Category Archives: rants

Digital is Decades Old. Don’t Get Fooled (Again)!

When se said that Digital. Digitized. Digitization. Digitalization. Are the New Buzzwords for Outdated Tech we were actually understating the reality. Digital may have been the buzz of the 90s … yes … the 90s (three decades ago), but, in reality we entered the digital age in the 70s – FIVE FULL DECADES AGO!

The first digital electronic watch prototype was developed in 1970 by Hamilton Watch Company and Electro Data and it hit the market in 1972. And while the first digital watch had a price tag of over $2,000, by the end of the decade, they were readily available for under $10 a unit and universally used. And they were … that’s right … DIGITAL!

It was only five years later that the world’s first digital camera was invented by an employee of Eastman Kodak. And while the first digital camera was not sold until 1989 in Japan and 1990 in the US, it existed. Since it used digital storage, it represented the move from digital to digitized. Again proving our point that the 90s is when we really entered the digital age.

The first digital mobile phone debuted two years after that, paving the way for Digitization … almost 30 years ago!

And then four years after that, digital satellite dishes 18″ in diameter hit the market, which were the best selling electronic devices in history at the time after VCRs. We were truly in the age of digitization by 1996. Almost 25 years ago.

Then, in 2000, we saw DVDs hit the market, and we truly hit digitalization as everything was not just transmitted, but stored, in 1s and 0s across all mediums. Two decades ago.

So, do you REALLY want to buy digital technology from a vendor that could be two decades old? Think about that before you start singing along to Laura Clark!

Remember, you’ll get what you sign up for … and you won’t necessarily like it!

So the next time you hear the word Digital or any variation of it, we recommend blaring The Who at full volume! Won’t Get Fooled Again!

Furthermore, No Modern 2020 Platform Will Be Without What-if?!

As you may have noticed, the doctor has been on a bit of a bent lately defining what a modern S2P platform is as he’s completely fed up of all of the “digital” bullshit where marketers are trying to sell everything old like its new again and technically advertising solutions that are less powerful than the doctor could code on his 8088 three decades ago! (It had a 2400 baud modem so the requirement of network connectivity was even met.)

And if you think the doctor is being a bit extreme, go back and re-read the definitions of “digital” and “analysis”, ask some pointed questions to these vendors about what their solutions can really do, and you’ll find that maybe, just maybe, he’s not being that extreme at all. It’s sad how many vendors believe that a fancy new UX on a weak Procurement 2.0 solution all of a sudden makes it 3.0 and 4.0 ready when all they are really doing is putting lipstick on a pig (and no self respecting pig wants to wear lipstick)!

Yesterday we defined the levels of analytics and hopefully made it clear that there shouldn’t be a single platform on your consideration list that doesn’t have at least basic prescriptive capability and that you should also make sure the vendor is on a permissive journey before signing on the bottom line!

But that’s not all you need to demand in a platform. You also need to demand a platform with embedded What If? capability.

It’s going to be a while before the predictive analytics work across all the situations a procurement specialist need them to work in, and even longer until the platform supports the insights needed for permissive analytics. But, in the interim, the procurement specialists still need to extract value from analytics — and that value is going to come from What If?.

What If? the demand next year is the same as this year, what will the total cost be if the cost stays flat? What if demand rises 10%?

What If? the delivery is late by a day? By 3 days? By a week? What if the order is routed to the backup supplier? The backup location?

What If? the supplier’s financial woes get worse? What if the supplier goes bankrupt?

What If? the contract milestone isn’t hit? What is the impact? What is the risk?

The procurement professional needs to be able to ask What If? throughout the platform and, more importantly, throughout the analytics. Some Reports should be interactive and allow the user to project the next quarter, year, etc. of data using current data and advanced What If? algorithms. Anything less won’t be enough.

… And Advanced Analytics Should Be a Must in 2020!

Just like any vendor can claim to have a digital procurement solution because, as we clearly explained last week, email and spreadsheets technically count, any vendor can claim to have analytics. Consider the definition:

the analysis of data, typically large sets of business data, by the use of mathematics, statistics, and computer software

And then consider the common definition of analysis:

a presentation, usually in writing, of the results of this process

This means that any software that provides a canned report summarizing a data set (average, mean, etc.) qualifies. MRP software from four decades ago had canned reports that did this and qualify. Thus, since computers are modern in the grand scheme of human history, any vendor can tell you with a straight faced that they have a modern platform with a modern analytics solution if it runs on a computer, supports bid collection in a spreadsheet, and contains a canned report summary — especially if they were an English or Arts Major (especially since we are in the post-modern phase in their worldview).


Think carefully about this — because if you don’t ask the right questions and use the right measuring stick, that’s precisely what you might get if you don’t get beyond this “digital” and baseline “analytics” crap.

What you have to know is that there are levels to analysis. And while the number of levels might very depending on how granular you want to get, there are at least five in today’s technology platforms, and these are the seven levels the doctor likes to use.

1. Classificative
At this level, data is classified into buckets for the purpose of basic analytics.

2. Descriptive
At this level, basic statistics are run to compute summary, typically canned, reports on the data.

For decades, this is all you got, and many vendors still try to pass this off as sufficient.

3. Diagnostic
At this level, the user is either given the ability to define their own reports to drill in and find the potential root causes of issues identified in the reports or to run more advanced statistics (beyond just average and mean) to identify correlations between data to find potential root causes of issues.

Most platforms developed or upgraded in the last five years in S2P, Sourcing, and Spend Analysis have this capability. But this is not enough any more, especially when there are do-it-yourself software packages for under 1K that can allow you to get to the next level, which has been around in specialized demand planning and analytics for decades.

4. Predictive
At this level, the platform employs statistical trend analysis, advanced clustering, and/or machine learning to identify trends and predict future costs, risks, performance, etc.

A few platforms are starting to incorporate this, but this should be a baseline requirement considering ERPs, demand planning, and advanced BI tools have had at least some capability here for close to 2 decades

5. Prescriptive
At this level, the platform is not just identifying and computing future trends, but providing advice on what to do as a result of those trends.

Leading platforms are starting down this path, but given that the foundations of prescriptive analytics have been around for over two decades and that best practices in sourcing and procurement have been around almost as long, if a platform can’t provide not only insight and recommendations what to do with that insight, it will never even achieve 3.0 objectives … meaning 4.0 will never be a reality.

In other words, any platform without some prescriptive capability is behind and not one you should be investing in.

6. Permissive
At this level, the prescriptive analytics is used to power automatic actions based on embedded rules. If the platform determines a commodity that is typically on a one year contract is at an all time low, it might initiate the renewal event two months early to lock a rate in if a rule is defined that says events can be initiated up to three months early if prices drop below contracted rates and are projected to be within 2% of the projected low.

Few platforms are here, but you should be looking for a configurable platform with rules that permit simple automation based on both entered and derived data values from the application and the data it contains. Permissive analytics is a cornerstone of the Procurement 4.0 promise so make sure your chosen vendor is building in permissive analytic capability. It can be fledgeling to start, but something needs to be there or it won’t be there when you need it.

7. Cognitive
At this level, the platform embeds machine learning and advanced AI techniques to not only make good predictions but choose the right actions to take on those predictions without any user intervention for run-of-the-mill sourcing and procurement processes and events. When we reach Procurement 4.0, such systems will not only eliminate 98% of tactical work to allow buyers to focus on the strategic, but eliminate 90%+ of strategic work identified as relatively low value (at the time) and allow buyers to focus on strategic efforts that present the greatest opportunity to provide value … truly optimizing the limited Procurement resources available.

Insight. That’s What Marketers Should be Marketing in 2020.

Because that’s what you need. In this day in age, any platform should be capable of implementing a digital process that accomplishes a basic sourcing, procurement, catalog buying, or contract negotiation process … this technology has existed for almost two decades. So if an organization is going to spend money on marketing, it should be marketing something more than just basic digital process support as dozens of vendors have that (as evidenced by the participation of over 75 vendors in Spend Matters SolutionMaps with more in the wings). And if the organization doesn’t have anything more to market, then it shouldn’t be marketing at all — and investing those pesos in product development until it has something worth marketing.

Now that we are in the third era of Procurement, we should be looking for solutions that enhance our processes, not systems that just digitize them. And for systems to enhance our processes, they need to do more than digitize them or automate them with fixed rules. They need to provide relevant insights at key stages of each process to help a buyer make good decisions in an efficient manner.

For example, when a buyer selects a category or set of products / services for a sourcing event, the system should automatically highlight current and past suppliers, suppliers who responded to previous events, and new suppliers who have matching products or services. Furthermore, if there is any risk or environmental data associated with those suppliers, it should also be highlighted. When all the bids are in, it should automatically highlight the lowest-cost award, the incumbent award, the best award with a preferred number of suppliers, and any other relevant out-of-the-box scenarios.

During contract time, if there is an appropriate template, it should present that to the project lead as well as highlight any clauses that might be missing or any clauses that might need to be addressed.

When an organizational buyer needs to make a requisition, and logs into the catalog, the system should guide the buyer to the on-contract product for requisition. If that product is unavailable, then it should guide the buyer to the next preferred option. If there is no on-contract or preferred product, then the system should recommend the product that provides the best overall value to the organization (which balances cost, quality, volume requirements on general product/service contracts, etc.).

When an invoice comes in that doesn’t precisely match the purchase order, but is within what could be considered a reasonable tolerance or has an extra charge that could be considered reasonable under the circumstance, the system should immediately point out the discrepancy and whether or not an approval should be given or denied. For example, if there was an expediting charge because the order was shipped same-day (when the contract required three days notice) that is relatively low value, or extra units were shipped and received (and billed at agreed upon rates) (and needed anyway), the system can point out the discrepancy and recommend approval. If the surcharges exceed typical amounts or a significant number of units were marked damaged on receipt, the system can recommend rejecting with a request for more information or invoice reduction.

Similarly, before an order is placed, the system should highlight any suppliers that have become more risky in the past month or performing poor on OTD.

While the talk of Procurement 4.0 might be more autonomous systems that do more of our work for us, that’s at least five, and most likely, ten years away. Right now, what we need are systems that allow us to make good decisions efficiently. And that means presenting the right information at the right time. If the system can’t do that, then don’t bother. Seriously.