Category Archives: Procurement Damnation

More Valid Uses for Gen-AI … this time IN Procurement!

Some of you were upset that my last post on Valid Uses for Gen-AI weren’t very Procurement centric, arguing that there were valid uses for Gen-AI in Procurement and that the doctor should have focussed on, or at least included, those because why else would almost every vendor and their dog be including “AI” front and center on their web-site (about 85%+)!

Well, you’re right! To be completely fair, the doctor should acknowledge these valid uses, even if they are very few and very far between. So he will. Those of you following him closely will note that he mentioned some of these in his comment on LinkedIn to Sarah Scudder’s post on how “AI is a buzzword“.

AI is a lot more than a buzzword, but let’s give Gen-AI it’s due … in Procurement … first.

With Gen-AI you can:

1. Create a “you” chat-bot capable of responding to a number of free-form requests that can be mapped to standard types.
This is especially useful if the organization employs one or more annoying employees who always waits too long to request goods and then, after you place the order, insist on emailing you every day to ask “are they here yet” in reference to their request, even though you flat out told them the boats are coming by ship, it takes 24 days to sail the goods across the ocean once they are on the ship, typically 3 days to get them to the port, 3 to 14 days to get them on that ship, 3 to 7 days to get the ship into a dock, 3 to 4 days to unload the ship, and 3 to 4 days from the fort, for a minimum delivery time of 35 days, or 5 weeks, and asking week one just shows how stupid this employee is.

2. Similarly, you can create a “you” chatbot for RFP Question Response.
More specifically, you can create a bot that can simply regurgitate the answers to sales people who won’t read the spec and insist on emailing you on a daily basis with questions you already answered, and which they would realize if they weren’t so damn lazy and just read the full RFP.

3. Create meaningless RFPs from random “spec sheets”.
Specifically, take all those random “spec sheets” the organizational stakeholder downloaded from the internet just so you can check a box, send it out, and make him happy. (Even though no good RFP ever resulted from using vendor RFP templates or spec sheets.) Which is especially useless if you have a subscription with a big analyst firm that includes helping you identify the top 5 vendors you are going to invite to the RFP where you will focus on the service, integration, implementation, and relationship aspects as the analyst firm qualified the tech will meet your needs. (After all, sales, marketing, human resources, and other non-technical buyers love to be helpful in this way and don’t realize that just about every “sales automation”, “content management”, and “application system” has all of the same core features and you can usually make do with any one of a dozen or more low-cost “consumerized” freeware/shareware/pay-per-user SaaS subscriptions.)

4. Or, do something slightly more useful and auto-fill your RFPs with vendor-ish data.
You could use the AI to ingest ALL of a vendor’s website, marketing, and sales materials as well as third party summaries and reviews and auto-fill as much of your RFP as you can before sending it to the vendor, and then approximately score each field based on key words, to ensure that the vendor is likely capable of meeting all of your minimum requirements across the board before you ask them to fill out the RFP and, more importantly, spend hours, or days, reviewing their response.

5. Identify unusual or risky requests or clauses in a “ready to go” contract.
Compare the contract draft handed to you by the helpful stakeholder to the default ones in your library that were (co-)drafted by actual Procurement professionals and vetted by Legal and don’t have unusual, risky, or just plain stupid clauses. For example, an unvetted draft could have a clause that says your organization accepts all liability risk, you agree to pay before goods are even shipped, you’ll accept substitute SKUs without verification, etc. (because the helpful stakeholder just took the vendor’s suggested one-sided contract and handed it to you).

6. Automatic out-of-policy request denial.
Program it to just say “denied” for any request that doesn’t fall close to organizational norms.

7. Generate Kindergarten level summaries of standard reports for the C-Suite.
Got a C-suite full of bankers, accountants, and lawyers who don’t have a clue what the business actually does and need simplified reports translated to banker-speak and legalese? No problem!

Of course, the real question is to ask not what Gen-AI can do for you but what can you do without Gen-AI because the doctor would argue that you don’t need Gen-AI for any of this and that the non-Gen-AI solutions are better and more economical!

Let’s take these valid uses one-by-one:

1. You could hire a virtual admin assistant / AP clerk in the Phillippines, Thailand, or some other developing country with okay English skills to do that for 1K a month!
Furthermore, this full time worker could also respond to other, more generic, requests as well, and do some meaningful work, such as properly transcribing hand-written invoices (or correcting OCR errors), etc. And give your employees the comfort of a real, dependable, human for a fraction of the cost of that overpriced AI bullsh!t they are trying to shove down your throat.

2. Classic “AI” that works on key phrases in the hands of the admin assistant will work just as well.
It will find the most appropriate data, and then the admin can verify that the question can be answered by the paragraph(s) included in the RFP, or that the sales person actually read the RFP and is asking for a clarification on the text, or a more detailed specification. The sales person gets the desired response the first time, no time is wasted, and you haven’t p!ssed off the sales person by forcing him to interact with an artificially idiotic bot.

3. When they said the best things in life are free, they weren’t referring to vendor RFPs.
In fact, those free RFPs and spec sheets will be the most expensive documents you ever handle. Every single one was designed to lock you into the vendor’s solution because every single one focussed not on what a customer needed, but the capabilities and, most importantly, features that were most unique to the vendor. So if you use those RFPs and sheets, you will end up selecting that vendor, be that vendor right, or wrong, for you. The best RFPs and spec sheets are the ones created by you, or at least an independent consultant or analyst working in your best interest. No AI can do this — only an intelligent human that can do a proper needs, platform, and gap analysis and translate that into proper requirements.

4. Okay, you need AI for this … but … traditional, now classic, AI could do that quite well.
Modern Gen-AI doesn’t do any better, and the amount of human verified documents and data you need to sufficiently train the new LLMs to be as accurate as traditional, now classic, AI, is more than all but a handful of organizations have. So you’re going to pay more (both for the tech and the compute time) to get less. Why? In what world does that make sense?

5. Okay, you need NLP at a minimum for this, but you don’t need more. And you barely need AI.
All you have to do is is use classical NLP to identify clause types, do weighted comparisons to standard clauses, analyze sentence structures and gauge intent, and identify clauses that are missing, deviating from standard, and not present in standard contracts. And, as per our last use, do it just as well without needing nearly as much data to effectively train. Leading contracts analytics vendors have been doing this for over a decade.

6. Even first generation e-Procurement platforms could encode rules for auto-approval, auto-denial, and conditional workflows.
In other words, you just need the rules-based automation that we’ve had for decades. And every e-Procurement, Catalog Management, and Tail Spend application does this.

7. Any semi-modern reporting or analytics platforms can allow the templates to be customized to any level of detail or summary desired.
And if you have a modern spend analysis platform, this is super easy. Furthermore, if your C-Suite is filled entirely with accountants, bankers, and lawyers who don’t understand what the business does, because they fired all the STEM professionals who understood what the business actually does, then your organization has a much bigger problem than reporting.

In other words, there isn’t a single use case where you actually need Gen-AI, as traditional approaches not only get the job done in each of these situations, but traditional approaches do it better, cheaper, and more reliably with zero chance of hallucination.

At the end of the day you want a real solution that solves a real problem. And the best way to identify such a solution is to remember that Gen-AI is really short for GENerated Artificial Idiocy. So if you want a real solution that solves a real problem, simply avoid any solution that puts AI first. This way you won’t get a “solution” that is:

  • Artificial Idiocy enabled
  • Artificial Idiocy backed
  • Artificial Idiocy enhanced
  • Artificial Idiocy driven

As Sarah Scudder noted on “AI is a buzzword“, AI is a delivery mechanism which, scientifically speaking, is a method by which the virus spreads itself. This is probably the best non-technical description of what AI is ever! And the best explanation of why you should never trust AI!

Mistake X that Procurement Founders Keep Making

As part of the discussion between the doctor and Jon The Revelator on how 2005 can tell us why most AI initiatives fail in 2024, the doctor, who recently finished the first six installments of his Mistakes Procurement Founders Keep making series, noted one mistake that founders keep making that maybe he should have made more explicit.

Specifically, and this applies to founders who are techies / ex-consultants in particular who are tech first, the one big mistake that is still being made two decades later is this:

Building a “solution” without having identified the “problem” they are trying to solve.

Or, as The Revelator put it, you must solve problems before selling solutions.

(And, preferably, not a problem that was already solved, and solved better.)

While this mistake could fall under foundational market research, it also stands on its own because these tech-minded individuals think that just because the tech doesn’t appear to exist, there’s a market for it.

While the “find a new ‘solution’, figure out what it works for later” might work for PhD students (develop a new algorithm, technique, material, etc. and then figure out what it can be used for), it doesn’t work well in the business world.

While techies might think business people want cool, the reality is that business people, especially those writing big cheques, don’t care. Techies think business people want slick UX. The reality is that business people don’t care. Techies think business people want the latest and greatest tech stack. But, again, business people don’t care.

The techies fail to realize that the business people they are selling to are NOT the people in the organization who are actually going to use the solution, which could be on decades old tech, with a horrendous UI and UX, and descriptors from an 80s horror film. All the solution buyers in an organization care about is

  1. will it meet the business need,
  2. will we get it at the lowest price and,
  3. if the solution processes transactions or personal data,
    does it have all the appropriate security certifications and monitoring?

That’s it. The budget controllers only care about whether or not the solution will solve their problem efficiently, effectively, and affordably. And if you can’t demonstrate that, they won’t care whether or not they’re buying it from Someone Who’s Cool.

We Need to Hasten Onshoring and Nearshoring — the Drivers Will Pound Those Who Don’t Into the Ground! Part 2

In Part 1 we noted how it was great to see a recent article on Supply Chain Dive on 6 reasons why global supply chains are shifting because the unending list of disruptions, cost pressures, and geopolitical tensions are only going to get worse.

As per the article, six major factors were influencing the decision — landed costs, tariffs and subsidies, geopolitical risk, existing supply networks, agility, and ESG goals — but these are, frankly, only half of the reasons that you should be shifting back. (And again, read the article for a detailed explanation of each factor, it is extremely well written and Part 1 only described the factors at a high level.) Today, with that article as a preamble, we are going to dive deeper into why the global outsourcing craze (thatthe doctor has been rallying against and complaining about for over 15 years, since he saw the business case begin to crumble in the late 2000s) was, and is, fundamentally wrong.


Yes, this would is overused, misused, and abused, but if you truly want to work with your supplier, it’s much easier to work with a nearby supplier than a far-flung supplier.

First of all, they are on a similar timezone, so at least half of a normal workday should overlap. No more 7 pm / 7am meetings in the best case (or 7 am / 3 pm / 11 pm meetings in the worst cases when you also have to dial in a partner organization in a multi-tier assembly operation).

Secondly, if you need to go on site, even if air traffic is grounded (terrorist risk, volcanic eruption, dangerous solar flares, etc.), you can get in a vehicle and drive to an on-shore site and many near-shore sites. And even in the North America / South America situation, while we still don’t have a complete Pan-American highway (as we still have the Darien Gap), we do have complete connectivity in North America and in South America, and if trade were to increase, it would make a ferry service from Panama to Colombia financially viable, and trucks could be ferried from Port Panama City to Santa Marta (and cars as well, although there is already a weekly service from Colón to Cartagena that could be expanded to operate more frequently). This means that you could get goods from any country county in South America into the US mostly by land in 2-3 weeks, or get to a supplier site by land in the same time. However, suitable partner selection could get you, or your goods, anywhere mostly by land in less than a week! (So, during normal times, imagine how fast and easy air travel will be — without racking up huge, unnecessary, overseas travel miles.)

Cultural Understanding

Most countries have a better understanding of their neighbours (unless it’s a communist/dictatorship with completely closed borders) than they do of countries half a world away, which usually makes collaborative working relationships naturally easier.

Complexity Reduction

The further away the good, the more complex the sourcing. There’s enough complexity to deal with in modern business. Why increase it? Especially since there is NO Big Red Easy Button (and Gen-AI definitely WILL NOT deliver one)!

Back to Basics

And, finally, when you onshore home-source or near-source, you’re getting back to basics. If you look at the history of trade, which was always long, risky, and costly, you traded for what you did not have locally, not what you had.

Convincing you that off-shoring was a good business decision that would save you money was one of the biggest cons, if not the biggest con, that the Big X Consultancies ever pulled off, since, in the long term, the only organizations that will make any money in the end are them*.

These Big X Consultancies charged you a lot of money to help you off-shore (which involved identifying suppliers, managing global supply networks, redesigning processes, updating inventory management, dealing with more defects and quality issues, etc.), which took you years to recoup before you started making money … which you have to give them again so they can help you re-shore, which requires identifying new suppliers (because even if your systems have data from pre-offshoring times, chances are those suppliers are out of business), redesign your supply networks (as you need different carriers, new warehouses, new partners, and new regulations to adhere to), updating inventory management, and temporarily dealing with defects and quality issues as the new suppliers evolve to support you. After all, any staff who knew how to deal with near-shoring (as well as handle trade in a time where there were few recriprocal agreements, tariffs were everywhere, logistics was a nightmare, etc. … i.e. pre 2000s, retired during / post COVID when they decided they had enough as a result of your “temporary” furloughs, forced office returns, and/or headcount rationalization in favour of new “AI” systems that don’t work.

If you had just stuck to the basics, and instead of going half a world away for a quick win, invested in process, product (design for cost/reuse/etc.), manufacturing, inventory, and logistics optimization, chances are you’d be far ahead now while the rest of the world scrambles to catch up.

*Today’s soundtrack: Bullet with Butterly Wings

We Need to Hasten Onshoring and Nearshoring — the Drivers Will Pound Those Who Don’t Into the Ground! Part 1

It was great to see a recent article on Supply Chain Dive on 6 reasons why global supply chains are shifting because the unending list of disruptions, cost pressures, and geopolitical tensions are only going to get worse.

According to the article, the following factors are influencing the decisions — and the doctor encourages you to read the article as he’s not going in depth into anything already written, especially when it was written very well, but instead wants to emphasize why the global outsourcing craze (that he has been rallying against and complaining about for over 15 years, since he saw the business case begin to crumble in the late 2000s) was, and is, fundamentally wrong (and emphasize even more factors you may not be considering yet).

Landed Costs

Items have become more expensive as supply constraints on certain raw materials and food stuffs have significantly increased prices across the board, tariffs and taxes from protectionist policies have heightened prices further, and then the skyrocketing logistics costs during the pandemic and now due to canal crises (Red Sea, Panama, etc.) and the lengthened shipping routes around the Capes (Horn and Agulhas) they are introducing make farshore sourcing very expensive.

Nearshoring from Mexico or Central America can take two weeks off of delivery time and reduce landed cost by up to 20% from the average. On the flip-side, sourcing from China with “trade war” tariffs (that Trump is threatening to increase) can increase landed cost by 20% (as section 301 tariffs targeting China added a 25% duty on hundreds of products).

Tariffs And Subsidies

These trade penalties and incentives are flying fast and furious both in populist-run democracies/republics/parliamentarian systems with Our-Country-First policies and communist/dictatorship countries with protectionist policies or tit-for-tat trade-war tariff and incentive policies. This makes “neutral” countries the best choices for outsourcing. See the article for a great breakdown of import value trends as a result of these changes in tariffs and incentives.

Geopolitical risk

The trade-wars were just the start. Now we have the Russia-Ukraine War, the Israeli-Palestine conflict, the war in Sudan, increasing tensions between China and Taiwan, and so on. All of these have, and will, disrupt global sourcing. The global political trade risk in multiple countries is now significantly high.

Existing Supply Networks

Even though, for North America, China came at the cost of Mexico, the trade networks still exist, and are easy to ramp up again. Similarly, multinationals already have hubs in multiple countries they sell (a lot) in and re-orienting around those hubs is easier than finding new hubs half a world away. Moreover, reducing routes increases FTL/utilization of key routes, and allows for logistics optimization.


Extended supply chains mean extended ocean shipping times, congestion at ports and warehouses, increasing labour disruptions (which is the biggest supply chain threat right now), can create lead times that stretch into months when we want to operate in a near JIT (just in time) manner, and get restocks in days (or weeks at most). Nearshoring can often allow that. Offshoring (unless it’s very small components you only need a small number of that can fit in a cargo plane and where the cost is so high you can afford the high air transit prices) can not!

ESG Goals

Shipping takes fuel. LOTS of fuel. LOTS of dirty petroleum-based fuel. Hard to make your ESG targets when ocean shipping is one of the dirtiest industries on the planet when there are still container ships on the ocean that, in one year, emit the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50 MILLION cars. (Link) Remember that 6 of the worst polluting container ships can pollute more than ALL of passenger vehicles in the US in a year. (And don’t tell me that electric cars will fix all that when the production of a single battery pack, which often requires burning dirty coal or oil, for an electric car can produce up to 16 metric tons of CO2 [Link] and charging that battery from a dirty coal power plant can result in the indirect burning of 950g of CO2 per kWH, meaning you could be producing 78kg of CO2 every time you fully charge your battery pack for a Tesla 3. This means that, in the worst case scenario where the battery and frame production was as dirty as possible, you would have to drive 1,000,000 kms for that clean car to become carbon neutral!)

And while these are most of the major reasons to consider nearshoring and onshoring (but not “friend”-shoring, but that’s a different article), there are others. And we will discuss them in Part 2.

Firms that Rely on Logo Maps and Analyst 2*2s for Tech Selection are NOT Appropriate for Tech Selection!

In our last article, where we described in detail the many, many reasons why logo maps (including the Sourcing Innovation Mega Map on Source to Pay+ with 666 Unique Clickable Vendor Logos which were verified to be valid as of 2024 April 13), we not only reiterated how these maps are mostly useless but explained that your mileage will vary widely between a map created by an analyst who’s likely seen 1/3 to 1/2 of the vendors in depth and a(n) (former) implementation consultant or (want-to-be) influencer from a CPO background who has no in-depth technology education or experience (beyond the systems he used).

Those who read between the lines would have seen this post coming — not only are they not appropriate for tech selection, any firm that relies solely on them or analyst firm 2*2s (which are great if you are searching for some holy smoke to keep the beast of procurement technology at bay) is also inappropriate for tech selection projects.

Your results with such firms will be about the same as the bigger firms with “consulting partner” status with all the (same) big players, as they will ultimately just recommend the same ten firms for your Tech RFP over and over again, whether or not they are the right firms (and solutions) to meet your needs.

In order to effectively select a set of potential solutions for a client, you need to, at the very least:

  • understand the processes the client needs to support and the gaps they have
  • understand the solution types needed to support the processes, and the client’s gaps in particular
  • understand the client’s current technology landscape and Technology IQ, including what is replaceable and what is not (since, gosh darn it, some clients are going to hold onto that ERP they overpaid for until you dodge their six-gun pistols and pry the contract from their cold, dead hands)
  • understand the client’s unique situation based on vertical/industry, market size, and geography/culture
  • understand what global vendors support the processes, fill the gaps, synch with the tech stack, and can, possibly through third party integrations/partners, address the client’s unique requirements

This is a tall order. So tall in fact that, despite the growing demand for technology transformation and digitization across the Procurement landscape, outside of a few niche vendors that primarily focus on specific industries and specific solution types, the vast majority of procurement transformation shops aren’t able to fulfill it. Most will

  • have the processes down pat, they are consultants after all!
  • have a decent understanding of the common/core solution types, as they smart ones will actually read the expository articles written by the analysts (that they have access to anyway*)

Some, who employ technology and industry-specific professionals, will be able to build a decent understanding of

  • the client’s technology landscape and technology quotient
  • the unique requirements to look for/enable based on vertical/industry, organizational size, and geography

But few, if any will be able to:

  • identify even a handful of relevant global vendors that take into account the first four requirements

This is because, as pointed out in our last few articles:

  • the space is much bigger than they think, with
    • more types of product offerings,
    • considerably more vendors then they think exist, and
    • considerably more than they can process
  • they don’t have the deep technical background or technical understanding to differentiate between two vendors that speak the same and present applications that look the same in a 60 minute demo, but differ greatly in underlying power, extensibility, integration capability, etc. where you need a deep technical background and/or competitor understanding to tease it out (as well as a deep understanding of Procurement and the competitive [solution] market place)
  • they don’t have a process to do a proper technical assessment, diligence, or tech analysis …
  • and they certainly don’t know how to do a deep assessment by module/area to truly differentiate two solutions to qualify them as suitable for selection if they submit the best RFP

As a result, many consultancies will just do their in-depth process analysis, write up functional requirements based on that, and toss it over the wall to the solution providers to figure out, selecting from their partners if they feel there is enough overlap, then from the upper right in the analyst maps they paid for, and, finally, from the logo maps from their most trusted source. And, as we’ve explained, this doesn’t cut it and is why many sourcing / procurement software selection projects fail to live up to client expectations. Because, and we can’t say this enough, the most you can use logo maps / analyst 2*2s for is vendor discovery. Not validation for your projects!

Now, while the doctor has yet to receive an answer to his transformation process inquiries from any consultancy/service provider that fully satisfies him (he is demanding, after all), he is happy to say that, recently, a few# providers have acknowledged that transformation is going to require getting a lot more intelligent in tech and updating their processes and methodologies to recognize that, while it’s still The Wild West, it won’t be tamed by hope and grit alone — you’ll need the right tools to conquer it (and, FYI, those tools aren’t Gen-AI, they are good old-fashioned predictable, dependable steam- and gunpowder-powered tech solutions in the hands of us old and busted masters; the new hotness has nothing on us).

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* this is your regular reminder that Sourcing Innovation has never had a paywall and never will for baseline vendor coverage or expository posts; should SI choose to offer books, in-depth [comparative/market] intelligence, or similar IP services, for example, it may in the future sell this non-blog content, but every blog post will remain paywall free — almost 6,000 and counting …

# and we mean few, he can currently count them on his fingers on one hand, thumb not required