Category Archives: Market Intelligence

How Do You Identify The Day After Tomorrow’s Supply Chain Paupers?

Well, assuming the day after tomorrow comes and they are still around the day after tomorrow, they will be easy to spot. Not only will they still be trying to use Excel, but they will still be using Excel and will only recently have started exchanging documents using XML, using last decade’s e-Procurement technology.

They will not have advanced to modern e-Procurement applications, yet alone modern sourcing or supply chain visibility solutions. They will be in the process of simply moving from paper to e-Paper, trying to still conduct RFIs through e-mail with Excel (and just uploading the results to the first generation decade(s)-old e-Procurement solution), and generally trying to keep their outdated procurement processes in tact.

However, as we now know, first generation procurement and sourcing, focused primarily on e-document exchange, simple RFXs, the odd auction, and basic reporting is not enough. You need modern e-catalog management for procurement spot buys, analytics for opportunity identification, optimization for at least TCO management (if not TVM), and SRM for supplier information, relationship, and performance management.

But this is not enough. These day’s, there’s never enough time to sift through all the data to identify the opportunities, never enough time to collect enough market data to qualify even the ones you have identified, and certainly never enough time to construct category specific models on even a fraction of those to determine if they opportunities will be realized with an appropriate sourcing event — which can take years of experience to properly identify.

You need a next generation solution that can automatically collect, maintain over time, and trend market pricing data; run all your data through multiple types of automatic analysis and compare your spend against historical spend and market data (and look for variances); pull out the categories with opportunities; run trending algorithms to project your demand against expected contract prices based upon projected market demand, supply / demand (im)balance, and economic factors; calculate the potential savings if nothing was done; use historical data and automated reasoning (enriched with context) to (probabilistically) identify the best sourcing or procurement strategy; and then use appropriate workflow automation to automate as much of the event as possible (and if it is a spot-buy under a threshold, automatically procure from a catalog, an approved supplier under contract, or a three-bids-and-a-buy RFQ against approved suppliers).

In modern terms, the next generation solutions will be Cognitive Sourcing or Cognitive Procurement solutions. While they are not true artificial intelligence, with enough data and great models, you don’t need true AI to automate acquisitions where there is no strategic value and no significant value to investing human time. Good examples are office suppliers, janitorial services, and sometimes even laptops. Yes, replacing laptops across a large office can be in the millions, but laptops against a standard config are commodity. Just do an automated auction [with ceilings and floors] against a set of approved suppliers and let the most aggressive supplier win.

How Do You Identify Tomorrow’s Supply Chain Paupers?

They still use paper today!

This is another entry in our continuing The More Things Change … series that w began last month. Except this week we’re going back five years instead of the ten years we went back last month.

Although I don’t understand how any supply chain focussed business, and a logistics carrier in particular, could still be paper-based. It blows my mind that just five years ago the WT 100, in their recent article on Rounding the Optimization Curve, reports that there are still a significant number of carriers that keep their records on paper. How can you survive in today’s cost-competitive, just-in-time, value-conscious supply management landscape and work on paper?

And, more importantly, if you are a logistics provider or CPG distributor, how can you effectively still keep running on paper when Amazon is investigating drone delivery? Five years later there are *still* carriers and distributors running primarily on paper. And we’re not pranking you either, like South Park pranked your Amazon, Apple, and Google devices. This is a fact!

And while we’re at it, let’s talk about how you can identify the dead men walking of the day after. They use Excel. We’ve known for years that errors in spreadsheets are pandemic. Needless to say that it boggles my mind that Microsoft Excel continues to be the application of choice for supply chain and logistics management around the world. Fidelity lost 2.6 Billion as a result of a spreadsheet error, Fannie Mae made a 1.13 Billion honest mistake, and RedEnvelope lost more than a quarter of their value in a single day after they warned of a fourth-quarter loss due to a budgeting error that resulted in an overestimate of gross margins. How long is it going to be before someone accidentally uses a plus sign instead of a minus sign in a profit formula and forgets to uncap an inventory calculation and instead of ordering 100,000 units of a profitable product, instead orders 1,000,000 units of a product that actually results in significant losses at the target sale price, for which the market demand is weak, ties up all of the organization’s working capital, and essentially bankrupts the company? My guess, with the steadily increasing complexity of S&OP, JIT inventory management models, and supply chains, not much longer. But, maybe after a few companies are brought to their knees from spreadsheet errors, we’ll see the day when Excel is sh!tcanned along with the dinosaurs who still think it has any more use than a HP or TI calculator.

It’s time for anyone still on paper or Excel to wake up and realize we don’t live in Walt Disneyland and that the story of the prince and the pauper is a fairytale. A pauper is not going to become the benefactor of princely riches just by looking like a bigger, richer, company. In today’s uber-connected world, appearances don’t account for much. It’s not long before someone digs deep and uncovers the truth.

There’s a reason why customers are demanding end-to-end visibility of their supply chains, including those of their supply chains logistics’ partners. And a reason customers now expect all of their suppliers and business partners on the supply chain (including logistics providers) to participate in a supply chain network. It’s because they know that the only way they can accurately manage their supply chain is to keep on top of it, that the only way they can build accurate models is with accurate data gathered from partners, and that the best reports they are going to get are going to come from supply chain visibility and planning software plugged into these “networks” (where, in reality, these are “enterprise communities” that allow the necessary collaboration, not “consumer social networks” where you can poke, prod, and shake your buddy for no apparent reason).

In other words, paper is dead, and Excel will be the new paper, and then, someday, it too will be dead. So if you don’t want to be the pauper, move off of these technologies and onto solutions designed for your supply management needs. With a plethora of Best-of-Breed solutions on the market, designed for large and small providers, it’s extremely likely that there’s at least one solution that meets your needs almost exactly with minimal tweaking. If you look hard enough, the doctor would bet that there’s at least three, or will be before you can look twice.

Agile Procurement Can Work in the Private Sector … but the Public Sector?

A recent article over on the Public Spend Forum on Agile Procurement for the Public Sector – A Primer noted that Agile Procurement might just be what is needed to solve the complex challenge of public Procurement and solve the problem of the myriad of rules, processes, policies, and templates that became more and more complicated over time in the public sector.

According to the article, the answer is to adopt the best practice of agile development and move away from contract-oriented competitive Procurements to approaches that provide more flexibility for competitive dialog and negotiation (allowing requirements to be discussed, clarified, further defined, developed, and improved) using the iterative, collaboration, and change-oriented aspects of agile development.

This sounds great in theory, but we have to remember why we have a i>myriad of rules, processes, policies, and templates that became more and more complicated over time. As the author notes, Procurement mistakes would lead to trade complaints and lawsuits, and so more rules would be added, more contingencies, more processes layering on top of one another to reach where we are today.

Just imagine what would happen if all the rules were dropped in a flexible environment where the requirements of the contract could change each round. Since the changes would likely always favour one bidder over another, or at least be more aligned with the suggestion of one bidder over another, imagine the trade complaints and lawsuits that would arise. It would be chaotic! In order for an agile Procurement process to work, we’d need to revise not only our procurement principles across all levels of government, but also our legal system that made the requirements for filing trade complaints very restrictive.

In other words, agile Procurement for the public sector is a great theory, but the doctor doesn’t think it will be a reality for quite some time. However, there’s absolutely no reason to avoid it in the private sector. It’s a great way to get the best proposal(s) for the organization, and as long as your organization is open and transparent about the process it intends to use, quite resistant to legal challenges, as private organizations, unlike public organizations, can pretty much do what they want, especially if they are transparent about it and don’t break any laws. (And being collaborative vs. combative, in most jurisdictions, does not break any laws.)

So, if you’re private, be agile. If you’re public, be careful. You can be agile in your market research, but once you start the formal Procurement process, you better be traditional … at least for the time being.

Fifty Years Ago Today …

Great Britain gets one heck of an endorsement when the territory of Gibraltar, a 6.7 km2 region on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula which shares its (only) northern border with Spain votes 12,138 to 44 to remain British (and not revert to Spain).

Gibraltar, which has a constitution that allows it to govern its own affairs on a day to day basis (while ceding power such as defence and foreign relations to the British Government), is strategically important as it essentially controls the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean sea (which is only 13 km wide at this naval “choke point”), where half of the world’s seaborne trade passes.

Gibraltar serves as a reminder that it’s not always who you share a border with that matters, but who you share a cultural bond with. That’s why sometimes your best trading partner is half a world away and you need to effectively manage your global supply chain to make it happen.

Fifty Five Years Ago Today …

Evsei Grigorievich Liberman published “Plan, benefit, and prisms” in Pravda, a dissertation which proposed new methods of economic planning based on democratic centralism.

Democratic centralism is a method of leadership in which political decisions reached by the party (through democratically elected bodies) are binding upon all members of the party. His main proposal was that profits should be made the index of performance for Soviet planning, as well as the basis for bonuses to the personnel and directors of Soviet enterprises. This article stimulated a large debate and two years later, the Supreme Economic Council of the USSR converted some of the resulting conclusions into law, after some enterprises began to functionally experiment “on the basis of profit”. (Source: International Socialist Review, Vol. 26, No. 3, Summer 1965, pp 75 to 82 as transcribed by Einde O’Callaghan and found on the Ernest Mandel Internet Archive)

How is this relevant? It seems that no matter what the political climate, or what the governing structure, in the world of business, profit always seems to be top of mind for at least one party, especially when that party believes it’s their key to personal profit.

This means that there’s always going to be a stakeholder interested only in the bottom line and what it means to him, and that if you don’t keep this in the back of your mind, and come up with a decision that increased profit at least slightly, you’ll have a hard time getting it accepted, even if it is the most sustainable decision, the most corporately responsible decision, or the best long term decision from a value, and cost, perspective.

If profit can rear its ugly head in an environment governed by communism mindset, it can rear its head anywhere. Even in procurement which is supposed to focus on value creation and cost reduction. Keep this in mind when trying to ascertain, and balance, the desires of multiple stakeholders.