Monthly Archives: February 2024

A Truly Great Article on Transforming Legacy Procurement

If you’re a new occasional reader, you might think that one of the doctor‘s primary goals is to just rip big analyst firms and publications apart when they publish ridiculous results (based on ridiculous surveys) or ill-conceived articles with little to no good Procurement content (if we’re lucky), or wrong content (if we’re not) that, as far as the doctor is concerned, would have been just as good if they unleashed an intern with no knowledge of procurement on Chat-GPT (and you all know what the doctor thinks of that!).

However, that’s just because, as Procurement is hitting the limelight (as a result of all the supply chain disasters we’ve been facing that they have been expected to deal with), coverage has increased significantly (to capitalize on the hot topic), and most of it is, frankly, NOT that good. However, every now and again there is a truly tremendous article published under the radar, and when the doctor finds one of those, he’s very happy to bring your attention to it. Especially when it’s written by a practitioner who obviously gets it.

In her article on From Tactical to Strategic: Transforming Legacy Procurement, the author reminds us that the majority of large scale transformations fail, that a major challenge for older companies is that they have no comprehensive view into global spend, that e-Procurement systems offer many fixes, but also that if they are not optimized for your specific business needs, you could be missing out on opportunities for better supplier partnerships and cost leadership.

This does not mean that you should build your own (overly) customized system, or insist that the systems support your current processes (before determining if those processes are better than the processes supported out-of-the-box by the new systems that have been developed based on typical best practices of the industries the vendor serves), but that the solution has to be appropriate to your industry and support some customization where you need it for specific products, services, or processes that make your business unique (but only those — don’t reinvent the wheel already there where you’re the same as everyone else).

The author then goes on to outline a three-phase approach to identifying, selecting, implementing, and, most importantly, maximizing adoption of the platform — which is an ultimate key to success.

the doctor highly recommends you read this article on going From Tactical to Strategic: Transforming Legacy Procurement.

Fraud and Waste are Not the Same Thing — And You Cannot Overcome them Equally

A recent article in BusinessDailyAfrica on how firms can overcome fraud and wastage in technology procurement had some good advice, but it missed some key points, especially since you can’t treat fraud and wastage equally if you want to truly combat fraud and wastage in real time.

The article notes that when it comes to the adoption of new technologies, organizations allocate substantial budgets that provide fertile ground for funds to be siphoned through fraud, which is sort of true, but usually what happens is a plethora of change orders and upsells at multiples of what the organization should be paying, which is not fraud when the vendor delivers, but severe wastage.

A bigger concern is, as the article notes, manipulation of procurement processes encompasses practices such as bid rigging or collusion with service providers, kickbacks and bribery, false invoicing, misrepresenting specifications and capabilities of products and services, channelling payments through shell companies solely to facilitate bribery, conflict of interest, and disguising procurements to bypass processes, which has nothing to do with the tech budget, and which happens whether or not the company implements new tech or not, whether the decisions are ill-considered or not, whether the decisions are rushed or not, etc.

The reality is this: if a company has a lot of money and fraudsters believe it, or its processes, can be exploited for fraud, they’ll try. And while adequate planning, centralization of tech decisions, robust implementation of strategies, and controls can curb fraud and wastage, that’s not always enough.

The only way to minimize and prevent fraud is

  1. identify each type of fraud attempt that your organization is likely to get hit with
  2. for each type of fraud,
    1. identify processes that can be exploited, and change them to minimize exploitation
    2. implement specialized technology or algorithms to look for it and alert people to the potential — in real time (before money changes hands)
    3. educate your people on what valid payment requests look like, what typical fraud looks like, and when to ask questions and/or escalate it up the chain (possibly all the way to the CFO if necessary)
    4. anytime a fraud slips through, besides trying to immediately stop-payment, immediately do a post-mortem to figure out the root cause and update the process, technology, or detection methodology; fraudsters are always upping their game, so you need to always be upping yours

And when the doctor says you have to identify and target each type of fraud (scheme/scam) separately, he means it. There’s no one-size-fits-all for fraud, but there are technologies, techniques, and targeted theorem tabulations that can rather reliably progressively prevent frequent frauds.

Nor is it as simple as just throwing a bunch of analytics at the problem, as this recent article that purports to prevent procurement fraud with analytics that was published as a think tank article in SupplyChainBrain (which, as you can guess, really upset the doctor when think tank articles in Supply Chain Brain should be the best of the best and this was barely acceptable). Apparently the doctor will have to include Procurement fraud in his list of topics for his Source-to-Pay+ series because the state of information being provided to you is, for the most part, sorry and sad.

But waste is entirely different. As we alluded above, that typically takes the following forms:

  • frequent change orders during implementation, usually billed at excessively high day rates as they have to “divert resources” or “work overtime”
  • unnecessary customizations or real-time integrations that are an extensive amount of work (and cost) when out-of-the-box or daily flat-file synchs are more than sufficient
  • extensive “process evaluation” or “process transformation” processes that are well beyond what you need to eat up consulting hours
  • extensive “best practice” education when your practices are good enough for now and/or those best practices are already encoded in the system and just following the default process gives you the same education
  • additional seats or licenses you really don’t need (but you are convinced somehow that you do) (which don’t get used and just sit on the v-shelf)
  • etc.

Basically, you go in for a penny, and they take you on a joyride that costs a pound. They deliver the minimum at each step of the way so you can’t technically accuse them of fraud, but they end up making sleazy used car salesmen look good!

Finally! A “Think Tank” Article that Gets It Right!

the doctor has been reading a lot of “think tank” and “thought leader” articles lately that are completely off the mark. Some are so bad that he’s wondering if the publications are paying interns who know nothing about the space to use “chat j’ai pété” (Chat-GPT) to hallucinate content for them. (And, as you’ve seen, some are so bad and/or make him so angry that he just has to rant about them. Our space don’t get no regard at all as it is. The last thing we should be doing is providing anyone who takes the time to read about it with misleading or wrong information).

All that being said, Supply Chain Brain recently published an article on 2024 Predictions: A New Era of Strategic Supply Chain Design by Donald Hicks, the CEO of Optilogic. In it, he makes six predictions for the new era of strategic supply chain design in 2024.

The first five predictions were good.

1. A shift from short-term to strategic thinking.

COVID demonstrated that we’ve reached the end of short-term JIT thinking, and the recent geopolitical turmoil since has only heightened that reality. Any company that wants to survive has to go back to focus on mid-to-long term strategic thinking that will help it mitigate the plethora of risks it is being hit with and assure supply.

2. An end of the age of unlimited cheap suppliers.

Especially since the majority of these were based in China. As the author notes, China-US relations are deteriorating fast and the Chinese economy is underperforming. Moreover, as a result of COVID, logistics are uncertain and considerably more expensive from China (due to less carrier space, as many ships were scrapped during COVID for insurance settlements, and the need to sail around the capes, due to the Red Sea situation and the prolonged Panamanian drought). So, companies need to start looking elsewhere, and since they let their best suppliers in Mexico and South America wither and die, there aren’t many good options at the moment.

3. Demand for vendor transparency.

In addition to customers becoming more discerning, as the author notes, there are more supply chain regulations that need to be adhered to globally, more sustainability regulations, more denied party regulations, and so on. Companies need to know who they’re dealing with; that all supply chain, sustainability, and regulatory requirements are met; and that any desires of its customers can be met.

4. Market turmoil and the rise of new leaders.

This year is projected to witness down rounds, market turmoil, and a reassessment of strategies. Most definitely. VC went too hot and heavy before COVID trying to force unicorns where the foals weren’t even breeding stock, and then lost heavy in the SVB failure; and PE, trying to get a piece of the payments, online collaboration, and/or FinTech market during COVID paid ridiculous multiples for rather basic offerings that weren’t even complete — and that would never demand the price tag the investors expected. As a result, these PE firms are now looking at payback timeframes of a decade or more, if they’re lucky. This means that cash is sparse, investments will be sparser, and some companies (that overspent and can’t get the valuation) will not survive.

5. Digital Twin Skepticism.

Every supply chain technology vendor is clamouring to tell you about their digital twin capability, but the term “digital twin” is a marketing creation that can’t live up to its ambitious name. Companies don’t always have all the data (or quality data) relating to supplier orders and timelines, inventory levels and factory production in separate operational systems, much less a single location.

There’s no digital twin without complete data, and there’s no complete data. Modern manufacturing companies and direct buyers are figuring this out and not falling for outlandish claims anymore.

The sixth prediction was absolutely fantastic!

6. Artificial intelligence exhaustion, and a return to old-school evaluation.

Hear, hear! Smart companies are getting fed up of the ridiculous claims made by new Open/Gen-AI companies and the paltry results that were delivered, if any. They’re also fed up of the high-price tags relative to the limited value they’re received from “AI” so far.

Thus, rather than relying on the mere claim of being AI-enabled, companies should be expected to showcase their capabilities, substantiate their claims with proof, and provide clear reasons for belief, signalling the return to a more traditional approach to purchasing decisions.

Hear, hear!

Take the Tedious out of the Tactical Tail and Autonomously Avoid Overspend with mysupply

The taming of the tail is tedious and that’s why it’s overlooked in many organizations beyond whatever a catalog can address. There are only so many strategic sourcing professionals, there are only so many projects they can handle, and only so much spend they can get under strategic management. After that, beyond what’s in the catalog, IF there is a catalog, it’s typically the wild wild west for Procurement — especially if it fits on a credit card or P-card. There just isn’t enough bandwidth to manage more than a measly modicum of the tactical tail in an average organization.

Many organizations believe it’s okay to ignore tail spend because it’s only 20% to 30%, and because they believe that overspend probably can’t be that high on small purchases. They’re wrong on both points. In most organizations, even when the strategic categories are defined to include 80% of spend, because products and services change all the time, organizational buyers and / or overworked sourcerers won’t always catch when new products or services should be included in a strategically managed category; and because p-card/T&E is never included in the initial estimate, tactical/tail spend that’s unmanaged is usually 30% to 40%. If it’s 40% that ends up being unmanaged when the expectation is 20%, that’s a lot. Secondly, spend analysts and tail spend analysts have regularly found that the average overspend in the tail is in excess of 10%, with some categories of spend routinely being in the 15% to 30% window because no one ever looks at it. And if your organization is losing out on 10% of 40%, that’s 4% that could go straight to the bottom line with a good tactical tail spend solution.

To put into perspective just how good 4% straight to the bottom line is, consider the fact that, in direct organizations, strategic events on carefully managed direct categories that are regularly sourced typically only net 2% as the categories have already been squeezed. It’s only the mid-tier categories where you will see higher savings rates, which will typically average in the 5% to 7% range at best as these categories at least go to auction or multi-round RFP regularly. So if you save 2% on the top 30% and 5% on the next 30%, that’s only a savings of 2.1% that hits the bottom line. In other words, if your organization has been actively strategically sourcing top spend for five or six years, your organization has twice the cost avoidance / savings opportunity in the tail. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s the truth. Let that sink in for a moment before you read on.

mysupply is the newest start-up that aims to tackle the Tactical Tail Spend space, which has been historically underserved since the first specialists popped up (and then disappeared) to tackle it in the early 2010s. Even today you can count the true tactical tail spend specialist solutions on one hand without a thumb, compared to the seventy-five plus sourcing providers, but the new generation of providers, and mysupply in particular, understands that no one wants their spend in multiple systems (as you can’t do integrated spend, PO, and invoice management otherwise, key for Procurement success) and are developing their system as an extension to current sourcing systems, not a replacement for.

mysupply, which is even available on the SAP app store for those that use SAP (Ariba) and want a quick-start into tactical tail spend management, was designed to integrate with, and feed into your existing sourcing / procurement platforms — and in the case of Ariba, will fully use the Ariba Catalog and Ariba PO system to manage all spend. mysupply allows for:

  • quick event definition for sourcerors short on time (though the App or ProcurementBot)
  • roll-out to organizational users who can do their own quick-hit RFPs/Auctions/Catalog buys (also through the app, if needed, or ProcurementBot)
  • integration with your intake platform of choice for event push to the sourcing team

While it’s not designed as a full intake (or intake-powered) platform, as it was built for tactical tail spend and not all organizational spend, it was built from the ground up with integration in mind (as their goal is not to replace any platform you might already be using, as they are going after the enterprise market) and has a lot of orchestration capability built in and could even serve as an intake platform if desired (and route requests that should be strategically managed spend to an existing strategic sourcing application or to mysupply, which can also be used for strategic sourcing if desired).

Event creation in mysupply can be super easy. Options include:

  • in-house LLM-assisted Event Creation and Management via API-powered ProcurementBot, that can be integrated through existing enterprise collaboration platforms (Microsoft Teams is in Production, further integrations are planned)
  • Existing event templates that define all of the items being sourced, data required for bids, and (pre) approved vendors (which can easily be augmented or removed) (any event can be saved as a template to kick off future events)
  • events from scratch, where the platform is very adaptive and you only need to specify as much information as is necessary to source the product/service, which, if already defined in the system, can simply be an RFP request and a due date

and, most importantly, all of these strategies can include

  • demand bundling, even if different products or services should be sourced using different strategies, which can be across buyers for a given timeframe (i.e. collect all requests for a week or a month and then source)
  • pre-selected, custom, or hybrid supplier lists
  • customized lots, as the platform allows sourcing by item (price) or lot (price)
  • multiple tender/go-to-market approaches (i.e. each lot can be designated for a different [type] of RFX or auction), where the approach doesn’t need to be selected until suppliers have confirmed interest AND initial bids are in (which is very relevant for tactical spend where you don’t know the market dynamics because you haven’t researched the market and/or don’t source the product or service regularly; it’s not like strategic spend where you know there are seven suppliers, and five will show up to a reverse auction)
  • automated negotiation via (lot-based) QuickBot or multi-line item QuickBot
  • multiple scenarios for negotiation award analysis (where the items can be broken up for further negotiation/award after an initial bid event based on total spend, number responses, etc.)

For the requester, integrated LLMs through ProcurementBot help the requester:

  • identify the product or service being requested
  • capture demand and critical requirements
  • select the category
  • be presented with the appropriate sourcing approach: catalog, self-service, or central sourcing (team)
    • for catalog, immediately make the buy by presenting the user with the available catalog options and allowing them to select one and complete the purchase (and then the bot completes the process in the source system)
    • for self service, flesh out tender specifics and select (pre-approved) suppliers and then ProcurementBot sends out the tenders and, when they are all returned, or a certain time has passed (as configured by the category manager in the mysupply platform) returns the quotes to the buyer through the initial chat channel (where they can select one)
    • for central sourcing, it collects the request and, if appropriate, bundles it with others that are then rolled up into a managed tender that is then put into a central buyer’s queue for management, which may happen before or after initial quote requests are sent to suppliers (if an event template has already been pre-configured)

Let’s dive into some key sections / capabilities for the sourcing professional.

Demand Management / Bundling

As above, the system can be pre-configured to bundle demand over a period of time for all requests for the same product or products in a pre-defined lot, but for the rest of the requests that come in, there is the demand management/bundling section. In this section, the buyer can see all of the requests, have mysupply suggest a bundling, and either pick a suggested bundle or create her own bundle. She can quickly search and filter to create custom sourcing project bundles and then immediately kick off a workflow to define a new sourcing project bundle.

When a new sourcing project is kicked off, the user is taken to a screen where they can select starting pre-defined supplier groupings that are relevant for each item requested in the demand bundle (and, of course, the system will not include duplicate invites if the supplier is in multiple supplier groups, so the sourcing organization doesn’t have to create intersection groups, just groups for each commonly requested item).

Standard Sourcing Process

Once the buyer defines a basic event through one of the workflows (kicked off from a single request or request bundle), the platform takes the user to the event summary. From there they can:

  • define the automation and starting strategy — the event can be setup to automatically select all approved suppliers, send the request out at a certain time, remind suppliers, automatically advance to evaluation when all starting bids are in or the deadline is reached, kick off automated negotiation rounds (where suppliers are given a chance to update bids based on rank information and built-in game theory negotiation strategies), and basically free the buyer until it’s time to evaluate the first round of bids and either award, or kick off another round — at this point, the buyer can change the negotiation strategy, and even split the event up into multiple parts; this is different from most platforms where the entire event structure, and strategy (single round, multi round, Dutch action, etc.) has to be defined up-front and cannot be changed — something which makes no sense in tactical tail spend sourcing where you don’t know the supplier interest or current market dynamics; note that the starting strategy can be multi-pronged based on event value (if the award can be done under 10,000, then just award the lot to the current lowest bidder; if under 25,000 use autonomous QuickBot negotiation and award to the lowest bidder on an item basis; if over 25,000, do a 2nd round RFP with the three best suppliers and more negotiation/bundling to motivate better pricing; etc.)
  • flesh out the request — quote breakdown (while it is tactical tail spend, you may still want shipping, handling, taxes, service fees, etc. broken out), basic information required, documents required, delivery and payment details that must be accepted, compliance requirements, etc.
  • invitation of the selected suppliers (where you can add or remove suppliers that were pre-populated from supplier groups appropriate to the items in the request)
  • the evaluation of the bids that come back – manually, autonomously, or a combination thereof;
    the platform supports best price strategies, threshold strategies (which allow the strategy to be dependent on the amount of the bid, i.e user-driven negotiation above a range, best price negotiation within a range, and best-price auto-award below a range), QuickBot single lot auto-negotiation, Multi-Item QuickBot, English auction, Dutch auction, ranking (based on weighted responses and costs), buyer awards (no auction/negotiation); it supports lot strategies (best distribution by single-item award or all split); it also supports multiple rounds if desired with pre-scheduled negotiation windows (for RFQs and auctions); and, finally, it supports automated awarding if strategies that permit automated awarding are selected (subject to conditions that can restrict auto-award based on LDO — Least Desirable Outcome — or MDO — Most Desirable Outcome — scenarios; however, note that this is just the starting strategy;
  • select one or more bids for negotiation and make an award (unassigned/unawarded items are summarized and the user can see, through color coding, the lowest cost among all offers, select one, and send it to the e-Procurement system; the user can even dynamically kick-off new rounds of the RFP/auction, which may have a smaller supplier set or introduce new suppliers if the responses weren’t acceptable )
  • manage Q&A with the suppliers

A great feature of mysupply is it is not built to replace your current strategic sourcing platform (which most organizations have), your existing catalogs and catalog management applications (they integrate with them through their extensive API support), or your ERP/MRP/AP system which manages your purchase orders (as they integrate with those too). It’s meant to fill the tactical / tail spend sourcing hole in most organizations and, in particular, help organizations with tactical sourcing teams and help desks become considerably more efficient so overall savings can be increased though effective category management practices that capture and encode organizational knowledge so the end users can make the right buys on their own as often as possible, ensuring that the tactical team can focus on higher spend tail spend categories and new categories (and develop the right strategies to manage those going forward).

If your organization does a lot of tactical / tail spend sourcing, mysupply is definitely a platform you might want to check out, especially since its ProcurementBot allows it to do intake through third party platforms organizational users are already familiar with (such as Microsoft Teams).

Another “think tank” article on digitizing procurement that’s off-the-mark!

A recent article in Supply Chain Brain noted that you should be seizing the opportunity for digitizing procurement and the doctor completely agrees. Nothing should be paper based in Procurement today. There’s no excuse for it.

And yes, multiple developments in supply chain are converging to create an unprecedented digital opportunity for procurement professionals. Furthermore, if you work on mastering and combining emerging and maturing technologies in strategic ways since procurement teams are in a position to reshape how they work, and create value across the supply chain, you can revolutionize Procurement and business performance.

But digitizing, by definition, means moving processes from scrolls to systems, from the dark basement to the illuminated screens. It DOES NOT mean that:

  • you use Gen-AI or even machine learning
    there may be tasks where you apply point-based ML, but that comes after the digitization of an appropriate process
  • you use cognification to illuminate (concealed) processes
    especially when it could illuminate you should never have digitized the process in the first place
  • you accelerate workflow through automation
    you automate what you can, and while that includes the acceleration of tactical paperwork processing and thunking, sometimes humans have to step back and think about the data received, insights produced, and options available before making a decision … you don’t accelerate whatever amount of time it takes a human to make a good decision (and, instead, focus on automating and accelerating any non-strategic tactical “thunking” tasks that prevent them from focussing their brain power where it’s really needed)
  • you go straight to content personalization
    when the users might not even know how to use the baseline systems (and, in the process, create a nightmare for the support personnel)

Digitizing Procurement starts by:

  • understanding what processes you are using now
  • understanding if they are appropriate or they should be optimized
  • identifying off-the-shelf best-of-breed modules, mini-suites, suites, and/or
    intake-to-orchestrate platforms and implementing them
  • identifying key points where RPA, ML, or other advanced techs can make the process even more efficient
  • then identifying the right advanced tech to use

Not starting with it. You should never try to run a race before you can walk. The only “impactful opportunity” identified in the article you should start with is

  • adopting ecosystem thinking to enhance data

At the end of the day, nothing works well without good data. So get the data right, and everyone aligned to get the data right, and that will get you further, and help you do better, than any piece of modern tech you can try to throw at the problem.