Category Archives: Sourcing Innovation

Have You Mastered the 4th T of Tracery Yet?

Regular readers will know that the time of PPT — People, Process, Technology — has long passed. In today’s fast paced world where product life-cycles are sometimes over as soon as they hit the market, and where your competitors are constantly striving to outpace you in both sales and supply management, you can’t live on processes anymore — they go stale almost as soon as you’ve got them figured out. And in a knowledge economy, just having a butt in a seat or a worker at an assembly line isn’t enough to succeed — you need a worker who, at the very least, is smarter than the average worker and, preferably, smarter than the worker employed by your competitor. And your technology cannot get out of date.

That’s why SI has been promoting the 3 T’s for years — Technology, Talent, and Transition. You need a solid, regularly updated, technology foundation upon which to build your modern Supply Management Organization. You need talent to put together good operating procedures, properly use the technology, and to constantly identify new opportunities for cost reduction or value generation. And you need great transition management as even best six sigma process today won’t cut it tomorrow when you need to upgrade your product offering, switch suppliers, change distribution methods, and make sure your product is Designed for Recycling from the get-go as new regulations are forcing you to take back your product at end of life and recycle it as you are using chemicals and / or rare earth minerals that are heavily regulated.

But while these are necessary conditions for Supply Management success, they are not necessarily sufficient. As we noted five years ago when we first asked if you have mastered the 4th T of Tracery, while it is true you will not succeed without a mastery of technology, talent, and transition management, as per our first post on Project Assurance many years ago, organizational success also depends on selecting a superior strategy and seeing it through until the desired results are achieved (or the organization changes its strategy, which hopefully wasn’t done arbitrarily on the whim of a CXO after talking to a buddy on the golf course).

However, in order to properly implement a strategy, you have to not only see it through from start to finish, but you have to make sure all of the process streams necessary for success are both completed and properly synched. Just like the key to a good weave, as one might find in Egyptian Cotton, is a skillful interleaving of the thread, the key to a good strategy, is a skillful interleaving of the process strands into an effective transition plan from where you are to where you need to be.

And this, dear readers, is Tracery — the “delicate, interlacing, work of lines as in an embroidery”, or, more modernly, “a network” — the glue that not only binds the Technology, Talent, and Transition Management that your Supply Management organization needs to succeed, but that interleaves these threads in a way that causes each of them to reinforce each other and make a stronger whole.

And, hopefully, monitors them through a common network-enabled platform that can not only bring your internal stakeholders together on one platform, with appropriate views and collaboration features for each function, but also your partners and suppliers who have the data and best practice insights you need to actually get your supply chain in shape. Because it’s not something you can do alone, and it’s definitely not something that will never happen unless carefully monitored, as it’s always easier to “do it the old way”, even if the old way is unsustainable and will lead your down a path to organizational oblivion (through bankruptcy).

The Category Sourcing Scorecard – Still An Essential Tool for Category Sourcing

As we noted when we discussed this topic seven years ago, if you want a successful event that generates significant savings, you have to select the right category — and the best way to do that was often to evaluating them with the right scorecards that could predict savings opportunity.

But success requires more than just selecting the right category, it also requires executing a successful event, and this requires:

  • selecting the right sourcing event and
  • adapting quickly if market conditions change

However, today, to be successful, a sourcing scorecard is more than just a point-in-time snapshot of market factors, buying factors, supplier factors, internal factors, and category-specific factors. It’s historical data, even if anonymized, on past events with respect to size, savings, geography thereof, relevant market conditions, and event type.

This way a buyer not only knows the potential savings associated with a category at a particular time, but what type of event will be needed, and what market conditions need to hold throughout the event to maximize the chance of success. And if there are good projections as to how long conditions will hold, the buyer knows how long he or she has, or doesn’t have, to complete the event to maximize chances of success. And if conditions change unexpectedly, the buyer can halt the event and decide what to do next.

Plus, sometimes you can’t just select the category with the greatest sourcing potential, you have to select the category where the contract is going to expire in 60 days and you can’t be without a contract or risk a production line shutdown. Even if the market conditions are the opposite of what you’d need for best results, you still have to proceed — so having the best information possible on the option likely to give the least unsatisfactory outcome is still a positive. And having a platform that can use a modern category sourcing scorecard to enable the right workflows to drive the right events is most likely to minimize a less-than-ideal event as well as maximize an ideal event when it comes.

Knowledge is Power

So why would you want a platform that doesn’t embed any knowledge?

There is not a product or service in existence that cannot be made more valuable with information, and in technology, there does not exist a solution that cannot be made more valuable through embedded information. So why would you ever want a platform without it?

In fact, if the platform has enough embedded information, and can use it to power adaptive workflows built on top of robotic process automation, you’ll find that you might not even need any AI at all (especially if all it equates to is Applied Indirection). If the platform comes embedded with leading market knowledge for the majority of your categories, and you can define, and embed, rules with the help of experts to cover the rest, then you have the majority of what you need.

Because, at the end of the day, the best value comes from not only getting Spend Under Management, but making the best Sourcing / Procurement decision possible for the organization — and that can only be done if the organization has the right information. No organization has expertise in more than a few categories, and it definitely doesn’t have all the information. So having a platform that comes equipped with the best should cost models out of the box, integration to current market data feeds, and historical data on previous events (anonymized if necessary) to help organizations select the right type of even tfor current conditions is very beneficial — versus just a piece of dumb software that executes a canned one-size-fits-all workflow.

At the end of the day, the more you know about your raw materials, your components, your assembly / manufacturing options, your products, your shipping, the import and export restrictions and costs, and the inherent value of each product versus your other options, the more accurately you can model your options and make a good decision. The more accurately you can model your options, the better chance you have of determining the solution with the lowest cost, the lowest risk, the highest value, and the best value (defined as risk reduction, profit generation capability, etc — whatever makes sense) to cost ratio.

This is how leading Supply Management organizations can save 12%, off-the-top, in an optimization-backed information-enabled sourcing event — and even more if they collaboratively work with their peers to identify all of the options that may be available and all of the associated tradeoffs.

Plus, good, timely, information allows an organization to:

  1. constantly improve products and services by way of the fact that they are able to
  2. collect more relevant, timely, accurate, detailed, and integrated data.So get an information enabled platform – at the end of the day, it’s better than all the platforms with the fake “AI” that do nothing more than automate static, dumb, one-size-does-not-fit-all, workflows!

Still Looking for that Supply Management Usability Guide!

Long-time readers will know that there are a lot of guides out there as to what a good Supply Management solution for Sourcing, Procurement, etc. should do — including a lot of advice on this topic here on SI and over on Spend Matters, but not many guides. And while the doctor did write rather extensively on the topic of usability in Sourcing, Supply Management, Procurement, and P2P over on Spend Matters Pro, there are still very few guides for usability. (Searches in major search engines still come up few and far between, even after our first post on the topic here on SI seven years ago).

As per our last post, if the provided software was so obvious and easy to use that even a fifth-grader could figure it out, then the issue of “ineffective instructions” is a small one. But the reality is that, even with most platforms that are attempting to adopt consumer-style interfaces, most procurement and logistics software is still reasonably complicated due to the complex nature of what a Procurement or Logistics package capable of supporting global trade needs to do.

The thing is, even though the functionality is well understood, the best way to lay out the functionality, and underlying workflow, is not well understood in comparison and, unfortunately, if one company builds an interface that is too close to a competitor’s for some standard functionality, instead of the formation of a standard, in America, we get a frivolous lawsuit (courtesy of the patent pirates). So even though there should be design standards, there usually aren’t.

And even when the best-of-breed providers finally figure it out, since most of their UIs are built on decade(s) old technology, updating the UI is no easy feat. Especially when the new generation of employees, the millennials, are expecting consumer like interfaces. But who has anything close to this? Coupa with parts of the core platform (which has been built and re-built repeatedly to be easy to use around core Procurement functionality) and advanced sourcing (built on TESS 6 built from the ground up to be eminently configurable); Zycus is on the right path with their dew drop technology, but it will take a while to upgrade the entire platform; Vroozi with their mobile-first philosophy is quite usable for what it does; Keelvar with their configurable automation-based workflows; and GEP with their new user-centric UI vision are not just a few examples, but the majority of examples.

In comparison in the S2P game, Ivalua is getting close with their configurable workflows, but it’s still not obvious how to configure the platform to make it obvious to junior users; Wax Digital is one platform on one code base and pretty simple (but based on older Microsoft tech that takes time to upgrade); Determine, based on the old b-Pack platform is very configurable, but older technology and far from a modern look-and-feel; and Synertrade is really outdated (but very powerful).

And if we go beyond the big names, when it comes to the smaller vendors, except for a few of the newer best-of-breeds, like Bonfire and ScoutRFP, usability has always been a second concern and while a few of the smaller vendors are updating their UI (like EC Sourcing which should be much more modern with a year), most vendors are definitely not there yet.

Hence, since most platforms aren’t consumer like, and not likely to be figured out 100% by junior users without training, we still need that Supply Management Technology usability guide — especially since none of the platforms mentioned above with “modern” interfaces have the same workflows for the processes they support.

And what about the poor organizations who still have a mishmash of five generation one or two systems with inconsistent interfaces and workflows? What hope do they have of making sense of the full inter-related capabilities of their systems? Very little.

And while the doctor knows more than ever that the very nature of software, which is always evolving, makes such a guide difficult (and that this particular challenge is compounded by the fact that America still allows software to be patented so the pirates can plunder), but there should be at least some standard workflows and processes that all sourcing, procurement, and logistics software should attempt to follow in a reasonably standard way. It would make things easier for all supply chain partners, minimize unnecessary stresses and bumps, and help us evolve the profession as a whole. But alas, it will probably be another seven years before we get close to a real usability guide.

Optimization: Is it at least time to move beyond logistics and indirect sourcing?

A big focus of this blog is, of course, Strategic Sourcing Decision Optimization (SSDO), one of the few advanced sourcing methodologies guaranteed to save your organization, on average, 12% if correctly applied (as demonstrated in two back-to-back studies by Aberdeen last decade and discovered over and over again by organizations applying it properly) and the doctor‘s specialty.

But it’s not the only place you can apply optimization in Supply Management to save money. Another area, as covered a number of times on SI, is Supply Chain Network Optimization (SCNO). And, of course, some companies just focus on the intersection and do Logistics optimization. But this is not everything that can be done, or should be done, especially in an age where many industries now see The End of Competitive Advantage and don’t actually own physical assets, leasing them as need be to create the products and services desired by their prospective customers.

In this situation, what matters is Asset Optimization, where you optimize a one-time dynamic network to minimize sourcing, network, and logistics costs to minimize the total supply chain costs associated with the product you wish to produce. This is easier said than done. In sourcing, you are mainly considering bids, lanes, and associated costs to compute the optimal TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), and if lifetime costs and metrics are available, or TVG (Total Value Generated) with respect to a fixed situation. In network optimization, you are optimizing the location of owned factories, supplier production centers, warehouses, and retailers to optimize the distribution costs. But in asset network optimization, you have to simultaneously consider the network and associated distribution costs, the sourcing requirements and associated production costs, and the costs of using, or not using, the resources you already have available and contracts you have already negotiated. In addition, you have to consider the risks associated with each potential supplier and location, the sensitivity of the overall asset network to each supplier and location (and is there a single point of failure), and the ability to dynamically alter the network should a failure occur or customer demands change.  And track all of that information.

Plus you have all of the difficulties associated with each type of optimization. With respect to the network, there will be many alternatives for production site, each site will have multiple, and different, asset lines, and each asset will be qualified for a certain operation with respect to a certain product. In addition, some assets will be more efficient and cost effective, and unqualified assets will have a qualification/certification step, which will require limited manpower – a variable that does not need to be modelled in traditional sourcing or SCNO models. It’s a very difficult problem that requires modelling of multiple types of variables and constraints at multiple levels at multiple times. And this last requirement makes the model even more complex.

Plus, in a traditional sourcing model, you don’t really need to consider “time”, as it doesn’t matter how often the trucks deliver your product, just how many trucks are needed to deliver your product as you are billed FTL or LTL by the delivery. And it doesn’t matter what production schedule the supplier(s) use(s) as long as your products are ready on time, so only the total volume need be considered. But when you are dealing with production models, especially when trying to dynamically construct and optimize an asset network, production schedules are significant. If a certain location only has 30% of capacity left available and can only schedule it during a given time-frame, that has to be taken into account. If some of the products have to be delivered before they can complete the first production run, then there has to be a location that is able to do so. And if a continual supply is needed over nine months, the production cycles should more or less line up with minimal overlap as, otherwise, inventory costs would soar.

It’s a complicated problem, but one that is becoming more and more important in fast moving industries such as fashion and consumer electronics — and one that most SSDO providers can’t address. Why?

First of all, they don’t track the necessary data.

Secondly, they don’t have the right underlying optimization platform.

Third, they don’t have the skills to build the right model.

But recently, a few of the bigger players with optimization have started not only tracking all of the direct (material) sourcing requirements, but assets as well.  So the data is there.

Secondly, a few of the optimization platforms have become significantly more powerful and flexible (and now have the necessary computing power under the hood to support them) and could, at the very least, run a series of optimization models (according to different time-spans, which minimizes the need to consider complex timing constraints in a single model) to tackle problems such as this.

Thirdly, there are independent experts with decades of experience who can help design the right model.

So why are none of the big players doing it?  It seems logical, and soon necessary, if an organization wants to continue to identify, and capture, new sources of value year-over-year.