Category Archives: rants

Procurement Requires MORE Than a Platform

As a result of the M&A frenzy that continued throughout 2018 and recent investments by P&E firms taking majority stakes in a few suite players, every vendor is now all about the “platform” because apparently the “platform” is the ultimate software solution for every Procurement organization.

While it’s true that some vendors are bringing platforms to market with immense value, a platform, in and of itself, has no value. To put it into simple terms, a platform is what you build on … and the best way to think about it is like a construction platform. Without it, you can’t build anything significant … but it doesn’t do you any good, and that’s why the construction company generally takes it away when they are done. The only difference is that a software platform is, in reality, a mix of a foundation (that you build your office building on) and a platform (that is used to finish the walls, etc. on the higher floors).

The reason a platform is important is that, without it, there is no foundation for integrating new modules, integrating third party best-of-breed solutions, or integrating third party data feeds that bring facts and intelligence needed by the organization to make good Sourcing and Procurement decisions.

There’s a reason we asked why is it all about the platform when it should be all about the power last year in the midst of the M&A frenzy. A platform, on its own, does nothing, saves you nothing, but still costs big licensing fees.

Before you jump on the “platform”, make sure it has the “power” that is worth the price-tag. If it’s 100K, there better be 100K of functionality out of the box.

Plus, if it’s a real platform, it should have sufficient do-it-yourself connectivity because, as we have noted many times, no platform excels in everything that is needed to support the S2P cycle and you will have to bolt-on some best of breed solutions and integrate third party data feeds.

Always remember, despite the table pounding and cost-cutting demands, your job is to generate value. There’s only so much cost that can be cut in any category, and once it’s cut, that’s it. So you need something that can identify more value (in value-add services, differentiated/sustainable components the organization can charge a premium for, better reliability, etc.). That takes more than just a “platform”.

Why Are CFOs and CPOs Still Delusional When it Comes to Analytics?

the doctor was recently asked if an organization needs a dedicated Sourcing Spend Analytics solution if the organization already has a generic BI tool that sits on top of its ERP or data warehouse. Well, while the answer is No in theory, it’s rarely No in practice. This is because even if the generic platform you have can support (sourcing) spend analysis, chances are it hasn’t been set up for that. And it will need to be (heavily) customized.

So you either need to get a consultancy and do a lot of specialization, or buy a dedicated solution that is ready out of the box — and, preferably, if possible, buy one that is built on top of your BI platform if you bought one (like Tableau or Qlik) that is best in class.

As we noted in our piece last year that asked why do we still have first generation ERP/Data Warehouse BI, most arguments for generic BI have more holes than swiss cheese. As the Spend Master noted himself ten years ago in his classic, but still under-read, piece on screwing up the screw-ups in BI:

  • central databases, like the kind favoured by most BI tools, don’t solve the analysis problem
  • business analysts should be able to construct BI datasets on their own
  • a governance and stewardship program, which is likely the reason for the generic BI platform acquisition, doesn’t actually put any meat on the table
  • cleansing is often the problem, not basic analysis & reporting
  • BI systems are difficult to use and set up, it is difficult to create ad hoc reports, and it is impossible to change the dataset organization … all the stuff that makes spend analysis, you know, valuable

Plus,

  • BI reports are pretty generic, and not fine tuned to Sourcing, Procurement, or Finance
  • BI engines work on one schema — the ERP schema … which is rarely suited to spend analysis
  • BI engines expect all of the data to come from the ERP. SA systems don’t.
  • The ability of first (and even second generation) BI engines to create arbitrary reports is considerably overstated.

Hopefully someday soon CPOs and CFOs alike will get the point that if you want to do proper Sourcing and Procurement Spend Analysis, you need a proper Sourcing and Procurement Spend Analysis Solution.

AI — Almost Smart Enough to Replace Common Sense!

Almost!

If you’ve been following the doctor‘s deep dices in AI in Procurement () and AI in Sourcing () Today, Tomorrow, and the Day After over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required], you should be firmly aware that, in the true definition of the term, there is no AI in any enterprise software platform today. Period. In fact, what’s there isn’t even close.

You’ll also know we define AI today as assisted intelligence where AI helps you identify relevant information, trends, etc. much faster than you could on your own and augmented intelligence where AI supplements your intelligence with advanced algorithms and capabilities that allow you to make informed decisions many time faster than you could without the technology — and that even the most advanced platforms out there struggle to even deliver assisted intelligence. All the majority of platforms do is deliver RPA – robotic process automation, which is just a fancy way of saying they can automate complex workflows under a wide variety of conditions, provided somewhere along the line an expert has created enough rules and models for it to follow.

And if you’re willing to spend enough money, you too can buy a state of the art system that will tell you that people like to drink coffee in the morning and that if you have a lot of employees they will form a line to get it and they will waste a lot of time waiting for it if you don’t have a big enough coffee area and coffee pre-brewed and pre-poured. You know, the same thing any current or former Starbucks barrista would tell you for the price of a coffee.

And the doctor wishes he was joking. This was what he found in his twitter feed just before he had to stop everything and write this post!


Wow! How much did they spend on this software that documents basic process times and runs simple models to determine that some things take time and any action that reduces that time for multiple workers can save time and money? Hire any lean specialist to just walk around your operation for a day and you’ll get a hundred common sense recommendations like this.

the doctor thinks WeWork should say WeWereRippedOff!

Especially since the other “observation” was equally obvious and if they simply required people to book a room, log a count, and asked a secretary to review the logs for two weeks they’d learn in ten minutes that people prefer to work in smaller groups because smaller groups get things done!

I wonder if they are training these systems on Pigeon English? (At least we know the dangers that common from Pigeon droppings … )

The Key to Successful Supply Management? No MoBAs, no PiMPs, no Paper Pushers, and no over-reliance on dumb bots.

It seems the list gets longer every year as those looking for a quick-fix try to take shortcuts to solving their problem that involve pushing those problems to third parties who are even less competent to solve them.

A few years ago we said the key for a successful supply management center of excellence was no M(o)BAs and no P(i)MPs!. This is because successful supply management relies on supply management expertise and experience, not on meaningless business models and knowledge-free project management frameworks. (Remember that SI still firmly believes that individuals that only have MBAs are just Master of Business Annihilation!)

This is because not only is it the case that you can’t manage what you can’t understand, but all you can do if you try is make it worse! Supply Managers are overworked and under-resourced, and any misstep has a ripple effect throughout the supply chain — one that can go from a minor delay to a major catastrophe. Management knowledge and project management skills are good things, but whereas supply chain is concerned, only if this knowledge and skill is added to a fundamental understanding of the supply management process that needs to be performed.

However, as we indicated last year in our post that The Key to Successful Supply Management? No MoBAs, no PiMPs, and no Paper Pushers!, simply eliminating the unknowledgeable MoBAs and PiMPs is not enough anymore. Paper pushers have to go to. There’s no time for tactical people who only receive, process, and send e-paper in a modern fast moving supply chain when the majority of this work can be automated by modern bots.

Today’s professionals need to be able to identify, implement, and make use of modern assisted and augmented intelligence solutions that can help them identify what needs to be analyzed, what needs to be addressed, what needs to be done, and the best ways to potentially go about it. The individuals who can do this are not PO paper pushers or AP invoice processors. They are knowledgeable and capable sourcing, procurement, and supply management experts who know their domain, and the tools, first and the business and project management second.

And they can’t be hampered by dumb bots. Dumb bots do poor invoice matching and create a lot of false positives to be unnecessarily checked. Dumb bots simply flag differentials between current and market price with no understanding of what the cause for the difference is and whether or not savings could actually be realized if a sourcing event was conducted. Dumb bots automate auction and RFX stages on a schedule, but don’t ensure that stages are complete or requirements are met. Dumb bots can extract potential terms, costs, etc. but make no sense of them and not even classify them properly. And so on.

Smart bots are needed, but dumb bots create more tactical work than they take away. So make sure they go with the paper pushers when you show them the door.

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?