What Should Drive M&A?

Last year was obviously the beginnings of a new M&A frenzy cycle in the Procurement Vendor space. Big names were scooped up by bigger names in an effort to expand their reach and/or capability in an effort to become the biggest name of them all. But is this good for Procurement departments? It depends on the synergy inherent in the acquisition. As summarized in the doctor‘s guest post over on the Synertrade blog on Surviving a M&A: The Customer Perspective, M&A synergies come from operational synergies, customer synergies, or solution synergies.

And these synergies will either come from complementarity or redundancy. Both can, theoretically, have a big impact on the bottom line, but one impact will likely be viewed much more positively than another from the eyes of customers. While bankers and financiers might be satiated with redundancy synergies when overhead prices get slashed and immediate profits rise (thanks to SaaS deals that insure license revenue keeps coming in month after month in the near term), customers are not always happy when their support teams, with whom they have built a relationship with over months or years, are eliminated overnight in one fell swoop.

That’s why the doctor believes that complementarity should drive synergies. For the big wanting to get bigger, they should seek to acquire a smaller provider that provides them with the synergy of complementarity across the customer, solution and operations dimensions. Specifically:

  • Customer

    the provider of interest should have a largely non-overlapping customer base that could make use of the company’s solution in unison with the smaller provider’s solution — for e.g., if a S2P company without in-house analytics is trying to acquire a BoB analytics firm, that firm could likely use part or all of the acquirer’s platform

  • Operations

    the unison of the providers should allow both parties to do more with the same back-office staff; i.e. the combined company should be able to grow without adding staff (and, moreover, the current staff should, more or less, be the best staff to grow the combined company)

  • Solution

    the solutions should complement nicely without too much work and should not overlap too much

Vendors should not pursue mergers that get synergy from redundancy. Having to scrap platforms, cut people, or, even worse, having to make decisions that negatively impact the current customer base (that talks to their peers).

It might be the case that the best provider is not as big as desired, or that the best provider doesn’t have all the desired solutions, but, as the tortoise taught us, slow and steady wins the race. And even if the new combined company has to build a bit more than they would like to, a combined, synergistic, team always has an edge.

Good Working Capital Management is More than Just Timing Payables and Receivables

A few years ago we ran a post on the essence of good working capital management. We noted that, at least from a basics point of view, all one really has to do is:

  • Get a grip on receivables.

    When are the customer payments for sales due? The reimbursements from suppliers for reaching volume tiers due? The tax rebates?

  • Get a clear picture on fixed payables.

    What is the average monthly payroll? Overhead? And projected supplier invoices?

  • Get a good estimate of average disruption costs.

    If a receivable isn’t received on time, what’s the impact? Especially if it could impact a supplier payment schedule which needs to be maintained to insure timely supply.

This is the foundation, but in today’s unstable and unpredictable business environment, that’s not enough to maximize working capital management. To maximize working capital management, one has to maximize the value of the capital. In order to maximize working capital, you need to know when to use capital for internal costs, for supplier payments, and for investments. This means one also has to:

  • Understand the value of early supplier payments.

    Not just the value of the early payment discount, but the overall value to the supplier. If they don’t have to borrow at a cost of capital two or three times the buying organization, and then pass that cost on to the buyer in their overhead, that’s a big potential savings to the organization — even if they have to borrow.

  • Understand the organization’s cost of borrowing.

    If the organization can borrow at a low interest rate of 3% or 4% a year in their home market, whereas a supplier can only borrow at a high interest rate of 12% to 20% in their market, the organization can save by borrowing. But you don’t borrow just to save on costs, you borrow to profit. If you can accelerate production and accelerate profitable sales, borrowing is sometimes a pittance. And if you have good investment opportunities, that could also be a good reason to borrow.

  • Understand the organization’s investment opportunities.

    How much from accelerating production? Improving the process? Investing in R&D? Investing in subsidiaries.

Then, when you have all of this information, you do one more step:

  • Build a Working Capital Optimization Model

    and run it. Input all the receivables, payables, disruption costs, early payment opportunities, borrowing opportunities, and investment opportunities and let an optimization-backed cognitive system help you put a plan in place to not only manage working capital, but profit from it.

The Key to Successful Supply Management? No MoBAs, no PiMPs, and no Paper Pushers!

SI has said it before (back in our post on the key for a successful supply management center of excellence? No M(o)BAs and no P(i)MPs!), and will say it again. Successful Supply Management relies on supply management expertise and experience, not on meaningless business models and knowledge-free project management frameworks. (SI believes that individuals who only have MBAs are just Master of Business Annihilation!)

Remember, not only is it the case that you can’t manage what you can’t understand, but all you can do if you try is make it worse! Supply Managers are overworked and under-resourced, and any misstep has a ripple effect throughout the supply chain — one that can go from a minor delay to a major catastrophe. Management knowledge and project management skills are good things, but whereas supply chain is concerned, only if this knowledge and skill is added to a fundamental understanding of the supply management process that needs to be performed.

But simply eliminating the unknowledgeable MoBAs and PiMPs is not enough anymore. You must eliminate the paper pushers as well. You see, in a modern fast moving supply chain, there is no time for tactical people who only receive, process, and send e-paper. Especially when the majority of this work can be automated by modern machine learning / automated reasoning systems. In a modern supply management organization, personnel need to be educated and experienced in their roles and focus on making sound, strategic decisions. They need to identify potential problems as soon as they arise and resolve them. They need to identify a changing market landscape as the change begins and the potential impact on the supply chain and the organization. They need to assure supply and regulatory compliance. And so on.

And they need to be able to identify, implement, and make use of modern cognitive systems that can help them identify what needs to be analyzed, what needs to be addressed, what needs to be done, and the best ways to potentially go about it. The individuals who can do this are not PO paper pushers or AP invoice processors. They are knowledgeable and capable sourcing, procurement, and supply management experts who know their domain, and the tools, first and the business and project management second.

Will this be the year we traverse the supply chain plateau? Part II

In yesterday’s post, we noted that five years ago we covered a piece by the Supply Chain Shaman who believed we had reached the supply chain plateau. And while SI did not agree, SI agreed that progress had completely stalled. And SI believed that the root cause of the issue was manpower capability. Precisely, the fact that most executives do not understand the supply chain from a holistic perspective, treating each step as its own function (and disassociating NPD/Design from Sourcing (a manufactured product) from Logistics and Distribution, when they all have to be examine and managed as part of an integrated supply chain. And the fact that neither do the function managers. Moreover, these function managers often do not even understand the best practices associated with their job.

And SI believed the root cause of this was a lack of education — most Supply Chain / Supply Management / Sourcing / Procurement / etc. managers don’t leave college or university with a solid supply chain background, as few institutions offer such programs, and they haven’t been properly trained. Add this to the fact that year over year training budgets are slashed and leaders are run ragged fighting fires and dealing with tactical issues instead of being given time to focus on long-term strategy, how the supply chain works, and how it should work for optimal performance and optimal corporate gain.

Now, it’s true that the education issue hasn’t improved much in the last few years, but what has improved is the technology to provide executives and function managers both with a more holistic view and guidance as to directions they can take. Modern cognitive technologies backed by machine learning and automated reasoning, which can process millions of data records in near real time, identify trends, identify outliers, identify normal behaviour, identify typical responses, and so on, can present executives and managers with holistic views that let them understand not only what their options are, but what impact it has on the immediate problem and the supply chain as a whole. Ripple effects through the organization and the chain can be predicted and an informed decision made with the known impacts in mind.

Companies will know not only the impact of a delayed payment, but the benefit of an early payment as well as the trade-offs between JIT delivery and maintaining raw material inventory or the benefits of combining volume with a single supplier for more cost-effective shipments from a closer supplier. And so on.

If we can’t fix the education, at least we can fix the holistic understanding of the impact of a decision. And while we don’t have systems for all situations yet, you can bet they are in development. Maybe 2020 will indeed bring 2020 vision to some supply chain areas!

Will this be the year we traverse the supply chain plateau? Part I

Five years ago today we commented on a piece by the Supply Chain Shaman who believed we had reached the supply chain plateau. While SI always believed there is innovation to come, the Shaman presented some pretty damning evidence. Analyzing the balance sheets of process companies over the course of a decade, she found that the average process manufacturing company has reached a plateau in supply chain performance. As she stated:

Growth has stalled. To compensate and stimulate revenue, the companies increased SG&A margin by 1%. However, the conditions were more complex; the average company, over the last ten years, experienced a decline of 1% in operating margin, and an increase in the days of inventory of 5%. While cycle times have improved, the majority of the progress has come from lengthening of days of payables and squeezing suppliers.

And it’s certainly the case that delaying payments and squeezing suppliers is NOT progress!

And while SI believed, at the time, that we had not reached the plateau, SI certainly believed that growth had stalled. But why?

The Shaman conjectured that while complexity has increased, many well-intentioned executives lack the understanding of the supply chain’s potential or how to manage the supply chain as a system. So, while individual projects are getting great results, departments as a whole are not performing as well, and being managed even worse. SI had to agree.

And while SI also had to agree with the Shaman that there is a discontinuity and we need to declare the APS and ERP systems of the 1990s obsolete and start again, SI did not believe it was the core problem. SI believed the core problem was manpower capability. Not only do most executives not understand the supply chain from a holistic perspective, treating each step as its own function (and disassociating NPD/Design from Sourcing (a manufactured product) from Logistics and Distribution, when they all have to be examine and managed as part of an integrated supply chain, but neither do the function managers. Moreover, these function managers often do not even understand the best practices associated with their job.

SI conjectured the manpower capability issue was a lack of education, and hasn’t changed it’s belief. But even though little has changed on this front, there is a light in the sky now … we can see the day when we cross the plateau and see the peak ahead. How?