Category Archives: Procurement Innovation

Still Looking for that Supply Management Usability Guide!

Long-time readers will know that there are a lot of guides out there as to what a good Supply Management solution for Sourcing, Procurement, etc. should do — including a lot of advice on this topic here on SI and over on Spend Matters, but not many guides. And while the doctor did write rather extensively on the topic of usability in Sourcing, Supply Management, Procurement, and P2P over on Spend Matters Pro, there are still very few guides for usability. (Searches in major search engines still come up few and far between, even after our first post on the topic here on SI seven years ago).

As per our last post, if the provided software was so obvious and easy to use that even a fifth-grader could figure it out, then the issue of “ineffective instructions” is a small one. But the reality is that, even with most platforms that are attempting to adopt consumer-style interfaces, most procurement and logistics software is still reasonably complicated due to the complex nature of what a Procurement or Logistics package capable of supporting global trade needs to do.

The thing is, even though the functionality is well understood, the best way to lay out the functionality, and underlying workflow, is not well understood in comparison and, unfortunately, if one company builds an interface that is too close to a competitor’s for some standard functionality, instead of the formation of a standard, in America, we get a frivolous lawsuit (courtesy of the patent pirates). So even though there should be design standards, there usually aren’t.

And even when the best-of-breed providers finally figure it out, since most of their UIs are built on decade(s) old technology, updating the UI is no easy feat. Especially when the new generation of employees, the millennials, are expecting consumer like interfaces. But who has anything close to this? Coupa with parts of the core platform (which has been built and re-built repeatedly to be easy to use around core Procurement functionality) and advanced sourcing (built on TESS 6 built from the ground up to be eminently configurable); Zycus is on the right path with their dew drop technology, but it will take a while to upgrade the entire platform; Vroozi with their mobile-first philosophy is quite usable for what it does; Keelvar with their configurable automation-based workflows; and GEP with their new user-centric UI vision are not just a few examples, but the majority of examples.

In comparison in the S2P game, Ivalua is getting close with their configurable workflows, but it’s still not obvious how to configure the platform to make it obvious to junior users; Wax Digital is one platform on one code base and pretty simple (but based on older Microsoft tech that takes time to upgrade); Determine, based on the old b-Pack platform is very configurable, but older technology and far from a modern look-and-feel; and Synertrade is really outdated (but very powerful).

And if we go beyond the big names, when it comes to the smaller vendors, except for a few of the newer best-of-breeds, like Bonfire and ScoutRFP, usability has always been a second concern and while a few of the smaller vendors are updating their UI (like EC Sourcing which should be much more modern with a year), most vendors are definitely not there yet.

Hence, since most platforms aren’t consumer like, and not likely to be figured out 100% by junior users without training, we still need that Supply Management Technology usability guide — especially since none of the platforms mentioned above with “modern” interfaces have the same workflows for the processes they support.

And what about the poor organizations who still have a mishmash of five generation one or two systems with inconsistent interfaces and workflows? What hope do they have of making sense of the full inter-related capabilities of their systems? Very little.

And while the doctor knows more than ever that the very nature of software, which is always evolving, makes such a guide difficult (and that this particular challenge is compounded by the fact that America still allows software to be patented so the pirates can plunder), but there should be at least some standard workflows and processes that all sourcing, procurement, and logistics software should attempt to follow in a reasonably standard way. It would make things easier for all supply chain partners, minimize unnecessary stresses and bumps, and help us evolve the profession as a whole. But alas, it will probably be another seven years before we get close to a real usability guide.

How Much Unmanaged Tail Spend Should You Have?

It’s hard to say, but it should be a lot less than you do. In most organizations, “Tail Spend” is 20% to 40% of total spend that should be managed by Procurement, but isn’t for various reasons.

It includes a whack of spend that includes, but is not limited to:

  • one-time buys for a new hire
  • short term buys to replace supply lost to a supply chain disruption
  • temporary services
  • one-time buys for a trade-show or event
  • one-time MRO buys for replacement parts
  • “small” purchases for recurring orders under a certain volume or cost
  • etc.

But how much of there really deserves to be there? In theory, none of it, but in practice, some of it will always be, but it should be less and less as time goes on … and certainly a lot less than 30%.

Why?

Let’s start with the above:

  • one-time buys for a new hire should be a standard kit, which shouldn’t change more than once a year, and since volume can be projected based on hiring patterns, any significant spend is good fodder for, and should be, either a sourcing event or a pre-negotiated catalog-based buy
  • if proper sourcing was done for a critical part or item, then it should be easy to switch supply to the secondary supplier with only a minor disruption
  • temporary services that recur should also be on a master contract that should be strategically sourced
  • trade-shows and events costs tens of thousands these days; if you’re holding the event, you should have an RFI to select the most cost effective venue and most of the items you buy are in bulk and should be auctioned or 3-bids-and-a-buy sourced
  • replacement parts could be put on a master contract when you buy the equipment that you know will need replacement parts; you can define a max price and have the option to buy or go to a third-party if a third-party alternative comes along in the future and have the spend at least partially managed
  • just because volume is only a few thousand or spend is under 100K or 1M does not mean the category shouldn’t be sourced; if there’s 15% overspend that’s 15K that could be captured even in a simple event that might only cost 5K of resource time or 150K that could be captured only in 15K of resource time; and if 2/3 rds of that could be captured by automation (automated auctions, etc.), why not?
  • etc.

The reality is that you should not have very much tail spend.

What is a Good Foundation for S2P Tech?

A couple of weeks ago in our posts on What Elements Should You Be Looking For In A Platform (Part I and Part II) we outlined some of the key platform requirements we are looking for in the new Spend Matters SolutionMap (where Sourcing, SXM, Analytics, and the vast majority of Common Platform requirements were defined by the doctor) to give you a hint, but it’s a lot to take in.

And might be more than you need today when you just need to solve a few major pain points and advance on your S2P journey, especially if you still don’t have any dedicated modern technology or are still on Procurement 1.0 when most of your peers are on Procurement 2.0 and the leaders are starting on the Procurement 3.0 journey. (As per another recent post, while there’s a lot of talk about Procurement 4.0, we won’t see it for another 8 years based on history. 1.0 started around 97 with FreeMarkets and the emergence of stand-alone players. 2.0 started around 2007 with the first mini-suites [S2C or P2P]. 3.0 began around 2017 with the rise of the true [mega] S2P suites and integration that allowed for the pursuit of value where the whole is greater than the parts. 4.0 will began around 2027 based on the rate of historical development.)

But it’s not necessarily more than you will need in time. Especially if you want to reach the height of Procurement 3.0 with your peers when it materializes later next decade.

But we do recognize that you won’t need it all today. So what do you really need to look for in the first go-round? Especially if you can’t have it all or can’t become enough of an expert to evaluate it all?

While the most important capabilities do depend on the specifics of the technology you’re buying and the problem you need to solve, there are a few general capabilities that need to be there regardless, and these * capabilities in particular must be there in every solution you buy if you want to have any hope of “future-proofing” your platform.

  • Configurable Workflow
    Preferably with RPA support. Let’s face it, whatever process you use today won’t be the process you use tomorrow, especially as you mature in your processes and best practices, the partners you work with change, and governmental regulations continue to change the way you have to report.
  • Open / Extensible API
    that supports both 3rd parties integrating with your platform and the development of interfaces to integrate with third party platforms through their open API. Your platform will never do everything, no matter how much you want it to. It’s software, not sorcery. So the ability to extend it with ease is critical.
  • Dynamically Extensible Data Model
    that you can do, not a third party or the provider. Because you never know every piece of data you’re going to need until you need it.
  • Globalization Support
    including the ability for a user to select their language and overrides, the organizing to define new currency exchanges and projections, and IT to define where the application instances are hosted and where the data is stored (which may need to be segmented for a global organization)

This is not to say that other technical requirements are not important, but that without these, the life expectancy of your platform is limited, to say the least.

Realizing Those Savings Is No Easy Feat

Especially when it requires achieving the perfect order.

So how can you maximize the chance of a perfect order, which, by definition, is acquired at just the right cost (which, technically means there are no savings to be had beyond what you negotiated when you signed the contract).

As per this post, for savings to materialize, the following necessary (but not sufficient) conditions have to be met:

  • the order has to be placed with the contracted supplier
  • with sufficient lead time
  • and then shipped by the supplier on-time
  • using the approved carrier and shipping arrangement
  • with the required third party and government fees promptly paid
  • and paperwork promptly filed
  • so there are no delays and the product arrives at the warehouse on time
  • where it is properly received, inventoried, and shelved
  • and then the invoice is verified against the good received and the PO
  • and paid at the right time when everything is okay.

This is a tall task, taller than accepting the tall tale of Jonah and the whale, but not an impossible one, and no miracles are required to make it so. Just the acquisition of the right technology, implemented in the right framework, supporting the right processes, and tailored to support your organizational talent. It will take some terrific transition management to get the right organizational alignment, but such alignment is possible, and the leaders are getting closer — especially now that we are beginning to realize Procurement 3.0.

So where do you start? Acquire the core technologies you need to streamline your supply management practices.

  • a CLM solution to manage your contracts
  • an e-Procurement solution that only allows orders for products on contracts from approved suppliers
  • a demand planning solution (which may be part of a next-generation ERP solution) that integrates with your e-Procurement solution and notifies you when order deadlines are approaching and automatically submits auto-fill orders
  • a 3PL solution that tracks shipments in real-time
  • a Trade Management solution that automatically generates the required paperwork, computes the required fees, and manages, tracks, and confirms their submission
  • an Inventory and Warehouse Management System that integrates with the e-Procurement Solution that manages receipt, shelving, and distribution
  • an e-Procurement solution that also does invoice management and m-way matching
  • an e-Payment solution that integrates with the e-Procurement solution and includes Supply Chain Finance Capabilities (including dynamic discounting, supplier financing, and pre-shipment finance, for example) to help the company determine the best payment time

It’s just the beginnings, but it’s a good start.

What Elements Should You be Looking for In a Platform? Part II

That’s a very hard question and, to some extent the key elements will, at least in many views, revolve around what you are looking for the platform to support, but there are some elements that should be part of your S2P platform regardless of where your solution focus is.

What are they? Where can you find some hints? For starters, you can loo to the new version of Solution Maps, designed by the doctor, with initial results releasing in less than two months, which have refactored all of the maps to have a new Common *platform* section (as well as a new common section for Sourcing – SXM due to the large overlap between the requirements and today’s platforms) which focuses on areas that are critical to S2P success regardless of your focus.

This new Common section is broken down into five categories

Analytics
Configurability
Supplier Portal
Foundational SXM
Technology

And they key requirements for any platform can be found in these four categories

Analytics
Technology
Configurability
Supplier Portal

In our last post we analyzed analytics and technology. In today’s post we are going to look at configurability and the supplier portal, both of which are also vital to ANY S2P application, whether best of breed, mini suite, suite, or next generation platform.

Let’s start with configurability. It has five critical sub-categories:

Globalization

Sourcing is done over global supply chains so global support for languages, currencies, data exchange, and data protection is absolutely vital.

Organizational Modelling

The application needs to support accurate organizational modelling to allow for selection of proper delivery addresses, identification of appropriate personnel associated with a location, identification of the right accounting structures (for the local country), etc.

Personalization

When it comes to usability, there is no one size fits all view. The CPO needs to see summaries and critical issues when she logs in, the category buyer needs to see a snapshot of current category performance, current projects, related issues, and so on. The CFO only cares about the financial summaries and impacts. And so on. And no one wants to click around for 5 minutes to find the information they need – they want it in their face when they log in. A good measure of a modern application is not how long the user is in it, but how long they aren’t in it. From a user’s viewpoint, as Weird Al so eloquently put it two decades ago, “it does all my work without my even askin’”.

Project Management

These days, users don’t have tasks to do, they have projects to manage. RPA was built to do mindless, repetitive tasks. And that’s what the system should do, guiding the buyer through the project to allow her to focus on the strategic decisions and relationships.

Workflow

A modern S2P application needs some workflow support that allows it to adjust to the needs of the user and the senior administrators to pre-define common workflows to optimize user productivity.

Similarly, every application that collects or stores supplier data needs to provide great capabilities around

Document Management

Business is captured in documents of all shapes, sizes, and types … and these come from both parties, not just the buyer – it must be easy for the supplier to get and put these with ease

Profile Management

A supplier must be able to maintain, or at least easily submit updates and corrections to, their profile. The whole point of a portal is to enable the supplier and ease life on the buyer.

And, of course, as we dive into each of the main areas of S2P, there are other core features, but these foundational elements need to be addressed before any vendor can offer a great best-of-breed point based solution, mini-suite, suite, or platform.