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How Some Strategic Sourcing Technologies Fall Short

Moving to a true strategic sourcing plan can bring increased efficiency and huge cost savings. But why do so many fall short of this? Technology is evolving rapidly making many once cutting-edge solutions obsolete. Finding the right fit can be a struggle – this article has everything you need to know about sourcing tech.

Strategic sourcing is not a particularly new concept, but the market is evolving rapidly. Applications have become increasingly sophisticated and in the near to medium term future we will see more strategic spend management via advanced analysis and AI-based sourcing with more “fuzzy” intelligence that increasingly guides the user to the optimum solution.

TechTarget defines strategic sourcing as follows:

Strategic sourcing is an approach to supply chain management that formalizes the way information is gathered and used so that an organization can use its consolidated purchasing power to find the best possible values in the marketplace and align its purchasing strategy to business goals. 

One reason that organizations often struggle to achieve true strategic sourcing is that the tools they are using, such as reverse auctions and eRFXs, which once represented the cutting edge of sourcing technology, are too limited in scope and lacking in integration, both with other procurement modules and with third party software suites. This is especially problematic when it comes to large events and bundling items in which there are many variables and business objectives.

In its recent Market Guide for eSourcing applications, Gartner Group identified four phases of the evolution of eSourcing:

Basic RFQ and RFI (request for quote/information)

This is where things started back in the nineties. Specifications had to be very precise and buyers generally sought the lowest price and/or best delivery availability. Early digital sourcing platforms were primarily designed for indirect sourcing of categories such as IT hardware, computers, office furniture and supplies, where there are multiple suppliers with little differentiation. This worked just as well for non-strategic direct categories (materials and components used in production). Purchasing teams could therefore shop around to find the fastest, cheapest option available, and so long as the tool could take into account cost breakdown models, resource costs, taxes, and one-time costs like setup and onboarding, there was a good chance that projected savings would be realized.

Standard eSourcing 

Standard eSourcing then built on RFQ capabilities to support more complex RFIs and RFPs (request for proposals). According to Gartner, “They are typically used to solicit supplier responses and pricing for strategic spend categories. Specifications may or may not be clearly defined.” At this stage eSourcing becomes more strategic, multiple stakeholders are included in the buying process truly creating a strategic team. The modules are increasingly deployed as part of an entire suite which also includes spend analysis, CLM and supplier management. Also, we see distinct solutions for indirect and direct (or bill of materials (BOM)) categories. As Gartner states, “more advanced analysis and capabilities require integration with PLM and BOM. This is often better suited for vendors that specialize in direct spend or those that support all spend categories.” 

These applications also typically support various auction formats, multi-round bidding, response scoring and proposal analysis. A further aspect is that the detail level of direct procurement requires special capabilities in software, and all of these needs to integrate seamlessly with the ERP/MRP system.

Advanced sourcing optimization (ASO)

ASO is the current state of the art for handling complex category bidding that must analyze large volumes of data points. This is best represented by JAGGAER’s Sourcing Optimizer, capable of analyzing thousands of data points using algorithms to determine the optimal award decision quickly. This makes it suitable for highly complex sourcing events such as multimodal transportation, where there are hundreds of potential scenarios and dozens of rules which buyers use to try to identify a “sweet spot” with the optimum number of suppliers for an optimum number of scenarios. Users do not always know exactly what they are aiming for in such events, as they need to navigate through complexities such as limited knowledge, tradeoffs and time limits.

Artificial intelligence in sourcing

AI-based sourcing is where we are headed. This emerging technology will integrate itself across all aspects of sourcing. In the coming years AI will transform sourcing and will have the ability to automate entire sourcing events. This will be a very attractive option for handling the vast majority of sourcing functions that are high volume-’low cost’ and can be accurately recommended from AI. This will free up professionals’ time to focus on the high value sourcing events as well as the larger sourcing strategy.

One direction that is already clear is the development of preference-based extensions to advanced sourcing optimization, enabling the user to add fuzzy preferences on top of the firm rules already entered. In a transportation event, the AI technology explores possible solutions to narrow in on the best options. The user can go through several iterations to get the ideal result. On top of this advanced decision support, AI-based sourcing will include increased automation, eliminating much of the routine involved in sourcing.

Sourcing for CapEx Events

We have mentioned indirect and direct sourcing, but capital expenditure projects offer a third type of sourcing event with dramatically different requirements. They are project-based, meaning that many different purchase orders and contracts need to be bundled together and tracked against a common project budget. Furthermore, these events are extremely complex and detailed, and they have long timeframes. Projects may last multiple years. Any sourcing platform for CapEx needs to be able to track events over time.

Capital expenditure projects also often involve many different supply bases in one project. Consider a building project that involves a concrete foundation, steel framing, glass work, electricity, and more. Then there’s paving for the parking lot and landscaping for the surrounding areas. It’s essential that the digital tool can track multiple types of expenses in one solution. Plus, many items might be sourced weeks or months in advance. The solution should support this kind of detailed project planning.

For all of these reasons, strategic sourcing is challenging for major CapEx projects. There is also ample scope for the integration of artificial intelligence to predict and reduce costs, schedule and reduce cycle times while increasing customer satisfaction and managing regulatory and CSR data. It is important that all providers should be compliant, and the sourcing process needs to capture this information. Having the right strategic sourcing approach and the appropriate tools to support that are vital.

What are your thoughts on how technology is creating an opportunity for more strategic sourcing? Let us know in the comments!