Category Archives: Sourcing Innovation

Synertrade: Looking Forward to Powering Inter-Planetary Supply Management

the doctor thoroughly enjoyed the theme of last week’s Synertrade Digital Procurement Summit, which was the “Mars Age of Procurement”. Not just because it was forward thinking, but because a vendor finally proved to SI that at least some of their staff have truly been following the doctor‘s writings for years (including the writings here on SI).

Long time readers will recall that back in 2013 SI asked Why Aren’t We on Mars Yet? because General Dynamics promised us a manned mission to mars in 1975 back in 1963 and almost 40 years had passed since the promise and a mission to mars still looked to be decades out. And it wasn’t just interest in the space race that prompted this — it was knowing that this would force us to look ahead to the next generation of Supply Management challenges (and start thinking about truly next generation solutions to address them).

Simply put, it’s one thing to source everything needed to build and equip a shuttle for an International Space Station (ISS) mission, another to build and equip a craft for a mission that could easily span half a decade, and another challenge yet to manage the reverse transport of recyclable products and any raw materials we may be able to mine from Mars. So, as you can imagine, seeing a conference embrace a theme around the “Mars Age of Procurement”, even if only metaphorical, is very satisfying as it means the vendor knows that supply management challenges are always going to increase in complexity as our goals and needs evolve, that a company needs to take a long term vision in order to adapt and succeed, and that they understood the hidden metaphor the doctor put forward all those years ago.

Especially since times have changed in the six years since the article was penned. Now that the space race has become the chosen pet project of the tech billionaires, we are being told that we could see a mission to Mars by as early as 2038, which, while over sixty years late according to the General Dynamics timeline, is less than two decades in the future and gives us hope that we may yet again try to explore beyond the planet.

And this is another reason SI is very satisfied with the conference theme! The mere fact that an IT company, which has already survived for two decades as a stand-alone player with a single code base that has never grown by acquisition, wishes to be around as a stand-alone company in twenty years is truly admirable. We are in an industry where most companies want to see how fast they can get acquired or merged with another company at an investment multiple that makes the investors and founders rich; an industry that has already become the new “hot” landscape for Private Equity (PE) firms looking to roll-up, take public, or flip as many companies as they can in the Source-to-Pay (S2P) space now that it has three stand-alone Unicorns (valued at over 1 Billion); and an industry that creates solutions required by every single mid-size or larger company in the world. (All successful growing companies buy and sell — that’s just how business works.) When you consider all that, the fact that Synertrade is one of the few platforms that has deep support for direct (materials) and optimization, it’s leadership rankings from multiple analyst firms (including Spend Matter’s Source-to-Pay Solution Maps), and the fact that Synertrade, especially over the past few years, has grown to be a dominant player in the Source-to-Pay space (especially in Europe) that has been increasing it’s customer base by over 15% year-over-year and it’s revenue by about 30% year-over-year for the last four years, this is very notable.

And yes, the event was very well done. For more insight into the event, SI is directing you to the doctor’s pieces over on Spend Matters which talk about some of the key insights brought forward.

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.