Author Archives: thedoctor

Keep Your Procurement On PACA with FSMA with Procurant!

We don’t cover specialist Procurement providers much here on SI because many don’t have much in the way of domain specific product functionality (and differ primarily on domain knowledge, terminology customization, and service offerings), but some, like Procurant, go beyond the basics and offer domain specific functionality of relevance that the market needs to take note of. Especially when such functionality can help an organization be compliant with current and, most importantly, incoming regulations they are not ready for.

Procurant, marketing itself as a strategic platform for perishables that does Procurement AND Food Safety, offers the following core functionality:

  • P2P (Procure to Pay) for Perishables
  • Inspections (recording and auditing)
  • Traceabillity that is mobile-enabled and FSMA 204 compliant
  • Market Intelligence
  • Food Safety (workflow and remote sensor integration) (not covered in this article)

It’s the one-stop solution for retail grocers, especially those with US operations, that need to manage their perishable supply chain in a manner that is both PACA and FSMA compliant. (And if you’re a grocery retailer that does NOT know what those acronyms stand for … Uh-Oh! Better find out and give Procurant a call ASAP — because failure to comply can not only result in fines but [supply chain] shutdowns.)

Procurement/Procure-to-Pay wise there isn’t much that’s unique in core functionality (as the uniqueness is with the integrated support for the perishable space), but it’s all there, and we’ll start with the core so you can be confident the core is on par with other best-of-breed Procurement solutions.

With respect to quote management, the platform contains integrated RFQ / price request that makes it really easy to not only request (updated) quotes from suppliers, but get a commitment on that price (for a certain time or volume; i.e. one week or 100 pallets). When you get a commitment, the system tracks orders against that commitment, and then lets you know when the quote has expired because the commitment has been used up (and if you still need more product, you need a new quote with a new commitment).

With respect to order management, the solution makes it easy to select products for orders from the built-in catalog, from order templates (guides), or from demand forecasts (which can pulled in from the forecasting/demand management system OR created natively in Procurant using weighted average outbound for the last 12 weeks, with more forecasting algorithms coming in a future release). The platform even supports the definition of automatic (replenishment) orders, should the organization choose that functionality. Once the order is assembled, it’s very easy to send it to the supplier for fulfillment.

Moreover, as Procurant ‘s P2P also contains integrated support for carriers and logistics (due to the need to monitor the entire produce supply chain and ensure food safety every step of the way), in Procurant, you can also assemble orders by truckload, as you don’t want to be under-shipping if not absolutely necessary (as it takes the same amount of energy to maintain the temperature when refrigeration is necessary whether the truck is almost full or almost empty) and it’s easier to trace when you decide who is shipping what, when, and on which truck. One great feature of the platform is that it’s super easy to assemble an order for a carrier. It’s just a matter of dragging and dropping order line items until the platform notifies you that the last line won’t fit in the truck (as you can encode a max # pallets, weight, and volume by truck and as soon as one limit is reached, the platform lets you know). No complex training on a sophisticated TMS required.

As a result of this deep support for logistics and carriers, purchase orders can be incredibly detailed and include shipping dates, carrier, load reference number(s), and even cross docks.

Also, order management is multi-state and the system will track and notify if there is an:

  • order modification by the buyer
  • order modification by the supplier
  • order cancellation by the supplier
  • order reconciliation by the supplier (on being notified the goods received didn’t match the PO)

and all changes by any party are maintained in a secure, unalterable, audit log.

With regards to order management, the buyers can choose whether or not the supplier can split orders, remove items, or add substitute orders. Whether or not they can change prices (or just quantities to match availability), and even when modifications will be accepted. Similarly, the administrator can determine the order creation capability the buyers have access to … whether or not they have (to use) guides, whether they can create cross-dock orders, etc.

With respect to invoice management, it’s super easy for a supplier to flip a PO to an invoice. All they have to do is enter the actual quantity shipped by line item and submit. The invoice then goes into a wait state until a receipt is entered, at which point if there is a discrepancy, the invoice is sent back to the supplier for correction before it goes into the normal processing queue, where it would be held up until the discrepancy was resolved, which could delay payment considerably if the organization has long approval chains for corrections and exception processing.

The platform also tracks supplier fill rates, so you can quickly see which suppliers are fulfilling the POs they accept and living up to your expectations and which suppliers are not. It also has price watch capability, and can alert you whenever PO or quote prices exceed current (or historical) prices by a certain percentage.

And, of course, there’s a dashboard which summarizes current tasks and open orders and great search and filter functionality to find just the orders, invoices, or quotes you are looking for.

The platform also integrates the inspection reports from their inspection app and, for any fulfilled order, you can quickly bring up the full report that summarizes the inspection (packaging, appearance, condition, flavor, and quality) on each item delivered as well as the number of items rejected. Also integrated with the Procurement platform is the Inspection Module that contains the overall inspection summary dashboard, dill downs by supplier, scorecards by supplier, and other key reports and data points on inspections. The inspect application is a mobile app that workers can use at the warehouse on or the dock to inspect the quality of goods as they come in and, if necessary, reject them on the spot.

What’s really cool is the Track and Trace capability where, for any item, you can see the entire journey from the source lot to the warehouse or the store shelf, as appropriate. You just need a GTIN, lot number, order number, SKU, or product description and, optionally, a date range and you see the store shipments, receivings at your warehouses, vendor shipments, and base lots. And you can click into each store shipment, receiving, vendor shipment, or lot and see complete details (such as the ship to, date, and receiver for a store shipment; order #, sales order, Lot, shipper, shipment date, and cases for a vendor shipment; etc.). And with their next release, the (default) output report formats will be usable for FSMA compliance. (Again, if you do grocery retail and you don’t know why this is critical, you better find out soon!)

Finally, their Market Intelligence Capability in Procurant Connect provides Commodity Pricing, Weather, and Transportation analytics and tracking. The commodity pricing tracks price movements across all commodities by region; the weather pane integrates forecasts down to the county level; and the transportation analytics tracks average load fees by lane (defined by city pairings), as well as price changes and shipper / transportation availability (surplus, slight surplus, adequate, slight shortage, or shortage).

Procurant can integrate with your ERP and AP (payment) system, your TMS (or onboard carriers natively, which is something not many P2P systems can do as carrier management is critical in perishable supply chain management), and your supplier master (for supplier onboarding) if it’s not your ERP.

All-in all, Procurant is a fantastic solution for the perishable supply chain procurement and one that absolutely has to be on the short list of any grocery retailer that needs to get a handle on their perishable supply chain in a manner that will allow them to be fully PACA and FSMA compliant.

Beware of Magical Thinking In Your Procurement!

Back in 2017 (yes, that was 7 years ago, but the subject is still relevant), the doctor penned a post asking if there was magical thinking in your procurement noting that:

the Procurement Department that is getting the worst deal is the one that hallucinates the most — and needs to — in order to keep their worldview intact

And, furthermore, it was these Procurement departments that were most against modernizing their processes or platforms because their worldview requires them to believe that the antiquated processes and (severely) outdated platforms they are (still) using are just fine. (And they don’t recognize that their Procurement departments still run on the island of misfit toys principle — staffed with people who are nearing retirement, related to the boss, or technologically adverse and have been doing it this way for far too long.)

the doctor also noted that the easiest way to identify these organizations was by their telltale arguments of:

  • our processes are just fine, we just need more people
  • our platform is just fine, we just need more people
  • it’s not worth the cost, and it will slow us down

which were soon augmented with the additional telltale arguments of:

  • the problem isn’t with us, it’s with logistics / risk management / compliance / support
  • the problem isn’t with us, it’s the suppliers who aren’t holding up their end of the contract
  • our needs are just too unique and there’s nothing out there that will close the gaps

as supply chains started to crumble under disruptions. Because, if you just gave them more time, money, and people, everything would work out fine with a little pixie dust.

But we know there’s no silver bullet, and the only answer is to implement the best technology, with the best processes, so you can identify the biggest risks, plan mitigations, detect when they have occurred, respond quickly, and, the rest of the time, deal with exceptions and not standard operating procedures that can be entirely automated.

And, in the late 2010s, that was the extent of the magical thinking theorem. But now, thanks to the Gen-AI garbage marketing overload, and the addition of tail end Millenials (who replaced those put out to the Procurement pasture when they called it quits during COVID or when companies tried to force their return to the office), we have a new corollary to the the Magical Thinking Theorem:

the Procurement department getting the worst deal is also the one that thinks they only way to solve their problem and get the best deal is to adopt and implement Gen-AI as fast as possible

because the Millenials, who grew up glued to their smartphones, and always received instant gratification via Google and Apple, believe there is an app-for-everything and that a natural language Gen-AI app combines the best of both worlds and will solve all their problems.

Their thinking is not only as magical as the last generation thinking (that more time, money, and people can solve anything), but more dangerous (because their answer is to just turn their problems over to the artificial idiocy machine and blindly accept whatever comes out of it, no matter how hallucinatory or ridiculous the answer is).

the doctor said it before and he’ll say it again. There’s no room for magical thinking in Procurement. Just like alchemy needed to be replaced with science, magical thinking needs to be replaced with realist thinking, and random unpredictable Gen-AI replaced with proven deterministic procedural (rules-based) solutions that use tried and true mathematical techniques. (Because, the classic analytics, optimization, and machine learning that you have been ignoring for two decades will do just fine.)

SmartCube: Putting a Nice Box Around Industrial MRO for Commissioning and SPIR Procurement for Projects

There are dozens (and dozens) of Procurement Solutions out there, especially for indirect procurement, as that’s where it all started. There are also a dozen or so good solutions for BoM (Bill of Material) direct procurement for manufacturers who need to source to build the products they are selling. However, when it comes to acquiring MRO assets, and spare parts to maintain them, there are very few solutions — and even less for managing procurement and inventory from a (commissioning) project perspective.

Most Procurement Professionals assume that this is handled by the ERP/MRP or the asset management platform but the reality is that the ERP/MRP will only track product specifications for approved products and materials, the asset management will only track assets that are actually delivered, and most of the sourcing is done old school — email and Excel spreadsheets, which is not a great solution. First of all, it is very time consuming for both parties to fill out all the information manually and send documents back and forth. Secondly, it is very error prone as the technical specifications will require detailed part numbers, identifiers, standards, etc. where one miskey can totally invalidate an entire record that might have taken days to put together. Thirdly, as the sheet is not in a version control system, it’s hard to control who can access it when and ensure updates are properly maintained and not missed or overwritten. Fourth, given that an average asset will require 10 or 15 associated spare parts, and multiple assets will need to be acquired at a time, an average sourcing process will take a minimum of two weeks (if not much [much] longer).

SmartCube has developed two tools to handle 1) the pre-commissioning Procurement of components and systems for major projects (such as new plant creation or plant renovation, utility construction, ship construction, etc.), as well as the commissioning process and 2) the material/part master, and the procurement projects needed for the ongoing support (as plants will require production line maintenance and upgrades, utilities will constantly require new regulation and control systems, ships always need upgrades, etc.) along with the procurement and management of the spares required to keep the components and systems running when something breaks.

This is done through their two primary offerings of I-SPIR, which they bill as an interaction and collaboration platform to allow multiple project partners and collaborators to input, collect and share spare parts information (SPIR) between all stakeholders in real time for asset-intensive industries, and I-MAT, that they bill as autonomous warehouse management & material master cleansing & coding platform for any asset heavy industry.

SmartCube I-SPIR

First, some background. SPIR stands for Spare Parts Interchangeability Record, which is basically a list of equipment and spare parts that a manufacturer or supplier recommends that a project owner or asset manager should purchase in order to develop and maintain their industrial plant or process. Once the purchase suggestions, or modifications thereto, are accepted, the project owner then matches the purchases to the material master data in the ERP, if there are appropriate product records, or pushes the appropriate records to the material master.

SPIR is a lot more than just a slight modification to the direct procurement process, because it’s not purchasing materials and parts to build products for sale, but components and systems to keep a process running or a plant (utility, or vehicle) operating. It’s also a well-established systematic supply chain process used for tracking and recording information on various replacement parts used in industrial operations. The process involves:

  • Inventory Management: inventory must be established and properly maintained, and it must include what (parts), where (storage facility, room, and shelf), who (is responsible for), how many (quantity) and why (associated components or systems)
  • Identification: every component needs a unique identifier (and any manufacturing identifiers it’s associated with)
  • Documentation: specifications, function(al requirements), compatibility, and any standards met
  • Interchangeability Assessment: a thorough assessment that takes into account design, materials, operating requirements, and other relevant factors
  • Recording: that identifies parts that a given part can be substituted for, which includes a link to the assessment as well as information on the manufacturer, supplier(s), and lead times (for restock)
  • Maintenance: the record must continually be reviewed, updated as needed, and deactivated when the part is no longer needed or approved

When it comes to identifying components and associated spare parts, and executing SPIR projects, the process is similar to a traditional sourcing process:

  • Identify the need
  • Determine the specifications
  • Research potential substitutes
  • Evaluate compatibility
  • Select the replacement and make the award
  • Update records

It’s Procurement, but Procurement with needs not typically addressed. That’s why a specialized system is needed that takes into account all of the specialized aspects not addressed in traditional direct Procurement systems. That’s the system that SmartCube has created for Industrial MRO with its I-SPIR solution. The module has the following primary components.

Projects & Packages

In the I-SPIR platform, projects correspond to systems and packages to related sets of one or more modules (and each module will require one or more spares to maintain it).

SPIR Processes

Once a project has been defined, the system makes it super quick and easy to request spare parts for one or more components or systems. Setting up a SPIR project is simply a matter of:

  • selecting the master project
  • selecting the responsible individuals (for QA, Evaluation, Assessment, DCC, PRE, Coordination)
  • selecting the supplier
  • providing the basic SPIR info (Doc ReF, PO, Due Date, System & Area of intended use)
  • uploading any necessary documentation
  • sending it to the supplier

Once the supplier receives the SPIR, they can select the part they are willing to provide simply by specifying their ID, the original manufacturer name and OEM part number (if they are acting as a distributor) if they already have the SPIR in their system or it’s in EQHub, a third party SPIR database that contains pre-vetted products with validated information which, when imported, is tagged as already validated information (which can allow an organization to accept the part without having to go through a full evaluation). If the part does not already exist in the system or EQHub, a popup will allow the supplier to enter all of the required information, which will then have to go through a full evaluation process on the buyer’s end.

When the SPIR is returned, the system walks the individuals on the buying team through the process, which consists of:

  • Quality Assurance: is the data valid and are the specifications appropriate
  • Evaluation: classify the Spare against key asset tracking attributes of redundancy, repair/discard, consequence, and criticality and define/override the auto-suggested quantities
  • Assessment: asses the overall purchase against the inventory and finance requirements
  • DCC: verify the DCC data
  • Final Approval and Order: final approval and place the order

Tag Management

The platform makes it easy to manage asset tags and provides downloadable templates for quick upload. This simplifies integration with ERP/MRP/Asset Management systems and material masters.

Dashboard

The main entry point summarizes the projects the user has ongoing and their current states for easy project location, access, and management:

  • To Do: tracks the SPIR requests that need to be opened, re-submitted, evaluated for quality, concluded, etc.
  • New: new Projects & SPIRs recently opened and awaiting supplier submission
  • Open: Projects that are open where team members need to assess submitted SPIRs
  • Overdue: Projects that are overdue
  • Rejected: SPIRS that have been rejected (and need to be returned or recast to new suppliers)
  • Submitted: tracks the supplier submissions (that need to go through the SPIR process)
  • Concluded: SPIRS that have been concluded

SmartCube I-MAT

SmartCube‘s other major offering is their materials “master” management and inventory platform that was specifically designed for supporting material and inventory requirements during (new) plant/site/rig construction and commissioning, plant/site/rig retrofit/upgrade and commissioning, cross-platform / site based material and inventory management (where the organization doesn’t have an ERP/MRP integrations that support that), and other temporary or permanent material and inventory management scenarios not adequately handled by the ERP.

The platform is designed to serve as a part and material master as well as an inventory master for the locations and projects not managed by the ERP/MRP (which, for organizations running on the BIG ERPs like SAP or Oracle, or older ERPs, are any temporary/construction/retrofit/commissioning project where inventory needs to be managed separately and off-site in a yard, on a rig, etc. until the project is done). It’s very easy to load products and materials into the SmartCube I-MAT platform as it allows for easy CSV upload (in addition to direct ERP integration if you so desire, both for initial load and final push when you are done with the project).

In addition, as part of their latest release, they have automatic (potential) duplicate detection and simplify the process of merging duplicates and cleansing the material / product master. They also make it one click to deactivate products (and make it clear when a certain product should not be ordered).

Upon implementation, it’s really easy to define (and upload):

  • Vendors: that are providing the products and materials
  • Tag Numbers: standard (asset) tag numbers (for system integration)
  • Projects: the projects currently being managed through the system
  • Product States: Evaluating / Accepted / Offsite / InTransit / Not Found / Destroy / etc.
  • Locations: Onshore / Offshore / Yard / Europe Warehouse / USA Warehouse / etc.
  • Imports: upload a file and track the imports
  • Deactivated Products: for easy identification and management
  • Users: and their associated permissions

Once the data is loaded, it’s really easy to search for any product using a free-text search on all key fields, or an in-depth filter-driven search on each supported product field. In other words, filters aren’t just limited to material/part name, number, tag, project, vendor, etc. It’s also easy, once a search and drill down is performed, to select all or a subset for batch editing where all products are missing the same data or need the same field updated.

Once a product is selected, it’s easy to bring up, and if necessary, edit all of the associated data, which includes all of the standard part/material fields, as well as perform standard inventory operations. The system understands the standard actions of:

  • Add Stock: increase the stock at the selected location
  • Move/Transfer Stock: move the stock from its current location to the selected location
  • Withdraw Stock: mark the stock as withdrawn and used

In addition, you can (re-)set the status of any product at any time for any reason (which you can capture) if you have the appropriate authority. Plus, when you move or transfer stock, you can indicate the type of transfer and withdrawal (if you define multiple types of transfer and withdrawals, such as consumption, returned, trashed, queued for destruction, etc.).

Plus, coming soon, if you are doing a transfer from one location to another that requires shipping (such as from a rig to onshore or one country for another), the platform will automatically export data for manifest creation in third party shipping systems (either through an API integration or through a flat file CSV export for loading in the third party system).

The entire system has been designed to be incredibly easy to use and support the primary requirements of a temporary project not supported by a traditional ERP/MRP material master or inventory management system:

  • easy off-site management
  • collaboration
  • high quality data

… and eliminate the need for error-prone spreadsheets and shadow processes that were created to get around the limitations of systems that were setup for managing acquisitions and inventory for traditional production line utilization, which is not the case in facility/plant construction and/or upgrade.

Both solutions are delivered as SaaS and no integration with ERP’s are required. Last but not least, the amount training needed is very limited as the design focuses on ease of use. Once a decision is made to use one or the other solution (or both) you can be up and running in matter of days if integrations are not required. Integration with ERPs and other systems is typically only a matter of a few weeks.

As explained in detail, if you need to do a lot of sourcing for pre-commissioning, commissioning, and asset-maintenance, SmartCube is a system you should add to your (very) short list as traditional indirect (and even direct) Sourcing/Procurement systems just weren’t setup for the type of sourcing and (temporary) inventory management you need to do (while SmartCube checks all the necessary boxes and then some).

Sustainability ONLY Exists In the Supply Chain

Furthermore, simply switching suppliers does not make you more sustainable no matter what you may think or what those overpriced third party ESG / Scope 3 reports may (or may not) say. Switching suppliers to a supplier approximated to be more sustainable is not increasing sustainability, because if you take someone else’s supplier, then they are just going to end up with yours. It may be a temporary net win for your company, but it’s a net loss for another company, and that doesn’t really help anyone as sustainability was not actually increased overall.

Sustainability only comes from net improvement. The reason it only comes from the supply chain is because the products you buy come from the supply chain. The energy you use comes from the supply chain. The water you use (and drink) comes from the supply chain. The services come from your partners (in the supply chain). The transport to you (and/or to your customers) is the supply chain. Everything comes from the supply chain. The only way you can increase your sustainability is to reduce the energy, water, and products you use and the travel you undertake. For most companies, this is a negligible part of the supply chain … sometimes so negligible it rounds to zero.

So how do you increase sustainability in your supply chain? You start by helping your suppliers be more sustainable, which, believe it or not, starts with you being a better buyer and a better partner. Sustainability requires investment, and when they are operating at slimmer margins than you, significantly smaller bank accounts than you, and a lot more uncertainty than you, it can be hard for them to invest in new technology or processes when they don’t even know if they can invest in next week’s payroll.

And it requires more than a piece of paper from you saying you’re going to award them two years of business after a multi-round RFP when you’re a first time buyer. Because they know that while you may have the wherewithal to enforce a contract in another country half a world away, they often don’t. And they know how many times they’ve been screwed in the past when they were told they’d get 100,000 units, but COVID hit, the market crashed, or the transport lanes (ports, borders, etc.) closed down and the orders never came.

You need to develop a true partnership, work with them, build up shared trust and commitment, stick to your promises, help them with their processes so they become more efficient, identify efforts they can make to significantly increase sustainability, and then make the long term commitment they need from you (and other major customers) to invest in better technology, build their own renewable energy grids, etc.

Why are we bringing this up? Because a recent article in VOGUE Business that asked if fashion’s buying practices are really improving had a very good point. While fashion brands make strong claims they are investing in longer-term strategic partnerships, and big consultancies like McKinsey quote impressive statistics (such as an increase from 26% to 43% over the last 4 years) on how the percentage of CPOs reporting longer-term strategic partnerships (which just translates into longer term contracts, but not necessarily guaranteed awards over the long term, as there are usually so many out clauses the contracts mean nothing), the reality is that when you ask the suppliers how things are going, it’s a completely different story. As the Vogue Business article point out, this year’s Better Buying Partnership Index saw just a one point increase in the garment industry’s buyer-supplier partnerships score. Just one point! That could be a rounding error.

Despite all the lip service, there has been no improvement in the fashion supply chain because, at the end of the day, as Lindsay Wright was quoted, simply claiming you have good partnerships with your suppliers isn’t going to cut it. If you want an honest picture of what’s really happening on the ground, you need to be asking suppliers, because they’re the only real arbiters of whether purchasing practices are improving.

And this holds true across supply chains. Partner with your suppliers on long term contracts and work on development initiatives with them if you want to increase sustainability. Otherwise, the best thing you can do is to just shut the f*ck up because you’re only contributing to the hot air.

Supply Chain Certifications Lost Value Quite a While Ago …

… and they won’t ever reclaim any value until they start offering training on digitally friendly processes and the core of modern digital technology. That’s why it was no surprise to the doctor to see this recent article over on the Acceleration Economy that noted that Supply Chain Certifications Lose Value as Product Expertise Gains Traction.

He was surprised to hear that the research foundation found that a whopping 18% of certifications issued through career and tech education programs are sought by employers. As someone with a background in tech, he can honestly say that he’s never worked for, or with, any employer that actually valued a tech certification because they were outdated before they were issued — the leading tech employers valued good education and experience that provided a candidate with the ability to learn and adapt on the job. Which, by the way, is exactly what a Procurement professional has to do.

As the article notes, since the machine has taken over the task of doing the calculations — computing the inventory, creating demand plans, and analyzing lead times — we don’t need in depth courses on how to do this manually, we need certifications in whatever technologies our companies have chosen to use so we can take the utmost advantage of that technology, or at least a certification that covers the basics across all technologies of that type.

But even though it’s now the mid-2020s, we still don’t have any certifications that even cover the basics of the tech that hit the scene across Source-to-Pay in the mid 2000s. After all, the basics they convey haven’t change either. So, as some have noted, while they are a decent starting point for someone just getting into Procurement, it won’t get them very far. And they certainly don’t add any value to anyone with more than 3 years of experience.

Hopefully this will change, because it would be nice if Procurement professionals had a certification option that would allow them the opportunity for a lifetime of learning, vs. checking the box for a certification where they know more than the teacher.