Category Archives: Supplier Management

To Get the Best Supply Base, Go Beyond the Obvious!

the doctor recently came across an article that said that during the sourcing process, there are many qualitative attributes that procurement teams should take into consideration and that sourcing is about the lowest price, but identifying the greatest value for your sourcing dollars and that one should incorporate multi-factor award criteria into an automated sourcing process. All true. It also provided some examples of the most frequently used qualitative factors, which include:

  • Supplier Market Share
  • Supplier Performance
  • Production & Delivery Capabilities

And these are okay, but they don’t tell the whole story. Plus, sometimes the story they tell is not the right one. For example:

  • with respect to supplier market share, you only care that the market share is big enough to make the supplier financially viable … sometimes the emerging suppliers have the best technologies for you
  • with respect to supplier performance, if you haven’t used the supplier before, and the only data you have is negative data from customers that have gone public, you don’t know if this is the typical experience or an anomaly (like 1 out of 100) and sometimes even how recent the data is
  • with respect to production and delivery capabilities, there’s always a third party partner for delivery

That’s why you need to round out the supplier evaluation components, going beyond the typical, and obvious, evaluation factors, if you want to find the best suppliers for now and the future. Some other factors to consider are:

  • Innovation Capability do they have a track record for innovation and helping customers improve their designs, robustness, product longevity, etc.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility the best supplier from a product perspective could be the worst supplier from a corporate perspective if that supplier uses child labour in the supply chain or buys blood diamonds for their x-ray machines and the story breaks
  • Environmental Risk Profile that examines the supplier from a geo-location, social and political, and economic context which are out of the control of the supplier (whose financial, technological, performance, etc. risk you will be qualifying separately)

And these are valid for all suppliers. When you get into specific categories, you might also want to consider:

  • Services Capability can they support the product, offer consulting services around the product, or streamline the production process beyond other suppliers
  • Six Sigma Black Belt can the supplier help you with your design process or streamline your new product development
  • Supplier’s Supply Chain Design
    is their supply chain more efficient than their peers?

So if you want the best supplier, go beyond the obvious in evaluation.

The More Things Change … Supplier Intelligence

This week we’re revisiting posts from ten years ago to demonstrate that, to date, the more things change in Procurement, the more they have, unfortunately, stayed essentially the same.

Ten years ago we published a post on what you can’t afford not to know about your suppliers that summarized some key insights from Jim Lawton (who was VP of Marketing at Open Ratings until its acquisition by D&B, where he became SVP and General Manager of Supply Management Solutions).

Jim, who noted that global supplier insight can become as indispensable to sourcing and supply management as a stage is to an actor, also noted that in order to acquire this insight, an organization has to focus on:

  • supplier performance and quality management,
  • supply risk management, and
  • supplier content and connectivity

And nothing has changed. Any organization that wants to understand total landed cost from global markets and with predictability still needs these capabilities today. Considering that the the final cost of any purchased product is ultimately dependent on the supplier and its ability to delivery a product to spec on time and on budget with minimal defects, supplier performance management is as critical today as it was a decade ago.

Similarly, considering that a single disruption can wipe out the entire identified and negotiated savings on a category (as the result of a six week disruption), supply risk management still takes center stage. (This goes double when the chance of an organization not experience a disruption is 15% or less for any 12 month period.)

Finally, without an understanding of supplier policies, practices, and the providers your suppliers employ, you’ll never know whether or not they are adhering to your corporate social responsibility standards, whether or not they are implementing six sigma and other best practices to ensure quality and keep defects down, and whether or not they are buying from, or subcontracting component development to, third parties that don’t adhere to your quality, responsibility, or ethical standards.

Supplier Intelligence is as important now as it was then, and, most importantly, many organizations don’t have the depth of intelligence they should have, as evidenced on the relative lack of uptake of modern Supplier Relationship Management solutions.

Do You Have Too Many Suppliers?

Maybe. But maybe you should also be asking Do You Have Too Few? Many organizations assume that just because they have 20K, 30K, 50K, or even 100K suppliers that they have too many. And while that’s probably the case, the question is much more complicated that. First of all, just because a supplier is in your system, that does not mean that the supplier is still being used. Secondly, if you have 100 locations and always use local providers for janitorial, security, (bike) messenger, floral, etc. then you could have 1,000 providers for small services that cannot be consolidated due to business rules or just lack of suppliers. As a result, sheer number of suppliers alone does not mean there is a problem — at least not a serious one.

Secondly, for some categories you want multiple suppliers. If the product is critical, if one supplier cannot (always) meet all the needs, if even minor disruptions in supply could be costly, and so on, you need multiple suppliers. Sometimes more than the minimum number. Risk Management might believe two suppliers is enough, but if one goes out of business, how long will it take to find a second, and start receiving viable products and services. If you have a third supplier, even providing minimal amounts of the products or services, it’s a lot easier to shift demand to that supplier in an emergency. So sometimes extra suppliers are good.

Plus, the ultimate goal of (category) sourcing is to receive the best value — typically defined as the lowest cost award that meets the organizational need. Sometimes the best value will come from assigning all of the award to a single supplier, other times it will require splitting the award between six suppliers — depending on product costs, shipping costs, import/export tariffs, and so on. So, supplier count alone is not a good metric.

As you can see, if you want a truly optimized award across a category, sometimes the organization will have too few suppliers. The right number of suppliers is the number that the organization ends up with after every category is optimally allocated across both the strategic spend and the tail spend. While it will usually be less than the number of (active) suppliers in the supplier database (as most organizations that do not do sourcing across all categories will end up buying from more suppliers then they need to), it won’t always be significantly less. You can’t always cut your supply base in half just because you think you have twice as many suppliers as you need. You properly source each category, and when all is said and done, the suppliers you have selected represent the proper pool size. Any remaining suppliers that aren’t absolutely essential for a non-sourced product or service get cut and then you have a properly sized supply base as it was properly designed. 10K vs 20K vs 50K is irrelevant. Only so much value comes from consolidation alone. Remember that.

And that’s why, in his response to Sydney’s questions on What’s the Cost of Having a Long Supply Tail, and How Do You Determine the ‘Right’ Supply Base, the doctor noted that the size of the supply base is totally irrelevant. The right size is the size that gives you the most value for every category you source. That will vary by company and there is no fixed size, or even formula, to compute it.

And, as the doctor noted on Twitter, your only concern should not be how long the tail is, but how many rats are in the supply chain. Those are the only parties you should be in a rush to stomp out.

Strategic Sourcing Requires Strategic Suppliers Selected Through Strategic Sourcing Events

And this will generally mean you have to deal with a lot of pushback from those individuals in the company that don’t want to deal with anyone but their preferred supplier (which can be due to bias, laziness, or, in some cases, legal bribes). There will be a lot of reasons given, of various levels of validity, but you will need to bust through them all. To help, here are the standard categories of push-back and how you tackle them.

Our Process is Approved Suppliers Only

This is usually the first response because the individual knows the new supplier approval process is typically an onerous one and not one anyone typically wants to deal with and, thus, has a great chance of working (on anyone except a dedicated buyer). However, a response of “we know, that’s why we’re going to do a multi-round qualification RFI first and we simply need your input on the core requirements so we can get the right suppliers approved” will typically do the trick with this one. Of course, the stakeholder who wants the same (set of) supplier(s) will just move onto the next excuse, but you need to take ’em one by one.

The Supplier Couldn’t Meet our Requirements Last Time

If the supplier was invited, or even considered before, and the conclusion was the price was too high, the product unsuitable, or the overall capability to meet total organizational demand insufficient, the stakeholder might like to use past performance to simply deny the supplier again, even if it’s been two or three years and the supplier might have improved (due to a lean effort they mentioned they were starting last time, new equipment and processes, or other factors). Plus, this doesn’t consider the fact that the supplier (if there were cultural/language barriers) might not have appropriately understood the requirements and put the wrong foot forward.

The answer here is “we understand, but the supplier has been doing X plus we are going to force them to go through the pre-qualification RFI that all new suppliers are going through to make sure they are actually capable of performing better this time before inviting a bid from them“. This will elicit a “grumble, grumble”, but you will be able to press on.

The Cultural / Language Barriers are Too High

Cultural and language barriers are often high, especially if you are going to new countries, but if both parties want to succeed and are willing to work together to succeed, they are not insurmountable, as long as both sides make the effort. You can’t just through a spec in English over the wall and say “you translate and give us your best effort on your own” and expect great results. You need to engage one or more product/service experts who are bilingual (or even trilingual) in the native language(s) (and who has some cultural understanding) for each geography you want to do business in.

This effort will go a long way into getting new suppliers in different geographies who speak different languages to put their best foot forward. The best suppliers will appreciate and reciprocate your efforts and put their best effort into their proposals and might even surprise you. The answer here is “we know, and that’s why we’ve engaged these individuals to be our interpreters and relationship managers — it might not work, but if it does, it could open us up to a whole new array of cost-control and innovation capabilities“.

We Don’t Have the Bandwidth

Once you get through the knee-jerk responses above, a belligerent stakeholder who really wants that preferred supplier will resort to rationalizing that there just isn’t the time to evaluate too many suppliers or re-create all the requirements in a supplier-neutral fashion. This will be hard to dismiss, as chances are the stakeholder doesn’t have the bandwidth and you will need some input from that stakeholder. This is where your negotiation and reasoning skills will be put to the test.

You will need to start by indicating we know you don’t, that’s why we in Procurement are taking on the majority of the workload — all we need is your input and expertise and review before each key document goes out. We realize that there might be some extra work for you, but if this works, we will help you identify new sources of supply (which will increase stability in the event of a disruption or customer demand surge), potentially new sources of innovation, and keep your costs — and your budget, under control. And if it ends up that the best choice is the current supplier, at what appears to be higher than market average costs, you will be able to say in confidence that you made the right choice with all of our efforts to back you up next time the C-Suite decides someone budget needs to be cut. You’ll have hard data while your counterparts, who chose not to work with us, won’t. And since the CFO says all arguments must be data driven … .

In other words, while you might feel the urge to thump out the stupidity, if you take a rational approach, use your negotiating skills, and demonstrate that you are going to take on as much of the extra work as you can, with time, you will be able to convince most of the stakeholders that your way is the right way. (And we say most because if the incumbent supplier is paying for the stakeholders yearly Hawaiian vacation in exchange for a single “talk” at their user event, well, there’s no way you can counter that as it’s completely unethical to source for the best favours. But, fortunately, this will be a very small majority of stakeholders.)

To Truly Be Successful at Supplier Risk Management, ADMIRE!

Now that we’ve carefully explained that you’re just not up to the task of preventing a black swan event, hopefully you have made risk management a priority. So, to help you understand, at a high level, what this is, we’re reprinting this classic post from 2010. Most of the articles out there get the basics wrong, but if you get them right, it’s not that hard to do a decent job (especially if you get a good platform to help you out). Enjoy!

Not only is supplier risk at the forefront of thought these days, but articles on it are at the forefront of online publications as well, including this recent article in Supply Chain Digest on the key drivers of successful supplier risk management. However, most of the articles miss the point.

For example, according to this article, the trick to successful supplier risk management is to:

  1. engage top-level management,
  2. segment suppliers based on relative risk,
  3. rigorously measure and manage risk,
  4. give category managers tools and training, and
  5. collaborate with key suppliers.

Which is all good advice that is fine and dandy, but it misses the point. Risk management is all about identify risks, identifying mitigations, monitoring risks, and executing mitigations at the appropriate time. Management support is important, but it doesn’t have anything to do with risk identification or mitigation. Segmentation is a good tactic as more attention needs to be placed on suppliers which represent more significant risks, but again it has nothing to do with risk identification or mitigation. The same goes for giving category managers tools and training. Collaboration is relevant only if the mitigation requires collaboration. In other words, in this list, the only key driver is the “rigorous management and mitigation of risk”.

The reality is that success depends on your ability to ADMIRE the situation. Specifically, the ability to:

  • Ascertain the risks,
  • Define the risks that could cause significant damage,
  • Monitor those risks,
  • Identify appropriate mitigations,
  • React when signs of the risk begin to materialize, and
  • Engage the supplier when collaboration is required to mitigate the risks and
  • rinse and repeat

That’s it. But don’t forget the rinse and repeat. The biggest risks today are not the biggest risks tomorrow, so you always have to be actively engaged in risk management. Always. And since there are always more risks than you can actively address and mitigate, at any particular time you need to focus on the major ones (but still monitor for, and evaluate, the rest and as soon as they become likely or potentially costly, elevate the priority so that a mitigation plan is prepared in time).

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