Category Archives: Best Practices

The Key to Successful Supply Management? No MoBAs, no PiMPs, no Paper Pushers, and no over-reliance on dumb bots.

It seems the list gets longer every year as those looking for a quick-fix try to take shortcuts to solving their problem that involve pushing those problems to third parties who are even less competent to solve them.

A few years ago we said the key for a successful supply management center of excellence was no M(o)BAs and no P(i)MPs!. This is because successful supply management relies on supply management expertise and experience, not on meaningless business models and knowledge-free project management frameworks. (Remember that SI still firmly believes that individuals that only have MBAs are just Master of Business Annihilation!)

This is because not only is it the case that you can’t manage what you can’t understand, but all you can do if you try is make it worse! Supply Managers are overworked and under-resourced, and any misstep has a ripple effect throughout the supply chain — one that can go from a minor delay to a major catastrophe. Management knowledge and project management skills are good things, but whereas supply chain is concerned, only if this knowledge and skill is added to a fundamental understanding of the supply management process that needs to be performed.

However, as we indicated last year in our post that The Key to Successful Supply Management? No MoBAs, no PiMPs, and no Paper Pushers!, simply eliminating the unknowledgeable MoBAs and PiMPs is not enough anymore. Paper pushers have to go to. There’s no time for tactical people who only receive, process, and send e-paper in a modern fast moving supply chain when the majority of this work can be automated by modern bots.

Today’s professionals need to be able to identify, implement, and make use of modern assisted and augmented intelligence solutions that can help them identify what needs to be analyzed, what needs to be addressed, what needs to be done, and the best ways to potentially go about it. The individuals who can do this are not PO paper pushers or AP invoice processors. They are knowledgeable and capable sourcing, procurement, and supply management experts who know their domain, and the tools, first and the business and project management second.

And they can’t be hampered by dumb bots. Dumb bots do poor invoice matching and create a lot of false positives to be unnecessarily checked. Dumb bots simply flag differentials between current and market price with no understanding of what the cause for the difference is and whether or not savings could actually be realized if a sourcing event was conducted. Dumb bots automate auction and RFX stages on a schedule, but don’t ensure that stages are complete or requirements are met. Dumb bots can extract potential terms, costs, etc. but make no sense of them and not even classify them properly. And so on.

Smart bots are needed, but dumb bots create more tactical work than they take away. So make sure they go with the paper pushers when you show them the door.

Single Multi-Tier Risk Mitigation Strategies Don’t Mitigate Risk

Last year we penned a post on how single tier risk mitigation strategies don’t mitigate risk and that they may, in fact, increase risk. As we indicated in our previous post, the following standard single-tier risk mitigation strategies have the potential to increase risk:

    • Dual Sourcing
      without careful planning, both suppliers could use the same Tier 2 source
    • Alternate Design
      can simply reduce / eliminate the need for one rare raw material in favour of another material that ends up being more rare
  • Financial Risk Monitoring
    for shakey suppliers isn’t enough to catch production shortcuts that a supplier might be taking to cut costs that increase your risk when the product is used or sold
  • Replacement Product Lines
    can share parts and suppliers that actually increase risk from a disruption

We indicated that if you wanted to truly mitigate risk, you have to go multi-tier and work with your supplier to identify the most likely risks in their, and your, supply chain and how to mitigate them.

And this is a great start, but simply using the least risky supplier at each tier doesn’t help you if a random natural or man-made disaster takes out a supplier for a few months (or permanently). There needs to be a dual sourcing strategy, and a well planned one. Using two suppliers in the same region or that use the same raw material source is not dual sourcing. Alternate design that is specific to a small supply base that could be wiped out with a single disaster or single market event is not sound alternate design. Financial risk monitoring using third parties that don’t have deep insight into certain markets, regions, or mining operations is not enough — by the time an issue is detected, it could be too late. And of course, trading one product line with known risks for another with unknown risks is pretty much the opposite of risk mitigation.

That’s why you not only need multi-tier risk mitigation in a single supply chain, but multiple supply chains with multi-tier risk for any critical products or product lines. As per our recent post on how the risk disconnect is still big, Sourcing and Procurement need to place a much bigger focus on risk to ensure negotiated scenarios are actual scenarios to realize the savings and value the organization expects.

Your Procurement New Year Resolutions

To save you time, the doctor has updated his short-list of the most important.

1. I WILL NOT READ PREDICTION ARTICLES

As the doctor has stated many, many, times, most predictions are old news or remanufactured shoes, as clearly explained in our long series on The Future of Procurement, where we tackled the same predictions you hear year after year after year and explained how some are, sadly, as old as commerce itself. Thus, there is no need to waste your time on them.

2. I WILL IMPLEMENT A BoB PLATFORM (FOUNDATION)

Last year we advised you to implement at least one new BoB Module or System, because, even if your organization is in the Hackett Group top 8%, the doctor can guarantee that there is at least one major Supply Management system or Source to Pay module you are missing (or lacking critical functionality in). In order to do a great job, you need a great system.

But, in addition to a great system, you need a great platform with a centralized data store and back office capability because the best system in the world is useless unless the right people are using it and everyone is working off of the same data and results with the access appropriate for them.

And very few organizations have a shared platform for S2C or P2P activities, and even less for P2P. And while the doctor encourages using BoB platforms as they can generate spectacular results when properly applied, those results need to be realized — which can’t happen unless the right employees can access the data in the applications they need to use. This means everything needs to be connected. This requires a platform.

Moreover, a platform with an open API, an open data store, and the ability to act as a master data store for all entities and transactions in the platform. Anything less is not a platform.

3. I WILL CONTINUE TO IMPROVE AT LEAST ONE TIME CONSUMING TACTICAL PROCESS PER QUARTER

There is absolutely no value in tactical work. This is where you hand over as much as you can to the machine that can do it faster, better, and cheaper than you. You can’t do millions of calculations and comparisons a second — it can. You can’t consolidate data from 20 different sources into a 20 page report in less than a minute — it can. Plus, as per the doctor‘s series on AI in Procurement (Today Part I, Part II; Tomorrow Part I, Part II, Part III; and The Day After Tomorrow) over on Spend Matters Pro and his upcoming series on AI in Sourcing over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required], now that assisted intelligence is widely available, and augmented intelligence is coming, there’s no excuse to do unnecessary tactical work.

Plus, as we clearly indicated last year, what you need to focus on is strategic work. Analyzing the top recommendations that come out of the Cognitive Procurement system to make sure they make sense, that the system didn’t miss anything, and that it works for your organization. And then figuring out if you have the experience and expertise to ignore a system market buy recommendation to go negotiate a better deal with top (incumbent) suppliers because your 20 years of insights gives you an edge that cannot be encoded. Or if the projected results from a market auction with the top 6 suppliers is better than your team would ever do with their complete lack of category experience. Your value is your ability to use your intelligence, not your ability to push paper. Let the dumb machines do that, and do what you were hired for!

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto Patoron!

A decade ago, Sourcing Innovation published a piece on how Every Check Has a Cost which echoed a point made by Paul Graham that one of the big differences between big companies and startups is that big companies tend to have developed procedures to protect themselves against mistakes while a startup walks like a toddler, bashing into things and falling over all the time and, as a result, over time, gradually puts in place rules and procedures and associated checks and balances to prevent it from falling over itself, especially when the fall results in a mini-disaster (such as a contracted supplier going bankrupt).

Thus, as the company grows, it will invariably accumulate more checks, either as responses to disasters or as a result of hiring people from bigger companies who bring more checks with them for protecting against disasters which have not yet happened (and which may never happen).

But this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Unnecessary checks cost time to document,, implement, support, and maintain, especially if it’s for a situation unlikely to happen or a situation that, when it happens, will cost the company less than the cost of the check and balance it has to go through day in and day out. For example, like checking the references and solvency of an office supplies, furniture, or an off-the-shelf electronics provider. Who cares. One goes out of business, 10 more down the street.

Or mandating committee review and on-site demos for what should be a $10,000 piece of software. As described in our classic piece, the more expensive you make a sale, the more expensive that sale is going to be. If it costs a vendor $30,000 to sell you what should be a $10,000 piece of software, they’re going to charge you $50,000 — $10,000 for the software, $30,000 for the cost of sale, $5,000 for the additional support they expect, and an extra $5,000 to make up for the commissions they are losing spend all that time with you.

Similarly, it’s costly to have a manager check every purchase over $250 made by an employee just because someone decided that should be an arbitrary threshold.

Ten years ago we said review all your checks and balances and get rid of the ones that don’t make any sense or cost you more than they would save in the worst case.

But now we are saying don’t just get rid of those, get rid of ANY manual check that doesn’t add value the majority of the time — and replace it with an automated system check backed by RPA (robotic process automation) driven AI (assisted intelligence) that determines whether or not there is enough risk to warrant a manual check.

With good risk models, good training data (common situations when a “mandatory” check resulted in an approval, common situations where a “mandatory” check resulted in a denial, and exceptional situations where a “mandatory” check resulted in a request for more information by the approver), good budget/spend data, contract/catalog data (and preferred suppliers), and organizational hierarchies (with well defined roles), a system can not only easily map into (definite) yes / (definite) no / more information / forced manual review buckets and improve its knowledge of typical organizational purchase and approval patterns over time and reduce the number of manual checks to those situations that are truly risky or truly unclear. Which is, to be precise, the only time a check should be applied. (And over time, it will be able to suggest better and better check rules that help an organization understand what, and only what, it should truly be checking.)

And when you implement the right software to automate these mostly unnecessary checks (on the road to eliminating them), just like you can slowly take the foam off the table corners and the training wheels off the bike, you will grow up as a purchasing organization and, after finally finding a proper use for RPA and AI, you will say:

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto Patoron!

… And Stop Paying for More Analysis Software Than You Need!

Yesterday SI featured a guest post from Brian Seipel who advised you to Stop Paying for More Analysis than You Need because, simply put, a lot of analytics effort and reports yield little to no return. As Brian expertly noted,

  • Sometimes 80% classification at the transactional level is enough
    Especially if you can get 95%+ by supplier or dollar volume. Once it’s easy to see there’s no opportunity in a category (either because it’s all under contract, the spend is low, the spend versus market price on what is classified leaves little savings opportunity etc.), why classify more?
  • If you are producing a heap of reports on a regular basis, many won’t get looked at
    Especially if the reports aren’t telling you anything new. Plus, as previously explained on SI, a great Spend Analysis Report is useful 3 times. The first time it is used to detect an opportunity, midway through a project to capture an identified savings opportunity to make sure the plan is coming together, at the end of the project to gauge the realized savings. That’s it.
  • A 20% savings isn’t always meaningful
    You’re probably overspending on office supplies by 20%, but it may not matter. If office supplies (because you’ve moved to a mostly paperless office thanks to investments in 2nd monitors and tablets and secure electronic distribution and janitorial supplies is under MRO) is only 10K, and capturing that 2K would take a week of effort running a simple event and negotiating a master contract when your fully burdened cost is 2K a day, is it worth it? Heck no. You don’t spend 10K to save 2K. It’s all about the ROI.
  • Speculative analysis on categories you have no control over may not pay out
    Just because you can show Marketing they are overspending by 50% doesn’t mean they are going to do anything about it. If they solemnly believe you can’t measure talent or impact on a spend basis, and you have no say over the final award, you will be fighting an uphill battle and while the argument should be made to the C-Suite, it has to come from the CPO, so until she is ready to take the battle on, spending on an analysis you can predict from intuition and market analysis is not going to give the ROI you need today.

When you put all this together, this gives you some rules about what you should be looking for, and spending on, when you select an analytics system (especially if you are not a do-it-yourselfer, even though there are systems today that are ridiculously easy to use compared to the reporting systems that first rolled out two decades ago).

  • Don’t overpay for auto-class
    While no one wants to manually classify transactions (even though a crack analyst can classify a Fortune 500 spend by hand in 2 to 3 days to 95%+ with a powerful multi-level rules-based system with regular expression pattern match, augmented intelligence, and drag and drop reclassification capability), considering how easy it is to manually classify straggler transactions once you’ve achieved 90%+ auto-classification to a best-in-class industry categorization (with 95%+ reliability), don’t overpay for auto-class. In fact, don’t pay extra at all — there are a dozen systems with this feature that can get you there. Only pay extra for a system that makes it easy to accomplish mappings and re-mappings and maintain them in a consistent and non-conflicting manner.
  • It doesn’t matter how many reports there are out of the box
    Because, once you get through the first set of projects that fix the spend issues identified, they will all be useless anyway. What matters is how many templates there are for customizing your own. It’s all about being able to define the top X from a subset of categories, geographies, suppliers, departments, users, etc. that are likely to contain your best opportunities, not just the top X spend or transaction volume. It’s about the Schneidermann diagrams and bubble charts on the dimensions that matter on the relevant subset of data. It should be easy to define any type of report you may need to run regularly on whatever filtered subset of data that is relevant to you at the time.
  • Totals, CheckSums, and Data Validations Should be Easy
    … and auto-run on every data import. You want to be able to focus in on your mapping and verification efforts where the spend, and potential opportunity, is large enough to be worth your time, know that the totals add up (to what is expected), and that the data wasn’t corrupted on export or import. The system should verify the data is within the appropriate time window, that at least key dimensions (supplier [id], GL code, etc.) are within expected sets and ranges, and source system identifiers are present.
  • Built In Category Intelligence is only valuable if you need it
    … don’t pay for community spend intelligence, integrated market feeds, or best-practice templates for categories you don’t source (regularly) or that don’t constitute a significant savings opportunity, especially if those fees are ongoing as part of a subscription. Unless it’s intelligence you will use every month, pay for it as a one-off from a market intelligence vendor that offers that service.

The reality is that second generation spend analysis systems are now a commodity, and you can get a great enterprise platform subscription that starts in the low to mid five figures annually that does more than than most organizations need. (And personal consultant licenses to great products for much, much, less.) Don’t overpay for the software, save it for the analyst who can use it to find you savings.