Category Archives: Procurement Innovation

It’s 2019. This is What QuickStart Sourcing Should Look Like!

As we mentioned in yesterday’s post, a decade ago the Oompa Loompas at Coupa announced the availability of Coupa QuickStart which was simply a setup wizard that visually guides purchasing mangers through the setup process for users, approval rules, payment and shipping terms, billing information, chart of accounts, suppliers, and other basic information that was required to get a purchasing system up and running in less than an hour.

But just being able to order a product from a catalogue or send out a simple RFP is not very strategic, especially for 2019. And these days, any event that is not strategic is not going to generate much value when savings are drying up, brands are falling, and spending is falling as GDP growth stagnates and we return to depression era economics.

Needless to say, not only should every system have the capabilities that Coupa had 10 years ago, and the capabilities that we outlined in yesterday’s post on what QuickStart Procurement should look like, but that’s not enough. Not for 2019. Ten years ago we were promised semi-cognitive systems, and most systems can’t even automate basic invoice processing. It’s sad, sad, sad.

So, what should a modern system have? One built this decade?

  • smart RFI creation
    that, as per yesterday’s article, can be generated purpose built for the products in question using templates and organizational data in the ERP
  • smart RFI monitoring
    that can monitor the event, send out reminders, automatically check inputs against public data, organizational data, and expected data, and send out alerts to buyers when suppliers are late, inputs are off, or bids are outliers
  • smart bid analysis
    that can compare bids to past bids, market averages, and expected costs from reasonable should cost models
  • smart award recommendations
    based on bids, delivery times, availability, and supplier preferences
  • automatic auctions
    that can auto-populate from RFIs, auto-run, auto-monitor, auto-enforce rules, and auto-award and notify winners when the auction is over (as they won’t be invited to the auction if they don’t agree to the necessary terms and conditions to be offered an award beforehand)
  • automatic default contract creation
    that uses the organizational boilerplate, terms and conditions, default category clauses, awards, and associated obligations to generate a default contract
  • automatic document comparison and change tracking
    even if the supplier sends back a signed PDF that looks like the one you sent, every character will be analyzed
  • automatic performance monitoring plan generation
    that will track, based on the contract, when orders should go out, when goods should be received, when documents should be received, when reports should be received, when other deliverables should be received, when assessments should occur, etc.
  • real-time performance monitoring
    that monitors a plan, sends out alerts to buyers when deliverables are missed, sends out alerts to suppliers when they have not submitted a document or a shipment notification on time, automatically sends out pre-defined performance assessment surveys, etc.

Quick Setup is more than a wizard, it’s an assisted intelligence platform backed by sophisticated algorithms community and market data, and all organizational data and processes to mitigate the need for the buyer to do pointless tactical data processing in the first place and focus purely on the strategic analysis of RFX responses, when the relevant data and insights have already been generated by the platform.

But how many platforms have that today? The same umber of platforms that have assisted intelligence for Procurement. Zero.

In other words, just like Procurement Leaders are stuck in 2009 (as per yesterday’s article, but so are the vast majority of technology providers. So when looking for a new solution, find one of the few technology providers on this path. Otherwise, your solution capability will be nought, and that’s the decade you will return to. Not something anyone wants.

It’s 2019. This is What QuickStart Procurement Should Look Like!

A decade ago, Coupa announced the availability of Coupa QuickStart, which was a setup wizard that visually guides purchasing mangers through the setup process for users, approval rules, payment and shipping terms, billing information, chart of accounts, suppliers, and other basic information that was required to get a purchasing system up and running in less than an hour.

Needless to say, every system should have that capability today (even though a number still don’t), but given that this was on the market 10 years ago, systems should have advanced considerably since then.

What should they have? More than we can cover in one short article, but at a minimum:

  • AI-powered normalized supplier network with community intelligence
    and out-of-the-box plugins to allow for quick import of your vendor master(s) from all standard ERP and S2P systems (as well as support for complete XML and CSV exports) and AI to allow for quick de-duplication of suppliers between the network and your enterprise vendor master(s)
  • Powerful search capability for quick supplier discovery that can take advantage of detailed product descriptions, community intelligence, and organizational profiles to find intelligent, well-rounded matches
  • HR system / standards support
    to allow for a quick import of employee profiles and organizational hierarchy direct from major systems or standard export files
  • AP/Budget system / standards support
    to allow for quick importation of budgets, approvers, and where possible, budget rules
  • ERP/IMS integration or standard export file support
    to allow for quick importation of categories and products purchased regularly, as well as demand for the past 3 years and current category suppliers and prices
  • ERP/TMS integration or standard export file support
    to allow for identification of current carriers, the categories/products they currently export, and standard LTL/FTL rates
  • AI for profile completion
    that imports the relevant organizational profile data from each of the above systems or exports to build the necessary profile that can be shared with suppliers for shipping, invoicing, etc.
  • standard category templates for RFPs that can be tailored as needed by an AI that uses past event data in the ERP and current product data in the IMS to tailor the template as appropriate

In other words, it’s 2019 and

  • an admin user should not have to define users, the platform should be able to do that automatically given a HR system (export)
  • an admin should not have to define approval rules, the platform should be able to identify the most appropriate rules given budgets, approvers, and payment thresholds defined in the AP system
  • an admin should not have to define payment and shipping terms, the platform should be able to export that information from the AP, ERP, and/or IMS systems
  • an admin should not have to define billing information, that should be automatically extracted from the AP system
  • an admin should not have to define a chart of accounts, that should be automatically extracted from the AP/Finance system
  • an admin should not have to define/import suppliers manually, those should be pulled in from organizational systems automatically, normalized, and vetted against networks the buyer has access to
  • a buyer should not have to create an RFP template from scratch, the platform should present an appropriate one for the category and products based on community and organizational intelligence
  • a buyer should not have to do an extensive, time-intensive discovery process to identify new, suitable, suppliers, an AI-backed discovery engine that runs on a community intelligence backed network should identify suitable suppliers in minutes (and support the construction of qualification scenarios in just a few more minutes)
  • a buyer should not have to manually manage the invitation, send out, monitoring, and reminders of the RFP, nor manually verify all data for reasonability and completeness, the AI should do that automatically, and automatically alert suppliers to complete missing data, check values that might be outliers, etc. and automatically alert the buyer of suspicious / missing data upon supplier submission

Quick Setup is more than a wizard – it’s using assisted intelligence backed by sophisticated algorithms, community data, and all organizational data to mitigate the need for the organization to do pointless repetitive setup in the first place! But how many platforms have that today? Unfortunately, when the holistic picture is taken into account, the answer is zero.

So, not only are Procurement Leaders still stuck in 2009 (as per yesterday’s article), but so are the majority of technology providers. So when looking for one, find one on this path, unless you want to return to the decade where a lot happened, but little is remembered. Or do you want to do something where you’ll be remembered? Like selecting a platform that could not only modernize Procurement but open it up to the entire organization. Your call.

How Do You Find Hidden Costs? Part II

Last year we noted that there is never a fixed arithmetic formula between the cost of producing, and transporting, the goods and services sold to us and the prices charged for them. Sellers charge what they can get, and if we don’t do a good job of figuring out the true cost, which can be hard to do, chances are they are building in a hefty margin. But the margin is only one hidden cost.

There’s other hidden costs baked into the COGS by the supplier, some of which even they may not be aware of. But if you want to bring costs down, you have to find the hidden costs. All of them.

In our last post we noted that one way to find hidden costs was to look at production costs, particularly:

  • raw materials
  • energy
  • labour
  • overhead costs

But, as noted in our opening paragraph, there are also hidden costs in the transportation of the goods. And hidden costs in the costs associated in the transportation of the goods — which can include interim storage, dock / port fees, extra tariffs, etc. And what costs are hidden?

  • Fuel Surcharges
    yes, these are valid if there is a contract that allows them, but if the contract is well written, they are supposed to be in line with actual fuel cost increases and decreases above a maximum cost … typically what will happen is suppliers will raise when fuel prices go up, but NOT decrease when they fall back down – that’s unnecessary hidden cost
  • Interim Storage
    some suppliers will use shippers that do a lot of cross-docking, especially with LTL, and some might even temporarily store goods to make sure they only run trucks full – this can incur storage costs and even delivery delays — if the combined costs of this intermediate storage and delay to your supply chain is more than just shipping a LTL truck direct, that’s a hidden cost
  • Dock/Port Fees
    sometimes a supplier or shipper will always blindly use the closest port, even if a port a couple of hundred miles away has half the fees and has carriers that cost less — this is also a hidden cost — remembering that the busy ports are always near capacity, the difference can often make trucking the goods an extra couple of hundred miles a profitable venture
  • Extra Tariffs
    if you are buying from a supplier that has multiple locations in Asia, which one they manufacture in and ship from matters greatly as export tariffs differ by country and import tariffs greatly differ by country; if the right location isn’t chosen based on the destination, these are extra hidden costs as well

Supply chains are fraught with hidden costs, and while it could take a lot of analysis to find out how much they are costing you and whether they are worth dealing with, the reality is that a lot of them are not that hard to find if you just trace what happens from finished good back to raw material.

Happy tracing!

2020 is Less Than a Year Away. And we still haven’t crossed the supply chain plateau. Part II

In yesterday’s post, we referenced a post from six years ago where we commented on a piece by the Supply Chain Shaman who believed we had reached the supply chain plateau. And while we do not agree that the plateau has been reached, despite the extensive objective analysis of balance sheets, we certainly agreed that progress was, and still is, stalled.

We also referenced our post from a year ago today, where we asked will this be the year we traverse the supply chain plateau, that we believed the root of the issue was manpower capability. And we conjectured the root of the issue was a lack of education. But good information, good training, good consulting, good peer groups, and good courses — while still few and far between — have been available for years now but there has not been much improvement in the overall education level and manpower capability.

And while it’s true that most Supply Chain / Supply Management / Sourcing / Procurement / etc. managers don’t leave college or university with a solid supply chain background, as few institutions offer such programs, with the right foundational program in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), the fundamentals of supply chain can be rather easily taught to intelligent and capable STEM grads.

So why aren’t they properly trained — especially when there are professionals out there more than capable of training them? And while supply is scarce, and they command top consulting dollar, when you think about the ROI a top performing team can deliver in just a few weeks (which can be in the millions), even a top dollar trainer can deliver the organization a ROI 10 to 50 times her price.

Well, because at the end of the day, management is not as well-intentioned as the Shaman or the doctor gave them credit for. Or, more accurately, their good intentions are more focussed on what’s good for them or their management peers today, not what’s best for the organization (and, at the end of the day, the shareholders) over the long-haul.

That’s why, year after year, when dollars get tight, the training budget is the first to get cut. Management believes that when times are tight, spending should be cut, and rushes to be the first to cut their budget to look good in the eyes of the CFO and CEO. Instead of investing today to take more off the bottom line tomorrow, they take the short-cut to look good today.

Instead of going over budget and buying a modern, 3rd generation, S2P platform, they cheap out and buy a first generation or low-cost, low-capability, second generation platform with limited capabilities that limits the eventual performance gains the system can provide to one that barely makes sense. A 3x ROI with an average 2% to 3% savings vs a 5X to 10X ROI with a 5% to 10% savings.

Instead of owning up to their own incompetence and own short-sightedness, they hire analysts and consultants to do market assessments and find ways to blame the market, the supply base, the systems, or even the staff instead of themselves.

In other words, we haven’t reached the plateau yet because less-than-well-intentioned management won’t do what is necessary to hire and elevate the organizational manpower to the skill levels necessary to scale the walls that surround the plateau and hide the even higher plateau blocked from view.

And while this is a dark and dreary view, what other reason could one give?

2020 is Less Than a Year Away. And we still haven’t crossed the supply chain plateau. Part I

Six years ago tomorrow we commented on a piece by the Supply Chain Shaman who believed we had reached the supply chain plateau. This was based not on a gut feeling, but on an objective analysis of balance sheets of process companies over the course of a decade. The result: the average process manufacturing company has reached a plateau in supply chain performance. As bluntly stated:

Growth has stalled. To compensate and stimulate revenue, the companies increased SG&A margin by 1%. However, the conditions were more complex; the average company, over the last ten years, experienced a decline of 1% in operating margin, and an increase in the days of inventory of 5%. While cycle times have improved, the majority of the progress has come from lengthening of days of payables and squeezing suppliers.

And while SI still believes, as it did last year, that we have not reached the plateau, SI believes that growth is still stalled. As the Shaman conjectured, complexity has increased, but many well-intentioned executives still lack the understanding of the supply chain’s potential or how to manage the supply chain as a system. So while select projects in the hand of gifted buyers, departments as a whole are not performing as well, and often being managed even worse.

The core problem has not changed — manpower capability has not kept up. While leading vendors are building assisted intelligence technologies (and a few are experimenting with augmented intelligence technologies on the way to delivering cognitive, almost AI, experiences), the average organization, if they are lucky, are running on first generation Sourcing and Procurement systems from the early 2000s. And if they aren’t, they are running on spreadsheets and thoroughly outdated ERPs (as noted by the Supply Chain Shaman in the aforementioned article).

A year ago tomorrow we conjectured, in our post where we asked will this be the year we traverse the supply chain plateau, we conjectured the manpower capability issue was a lack of education. While the average practitioner is not educated enough, it’s certainly not a lack of education opportunities, so we’re obviously still missing part of the puzzle.

So what are the missing pieces?