Tag Archives: procurement tail spend

Long Tail Spend 101: New School Approaches

Procurement ought to care a whole lot about long tail spend and lay out the best way to manage it in the “consumerisation of tech” era…

I have no doubt that agility, innovation, and adding value to the business should be of paramount focus to procurement teams evolving beyond cost-center status. Who wants to be in the back office pinching pennies while the rest of the business struggles to keep up with the new rules of the digital revolution? But as leaders keep one eye on those critical matters, the other must still cover the basics of the procurement practice to deliver the right experience and results. That means continuous tracking and improvement of spend influence, which includes long-tail spend management.

Long tail spend 101

Long tail spend is not strategically managed or under management. This means any spend without a contract framework agreement or negotiated work order. In organisations that have invested significant effort into strategic category management, managed spend tends to be around 80 per cent of all expenditures, leaving long tail spend at 20 per cent. It also includes a small, but significant amount of spend with managed suppliers, which is known as hidden tail. This spend includes purchases made from managed suppliers, but these purchases are outside existing contracts.

The remaining tail spend tends to come from roughly 80 per cent of the total number of suppliers. Often this will be fragmented: ad hoc purchases from multiple suppliers, low-value transactions at one-time vendors, non-purchase order spend, off-contract spend, etc. When all the long tail spend is added together it becomes the biggest overall supplier! This biggest supplier costs you a lot of effort and time, which is not clearly visible within the organisation.

What is the business value of tail spend management?

Until recently, the generally accepted figure for how much sourcing organisations can save through managed tail spend has been 1 – 5 per cent (the less mature the organisation, the more the saving). However, analysts at The Hackett Group, concluded that this figure might be higher: as much as 7.1 per cent. High-value maverick buying that should have been strategically sourced was cited as a factor in raising this figure (30 per cent of respondents estimated 10 per cent or more in savings). This underlines the importance of gaining visibility of tail spend.

Apart from up to 7 per cent  savings, what are the other benefits of managing long tail spend? First, by better managing long tail spend, you can significantly reduce the number of transactions and the related costs of procurement, and in other departments such as finance. This will help minimize the number of internal resources (sometimes senior) working with tail spend suppliers to further reduce procurement costs. These savings can be significant considering that the administrative cost of each pound spent can be as high as 35 per cent. Improving the visibility of low-value spend suppliers will create opportunities to identify sourcing savings and supplier consolidation.

Second, increasing strategically managed spend, and managing long tail spend, will result in increased contract compliance, leading to further savings. Added to this, suppliers are more likely to offer increased discounts when they are the sole providers for a specific category, or when a set volume of purchases is guaranteed.

Third, beyond cost savings, managing long tail spend helps eliminate noncompliant suppliers and consolidate larger suppliers, which leads to reduced business risk, and a reduced risk of fraud across the supply chain. This also increases the chance of your organization being compliant to external legislation.

The visibility challenge

One of the main difficulties with long tail spend management is poor data visibility, caused by factors such as complex supply chains; different IT systems and data sources; and, fragmented and disconnected business processes such as sourcing, contract management, and procurement. Also, the sheer number of suppliers, items, transactions, and the high number of business stakeholders can simply overwhelm some organizations.

There are often not enough available resources with the right skills to analyse the problem and set a corrective action plan. Unfortunately, neither strategic category managers nor operational procurement agents tend to have the knowledge or skills to handle the long tail. Organizations that don’t have clearly set policies or well-defined processes are more likely to lack effective control. Part of this process must be constant maintenance to prevent slippage. A good analogy for this aspect is that of keeping a garden. Just as a neat and orderly garden will become overgrown if neglected, maverick spend will creep into the spend cube. This results in a higher percentage of noncompliant purchases, often with low-value transactions and small-volume suppliers.

Finally, there is often a lack of adequate tools to help the organization analyze and manage long tail spend in an efficient manner. A purely manual approach to tail spend management quickly becomes cumbersome and error-prone without the right tool support. There is no quick fix for overcoming these obstacles, but the benefits of doing so are estimated by different sources to be between 15 – 20 per cent through reduced procurement cost, increased efficiency, supplier consolidation, additional sourcing savings, and decreased business risk.

The smart approach to long tail spend management

Organisations should first analyse their spend data with a thorough spend and supplier assessment. This type of spend analysis exercise helps gain an understanding of the current state and will serve as a foundation for a business case in readiness for the next step. The next step is to gain top management and stakeholder backing. To be successful with a long tail spend management initiative, it is necessary to have the buy-in of your C-suite, i.e., the CPO and CFO, by means of a solid business case and clear description of the savings outcome.

Establishing the support of top management will also help with the third step, which is to set-up clear policies and processes to drive the long tail management initiative. This includes compliance policies, preferred vendor lists, no purchase order–no pay policies, etc. The processes should also include automated procurement, with catalog suppliers, as well as spot buy, and free text orders channeled through a tactical and operational procurement team. The next step involves, selecting and implementing the right tool to the complete solution for long tail spend management. Consider an easy-to-use eProcurement system with a good search engine featuring rich content, efficient buying channels, and support for spot buy and tactical eSourcing.

Finally, setting up a dedicated team to monitor long tail spend suppliers is key to a complete solution for long tail spend. Spot buying and operational-free text orders at preferred suppliers will run more efficiently with a dedicated group managing the process. It is also possible to outsource this work to an external team.

In closing, it is important to realise that there is no silver bullet to managing long tail spend. Without clear policies or processes to guide an organisation on what to do and who needs to do it, there’s little that can be done to optimise and manage tail spend. By combining the right tools with the right approach, you can gain an additional level of visibility and savings, and, in turn, greater spend influence.

This post was adapted from the IBX Business Network white paper, Using Long Tail Spend Management to Achieve Savings, published in 2016. Tradeshift acquired IBX in early 2017.

The Pareto Principle Has An Expiry Date

Has the Pareto Principle finally reached its expiration date after 110 years? Why the tail wagging the dog heralds the end of the 80-20 rule in procurement.

Pareto Expiry Date

This article was first published on EBN Online.

When Vilfredo Pareto observed in 1906 that 80 per cent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 per cent of the population, little did he know that this 80-20 rule (or Pareto Principle) would be enthusiastically embraced by the procurement profession and still be applicable 110 years later.

The term was popularised in the 1940s by the engineer Joseph M. Juran, who famously wrote of “the vital few and the trivial many”.

In procurement terms, the Pareto Principle means that 20 per cent of the average organisation’s suppliers account for 80 per cent of spend, and vice-versa. I’m a big fan of explaining procurement concepts with relatable imagery, so let’s picture your supplier base as something that we’re all familiar with – a dog.

The Tail Will Soon Be Wagging The Dog

Picture a Labrador. Or an Alsatian, or a Sheep Dog if you prefer – whatever takes your fancy. The head of the dog could be said to represent your top 1 per cent strategic suppliers. This is where you commit most of your time and energy.

Your procurement systems are optimised to work with the head of the dog. You make a significant effort to communicate face-to-face, and you spend a large amount of time worrying about what’s going on inside that head.

Let’s move down the neck to the dog’s body. Think of this as the next 19 per cent of your strategic suppliers. While the body isn’t nearly so important as the head, you recognise that this group accounts for the majority of your spend and deserves almost as much attention. As such, you dedicate time and resources to ensuring the body is in optimal health, and these “vital few” are being properly looked after.

Finally, the tail. Depending on the amount of suppliers you have, this could be a short stubby tail, or an extremely long one that tapers to a tip. Into this tail you’ve crammed 80 per cent of your suppliers – Juran’s “trivial many” who represent only 20 per cent of your spend.

You’re so busy looking after the dog’s body (and especially its head), that you’ve adopted a set-and-forget approach to the spend tail. You automate what you can, and call upon the smallest suppliers only when you need them.

And that’s a mistake, because in terms of innovation potential and risk profiles, the tail will soon be wagging the dog.

Procurement Systems Optimised For Large Suppliers

At ProcuriousBig Ideas Summit in May this year, Coupa Software’s Gabe Perez told the assembled group of Procurement thought-leaders that there are untold millions of suppliers in the world.

And yet most of our systems, or proprietary networks, only give us visibility of a few hundred thousand. We need to develop open networks to give unhindered access to all these suppliers who could potentially be the source of game-changing innovation.

The problem is that our processes and systems are set up to work with the big players at the expense of SMEs. “We can’t have our bureaucracy, our complexity, our layers of organisation impact suppliers’ businesses,” says Perez. “The cost of business goes up”.

Yet, that’s classic procurement, and it takes a culture shift to change the way we do business and encourage a truly open network. Think about the hurdles your organisation is putting in place for SMEs; whether they’re prohibitive insurance requirements, or crippling contractual terms that could bankrupt a small player.

Are they really necessary? Are you closing the door on opportunity because you see yourself as too big to play in the small supplier space?

Building Culture Of Agility And Innovation

Have you ever requested a last-minute change from a large supplier and watched in frustration as the creaky wheels slowly begin to turn? By the time the suppliers’ emails have bounced around to tick all the bureaucratic boxes, a smaller supplier may have found and implemented a solution.

What you want is agility. And small suppliers will expect you to be agile in return.

In her workshop on innovation in procurement, former Deutsche Telekom CPO, Eva Wimmers, stressed the need for nimbleness when working with SMEs. She discovered that the existing processes at her organisation were skewed towards the largest suppliers. 

Processes were changed to encourage innovation through diversifying the supply base to include more SMEs and start-ups, cutting new contracts down to a maximum of five pages, and holding supplier meetings exclusively around innovation.

Eva also implemented what she called “dialogue-rich procurement”. This encouraged her team to greatly increase their communication with both internal stakeholders and with suppliers. Her team discovered that SMEs, in particular, were very eager to share their ideas when they found that procurement was willing to listen and learn.

In Eva’s words, “We do not care how big an organisation is, as long as both the solution and the organisation are scalable and financially solid.”

She used Dropbox.com as an example of a small organisation with fewer than 50 staff that wouldn’t even have shown up on many organisations’ radar. And yet now it has world-wide take-up.

Compression Of The Supply Chain

Paul Markillie, Innovation Editor at The Economist, talked at the Big Ideas Summit about the compression of the supply chain driven by recent technological megatrends.

Robotics, 3D printing and computer-aided design are demolishing the old economies of scale, and separating a big supplier from an SME. This is ushering in no less than a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. What this means for procurement is that third or fourth-tier suppliers can find themselves rapidly rising to first-tier producers of end-products.

“There will be huge opportunities for companies further down the supply chain to innovate,” Markillie said. “Second-generation robots are more affordable for medium and small companies; 3D printing processes are less wasteful of raw materials and allow greater production flexibility at lower volumes.

“I think we will see some companies grasp these opportunities, which could re-order supply chains, and lead to some companies that were previously suppliers of components making the leap to become producers of final products.”

Lots Of Risk In That Spend Tail

The dilemma many procurement professionals face is that although you can’t afford to spend much time with suppliers beyond your top 20 per cent, every single vendor in your supply chain presents a significant risk to your brand, reputation and bottom line.

Think about a small supplier that you only use sporadically. Have you investigated their suppliers to ensure compliance to standards? What are their second-tier suppliers up to? What about the third, fourth and fifth tier?

Even though your spend with this supplier may be minimal, it can cause just as much damage to your organisation as the top 20 per cent. Child labor, slavery, cyber security, unsafe practices – the list is endless, and frightening.

My point – apart from trying to scare you – is that your risk mitigation and audit processes that are in place for the top 20 per cent, should be extended to the remaining 80 per cent.

End Of The Pareto Principle?

So, does this mean that the Pareto Principle has finally reached its expiration date after 110 years? In my opinion, yes it does.

If you measure the importance of suppliers purely by spend (and that’s very old-fashioned thinking), then you should indeed spend the majority of your time with the 20 per cent.

But modern CPOs know how badly a bottom line can be hurt by a risk event, and the huge potential of disruptive innovation to grow a business. And both of these factors reside in suppliers of every size, including those in the tip of the tail.