Category Archives: Guest Author

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!

Supply Chain & Distribution in the Age of Legalized Marijuana


Now, some readers will feel this topic is inappropriate for Sourcing Innovation. However, regardless of your personal view on the subject, it is a valid one given the continuing legalization of Marijuana around the world, and, more importantly, the fact it has medical uses. If you are personally against it, you can avoid the industry. But a healthcare provider cannot, especially once a licensed medical doctor has prescribed the drug.


As a result, today we welcome a 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.

(Dear reader: I need you to know how hard it was to resist writing a pot-infused pun into my headline.)

There are a lot of headaches attached to supply chain and distribution, faced by distributors and their clients alike. I can list a few, not that I likely need to – most readers will be familiar with them:

  • Regulations are, bluntly, a pain in the ass. This one doesn’t need much of an explanation. From city to city, state to state, country to country, there are a lot of rules to follow, and a lot of frustration for anyone who doesn’t dot the right “I’s” or cross the right “T’s.” If compliance is key, then regulators must have some pretty heavy doors.
  • Supply chains are often pretty inflexible. Any hiccups along the way can be devastating and, while good planning can ease the pain, nothing is sure fire. Want an easy example? For those in the north, think back to the last bad winter you faced. Any seafaring shippers can point to the last hurricane that graced their shipping lanes. Probably enough said.
  • Costs are rising. Fuel for trucks and wages for their drivers have frequently been a concern. Adding some strategic creativity to your supply chain can help stretch dollars, but the rubber can’t meet the road without expensive fuel to get it there. And a driver, of course, to keep it there.
  • Forecasting can be tricky, and demand can outstrip supply. Predicting demand (and predicting the uncertainty in that prediction) are crucial to gaining efficiencies in your supply chain. It can also be very difficult, leaving many to base decisions on assumptions and gut checks. One known factor at play here is the fact that demand far outstrips supply. There’s a shortage of truck drivers out there, and that isn’t good for anyone trying to move shipments.

Again, I likely didn’t need to remind any of you of these and many other challenges your supply chain faces. One thing you blessedly don’t need to worry about, however, is committing a felony just for shipping product.

In the Age of Legalized Pot, Distribution will be … Tricky

Sorry to bury the lead, there. However, I think it was important to do so. Given all those issues above that we all face, at least we can keep in mind that “someone out there has it a lot worse.”

You think regulations on your end are bad? States can barely get their own minds made up about the legal status of Marijuana, and that’s not even considering the fact that the stuff is still illegal on a federal level, regardless of what the states decide. That brings the regulatory landscape to a whole new level. On that note, what do you think the legal ambiguity means to an already fragile supply chain? Distributors of marijuana face a level of uncertainty not seen elsewhere.

If America has a truck driver shortage, imagine adding felony charges, stiff fines, and jail time into the equations – you can’t fault the labor pool for being cautious to enter this new arena. And even if you solve these supply chain risks in the here and now, predicting the demand of a product that is legal today but potentially a crime again tomorrow would make the best soothsayer’s head spin.

Still, this is an emerging market that has caught everyone’s attention. As Procurement pros with an eye on industry news and trends, this growing industry is, at a minimum, an interesting one to keep an eye on. So let’s dig a little further.

Weed Distribution: A Brief Review

To take a closer look, let’s travel to California’s sunny coastlines. It’s weird to think of the marijuana growers and dispensaries dotting the golden state as mon-and-pop outfits. “Not my parents,” right? Still, the term applies. Most don’t have the resources nor inclination to own most of the vertical elements of marijuana industry. Many dispensaries are happy to leave the cultivation and processing of marijuana plants to growers and act simply as the retail operation. Many growers simply want to focus on producing a high quality product, and have little time for the retail side of it all.

On one hand, it makes a lot of sense for the two to meet in the middle, forming partnerships. On the other, however, it can be painful for an organization on one side to deal with a dozen small outfits on the other. Not to mention the fact that some of those small outfits may land on the weaker end of the business acumen continuum. Besides, neither end necessarily wants to deal with the tax and regulatory management or logistics of the industry.

Enter California’s Cannabis Distributor License. Organizations under this license take up this relationship, and work with growers and dispensers to not only manage the logistics of the industry, but also myriad steps along the way – before handling the actual shipments, these organizations may also take part in the processing and packaging of the products, performing required quality control measures, and deal with the regulatory hassles that come with the territory. Just as importantly, growers and dispensaries can get a range of products from a much smaller, more reputable source.

This is a win for all parties involved. So, what is the issue?

For one thing, the California supply chain is being disrupted by a – very relatable for the rest of us – greater demand for distribution than there is right now. Plenty of dispensaries stocked up on product early on to ward against disruption, but there simply aren’t enough operators being granted licenses to keep the pipeline full.

This shortage isn’t the only concern. Plenty of attention is paid to high tax rate on one side and a banking industry that refuses to get involved in an industry still illegal on a federal level on the other. Both factors are squeezing the industry from a financial perspective.

A Look towards the Future

You may be asking, “won’t all of this get better as more states legalize?” This may be true over a long term. However, the federal government isn’t budging so far, which means every state is an island in terms of marijuana distribution. It wouldn’t matter if two neighboring states were both weed-friendly. That adjacency won’t count for anything, as state borders fall under federal jurisdiction. Hell, don’t even think about getting near some state borders as a cannabis distributor – simply approaching a border crossing zone between countries could land you in hot water, even if the distribution of marijuana within that border state is legal.

So let’s look towards what that longer future could look like. The biggest “if” factor out there is regulatory. Either states get their own ducks in a row and the federal government follows suit… or they don’t.

If they do, the cannabis distribution market could be a huge industry (we already see it growing quickly, albeit not quickly enough, in California). Limit the number of hoops to jump through and clear the way for distribution from a legal standpoint, and watch an industry thrive. If they don’t, however, I can see a slide back into the black market, regardless of the legality on a per-state basis. The lack of regulation and taxation could be too much of a draw for some to ignore.

And that would be a shame – from a quality and safety standpoint for the consumer and a revenue standpoint for the state, there are a lot of reasons advocates across the industry and interested in its success.

Thanks, Brian.

MoviePass and the Importance of Strategic Suppliers


Today’s guest post is from Bennett Glace, the primary contributor and Editorial Lead for the Strategic Sourceror. A prolific procurement and sourcing blogger, he is responsible for advocating the function’s value in podcasts, white papers, and other accessible content.

On an almost daily basis throughout this year’s summer movie season, cinemagoers have read headlines charting the struggles of MoviePass. The low-priced subscription service was intended to disrupt the traditional theatre model and get audiences excited to go to the movies once again. While initially successful, the service’s last few months now look like a cautionary tale.

In a recent Harvard Business Review essay, Eddie Yoon points out a number of flaws in MoviePass’ pricing model and approach to customer service. Using the company’s woes as an instructive jumping off point, he provides suggestions for its inevitable successors. His arguments also suggest that MoviePass and its disappointed customer base provide a case study in the importance of developing and nurturing strategic supplier relationships. MoviePass’ subscribers are right to feel burned, but it’s clear a more strategic, informed approach to assessing the ‘supplier’ could’ve saved them a great deal of exasperation and money.

To exist as a strategic function, Procurement requires a strategic approach to its supplier relationships. A key step in establishing an effective Supplier Relationship Management program is identifying suppliers who are willing and able to provide for a strategic relationship. These are suppliers who show an interest in engaging directly with Procurement, tuning into its unique requirements, and providing flexible, dependable services. When it comes to supplier selection, anything that strikes Procurement as one-size-fits-all should raise concern. Effective supplier relationships depend on personal, individualized attention. Whether this means favouring local suppliers and distributors over national options, or consolidation over dispersal, will vary based on the organization, but no supply chain professional would dispute the importance of suppliers who can offer hands-on, tailored services that enable a strategic partnership to take shape.

Over the last few months, MoviePass has shown itself to be anything but a strategic supplier to its more than 3 million buyers. Their one-size-fits all approach to pricing and customer service provided for such a massive expansion, but, in Yoon’s words, “MoviePass had to grow much faster than its customer support could keep up with.” Describing their increasingly hands-off service offering, he continues, “The constant price and product changes clearly show how little it understood what customers wanted.”

He begins by discussing the service’s much-discussed, outrageously-low price. Presented as MoviePass’ primary selling point, the $9.95 monthly subscription fee struck millions as a deal too good to pass up. Recent developments suggest it was something closer to too good to be true. Even rookie supply chain professionals know the perils of making supplier selections based on price alone. Cinema lovers, too, have now learned this lesson the hard way.

While moviegoers across the country would agree that tickets have gotten more expensive, Yoon points out that the definition of “expensive” varies considerably by region. MoviePass’ $9.95 monthly price point is a definite bargain for residents of New York or California, where ticket prices average more than $15.00, but most Kansans are unlikely to consider the service so cost effective. Yoon writes, “It is silly to think that a one-size-fits-all national strategy is the right approach for a market as technically and economically diverse as the United States.”

MoviePass’ dedication to a one-size-fits-all service offering not only left their customer base underserved, but ultimately left them struggling with unpredictable demand. As Yoon writes, “MoviePass failed to recognize how the behaviour of super-consumers, customers who are highly engaged with a category and a brand, differs from that of average consumers.” These super-consumers, attending numerous films every week are not unlike any suppliers customers of choice. Customers of choice expect and deserve value-adding incentives based on their particular needs and buying habits. It’s these extras that differentiate truly world-class suppliers and provide the foundation for long-lasting supply chain partnerships. By tailoring certain aspects of its offering to serve its loyal, high-volume buyers, MoviePass might’ve developed methods for better managing spikes in demand. What’s more, these customers would’ve felt appreciated enough to consider MoviePass a preferred supplier even through the recent growing pains.

MoviePass, for their part, seems convinced they’re here to stay. Speaking to NPR, CEO Mitch Lowe remarks, “Amazon lost money for 20 years. Netflix still loses money … our competitors are the ones who keep spreading rumours that we’re going out of business. And clearly, they’re afraid of us and would much rather have a clear playing field.” Lowe suggests that, as a supplier, MoviePass is less concerned with serving its buyers, less concerned with turning a profit even, than it is with instilling fear. The implications for the business’ corporate culture are eye-opening. Lowe paints a picture of an organization that will forsake its commitment to customer service and spread itself past the point of sustainability in order to appear intimidating. That’s not even to mention the lingering questions about how MoviePass intends to use consumer data. Back in July, Lowe (somewhat infamously) joked, “We know all about you.” While Procurement certainly desires suppliers who know its business in-and-out, these suggestions should raise red flags.

Yoon makes note of MoviePass’ troubling attitudes as well. He concludes his essay by remarking, “MoviePass’s struggles provide evidence that bullying is a bad business plan.” Here and there, Procurement has certainly impressed its peers as a cost-cutting bully. Within leading organizations, however, those days are over. The function is widely engaged in efforts to undo its negative perception, build a better brand, and contribute to a positive corporate culture. Identifying and partnering with ethical, dependable suppliers who share Procurement’s values is an important step in establishing this culture and making Procurement a strategic business partner. Continually, MoviePass has revealed itself to be a supplier of less-than-stellar character walking into a less-than-certain future. If Procurement wants to continue rehabilitating its image and protect the reputation of its organization, it can’t afford to do business with this sort of supplier – at any price.

Thanks, Bennet!

E-procurement benefits … fact or fiction? Part II

Today’s guest post is from Tony Bridger, an experienced provider of Procurement Consulting and Spend Analysis services across the Commonwealth (as well as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt) who has been delivering value across continents for two decades. He is currently President of UK-based TrainingWorx Ltd, a provider of a wide range of Procurement and Analytic business training programs (inc. GDPR, spend analysis, project management, process improvement, etc.) and focussed short-term consulting solutions. Tony can be contacted at tony.bridger@data-trainingworx.co.uk.

In our last post we noted that it has been difficult to find anything recent in the academic world on e-procurement.  Independent academic research appears to have started to fizzle out from 2007 as the e-procurement technology wave passed and moved on – as most technologies do eventually.  However, e-procurement software vendors are still going and new development companies still seeking a new angle – despite the fact that many e-procurement systems, and concepts, have proven notoriously difficult to embed in to the culture of organisations.

We can hypothesise and speculate on some of the reasons for this:

  • E-procurement has often been touted as the panacea for all procurement department ills. Stops maverick spending, controlled approvals and extensive workflow;

This is correct to some extent.  However, this focuses on a small slice of spend (i.e how much of procurement effort is actually spend under management?).

  • Many procurement teams write large contracts but rarely take the time or effort to check compliance to contract. No one ever said that vendor catalogues and associated pricing were always correct and accurate.   Automated PO processing cannot fix compliance if the core vendor source catalogue pricing is simply wrong;
  • Spend analysis is still lacking as a core skill in many procurement teams – so validation and compliance checking of pricing to invoice compliance still seems to be a low priority agenda item. Therefore, e-procurement provides no better protection for contract compliance than any other process in many cases.
  • The generic nature of indirect spend activity remains in many cases. Simply, this means that in some categories, the variation in process to specify, order and pay means that a “one size fits all” process platform simply will not work.   There are Purchasing cards and a range of other specialised P2P options available – but the advent of products like SAP Fieldglass for temporary labour and service time recording has started to erode the value of e-procurement investment in some categories.   All-encompassing e-Procurement capability is simply being picked off at a category level.    The purists will argue that it should all be on one system.  However, the pragmatists are busy creating applications that deliver value.

Could it be that e-Procurement has simply passed its apogee?    Perhaps.

However, do problems with purchase to pay in many organisations simply reside with procurement cultures?

There is little or no doubt that many procurement departments see the entire gamut of purchasing activity as their domain to control.   Many procurement executives still initiate major P2P investment projects on the basis that this will provide an entire control platform – and that business teams will simply comply.    That assumption is flawed as many imposed P2P initiatives run counter culture and are doomed to fail – or at best simply ignored.

It can also take time to set vendors up on e-procurement, maintain workflow using cost centre files, approve POs, set spend limits etc.   There are many variations on a theme in the e-Procurement space – many systems will now claim to resolve a range of category-based issues.   However, many business unit buyers have considerable market knowledge, good commercial evaluation skills and translate their domestic purchasing skills in to the workplace very effectively i.e.  specify requirements, create opportunities and evaluate responses from multiple suppliers – and place an order.   They also can save companies money.   As the old Chinese proverb suggests, “give a person a fish, feed them for a day, give them a fishing rod, feed them for a lifetime”.

It may simply be that the majority of e-procurement platforms are designed, in many cases, to pander to the notion of total control desired by procurement teams – not commercial pragmatism around the way the purchasing and business world really works.  A mystery for sure.

However, there are alternatives.   The question is … is anyone looking?

Thanks, Tony!