Spend Analysis Is A Secret Weapon

Spend Analysis can help build a roadmap on category sourcing and capture savings.

I firmly believe that spend analysis is probably the simplest yet smartest exercise a procurement department can conduct. And I’m not talking about leveraging a spend cube technology and running a GL file to get some rapid classification, albeit, that is the first step many of us take. But how about those of us who don’t have a robust spend technology deployed yet? Well, good news is that the value of analyzing spend is not in the complexity of the tool, or the visualizations that it produces, or even how quick they are produced; but it lies in the power of understanding spend patterns and asking the right questions behind those visuals and tables.

For many years my team and myself have conducted spend analysis exercises in MS Excel or Access and things have worked out very well, and we’ve learned a fair share of valuable lessons in terms of both effective spend classification, as well as result interpretation. This last one critical in operationalizing and mobilizing procurement teams. Unquestionably, these lessons when applied together can become a secret weapon to an organization, and even if every company applies them, the “secret” part of it remains true as every spend profile is different to each company as well as the strategies employed to develop a competitive edge. Here are some of the things, I’ve learned from analysis dozens of spend profiles over the years:

Spend Analysis can help build a roadmap on category sourcing and capture savings. This is no secret, as it is the primary reason why anyone would run a spend analysis. The mechanisms by which spend is classified and categorized help organizations understand where money is going, to which vendors, in which regions, on which categories and how diluted or dispersed spend might be across these areas. Accurately classifying spend is the first step in identifying levers across spend categories, where aggregated volumes might drive value or how “quick-and-easy” it might be for the organization to identify and drive savings to the organization.

Spend Analysis is key to identifying tail spend, even more so, in defining it. Which seems to be almost a bi-product of the spend analysis exercise itself. Because Spend Analysis relies in tying suppliers to categories, irrespective of the taxonomy used, thresholds are typically set based on spend levels, which ultimately will put all the “unclassified” spend in one large bucket conventionally (but not conveniently) addressed as “tail”. Let me tell you a secret, Tail Spend is a big problem for a lot of organizations because that’s where a lot of unmanaged, unsupervised spend goes, this is where procurement policies and procedures die and all controls are lost, but inherently, where a lot opportunity resides. Controlling tail spend is a major priority for organization, especially those who have already executed on a sourcing roadmap and deployed (some) category management.

Spend Analysis helps – very accurately – identify procurement behaviors. Remember that tail spend conversation we just had? Well, analyzing tail spend can help us determine when buyers across the organization are buying from suppliers who are part of managed categories but who are not part of the negotiated deals the organization has in place, repeatability of this pattern with the same “unmanaged” vendor may mean the buyer has a preference towards that vendor, for whichever reason (e.g. buying from Lowes where a contract with Grainger exists); conversely, finding many “unmanaged” suppliers under the same category may mean the buyer isn’t aware of the deals that might be in place with a preferred vendor (i.e. buying from Fastenal, Lowes, Amazon, and McMaster Carr instead of simply Grainger), doesn’t know how to follow a process to purchase from that vendor, or more interestingly, the buyer may have a preferred payment mechanism or process to use, which by the way, it typically defaults to the one that’s easiest. A good rule to follow is that the easiest procurement process should also be the right process, needless to say organically decreasing rogue spend.

Spend Analysis enables compliance by driving visibility into all the things above, and helps us start asking ourselves questions about why we see purchasing patterns that should not exist, define how prevalent they are, what regions or departments are reoccurring offenders or even understand how some of those vendors are being paid. I’ve seen a lot of customers who prefer one payment method over others, some like the P-Card approach as they benefit from the rebates, some others prefer limiting their P-Card spend as much as possible in order to drive technology efficiencies into the payment process – think of dynamic discounting and supply chain financing methods, as some of these benefits.

Last but not least, spend analysis is a tool to mitigate risk across supply base and enhance supplier relationship management best practices. Think about it, knowing how much you spend with a certain supplier can tell you how much leverage you really have to negotiate pricing, but it can also tell you how much you rely on a given supplier to enable the continuous operations of your organization. If a stationery supplier goes bankrupt overnight, your business may be able to stomach that. But what happens when a supplier in a more critical category is badly exposed to risk, perhaps a supplier who produces a patented part to your broader supply chain process across the world? Knowing how much the business relies on its extended supplier network, with a high confidence level, is critical in managing inherent risk and adapt quickly when needed.

The value of ongoing and disciplined spend analysis can offer many insights into how the organisation operates. It provides windows into efficiencies and opportunities that may be captured by the business.  Moreover, spend analysis is not a “one-and-done” thing, the more frequently it is done, the clearer the trends and patterns become. If you are able to integrate spend analysis into other valuable source-to-pay tools and technologies, the company can really benefit from quick improvements and a sustainable procurement function. Spend analysis can enable a competitive advantage, you may even want to see it as the most exclusive secret weapon at your disposal.