Author Archives: thedoctor

How Medium Sized Enterprises Can Better Manage Spend

McKinsey & Company recently ran a long article on how medium-size enterprises can better manage sourcing that noted that the big reasons that mid-sized companies have difficulty reining in external spending are:

  • a lack of spending transparency
  • a myopic focus on the short term
  • talent gaps
  • underused digital tools and automation
  • exclusion of procurement and supply chain in business decisions

And noted that any action plan that a medium-size enterprise comes up with for procurement cost savings should include:

  • establishing CoE (Center of Excellence) teams
  • improving forecasting
  • expanding use of digital procurement tools
  • gaining greater market intelligence
  • establishing a culture of — and process for — continuous cost improvement
  • incorporation supplier-driven product and service improvements

And they recommend a ladder model that consists of the following steps:

1) Set Aspirations
2a) Rapid renegotiations with top suppliers
2b) Make-vs-Buy Analysis
3) Build spec catalog to enable market engagement
4a) Conduct request-for-quote (RFQ) rounds
4b) Build parts catalog
5a) Validation of suppliers and production parts
5b) Consolidation of SKUs and modularization

And this is all very good, and when you read the article for the details you will understand why it’s all very good, but it doesn’t really provide a clear, step-by-step, roadmap on where you should start.

Fortunately, Sourcing Innovation did provide a partial roadmap in it’s 39 Steps … err … The 39 Clues … err … The 39 Part Series to Help You Figure Out Where to Start with Source-to-Pay which outlined the order in which an organization should get the tools (and thus the associated market intelligence) it needs to effectively tackle spend (and forecasting), work with suppliers, and establish a culture of continuous improvement. About the only item we didn’t address on the McKinsey list is the establishment of CoE teams — the right structure is highly organization dependent, and will be better enabled by the implementation and adoption of the right tools.

So, if you missed the series, go back to the beginning and understand where you start, why, and how a proper, ordered, logical implementation of Source-to-Pay in a modular fashion will help you maximize savings, efficiency, and even sustainability within your allowed budget.

Prices too High? Take a Leaf from the Green Cabbage!

Green Cabbage, formerly known as PAAS Advisors (which stood for Product Analysis and Strategy), is an interesting spend analytics offering as it is both a product and a service advisory practice. The platform provides unequalled insights into the indirect technology, contingent workforce, and clinical categories; deep invoice analytics down to the line item; market intelligence theses (MITs) on very specific indirect technology, contingent workforce, or clinical sub (sub) categories that are far deeper and fresher than any peers; and a third party negotiation (support) service (where they will negotiate at the Senior Executive/C-Suite level) to help you get the best contracts possible on key high-value contracts. That’s a lot to digest, but we’ll tackle each point in this write up.

Let’s break down the “practice and platform” part first, starting with their pricing model. Their pricing model is a variation of standard percentage of savings model — it’s a subscription model with a savings target and a guaranteed savings of at least 3X, which is better than just a straight cut of savings for you. If they don’t help you hit the savings target they promise, you will get a discount, or an extension to your subscription, but if you blow way, way, past the target (like many of their clients do), instead of paying more than 3X what you would have otherwise have paid through pre-negotiating a fixed fee for unlimited use of the platform, you pay the pre-negotiated subscription fee.

It’s important to understand their pricing model, as it drives the unique approach they take in their practice, which is designed to deliver savings to the clients that engage them for software and services as fast as possible. Most spend analysis companies start by attempting to load, cleanse, classify, and enrich all of an organization’s spend data before attempting to do any analysis or identify any savings opportunities. This can take weeks or months, which means its weeks or months before the first opportunity is identified. To allow them to start pursuing, and capturing, opportunities in just a few weeks, Green Cabbage starts by loading all of an organization’s contracts, starting with the Indirect Technology Human Capital, and Clinical Supply contracts, because the most immediate opportunities are where contracts are needed ASAP (because the organization allowed them to expire) or in the short term (as they are coming up for renewal), and in those categories where Green Cabbage are experts in finding cost reductions quickly.

From just the contracts, using their deep community intelligence provider benchmarks and market knowledge, they can identify the best opportunities to go after immediately in indirect technology, contingent workforce, and clinical supply categories. They can even negotiate on behalf of the client and often get savings better than their client would on their own due to their deep domain knowledge and years of experience analyzing and negotiating in these categories, usually with senior executives in the supplier organizations.

Once the contracts are loaded, only then will Green Cabbage begin to load and classify all of the organization’s spend data into their One Workspace Spend Analysis platform, which can be provided to them as flat file exports or loaded through an API. The organization can define their own categories and Green Cabbage will map the organizational spend to those categories. Once the spend has been loaded into One Workspace, the organization can build some basic spend reports to do some basic spend analysis on their own, export the clean categorized data to Excel files for local spend analysis, or use the customized workspaces with deep pre-built custom dashboards for Indirect Tech, Human Capital and Clinicals.

The Indirect Tech module is designed to help a buyer identify the current and upcoming projects based upon expired and expiring contracts that need to be renewed to support their organization. The main dashboard shows the buyer the YTD savings, the upcoming renewals by contract, the top suppliers by spend, key category metrics, and the primary actions that can be taken (such as upload a contract or request a MIT). From here, the buyer can click into the suppliers dashboard or straight to an indirect technology supplier dashboard that summarizes key metrics (last year of spend, lifetime spend, estimated spend this year, next key [contract] date, relationship length, agreement gaps, etc.), contracts, and visual timelines. From there, the buyer can click into a contract and see associated details or kick off a project.

In addition to the supplier dashboards, there are also spend analysis, renewal, project, and MIT dashboards. The spend analysis dashboard allows the buyer to create custom reports to slice the data by different dimensions. The renewals dashboard in the Indirect Tech Module summarizes the status of contracts coming up for renewal (queued, in review, out for sourcing, terminating, etc.) as well as the category breakdowns, spend by stage, and timeline summaries. The projects dashboard allows contract renewal projects to be created, assigned, and tracked while providing a summary view of all current projects. It also supports savings tracking by agreement. From a project, the buyer can click into the renewal details and access the current (draft) version of the contract for review, the reviewers, see any notes or documents they uploaded, and the activity log.

Finally, the MIT — Market Intelligence Thesis — dashboard allows the buyer to quickly access the completed MITs, month-over-month and year-over-year savings from projects based on the MITs, and key MIT metrics (in process, completed, estimated savings available, % discount from baseline, etc.). The Green Cabbage Market Intelligence Thesis is much more than just a benchmark, it’s a detailed sub-category analysis on a specific product or service of 1 to 2 pages done in near-real time by expert advisors that augments the benchmark data with deep vendor insights into the SKUs being purchased, market conditions, and negotiation strategy. The MIT is offered at three different levels:

  • lightweight: basic MIT as described above
  • comprehensive: lightweight MIT as well as a detailed analysis of standard/available terms & conditions
  • competitive: competitive MIT as well as a detailed analysis of top 3 competitors across similar SKUs and similar terms and conditions, with appropriate negotiation strategies and expected savings under different conditions

Unlike some providers which simply do this every quarter (Denali, SpendHQ, etc.) and provide this as a reporting service, or others that do fully automated real-time augmented benchmark production based on current data, trends, and standard practices based on the trends and current market conditions, Green Cabbage does a custom, semi-manual, MIT upon request within three (3) business days, and usually within one (1) business day, on every request to make sure the client always has the most up-to-date information appropriate to that client’s situation. They can do this because their platform automates the benchmark computations and their advisors are experts in the indirect technology and human capital categories and are analyzing and negotiating in the categories on a daily basis. As such, their analysts can turn around a custom analysis specific to a client’s situation in an hour or two.

However, as per our intro, Indirect Tech is not the only area they go deep. They also go deep in contingent workforce/staffing agency in their Human Capital module that more-or-less mirrors the Indirect Tech module with a main dashboard and dashboards on contingent workforce suppliers, human capital spend analysis, renewals, projects, and MITs. The main dashboard summarizes savings to date, percentage from baseline, forecasted spend (vs. actual for historical), top agency relationships, expiring contracts, and key metrics. The other dashboards are similar in purpose to Indirect Tech, but customized to Human Capital.

The main difference is in the MITs, where a contract owner / project owner can benchmark as many positions as they want in a sub-category or category for a given provider (should they be looking to renegotiate) or a small set of providers (should they be looking for true market intelligence or looking to negotiate with multiple providers and trying to figure out how to best split demand). The benchmarks are similar, wth all the benchmark data (which shows the low/medium/high averages, the service locations, the expected savings at each level) auto-generated. The only exception is the additional market/negotiation notes at the position level that is manually generated on top of the basic thesis information. Note that there is a limit to the number of positions if you want the guaranteed turnaround time, but if they have a few extra days, they have done detailed benchmarks of over 1,500 positions in the past, and with their deep insights, expertise, and negotiation skills obtained savings percentages typically only seen by providers who offer deep multi-level decision optimization across multiple national and regional contingent workforce providers. (We’re talking 30% range in some cases.)

(When you have deep benchmark data and powerful spend analytics, you can quickly divide contingent workforce needs among the providers best suited to offer those positions at a lower cost, use this data for fact-based volume-based negotiation, and shave off almost as many points as the best optimization engines without any mathematical modelling whatsoever, and not have to worry about if the split between the providers is one you are comfortable with.)

Other key features of the platform include:

  • Clinicals: which is their clinical supplies spend analysis module that is similar to their Human Capital Module (except the SKUs are clinical suppliers and not contingent workforce positions)
  • GC Legal: which maintains a standard set of Terms and Conditions clauses that specify exactly what different Ts and Cs means to the client (and helps the analysts do custom MITs and negotiation projects)
  • SKU Search: that allows the client to search for particular SKUs across their suppliers and contracts
  • Outside Data: that allows them to import additional data to augment their spend from third party products, with out-of-the-box integration options for a number of indirect tech (SalesForce, etc.) and contingent workforce (ServiceNow, etc.) providers
  • Invari: their invoices platform
  • End-to-End Security: all MITs, which are often based on organizational contracts, are done through the platform, where data is fully encrypted both in transit and at rest, and not through e-mail, FTP, or other unsafe data transmission methods employed by some other service/advisory firms

Let’s talk about Invari now. This is an analytics backed invoice management platform that allows an organization to upload, manage, and analyze invoices in real time. While it can support any category and supplier, it is designed to support their technology, human capital, and clinical supply categories and benchmarking in particular. When purchased, they request at least 3 months of invoices for all of your providers, and will accept up to 3 years of history if available in order to get enough invoices to allow them to train a custom model for every single provider so that, when an invoice is uploaded, it can be automatically parsed at least 95% of the time for immediate availability. Because models are customized per supplier per client, their system detects any issues and when the invoice cannot be parsed or key information cannot be found. When this happens, the invoice processing system kicks the invoice out to a manual processor who will fill in the missing information in under 3 hours and then update/retrain the model to prevent the same error from happening again.

In addition to allowing invoices to be immediately available for management and analytics in the future, these detailed models also allow the system to build up invoice profiles by supplier and the system can detect when an expected invoice is missing (because you always get a monthly invoice for a service by a certain date in the month), duplicated (because the spend profile is doubled in a month, etc.), or suspect (because it doesn’t fit the pattern).

The main dashboard provides an overview of key invoice KPIs (pending submission, awaiting approval, total count, unresolved, missing), an overview of missing invoices (so immediate action can be taken), a summary by providers, and a summary of top variances.

The approvals dashboard shows all of the invoices that need to be approved, along with variances from the best “prior” invoice, colour-coded on the green to red spectrum (so you can quickly see if there is a likely price issue even before drilling in to the invoice). On this screen, you can quickly pop-up the six-month history for more details on the variance and trends and pop-up the invoice summary window that summarizes billing arrangements (from the contract), line items, and sub-charges.

Fore more details on costs and variances, you can dive into the invoice analytics dashboard that provides a variance report across suppliers over the past X months (on a green – red spectrum that represents decreases to increases) that also clearly identifies new charges (in yellow) so you can see where regular billings start or change. From here, you can dig into a supplier and see the same breakdown by line item / SKU, and then, in that breakdown, you can drill into a particular line item / SKU and see the same breakdown across the sub-charges. For example, at the top level, you see all your providers. When you drill into Your-BroadBand-Provider, you see High Speed Service, Mesh Network Rental, Taxes and Fees. When you Drill into High Speed Service, you see monthly service fee, modem rental, and fixed IP lease. And, of course, you can also search across contracts for specific SKUs and set up alerts when new variances are detected off of new invoices.

At this time it’s worth pointing out that in Indirect Tech, Green Cabbage does true micro-SKU benchmarking, unpacks all of the different offerings in a SKU offered by a tech provider who might include multiple modules in a SKU or a broadband provider who will pack in rentals with subscription fees, and can tell when a provider changes a SKU description or composition. This allows it to do price benchmarking (or at least price range benchmarking) across individual products and services and provide more finer grain details and guidance than the majority of its peers, even in the specialized SaaS market.

And while Green Cabbage might not be a common name in S2P, or one getting a lot of buzz from the analysts, they are bigger than you think. Serving eight (8) of the top ten (10) private equity firms in the US and four (4) of the top private equity firms in Europe, global consultancies like KPMG and BCG, along with other big name Fortune 1000 clients, they have over 500 Billion of spend under management (which is sizeable when you consider that Coupa, that claims to have the most, only has about 4 Trillion in global business spend data), over 1.25 Billion data points, and over 13,000 benchmarkable suppliers in their categories of expertise. That’s very significant, very powerful, and allows them to identify large cost reduction opportunities and negotiate them for you at contract renewal time. (And if you don’t have the volume on your own for significant savings, they also have a group purchasing offering called Receptio that you can look into. Note that since this blog covers technology, we won’t be covering Receptio in this write-up.)

The main weakness right now is that the API is only for getting data in. They are working on extending it to get data out, but there is no timeline for that yet. This is critical for a number of reasons:

  1. their contract management is limited to file uploads and metadata and it would be very useful if they could push rates, benchmarks, and standard Ts and Cs to a contract management/governance platform to support creation, negotiation, and ongoing management of contracts outside of renewal projects
  2. spend export is limited to Excel / flat file dumps; while their tool is good, it’s not BiC for generic spend analysis, especially outside their core categories, and neither is their categorization knowledge beyond their core categories — depending on the spend, it’s not guaranteed to be accurate beyond level 2 or 3 (of a 4 to 6 level UNSPSC or equivalent hierarchy), so if the organization has some very specific or detailed indirect or direct categories it needs deep categorization for, this will have to be done in an external tool (where you can classify to a lower level, do more detailed analytics, and then push the refined data back) and you need Green Cabbage to be the single source of truth (because it allows you to do invoice management and deep invoice analysis and keep your spend data up to date)
  3. you can mark a category or contract as in Sourcing, but there is no connection to an external sourcing tool

We will note that they have indicated they are working on expanding the API for pushing/pulling data out, and that their first priority is to push appropriate data to a contract management platform to allow for contract creation, negotiation management, and governance (as all the platform supports around contracts is file-based uploads and meta-data). Hopefully they finish this by the end of the year and can start extending the API for export of all data in the first half of next year as an organization needs a single source of spend truth and there are lots of great DiY spend analysis tools (like Spendata) that could connect to the Green Cabbage platform for one-off category analysis where Green Cabbage doesn’t provide detailed benchmarks (or support easy/refined classification).

In other words, if you are in an industry that makes heavy use of indirect technology (SaaS, Cloud, etc.), the contingent workforce, and/or clinical supplies and you want a service-based spend analysis offering that can help you find deep savings based on real-time competitive benchmarks and on-demand category analysis, and even use their manpower to capture those opportunities for you, you really should check out Green Cabbage. There’s really no one like them in their categories of expertise.

Where Should Procurement Have the Greatest Impact?

Ivalua and Procurement Leaders recently did a study on Purpose-driven Procurement: Entering an Age of Holistic Value that was partially covered over on EPS News that ran a typical, bland, headline on how Procurement’s Value Exceeds Cost Control.

Procurement can add value beyond cost control, and should add value beyond cost control, but what stands out the most in this article, and likely in the Ivalua/Procurement study, was the highlighted figures on areas in which Procurement has made the greatest impact (by % of respondents). Of the fifteen (15) areas presented in which Procurement should be making an impact, only three areas were selected by more than 30% of respondents, and the top 2 were the same old, same old responses of delivering cost savings and cost avoidance which are, in this market, the last two areas Procurement should be delivering value. First of all, times are such that there are, or soon will be no, cost savings in any category. Secondly, it’s not “cost avoidance” it’s “need avoidance“. It’s not just about saving money. In an age where your carbon footprint may soon be more important than your bank account, you don’t want to buy anything you don’t need, and you don’t want to waste anything.

In fact, today, the top ten things that Procurement should be doing are likely the bottom 10 things on the response pyramid, which were ten of the best responses such a survey could have included! Procurement is more than savings, cost avoidance, risk management, and theoretical sustainability (as most organizations won’t let Procurement spend a penny more than necessary to meet a need, even if that penny is to a much more sustainable supplier — there’s a lot more bark in the marketing then there is bite in the implementation; the doctor is aware of many surveys and has had many conversations where, if the buyer could pay 1% to 3% more than the lowest cost, sustainability would be substantially more; the reality is that, at most organizations, it doesn’t matter if the lowest cost is from the dirtiest, most unethical, supplier on the planet — the CFO wants cost reduction, the CEO wants profit, and the buyers were told to meet the targets and make the investors happy, not do the right thing. Hopefully more countries will pass carbon caps, carbon taxes, and sustainability laws because only then will Procurement get to serve the Purpose it wants to serve).

Procurement is the enabler that can transform the organization. And to demonstrate that, let’s review the bottom 10.

  • Supplier Diversity and Inclusion (16%): while you shouldn’t have arbitrary targets (as there is no one magic number that’s the right number), you should always look for diversity that you can include to widen your horizons — you never know where the next big idea, product, or saviour (when your strategic supplier becomes unavailable as the result of an unexpected event) will come from
  • Developing Team Skills and Talent (16%): while the first line to be cut from the budget is always the training budget when it should be the last line to be cut (when the world evolves faster everyday than the day before, and the job you do today will, in some ways, never be the same job in the future), Procurement can maximize the budget you have, find the right partner to improve your skills in a fair exchange (they train you for free if you use their products or services), and even train you on better processes and practices on their own
  • Digitalisation (11%): while this is not a conversation we should be having in 2023 (when Nicholas Negroponte told us all we should get used to Being Digital in 1995), most departments in most organizations are still woefully behind when it comes to technology (and the average employee has more modern apps on their personal smartphone than on their work computer), and that’s where Procurement can help as it needs to digitize to manage its sourcing, procurement, and supply chain and has already been through (part of) that process
  • Improving Cash Flow (11%): Procurement is in the best position to optimize outbound cash flow, balancing payment terms with cost reductions with risk minimization, and can even use that knowledge of cash flow optimization to help Finance select the right terms for short term investments, loans, or even factoring on the organization’s invoices to big, slow, clients
  • Contributing to Revenue Growth (11%): Procurement’s analytics skills that it uses to predict demand can also predict the products/services that are the most popular and the ones that the organization could use to grow revenue by shifting production, marketing, and sales focus to those product lines
  • Improving Product/Service Quality (7%): Procurement can do more than just find new suppliers, they can help with product innovation and service improvement; they can identify suppliers with alternate designs that use alternate, more sustainable, materials that can build a better product and consultants with more experience and expertise to offer a better service
  • Drive Innovation from the Supply Base (6%): Procurement is the perfect partner to drive innovation; it is the first, consistent, and for better or worse, the last department to interact with the supplier, and in order for it to keep the CEO and CFO happy (and get the mythical savings which, after a certain point, don’t exist), it has to develop suppliers to an extent — no reason it can’t be helping you drive innovation
  • Support Mergers and Acquisitions (5%): let’s put it this way, if there’s no synergy in Procurement, there’s no synergy in the companies, and the company being considered should NOT be a target; so at the very least, Procurement should be one of the first sniff tests; it can also determine the synergy potential, the cost avoidance and efficiency potential, the innovation potential from an improved supply base, etc. etc. etc.
  • Demonstrate ROI to the Bottom Line (4%): Procurement NEEDS to be better educating the C-Suite on how its activities hit the bottom line across the board, not just on a few categories it finds savings in
  • Asset Disposal Activities (1%): We need to move towards a circular economy, and that means buying goods that meet as many of the R’s (refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recondition, refurbish, remanufacture, repurpose, recycle) as possible, which will always include recycling when it’s impossible to get any more value out of the asset, and Procurement, which understands the product best, will understand how best to dispose of it to ensure it is recycled and all of the raw materials reused in the most sustainable method possible

And this is where Procurement should be focussing. Let’s hope Procurement gets there sooner rather than later.

Efficiency Is In The Process, NOT THE MARKETPLACE!

the doctor really should stop reading the “news” and “best practice” articles the internet pushes his way because most of them are rubbish and just make him angry, but then again, if he didn’t get angry, what would he have to write about?

One of the articles recently was about how procurement can push efficiency and sustainability into the organization. The sustainability advice of “look for eco labels or EPA ID or products with recycled content” was pretty abysmal (because, duh!), but the efficiency recommendation of “create an e-marketplace to give your buyers an online catalog of goods and services” was just appalling.

That’s only efficient for organization end-users charged with restocking the supply cabinet in the office or keeping the MRO stock levels high enough to guarantee the production lines keep going when the store room gets low. That’s not injecting ANY efficiency into the Procurement process.

When you consider even the most basic strategic procurement process, you have to:

Identify the Need
and efficiency here is an intake management solution that allows you to collaborate with the end-users / end-sellers to make sure you’re procuring the right products for them to ply
Identify the Potential Suppliers
and efficiency here is a solution for supplier discovery, evaluation, and onboarding
Identify the Evaluation Requirements
and efficiency here is an orchestration solution that allows procurement to integrate all of the requirements from the users, the business, and the organizational goals
Evaluate the Bids
and efficiency here is an RFX solution with integrated analytics
Negotiate and Sign the Contract
and efficiency here is a contract lifecycle management that at least supports the contract negotiation process with complete document (and version) tracking and preferably also includes support for initial contract creation from award, key issue tracking, and e-signature integration
Determine the Appropriate Ordering Strategy
and efficiency here is determining whether the best fulfillment is regular shipments (if the factory uses X thousand units a month), auto-reorders on inventory level triggers (if the usage is/sales are irregular, but the product can be pulled quickly), or (managed) catalog-based orders as needed
3+-Way Match (against an invoice)
and efficiency here is a solution that makes it easy to ensure the invoice matches the goods receipt that matches the PO (at a minimum, and you also want to make sure the PO matches the contract etc.)

Efficiency is injecting efficiency into this process, not just setting up a marketplace!

The 1-Step Guide to Responsible AI in Procurement

Forbes recently published an article on Responsible AI Procurement: A Practical Guide For Selecting Trustworthy AI Vendors. It wasn’t bad, but it missed the point.

Today, there’s only one way to responsibly address AI in Procurement.


1) We don’t really understand proper AI Governance (especially when most vendors are using third parties which are illegally scarping content, not checking for bias, and tweaking models on the fly without consideration for the new problems the on-the-fly tweaks will cause).

Plus, it’s not just ethical codes of conduct, it’s agreeing on what the ethics are, and, most importantly, making sure the models are transparent and unbiased — but we don’t know how to do that today, especially since all these models are huge black box models.

2) You can demand all the evidence you want from the vendor as backup for the vendor claims, but if you can’t verify it, how can you trust it?

3) These models require huge datasets to train. Even if you know the data set used and the processing method used, how can you be sure every element was properly vetted? Just like one bad apple can spoil the bunch, just one bad element in a clustering or optimization model can spoil the entire model. Just one!  It only takes a small amount of bad data to spoil a model, regardless of the model used.

4) These models can fail, and sometimes fail spectacularly. If you don’t understand the model, you don’t understand where it can fail, and thus what to look for. Also, many minor incidents (which can foretell future catastrophic failures) will go unnoticed if a human isn’t checking everything.

5) These models are not secure … the AI can leak any training data at any time without warning. Your vendor can have every security certification under the sun, and all will be for naught if they use LLMs.