Category Archives: rants

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.

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.

While Not a Significant Source, Some New Vendors are Contributing to the Procurement Stink!

There are many reasons that Procurement Stinks!

Some of them are due to the Marketplace Madness.

Some of the marketplace madness (a small amount, but non-zero), is aptly summarized as follows.


We’re pre-revenue, pre-product, and pre-idea.
So any help would NOT be appreciated!

(Which, to give credit where credit is due, is
a slight rewording of the tag-line to an Andertoon).

Those companies will likely be among the first companies to fail. When there is at least 50 companies that are offering every S2P module, and over 100 for most modules, there is only so much room for differentiation. This means that most of the new startups by the young 30-somethings that did NOT do their market research (but think they know it all because they are tech wizards who built a solution that did slightly more than the three inappropriate products they were stuck with at their last job) don’t really do anything different from a product perspective (and, in fact, usually do a heck-of-a-lot less — hence, “pre-product”). It might be a newer tech stack, it might look slicker, it might be a bit easier to use, but they all fail to understand that THIS IS PROCUREMENT.

This means that, at a minimum, any “product” they want to sell has to satisfy the following:

  • they have to demonstrate a significant ROI, within a decent return within the first 12 months before the CFO will even consider cutting a cheque
  • but before that, they have to show how they will generate long term value before they will even get budget (if the value is one-time like a spend analysis project, especially at Big X quotes of seven figures, not likely)
  • they have to show that it fits in with the current tech stack or IT will object
  • they have to show that it is compliant with regulations or Compliance will object
  • they have to show how it will also decrease overall procurement or supply chain risks, or risk management will steer the budget elsewhere
  • they have to demonstrate they will be able to do more and protect the brand or the CEO will object

Procurement tech is not about cool. That’s consumer tech. Procurement tech is not about the most modern stack to power the business. That’s IT tech. Procurement tech is about VALUE. Procurement is expected to cut costs, NOT increase them!

Until the new generation of founders learns that, and learns there is no way that Procurement will NOT be able to make a case for their 𝘯𝘦𝘸 𝘩𝘰𝘡𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘴 that literally does nothing different than the 𝘰𝘭π˜₯ 𝘣𝘢𝘴𝘡𝘦π˜₯ tech that came before, the old Procurement Pros aren’t going to buy it. And these start-ups won’t hit break-even as a company, and if they don’t get acquired, they will go belly up as the investors realize how over-crowded the space is and any further investment would be throwing good many after bad into the bottomless money pit.

You NEVER Have to Go Crazy on 3 Bids and a Buy!

This is a follow-up to last Friday’s article on RFP Everything? Are You Mad? Even The Squirrels Will Think You’re Nuts!,
which was in response to a LinkedIn Post where a consultant noted that a remarkable example of AI was autonomous tail spend RFP’s generating over 15,000 RFP’s annually through a programmed bot. the doctor‘s response to this was that it was absolutely terrifying. Sales professionals who are already over-inundated with ever more demanding RFQs where they know, statistically, they will only get 20% to 33% of the business if they are on par, and less of the business if they are not, are going to be so overwhelmed that they are going to have two options:

  • pick favourites and stop responding, or selling, to clients that over-inundate but under-buy or
  • acquire an auto-responder and counter auto-generated RFQs with auto-generated bids from their catalog, which may be good, bad, or pointless

Neither is good for the buying company. The counter to this was that there is a category of services which is one off and needs the collection of a number of competitive bids. The value of these services in the €10-100k bracket needed a tail spend management program for which we developed the automated β€˜3 bids and a buy program’ … and there is no better way to organize it.

Which is totally not true, because the doctor saw a better way successfully implemented 16 years ago. Back in the day, Iasta (acquired by b-pack, renamed Determine, acquired by Corcentric) identified that one of the BEST uses for strategic sourcing decision optimization was services procurement (when most firms were still using it for indirect or fledgeling direct).

What they did was:

  1. identify all of the services their large mid-market clients would contract over the course of a year with typical durations
  2. collect bids from national, regional, & local providers
  3. build a huge optimization model which would identify the lowest cost providers for each service in each area and then make an annual award to a mix of national, regional, and local providers guaranteeing a certain volume / $-value of services across a certain number of service categories / roles across awarded service areas as long as the provider locked in the rates for a year

It was ingenious because, when the service was needed, the company simply sent the requisition to one of the chosen providers (lowest-cost first if available, or second-lowest if not or if they weren’t sending enough business to the second-lowest in other categories to meet the commitment).

ONE single RFQ event. One year of quotes negated. The approach regularly identified up to 40% savings, and realized up to 30% savings. David Bush and team were geniuses!

The morale of the story is this: if you think you need to send 15,000 auto-generated RFQs to get tail spend under control, you haven’t done enough thinking about, or analysis of, the problem!

Dear Fellow Analysts: It’s Time to Step Up And Deal with the PROCUREMENT STINK!

Because if we don’t, no one else will!

What am I talking about?

As per last Wednesday’s article, PROCUREMENT STINKS and we just can’t deny it anymore. In a nutshell, and this is just the tip of the garbage heap:

  1. Case studies are ranker than expired fish in a microwave on high.
  2. Approximately 85% of companies are AI-washing everything.
  3. The Gen-AI claims that it will deliver Procurement to the enterprise are FALSE.
  4. Intake/Orchestration is totally useless on its own.
  5. Consultancies are often more in the dark than the Procurement departments they are claiming they can help.
  6. DEI is being misused to push agendas and sometimes to Do Extra-legal Initiatives,

But this isn’t even the worst of it!

THE REVELATOR recently conducted a poll on who do you trust, and the results were more than a little disturbing as far as I am concerned.

 

That’s right. Only 50% of practitioners trust analysts to help them make the right decision when selecting technology. 36% would rather a consultant, who likely has a very strong incentive to either recommend a preferred partner solution (where they are guaranteed to get the implementation contract) or the solution that requires the most implementation effort (to add months, or years, to the engagement), and, even worse, 14% would rather trust a marketer or salesperson, who gets paid for leads or sales, not for solving a customer’s problem!

As far as the doctor is concerned, anything less than 75% is appalling. While he will happily admit there are some independent consultants at smaller firms without vendor partnerships who will be truly objective and will offer valuable advice, this is not the norm at most of the larger firms that are preferred partners or implementation providers for the bigger players in our space (where the majority of consultants reside), so the fact that the consultant trust is so high is a little off-putting. However, he’s simply aghast at the fact that 14% would rather trust a salesperson or a marketer for solution advice. Frankly, this means we are definitely failing the market.

Basically, if we can’t be the unbiased experts and independent voices of reason that the Procurement practitioners can always trust for good, unbiased, advice, then what good are we?

So what can we do to regain the trust? the doctor is sad to say he’s not exactly sure and hopes that

  • some other analysts will echo the call to action to deal with the PROCUREMENT STINK,
  • analysts will collectively take the lead in cleaning it up and restoring our reputation, and
  • offer up suggestions on what we can do to make it better!

Now, while the doctor doesn’t have all the answers, he does have suggestions on where we can start.

1. Be fully transparent on whom we do and don’t include in maps and logo charts, why, and the business situation in which our recommendations are, and are not, relevant.

This is quite obvious, and most of us are getting pretty good at being very explicit about the inclusion requirements for our maps and studies, but we don’t always take the time to clarify what this means for the market and, more specifically, which types of organizations the reports and maps are targeted at, which types of organizations will get the most value, and, most importantly, which types of organizations are unlikely to get any value because they don’t fall in the size/verticals/etc. the map or report is targeting. As far as the doctoris concerned, now more than ever we need to double down and get it right on both sides of the equation — who is being included, and why AND who should, and should not, be reading the report, and why, when we release something to the market. (Like the doctor did with his mega map.)

2. Stop glamourizing hype cycles and start busting them when there is no perceivable value to Procurement.

Procurement is supposed to be about solutions that deliver enterprise value, not cool technology. Leave that to the Consumer Electronics Show. When we promote tech for the sake of tech, we’re not helping anyone. We need to promote solutions to business problems with measurable ROI, regardless of what the underlying technology is. It’s irrelevant how many vendors embrace Gen-AI, when it has yet to demonstrate even a single use case that offers value beyond traditional tech, and the majority have failed to deliver any value.

3. Stop taking our cues from vendors as to where the space is going and start leading vendors to where the space should be going.

For example, intake-to-orchestrate is the craze, vendors are popping up faster than rabbits in a carrot field, and it’s likely only a matter of time before we see a map covering the intake-to-orchestrate space. (Especially since the doctor has been led to understand that one major analyst firm is already considering such a map, and where one leads, others will follow.)

However, in the doctor‘s view, this SHOULD NOT happen. Because, as stated above, and explained in detail in our article on why PROCUREMENT STINKS, there is NO VALUE in intake/orchestrate on its own. NONE. Intake is nothing more than pay-per-view on your data and orchestrate is just pure SaaS-based middleware, and middleware is something we’ve had for decades (and the need for such is negated completely if all the applications you use have complete, open, APIs as they can then be connected directly). The only value in these offerings would be in any additional functionality they embed to enhance the value of the applications they are linking together so that 1+1=3.

It would be understandable if they all embedded additional functionality that was comparable, valuable on its own, and formed a new application category that made sense to evaluate separately. However, right now, many don’t embed sufficient functionality; those that do are, for the most part, not comparable (as they all tend to specialize in something different, such as easy self-serve Procurement, services management, statements of work, etc.); and there has been no application thereof that wasn’t designed to enhance, or, most of the time, just make existing applications accessible. A standalone map would be senseless. (Instead, the intake and orchestrate requirements that are necessary for success should be included in the definition, and measurement of, Procurement, Sourcing, Supplier Management and other existing applications that can deliver enterprise value.)

3b. Start calling vendors out on bullsh!t when they start chasing, or putting, cool tech before practical solutions with actual ROI.

Privately at first (of course), unless the vendor insists on marketing it through a bullhorn. Then we may have no choice but to publicly call them out on it. Vendors may not like it, and may get upset when we burst their tech-centric bubble, but we’re not helping anyone when we don’t. Not us, not the procurement professionals we claim to support, and definitely not the vendors if we don’t try to dissuade them from throwing good money after bad on tech that won’t solve actual problems and ultimately won’t sell once their potential clients see the lack of value that comes with the price tag. This space has always been about ROI, we need to remind vendors of that, and guide them to where the ROI is just as we guide the practitioners. We need to be helpful to both sides to mature the space.

the doctor‘s not sure it’s enough, but it’s a start, and if other analysts make an effort to figure out how to restore our reputation, maybe we’ll find the answer, provide the unparalleled value that only we can provide, and get back the trust we should have.

Thoughts?