Category Archives: Best Practices

Cost Savings is NOT Cost Cutting …

… and we need more articles that hammer this point home!

A recent article over on the Supply Chain Management Review (SCMR) focussed on how strategic cost savings differ from cutting costs, highlighted a recent survey from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) that found that while 65% of executives are prioritizing supply chain and manufacturing costs as the biggest levels for organizations to pull for cost savings, 52% [are still focussed on] labour and non-labour overhead costs. OUCH!

Most Supply Chain / Procurement Departments are understaffed and/or under platformed due to lack of talent and lack of available budget. They’re also a very small part of the organizational headcount, which in many organizations is now a small part of total spend. As a result, labour is not the problem. External spend is.

And kudos to the SCMR and Laura Juliano from the Boston Consulting Group for pointing out that strategic cost control is the right approach.

If you’re spending 100M on a category, you should be doing a lot more than just a 3-bids-and-a-buy RFX, cutting a PO, and paying an invoice. A lot more. And looking at more than just the unit cost — at the very least the total cost of ownership from initial acquisition through warranty/repair and eventual disposal, if not full total value management which also looks at brand value, bundled services, etc. Even well managed direct categories usually have 3% or more savings opportunities, and those that were not well managed can have two to three times that (in the 6% to 9% range). In other words, giving one person the time to properly source one category, even if it takes 3 months of man effort, can save 3M. Even if the fully burdened resource costs your organization 240K a year, that’s an ROI of 50X on the proper use of that one resource’s time.

This one example surfaces the key point of strategic cost control. It requires strategy and strategy requires PEOPLE with real HUMAN INTELLIGENCE (HI!). (Not hallucinatory Gen-AI like “chat, j’ai pété”). People who can analyze the situation, the available data, case studies from similar (historical) market situations, suppliers, products, and make the overall best decision(s) for the organization. And, preferably, people who can also consider the sustainability of their decision (and the implications with respect to any regulations in laws in countries they source from and sell to). (Senior Procurement leaders can’t ignore any sustainability requirements they are subject to [40% are], they definitely can’t be unaware of legislation that could affect them [37% are], and they definitely can’t be making awards to suppliers and/or for products that might just disappear in a year or three.)

In other words, you can’t reduce headcount. (You may need to replace people if you initially hired people who thought strategic procurement was catalog comparison or invoice verification, of which 95% to 99% can be fully automated, but never, ever reduce the number of people in Procurement.)

Affordable RFPs — What Are Those?

A couple of weeks ago we penned an article on The Key to Procurement Software Selection Success: Affordable RFPs!. This resonated with those of you wanting to improve your Procurement operations who were willing to admit that you could use the help, but it also left you with one big question: where to find these affordable RFPs?

And the doctor hears you on this. You can’t just go to any old consulting firm and get an affordable RFP. Most of you have encountered high price tags, whether you went to a Big X, mid-size consulting company, or even a niche specialist. And you’re probably wondering why. Well, first you need to understand the following.

1. The Big X.

There are a number of reasons you’ll NEVER get an affordable RFP from a Big X.

  • their modus operandi is to get their people embedded on your projects and keep them there for as long as possible at 5X+ their hourly rate
  • they have agreements with a number of big suite vendors where they are a preferred implementation partner and get a big referral check in addition to YOUR implementation fees
  • they’ll put a senior resource / junior partner as lead, but you’ll never see that person, instead, most of the work will be done by a team of inexperienced, poorly educated, technologically inept recent grads “under their guidance” who will rack up the hours just trying to get the basics right (because this senior resource / junior partner will also be attached to 10+ other projects so that they can close the deals, so just how much time will that resource have to even think about your existence?)

2. The mid-size consultancies.

While it is sometimes possible to get an affordable RFP from a mid-size consultancy, the reality is that it’s a rare occurrence (and your odds are about the same as achieving success with an average technology project which, as per Gartner, is less than 1 in 5, largely because they are never scoped and planned right, starting with the RFP), and most of you never will. As with the Big X, there are a number of reasons you’ll RARELY get an affordable RFP from a mid-size consultancy.

  • like the Big X, they want to get projects that keep their people busy (usually at more reasonable 3X to 4X resource hourly rates) as long as possible as they want to grow (and they totally miss the big picture that it is delivered value that wins repeat business)
  • while they are willing to be more impartial than the Big X, they have a few partners they prefer to direct any RFPs (and awards) to as they know the systems well (and can get the implementation work) and it keeps them front and center with the vendors who need to direct implementation work to a third party
  • they can’t afford benchers, so their recent grads are not only the top of their class who have shown aptitude for their domain, but they are balanced by intermediate personnel on the projects who can guide them and there’s usually always at least one senior person, but only the senior people can do the RFPs well enough on their own, so the day rates are almost as high as a Big X as the RFPs tend to be mostly senior and intermediate personnel

3. The niche consultancies.

The niche consultancies are your best bet of getting an affordable RFP, but the reality is that it’s still, unfortunately, hit and miss and it’s likely that less than 1 in 3 of you will see a decent rate when all is said and done (where we measure RFP spend against total system spend over five years and try to maintain the right ratio).

This is despite the facts that:

  • unlike the Big X and mid-size consultancies, they believe in fair costing and keep their bill rates in the 2.5X to 3X range (enough to cover their resources’ hourly rate, overhead, and a fair profit margin)
  • even if they have partnerships with a vendor or three, they tend not to favoured by the vendors who will never direct work to them (and only allow them to implement deals they bring) due to their small size and inability to rapidly scale up (like a Big X or mid-size), which means their bias towards any vendor, if it exists, is quite limited
  • they don’t have junior people, because they can’t afford benchers and resources that don’t deliver with their cost model, and only hire (high-achieving) intermediate and senior personnel, and focus primarily on those who can do small projects entirely on their own or with limited support

When you look at this, you should be able to get a lot of value for a reasonable amount of money. And, make no mistake, you do get value for money.

However, when you look at the total system cost that you can afford as a (smaller) midsize company, and then you look at the cost of getting that good RFP, the problem is that the cost of the RFP is more than you can afford (and should be spending). This means that you end up having to cut corners on the software (and get less from a preferred vendor or go with a more cost effective runner up) or forego more than a modicum of help from the consultancy (where you just get a few advisory days and hope your team to can capture enough of the brain-dump to put together something reasonable).

Even though this shouldn’t be the case.

So why are most niche consultancy RFPs not affordable (unless you are acquiring a mini-suite or significant advanced functionality that comes with a significant price tag and are a larger mid-size with the budget for it)?

We’ll get to that in our next installment.

The Key to Procurement Software Selection Success: Affordable RFPs!

Modern supply chains are risky. Very risky. Nothing made this fragility more clear than COVID where the world essentially broke down due to an illogical (to the point of insanity, thank you McKinsey) over-reliance on outsourcing, especially to China. (There’s a reason that SI has been promoting near-sourcing, home-shoring, and home-sourcing for over sixteen years — because this breakdown was inevitable, the only unknown was whether or not it was to be geopolitical instability/war, a massive natural disaster, or a pandemic that would be the first card to topple in the house of cards.)

Despite the best laid plans, and all the precautions you can implement, something will inevitably go wrong. Very wrong. And the disturbance will cost you greatly. That’s you you buy supply chain insurance which, depending on exposure, limits of dependency, and regionalization, will cost you between 1% and 10% of the policy value (maximum claim amount). If we take 5% as an average (which is not unreasonable), that says for every 1,000,000 of at-risk inventory you need to insure (to prevent devastating loss), you are paying $50,000.

But do you know what’s just as risky as your supply chain? The investment in the technology that you use to power your supply chain. Therefore, you should do everything you can to ensure you get it right! The best way to do this is create a good, proper, RFP to help hone in on software vendors that have appropriate solutions that should be able to fill your need while ensuring that they have the minimum globalization, size, and services you will need to consider giving them an award.

But, as per previous articles, including our last article on why THERE ARE NO FREE RFPs!, you’re probably not capable of doing this on your own. This is because a proper RFP requires

  • understanding your current Procurement Maturity
    (and while you may understand what you’re doing, it’s doubtful you understand how you are faring against the market or best-in-class)
  • understanding your current processes (based on this) vs. your target processes (based on where you should get to within a reasonable time-frame, taking into account that The Hackett Group, based on their book of numbers, discovered that it was typically an eight-year journey to best in class for large global enterprises)
  • understanding how these translate into use cases that must be supported by technology
  • understanding what technological capabilities will be required to get you there and …
  • what additional capabilities would be beneficial to simplify your tasks, identify additional value, or help your team progress in Procurement maturity over time and …
  • understanding which types of solutions / modules on the market contain the bulk of those capabilities so you know which segment of vendors to send the RFP to
  • understanding if the backbone solutions in place are worth keeping or if they should be replaced instead of augmented (i.e. would the solution with the missing capabilities completely subsume these solutions [rending them unnecessary], like simple RFPs in a Sourcing Suite or catalogs in a Procurement suite, or would they still be needed, like an ERP backbone)
  • understanding the globalization needs not just of the company, but the (potential) suppliers
  • understanding the services that will be required for installation, migration, and integration
  • understanding any unique requirements of the organization that will need to be addressed by a vendor (to ensure they can meet them) before negotiations can begin

and if you don’t know

  • what the state of the market is, or what best in class is
  • how your processes should be transformed to advanced up the maturity curve
  • how to define the appropriate use cases
  • … and the key technology capabilities that will be required
  • … and which optional capabilities will be true value add
  • how to identify solution/module types based on these capabilities
  • which solutions you have that you should keep, and which you should replace
  • the full breadth of globalization needs across the extended enterprise
  • the full breadth of services that will be required
  • which of your organizational requirements are truly unique and need to be spelled out

then you CANNOT write a good RFP. So you really, really, should pay an expert, independent, advisor (or consultancy that does not have any preferred provider partnerships) to do the appropriate Procurement and platform maturity assessments and write the RFP that you need.

Especially since this can usually be done for less than 10%, if not 5%, of the 5-year cost of the investment. (Face it, you’re going to be locked into at least three years no matter what you buy, usually five years, and even if not, it’s going to be too costly to switch out even the worst solution in less than five years.) For example, as per previous Sourcing Innovation posts on how much should you pay for a starting platform, as a mid-market you would be looking at about 250K/year in license fees for a good suite across the board (120K for a starter, but that wouldn’t have all the modules or advanced capabilities where you need them), plus implementation, migration, and integration that will run you anywhere from 125K to 500K (or more) up front. Assume 250K, and this gives you a five year baseline cost of 1.5M. 10% of that is 150K, and you can definitely get the help you need for that — and it’s a SMALL price to pay to make sure you get the acquisition right of this make-or-break technology (that can deliver a 3X to 5X+ ROI done right, and cost you Millions done wrong). (And if you’re a larger enterprise, you’d be looking at 3M to 6M for a suite for 5 years, which gives you a budget that even the Big X would be interested in, but which they SHOULD NOT be considered for as they are all preferred implementation partners for at least one of the major suites.)

So if you want true success, big savings (10% for the appropriate strategic sourcing/procurement technologies), and real ROI (3X to 5X or more), put those “FREE” RFPs in the trash where they belong and find the right expert to help you create the right Affordable RFP that will ensure the successful selection that your organization needs.

GlobalTrade Tackled Procurement 2024 Before McKinsey, But Their Suggestions Weren’t that Innovative, Part II

As per Part 1, the doctor ignored this article over on GlobalTrade Magazine on 10 Innovative Approaches to Enhance Procurement Efficiency in 2024 because the approaches weren’t all that innovative, and the article, while professionally written, clearly wasn’t written by a Procurement Professional, as most of the recommendations were so basic even Chat-GPT could likely have produced something equally as good with high probability (gasp!). He’s only covering it because one recommendation had the potential to be the most innovative recommendation of the year (because no one is recommending it) had the author got it right (and approached it the right way).

However, since we covered and analyzed the McKinsey recommendations in great detail in a four-part series over the past two weeks, we will be fair and give GlobalTrade their due. In this two part article, we’ll quickly discuss each recommendation one-by-one to make it clear most of the suggestions really weren’t innovative. In fact, the one recommendation that is innovative wasn’t even described in the one way that makes it innovative. But since it did remind the doctor of one thing many of the recommendation articles were missing, this gives us another reason to cover it and use it as an example of why you need to seek out advice written by the experts, or at least people who live Procurement and/or Procurement Tech day-in-and-day-out.

6. Use AI to Review Process.

Uhm, NO! Use analytics and automation, not AI! And use traditional process analysis tools to identify where you are spending the most (and possibly too much) time.

7. Try New Inventory Software.

And if everything written to this point wasn’t a dead giveaway this article wasn’t written by a Procurement Pro, this is. First of all, inventory is operation / supply chain & logistics, not Procurement. Secondly, it’s not new inventory software, it’s e-Procurement software that can integrate with the inventory management system to determine if a request should be (re)allocated from inventory or ordered from a nearby supplier (using a pre-approved catalog item). (Heck, the author couldn’t even get the market size increase right — it’s 4.9 Billion according to the linked study, not 4.9 million! And if you’re interested in the Procurement market, Technavio, owned by Infiniti Research, is NOT one of the leading analyst firms in the Procurement Market.)

8. Formalize the Procurement Process.

How non-innovative can you get? Are there any organizations still in business at this point who have Not formalized the process? It’s no longer formalize, it’s SaaS-back and automate as much as possible!

9. Strategize Market Analysis.

Would any Procurement department doing market analysis really be doing it off the cuff? Uhm, no! It’s not strategize, it’s automate — implement platforms that automatically collect, track, analyze, report on changes and provide predictions on costs, availability, risk, and other important pieces of information.

10. Reassess Cost Evaluation.

This is the ONE prediction that could have been the most innovative prediction this year if thought through and presented properly. The author noted that many companies are not looking at the total acquisition cost and indicated that buyers should look at this, as well as usage costs and even disposal costs, getting into total cost of ownership (TCO) territory — you know, the concept we’ve been talking about here on SI since we started in 2006!

However, in today’s economy, TCO is no longer enough, and you have to move onto the next generation of what we have been calling TVM: Total Value Management since 2007! The root of TVM was that total cost of ownership is not enough when the end goal of every product or service obtained is about value, and value goes beyond pure cost elements and includes bundled services, controlled and understood risk, and brand recognition.

So cost evaluation needs to factor that in as well, but often that’s not enough anymore either. It’s not just supply or stability risk, it’s regulatory compliance. It’s not just product cost, but carbon cost. It’s not just brand recognition, it’s brand risk if your suppliers are using slave labour, polluting the environment with carcinogens, or finding new and inventive ways to be truly evil. It’s also not just today’s price, it’s tomorrow’s price. If the product relies on a raw material currently getting scarcer by the day, can you find an alternative that doesn’t need that material, or needs less of it? And so on. Cost evaluation is not just cost alone anymore. And any organization that takes the next step here will be truly innovative.

Now, in all fairness, the doctor should point out that the article’s recommendations could be considered innovative if the organization didn’t have a Procurement department, but in today’s economic environment, unless it had a monopolistic stranglehold on a market, the doctor doesn’t see how a company of any size without a proper Procurement function could still be in operation.

Anyway, that’s all, folks!

GlobalTrade Tackled Procurement 2024 Before McKinsey, But Their Suggestions Weren’t that Innovative, Part I

Except for one suggestion, and only if you interpreted it the right way. But let’s backup.

the doctor ignored this article over on GlobalTrade Magazine on 10 Innovative Approaches to Enhance Procurement Efficiency in 2024 because the approaches weren’t all that innovative, and the article, while professionally written, clearly wasn’t written by a Procurement Professional, as most of the recommendations were so basic even Chat-GPT could likely have produced something equally as good with high probability (gasp!).

However, since we covered and analyzed the McKinsey recommendations in great detail in a four-part series over the past two weeks, we will be fair and give GlobalTrade their due. In this two part article, we’ll quickly discuss each recommendation one-by-one to make it clear most of the suggestions really weren’t innovative. In fact, the one recommendation that is innovative wasn’t even described in the one way that makes it innovative. But since it did remind the doctor of one thing many of the recommendation articles were missing, this gives us another reason to cover it and use it as an example of why you need to seek out advice written by the experts, or at least people who live Procurement and/or Procurement Tech day-in-and-day-out.

1. Consolidate Various Supplier Lists.

Is this 1984? This was advice you’d expect to see when Jack Welch started revolutionizing Procurement at GE in the 80s, which gave rise to the first sourcing and procurement platforms in the 90s (like FreeMarkets Inc. that was started by Meakem in ’95 after leaving GE to productize what he learned). Today, the advice should be upgrade to a modern supplier management 360 platform that consolidates all of your suppliers and their associated information including, but not limited to, complete corporate profile, insurance and compliance, risk, sustainability/ESG/Scope 3, and any other information you need to do business with the supplier.

2. Conduct Frequent Educational Courses.

This is best practices 101 for any critical discipline within your organization, not just Procurement, and it’s relevant both for the team, and the people who need to interact with / depend on the team and / or use Procurement’s systems. Plus, overworked, and overstressed, professionals will learn better with frequent short courses (that they can put into practice) vs. a once a year cram session. The best advice here is to conduct frequent, specialized, courses on key systems and processes by role. And archive the materials online for easy access for refresh as needed.

3. Work on Supplier Relationships.

Supplier Relationship Management is Procurement 101 for strategic suppliers and has been for two decades. Nothing to learn here. Except make sure your modern Supplier Management 360 platform can support your supplier relationship management activities by tracking performance, agreed upon development plans, synchronous and asynchronous activities between all parties, etc.

4. Review Expectations with Suppliers.

Isn’t this part of supplier relationship management? Which, as we just discussed, is something you should have been doing since day 1. The advice here should be to make sure your modern Supplier Management 360 portal contains all of the agreements, milestones, orders, delivery dates, real-time performance data, development plans, and other elements that define supplier expectations.

5. Remain Open to Solutions of All Sizes.

While not very innovative, especially as written, this was the only other suggestion that Procurement departments need to hear. Consumer spending is flat or falling. Investment money has slowed to a trickle. Inflation is back with a vengeance, and budgets are being slashed to the bones. So you should be open to solutions of all sizes, especially when it comes to:

  • supplier management
  • process management
  • software / SaaS platforms
  • consulting

And especially SaaS platforms and consulting. If you haven’t looked for a solution to solve process / problem X since the last decade because it was too expensive, look again. When spend analysis first hit the market, it was a Million Dollar solution for software and services. A few years later, when BIQ hit the scene, you got more power and more value identified for 1/10 of the cost and low six figures bought you a full enterprise license and enough services to identify a year’s worth of opportunities. Then, a decade later, when Spendata hit the scene, a mid-market could get a full enterprise license for a core analytics team of 5 for $14,000 a a year, and for another $10,000, get enough training and guidance to use the software themselves to identify a year’s worth of opportunities from built-in templates and standard analyses. Same holds for any application you can think of — for any module you could want, someone has a SaaS mid-market solution for 2K to 3K a month. Not the 20K to 30K you would have paid a decade ago.

And for consulting, you don’t need a Big X where you have to hire a team at rates starting at 4K a day for the recent grad. You can hire an expert from a mid-market niche who is powered by the right tech who can do the work of an entire team for 6K a day — which is less than the Big X charges for the project manager who adds no value to your project.

We’ll tackle the next 5 in Part II.