Category Archives: Blogologue

Rabbit Season? Duck Season?

Is it just me or does the annual return of “conference” season remind you of the old Looney Tunes Rabbit Season, Duck Season shorts with all of the competing, similar, but yet mangled and confusing messages about what you should be focussing on, what conferences you should be going to, and what you should be hunting for?

For the younger generation, the classic “rabbit season, duck season” was a “hunting” trilogy of Warner Bros shorts starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fud that began with Rabbit Fire in 1951, that was the first to show Daffy as a flawed, greedy, vain character who always, secretly, wanted the spotlight (and not just a screwball comedian who wanted to make you laugh).

In this particular episode, where it is supposedly rabbit season, Daffy lures Elmer Fudd (the hunter) to Bug’s burrow and convinces Bug that a “friend” is there to see him, seemingly aiming to take out the competition. High jinks ensue until Bugs manages to trick Daffy into saying it’s actually duck season, at which point Elmer tries to shoot Daffy. Then the two find increasingly creative ways to turn the tables until the hunter decides its rabbit and duck season, at which point both realize how stupid they were and work together to make it “Elmer” season …

So why do I think of this cartoon?

Well, first of all, many vendors spend a lot of the year trying to eliminate their competition from your consideration by claiming that the competitor’s product is lacking key features you need for efficiency, value, or ROI (Daffy tricking Elmer into hunting Bugs); then, during Conference Season, the competition (Bugs) strikes back with slicker messaging that encourages the buyer to turn on the vendor that may (or may not) have led them astray; then the original vendor (Daffy) starts copying the message of the competition, with a few twists to get the attention back; and the marketing and messaging dance continues until the buyer (Elmer) gets simultaneously so confused and so angry that he wants to eliminate both vendors (Daffy and Bugs) from consideration, at which point the vendors need to team up (or at least call a temporary back-room truce) in some way to trap the buyer back into buying at least one of their solutions, and if there isn’t complete overlap, preferably both!

As far as the doctor is concerned, this misses the point of conference season, which is supposedly to educate you about the offering and the value you can get from it. Which would be great if that was what the majority of events did, but over the years, I found that less and less of a reality at the bigger shows by the bigger vendors and conference players. Starting with the latter half of the last decade, the events at many of these players have become less about education and more about how spectacular of a show the vendor or conference group could put on as vendors, professional organizations, and conference groups tried to show value by showing how successful they were, instead of just keeping it simple and showing how successful you could be with their technology, education, processes, or platforms (built up from the technology and processes of their sponsors).

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little bit saddened by it — I know it’s been a staple in the enterprise software world for a while, going back to the old trade-show mentality where if you couldn’t afford the poshest venue and the biggest suite, then obviously you weren’t successful … but isn’t Procurement supposed to be about your success and not theirs?

Although it means regular work is less guaranteed, the doctor is actually quite happy to be independent now as it means he can pick and choose what conferences and events he does, and more importantly, does NOT have to even consider going to as, this year, he’s only seen ONE event by a top suite vendor he’d actually like to attend. (Compare this to the early and mid teens where he was quite interested in going to almost all of them … )

Now, I should say, this viewpoint, which is the doctor‘s and the doctor‘s alone, is lobbied primarily at a subset of the big vendor conferences and the big conferences / trade shows and not the smaller vendors or smaller workshops. There are still plenty of smaller and best-of-breed vendors putting on great educational events, many of which even us analysts don’t hear about until it’s too late, that are more than worth your time and money to attend.  (Heck, sometimes even us old dogs and cats who’ve been in this for over two decades will learn a new trick.)

In other words, given that your time, money, and patience is limited, don’t fall for the hype and instead look for the education that you need to make the right decision as to what platform, product, process, or service your organization needs next and whom you should buy it from. And enjoy the fact that you know you don’t have to go to everything or anything if it’s not relevant!

There’s Nothing Wrong With Using Upstream vs. Downstream

Only with trying to fix a continuous process to a discrete point in time.

Confused? Let’s back up. Last Friday the doctor‘s co-conspirator in the definition of Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) went on a rant about the use of upstream and downstream without a paddle in contract management. In his Friday rant, the maverick claimed that if you put supplier management in the upstream bucket, you’ve violated the whole naming convention and that upstream can have a time dimension to it and represent earlier processes, but it can also have a supply chain connotation and represent multiple tiers farther upstream in the inbound supply chain – working back to raw commodities. So, it’s confusing in that regard in terms of time vs. space. However, the maverick‘s biggest gripe seems to be it puts the signature of the contract artifact as the singularity of the procurement universe – sort of like using B.C. and A.D. to define world history to non-Christians.

So what? We need a way to measure time and a milestone against with to measure progress.

As humans, we don’t know exactly when we first evolved (or, if you follow a religion based on a form of creationism, were created), so we can’t choose that date as a reference point for a precise timeline. We barely have decent records back to 0 AD, and if we go back more than a few hundred years beyond that, we don’t really have enough to establish a good date system. So the date chosen is just as good as any other date during that period.

Similarly, if you look at the full contract lifecycle, just when does the project start? When is the first analysis or opportunity identification performed that leads into the business case. Hard to say. We know the date a sourcing project is approved, but just like 0 AD, before that gets a bit fuzzy, but there could still have been significant events that led to approval which are really part of the Procurement process and which should not be overlooked just because a date can’t be fixed. Similarly. When does it end? The date the contract officially finishes? The date the post mortem is done? The date a new contract is signed? The date the switchover actually occurs to a new supplier? The date the supplier is officially retired from organizational service? Hard to say.
So choosing the date of signing as a reference point is a logical choice for dividing up the process and English commonly uses the same word to mean different things in different contexts so there’s no reason it shouldn’t be clear when someone is talking about upstream in the contract/category management process and upstream in the supply chain. (After all, we live with sourcing and sourcing in Procurement is much different than sourcing in HR.)

In other words, the definitions make sense and since they are now commonly accepted, let’s not bicker about how they are defined but about how some providers and analysts tend to misuse them by trying to fix-point activities that actually need to occur throughout the process, like category management, supplier management, compliance management, and risk management. Use upstream and downstream to indicate when particular activities in a process should occur, not to categorize processes that exist simultaneously with the contract lifecycle, and that build off of the primary artifact, the contract, in new and interesting ways (when done right).

Not everything fits in a one or two dimensional model, and we need to be prepared to accept the true complexity of the situation. That’s why many tenders these days are complex and why organizations that don’t have spend analysis can’t identify the inherent complexity and why organizations that don’t have strategic sourcing decision optimization can’t adequately deal with the complexity. Just like the world is not flat, neither is the sourcing model or the necessary execution process that follows. A spreadsheet won’t cut it and neither will point-in-time processes. However, we still need fixed points in time to measure against (forward and back), and at least the date a contract is signed is a point in time everyone across all departments in the organization can agree on.

Are Conferences Perpetuating Supply Chain Stasis?

It’s conference season, and you know what that means. Thousands of people flocking to ISM next week to hear about the “state-of-the-art” practices and technologies that will revolutionize your supply chain, take you into the modern age, and prepare you for what comes next. Except they won’t.

For the average organization that still hasn’t adopted a modern e-Sourcing or e-Procurement system, the technologies being presented by even the vendors who haven’t updated their core platforms since last decade will still be revolutionary and for the average organization that is just dipping their toes into the waters of modern supply management processes, the talks will be inspirational and progressive and, for all practical purposes, look like a transition from the industrial revolution to the information age. (And, for some organizations, it will be. But it won’t prepare you for what comes next.) It will be like seeing the world through rose coloured glasses for four days straight. By the end of the conference, the average attendee will be in awe of the possible and leave in a state of hippie bliss (until he gets back to the office and crushing reality cracks his lenses and he’s forced to again see the cold and depressing blue sky, the blood red losses, and the blackness of the bottomless pit that new ideas get tossed into).

But for a leading organization, the majority of technologies will be outdated, the practices insufficient, and the talks sleep inducing. That’s because, for the most part*, it will be the same vendors as last year, the same practices that were being presented as revolutionary five, if not ten years ago, and different speakers giving the same scripted success talk that you have heard from the leaders who have used these technologies and processes for the last five years.

the doctor downloaded the thirty-four (yes, 34) page “brochure” for ISM and didn’t see one new idea in the entire publication. Not one. Moreover, while a few of the topics only became trendy in the last few years, there appear to be only two talks focussed on TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), one on integrated supply chains, and zero on supply chain modelling.

This is a serious problem. We’ve reached the point where supply chain success for the average organization is becoming dependent on preventing supply chain disruptions and failures. Supply chains span the globe, lean is the name of the game, JiT is widespread, disasters (natural and man-made) are on the rise, margins are thin, and customer loyalty and patience is thinner. It doesn’t matter how well you source if you can’t execute. It doesn’t matter how well you procure if you can’t control your costs. The best laid risk avoidance and mitigation plans are worthless if you can’t monitor for risks and implement mitigation plans at appropriate times. The best spend analysis system in the world is useless if the data is incomplete or too dirty. You can’t optimize what you can’t model. And so on.

Moveover, every savings opportunity you identify at one stage of the supply chain or management process can result in a larger loss at a different stage if the opportunity is not analyzed appropriately. Sure you can save money by consolidating supply, but if a single source is unable to deliver and the organization has to buy on the spot market at the last minute, the 5% savings could be a 10% loss. Reducing inventory can significantly reduce the 25% inventory overhead cost, but could result in stock-outs that lead to million dollar revenue losses if the organization runs too lean and a transportation strike cuts off the just-in-time supply. Better supplier oversight and management can certainly increase quality and reliability, but is the additional cost of the SRM systems and staff to manage the relationship less than the additional value generated?

True value comes from looking at an integrated supply management process, which might take the form of a full category management lifecycle or a complete strategic sourcing execution lifecycle, modelling the physical supply chain and associated costs, and computing the full total cost of ownership of the current scenario and an expected improvement.

But good luck finding anyone who looks at the supply chain as a whole from this perspective, especially when few people will even address the subject.

And this is why the doctor does NOT attend ISM. When you’re trying to identify the next evolution of supply management, or even if you are a true leader, unless you enjoy preaching from the pulpit, it’s a little depressing.

* There will be some exceptions.

How Do You Define Procurement Success?

Cost Savings? Cost Avoidance? Value Generation? Just getting through the damned day? (It is the year of Procurement Damnation, after all.)

It’s an important question. Why? Your success depends on your answer, because it is this answer, given or implied, that guides every sourcing, category management, and procurement project that you do.

If you consider the art of the Strategic Sourcing Process, the Category Management Process, or the Contract Management Lifecycle, you see that they all start about the same at a high-level:

  • Need Identification
  • Business Case
  • Stakeholder On-boarding & Management Approval
  • Strategy Formation
  • Risk Assessment & Contingency Planning
  • Detailed Specifications and Requirements
  • . . .

And if you dive in to each of these steps, you find that a key requirement of each step is an acceptable definition of success.

  • Need Identification
    There is a reason for the need, and that reason is that it is required to achieve organizational success.
  • Business Case
    A key requirement is the results that will be achieved, which should define success.
  • Stakeholder On-boarding & Management Approval
    What will they get out of it? They are more likely to come on-board if they see a result that will enable their success.
  • Strategy Formation
    What strategy will lead to success?
  • Risk Assessment & Contingency Planning
    What are the risks to success and what the contingency plans to ensure success?
  • Detailed Specifications and Requirements
    What are the steps to get to success, and what measurements will keep the team on track?

And, more importantly, if you do not define success before you go to bid, you can not expect that any response to your tender from any supplier will deliver that success.

In other words, this unwritten rule should probably get its own step in your sourcing / category management / contract management process, which should probably start like this:

  • Need Identification
  • Success Definition
  • Business Case
  • . . .

For more details on how to achieve RFP success, see SI’s series on best practice vendor selection:

And check out Thomas Kase’s recent series on Improving RFP-Driven Technology Sourcing Outcomes over on Spend Matters Pro if you have access.

A New Year Will Soon Be Upon Us? Are You Ready for The Coming Changes?

Where Procurement is concerned, the more things change, the more things stay the same is one thing you can count on. Very little changes year-over-year, and that’s probably why the futurists keep pushing the same trends year after year, including those trends old enough to be in many historian’s ancient history books. (We’re not joking. Take globalization, governmental regulations, and supply chain risk for example. These have been issues and trends since “global” trade began between Egypt and Mesopotamia, which occurred over 5,000 years ago. What’s “future” about that?)

Moreover, a best practice, even if its only been adopted by the leading organizations, is not a future trend. It is an ongoing trend if it started a few years ago, but if the leading organizations adopted the practice ten years ago, then it is not even an ongoing trend. It is a past trend that, either due to lack of maturity, resources, or relevance, didn’t cross the chasm. A current, ongoing, trend is something that just in the last few years and is just reaching the point where it will cross the chasm and a future trend is one that has only recently been identified and still in the process of being adopted by the early adopters, which, in Procurement, would be the Hackett Group top 8%.

However, while the changes may be small and few and far between, they do happen, and over time they accumulate and occasionally lead to big breakthroughs which launch new trends. These trends, in the early stages, are the ones you care about. Not trends that were forming ten years ago, because everyone already knows about them, including every competitor you have, and not possible trends ten years out, because, in the interim, the future could diverge significantly from the future required for that trend to materialize. Trends that are in the early stages of formation today. Trends that, if you start preparing for them, put you in the Procurement Leaders camp and keep you there.

Those trends, and only those trends that make you a leader, are the trends that Sourcing Innovation talks about in its latest white-paper on Top Ten Trends for Supply Management Value Generation in 2015 (registration required). Two years ago, SI told you about the top ten things that an organization could do to reign in rapidly rising costs before hyperinflation in key categories put its profitability at risk in its white paper on The top Ten Things to Do in 2013 to Control Costs (registration required). Then, one year ago, SI told you how to mine the goldmine of savings potential an untapped organization is sitting on through the proper application of The Top Ten Technologies for Supply Management Savings Today (registration required).
Now that your organization has its costs are under control and a proper technology infrastructure in place for leading-edge Supply Management, it’s ready to tackle Top Ten Trends for Supply Management Value Generation in 2015 and get processes and programs in place to capitalize on opportunities before the competition.

To find out what the Top Ten Trends for Supply Management Value Generation in 2015 are and what to do about it, download this new Sourcing Innovation white paper, sponsored by BravoSolution, today!