a deep optimization project for multi-national transportation or services; a regular catalog buy for a regularly occurring purchase; etc.

How many platforms can define an appropriate project? They all have the capabilities, but in many platforms that’s it. You can’t define a workflow. You can’t capture basic category intelligence. Everything is one step at a time, where the steps can only be performed by an experienced platform master. You can create an event, and then do stuff in the event, but you can’t abstract the workflow, just copy it and edit it for next time.
And if you need a new workflow, you need to create a new event.

Even four years later, only a few platforms have any real semblance of project management, and that needs to change. But will it?

(If it doesn’t, at the very least the platform should integrate with a project management workflow tool like Per Angusta which was built to do precisely this and integrate your disparate best-of-breed Sourcing and Procurement modules into a unified platform with workflow and project management.)

Don’t Forget The Big Four Questions to Ask During Any Mega-Acquisition

Four years ago, during the last big M&A Frenzy, SI published a post on The First Four Questions to Ask During Any Mega-Acquisition, that is still just as relevant today as it was four years ago.

And while it was direct, it’s a good idea to be direct because sometimes you need to let the vendor know you’re not in the mood for any shenanigans and if they bought your former vendor for the sole purpose of playing such shenanigans with you, you’re ready to walk (and execute that change of control agreement in your contract tomorrow).

1. How will you screw us over on price?

As we said before, every acquisition brings with it the promise of economy of scale and lower price, but it typically takes years to understand and take advantage of platform overlap, redefine responsibilities and organizational boundaries, and identify staff re-assignments. And since, in the interim, change management experts, process consultants, and other resources need to be brought on board, overhead goes up and costs go up accordingly.

Or, the mega vendor bought your vendor just to retire its solution and migrate your vendor’s client base to its more expensive solution. Even if the solution is superior, it’s not necessarily superior for you and you don’t necessarily want it or the higher price tag.

2. How will we get screwed over on quality of service?

As we said before, the biggest fish in the combined company gets the best resources. And even if your current organization was a big fish in the old company, that does not mean your company will be a big fish in the merged company. Your company might just be a medium sized fish that gets the “B” Team, if it is lucky.

The fact of the matter is your current support team could be re-assigned or let go, the new team might not know anything about your solution, and without the current team your service levels might not be met. And make sure to point out the service levels the new vendor is committed to during the conversation so both parties can be on the same page about expectations from day one.

3. How will we get screwed out of innovation?

As per our last post, will the merged company continue to develop the platform your company is dependent on or will you remain locked in to a multi-year deal as the technology platform you bought withers and dies?

If the company is not going to support the platform, make sure that they are aware of the “full data export in standardized format” clause you included in the contract (and that you expect it to be honoured when the time comes) and that you expect full integration support so you can augment what you have where your platform is lacking.

4. What new and interesting ways will we get screwed in the future?

What additional layers of complexity and confusion will the new, combined, legal team try to weasel into the contract renewal and how will that bite your organization in its backside down the road?

Longer contractual terms? Non-disparagement clauses? No ability to discuss platform shortcomings when trying to find a best-of-breed solution to plug the holes. No ability to buy a non-vendor module when the vendor has one. And so on.

Not every mega-vendor is out to screw you, but make sure from day one that they’re not and that you are on the same page.

And yes, this is confrontational.  But sometimes you have to stand up for yourself.

How Much Unmanaged Tail Spend Should You Have?

It’s hard to say, but it should be a lot less than you do. In most organizations, “Tail Spend” is 20% to 40% of total spend that should be managed by Procurement, but isn’t for various reasons.

It includes a whack of spend that includes, but is not limited to:

  • one-time buys for a new hire
  • short term buys to replace supply lost to a supply chain disruption
  • temporary services
  • one-time buys for a trade-show or event
  • one-time MRO buys for replacement parts
  • “small” purchases for recurring orders under a certain volume or cost
  • etc.

But how much of there really deserves to be there? In theory, none of it, but in practice, some of it will always be, but it should be less and less as time goes on … and certainly a lot less than 30%.


Let’s start with the above:

  • one-time buys for a new hire should be a standard kit, which shouldn’t change more than once a year, and since volume can be projected based on hiring patterns, any significant spend is good fodder for, and should be, either a sourcing event or a pre-negotiated catalog-based buy
  • if proper sourcing was done for a critical part or item, then it should be easy to switch supply to the secondary supplier with only a minor disruption
  • temporary services that recur should also be on a master contract that should be strategically sourced
  • trade-shows and events costs tens of thousands these days; if you’re holding the event, you should have an RFI to select the most cost effective venue and most of the items you buy are in bulk and should be auctioned or 3-bids-and-a-buy sourced
  • replacement parts could be put on a master contract when you buy the equipment that you know will need replacement parts; you can define a max price and have the option to buy or go to a third-party if a third-party alternative comes along in the future and have the spend at least partially managed
  • just because volume is only a few thousand or spend is under 100K or 1M does not mean the category shouldn’t be sourced; if there’s 15% overspend that’s 15K that could be captured even in a simple event that might only cost 5K of resource time or 150K that could be captured only in 15K of resource time; and if 2/3 rds of that could be captured by automation (automated auctions, etc.), why not?
  • etc.

The reality is that you should not have very much tail spend.