Category Archives: Technology

No Solution is Completely Foolproof

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
Douglas Adams

Source-to-Pay solutions are getting easier by the day and soon they will be so easy that some vendors will be claiming their solutions are so simple that even a fool can use it error-free. But that’s really not the case. No solution is foolproof. Never will be.

Why? First of all, it’s impossible to predict every action a person could take. So, no matter how many situations you plan and check for, if there is even one you missed, and if the application is complex enough there will be at least one, no matter how unlikely that situation is (or how nonsensical it is), there will be at least one user who finds it and either crashes the application or generates a scenario that is nonsensical.

The alternative is to lock the application down to an enumerable finite set of inputs in each state and limit the allowable actions to those that will allow a smooth, predictable, transition to the next state without fail. But if the vendor chooses this route, the result will be a very limited application with very limited possibilities. And given that the real world is not limited to a small set of situations with always predictable solutions, this is not a very useful solution.

Secondly, never underestimate the application stupidity of a potential user. First of all, the user could be a new transfer from another department with no training and a very shallow understanding of Procurement. What a vendor would assume to be obvious to an average Procurement user would not be obvious to a new transfer. Secondly, not all users are Procurement users. For example, shop floor users might have access to initiate requisitions. And these workers might have limited computer knowledge. And then there’s management. And consultants.

Thirdly, the more a vendor tries to make a solution foolproof, the more they end up throwing in way too much unnecessary code. The more unnecessary code that is put into an application, the more errors that creep in. Errors multiply with code. Always. Doesn’t matter if the code compiles. Doesn’t matter if the code passes the boundary tests. All that matters is that there is more code with more paths and more state transitions to track, to the point where eventually there are too many paths to track and test and something breaks when a user goes down the wrong path.

The moral of the story? Don’t fall for any vendor who says their application is foolproof. And don’t look for a foolproof application, because it’s not about how easy the application is, it’s about how much value the application can generate. The best applications, while easy and logical for most of the functionality, will not be foolproof. Nowhere close. So, value first. Because, at the end of the day, the only user a foolproof solution is for is a fool.

What Makes a Good UX? Part II “Smart Systems”

A couple of months ago, after we sang Bye, Bye to Monochrome UIs, we indicated that we were beginning a series that chronicles what makes a good UI, and more importantly, a good UX (User Experience) in a modern Sourcing or Procurement system. This is critical because systems that are not useable do not get widely adopted, and systems not widely adopted never deliver the promised value.

In our first post on What Makes a Good UI where we noted that the full series was being published over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required] as it is the result of a deep long-term multi-blogger collaboration (led by the doctor and the prophet) designed to identify what should be (and not what ay given vendor will try to promote based on what they have), and sponsored by Spend Matters, we outlined some of the fundamental requirements of a UI / UX for any Supply Management application which include, but are not limited to:

  • integrated, pervasive, guidance
  • … that is based on true expertise and historical use
  • “touch-less” automation wherever possible
  • extremely context aware
  • mobile support and mobile first in the field
  • messaging as a competitive advantage

(And if you want deep coverage on these topics, see the first instalment of our full series on Measuring the Procurement Technology User Experience: More Than Just a Pretty Screen over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required].)

But, as we stated, these were just the absolute base-line requirements. In Parts II and III of our full series, we outline the next set of core functionality that should be pervasive across any Supply Management platform that you acquire. And in future articles, we dive into e-Negotiation, e-Auctions, Optimization, Spend Analytics, SXM, CLM, Requisitioning and Shopping, Procurement and Catalog Management, and Invoicing … just to start. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

One of the core requirements we reveal, and dive deep into, in Part II in our article on Smart Systems and Messaging, Chat, and Collaboration is smart systems.

As per our article, smart systems drive integrated guidance leveraging new “AI” techniques -— better termed automated reasoning (AR), as software isn’t truly intelligent —- that adapt and learn over time. They do this by mixing semantic technology, sentiment analysis, key-phrase driven expert systems and other machine learning techniques with history to determine what the user is doing and what the user wants to do.

For example, a smart system in sourcing will detect if there has been a full event/process before run by a user or similar peers in an organization, and allow the user to instantiate a new instance (by copying the template or previous event). Or, in the case of one-time requisition in which competition could benefit the outcome, a smart system can detect an automated spot-buy event that can be run against prequalified suppliers hands off, which the system suggestions.

And that’s just the beginning of what a smart system could, and should, do for you. For deep insights into not only where the bar is today (as leading providers start to release first versions of these guided systems), but where the bar will be by 2020, check out our post, which also dives deep into the Messaging, Chat, and Collaboration functionality [MCC] that a modern system should support. [Hint, more than just integrated e-mail or first generation chat!]

And stay tuned for the next part, coming later this week, on the final set of core requirements that we feel a modern Supply Management System cannot be without!

P.S. If you are a vendor invited to the Sourcing, SRM, CLM, or Spend Analysis Solution Map, this is a series you do NOT want to miss!

Platform? Bah Humbug!

Earlier this week, the medic pointed out that Jaggaer is taking the contrarian approach and almost scoffing at the idea of an integrated, unified, code base and instead pointing out that its customers want problem fixes and business solutions, and integration isn’t a concern.

And to an extent, they have a point. Not everything has to be on one cohesive code-base with one cohesive UI if some parts of the solution are only used by a few individuals or designed for a different department or the usage is disparate from the rest of the platform and/or rare. For example, you’re not typically doing opportunity spend analysis in the middle of a sourcing project (although you may want to do pricing trend and outlier analysis on submitted bids after initial RFP responses before starting an optimization). And the people doing day to day tactical buying are not doing serious advanced direct sourcing projects and so on.

That being said, if you are a sourcing pro, you are likely building direct material RFPs, analyzing responses, running optimization events, negotiating contracts, accessing and updating supplier information, managing supplier relationships, and tracking milestones. The last thing you are going to want to do is log in and out of 5 different systems on a daily basis (Spend Analysis, RFX, Optimization, SXM, CLM) — especially if they all have different UIs and UX.

Sometimes you need integration and consistency, and sometimes you don’t. But one time you really need it is when your users are not very technical and have a lot of work to do, especially of the tactical variety. Coupa would never have gotten where it is if each function was a different module with a different UI. It’s design to make end-to-end work easy for its average user is how it won. And if it can do that with sourcing (and find a way to integrate its recent acquisitions and extend them with the few pieces of missing functionality) and give sourcing pros the same experience, it will win there too. However, this is one place where Jaggaer, with a lot more experience in strategic sourcing and sourcing support, could pull ahead. If Jaggaer could seamlessly integrate Spend Radar, CombineNet, AECSoft, Upside Software and Pool4Tool into one coherent platform it would have 3 capabilities that the Spend 360 / Trade Extensions union lacks: advanced Contract Management, Advanced Supplier Performance Management, and, most importantly, advanced BoM management from the RFX down to the VMI. On paper, its one of the most impressive suite of capabilities on the market for manufacturing, pharmaceutical, aerospace, electronics, and other direct-heavy industries, but, in the end, it will be the usability that decides the ultimate winner.

How does the doctor evaluate a Sourcing Suite?

In our last post, we asked how do you evaluate a sourcing suite and pretty much said that you start with the Spend Matters Solution Map RFI whose creation is currently being led by the doctor in his role as Consulting Analyst for Advanced Supply Management Technologies. Which leaves the question, how does the doctor evaluate a Sourcing Suite?

The short answer is extensively and rigorously. The forthcoming solution map for Sourcing will evaluate vendors across the following categories of functionality:

  • Opportunity Identification and Management
  • Project Definition and Management
  • Supplier Portal Functionality
  • Spend Analysis
  • e-Negotiation: RFX and e-Auction
  • Optimization
  • Contract Management and Analytics
  • Execution Management across Performance, Risk, and Compliance
  • Core Technology Platform, Stack, and Delivery Methodology
  • Configurability and UX

In addition, vendors are also evaluated on:

  • company stability and growth capability
  • service capability
  • customer references [which will degrade in value 10% a quarter unless refreshed by the customer]

And the goal will be to flush out the true platform (and vendor) strengths and capabilities for you as a buyer to help you figure out what vendors should be on your shortlist when the time comes to acquire new, or upgraded, Sourcing functionality.

So, in short, the doctor evaluates sourcing suites against the full breadth of functionality required to maximize your value as a strategic buyer. No solution areas should be left unexplored in a good evaluation.

How Do You Evaluate a Sourcing Suite?

Good question, and one that both customers and vendors are going to have to answer very, very soon. As per our post on What Makes a Sourcing Suite, a decade ago, it was pretty simple. If you had decent e-Negotiation support with some document management and reporting, you could claim a Sourcing suite. It might have been a bit of a stretch, but that was the accepted baseline. If you had contract management and some basic spend analysis, then you were best-of-breed. If you had basic project management or category guidance, you were awesome. And if you had optimization, you were a true market leader and way ahead of the pack (as even the majority of The Famed Hackett 8% weren’t there yet).

But that was then, and this is now. These days, if you are a vendor and you don’t have basic Source-to-Contract [S2C], which consists of decent spend analysis, extensive e-Negotiation (customizable RFX and e-Auction), and Contract Management, jacked up with Supplier Information Management, you’re not even a contender (and shouldn’t even get in the ring). Plus, given that many providers offer some project/workflow management, expert driven category guidance, bill of materials support for direct sourcing, [deep] contract analytics [which is not the same as contract management], deep SRM (Supplier Relationship Management, which goes far beyond 1st generation SIM and 2nd generation SPM), Contract/Award Performance Management, Compliance Management, Risk Evaluation and Management, and even true Optimization (as well as other non-core S2C related offerings that they expect to bring them market share), you need more than just a core to compete.

So how do you, as a customer, evaluate an offering? The answer is, on each and every product component that should be there, across every core and supplementary feature that is required and/or adds value. And yes, that’s a lot. But fortunately for you, Spend Matters and Sourcing Innovation have teamed up to help you. As you may know, with the departure of the anarchist (who has since ended up at Coupa as Thought Leader), the doctor took over Sourcing and Supplier Management as Consulting Analyst. But now that the medic is on-board and handling standard sourcing and supplier management as well as business / market analysis, the doctor is now Consulting Analyst for Advanced Supply Management Technologies, including Advanced Sourcing, and putting his PhD (in computer science) and technical chops to good use (putting vendors through the wringer on a regular basis — and, to this end, has co-authored 45 deep dive vendor reviews over the past year, which, if you’re counting, puts most analysts at the big boy firms to shame).

As part of this new Consulting Analyst role, the doctor will be leading the Solution Map efforts for Sourcing and Spend Analysis and co-leading the Solution Map efforts for Supplier Management (with the prophet) and Contract Management and Analytics (with the maverick), as these collectively cover advanced sourcing, advanced analytics of a traditional kind, advanced metrics and process management, and advanced analytics of a semantic kind. Sourcing Innovation and Spend Matters are in the process of finalizing the RFIs now, which will go out over the next week to leading vendors in these categories, and in July you’ll see multi-persona analyses of all the major vendors.

As with the Procurement Solution Maps, the core of the RFIs and the evaluation criteria will be made fully public, as well as the high-level analysis of each vendor across all relevant categories and functions for each of the covered areas. And you will have a robust, completely vendor independent, baseline to evaluate perspective vendors for inclusion in your technology RFIs going forward. And unlike the vendor created RFI templates that used to proliferate and give certain vendors an unfair advantage (as those vendors would always score high on their own feature-rich templates, whether or not the majority of the market needed those features), no vendor is going to have an edge here. First of all, no vendor does everything. Secondly, any vendor that rates themselves higher than a 3 (on a 5-point scale) on any function is gonna have some serious ‘splaining to do as a vendor can only truly innovate in a few areas (and deserve a 4), and there is only one best-in-class vendor against any function, and, thus, only one best-in-class vendor that can actually win business on that function alone (and deserve a 5). Since the doctor is known for being [the] ruthless [honey badger* of the space], these RFIs have been designed so that an average best-in-class vendor will score a 3 [rounded up]. The idea is to fairly evaluate each vendor and push the market forward. And while a slight majority of vendors will likely have been Spend Matters customers over the past year, the number of vendors that have had a relationship with SI over the past year will be around the 10% mark if all of the invited vendors participate, so there should be no doubt in your mind that these will be objective and independent weightings that you should be able to trust and use as a foundation for your evaluations.

So please encourage your potential vendors to participate when they get the RFIs and maybe even go so far as to tell them that you expect them to participate if they want to be considered in further technology buys from you. Because if they truly are a BoB solution, or approaching a BoB solution, if they vendor is not included in the first round, they will definitely be included in the second round.

*Youtube it. (Best video NSFW.)