Vendors They Are Complainin’

come gather ’round vendors
wherever you roam
and admit that the methods
around you have grown
and accept it as truth
tech reviews set the tone
if your time to you
is worth savin’
then you better accept it
or you’ll sink like a stone
for the time’s they are a-changin’

come purchasers, sourcerors
rally the call
don’t stand in the doorway
don’t block up the hall
subjectivity
it will cause you to stall
there’s a battle outside
and it’s ragin’
it’ll shake up you platforms
and rattle your apps
for the times they are a-changin’

come buyers and sellers
throughout the land
don’t let vendors fault
what you can understand
as market assessments
are beyond our command
the old ways are
rapidly agin’
push those out of the new one
if they can’t lend their hand
for the times they are a-changin’

In case you haven’t figured it out, SolutionMaps launched last month to the delight of practitioners who can get a 100% unbiased tech. vs customer view, and the disdain of a handful of vendors who (complain for weeks because they) think we should take more subjective factors such as long-term roadmap, innovation, market size, customer size and complexity, product strategy, market strategy, etc. etc. etc. into account (so our maps will look more like the other tragic quadrant and grave reports).

While we all readily and wholeheartedly agree that these are all extremely important factors in your vendor selection, none of these are relevant in platform due diligence, which is the first thing you need to do before considering a vendor for your shortlist. (If the platform can’t do what you need it to do, it doesn’t matter how great the vendor’s organization is.) Since this is the hardest thing for a relatively non-technical Procurement (or Finance) person to do, this is what, and only what, we focus on — verifying that the foundations of the platform are solid and that key requirements for the module / suite functionality we evaluate are there. If a vendor platform gets a good analyst score, you can be sure it’s solid. If a vendor gets a good customer score, you can be sure the vendor has a history of delivering on what they promise and/or providing great service. If a vendor gets good analyst and customer scores, then, for their target market, they are a great fit.

However, as we make clear in this white paper on How to Use SolutionMaps, just because a vendor is great for their current customers in their target market, that doesn’t mean they’re great for you. If their target market is mid-size companies and you are a F500, or vice versa, then they might not be a good fit for you. That’s where you have to do your market research and focus your pre-qualification RFIs — on the business, market, services/support, and other non-tech factors that are relevant to you. With SolutionMaps you know that if a vendor does well, you don’t have to ask 500 feature/function questions in the pre-qualification RFI, only general questions about the vendor’s confidence and capability to support the key processes you are looking to digitize and automate.

Our goal in creating SolutionMaps (and the doctor led the creation of the majority of the common platform elements; the sourcing, supplier management, and analytics maps; and the first iteration of the CLM map, that has only changed about 30% since) was to flip the traditional technology platform RFI process in Procurement on its end as we saw too many companies focussing too much on tech (usually starting from free meaningless feature/function RFIs), which they didn’t know, and not enough on their business needs, which only they know. With SolutionMaps, they have confidence in the technical capability of the vendors, and can focus on everything else that’s important to their organization (and not the subjective whims of an analyst who has to rate a large number of relatively non quantifiable factors. Since all of the elements we evaluate have a pre-defined technical scoring scale, all analysts evaluate the technical capabilities equally and the maps are computed using pre-defined mathematical formulas with no analyst input whatsoever once the scoring is done).

In other words, the maps were designed to help you as practitioners identify a group of vendors to send a pre-qualification RFI to, not for vendors to use as marketing tools (but they certainly can, as it’s undisputable proof they have a great platform if they show up).

So, as you can imagine, after every release,

The Vendors They Are Complainin’

Remember the 80’s? You should!

And no, I’m not talking about That ’80s Show that was an abysmal failure (as they tried to follow the magic of That ’70s Show too soon with a cast that had no chemistry on set’s that had no style with laugh tracks recorded by people who were clearly trying not to cry), I’m talking about the decade. A decade you should have learned from, not forgotten.

And I’m not talking about the extreme fashions (such as the iconic big hair, the ripped jeans, the leather, the leather, the leather, etc.) the birth of the yuppies, the dominance of a republican regime that was, well, not run by corrupt or inept leadership, breakdancing, the rise of rap (even if it did tell us to fight the power with funky cold medinas), the great nuclear meltdown , or the fall of the Berlin Wall (although that should not be forgotten).

And while relevant, nor am I referring to the end of the Cold War (which indirectly led to more trade and globalism), the mass famine in Ethiopia (which gave us our first mass collaborations between musicians in the modern age), the rise of the personal computer (though very relevant to the world we live in today), the first mobile phones (which have now morphed into mobile computers that do everything, but, apparently make calls in the hands of a millennial), the rise of dungeons and dragons (which would have prepared you well for the endless entrapment in the dungeons we have created for ourselves), or ALF, even though he would make a much better world leader than many countries currently have (who insist on electing celebrities and populists instead of economists and politicians who actually have some idea how to run a country).

No, I’m asking you to remember Mexico, the country the current President of the United States wants to wall up, and the significant contribution they made to the North American economy. More specifically, the contributions Mexico made to the North American economy in particular. As per this graph below, which can be found on Trading Economics, you can see that from about 1982 to 1990, Mexico had a balance of trade consistently in its favour.

Why is this important? It’s important for the same reason that, during the same period, the balance of trade for China was significantly not in China’s favour, as per the graph below also from Trading Economics.

And that reason is …

Something you’d be well aware of if you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning and actually listened to the warnings the doctor gave you last decade about improperly designed supply chains. And that we’ll remind you of in our next post on the subject.

Surviving the coronavirus crisis for physical small businesses: Take a lesson from creators! (Part 2)

As we made clear in Part 1, two general categories of business have been hit hard by the coronavirus shutdown: services and non-essential products. Your business is likely already online to some degree — but now’s the time to go all in on e-commerce, or at least all in on social media, and reach your customers via virtual means in the electronic showroom. For physical shops that sell goods, we addressed in detail ways that you can boost sales by going online in Part 1.

But that leaves services, which is a much tougher category as some businesses, regrettably, won’t survive, and others will only scrape by with massive layoffs in the interim, and then only if they can still partially operate. However, this doesn’t mean that the owners or disenfranchised workers can’t either find alternate means of employment/self-employment or set themselves up to bounce back in the future. (We’ll address what the disenfranchised can do in Part 3.)

The services category of business includes, among other categories:

  • Restaurants (which in some jurisdictions are permitted to stay open just for take-out service)
  • Non-essential healthcare (cosmetic procedures, nutritionists, etc.)
  • Personal services (child care, barbershops and hair salons, gyms, tattoo parlors, etc.)
  • Bars and coffee shops
  • Entertainment venues & galleries
  • Recreational facilities

And while everything looks bleak, some of these business still have hope (as do some of the staff displaced if they take a different view on their abilities and career).

What hope? What can they do? For the answers, read the doctor‘s full article over on Spend Matters to find out!

CoronaVirus Response: Dear Procurement, AI won’t save you!

In the last few years, a number of vendors have been pushing artificial intelligence. Some vendors have even been pushing AI-based suites as the future of sourcing and procurement. And for a time they had a great argument. There are too many low-value, straight-forward, simple and/or tail-spend categories that are not getting appropriately sourced in an average organization that doesn’t have enough people power or hours in a day to properly address all organizational spend in a strategic manner and identify the range of savings and opportunities available to the organization. So why not let technology take over some of this spend, especially where it can’t do any worse than what is being done now?

After all, while there is no true AI, and we won’t have anything close for at least a decade, given the computational power of modern machines, intelligently coded and applied software with advanced analytics, machine learning, and evolving model paradigms can do quite a lot for us, and with respect to some specific tasks where intensive amounts of calculation are required, computer can do it better. Where some insight and intelligence is required, computers can still use advanced analysis and probabilities to get it 95% right 95% of the time and if the right outlier rules are coded, kick it out to a human when it’s likely the computer will get it wrong.

So, given the coronavirus-related chaos going on now, and your inability to deal with the majority of day-to-day tactical tasks and regular category sourcing as you have to constantly deal with new sources of supply interruptions, new challenges of working remote, and, in most industries, declining demands or revenues for the foreseeable, you’re probably thinking now would be the perfect time to invest in AI technologies to get a few workload monkeys off your back as you’re overwhelmed. Something that can take low-value, non-strategic, or commodity category management off your plate sounds like a dream come true.

However, now that you need it the most, I’m sorry to say that now is not the time to try AI. Moreover, adopting AI now would simply result in more catastrophic failures across the organization.

Why? How? Read the doctor‘s unlocked PRO on how AI won’t save you, but rules-based automation might! over on Spend Matters. There’s no miracle cure* for the damage caused by COVID-19, and now would be the worst time to try and adopt what would simply amount to silicon snake oil in these tumultuous times.

* But there was ample opportunity for prevention, and had you listened to the doctor a decade ago when he gave you the answer, you wouldn’t be in this mess right now. But that’s a rant for another day.