Category Archives: Procurement Innovation

Finding Wealth in the Year of the Pig

In yesterday’s post we noted that next year is the year of the pig, and that it could bring greed and obnoxiousness to Procurement, as per the western stigma, or it could bring wealth and good fortune, as per the eastern stigma, but that your fortunes all depend on whether or not you make the effort to acquire a next-generation best-of-breed system. If you acquire a next-generation best of breed system that uses analytics, optimization, advanced modelling, machine learning and/or AI, you can realize value and wealth. If you don’t, well …

So what should you look for? As per our upcoming series on AI in Procurement Tomorrow on Spend Matters Pro [membership required], there are a number of advanced functionalities coming your way that will add value. These include [but are not necessarily limited to]:

  • Overspend Prevention
  • Invisible Buying (of all types of MRO products and services)
  • Automatic Buying (including basic sourcing)
  • Automatic Opportunity Identification
  • Automatic Category Analysis and Emergent Category Identification
  • Procurement Method Identification

To convince you of the need for advanced (AI-based) applications to find the wealth you need to make Procurement profitable again, and the importance of reading the doctor‘s in-depth thought leadership pieces (if you have Spend Matters Pro membership), we’re going to give you a preview of the power of a platform with invisible buying capability.

While current systems can automatically re-order MRO and stock room items when minimum inventory levels and EOQs are defined, the reality is that MRO and stock room items change over time as old products are retired, new products are selected, and organizational needs change. And it can be a lot of work to maintain these items accurately over time.

But why should you have to? After all, the system can infer when a product is retired … as orders stopped being placed. The system can infer what product replaced it, as it’s not only in the same sub-category but ordered when the previously item would have been ordered by the same department and stocked at the same location in a similar quantity (under an appropriate metric). And so on.

But a modern Procurement platform, with augmented intelligence technology, can:

  • Auto-detect regularly needed items through repeated orders
  • Auto-compute usage schedules by tracking inventory levels and computing trends
  • Auto-predict best order quantities based on projected trends, re-order times, shipping costs, and inventory costs
  • Add the items to the MRO repository with minimum stock thresholds and projected EOQs
  • Use the embedded assisted intelligence to re-order the MRO items on schedule
  • And re-calculate the inventory levels and EOQs on a monthly basis using actual usage data to update the trends

And you don’t have to do tactical inventory review and re-ordering when that time can be better spent on value-generating strategic sourcing events.

So keep your eyes open for the doctor‘s upcoming series on AI in Procurement Tomorrow over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required] and, if you haven’t already, read the doctor‘s series on AI in Procurement Today (Part I and Part II) if you haven’t already.

The Year of the Pig

While us westerners tend to give pigs a bad stigma — they are lazy, filthy, obnoxious, greedy, and ugly — and even use their name in vain — calling those we feel are lazy, filthy, greedy, obnoxious, and even (sexually) predatorial pigs, in eastern mythology (and Chinese culture), they are the symbols of wealth, and those born in the year of the pig are supposed to have a beautiful personality and be blessed with good fortune in life.

So what is 2019, the year of the pig, going to bring us in Procurement? Is it going to bring wealth and good fortune from the East or greed and obnoxiousness from the West?

The sad reality is that it’s going to bring both, but unless you’re one of the lucky ones, you won’t see the wealth … or at least not enough to make the greed and obnoxiousness worthwhile.

Why?

Because we’re still in the age of iZombie-enabling platforms that cost too much, and often return too little. But that doesn’t mean you have to be free of return. You live through the pain (of Procurement systems that haven’t kept up), you should get the gain.

So how can you do that?

Acquire point-based best-of-breed solutions that can augment your existing platforms and make use of advanced modelling, analytics, market intelligence, machine learning, and even optimization to find ways to save more than you spend on the platforms you have and more than you lose on the manpower time it takes to do all the tactical processing the systems force on you.

This blog has covered a lot on analytics, optimization, and advanced modelling over the years, and for more insights on what machine learning / AI will do for you, keep your eyes peeled for the doctor‘s upcoming series on AI in Procurement tomorrow over on Spend Matters Pro which will help you identify next generation systems that can take your Procurement up a notch. (While no system will have all the capabilities we describe for a while, there are a few systems with fledgling capabilities that will give you value today and take you into tomorrow.)

AI in Procurement Today

As per yesterday’s post, there is no true AI in procurement, at least with respect to the traditional definition of AI as artificial intelligence, but there is AI out there if you interpret AI as assisted intelligence, and some of it is pretty good.

What is there? If you check the doctor‘s 2-part in-depth piece over on Spend Matters on AI in Procurement Today (Part I and Part II) [membership required], you’ll see there are six areas where at least on one or two providers add a lot of value. They are:

  • True Automation
  • Smart Auto-Reorder of MRO / retail stock
  • Enhanced Mobile Support
  • Guided (and sometimes Guilted) Buying
  • M-Way Match And Error Prevention
  • Smart (Automatic) Approvals

And, in some cases, a system will integrate its automation, m-way match, and smart approvals to determine when an invoice with a small fluctuation can be automatically paid and when it can’t. For example, when an invoice comes in for services at a rate 10% higher than the last invoice, most m-way match systems would block it and bubble it up to the lead buyer / requisitioner. But a smarter system with integrated checks, behavioural analysis, and a history of override decisions might do the following:

  • check the PO and see it referenced a master contract with an evergreen clause where the original term had expired and the supplier had the right to increase rates up to 15%
  • check the user’s past overrides and see that they generally approve rate increases of 10% or less
  • check the user’s approval authority and see that they have the ability to make that approval
  • calculate the probability of automatic approval by the buyer and if it’s 90% or greater, queue the invoice for automatic payment, with a notification to the user that they may want to explicitly renegotiate the contract as the next invoice from the supplier might be at a 15% increase

Now, this is not going to help you in all cases, but every time you waste time investigating an overage you can’t do anything about, it’s a waste of time and, thus, any assisted intelligence solution that can prevent a waste of your time is valuable.

For more details on what the best systems can do today, if you have a Pro membership, the doctor strongly encourages you to check out AI in Procurement Today (Part I and Part II) and find out what your Procurement system should be doing for you.

Platform iZombie, Part II

As we stated yesterday, we’re all zombies. Procurement is continuing along in the most undead fashion possible, going through the same motions day after day like a clockwork automaton of the 19th century. The platforms that the visionary consulting firms and platform providers were supposed to provide us by 2020 (less than 15 short months away) have not materialized and we are stuck in a tactical nightmare. Which is about the worst kind of nightmare.

We’re dead serious about that last part. If you consider the most common bad nightmares — being naked in public is only going to embarrass you at most once (and not at all if you are a nudist), a broken bone will heal, a fall just wakes you up, we’re all cheated, we’re all interested in the unknown, we probably know or believe ghosts aren’t real (or probably can’t harm us), many spiders are more scary than dangerous, teeth fall out when we’re young to regrow, danger is always present, we will eventually be late for something because Murphy’s laws tell us sh!t happens, people are always trying to steal our IP, we all fell like we’re drowning in the modern world (of work), it’s easy to be lost in the big picture, and we all get fed up of loved ones sometime — I think the living nightmare of doing the same thing day after day expecting a different result (which is the definition of insanity by the way) is the worst of all. And, remember, you can always wake up from a nightmare. You can’t wake up from the zombie state modern platforms have put us in.

But it could be better. In our last post we indicated how a modern platform could have saved over 80% of our time with simple capabilities that really should have been in every platform for the past five years.

But would this be the case in general? Would a modern platform really eliminate 80% of our entire workload? Let’s run through the rest of the day.

We return from lunch to our stakeholder meeting. Now, it’s true that no platform can eliminate the meetings and you’re still going to lose that time to a degree, but with the right platform, you can make meetings more productive.

With a good platform, the customer success rep would see that her peers were happy with the supplier’s performance and that it was improving and that her customers were next to get the replacements. She’d still be unhappy, but well informed and willing to wait until the next shipment before taking her final position.

The finance rep would already know why you disqualified the lowest bidders. Any discussion could thus be focussed on the question as to whether or not one of the lowest bidders could be improved to a level of acceptability over time versus an inquisition as to why the bidder was eliminated.

The engineering rep could see all the cost models and the savings projections over time and understand the issues everyone (else) has with the incumbent.

And the marketing rep would know that while you want suppliers with exciting features, there are critical requirements that need to be met in order to keep production lines going and shelves stocked. And those needs must come first.

Instead of thirty minutes of complaining, ranting, and basic Q&A before you can get down to meaningful discussions, since all the stakeholders have insight into all the facts, you can get down to real discussions and debates. It may not be productive, but at least you skip addressing the stuff you should already know.

And then there’s the issue of the meeting conclusion — more suppliers are needed and that’s another discovery project that you estimate at 20 hours or more. But if you had a modern discovery platform with deep intelligence and match capability, it would not be a 20 hour project, it would be a 2 hour project — at most. The first phase would be like 20 minutes, and you could slip out and do it on a break.

But anyway, because it’s not something you can make any progress on today, you move onto supplier emails and that’s where discover that your steel shipment didn’t ship yesterday and you need a replacement in 21 days or your production line is going down. And you spend an hour and a half trying to find a substitute. With a good platform, you know all of the suppliers that provide a similar or substitute product, which are under contract, and what the last bids were. You can start calling them immediately, and likely find a replacement supplier in three calls and 30 minutes, not 90 or more.

And let’s not mention the 40 minutes you waste reviewing emails that ask questions that could be answered in a good supplier portal or automatically answered by a chatbot.

It’s almost five before you get down to the project work. The platform won’t save you the time required to answer technical supplier questions, the time to manually score an RFX, or the time to figure out why suppliers aren’t bidding, but you’d get to it about 5 hours earlier in the day!

And when you accomplish something by noon, versus working to seven and accomplishing nothing, you find your headaches are a lot less and you don’t need to pop quite so many painkillers.

Platform iZombie, Part I

If you’ve been keeping up to date on our ongoing blog series, you know why we’re all zombies. The reason, simply put, is that, instead of Procurement recognizing that it was supposed to be dead and buried two years ago, and maybe rising from the ashes, it has instead continued along in an undead fashion. Each day, we go through the same motions, using the same processes, on the same old platforms. Platforms which, according to the visionary consulting firms and platform providers, were supposed to solve all our problems and release us from this tactical nightmare. Instead, they have done nothing to ease our woes and, in many situations, have made them worse!

Not only are the majority* of platforms still based on last decade’s processes, but they aren’t even making them easier. In essence, they are fueling the Procurement zombie nation and they should be ashamed of themselves.

To understand how, let’s consider our average Monday morning, as documented in iZombie: A Prelude Part I, and how a modern platform would have prevented us from wasting four hours of our day.

First of all, it takes you five minutes just to judge how many emails are from each type of project stakeholder. A good platform with integrated communications would give you that information in 5 seconds, with communications already arranged by urgency and seniority (based on your organizational structure and derived from your typical review patterns).

Secondly, the modern system with the integrated cognitive monitor would immediately detect that an email didn’t go out because it didn’t have the new SSL certificate, invoke the process to download the SSL certificate, and send the email again.

Thirdly, you never would have gotten that call from your widget supplier because:

  • as soon as the invoice was marked “DO NOT PAY”, you would have been alerted, known of the issue, and marked it for “monitoring”
  • as soon as it was past due, you would have followed up with Engineering, who would have said “yes, we got the shipment, it’s in the system”
  • you would have searched for all invoices with similar products, found one for the proper product, noticed the invoice ID was miskeyed, fixed it, and sent Finance an e-mail to remove the “DO NOT PAY”
  • the invoice would immediately enter the payment queue, and the supplier would be notified on their portal
  • it would have been paid on the next payment date, 7 days in the future, and 23 days before you got the angry screaming call

and all this would have taken you 10 minutes a month ago, instead of almost an hour now!

But now the biggie — because of your antiquated platform, it took you 3 hours to construct a project overview report that summarized the status on all the key projects, issues, and actual/projected vs. budget. A modern platform would automatically track all those metrics, allow you to record issues as they arrive and tie those metrics to issues, and then, when a summary report is created, automatically pull the issue summary and status into an appendix.

A modern sourcing platform would come with a customizable template that you could customize in 15 minutes and (schedule to) run, as needed, saving you hours of work compiling all the information that is already known, and linked. The only thing you should have needed to do was edit the executive summary to contain a few expert notes on the situation and expectations based on team dynamics and broader organizational knowledge the system didn’t capture. In other words, your three hour effort should have been a 30 minute effort that started with a 5 minute scan of the auto-generated report, a 20 minute edit and augmentation of the executive summary, and a final 5 minute proof.

In other words, the work that took you four (4) hours and 15 minutes should have taken you about 35 minutes. And that’s only because one of the reports was being presented to the C-Suite and needs a human touch and review.

But because the average amoeba has more “artificial intelligence” and “automation” than an average Procurement platform, you had the privilege of spending yet another half workday as a Procurement Zombie.

* A few providers are actively working towards the key next generation capabilities we outlined in our * series, but the majority of platforms on the market today are still based on processes and capabilities innovated a decade ago. In internet time where even the largest provider will roll out bug fixes, patches, and minor updates on a quarterly cycle, that’s a professional lifetime!