Category Archives: Procurement Innovation

e-Procurement Implementation Success Goes Well Beyond The Basics

the doctor was quite disappointed with this article over on the WorldBank Blogs on 10 success factors for implementing [an] e-Procurement System because all of these “factors” were generic success factors for the implementation of any technical system. Let’s look at them at a high level (and direct you to the article for a description of what the requirements are if they aren’t immediately clear to you):

Governance Principles
all projects need to be managed and governed, so this is pretty much a “d’uh!”
Transparency on Legal and Regulatory Frameworks
any platform that processes any personal, payment, or classified data HAS to adhere to Legal and Regulatory frameworks of ALL countries the corporation operates in, so this is obvious for any platform that requires it
Strategy Ownership and Sustainability
it’s classic project management, no owner, everything goes to cr@p
Implementation and Integration Challenges
preparing for this is just a given
Technical Infrastructure and SaaS-based Systems
all technology implementations need to integrate with the current infrastructure and SaaS systems that contain the necessary data, so this is pretty much a “d’uh!”
Training & Capacity Building
well, you need the capacity and the training regardless of the system being implemented
Engage Stakeholders Actively
without stakeholder support, it will be hard to get the resources for a timely, successful implementation of any technology
Align with International Standards
technology should always align with any regulatory standards in place
Clear Communication and Change Management
necessary for the success of ANY project, not just a technology project, so this is pretty much a super “D’UH!”
Data Security and Privacy
if the data is personal, payment, classified, trade secret, etc. etc. etc. then security and privacy is of more concern than the tech, so, another ‘d’uh!”

e-Procurement success goes beyond the basics. There are too many six, seven, and, for some multinationals locked into 5-year contracts, eight figure acquisitions that have failed to deliver on the promises made. This is because the selection, implementation, and utilization of such systems goes beyond most back-office tech to get right.

Selection

In our recent article on The Key to Procurement Software Selection Success: Affordable RFPs!, we noted that selecting the right vendor was paramount to success, and a critical requirement in this selection process was a GOOD RFP.

Furthermore, that RFP needed to specify, among a host of requirements:

  • typical use cases
  • target processes
  • globalization requirements
  • data migration requirements
  • integration requirements

Why are we calling these out? Because these define the key factors for implementation success!

Implementation

Key Factors are thus:

Primary Components / Modules
… that are needed to support the critical use cases and target processes, that need to be implemented and demonstrated first
Test Cases
that must be passed, in priority order, to ensure the use cases and target processes can be accomplished
… including multi-lingual use cases
that support not only the customer organization requirements but the supplier requirements
Data Migration Requirements
spelled out in detail, as well as cut-over requirements
Cross-System Bi-Directional Integration Requirements
spelled it in minute detail, not just push to the ERP … and considerably more than just a high level holistic strategy … when it comes to tech, the devil truly is in the details and chaos emerges when you overlook even one

Utilization

A system not utilized is a failed system, even if the implementation and integration goes as well as can be reasonably expected. Utilization is critical, especially early on, or widespread adoption will never be reached. This is why it’s paramount that the functionality required for the critical use cases be implemented and tested first so that utilization of key capabilities can begin as soon as possible, leading to adoption.

In other words, the basic checklist for technology implementation is nowhere near enough for the successful implementation of procurement technology — that success requires going deep.

Procurement should NOT be reimagined!

It’s not just vendors that have latched onto the Marketing Madness that we addressed in last week’s article where we tried to help you decipher ten meaningless phrases that are polluting the Procurement technology landscape, but consultants and thought leaders as well. And while the marketing madmen fill us with meaningless messaging, these consultants are feeding us with dangerous delusions that we can solve our problems by simply redefining Procurement as something it is not.

Procurement is not something to be reimagined as it is not something that should even be redefined at the core. The purpose of Procurement has not changed since the first known Purchasing manual, The Handling of Railway Supplies: Their Purchase and Disposition was published back in 1887, nor should it change. It’s the process of sourcing, acquiring, and paying for the goods and services the organization needs, and doing it in a manner that ensures that the products will meet the needs, at the best price, and show up at the right time — and that as many orders as possible are “perfect” (or, more precisely, problem free).

Key aspects are thus:

  • Supplier Discovery and Vetting (Risk and Compliance)
  • RFP creation or Auction (Product Service Verification and Competitive Pricing)
  • Award and Contract (Negotiation and Terms and Conditions)
  • Catalogs, Purchase Orders, Pre-Scheduled Deliveries, Auto-Reorders (“Buying”)
  • Logistics Routing, Delivery Scheduling and Monitoring (Risk Management)
  • Invoice Processing and Payment (Payment Confirmation, Fraud Prevention)
  • Quality Assurance and Inventory Management (Loss Minimization)

There is nothing to imagine here. And definitely NOTHING to re-imagine here. Now that supply assurance is still near an all time low (due to geopolitical instability, rampant inflation, unpredictable demand, etc.), it’s time to double down on what is critical and get it right. Not wander off to Imaginationland searching for a magical solution to tough, real-world problems.

New and improved processes might increase the chance of success (by decreasing the odds that something is missed), new technologies might increase the level of automation (and decrease the amount of manual [e-]paper pushing), but neither fundamentally change the work that must be done, the effort that must be made, and the human intelligence (HI) that must be applied to get the job done. No amount of “re-imagining” will change this. As we’ve said before, and will probably have to say again and again and again, there is no big red easy button, and no amount of imagining (or re-imagining) will create one. So, if someone tells you to re-imagine procurement. you tell them the same thing you should tell them if they spew Marketing Madness: CUT THE CR@P!

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.

MeRLIN Sourcing, A Platform With a Twist …

INTRODUCTION

When their founders were young men
they paced the fact’ry floors
from Vellore down to Chennai
they must have walked ’em all
cause they learned all of the problems
that plagued the Procurement side.
Those listen, look, and learn guys
sure made a lean platform.

The founders of MeRLIN, who started Rheinbrucke Consulting in 2013, started developing a stand-alone application for direct source-to-contract (and, for those who need it, source-to-pay) in 2018 using their decades of experience supporting direct manufacturing clients. MeRLIN was then frst released it to the market in 2022, after ensuring it actually solved the problems they were seeing and met the needs of the companies they were working with.

(While some companies might take it as a badge of honour to get a “minimally viable product” to market in a year, the reality is that when it comes to manufacturing enterprises, nothing you can develop in a year will actually solve more than a fraction of their problems, and unless what you deliver can integrate tightly into their existing enterprise software landscape, it won’t be adopted, or even bought. That’s why there are so many offerings in indirect [many of whom will succumb to the marketplace madness] and so few that offer true direct sourcing solutions, and fewer still that offer fully integrated source-to-contract / source-to-pay suites.)

PLATFORM SUMMARY

MeRLIN, which bills itself as a Source-to-Contract platform for Direct Material (primarily Discrete Manufacturing) Sourcing, is actually a Source-to-Pay platform where the Procure-to-Pay platform capabilities are baseline (and wouldn’t go head-to-head with best-in-class) and designed for the mid-market (and large enterprise) clients that don’t have a Procurement solution in place already (either through the ERP, AP, or a third party system). Since most larger enterprises have some form of decent P2P, MeRLIN decided to focus primarily on the critically underserved strategic sourcing marketplace in discrete manufacturing and direct sourcing and the capabilities all of the companies the founders worked with in manufacturing were universally missing.

MeRLIN was designed as a modular solution where

  • a client could license just the modules they wanted/needed,
  • common modules, and capabilities, were broken out into their own modules so their was no duplication of functionality, and
  • key modules could be augmented with additional value-added functionality not typically found in average products.

MeRLIN has all the standard modules you’d expect in a Source-to-Contract:

  • (Program &) BoM Management (Requirement for any Direct Solution)
  • Requisition Management (Intake)
  • Sourcing (Event) Management (Sourcing)
  • Supplier Management (SXM)
  • Contract Management & Contract Authoring (CLM)
  • Reports & Dashboard (Reporting & Analytics)

As well as basics for Procure-to-Pay:

  • Purchase Order Management
  • Invoice & Payment Management

But also has modules for:

  • Demand Management (Consolidation of Requirements from Requisitions, Manufacturing Programs, and MRPs)
  • Category Management (Part/BoM grouping & management)
  • Supply Chain Compliance (GSCA / LkSG)
  • Supply Management (Document & Shipment Management)

and the standard suite foundational modules of:

  • Master Data Management
  • Business Administration
  • Security Management
  • System Management

And even modules for:

  • Strategic Project Management (Project Management/Orchestration)
  • Finance Management (Budgets, Prices)

We’re not going to discuss all the modules and instead focus in on just the core Source-to-Contract modules, as they are the modules that are critical to direct sourcing and the modules that will allow you to understand the value, and potential, MeRLIN has for you.

Supplier Management

Supplier Management is designed to onboard, evaluate, approve, and manage suppliers, including their contacts, surveys, ratings, and documents. Qualification starts with a simple request based on supplier name, country, email, and unique (DUNS) identifier. Based on the supplier category, the next step will be to send the suppliers the qualification surveys and pull in the external risk information, send it to technical and risk reviewers, and if that passes, it will go off to compliance to ensure the supplier can comply with all necessary regulations the company is subject to and then, if that passes, the supplier will get a registration invite to provide all of the additional information necessary to do business with the company as well as details on additional products and services.

Supplier Management captures all of the core company information, locations, accounts, questionnaires, risk information and scores, compliance reviews, scorecards, and approvals. For each of these there are standard fields, and as many additional fields can be added by the customer organization as needed.

Compliance Management

Collects and manages the organizational policies, supplier policy statements, compliance surveys, audits, risks, scorecards, and complaints. It can accept all documents, support custom surveys, import third party data from financial and environmental (and other) risk providers, provide you with compliance scorecards, and automatically extract and centralize all “risks” from the surveys based on scores and/or responses in a risk management view.

Moreover, in full compliance with the German Supply Chain Act (GSCA, known as the LkSG within Germany), MeRLIN provides the buying organization, each of their suppliers, and their entire employee base, a unique portal where they can register complaints. They have upgraded their platform to fully support the GSCA and can also support other supply chain acts as well (and future releases will encode more out-of-the-box support, even though it can already be custom figured on a client-by-client basis to support the majority of acts out there).

Requisition

Requisitions can be used as traditional requisitions for purchase orders against existing contracts for goods and services normally used by the company or as intake requests for sourcing. When they are used as intake requests, they go to a central management screen where the buyer can group them by material, bill of material, and/or category to identify sourcing event requirements and then create a sourcing event off of a bundle of them.

Sourcing

Sourcing is primarily RFX based, but auctions are supported as well off of base RFQs. A sourcing event can be kicked off from one or more requisitions, a category, a BoM, or an event template, which can consist of one or more RFIs, questionnaires, and line-items with custom price breakdowns in the RFQ. Associated with the RFQ can be the suppliers, addendums, budgets, stakeholders, terms and conditions, contract template, event schedule, and ongoing Q&A.

In addition to being able to review bids by total cost per unit and evaluation score (by the relevant stakeholders), the application also supports automatic award recommendation by criteria which can include target award by supplier, range of suppliers to split the award between, minimum and maximum shares, and preferred supplier status.

Contract “Authoring” & Management

The platform is primarily “signature” and “execution” management, as authoring is simply the packing up of contract templates, terms and conditions, specifications, and associated addendums for agreement by electronic signature. The electronic signature capability is compliant with USA regulations and most European regulations for private enterprise contracts. Once the contract is signed, the platform can manage the project timeline, stakeholders, documents, events, milestones, and obligations. In addition, the user can define alerts against any event, milestone, document, obligation or other entity on status change or due date.

Reporting & Dashboards

Reporting and Analysis in MeRLIN is through widget-based dashboards that summarize any data of interest in the system. Right now there are hundreds to select from in the reporting library, with more being added as needed. For each of the built in reports and dashboards (on suppliers, spend, process, etc.), the user can apply multiple filter options and save the configuration to their liking. There is no Do-It-Yourself (DiY) widget report builder yet, but more DiY analytics enhancement is on the roadmap.

Strategic Project Management

This is MeRLIN‘s built in project management capability where a user can define and instantiate RFX templates, supplier onboarding workflows, contracting processes from award specifications, procurement processes, and even entire Source-to-Procure projects which collect all of the necessary templates and workflows together. In addition, leadership is provided with a high level overview of sourcing projects.

Master Data Management

All of the system master data templates can be altered by the user including, but not limited to, currencies and conversions, items, locations, plants, prices, suppliers, contract metadata and milestones, and other key items. The customer can control it’s master data and master data identifiers.

Business Administration

All of the templates in the system can be managed and customized in the business administration section including, but not limited to supplier onboarding, qualification, evaluation, and audit questionnaires, product and item templates, requisitions, RFQs, purchase orders, contract terms, contracts, statements of work, email, and workflow templates.

Bill of Materials Manager

A key aspect of Direct Sourcing is managing the Bill of Materials. In the Merlin platform, that can be done through the BOM Manager, which unlike basic direct sourcing platforms, can maintain as many versions of a Bill Of Materials as the organization wants to maintain (for correlation with historical sourcing and procurement and cost estimates during new product design and/or product modification).

These versions can be uploaded from the ERP (or your PLM of choice with custom integration) or created in the BOM Manager, and this creation can be from scratch or from a previous BoM version which can be copied and modified as needed.

The best part of MeRLIN‘s BOM manager is its built-in ability to allow for easy should-cost analysis during NPD and BOM (re)design. Once a BOM has been uploaded or created, the user can click a button to “cost” and it will automatically find prices for every component in the BOM for which it has a price from a contract (first), catalog/commitment (second), or quote (third). Then, the user can push the remaining items to the Demand Management module for quick quote (or import into the internal catalog from a connected source) or simply create a place holder item (with an estimated cost). They can then return to the BOM Manager and re”cost” the BOM to get a complete cost estimate, which can be compared against the cost of all prior BoM versions (that were costed). This allows the organization to understand the costs associated with BOM changes over time (independent of supplier or distributor pricing changes). Gone are the days where you have to use a completely separate application to do BOM cost estimation.

Finally, the next update to the BOM Manager will allow for the user to enter a cost estimate directly in the BOM manager for materials/parts not yet quoted for even quicker price estimates, and those estimates will be clearly marked as internal estimates only.

Other Capabilities

We’re not going to discuss the procurement modules as they are not MeRLIN‘s focus (but we will assure you that they cover the foundations if you don’t have P2P and need it), demand management as you know what forecasting should do, category management (and category strategy management) as that is rather self explanatory, or finance management, as budget and price management is also straight forward.

The Full Picture

The platform is quite deep in all core areas and one could write pages about each module and its deep capabilities, but hopefully this is enough to convey the facts that

  • the MeRLIN platform was designed from the ground up to support direct and discrete sourcing,
  • has the capability to support these projects from inception to contract signing through the very last order against the award, and
  • goes beyond just raw sourcing capability to related capabilities of supplier risk, compliance, and execution (tracking the order to the delivery and qualification)

CONCLUSION

Given the relative lack of true direct and discrete sourcing platforms in the mid-market, MeRLIN is a platform you should definitely be aware of. If you’re in direct manufacturing, automotive, aerospace, and related industries, you might want to check them out today.


It’s for discrete wizards,
it’s a platform with a twist.
A discrete wizard
needs a tech assist …