Category Archives: Guest Author

Driving Procurement Visibility: Why & How


Today we welcome another guest post from Brian Seipel a Procurement Consultant at Source One Management Services focused on helping corporations understand their spend profile and develop actionable strategies for cost reduction and supplier relationship management. Brian has a lot of real-world project experience in sourcing, and brings some unique insight on the topic.

Nobody ever suffered from too much clarity in their personal lives, and the same is true from an operational standpoint. Procurement teams that run most efficiently typically have a high degree of visibility – they use this view to identify cost cutting opportunities faster, and communicate them more effectively to get the job done quicker. They also don’t suffer the lost opportunity cost of letting maverick and tail spend savings slip through the cracks.

But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. For most organizations, the business case is already clear for increased visibility – the challenge is attaining this increase and using it to improve Procurement practices. So, how do we do it?

Keys to Better Visibility

Strategies for improving visibility can be broken down into three groups: Focusing our efforts on People, Process, and Technology will set the stage for the improvements we need.

Are Our People Set for Success?

The first step we must take is ensuring our human resources are up to the task. There are plenty of skillsets your team already has in place that are mission critical – strong negotiating skills, relationship management, and the ability to drive change are our bread and butter. What about data analytics, statistics, or tech-based skills needed to interact with the latest data management and visualization toolsets? These aren’t skills every Procurement team has readily available.

Closing this gap may mean bringing in outside hires. On one hand, we can quickly assimilate the skillsets we need by bringing in data scientist and analyst roles. On the other hand, this can be a tough sell internally, especially if you’re building a brand new data practice. The ROI will certainly be there in the longer term, but it may take some time to get to that point.

Another direction is to grow internally. Review the members of your team and assess their ability to pick up data analytics skillsets. At the same time, work with your IT team to understand what building up this practice will mean, and utilize their expertise to do so.

Do Our Standard Processes Encourage Visibility?

The best resources will still get hamstrung if they have to stick out outdated, cumbersome, or bureaucratic SOP. If our processes aren’t built from the ground up with visibility in mind, odds are good that they’ll pose a challenge down the road.

How many steps are there from the time a purchase is requested to a PO being generated to a supplier getting that order? I’ve seen some complicated processes built around this staple of Procurement activity, requiring the input and effort of multiple team members, stakeholders, and ultimate product/service users. Despite the heavy lift, everyone’s actions are siloed, with visibility only to the point of their own sign-off.

We need to rethink SOP – simpler processes requiring the effort of fewer resources (yet open and visible to many) is key. This is especially true any non-critical, easily standardized purchases. Anything we can do to automate these purchases or implement catalogs to support buyers is a win.

Do We Have the Right Tools in Place to Succeed?

Lurking behind both our People and Process goals is the set of technology tools we need in order to function. As with traditional processes, technology platforms and practices built without visibility in mind could become a bottleneck.

Before even considering the tools, themselves, think of the data they are used to marshal. It isn’t uncommon for these data sources to be diverse in terms of physical or logical location, ownership, update frequency, and other key variables. Implementing a master data management (MDM) methodology solves this issue by establishing a centralized “golden record” that serves as a single point of reference. This way, everyone has the exact same view of data, and knows exactly where to go to find it.

As far as important tech tools go, we’ve already covered the business case for a few. Are platforms in place to establish proper Supplier Relationship Management? Do we have an electronic procurement system that supports and promotes the use of PunchOut catalogs? Have we ingrained unified communication platforms into our processes to ensure proper communication at every step? Have we built dashboards that actually act like dashboards (offering an at-a-glance look KPIs instead of cramming a bunch of numbers on a screen)?

The Benefits are Clear

It is far easier to describe the steps above than it is to enact them. The road to improved visibility isn’t short, and requires more than just process change – better visibility requires an organizational mindset change from everyone involved in the Procurement process as well as those that support it or depend on it.

Yet the benefits are clear. Better visibility is critical to strategic sourcing and shines a light on all of the dark spend that our teams would jump to address… if only we knew about it. It also helps to reduce soft costs by streamlining our process, cutting out wasted time and energy to maintain manual, opaque practices.

Laying the groundwork today will ensure that our teams move into 2020 in the best position possible to impact our organizations.

Thanks, Brian!

In Spite of Ourselves: Procurement’s Curious Contradictory Behavior


Today’s guest post is by Anthony Mignogna, a Director at Source One, a Corcentric Company. He provides clients with expert, end-to-end support for their procurement software investments. Leveraging years of experience working with mid-market to the Fortune 1000 companies, he empowers procurement organizations to identify opportunities to better leverage technology, assess the software landscape, select best-fit solutions, and implement them to meet their business objectives.

“Numbers never lie.” It’s a popular saying that’s also far from true. In fact, numbers are often most interesting when they call the truth into question.

You can observe a few good examples of this phenomenon in Deloitte’s most recent CPO survey. Rather than painting a clear picture of Procurement’s path forward, the survey results suggest a function that’s uncertain of how it should proceed. CPOs, it seems, are eager to use the survey (and its numbers) as a way of lying to themselves. This is particularly true where talent and technology are concerned.

Though a majority of respondents suggest these are areas of concern, a shocking few report they’ve acted on these opportunities. Let’s take a closer look.

Talent

If you’ve attended a Supply Management conference this decade, you’ve attended a handful of sessions on the ‘talent gap.’ As more and more organizations invest in managing the cost side of their balance sheet, demand for procurement talent is far outpacing the available candidates. This is complicated further by the evolving set of skills and experiences we expect Procurement professionals to leverage. Based on the survey, roughly half of CPOs don’t believe they have the right talent in-house or the resources necessary to find it:

  • 51% of procurement leaders believe their current teams do not have sufficient levels of skills and capabilities to deliver on their procurement strategy.
  • 47% of procurement leaders found it more difficult to attract talent in the last 12 months

Alone, those numbers aren’t especially surprising. What’s interesting is the way they fly in the face of logic CPOs love to employ. Procurement often stands firmly on the buy side of the make vs. buy discussion, but that goes out the window where investing in talent is concerned. Procurement seems totally unwilling to take its own advice:

  • Levels of procurement outsourcing have dropped to 10%, the lowest level in over 5 years.

If you don’t have the talent to support your organization’s goals, and you can’t find that talent externally, outsourcing to organizations capable of scaling and focusing resources seems like an obvious path forward. It’s debatable why organizations it’s still an unpopular path. Are the nearly 50% of organizations that struggle with talent simply failing to consider all of their options, or are CPOs too focused on tactical, day-to-day operations to even consider pursuing more strategic initiatives.

Technology

If one topic trumps talent, it’s technology. Conference agendas, blogs, podcasts, and whitepapers are loaded with questions and suggestions around the incoming digital revolution. The conversation is inescapable. From eSourcing to AI and everything in between, technology is on the top of minds and tips of tongues for Procurement. Identified as a solution to inefficiency, poor visibility, low ROI, and perhaps even the talent gap, software looks like a magic bullet. Deloitte’s survey results support this. They indicate that CPOs are betting big on the promise of new solutions:

  • Two-thirds to three-quarters of organizations surveyed are leveraging digital technologies along the source-to-pay continuum to some extent.
  • The rate of digital technology adoption among organizations is highest in the P2P process, followed by sourcing and tactical buying.

Again, this is not especially surprising, particularly when you consider that most of the pain points cited in the survey are closely related to technology. Two statistics, however, jumped out. Like the talent findings cited above, they suggest the numbers don’t tell the full story:

  • Only 3% of Procurement leaders believe their staff possess all the skills required to maximize use of digital capabilities.
  • Only 6% of Procurement leaders believe their digital strategy will help them fully deliver on their objectives.

Suffice it to say, there is no amount of statistical error tolerance that can make 3% and 6% look like a significant chunk of the survey’s respondents. Juxtaposed against Procurement’s enthusiasm for new technologies, these statistics are especially alarming.

Again, the paradox could point to one of a few issues. Maybe it’s just a symptom of the talent and skills shortage. On the other hand, it might simply point to flaws in the way Procurement views technology. Expecting an antidote to cure all of their ills, they’re finding something less exciting. It appears that CPOs are good at speculating about technology and even good enough at purchasing. When it comes to building the necessary ecosystem to build a compelling business case and support implementation, however, they fall flat and realize disappointing results.

The survey results suggests that 9 in 10 CPOs are opting for the status quo – and they know it. It might be time to break the trend and give outsourcing some thought once again. Maybe then our actions will match our ‘priorities’ and the numbers will start to tell the truth.

Thanks, Anthony.

The Key Reason Spend Analyses Fail (that Often Goes Overlooked)


Today we welcome another guest post from Brian Seipel a Procurement Consultant at Source One Management Services focused on helping corporations understand their spend profile and develop actionable strategies for cost reduction and supplier relationship management. Brian has a lot of real-world project experience in sourcing, and brings some unique insight on the topic.

Organizations that develop an understanding of their spend have an edge when it comes to strategic sourcing: They better understand where money is being spent, with who, and on what than others who enter into the process either blindly or as a knee-jerk reaction to an incumbent price hike. This is particularly important for tail spend in those spend categories on the indirect side that too often fly under the radar.

That edge isn’t a given, however. Building a spend analysis can serve as the foundation for strong opportunity assessments, but doing so won’t automatically lead to better sourcing projects. Organizations who spend time on spend analyses can and do still fail at strategic sourcing for a very big reason. We put too much faith in the front-end process of building this analysis, and forsake the back-end, leaving a critical gap in our understanding of our spend profile.

The Front-End Spend Analysis

The first steps of a spend analysis are akin to cleaning out your basement. What’s the first thing you do? Before sorting into keep-or-toss piles can begin, even before moving and opening boxes – we need to turn on the light and survey the room. “Turning on the light” is really what the front-end of a spend analysis is. Our goal is to shine a light on the spend we have so sourcing project identification can begin. How does a spend analysis accomplish this?


  • Cleansing & Consolidation. Take all of the disparate data sources that make up our profile and create a single view of them, cleaning up supplier names and other critical fields along the way. For example, referring to the supplier “Dun and Bradstreet,” with that single name, even when spend from a second set that refers to “D&B.”
  • Classification. With all spend in one consolidated set, we will now attach meaningful classifications. The discussion around the best way to do this is worthy of a discussion of its own, so let’s simply say care should be taken here. Choose a system that speaks to your organization’s process, products, and objectives.

Let’s cook up an example. Let’s say we want to look into our IT spend to see where we can cut costs. We conduct a spend analysis covering the points above and learn the following: We have four locations using four different managed IT service providers offering similar services at four different price points.

This is the type of intel that suggests a strategic sourcing initiative may be called for. Pitting these suppliers against each other in a market event will drive down costs and potentially streamline operations if we can establish a single supplier for all four locations. We can estimate these savings by building a baseline spend profile and comparing to our average savings by following this strategy within this category. Simple enough. So why do sourcing initiatives often fail to deliver?

Moving Into Opportunity Assessment

Because we just committed a big mistake: We took our initial view of the spend and jumped right to goal setting without taking the time to properly scope. We went from turning on the basement light to selling boxes, en masse and unopened, directly on Ebay without knowing what was inside.

As we go to market, our sourcing event fails each of our four locations for different reasons:


  • The first location is locked into a multi-year contract with a painful termination clause. Without scoping, who didn’t know what our contractual obligations looked like
  • The second location isn’t locked into a contract, but is locked in by a lack of competition in the market. Without scoping, we never looked beyond our own buying history into the market landscape
  • The third location is free of both of these problems, but this isn’t their first rodeo. They used the providers that locations one and two use in the past, but abandoned them due to severe performance issues. Without scoping, we can’t get a good enough view into the decision making process that led to incumbent relationships.
  • Finally, our fourth location. No issues with suppliers, contracts, or market competition. The problem here? When we dig into the spend, we realize the bulk was capex: The purchase of equipment for a new server room buildout. Now that the equipment is purchased, we won’t see this spend come back around for years to come. Without scoping, we assumed spend was annually recurring, and now we have next to nothing.

Better Spend Analysis through Better Scoping

Once our spend analysis is complete, we’ll need to bring additional stakeholders into the fold. Bring in the employees who actually interact with these suppliers and their products and work with them to develop a sourcing history:


  • Did we accurately describe how you use this supplier with our chosen classification system?
  • What are we specifically buying from this supplier, and are these purchases made regularly or only once every few years?
  • How was this supplier selected, and who chose them? Were any competitors engaged at the same time? How did this incumbent beat them out?
  • What does this supplier do well? Where are their biggest points of failure?
  • Has this category been sourced recently? How was the event conducted, and what was the result?

Beyond this interview, ask these stakeholders to provide copies of any active MSAs, SOWs, SLAs, or any other document that can help define the relationship. Of particular note will be termination clauses. What date does the agreement end, and what are the renewal terms? What steps do we follow to terminate on that date, and by when do they need to be taken? If terminating before that date, are there any penalties?

From Insight to Action

Building a detailed spend analysis takes time, and the commitment of resources that could be doing other things. As such, you need to ensure you get a good ROI out of the exercise.

The best way to do that is to see beyond the front-end of what a spend analysis is (the unification, cleansing, and classification of spend data) and consider what a spend analysis helps Procurement do (identify strategic sourcing initiatives and estimate potential impact). Scoping is a critical part of this process, and properly scoping opportunities that a spend analysis shines a light on is a great way to get that ROI.

Thanks, Brian!

Stop Paying for More Analysis than you Need


Today we welcome another guest post from Brian Seipel a Procurement Consultant at Source One Management Services focused on helping corporations understand their spend profile and develop actionable strategies for cost reduction and supplier relationship management. Brian has a lot of real-world project experience in supply chain distribution, and brings some unique insight on the topic.

I wrapped up a large spend analysis initiative recently. The project spanned a dozen international operating companies with over two dozen stakeholders pitching in. By the end, we analyzed roughly one million transactions from dozens of disparate systems. It was a lot of work to be sure, but it also provided an unparalleled view into over $1 billion in spend.

Despite the heavy lift, this analysis was critical. It served as the foundation for identifying strategic sourcing projects slated to save this organization millions. The benefit far outweighed the cost.

This is not always the case.

We live in an age where analytics reign supreme. Some organizations staff whole teams to churn out an uncountable (and maybe uncontrollable) number of spreadsheets, reports, and dashboards filled to the brim with data. Other organizations hire third parties like yours truly or implement state-of-the-art analytics packages to crunch these numbers. Either way, end users are left with more data points than they’d ever care to actually use in their decision-making processes.

I feel like I’ve slammed a lot of hyperbole into a few short paragraphs. Let’s dial it back with a simple statement and follow-up question: Even in this data-forward world, organizations need to ensure that we’re not wasting valuable resources on analyses that don’t warrant it. So how do we tell which efforts are worth the time?

Let’s break that down into a few more specific questions.

What direct impact are we trying to make?

This sounds like a throw-away question, but it isn’t. Think of the last ten reports you personally handed off to your boss or your boss’ boss. If I were a betting man, I’d say you could take at least one of them out of your weekly stack without the end user even noticing. Why? Because the people consuming these reports are inundated by data. They don’t have time to sift through reports generated for the sake of bureaucracy.

If you can look at a report and not know what specific challenge it helps solve, odds are good the answer is “none.” Sync up with the end user and confirm it provides the value you think it does.

How much of an impact can we expect?

A spend analysis has a clear enough direct impact on a defined challenge – we need to understand where money is going, to which suppliers, at what point in time, in order to identify projects to reduce cost. That said, some spend may not warrant the attention.

This may sound a bit like a “chicken vs. egg” issue, since we often can’t estimate value before we dig into the numbers. That said, we should have general figure in our mind before investing the time. Saving 20% on office supplies is great when your Staples bill is six figures. Drop that to a few spare thousand every year and the value just isn’t there.

How much buy-in can we expect?

Are relevant stakeholders likely to pursue the projects your analysis shines light on? If not, do you have the leverage, authority, or sheer charm and charisma needed to turn them? I’ve seen plenty of projects die on the vine because of hesitation or outright hostility on the part of key stakeholders. Investing in analytics for projects destined to fail before they start is a sucker’s game.

?There’s a decades-gone-by phrase that old timers in the IT industry will recognize: “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” The elements of fear, uncertainty, and doubt that made it effective back then are still relevant today. Think of the last time your office’s internet connection dropped off, even for a few minutes. Were you thinking about the cost savings your new provider offers? Cost savings may be good, but IT knows reliable uptime is better and is what makes or breaks them.

How deep does our dive need to be?

It pays to get down into the weeds when creating a spec list or generating an in-depth market basket. Once you’ve established the value of a project, it makes sense to invest in it by pulling the devil out of the details. Ending on a detailed note doesn’t mean we need to start the same way, though.

I pick on office supplies a lot when giving an example here. Let’s go back to that six figure Staples spend from earlier. How many pens, pencils, dry erase markers, reams of paper, and other supplies make up that figure? We’re looking at potentially thousands of line items. Remember the goal of our spend analysis – identify projects that can lead to cost savings. Do we really care about each individual line item right now? Will knowing how many black ballpoints versus blue felt tips make project identification easier? No – in fact, spending too much time on this granular detail now will only waste time and lead to potential lost opportunity costs.


I understand the knee-jerk reaction to traverse that DIKW (Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom) pyramid, I really do. It often is the right call. At the same time, there’s something to be said for taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture.

Every action we take needs to have purpose. Don’t waste time on a report today just because you ran it yesterday. Understand how your analysis fits into your organization’s goals and, if you find it doesn’t, cut ties so you can focus on more impactful endeavours.

Thanks, Brian!

13 Reasons your RFP Scoring Sucks


Today we welcome another guest post from Brian Seipel a Procurement Consultant at Source One Management Services focused on helping corporations understand their spend profile and develop actionable strategies for cost reduction and supplier relationship management. Brian has a lot of real-world project experience in supply chain distribution, and brings some unique insight on the topic.

The most thorough, best designed RFP questionnaire counts for nothing if Procurement can’t interpret the results. Proper submission scoring is critical, yet many Procurement Pros commit at least a few mistakes that seriously damage their ability to assess RFP responses.

I’ve seen my share of such mistakes over the years, and work with clients to clear them up before it’s too late. I’ve included the worst offenders, “The Unlucky 13”, below.

How many did your last RFP fall victim to?

Evaluating Questions

1. Questions aren’t weighted (or aren’t weighted properly).

Not every question is created equal. Consider how important one response is versus another. Critical questions should receive the lion’s share of total weight. I recommend starting at a high-level, assigning weight to each category of questions. Once done, delve into each category to distribute this weight to each individual question.

Not every question needs to be scored – some are for information gathering only. However, if you notice too many unscored questions, evaluate whether they all need to be included in the first place.

2. “Kill switch” responses aren’t treated as such.

On the subject of weight, some responses are so heavy that the wrong answer can (and should) disqualify a participant out of the gate. If an unacceptable answer invalidates a proposal, don’t bother weighting it – call out the answer as grounds for dismissal.

For example, one critical question may ask for confirmation that a respondent can handle required volumes. If any responses indicate a supplier can’t, no amount of weight would suffice – they simply are no longer viable.

3. Scoring is overly simplistic.

True/false questions are easy to understand and score, but too many of these cause problems in the long run. Odds are your suppliers will end up looking too similar if the bulk of responses fall into simple yes/no buckets.

4. Scoring is overly complex.

On the other side, some scoring systems end up too complex to be reasonably applied. I’ve seen scores range from 1 to 20. On paper, this appears to allow fine-tuned scoring. In reality, I’d challenge anyone to properly differentiate a score of “12” from “13.”

Evaluating Responses

5. Questions from participants go unanswered.

Your questionnaire may seem clear to your team, but chances are good that one or more participants either don’t understand your intent or don’t have the background information from you to properly answer.

Every RFP should include chances for Q&A with participants. If you don’t provide this opportunity, responses will hinge on assumptions made by participants – enough assumptions, and the end result may not align at all with your requirements.

6. Questions to participants go unasked.

The same is true on the other end. If a response is unclear to the scorer, then clarification should be sought. Otherwise, the scorer is left to make assumptions in order to interpret a response.

7. The wheat wasn’t separated from the chaff.

Anyone who’s ever scored a Marketing RFP will be familiar with this concept. Ever read a 200 word reply to a question, only realize at the end that the participant never gave a direct answer? Quantity does not equal quality – a detailed non-response is still a non-response.

Evaluating the Scoring Process

8. Clear criteria aren’t provided to scorers.

Simply providing a scoring scale isn’t enough. If you ask for a score of one to five, be sure to provide concrete direction on what constitutes a one versus a five and every point between.

9. Too few scorers are included.

The more stakeholders involved in scoring, the less likely results will be thrown by huge score discrepancies. The team in charge of scoring should encompass any stakeholders who would interact with the supplier or the product/service in addition to Procurement.

10. Score results are averaged blindly.

As a counterpoint to the above, don’t simply average all scores together at the end of the initiative. Large discrepancies in scores may indicate that two or more scorers viewed either the question or response (or both) differently. Use big discrepancies as a flag to ensure everyone is on the same page and revise accordingly.

11. External factors influence results.

Score only what it within the questionnaire. Don’t award ghost points to an incumbent based on their years of service. Likewise, don’t give an artificial boost to a hungry alternate because they came in competitively on pricing. There will be time later to consider outside elements – for now, stay focused on specific questions and responses.

12. Internal factors influence results.

“What? Dave’s team gave these guys a ‘nine’?!” “Don’t worry about it – just give them a ‘two’ to even the score out.” I wish I made this example up. I did not. I’ve worked with stakeholders who doctored their own scores to offset other scores that they disagreed with. Needless to say, this artificial tampering helps nobody.

13. Scoring lacks consistency from one response to another.

Here’s a fun way to screw with your team. Give them a pop quiz by asking them to rescore one of their first questions right after they finish scoring all responses. I’d be willing to bet on the outcome – the scores won’t match. Maybe by a little, possibly by a fair margin. When we’re evaluating half a dozen or more participants by scoring potentially hundreds of questions… it’s easy to get fatigued or change your mindset midway through.

Many people like to score one participant fully, then moving on to the next. I recommend scoring on a per-question basis instead. Take a question, and score the response from each participant down the line. Repeat for the next question. So on, so forth. This way, you’ll be in the same frame of mind and consider each response on the same standing.

Do your RFP justice – you worked hard to develop it and marshal participants through it to the end. Before working through responses, sit down with your team and review your strategy for evaluating the results. And make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to avoiding the mistakes above.

Thanks, Brian!