Category Archives: rants

If You Let Your Supplier Rip You Off …

Then whatever else they do to you, blame yourself!

Not long ago, over on Spend Matters UK, the public defender penned a post on Public Sector Project Failures, Blame the Suppliers! which, while likely deserving of some vile for having the audacity to continue to overcharge the public coffers for the products and services they deliver (something they likely wouldn’t get away with if it was a big private sector client which was a leader in strategic sourcing and supplier management), is not, in the doctor‘s view, deserving of all the vile. After all, as we penned here not that long ago in our post on whether or not your suppliers are ripping you off, if you are letting them, then they are.

But that’s not all they are doing if you let them. What else you ask? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s step back.

If you flip over to the public defender‘s post, he mentions an article by Allan Watton of Best Practice Group discusses what an organization can do if a provider exhibits problems that impacts the service to your recommendation. And this is the crux of it. If they are willing to rip you off, and you are willing to let them, then if their quality slides, they are likely also willing to send you (more) inferior/defective products, let their service commitments slip (in favour of another customer if resources are thinner than they guaranteed), and even fail to enforce necessary social responsibility and sustainability requirements that they agreed to (that will get you, and not them, thrown into boiling hot water if not adhered to).

And, frankly, as far as Si is concerned, if this happens, if you are not watching them and working with (or, if necessary, replacing) them, then it is all your fault and you only have yourself to blame. Yes, they are deserving of vile for being such scumbags in the first place if they do any of this, but it’s your supply chain delivering your product to your customers, so it’s your responsibility to monitor and if anything happens, as per legislations being introduced around the globe, unless you took reasonable measures to monitor, it’s your fault. So the ultimate blame rests with you.

But, as the public defender points out, sometimes monitoring and managing won’t be enough. Often time the suppliers, while a little bad, aren’t truly rotten and can be improved with monitoring and management, but sometimes you truly do have a truly rotten apple that you can’t do anything with. In this case, you will need to switch, and to do that quickly and effectively, with as little disruption as possible, you will need a disaster recovery plan, an extreme mitigation plan where you are not dealing with a temporary disruption due to weather, equipment failure, etc. but the need to replace an entire supplier permanently. And that’s why risk management is discussed regularly on this blog, because it does no good to identify millions of savings with optimization and analytics only to lose it because you weren’t prepared for that eventual black-swan mega-disruption that is coming your way!

It’s Not an AI Hype Cycle – It’s an AI Hype Wave!

Is it yet another AI hype cycle? This question was posed by Vinnie Mirchandani over on deal architect and it’s a good question.

AI has been the dream since the 1950′s when computing was just beginning and Alan Turing defined the famous Turing test (which is, sadly, not necessarily enough anymore because parallel computing and wide-scale sampling of real conversations can be used to pass the Turing test in many situations), but we’re not there yet. Enhancements to computing power, storage, and algorithms have made automated reasoning programs exponentially more powerful than they were sixty years ago, and today’s predictive capability is essentially unmatched … with many algorithms outdoing the best human experts.

But they are still not intelligent. They’re all based on data and trends which, for the most part, are predictable, and that’s where they excel — but where they are not, or where those trends can change on a dime, they still fail … some times spectacularly. Plus, if the data is incomplete or bad, they don’t always see this … and predict a wrong outcome. Human experts, on the other hand, can see missing data, outrageous trends, and when trends are inflecting in unexpected ways.

We’re nowhere near the point where we can even truly start using AI with a straight face, and, as per a quote from Yann LeCun, the director of AI research at Facebook, as quoted by the deal architect, despite these astonishing advances, we are a long way from machines that are as intelligent as humans — or even rats. So far, we’ve seen only 5% of what AI can do. And I’d say that 5% is an overstatement.

But, as the deal architect has indicated, we are seeing a huge increase in they hype about AI. As indicated by the deal architect, IBM has been marketing Watson since before it should have been announced, technologists are claiming that AI can replace entire fields, and Cambridge University has created a Center for the Study of Existential Risk to study extinction-level risks that can emerge from technological advances (like AI). Apparently, the hype is back … but the reality is that it never went away. It’s a continuous wave that crests and troughs and crest and troughs … it never goes away. The believers, for better or worse, won’t let it. There hasn’t been a decade where the hype hasn’t increased unnecessarily since the 50′s, and we’ll never see the end. Because until someone makes a true quantum leap, it will continue to be gradual progress, decade after decade, and the hype will continue ad-nauseum.

Supply Chains Are Complex … and the Earth is Round.

Hey, some of you might not know the earth is round! It’s only been 70 years since the first pictures of earth were taken from an altitude greater than 100 miles in space (and, up until that time, the non-believers could demand visual proof)! (To be precise, the first pictures of Earth as seen from an altitude above 100 miles was on March 7, 1947. Source: NASA)

But to not know that supply chains are complex, when “global” trade is almost as old as civilization (as purchasing is, of course, the world’s second oldest profession until such time as someone can definitely prove astronomy came first), that’s, well, really unthinkable. But yet, APICS and Michigan State University just gave us yet another report that announced yet again that supply chain leaders are citing “complexity” as the top supply chain challenge. Moreover, they decided to dive into the sources of complexity and found, surprise, surprise that they are:

  • customer accommodation
  • operations globalization
  • supplier (local sourcing) complexity
  • supply chain trends

But there’s nothing new here either. Let’s take ‘em one by one.

The number of variations of a product desired is equal to the number of customers you ask. Period. Has always been. Has always will be — so the more customers you try to accommodate, the more complex your product variations, and supporting supply chain, becomes. And we’ve known this since long before Marshall M. Kirkman wrote the first Purchasing Manual.

Of course the supply chain becomes more complex as you go more global. Every locale has the potential to add languages, currencies, culture, local regulatory requirements, logistics challenges, border challenges, and so on and so on.

And then there are all the local issues faces by the suppliers — additional regulatory requirements, sustainability and CSR efforts to stay off of boycott lists, local workforce challenges, local disruption and disaster risks, and so on.

And of course trends affect complexity. They are usually the source … but they are not new issue. As we laid bare in our “future trend expose”, of the 33 trends commonly cited as future trends, only 3 were really relatively new, and only 1 was really a future trend.

Complexity has always been here, and the more global we get, the more complex we get. Nothing has changed, and if it’s not completely obvious at this point, you’re in the wrong profession.

That’s why SI has been preaching optimization and analytics since day one, since those are the only advanced sourcing solutions that can really handle the complexity of modern supply chains.

Has the Death of the Enterprise Suite Been Exaggerated?

There’s a big movement towards best of breed in many Procurement, and a bigger promotion on the part of many vendors towards such a movement. It makes sense, given that there are few suite vendors in the space compared to point-based best-of-breed vendors, which constitute the majority of vendors. But does that mean that the end of the enterprise suite is near?

Over on deal architect, the disruptor asks are enterprise suites dying? He notes the big disconnect between vendor and customer talk, including the facts that:

  • the last generation of vendor suites disappointed
    and that most customers ended up buying a number of “ring fence” applications and customizing the packages to meet their needs
  • the concentration of dollars with a handful of suppliers led to “lock-in” and bad vendor behaviour
    and the promise of economies from vendor reduction just stayed a promise
  • enterprises are finding a wide array of cloud applications
    that they themselves are weaving together

And these are true, and yes many burned CIOs are now anti-suite, but does this mean the suite is dead? There are still a number of managers and executives out there with the one-suite solution dream. Plus, as best-of-breed solutions pile up, the number of solution providers an organization has to deal with gets unmanageable for those CIOs who are under-staffed and under-resourced. So even if they don’t like the current suite providers, as too many solution providers creep in, they’ll like that situation even less.

So, while suites haven’t lived up to their promise, as Procurement organizations try to support their operations end to end with platforms, they are going to want less providers, not more. While they may not centralize on one suite, chances are they will want to centralize on a small number of multi-application vendors, and isn’t that just the definition of suite?

The Big Bad Blockchain

It’s not just the big bad wolf you have to worry about, it’s the big bad blockchain … especially when it becomes disassociated with bitcoin.

Bitcoin, which is neither good nor bad (it’s just another currency), is powered by a special type of blockchain — one that is decentralized, open, and auditable by anyone using the system. And one that is extremely hard to alter because altering a block (to steal the currency) would require not only require that every other block after it were regenerated, but all copies of such block (and there can be multiple as all nodes participating in the decentralized system can store a copy of the block) be replaced simultaneously.

Theoretically, this can be used to record supply chain transactions because we could create a virtual currency for any real world unit we want to trade (such as CELLcoins, RAMcoins, etc.) but could also encode other related information in the hash and serve as a fully auditable record of ownership of the corresponding products end-to-end, source-to-sink, but this would require that a similar, truly open, system be developed.

But right now, when you get down to it, the most “open” blockchain proposals are akin to the most “open” supplier networks … and there are no truly open supplier networks. Every supplier network of note in existence is owned by a for-profit company and even those with “open” APIs or “open” integration are not really “open”. Yes, there is an API that third parties can integrate into, but in every case there is a “catch” — either the integration is limited or integration is only permitted at a “price”. It’s not open and free — and “openness” is only “open” as long as the network decides they are “open”.

If any company owns the blockchain, then it is not truly open, and not truly decentralized, open, and auditable by anyone and everyone. And that is necessary for a true block chain solution. So until a global non-profit conglomerate with Procurement punch and tech-chops steps up and creates a truly open, decentralized, non-corporate controlled block-chain solution, let’s stop pretending blockchain is the solution we’ve been waiting for … because all we’re going to get is a prison for our data that will come with hefty prison maintenance fees. And then we won’t just be talking about how Ariba doesn’t have customers, it has prisoners. We’ll be talking about how BlockChain Company X has everyone’s supply chain data as prisoner.

So while you continue your Bitcoin Buoyancy, we’ll keep our expectations realistic.