In a digital future, relationships will continue to matter when it comes to risk management…
I recently attended a procurement event, and, over lunch, I had an interesting discussion with other procurement practitioners about supply chain risk management (SCRM). One of the people at the table stated that his organisation was not looking into increasing its SCRM capabilities because technology cannot help in preventing issues to happen. To reinforce his theory, he told us what had recently happened to his company. The factory of one of his key suppliers was reduced to ashes by a fire. That incident led to disruptions that, according to him, technology could not have helped preventing or mitigating the impact.
Even if it is true that SCRM technology cannot have a direct impact on the cause of incidents, it is not a reason to ignore potential threats and behave like an ostrich, sticking its head in the sand. The story above is one of the many examples demonstrating that organisations don’t learn and reproduce the same mistakes, again and again.
“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results.”Albert Einstein
SCRM technology together with SRM and Category Management can have an impact on reducing exposure by, for example, highlighting sensitive areas (single sourcing of critical components, suppliers in dangerous zones…). They also can help in reacting faster than the competition when problems occur. And there are many examples of that. However, there is more to it…
Being the customer of choice helps
During that same conversation, I mentioned another story I had read about as it was to some extent similar but with a very different outcome.
A buying organisation using a SCRM solution had received a notification that an incident had happened at one of their supplier’s factory. Therefore, the buyer in charge was able to
- immediately contact the supplier to discuss with him
- build a business continuity plan.
The immediate action was to have the supplier produce the component in one of his other factory that had some free capacity.
In addition to the speed advantage that technology provided, the buying organisation benefited from the good relationship he had built with the supplier. Because they were considered as a customer of choice, the supplier gave them access to possibilities that less preferential customers probably would never have had.
Get help from bigger than you
The story above reminded me of another one, with a different twist. I heard it a few months ago at a procurement conference in Czech Republic. A buyer (I will call him John) had in his portfolio a certain raw material. He was buying modest quantities of it but the material was nevertheless critical. Also, only a handful of suppliers were selling it. John knew that, in case of peak in demand, he would never be the one served first. In order to prevent shortages, he developed a clever alliance strategy.
John attended a fair where he knew that the major sellers and buyers of that raw material would be. Using the research he had done before the event and his observation skills, he connected with the big players on the buy-side of the market because he knew they would have better contracts and conditions that his. Conditions that would most probably integrate capacity agreements.
Months later, when demand peaked John did not contact his supplier to try to convince him to deliver to him; he knew it would be a vain effort. Instead, John reached out to a buyer (Bill) who he had met at the fair and with whom he had built a good relationship. He explained his situation to Bill. After listening, Bill explained that he could help because he had a contract that stipulates that the supplier must cover his needs as long as they vary within a certain range. As John’s needs were small in comparison to his, adding them to his would remain in the contract’s terms. After agreeing on the condition of this deal, Bill called his supplier to inform him that he would need larger deliveries. The supplier agreed and delivered the requested quantities to Bill who then forwarded what John needed.
In a digital future, relationships will continue to matter
John’s story has a particular resonance for me as I had lived a relatively similar situation when I was a buyer. But, I hadn’t done my homework like John, so I could not seek the help of a larger customer to help me. It took months and lots of efforts to recover.
These stories illustrate that Procurement professionals have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The fact that black swans exist is no excuse for not being ready! It also means that having the people, process, technology, and data to:
– identify weaknesses and risks
– build contingency and mitigation plans
– constantly monitor risk sources
These are the conditions for being proactive and not passive with regards to risks. Also, they should not forget the importance of nurturing relationships as business is human-to-human, H2H, (and no more B2B or B2C). At the end of the day, organisations having a competitive advantage are the ones that get the best out of their relationships with technology AND people; augmenting/enhancing each other.