Author Archives: thedoctor

Procurement 2024 or Procurement’s Greatest Hits? McKinsey’s on the money, but … Part 3

… in some cases this is money you should have been on a decade ago!

Let’s backtrack. As we noted in Part 1, McKinsey ended Q1 by publishing a piece on Procurement 2024: The next ten CPO actions to meet today’s toughest challenges which had some great advice, but in some cases these were actions that your Procurement organization should have been taking five, if not ten years ago. And, if your organization was doing so in these cases, should be moving on to true next actions the article didn’t even address.

So, as you probably guessed, we’re in the midst of discussing each one, giving credit where credit is due (they are pretty good at strategy after all), and indicating where they missed a bit and tell you what to do next if you are already doing the actions you should have been doing years ago. And, just like we did to THE PROPHET‘s predictions, grade them. In this third installment, we’ll tackle the next three actions, which they group under the heading of:

INTEGRATED MARGIN MANAGEMENT

Coordinate Response for Integrated Margin Management. B+

This is something that should have been done since your Procurement department started strategic sourcing — without a good estimate of the supplier’s cost of goods sold (COGS), there’s no way to know if the bid, or negotiated price, is good or not, or how much margin you are getting taken for (especially if there is price collusion among all the suppliers you invited to the event to keep bids in a certain range, no matter what).

However, in order to truly understand the COGS, you need to monitor commodity and raw material costs in almost real-time; understand the labour, energy and water requirements in production and the local market costs where the supplier’s production facilities are; monitor the local transportation costs (and any surges due to fuel increases, truck or container shortages, re-routings due to route closures or geopolitical situations, etc.) and that’s a much taller order than you had to worry about last decade to maintain a good grip on your supplier’s current COGS. You’ll even have to work closely with engineering, supply chain and logistics to make sure you’re getting it right.

Redefine Portfolio and Product Design. A+

While the latter is something R&D/Engineering should be doing every few years, it’s now critically important that Procurement get involved and guide engineering with respect to which products are, or in danger of, becoming too expensive due to material scarcity, a limited supply base that can manufacture the products, and changing consumer perception and desires regarding what they want from a certain product. As the article says, it’s becoming critical to help R&D/Engineering look for ways to reduce these dependencies, expedite qualification, and increase resilience by pointing out key products to address, key concerns, potential alternatives that are now available to the organization, and so on.

Procurement also needs to aggressively work with Marketing and Sales to shift demand away from products that need to be sunset due to end of life, cost, supply, or sustainability considerations, as well as shift demand to products that are more profitable, sustainable, or secure from a supply availability perspective. It can no longer be about what Sales thinks it can sell, but what Sales needs to sell for the organization as a whole to be successful.

Bring Back the Interns!

Even the offshore interns!

And since, like Meat Loaf,

I know that I will never be politically correct
And I don’t give a damn about my lack of etiquette

I’m going to come out and say I long for the days when AI meant “Another Indian”. (In the 2000s, the politically incorrect joke when a vendor said they had AI, especially in spend classification, was that the AI stood for “Another Indian” in the backroom manually doing all of the classifications the “AI” didn’t do and redoing all the classifications the “AI” got wrong over the weekend when the vendor, who took your spend database on Friday, promised to have it by Monday).

The solution providers of that time may have been selling you a healthy dose of silicon snake oil, but at least the spend cube they provided was mostly right and reasonably consistent (compared to one produced with Gen-AI). (The interns may not have known the first thing about your business and classified brake shoes under apparel, but they did it consistently, and it was a relatively easy fix to remap everything on the next nightly refresh.)

At the end of the day the doctor would rather one competent real intern than an army of bots where you don’t know which will produce a right answer, which will produce a wrong answer, and which will produce an answer so dangerous that, if executed and acted on, could financially bankrupt or effectively destroy the company with the brand damage it would cause.

After all, nothing could stop me from giving that competent, intelligent, intern tested playbooks, similar case studies, and real software tools that use proper methodologies and time-tested algorithms guaranteed to give a good answer (even if not necessarily the absolute best answer) and access to internal experts who can help if the intern gets stuck. Maybe I only get a 60% or 70% solution at best, but that’s significantly better than a 20% solution and infinitely better than a 0% solution, and unmeasurably better than a solution that bankrupts the business. Especially if I limit the tasks the intern is given to those that don’t have more than a moderate impact on the business (and then I use that intern to free up the more senior resources for the tasks that deserve their attention).

As for all the claims that the “insane development pace” of (Gen)-AI will soon give us an army of bots where each bot is better than an intern, given that the most recent instantiation of Gen-AI released to the market, where 200 MILLION was spent on its development and training, is telling us to eat one ROCK a day (digest that! I sure can’t!), I’d say the wall has been hit, been hit hard, and until we have a real advancement in understanding intelligence and in modelling intelligence, you can forget any further GENeric improvements. (Improvements in specific applications, especially based on more traditional machine learning, sure, but this GEN-AI cr@p, nope.)

When it comes to AI, it’s not just a matter of more compute power. That was clear to those of us who really understood AI a couple of decades ago. AI isn’t new. Researchers were discussing it in the (19)50’s, ’56 saw the creation of Logic Theorist, which was arguably the birth of Automated Reasoning, ’59 saw the founding of the MIT AI lab by McCarthy and Minsky, and ’63, in addition to seeing the publication of “Computers and Thoughts“, saw the announcement of “A Pattern Recognition Program That Generates, Evaluates, and Adjusts Its Own Operators“, which was arguably the first AI program (as AI needs to adjust its parameters to “learn”).

That was over SIXTY (60) years ago, and we still haven’t made any significant advances towards “AI”.

Remember that we were told in the ’70s that AI would reshape computing. Then we were told in the 80s that the new fifth generation computer systems they were building would give us massively parallel computing, advances in logic, and lay the foundation for true AI systems. It never happened. Then, when the cloud materialized in the 00’s, we saw a resurgence in distributed neural nets and were told AI would save the day. Guess what? It didn’t. Now we’re being told the same bullshit all over again, but the reality is that we’re no closer now then we were in the 60s. First of all, while computing is 10,000 times more powerful than it was six decades ago (as these large models have 10,000 cores), at the end of the day, a pond snail has more active neurons (than these models have cores), and neuronal connections, in its brain. Secondly, we still don’t really understand how the brain works, so these models still don’t have any intelligence (and the pond snail is infinitely more intelligent). (So even when we reach the point when these systems are one million times bigger than they are today, which could happen this century, we still won’t have intelligence.)

So bring back the interns, especially the ones in India. With five times the population of the US, statistically speaking, India has five times the number of smart people, and your chances of success are looking pretty good compared to using an application that tells you to eat rocks.

Procurement 2024 or Procurement’s Greatest Hits? McKinsey’s on the money, but … Part 2

… in some cases this is money you should have been on a decade ago!

Let’s backtrack. As we noted in Part 1, McKinsey ended Q1 by publishing a piece on Procurement 2024: The next ten CPO actions to meet today’s toughest challenges which had some great advice, but in some cases these were actions that your Procurement organization should have been taking five, if not ten years ago. And, if your organization was doing so in these cases, should be moving on to true next actions the article didn’t even address.

So, as you probably guessed, we’re in the midst of discussing each one, giving credit where credit is due (they are pretty good at strategy after all), and indicating where they missed a bit and tell you what to do next if you are already doing the actions you should have been doing years ago. And, just like we did to THE PROPHET‘s predictions, grade them. In this second instalment, we’ll tackle the next three actions, which they group under the heading of:

NEW SOURCES OF VALUE

4. Manage Volatility. B+

If Procurement doesn’t manage volatility, those savings they project never materialize. Hence, this is something Procurement should be doing every single year, so this is not really a next step — it’s an ongoing action. However, macroeconomic drivers are in flux and need to be monitored, and planned for, more regularly this decade than in the 2000s and 2010s. The organization needs to have multiple sourcing strategies for each of its categories based on potential shifts in the market driven by these macro-economic drivers, and be ready to play offence instead of defence.

5. Optimize Operations End-to-End. A-

Procurement should be constantly optimizing its operations, so this is not something that should be new. However, it needs to take another step up the optimization ladder and go beyond Source-to-Pay+ and include supply chain operations in its planning and make sure everything is in synch in its planning. In addition, a deeper integration with finance and market monitoring, risk management and risk monitoring, and logistics and delivery monitoring is also required for better optimization of procurement operations.

6. Integrate ESG and optimize upstream Scope 3. A

While sustainability should have been a front-and-center concern since it became clear near the end of last decade if you didn’t get ahead of it, you’d be behind (and in trouble when the legislations rolled into effect). However, while sustainability was clear, and targets were clear, it wasn’t necessarily clear (without thinking about the issue) that you would have to focus on not only tacking upstream Scope 3, but on how you will need to help those suppliers, possibly a few tiers down in the supply chain, optimize Scope 3 as there is nothing significant you can do to control your carbon debt if you don’t minimize it before it gets to you.

Procurement 2024 or Procurement’s Greatest Hits? McKinsey’s on the money, but … Part 1

… in some cases this is money you should have been on a decade ago!

Let’s backtrack. McKinsey ended Q1 by publishing a piece on Procurement 2024: The next ten CPO actions to meet today’s toughest challenges which had some great advice, but in some cases these were actions that your Procurement organization should have been taking five, if not ten years ago. And, if your organization was doing so in these cases, should be moving on to true next actions the article didn’t even address.

So, as you probably guessed, we’re going to discuss each one, give credit where credit is due (they are pretty good at strategy after all), and indicate where they missed a bit and tell you what to do next if you are already doing the actions you should have been doing years ago. And, just like we did to THE PROPHET‘s predictions, grade them. In this first installment, we’ll tackle the first three actions, which they group under the heading of:

End-to-End Value Capture

1. Utilize New Frontier Analytics and AI. B

Even though you should have been doing this since the introduction of spend analysis over 20 years ago, the recommendation to employ advanced analytics to extract valuable insights from procurement data is definitely A+ because analytics gets better every year, knowledge of which analytics to apply to a vertical and category gets better every year, and the constant increases in computing power makes it an increasingly powerful tool at your disposal.

However, the “AI” part is a B- at best. Using predictive analytics for commodity and market forecasting, risk prediction, and performance optimization is good, but AI can’t predict talent and you definitely should NOT use a Gen-AI bot to develop strategic decisions! Remember Gen stands for Generative which is defined as “make sh!t up” and there is a strong likelihood that it will hallucinate and the hallucination will sound more reliable than the non-hallucinatory recommendation it gives in very similar situations. Properly used, traditional, predictable, and, most importantly, deterministic (or at least verifiable) techniques can provide great value … but new, generative, unproven AI technology (which could have embedded sleeper behaviour) is NOT the answer.

2. Create a Request for Proposal (RFP) Engine. B

The article notes that you should develop … an approach for prioritizing categories and suppliers based on market development, spend analysis, and supplier leverage. This is something you should have been doing since the day you first implemented a strategic sourcing program. And you definitely should have been prioritizing spending with the highest potential to drive value for the organization, while deprioritizing categories or suppliers where value will be more challenging to obtain. In 2024 what you should be doing as part of this RFP engine is prioritizing categories and suppliers based on potential return from the strategic effort at this time (not potential for future value, potential for immediate value to meet the organization’s #1 priority of cost control) and then shifting all of the other categories to semi-automated sourcing events most likely to generate the best return. (i.e. well designed events, not an event for every request, you don’t want the squirrels thinking you are nuts)

The organization should have a platform that supports multi-round RFX-based events and multiple templates, reverse auctions (of various types), and the intermixing thereof. It should also support supplier onboarding, API-based verification with third parties, business/insurance/certification verification where possible, and so on. A buyer should be able to select a template for a single or multi-round event, define a timeframe, define a volume, click go, and the platform should automate an entire sourcing event until it’s time to verify an award (as the the platform should also recommend the award based on the bids and RFP responses). That’s the key to cost control — everything is sourced, but the effort made is relative to the potential return on that effort. Small return potential, semi-automate everything using the right technologies and processes. Large return, put in full manual effort in to maximize the value.

3. Redesign Value Creation with Key Suppliers. A

While this is something that needs to be done on a regular basis, given that rapid inflation is back, logistics is still unstable (we went from COVID to disruptions in the red sea at the same time as Panamanian droughts, forcing a return to long, dangerous, ocean routes around the capes), consumer demand is down, relations with China are deteriorating, and so on. Furthermore, not only is cost control paramount, so is value creation to increase not only value capture, but to also maintain, and maybe even slightly increase, consumer share in a down economy.

Come back for Part 2!

Let’s Get One Thing Clear: Like All Financing, Supply Chain Financing Benefits the Lender, Not the Buyer or the Seller

While there might be arguments that some form of Supply Chain Financing (SCF) would benefit all parties in a fair world, it’s not a fair world, as it’s run by greedy capitalists, but that doesn’t mean we have to make it more unfair, or complain about laws being proposed to limit unfairness.

But that’s exactly what a recent article in the Global Trade Review on how the Supply Chain Finance Industry Hopeful EU will Soften Late Payment Rules is pointing out. The EU SCF industry is crying foul when there really is no foul.

The article, which notes that even though an EU Parliament committee is pushing for greater flexibility around the regulation on combating late payments that puts in place a stricter maximum payment term of 30 in both business-to-business (B2B) and government-to-business (G2B) transactions (versus the current 60 days), unless companies negotiate payment terms of up to 60 calendar days and both agree to those extended terms in a contract, there are some parties that are still not happy. (Even when the new regulation even allows for companies trading in “slow moving or seasonal goods” to collectively agree to extend terms up to 120 days in a contract.) (For completeness, we should also note that the forthcoming legislation will enforce accrued interest and compensation fees for all late payments.)

However, some parties believe that payment terms should be twice that as they risk restricting liquidity and interfering with companies’ contractual freedoms. The former statement (restricting liquidity) is complete and utter bullcr@p. The latter statement (restricting contractual freedoms) is a valid point if there are currently no restrictions on payment requirements in local laws, but, guess what, all contracts must adhere to the laws and directives of the countries in which the companies operate, and countries / unions have a right to modify those laws and directives over time to what they believe is in the best interest of the greater (not the lesser) good. And when a recent Taulia research report found that 51% of companies polled are typically paid late, something needs to be done.

The point being whined about … err … made is that shortening mandatory terms without agreement to 30 days and with agreement to 60 days would mean SCF lenders would see their returns slashed, and potentially remove any incentive to offer programmes in the first place. And while it’s true they would see their returns slashed from predatory lending, taking advantage of suppliers who need money now from buyers who want to keep their bank accounts as cash flush as possible (even when not necessary to meet internal operating costs), it doesn’t necessarily mean they have to see their returns slashed from a finance perspective. They could still provide suppliers with loans (at fair interest rates) secured by the equipment the supplier buys or the products produced (which they could seize if they feared lack of payment and then the buyer would have to pay the lender for the goods’ release). Or, if buyers liked unnecessarily fat bank accounts, they could lend the buyer cash with the buyer’s illiquid assets as collateral. And while this is more traditional finance, what’s wrong with that?

Allowing buyers to screw suppliers (when those buyers can afford not to) just hurts everyone in the long run. Suppliers have to borrow, usually at predatory interest rates, to make payroll, which increases their overall operating costs. In return, their costs go up on all future contracts. A buyer might squeeze out a slight gain (in its high interest investments vs. paying the supplier or in its stock price based on correlation that a higher than expected bank account is higher than expected growth), but the buyer will just end up paying more in the long term (and then passing that cost onto us consumers). And the only party winning in every transaction is the SCF vendor who gets 2% to 6% on all the short term cash it provides, which is very safe because someone’s going to take that product. And, FYI, even 2% on a 60 day term, works out to over 13% a year (because by the time the supplier submits, the SCF approves, and the money gets transferred, that’s usually at least 5 days). And the rates are only that good when the supplier has more than one SCF option. When the supplier doesn’t, it’s probably 4%, or 26%+ per year, which is likely 40% higher than the organizational credit card, and nearing predatory lending territory! And while it’s not as bad as the 40%+ some suppliers will be saddled with in hard times when all they can get is the local loan-sharks, it’s still not something we should accept.

So bravo to the EU Parliament and shame on anyone complaining about legislation mandating fair payment terms, especially to SMEs. After all, it’s not banning SCF vendors from helping them in other financing ways, or even negotiating an agreement to auto pay every 60 day invoice in 6 days (for 2% of the transaction value) when you know these suppliers are all going to have 60 days shoved down their throats by big businesses.