Category Archives: Best Practices

The CPO Agenda May Be Gone …

… but it’s checklist for staying center stage is still valid 10 years later.

Ten Year’s ago SI published the below, and every word of it stands today. (Of course today you have to do even more, but you still have to do the below.)

The CPO Agenda’s Procurement Checklist for Staying Center Stage

Now that Procurement has received board attention as the greatest potential for cost savings in the organization, CPOs need to start planning on how they are going to keep that attention once the recession ends and the spending monkeys try to steal the spotlight again. Thinking (way, way) ahead, the CPO Agenda recently put together a good checklist for staying center stage that summarizes some of the key strategies that CPOs will need to pursue to help the board see Procurement as a driver of growth, innovation, and long-term cost reduction and not just a one-trick cost-saving pony.

  1. A Vision for Growth
    • Value Chain
      As the central point of the organization, Procurement is in a prime position to define organizational needs, asses the capabilities of internal resources, and define organizational core competencies. What other business unit touches not only every other business unit, but all of your partners as well?
    • Solution Procurement
      Procurement can source solutions that leapfrog current best-in-class and create a paradigm shift in customer value.
    • Innovation
      As the glue that binds modern organizations together, Procurement can play a critical role in the innovation process by bringing partners and ideas together.
  2. Customer Relationship Management
    As the one business unit that has every other business unit as a customer, Procurement is in a prime position to help the company better meet its customer expectations.
  3. Supplier Relationship Management
    Procurement is already managing supplier relationships on a daily basis … it just has to help the organization understand that it needs to be the central point and the channel by which supplier capabilities are secured to support the company’s growth agenda.
  4. Supply Chain Optimization
    Without an efficient supply chain, companies cannot support the chosen customer needs. In order to achieve its plans, all aspects of a company’s supply chain MUST be optimized. Procurement is in the best position to do that.
  5. M&A Due Diligence
    The ultimate success of a merger or acquisition depends on whether or not the combined organization will be able to deliver more savings and more value … Procurement is in the best position to help make that call.

You Should Never Pay Your Supplier Late … Unless …

You can confirm that paying your supplier late is actually the right thing to do in the situation at hand.

There’s a reason that SI has been saying since day one that you should never pay a supplier late, and stands by that as a general rule, but every rule has an exception, and since there is a lot of economic stress as a result of the trade war (and other global political messes), and there will be times where smaller companies cannot always pay every invoice on time to the dot, SI is going to repeat the one, and only one, time you can pay a supplier late — and that’s when, and only when the particular circumstance at hand is such that it hurts the supplier less than it hurts you.

Furthermore, this isn’t a carte blanche to delay paying the invoice indefinitely, it’s special permission to avoid paying just until the funds come in to pay it. If you’re short because you’re waiting for your biggest customer to pay their large invoice, and you can’t pay everyone, then you can delay the invoices where it will hurt the suppliers the least to delay … but ONLY until the payment comes in.

In other words, if you have 1M in invoices, but only 800K, and you have invoices to (a) Mom and Pop’s Catering Services for the large event you just held; (b) the local meeting space you use every month; (c) the contingent staffing provider for seasonal workers you need; and (d) Big Computer Co for your 500L software renewal, where they won’t notice you’re late for at least 30 days, and they’ll just charge you 6% annual interest if they know you can pay late. So, who do you pay late? The answer should be obvious — (d).

Mom and Pop’s are probably surviving invoice to invoice, and any late payment seriously hurts their business. The contingent staffing provider might be able to afford it, but you don’t want to risk it as you need their staff and you can’t risk them having to lay those staff off because of cashflow issues. The local meeting space could probably swing at least a partial late payment, but they’re local and you need the preferred customer status they’ll give you as local if you pay on time. On the other hand, Microsoft has about 126 Billion in cash and equivalents, and can afford the late payment. And if you have to pay a 0.5% penalty, it’s way less than the heartache your other suppliers could experience if you don’t pay on time.

Remember, there are two reasons you always want to pay your suppliers on time. The first is to keep them financially sound. The second is to reduce your end to end supply chain cost. Just like you, your suppliers depend on your business and need that cash to buy raw materials, fund overhead costs, and, most importantly, pay their workers. If the supplier has to borrow money to buy those raw materials, fund overhead, or pay workers, it’s going to cost that supplier — and if their credit rating is less than yours, they’re not going to get a good rate — and, in fact, they might get a very bad rate of 20% or more … a lot less than the 6% you might be charged by Microsoft. And you can guess what’s going to happen down the road if they have to borrow at 20% interest for 3 months. That’s right, your costs are going up 5% on renewal. (And if the supplier has to layoff, and then bring people back later due to cash flow, that costs the, and you, even more.)

And what if a few days turns into a few weeks and then a few months and the supplier goes out of business just before they ship your big batch of products that take two months to make, then you’re not only out a supplier, you’re out products that you planned, which puts you out revenue, which puts you in an even worse situation.

So while it is sometimes okay to pay a supplier late if the situation is such that it hurts them less than it hurts you, it’s not okay to cart blanche pay them late on every invoice or delay payment even a day more than necessary.

So as a general rule, never pay a supplier late.

Have You Mastered the 4th T of Tracery Yet?

Regular readers will know that the time of PPT — People, Process, Technology — has long passed. In today’s fast paced world where product life-cycles are sometimes over as soon as they hit the market, and where your competitors are constantly striving to outpace you in both sales and supply management, you can’t live on processes anymore — they go stale almost as soon as you’ve got them figured out. And in a knowledge economy, just having a butt in a seat or a worker at an assembly line isn’t enough to succeed — you need a worker who, at the very least, is smarter than the average worker and, preferably, smarter than the worker employed by your competitor. And your technology cannot get out of date.

That’s why SI has been promoting the 3 T’s for years — Technology, Talent, and Transition. You need a solid, regularly updated, technology foundation upon which to build your modern Supply Management Organization. You need talent to put together good operating procedures, properly use the technology, and to constantly identify new opportunities for cost reduction or value generation. And you need great transition management as even best six sigma process today won’t cut it tomorrow when you need to upgrade your product offering, switch suppliers, change distribution methods, and make sure your product is Designed for Recycling from the get-go as new regulations are forcing you to take back your product at end of life and recycle it as you are using chemicals and / or rare earth minerals that are heavily regulated.

But while these are necessary conditions for Supply Management success, they are not necessarily sufficient. As we noted five years ago when we first asked if you have mastered the 4th T of Tracery, while it is true you will not succeed without a mastery of technology, talent, and transition management, as per our first post on Project Assurance many years ago, organizational success also depends on selecting a superior strategy and seeing it through until the desired results are achieved (or the organization changes its strategy, which hopefully wasn’t done arbitrarily on the whim of a CXO after talking to a buddy on the golf course).

However, in order to properly implement a strategy, you have to not only see it through from start to finish, but you have to make sure all of the process streams necessary for success are both completed and properly synched. Just like the key to a good weave, as one might find in Egyptian Cotton, is a skillful interleaving of the thread, the key to a good strategy, is a skillful interleaving of the process strands into an effective transition plan from where you are to where you need to be.

And this, dear readers, is Tracery — the “delicate, interlacing, work of lines as in an embroidery”, or, more modernly, “a network” — the glue that not only binds the Technology, Talent, and Transition Management that your Supply Management organization needs to succeed, but that interleaves these threads in a way that causes each of them to reinforce each other and make a stronger whole.

And, hopefully, monitors them through a common network-enabled platform that can not only bring your internal stakeholders together on one platform, with appropriate views and collaboration features for each function, but also your partners and suppliers who have the data and best practice insights you need to actually get your supply chain in shape. Because it’s not something you can do alone, and it’s definitely not something that will never happen unless carefully monitored, as it’s always easier to “do it the old way”, even if the old way is unsustainable and will lead your down a path to organizational oblivion (through bankruptcy).

How to Get Past Applied Indirection

As per our recent series here on SI, when most vendor sales rep start to claim they have AI, they are really just telling you to your face that they are trying to mislead you into thinking their trivial automation, simple fixed ruled-based workflow, and/or classic statistical projection capabilities are much more advanced than they really are, hoping you won’t ask what AI really stands for when they use the acronym.

Given that your number one priority is to get more spend under management (SUM) and that this priority is only realized with the help of modern platforms, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of sales reps for years to come, especially since, at best, you’re on a generation 2 platform (and, to be honest, if you have anything, odds are it’s really generation 1), and that just doesn’t cut it anymore. So you’re going to have to find the right platform for you.

Now, the good news is that you have help narrowing down that shortlist with the help of Spend Matters Solution Map, co-designed and, in core areas of platform technology and Strategic Procurement Technology, scored by the doctor, and that as part of this narrowing down, we can help you identify vendors with the foundations for real AI, as well as, if we’re lucky, select capabilities that fall in the domain of assisted intelligence.

But just because we can give you a partially pre-qualified short-list (which can be tailored to your specific organizational needs by way of the Customer Map offering), that doesn’t mean that the vendor sale reps still won’t try to stretch the truth or, in some cases, even lead you astray on aspects of the solution we don’t score. So you will still have to deal with some level of applied indirection even if you’re proactive enough to take our advice and start with the right short-list. (Which can also be based on unbiased customer scores as well as in-depth analyst scores across up to 700 discrete platform capabilities to make sure you start off with the best candidates, among which will be the right solution for your organization.)

But if you’re not one of the lucky supply managers able to convince your boss to let you spend the money on this exercise (which can be carried out by your favorite consulting partner who will help you properly weight the various capabilities given your organizational maturity and need), then you’re going to not only get hit with quite a few sales reps stretching the truth, but a few outright lying (because they know you don’t have any validated data points to go off of), and not feeling a tinge of guilt because they told you up front they were selling you with AI (which you didn’t ask them to define) that really stood for applied indirection, and not the assisted, augmented, or artificial intelligence that you mistakenly assumed it stood for.

So how do you spot it? And get past it?

Here are some tips and tricks to do just that.

1. Ignore their claims, get a demo and ask them to walk through through how it supports your organizational process, which you will lay out the day before

Yes, some vendors have become quite good at combining (robotic process) automation, rules-based workflows, and statistical algorithms to fake AI, to the point that you might think there is actually some machine learning under the hood and, at the very least, they have assisted intelligence technology in the worst case, and probably augmented intelligence that will take your team to the next level. But not very many vendors fall here (and in the grand scheme of things, the reality is that very few vendors fall here), and very few demo masters can pull off a faked end-to-end process demonstration.

2. Have your own data files ready to go!

If they are claiming auto-contract parsing and clause extraction, have some contracts in the correct format (PDF, Word, etc.) ready to go at demo time, that you did NOT give the vendor advanced knowledge about, and ask them to upload and walk you through the process live. Or if it’s a 3-way invoice match process, have matching POs, goods receipt, and invoices in whatever standard they support (cXML, EDI, indexed PDF, etc.) ready to go as well and ask them to suck them in and process them in front of your eyes.

If they survive this, even if it’s not real AI, it’s very advanced automation and an extensive knowledge-base supporting the rules-based workflow, which may be all your organization needs to advance its SUM and get success.  (For example, you don’t need AI for spend categorization – an expert can map your spend to 98% accuracy in 3 days with the right tool even if you are an F500 and then as exceptions come in, you have an expert create overrides, which get fewer and further between over time. Plus, unless we are far, far into the tail, 2% of spend in the category doesn’t even make a dent.)

3. Get a real data scientist / tech expert in on the demos.

Someone who has utilized real AI technology to ask tough questions about algorithms, platform foundations, data stores, and so on. If the provider can’t furnish good answers, there’s probably not too much under the hood.

4. Talk to mature customers.

You want customers who have been with the provider 3+ years, implemented and worked through the full platform offering, executed difficult Sourcing / Procurement projects, had a few failures the provider needed to respond to quickly, and so on. They can give you an idea of how advanced the system has been in practice and how good the provider has been on improving it. And if they give you a good recommendation, even if the system is not as advanced as the vendor claims, there’s probably something there.

It’s easy to not get fooled if you remember that the proof is in the pudding, and if the pudding is good, there are repeat, happy eaters of it.

Comprehensive Category Management: Are You Still Doing it Wrong?

As we said five years ago (and probably even earlier than that), spot buying individual categories at market lows or evening running reverse auctions at opportune times is NOT category management. And for that matter, neither is a strategic sourcing event that throws everything in the category into a strategic negotiation, especially if the category is metals and you are including the kitchen sink.

And you might be thinking that the doctor needs a psychiatrist because how could it not be category management if you are addressing the whole category? Category Management isn’t just about grouping all seemingly related items and running an event. Category management is about grouping items that have related characteristics that allow the items to be sourced effectively under the same strategy.

For example, while it might make theoretical sense to group printers, ink, and paper together —- because you use them together, from a sourcing point of view, ink and paper often go better with office supplies and printers with hardware. You can probably get them thrown in for free with a server purchase. But that’s just the start.

For example, if you source a lot of metal parts, you should probably start by grouping them by primary metal, since the price of steel, aluminum, etc. will largely dictate the price of those parts. Furthermore, it might even make sense to not only source all of the parts from the same supplier but even buy the metal on behalf of the supplier with your better negotiating power and/or credit rating.

But that’s just the start. Then you have to make sure the parts are (best) produced using similar processes, because giving a part to a supplier that is only easily produced by laser cutting when the supplier only has traditional machining / cutting is not going to be a good decision. Even though the volume will lower their cost of metal, the extra work will increase the cost per unit.

So sometimes you will need to group the category into sub-category by metal and production style and get bids separately and together (from any supplier that can offer both) and do a multi-level analysis to find out the best approach. (And this is yet a another reason that SI has been telling you since DAY ONE that you need an optimization-backed sourcing platform as this is the only way you can effectively analyze all the options.)

And sometimes you will have to ignore items with a large demand or core material component because they are cheaper when sourced as part of a different category buy as they can be produced by other suppliers or bundled for a larger volume-based discount.

For example, consider an organization-wide UPS replacement. They are technically a power transformer with a battery, but you wouldn’t source them from the manufacturer that manufactures custom transformers for your on-site renewable solar and wind farm since you’d source them from your hardware supplier who supplies you with the rest of your office electronics as they would be buying such units in bulk from a manufacturer who produces them in bulk and gives you a better deal.

Comprehensive category management is looking at a category from a holistic perspective and finding the right segmentation to get the best overall value through the right sourcing method at the right time.

It’s not just a one-time slice-and-dice, it’s a continual analysis of the category from a multi-dimensional and current market perspective to make sure each time an event is run, the right strategy is used across the right sub-category of products and services which are offered to the right prospective supply base.

And it requires up-front market analysis before the event as well as optimization-backed analysis during. So you need a good analytics platform, preferably with some automation that can constantly pull in market data, analyze it to current cost, plot and predict the trends, and provide the necessary market intelligence that can be compared to a best-practice knowledge base that will indicate the event type that has been the most historically successful under current conditions. (And in the spirit of our recent Applied Indirection series, this is not AI, this is RPA with parameterized suggestion look-up.)