Category Archives: Sourcing Innovation

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.

Sourcing Talent Is Rare, Especially Since They Also Have to Manage Risk

Yesterday we told you that Sourcing, like the many facets of Supply Management, is not as easy as it seems as the skills required to go from RFI to award are numerous and compose up a laundry list that is rare to find even in most sourcing teams, yet alone individuals, including:

  • (Cost) Analysis / Market Analysis
  • Logistics
  • Needs Identification
  • Negotiation
  • Project Management
  • Resource Management
  • Supplier Identification
  • Trend Identification
  • … and …
  • Risk Management

The last of which we left off of yesterday’s list because this is a list in itself. You see, in today’s Sourcing landscape, turbulence is not just what you experience in an airplane on your way to a site visit – it’s what you experience trying to manage your supply chains on a daily basis. Just like fluid flows can become highly irregular with the slightest perturbation, so can the flow of goods in today’s ultra-outsourced ulta-global supply chains.

Turbulence is a hidden risk in every supply chain, and one most organizations are never prepared for because, when a risk assessment is done, it is always focussed on easy-to-identify technological, economic, market, financial, organization, environmental and social risks — not random events that can temporarily interrupt your supply chain and cause temporary disruptions with serious financial or brand consequences. Temporary disruptions which, if regular in nature, can put your organization in real jeopardy and temporary disruptions, which, by their very nature cannot be planned for or even identified in an up-front risk assessment.

For example, when buying product components from China, an experienced risk team is going to identify:

  • Supplier Risk
    Are they financially stable? Will they adequately protect your IP? etc.
  • Factory Risk
    Is the quality acceptable? Are there workplace or safety hazards that could shut it down?
  • Port Risk
    Will the product be safe? Is there any danger of strike or overcapacity? On both sides …
  • Export and Import Risk
    Are all regulations adhered to? RoHS? WEEE? Has all the paperwork been completed and submitted on time?
  • Technology Risk
    Is the real-time product tracking and distribution system reliable? Backed Up? Integrated properly with all parties?
  • Environmental
    Is the product being made or stored in areas subject to regular natural disasters such as hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, etc.?
  • Social Responsibility
    Is the product conflict / slave labour free? Are all employees of all partners treated equitably? Is the product, and its production, environmentally friendly or at least environmentally safe? Can the product be safely disposed of?
  • Market
    Will the market still want your product when it is available? Is a competitor going to beat you to the market?
  • Economic
    Will the economy maintain or improve? Or will it worsen, leading to reduced demand across the board? What is the job forecast looking like in target markets – job loss in those areas can weaken consumer demand.

and a few dozen other common risks from the risk identification and management playbook.

But it’s not going to identify one-time random events such as:

  • Unlikely Terrorist Attack by a random civilian who goes postal and, when trying to go postal, thanks to a gas leak, accidentally blows up a building due near the docks and causes the port to become unaccessible for 3 days
  • Delayed Delivery due to Paperwork Mix-Up
    One truck is scheduled for delivery of your product to your distribution warehouse, another for mid-term storage at a competitors warehouse on the other side of the continent. And because the small carrier you’re using doesn’t have real-time inventory tracking, and your product is scheduled for JIT delivery, the mix-up isn’t detected until the expected delivery date when your product is half-way across the country.
  • False Stock-Out due to Inventory Mis-Key
    The clerk enters 8,000 units instead of 80,000 into the system, stores exactly 8,000 in the proper location in the ware-house, and puts the other 72,000 units of your hottest selling product at the back of the warehouse reserved for discontinued inventory.

Each of these events can happen, and each can cause a real, unexpected, and unpredictable turbulent impact to your supply chain. Are you ready for it? Can you sourcing team react and adapt when it does?

Can You Even Identify Savings to Realize?

A few week ago we sort of put the cart before the horse when we noted that Realizing Those Savings is No Easy Feat because many organizations will undertake sourcing events, cut contracts, but then fail to realize 30% to 40% or more of the expected savings (and this has been the case since AMR’s classic studies on savings realization over a decade ago, well before they were bought and absorbed by Gartner).

So even though it’s sort of putting the cart before the horse to put an infrastructure in place to capture savings, without such an infrastructure, identified savings won’t realize. So it’s really not a bad idea to start with Procurement platforms that capture savings, because you need them.

However, today we’re going to assume you have such an infrastructure in place, and ask the question, even if you do, can you identify real savings? It’s a lot harder than you think. It’s not the lowest cost. Or the lowest landed cost. It’s the lowest total cost of ownership … over the product lifetime, which could be for years if you offer a warranty. Because not only is their warranty costs, there are return logistics costs as well!

But it’s not easy to capture all of the relevant costs in an RFI, nor is it easy to build the models that can accurately model total lifetime cost of ownership in Excel. That’s why the doctor has been promoting optimization-backed sourcing platforms for years — only those platforms can accurately compute lifetime costs and allow for the right fact-based negotiations and award decisions.

But it’s not just cost that needs to be considered, it’s value and service levels. You need customers to want your products, and you need delivery times you can depend on. But value and service guarantees cost money, and in inflationary markets, that means costs just go up and up.

If market prices are increasing, and you need to improve service levels and add more value-based features to appease customers, can you even identify savings?

The answer is, without the right platforms that allow you to look at your costs holistically and find ways to minimize them beyond just a price-based bid, is that you can’t … at least not after the first time you’ve “strategically sourced” a product. Additional savings will come from better category definition and alignment, smarter network design, better inventory management and aligned inventory levels, and up-sell opportunities from more appropriate, sustainable, sourcing selections.

And that will require the right upstream technology that will include the following:

  • supplier discovery to identify the right suppliers
  • optimization backed sourcing to make the right value-based decisions
  • supplier management to make sure the relationship and performance can be managed
  • risk management to identify, monitor, and mitigate potential disruption risks
  • analytics to analyze past, current, and ongoing price and KPI performance
  • CLM to manage the contract, obligations, and identify the time for renewal, renegotiation, or termination

And that’s why you see a proliferation towards Strategic Procurement Technology Suites and why the doctor has teamed up with Spend Matters to analyze them. Platforms are becoming key to identifying real, sustainable, savings — but only if they are the right ones for the customer base they are installed in.