Category Archives: Seven Grand Challenges

the doctor’s Seven Grand Challenges for Supply & Spend Management

Seven deadly sins
Seven ways to win
Seven holy paths to hell
And your trip begins

Seven downward slopes
Seven bloodied hopes
Seven are your burning fires
Seven your desires….
  Adrian Smith / Bruce Dickinson

In my last post, which announced the cross-blog series that this post is officially kicking off, I reviewed the seven grand challenges for IT over the next twenty-five years, as laid out by Gartner back in the spring. Although they ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, and contained a fair amount of overlap when closely analyzed, it’s a worthwhile exercise to undertake every now and again, because in order to develop a useful solution, you need to identify what is needed and the path you should be on.

This inspired me to propose a set of “seven grand challenges” for supply and spend management, in the hopes that it would get you, dear reader, to think about what is important, what problems should be solved, and where we should go. Considering how important supply management is in these troubled times, I hope that all of my fellow bloggers chime in with their ideas on what’s good, what’s bad, and, what’s downright ugly in supply chain today — because the first step in solving a problem is properly identifying it.

So, without further ado, to kick off this cross-blog series, here are the doctor‘s proposals for the seven grand supply and spend management challenges:

  • Optimization
    There are a number of challenges here. The first challenge is getting people to use solutions that are already out there. There are currently a number of offerings that address strategic sourcing decision optimization, distribution network optimization, and freight optimization quite well, and that, when properly applied, can save the average company up to 12% above and beyond the best solution obtained with auctions. The second challenge is integrating the different problems (sourcing optimization, freight optimization, network optimization, etc.) into a common framework that allows the tradeoff effects of each decision to be adequately modeled and understood in the big picture. The third problem is addressing the emerging non-quantitative regulatory and compliance requirements such as RoHS, WEEE, and GHG emission limits in a consistent and value-oriented manner within the optimization model.
  • Supplier Enablement
    This is something we still don’t have a good handle on. Beyond “supplier enablement is the provision of technology based solutions that enable the supplier to be more productive and better serve the buyer”, there isn’t yet a general consensus of what this technology needs to be, as most companies have not yet embraced B2B 3.0. I’ve argued before that, today, it’s a combination of catalogs, networks, e-Document exchange and management, and supplier portal technology, and I still think that is a good start, but enablement should go beyond enabling the exchange of information, it should improve the supplier’s operations overall.
  • Integration of the Physical, Information, & Financial Chains
    For most companies, these are three different chains. Some companies that have embraced RFID, GPS, and e-document management have taken the first steps to integrating the physical and information flows, but the technology is still emerging, the integration isn’t smooth without extensive integration and customization between a number of different solutions (and only Fortune 500 companies can even afford to consider this), and we have only started to look at the financial supply chain and how to best integrate it with the information supply chain. I think it will be a while before solutions that truly support a holistic view will emerge, especially considering that even the gorillas in the space don’t have end-to-end sourcing and procurement.
  • Solution Globalization
    Let’s face it … supply chains today are truly global, but the solutions are not. Most “internationalized” solutions are only available in a smattering of languages, most “internationalized” solutions are not plugged into real-time currency exchange feeds — and few developers have thought about the need to maintain/display multiple conversions (including the rate at the time of purchase, the projected rate, the current rate, etc.), and most “internationalized” solutions don’t help you understand how to do business with the country of interest.
  • GHG Tracking and Reduction
    Most enlightened countries have woken up to the fact that, even though we don’t know precisely how damaging each ton of GHG and / or carbon we emit is, we do know that it’s damaging and that we have to reduce our emissions. The first step is to get a baseline of the emissions produced by your operations, but for many companies, this is a multi-year effort. Better product and service solutions are needed. Also, although there are multiple proposals on the table to reduce emissions, there are few total value management models out there to help us select the right ones.
  • Risk Prevention
    Not only is risk not going away, but it’s getting worse by the year. Supply chains are getting more complex by the year, and the likelihood of something going wrong is steadily increasing. Solutions that can help a company identify risks, in real time, and identify possible mitigations and actions required to implement them, are desperately needed.
  • Opportunity Analysis
    Costs are skyrocketing, but consumer discretionary spending is stagnant at best. They key to a successful supply chain is cost reduction and avoidance, and this requires continual opportunity analysis. I envision this starting with modern spend analysis, but it needs to go beyond true spend analysis to continual innovation, since the greatest cost reductions will come from true revolutions, and not just the shrewd identification of category-based overspending. I envision that this will start with the integration of PLM with Life Cycle Analysis and Next Generation Analytics and then morph into something that none of us can envision today.

Now, I realize that these are pretty much the same problems we have been facing for the last five to ten years, but I suspect that it will be quite a while before they are solved due to the overwhelming complexity of today’s supply chains.

When the series is done, I’ll compile the “master list” of challenges and, if any of my fellow bloggers can convince me there are bigger challenges out there, revise my list.

Cross-Blog Challenge: The “Seven Grand Challenges” for Supply Management

Back in the spring,, ran an article on the Seven Grand Challenges for IT over the next 25 years, as reported by Gartner. They were:

  • Elimination of the Manual Recharge
    With the increasing ubiquity of portable battery-powered devices, the development of batteries that can be charged remotely or devices powered by a remote source
  • Parallel Programming
    Allow multiple, slower speed processors to perform tasks in parallel
  • Non-tactile, Natural Computing Interface
    Remove the need for the mouse, keyboard, etc. and give us the Star Trek computer, or at least the virtual 3-d display being proposed in movies like Paycheck
  • Automated Speech Translation
    To allow communication with computers in any language, as well as communication between any two people speaking any two languages with the aid of the machine
  • Persistent and Reliable Long Term Storage
    Given a recent estimate (by Dr. Francine Berman) of 161 exabytes (1018) of digital data generated in 2006, the need for storage is increasing exponentially.
  • Increase Programmer Productivity 100-fold
    The removal of uncertainty in meeting future software demands will rest in increasing the productivity of the programmer.
  • Identify the Financial Consequences of IT investing
    Conveying the business value of IT in readily understood terms.

As a technologist by training, I found these very interesting for a number of reasons.

First of all, these challenges are not mutually independent. Increasing programmer productivity will require the creation of better programming environments that will not only allow programmers to code better and faster, but to also take advantage of parallel programming. We already have 8-core machines available for home and small-business use (by way of the Mac Pro, for example), but today’s implementation of today’s parallel programming techniques (achieved primarily through multi-threading) are challenging even for expert programmers. In addition, a natural computing interface will need to involve speech, and we don’t even have speech recognition software that is acceptable out of the box – it still has to be trained for each specific user, who has to actually train herself to talk consistently, to achieve useful accuracy – and it’s generally incapable of differentiating between when speech is part of a sentence or a verbal command – and the utterance of “Do Not Delete. Document is … “, for example, during transcription could delete the entire document!

Secondly, without the wide-spread introduction of entirely new types of technologies, or the re-introduction of old technologies thought destined for the trash bin, they may not be obtainable. For example, how are you going to eliminate the manual recharge? We can’t send traditional AC or DC current through the air – the best we can generally do is radio waves and light rays. Light rays are blocked by opaque objects, leaving radio waves – the low-energy, long wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. Now, since these waves are a form of energy, it is possible to continuously receive these waves and “harvest” the energy by directing it at a rechargeable power source, like PowerCast is doing, but the vast majority of today’s devices require a lot more power than you’re going to get from conventional radio waves – so we’re going to need to create devices that require significantly less power or that are capable of capturing the energy we generate. This technology has existed for quite some time in the form of balance wheel escapements used in self-winding watches that power themselves from the movement of the wearer. In the near term, the solution will probably come in the form of miniaturization and power-reduction and the combination of multiple power harvesting technologies.

Thirdly, they recognize that the greatest challenge will likely always be conveying the value of new technology, and, more importantly, of funneling dollars into R&D to allow for the development of the new technologies that will be required to allow the value, and role, of IT to continue to increase.

Fourthly, they got me thinking about what the grand challenges are for supply and spend management. I have my ideas, and will share them in a future post, but first I want to propose this as the foundation of the next Sourcing Innovation cross-blog series, that will run September 15 (2008) through September 26 (2008), and challenge every blogger and guest-blogger in the space to come up with his or her own seven grand challenges for Supply & Spend Management.

As with previous cross-blog series, I will maintain a complete listing and cross-blog linking of contributions and publish guest posts from those guest-bloggers who wish to post on SI. I’ll also kick-off the series with my own list on September 15. While you’re waiting, you might want to go back and check out some of the previous cross-blog series which included: