Category Archives: Decision Optimization

Is WalMart Going to Force Logistics Scheduling Optimization Mainstream?

Recently, Spend Matters pointed out that Retail Mega-Giant Wal-Mart is stepping up its pressure on suppliers to get fulfillment perfect or pay a fine. According to Bloomberg, the goal is to add 1 Billion to revenue by improving (desired) product availability at stores (as the average stock-out rate of 8% costs a mega-retailer like Wal-Mart an awful lot of money).

But it’s not just stock-outs costing Walmart money. It’s deliveries that don’t happen when they are expected to happen. If a delivery arrives late, then warehouse workers have to stay overtime to get the truck unloaded, and that costs Walmart at least time and a half for every hour the workers have to stay late (plus any hours they had to be paid to wait around, probably doing nothing, for the delivery). If a delivery arrives (a day) early, then regularly scheduled deliveries have to be pushed ahead, possibly contributing to overtime and payment for empty hours (when workers show up for their shift and there is no work to be done for two hours).

And if trucks are waiting in winter, the drivers are not only being paid to sit to wait, but are probably also idling their trucks to keep warm, burning fuel, bumping up costs. So, the supplier is paying more to deliver, and passing that cost onto Walmart. When you think of how many early and late deliveries a mega-retailer like Wal-Mart must get, and you add up all the OT costs, empty hour costs for warehouse workers and drivers, and additional fuel costs, that costs a lot of money even before you take in the potential losses from stock-outs.

Bravo for Wal-Mart for trying to force more perfection into the supply chain and eliminate the considerable losses that come from imperfect orders. But how will the average supplier and/or carrier comply? Logistics scheduling can be a nightmare and be way too much for the average scheduler, or spreadsheet to handle. But as we’ve indicated before, not too much for an appropriately defined optimization solution. It’s about time optimization got more respect, even if it starts with scheduling.

And while optimization needs to be more universally applied, once a supplier or carrier gets comfortable with scheduling optimization, they’ll get more comfortable with optimization in general and move onto the adoption of decision optimization for logistics, and that’s just one step away from the application of decision optimization to high value / strategic events. And that’s, hopefully, only one step away from the universal application of optimization across all sourcing events.

So while this isn’t the most critical application of optimization for an average organization, it’s a great start and bravo to Wal-Mart for forcing suppliers and carriers to perform better in a manner that should force the eventual adoption of optimization.

And if you don’t like it, get over it. And if you don’t like Wal-Mart, remember, their dominance is all your fault.

The UX One Should Expect from Best-In-Class Optimization … Part IV

In our last post on The UX One Should Expect from Best-in-Class Optimization (Part III) we continued our foray into the world of optimization and how the requirements for a good user experience go far beyond the requirements for e-RFX and even best-in-class e-Auction platforms. (We will remind you that you can review the basic requirements for e-RFX and e-Auction in our four part series on Best-in-Class e-Sourcing and Best-in-Class e-Auctions, Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.)

As per the previous entry in this series, the doctor cannot emphasize enough just how important sourcing optimization is, and is about to become, for any organization that wants to continue to not only find savings but identify crucial value. This is because, as stated in our last post, in many global jurisdictions, and in North America and the UK (where many global organizations are headquartered) in particular, savings are about to go up in smoke due to inflation, protectionist policies, insufficient supply of raw materials, and forthcoming breakdowns in trade agreements.

There’s no other solution that can not only identify year-over-year savings of 10% or more but also an award scenario that will allow the organization to realize that savings of 10% or more if the award scenario is adhered to. It’s getting hard to understand how organizations, getting more budget-stressed by the year, can continue to hold out from adopting the only solution that can help them.

Buyers have to put aside their fear of the maths and go out and get a solution ASAP. But not just any solution claiming to be a true strategic sourcing decision optimization platform, or even any true strategic sourcing decision optimization platform, will do. It has to be one that provides the right user experience.

So what is the right user experience? One that satisfies about a dozen different key usability requirements, of which we’ve already discussed three — true, powerful, cost modelling; guided sourcing by the way of system-assisted “what-if” support; and identification of the constraints, or sets of, that are preventing a solution when the model is over-constrained and a solution is needed.

But this, as you can guess, is not enough. It’s only a fraction of the key requirements that need to be satisfied in order to provide the necessary user experience that will drive each and every buyer to find the value that only a true best-in-class optimization solution can be used to find.

Another key requirement, but by far not the last, is analytics-driven comparison reporting. You see, one thing that is critical in the identification and allocation of the proper award is, as the co-authors of this series identify in The UX One Should Expect from Best-In-Class Optimization Part IV over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required], effective visualization.

Why is effective visualization so critical? Consider that a power buyer’s job is to try and find the perfect scenario with the almost perfect award that maximally satisfies the constraints and the desires of all the stakeholders. This could require the comparison of dozens of alternatives that have about the same costs and about the same overall total constraint violation, but have the potential to dissatisfy each group in significantly different ways. Without an effective analytics and visualization component that can help a user visualize the mathematically minimal but not objectively minimal differences in the minds of the stakeholders, a user could spend days or weeks trying to decide on the right award variation among dozens of spreadsheets when a good visualization solution can eliminate the less desirable candidates in minutes. It’s another key requirement of a good, modern, user experience in sourcing optimization.

But, as you can guess, this is still not all a platform needs to do. For a deeper dive on this, and other requirements, check out the doctor and the prophet‘s final instalment in our optimization UX series, The UX One Should Expect from Best-In-Class Optimization Part IV, over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required] and stay tuned for our upcoming deep-dive series on the required UX for spend analysis as this will not only help you select an optimization solution with a good visualization solution but an analytics solution with a good visualization component as well.

The UX One Should Expect from Best-In-Class Optimization … Part III

In our last post on The UX One Should Expect from Best-In-Class Optimization (Part II) we continued our foray into the world of optimization and how the requirements for a good user experience go well beyond the requirements for e-RFX and even best-in-class e-Auction platforms. (As for the basic requirements of any e-RFX or e-Auction platform, see our two-part series on Best-in-Class e-Sourcing Part I and Part II and our deeper dive into Best-in-Class e-Auctions Part I and Part II.)

the doctor cannot emphasize just how important sourcing optimization is, and is about to become, for any organization that wants to continue to not only find savings but identify crucial value, and, to be blunt, unavoidable. This is because, especially in North America and the UK (where many global organizations are headquartered), savings are about to go up in smoke due to inflation, protectionist policies, insufficient supply of raw materials, and forthcoming breakdowns in trade agreements.

Considering that it’s one of only two advanced sourcing solutions that can be used to generate year-over-year savings, and value, in excess of 10%, and the only solution that can not only identify the potential but also identify an actual award scenario to realize the savings and/or value, organizations getting budget-stressed year-over-year will not be able to hold out much longer — at least not if they want to stay competitive.

But not any platform will do, it has to be useable. Most buyers, who are afraid of, as the Brits like to say, the maths, are naturally afraid of such platforms, which they still fear are math heavy and insanely difficult to use (like the first generation platforms tended to be), and that fear will only be overcome if they see a great user experience awaits. And we mean great.

What does that entail? About a dozen different usability requirements, of which we’ve already discussed two — true, powerful, cost modelling and guided sourcing by the way of system-assisted “what-if” support.

But this is just the beginning. Another core requirement, and one the vast majority of systems have missed in the past, is automatic identification of unsatisfiable constraints. In basic sourcing optimization events, as the doctor and the prophet pointed out over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required] in our latest article on What To Expect from Best-in-Class Sourcing Optimization Technology and User Design (Part 3), the “model” itself will only be lightly constrained, as procurement will want to limit the potential inputs to award scenarios (all of which impact price) to one or only a handful of constraints. Quite often these constraints are centred around capacity in potential award decisions. But as stakeholders gather and add more constraints, the potential increases to create a null award set. And if the scenario can’t be solved, the value of optimization can’t be realized.

Sometimes a human can easily figure out which constraints are prevent solution, and sometimes, because there are so many and they all weakly constrain the award and it’s actually a set of 6 to 10 working in unison making the scenario unsolveable, a human can’t. And if a human’s only option to find a reasonable solution is just to delete constraints until the model solves, that’s not likely to generate the lowest cost award or the award that satisfies the stakeholder’s desired constraints to the maximum extent possible. The buyer or analyst really needs to know the exact constraints, or sets, causing the model to be unsolveable so she can modify, or remove, just those and present her stakeholders with the lowest cost / highest value award that violates the smallest number of desired constraints.

But, as you can guess, that’s not all a platform needs to do. For a deeper dive, check out the doctor and the prophet‘s latest instalment in our optimization UX series, What To Expect from Best-in-Class Sourcing Optimization Technology and User Design (Part 3), over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required] and stay tuned for Part IV.

The UX One Should Expect from Best-In-Class Optimization … Part II

In our last post on The UX One Should Expect from Best-In-Class Optimization we began our foray into the world of optimization and how the requirements for a good user experience goes well beyond the requirements for e-RFX and even best-in-class e-Auction. (As for the basic requirements of any e-RFX or e-Auction platform, see our two-part series on Best-in-Class e-Sourcing Part I and Part II and our deeper dive into Best-in-Class e-Auctions Part I and Part II.)

In our post, where we noted that last Thursday over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required] the doctor and the prophet posted the first article in our four part series on What to Expect from Best-in-Class Sourcing Optimization Technology and User Design (Part 1), we indicated that optimization is important, very important, and about to become even more important as savings go up in smoke due to inflation, protectionist policies, and insufficient supply of raw materials. (And, as we noted, that’s why Coupa spent a lot of its IPO proceeds to buy Trade Extensions. They might not understand what they bought, or how to use it, or where it fits in, but they saw the future and wanted to get in the game early enough to have some time to — hopefully — figure it out before their competition.)

Plus, as we noted, it’s the only advanced sourcing solution that has been demonstrated, repeatedly, by analysts and providers alike, to provide year-over-year returns over 10% when properly applied. Plus, unlike spend analysis, which only identifies the high-level savings opportunities (which can only be captured if appropriate events are undertaken, possibly based on optimization), optimization produces the exact award scenario required to generate the savings. And, often, this will be a scenario that will never, ever be identified by any human, even if given enough time to generate dozens, or even hundreds, of spreadsheets.

In our last post, we noted that one of the core requirements of such a platform was powerful cost modelling as true calculation, and optimization, of the costs of goods sold requires complex breakdowns and formulas because, in practice, with even the most “vanilla” or simplest of products, there are fixed costs and variable costs and that these change at different production levels. And in addition to fixed and variable costs associated with the product creation, there’s also import / export tariffs, taxes, logistics costs, utilization costs, warranty, return, and disposal costs and a host of other category specific costs.

But that’s just one core component of the platform. Another, as explained in the doctor and the prophet‘s second piece on What To Expect from Best-in-Class Sourcing Optimization Technology and User Design (Part 2) [membership required] is guided sourcing by way of system-assisted “what-if” support.

Cost modelling is indeed a powerful tool, especially when compared to a system that doesn’t have it, but arguably the real power of a strategic sourcing decision optimization tool lies in the ability to generate, analyze, and compare what are called “what if?” scenarios. This statement holds true both when analyzing cost and when analyzing risk, as well as the broader resilience components of sourcing award/allocation decisions.

As the co-authors note, even expert sourcing optimization users commonly look to collect data and apply constraints centred on near-term thinking — and award decisions. But when viewed in true context (i.e. an awarded supplier’s performance over the term of the contract), it is rarely the lowest cost and resulting business allocation scenario that brings the greatest value to the organization. Rather, it is the scenario that is the most resilient in the face of unpredictability.

Moreover, even minor variations resulting from different initial or future award considerations can have drastic impacts on costs. And it is only through such scenario analysis that a slightly higher cost award decision today (or in the future) could end up delivering far greater organizational value. Users can now think through all such potential scenarios, so it should be common practice to use the capability to test hunches and/or quantify potential risks … which can only be done with the right sourcing optimization platform with a modern, appropriate, user experience.

But this is just another piece of the puzzle. Stay tuned for Part III.

The UX One Should Expect from Best-In-Class Optimization … Part I

In our last four posts, we dove deep, really deep, into the basic requirements for any modern e-Negotiation platform (which we defined as e-RFX and/or e-Auction) and then dove deeper into the additional requirements for any e-Auction platform that claims to be a modern, best-in-class, e-Auction platform in the year 2017 (not 2007, where some seem to be stuck — but we won’t talk about them). [See Best-in-Class e-Sourcing Part I, Best-in-Class e-Sourcing Part II, Best-in-Class e-Auctions Part I, and Best-in-Class e-Auctions Part II.] But we excluded optimization for a reason, because the requirements for optimization go beyond — way beyond — the requirements for even the most intense set of requirements for the most advanced e-Auction platform (which can support bills of materials and constraints).

Last Thursday, over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required], the doctor and the prophet posted the first article in our four part series on What to Expect from Best-in-Class Sourcing Optimization Technology and User Design (Part 1) (that’s right, 4-part series), where we begin our deep dive into what best-in-class sourcing optimization looks like and how form follows function from a design perspective.

First of all, optimization is important — and about to become even more important as savings go up in smoke due to inflation, protectionist policies, and insufficient supply of raw materials. Why do you think Coupa spent a healthy chunk of its IPO proceeds to purchase Trade Extensions. (They might not understand what they bought, or how to use it, but they saw the future and wanted to get in the game early enough to have some time to, hopefully, figure it out before their competition.)

Secondly, it’s the only advanced sourcing solution that has been demonstrated, when properly applied, to generate year-over-year returns over 10% (and an average of 12% according to two of the first back-to-back studies conducted by Aberdeen last decade). Plus, unlike spend analysis, which only identifies the high-level savings opportunities (which can only be captured if appropriate events are undertaken, possibly based on optimization), optimization produces the exact award scenario required to generate the savings.

Third, and most important, optimization identifies opportunities for both savings and value generation that no other platform can. Opportunities and supply chain designs no human, even with thousands of spreadsheets, will ever identify. It’s the foundation for a new sourcing age, but one that will only happen if optimization gets adopted, which will only happen if it provides a great user experience (as that’s the only thing that will overcome the math-based fear that surrounds it).

So what does such a platform need? Many, many things (as we dive into in What To Expect from Best-in-Class Sourcing Optimization Technology and User Design (Part 1) [membership required], but one thing it requires is powerful cost modelling.

You see, true calculation, and optimization, of the cost of goods sold requires complex breakdowns and formulas because, in practice, with even the most “vanilla” or simplest of products, there are fixed costs and variable costs and that these change at different production levels. For example, there are fixed costs to set up and start a production line, and then variable costs for each production level depending on raw resources, energy and manpower required to produce the product. And that’s just the beginning. You also have to worry about import / export tariffs, taxes, logistics costs, utilization costs, warranty, return, and disposal costs and a host of other category specific costs. If the costs aren’t modelled accurately, they can’t be optimized accurately. A great optimization platform thus supports flexible and powerful user defined cost models that break down costs as needed and to levels where individual elements can be optimized when possible.

And this is just the beginning.

Stay tuned for Part II in our series.