Monthly Archives: September 2023

There are NO Perils of Big Data in Procurement!

First of all, no organization has enough data, and those that come close don’t have big data.

Secondly, the more data you have, the better.

Third, if you think you have too much data, you’re not getting it!

So where’s this rant coming from? The rant-inducing headline du jour. The CIO Review recently published an article on The Perils of Big Data in Procurement which is complete non-sense, as there are no perils to having more data (because there’s never enough), unless it’s bad data (but the assumption in the article was that all the data was correct), just perils in terms of how that data is presented and accessed.

The perils in terms of how that data is presented and accessed can be significant, but that’s not due to having big data, that is due to poor system design — and that’s a different issue!

According to the article, buyers and procurement managers … have available a huge and unprecedented amount of data … [and] start to measure everything in order to manage it and that with this approach, several data lakes are created, feeding various dashboards, scorecards, reports, and metrics as procurement professionals try to understand spend analysis, price trends, market fluctuations, volume, cost savings, negotiation performance, and other essential factors. And this is true.

It goes on to say it is very easy for a person to be lost in the sea of numbers and details and miss the big picture entirely because you don’t know what is the crucial data that would give you critical insights. And if that wasn’t enough, it goes on to say it is the same as someone that enters the hospital with a broken leg but has everything else checked. WTF?

This is so dumb it makes you angry!

  1. If a person gets lost in the sea of details and numbers it’s because they don’t know what they should be looking for and how they should be looking for it, not because there’s too much data.
  2. If they don’t know what is crucial, it’s because they don’t know enough about the project they are doing to identify what’s critical and what’s not.
  3. What health practitioner is going to be so stupid as to not see a broken leg on a triage? Come on now! And what Procurement practitioner would check all but one dashboard randomly and then not check the last remaining dashboard? (And that’s what the article is implying with its ridiculous statement.)

In other words, the headline, and claim, is bullcr@p. Don’t blame a mountain of data for a lack of capability in your people, poor vendor technology choices (that bury you in useless dashboards), and your unwillingness to train your talent in modern technology and best practices so they can do their job properly.

And while the author is completely right in that you need to

  • understand what matters
  • start with a top-down view
  • have people who are good at interpreting the data

It still misses the point in that you need to, for any application you buy and any project you wish to undertake

  • define what’s relevant up front
  • find a solution that is configured/configurable to show that up front
  • make sure the data is easy to interpret, is accompanied with written guidance, and that your talent is trained on how to properly interpret the data and
  • if the goal is opportunity finding, the solution needs to identify and present the top opportunities across all of the analysis done, with deep supporting dashboards buried under the high level summary dashboard

More data is always better, especially if you want to use machine learning. In other words, it’s not the data, it’s the application, or the people, so don’t blame the data for your organization’s shortcomings.

Can the UK Help American Manufacturers Shift Their Sourcing of Critical Materials?

Maybe, but not in the way this recent article in SupplyChainBrain suggests. The article, which really had the doctor scratching his head, referenced the Atlantic Declaration and how the United States and United Kingdom are resolving to build resilient, diversified, and secure supply chains and, more specifically, bolster the U.K. as a source of five critical minerals: cobalt, graphite, lithium, manganese, and nickel.

While we need a secure supply of these minerals in the Americas to ramp up and sustain EV (Electrical Vehicle) production, as the article also notes, the UK is the world’s 12th largest exporter of cobalt, 16th largest of graphite, 12th largest of manganese, 11th largest of raw nickel, and doesn’t even make the charts on Lithium. It can ramp up all it wants, these numbers aren’t going to change (because every other country is ramping up too), and the bigger countries (likely) have deeper reserves.

Plus, the UK, with very dense cities like London and limited land mass, is in desperate need of EVs itself to keep its smog levels down, so how much can it really afford to export?

The reality is that the UK can help by working with the US to identify non-China sources of these materials, use their collective bargaining might to secure supply at a sustainable cost, and help manage suppliers who are closer to / more used to working with the UK than the US. Similarly, since the UK is a small island and will likely need to import these vehicles (since the local market size doesn’t make an automotive production plant an economical investment for most automotive brands UNLESS a significant part of the UK market would switch to that vehicle), it can also guarantee a market for any suppliers that it secures those materials on behalf of.

Plus, if UK and US companies team up, they can split the effort and share their knowledge and best practices, and the more creativity you have to solve the upcoming challenges, the better — and chances are that the UK, who no longer have the weight and support of the EU backing them up, needs to be very creative these days.

Anyway, while we applaud the joint effort, it’s doubtful that the UK is going to solve even a fraction of the US need raw material wise. But human capital wise, they are even more incentivized than the US to solve these challenges.

B2B Marketplaces Have Their Place But …

… don’t look to them as a foundation for supplier collaboration! While it’s nice to see Procurement platforms and technologies getting noticed in Financial publications, the juxtapostion of the headline and subheading on this recent Financial Express article made us go “OI! YOY! YOI!”.

The headline was great:
Integration of B2B marketplaces into supply chain networks for increased efficiency

… it’s exactly what Finance needs to hear as B2B Marketplaces are a great solution for commodities or products typically bought spot-buy on the open market, and much more efficient than sending out an RFP for something you can find and buy quicker, easier, and cheaper online, and definitely better than searching half a dozen supplier sites to find the right product at the right price.

And the subheading started off great:
A notable opportunity for enhancing Supply Chain Management (SCM), as rated by 53% of businesses, lies in collaborative efforts with suppliers.

… because collaborative efforts are not only a great way to increase efficiency, but also increase value by lowering cost, increasing quality, adding capability, etc.

But the way the sub-header ended was head-scratching to say the least:
The answer lies in utilizing user-friendly and efficient B2B marketplaces.

NO! No, No, No, NO! If you want to collaborate with suppliers, you need a modern Supplier Management solution that focuses on supplier development, innovation, and collaboration.

B2B Marketplaces were created to help buyers find (new) suppliers to buy from and to help suppliers widen their potential customer base when buyers find their products in a search and check them out. They were not setup for collaboration and the extent of “collaboration” on the majority of these platforms is asynchronous messaging. That’s not collaboration! Not even close.

In comparison, a Supplier Management platform with

  • Relationship Management will not only support asynchronous messaging, it will also support collaborative project/product plans and a best practice/knowledge base for both parties
  • True Network Management and not just an integrated online marketplace will also support a true bi-directional graph, bi-directional search, classification, and anonymous (peer)
  • Proper Discovery will not only support simple searches, but deep location, product, capability, and multi-factor searches; proactive web-search and web-site monitoring; anonymized ratings and reviews; and deep product sheets and history management
  • Orchestration Management will support multi-tier linkages, cascading onboarding, and multi-tier supplier support so that you can quickly and easily onboard the supplier onto your own personal Supplier Management instance that you can customize to your liking
  • Enablement Management will add an integrated supply-centric portal, sustainability guidance, and true supplier-led innovation support

In other words, this article, which could have focussed on the core value of B2B Marketplaces and introduced them as a first step into the Procurement world, with an entire suite of valuable tools to help an organization, missed the mark.

For more information on what a proper Supplier Management platform should do, as well as a list of vendors who offer these platforms, see parts 15 to 20 of our The 39 Steps … err … The 39 Clues … err … The 39 Part Series to Help You Figure Out Where to Start with Source-to-Pay.

Supplier Management

Part 15: Supplier Management is a CORNED QUIP Mash

Part 16: Supplier Management A-Side

Part 17: Supplier Management B-Side

Part 18: Supplier Management C-Side

Part 19: Supplier Management D-Side

Part 20: Over 90 Supplier Management Companies to Check Out

THE Sign That You Need a CPO

The Supply Chain Management Review recently published an article on the top 10 signs that your organization needs a talented chief procurement officer. They were all good reasons, but they kind of suggested that you needed multiple reasons to hire a CPO. The reality is that you only need one reason, it’s very straight forward, and it almost needs no explanation. In fact, most of you will get it right away, so we’ll give it to you straight away, and you can stop reading now if you like.

The Sign That You Need a CPO: Your organization spends over 10 Million a year.

That’s it. Easy, eh? No top ten list. No long winded explanations. No complicated requirements. Just one number. Just one check.

Why is it this easy? Simple. Good Procurement practices will save your organization at least 10% across the board, regardless of current market conditions. Why? Even if costs are going up, if best in class Procurement practices weren’t deployed in the past,

  • even previously sourced categories will not have maximized savings
  • the process will have been inefficient, which would have cost the organization time, resources, and opportunity costs on other categories
  • most tail spend categories would have been completely ignored
  • many orders would have gone out without POs
  • most invoices would not have been closely checked, resulting in over-payments
  • etc. etc. etc.

So, if you’re spending 10 Million, a CPO is going to save 1M at a minimum. That’s going to be 3X or more the CPOs fully burdened cost in a smaller organization. Simple calculation, simple rule.

Procurement Automation: Good. Automated Procurement: Bad.

We shouldn’t have to say this. It should be very clear by now. But given that a number of vendors are using the terminology interchangeably, possibly to convince you they have the right solution, maybe it’s not clear. But it needs to be. Because procurement automation is NOT the same as automated procurement and while procurement automation, properly done, is the best investment an average over-burdened and under-resourced Procurement department can make, on the flip side, AI-driven automated procurement is the absolute worst. To put things in perspective, downgrading Excel to Lotus 1-2-3 would be a better move. But let’s back up, and start with some definitions.

Procurement Automation is the process of automating certain procurement tasks that can be best accomplished by machines and procurement automation technology is the technology that automates the tasks that can be best done by machines. In simpler terms, it automates the “thunking” by doing all of the tactical, almost mindless, work that is a waste of a senior Procurement professional’s time.

The Source-to-Pay cycle is full of tasks that are best done by machines when appropriate rules and boundaries are defined. For each major area, we’ll outline some of these tasks as an example.


Procurement Automation will analyze the request, identify similar requests made in the past, identify the actions used to resolve those requests, identify the suppliers considered and selected, the products and services used, and other information. It will present that information to the buyer, including the suggested actions, and allow the buyer to one-click initiate any of the suggested actions, which might include a sourcing event, contract renegotiation, catalog purchase, etc.


Procurement Automation will, when a user kicks off a sourcing event for one or more products, automatically bring up the suggested suppliers, automatically suggest the appropriate questionaries and forms, automatically suggest the appropriate Ts and Cs to insist on up front, automatically send the RFP to suppliers, automatically analyze the responses to make sure they are complete, in the correct format, and in an expected range; automatically compare the responses to find deviations from the norm; automatically highly the lowest and highest costs, CO2 factors, etc. and present all that information to the buyer.

Supplier Management

Procurement Automation will, when a supplier is selected, automatically handle the onboarding; monitor the data for changes; monitor the performance metrics; monitor the OTD; monitor third party financial and risk metrics; and alert the buyer to any issues and performance changes that are detrimental or may indicate forthcoming problems.

Contract Management

Procurement Automation will, when an award is selected, push the award into the Contract Management system, automatically generate the draft contract, send it to the supplier, highlight any redlines the supplier makes when it comes back and automatically inform the supplier if any non-negotiable terms and conditions (including those they agreed to when they responded to the RFP), and automate the generation of the response email when the buyer does their redlines.


For catalog buys, it will automatically generate the POs, route them for necessary approvals, distribute them to the suppliers when approved, automatically match the ASNs when they come back, alert the buyers if ASNs are not received in a timely basis, and match the invoices when they come in.


When the invoice comes in, it’s automatically matched to the purchase order, it’s checked for price accuracy, identified as partial or full, verified to be non-duplicate, and if any checks fail, it’s bounced back to the supplier with a description of the issues and a request for correction and resubmission. If the resubmission deals with the problems, it’s queued waiting for goods receipt/confirmation if not present, or matched if present. If the match is made, then it’s automatically sent down the approval chain, and if it’s not made within a certain time period, an alert is raised.

In all cases, it’s automating the tactical tasks that don’t require any decision making and only involving the human when necessary.

In contrast, Automated Procurement is the process by where entire procurement processes are handed over to the machine to fulfill instead of the human. In other words, when an intake request comes in and the buyer marks it for sourcing, an Automated Procurement solution will handle the entire event up to and including the award and auto-generate and distribute the Purchase Order(s). The buyer is completely bypassed and the right inventory showing up at the right time at the right price is left entirely up to the machine. Sounds good in theory. Looks good in practice when it actually works, which it will some of the time. But grinds the company to a halt when it fails.

A machine that pursues lowest cost will select an unproven non-incumbent supplier for a critical part when the suppler, who has not supplied that particular part to the company before, outbids the incumbent. It will not detect that the bid was made in an desperate attempt to help the financially struggling supplier stay in business, that the bid is not sustainable, and that the supplier is not capable of producing the part at the indicated level of quality. Then, when the first shipment is mostly defective, and the promised rush replacement order never arrives because the supplier goes out of business, the production line for the 75K luxury car folds all for lack of a single control chip. (A similar situation has occurred in the past. Recently, chip shortages stopped Cherokee production in 2021, and that wasn’t the first occurrence. Or even the second, or third.)

Machines are not intelligent. Not even close. And expecting them to make a good decision every time with no logic whatsoever (as modern Artificial Idiocy algorithms just stack probabilistic equations on top of probabilistic equations almost ad infinitum) is lunacy. So while you should invest in the best Procurement Automation tech you can get your hands on, you should steer clear of any and all Automated Procurement Solutions those fancy new startups try to sell you. While those solutions may work 90% of the time, that last 10% of the time, they won’t work that great. And, in particular, that last 1% of the time they will fail so miserable that the disruptions and losses that result will more than cancel out any and all savings and efficiencies you might get from the 90% of the time the tech worked in the beginning.