Tag Archives: strategic sourcing

Harnessing The Value Of Strategic Suppliers

We should care more about strategic supplier management right now, despite this being the time of COVID, budget cliffs, and “everything is on the table” portfolio reviews.


While procurement’s roots sometimes feel operational, based on the tactical action of turning a requisition into a PO, the trunk of the procurement tree is strategic sourcing. In even moderately mature organisations, we see teams organised around execution of an n-step sourcing process designed to consolidate volume with fewer suppliers and generate cost savings.

For those teams that have advanced to category management, there’s an effort to better understand stakeholder needs and the external market, and to build out a longer-term project plan to drive value beyond savings. Think of those projects as the branches that continue to grow and generate new value. Check out this post for more on cost savings opportunities and this one on post-COVID strategy.

It’s often not until we get past a certain stage of organisational maturity that supplier management really becomes an area of focus. In a seedling organization with a thin trunk, the idea of spending time out on thin branches may feel wasted when there is fresh spend to be sourced.

However, now that most procurement organisations are mature enough to be thinking about value beyond savings – and I believe most are, whether they are recognised for it or not – we need to think about the opportunities hanging off those branches. Where do we want to spend our time? On the thickest, strongest branches that can support our future objectives, with many offshoots for new value, of course.

Stepping away from the tree analogy (sorry if that went too far), what many of us in the function have learned over time is that more value can come from nurturing our existing supplier relationships than from sourcing events with new suppliers. In fact, when growth stagnates and we rely on these partners to see us through hard times, strategic supplier management can become a competitive differentiator. Companies with access to the latest technology, the best support levels, and the freshest ideas, are the ones winning in the modern world.

My first research study on Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) was back in 2006, and these concepts were just coming into vogue. Then I did two more studies, each five years apart, with very little difference in industry maturity.

In that time, I had numerous large organizations come to me saying, “we need to build up an SRM program.” Sometimes the same company, five years after the last attempt had failed and management was back to square one. Here I am again, testing the market with another study, this time focused on the practices and outcomes from our most strategic suppliers.

Why should we care about strategic supplier management right now, in the time of COVID, budget cliffs, and “everything is on the table” portfolio reviews? It’s important for a few reasons:

In times like these, we rely on our partners even more

As much as we want to run out and negotiate cost reductions, we all know many companies would not have made it through the last six months without a strong supply base. Monitoring risk and financial stability is critical right now. Knowing enough about the financials of a key supplier is important when seeking out savings – some are hovering on the brink of collapse, while others are doing just fine. (Talk to me about outsourcers’ margins here).

Innovation will get us out of this

If you thought digital transformation was a buzz phrase, wait until you are the only company handling paper mail from customers in a work from home environment while your peers have digitised their customer interactions. For those behind the tech curve, the last six months were more painful and lit a fire under some management teams to start investing. Who will enable that technology? Unless you have vast internal resources and capabilities, you’ll be leveraging third party partners (i.e., suppliers) to realize that vision. Categories like IT services are exploding with demand, and managing the outcomes of the largest partners will be critical to stay competitive.  

Portfolio reviews should be fact-based

What does that mean in this context? It means that if you are deciding which suppliers to keep and which to phase out, RFP away, or replace, you need to have a quantitative understanding of past performance. Too often, opinions, anecdotes, and emotions are brought to the table to keep or remove a partner. Strong performance management processes mean decisions can be rooted in actual performance, and perceptions can be validated or addressed proactively.

With these current day realities in mind, Everest Group recently launched a Pinnacle Model® study specifically targeted at management of strategic suppliers. Our Pinnacle Model methodology maps capabilities to outcomes and attempts to find the correlation between best practice implementation and results. By plotting organizations against each other, we can clearly see what is working and what is not.

In this study, we endeavor to understand how procurement organizations are handling the following challenges:

  • Lack of clear stratification of the supply base. With most organizations having thousands of suppliers per billion dollars of spend, it’s important to know where to focus your efforts. If the squeaky wheel is getting the grease, it’s easy for category managers to spend too much time chasing issues with less impactful suppliers.
  • Inconsistent or ill-defined internal roles. Many organisations have groups managing suppliers throughout the business as well as SRM efforts from procurement. If roles and responsibilities of various groups are not well defined, there can be overlapping work and missed opportunities. We delve into the objectives and activities of Vendor Management Organizations (VMOs) and other supplier management teams.
  • Too much manual effort due to lack of automation. Service management tools are well developed within IT but may not be broadly used across spend categories. There are now Supplier Performance Management (SPM) tools on the market using AI to tie contracts to service levels. Without proper tools in place – and adoption is still fairly low – tracking performance, monitoring risk, and planning actions across the supply base becomes highly manual. This is, in my experience, a primary reason many SRM initiatives failed. When we rely on spreadsheets and sweat, without a hard ROI, this is the first initiative to drop.
  • Poor outcome measurement. Even if the functional scorecard measures outcomes – and many don’t – are individual category and supplier managers rewarded for work done to manage suppliers? It’s typical to, at best, measure activities such as number of business reviews. Too often, teams are focused on savings to the detriment of value driven by innovation, performance improvements, and risk mitigation, and other stakeholder valued metrics.

Taking all these factors in consideration, are YOU giving your strategic suppliers enough attention? Take our Pinnacle Model study here to find out. I look forward to reviewing the results with you soon.

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!

Contract Management: What Does ‘Good’ Look Like?

By necessity, Contract Management has moved on from the old days of paper copy and filing cabinets. But what does ‘good’ really look like?

contract management
Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

We recently published a piece about what ‘good’ strategic sourcing looks like. After all, if you are one of the many procurement organisations in the vast middle of the market, good is more likely to be your goal than total dominance.

In any area of a business, the difference between okay and ‘good’ may be the presence of a few extra steps, a little more attention to detail, or a bit more creative energy. This as is true for strategic sourcing as it is for contract management.

Contract management has evolved substantially since procurement started applying technology to expand its impact. It used to be that ‘good’ contract management meant your filing cabinet was complete, paper files were maintained in some sort of recognisable order and the drawers didn’t squeak too loudly when you opened them!

Legacy contract management was completely hard copy and based on the premise that procurement would be handled by a team co-located not just with each other, but with the stakeholders they supported. 

Today contract management has the potential to be one of the most critical and impactful activities conducted by procurement. This is partly due to the many changes the modern workforce has gone through. Companies and teams now span the globe, working in distributed offices or even from home. A filing cabinet full of dusty paper doesn’t stand a chance of being considered “good” today.

So what does ‘good’ contract management look like now?

‘Good’ contract management…

Has escaped the filing cabinet and gone completely online

Going beyond the filing cabinets of the past is essential given today’s new workforce trends. But the benefits of taking contracts online are far greater than just accessibility. Out of sight, out of mind as the old saying goes, and if there was one thing filing cabinets did almost without fail it was to ensure that contracts would be forgotten.

Now that contract management is conducted in the cloud, expiration and renewal dates can be set to alert the appropriate points of contact. The same is true for purchase volume thresholds associated with discounts or alternate terms. Contracts are regularly referenced and actively leveraged between signature and expiration, partly because they can speak for themselves, thanks to ‘good’ contract management technology.

Makes legal just as happy as procurement

While procurement and legal may not always see eye to eye or have the same priorities for contract management technology, it is absolutely essential that both teams fully adopt the chosen solution. The maximum value is achieved when red-lining, signature, storage and reporting all happen in one place, and for that to be a reality, legal has to support the solution.

This probably played the greatest role in contract management solutions growing beyond repositories. Quick access to standard language, a clause library and the ability to support eSignatures gives legal meaningful reasons to embrace contract management.

Is an active process that supports additional enterprise efforts

Procurement can achieve so many things through contracts, far more than just designating approved suppliers and specifying prices and service levels or delivery timelines. Companies can invest in, and benefit from, their small and diverse supplier programmes, ensuring that certifications and accreditations are both up to date and documented.

While strategic sourcing and contract management both have a process component and a technology component, the tie is much stronger with contracts. Given the needs of distributed accessibility and centralised data, contract management can not exist without effective technology, let alone aspire to be ‘good’. If all spend brought under management is covered by contracts, then all of procurement’s work should be conducted under, and informed by, contracts.

Supply chain risk can be monitored and mitigated, as can complex regulatory oversight and compliance. Better still, contracts can become a launching pad for innovation and collaboration projects with our most strategic supply partners. All of this is made possible when actively managed contracts create a safe, protected space for business to happen in.

If you would like to know about about Ivalua’s Contract Management Solution, please visit the Ivalua website.

The Loss Leading Approach to Savings

Challenging, controversial and, for small organisations, potentially crippling, but for many, Loss Leading remains a popular strategy. Is there a sustainable way procurement can use this strategy to deliver real savings?

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

Loss Leading is the practice of selling products at, or just below, cost price, with the aim of bringing consumers into a store and then selling add-on items to the original product, or encourage impulse purchases. And when the average consumer spends $5,400 per year on impulse purchases, you can understand the attractiveness of this.

If you have been shopping for groceries, a new mobile phone, electronics or even a new car, the chances are fairly high that you have encountered a Loss Leader pricing strategy. So common are these deals across a whole range of goods and services that it’s probable you have encountered this strategy without even realising it.

It’s the notion that this strategy is somehow underhand that, in spite of its popularity, has led to controversy. It’s even been banned in half of US states and some European countries. Why? Because there is a widely held belief that the practice doesn’t promote competition and may harm consumers in the long-term. 

Reduced Competition?

The fact that the strategy has been banned in half of US states suggests that the practice has more negative connotations than positive. In most cases, the belief is that Loss Leading actually reduces market competition to the detriment of the consumer. 

Large organisations, the likes of Amazon, Walmart and Apple for example, have broad product ranges and the ability to withstand losses from these products by having a greater profit margin on others. Smaller organisations don’t have this luxury and either choose not to stock a product or sell it for more, reducing consumer choice.

It’s not all positive for organisations either. Savvy consumers may only look for the introductory offer or the products at the loss leading price, and not buy add-ons. This is termed as ‘cherry picking’ and may cause financial issues for even large organisations in the long-term. There may also be a knock-on effect in the supply chain as manufacturers may be required, or feel the need, to keep prices low so that loss leading strategies can continue.

There are positives for organisations and consumers though. Organisations may use it as a strategy to increase sales or engage consumers on a new product, with consumers benefiting from better deals and lower prices. 

Could we then be looking at a situation where unsustainable loss leading is the issue, where the strategy is actively used to reduce competition or drive other organisations out of business? And how does all of this relate to procurement?

Sustainable Loss Leading

For procurement, introductory pricing and negotiated discounts are commonplace. Across all industries and sectors, suppliers will try to get a foot in the door with an organisation, offering lower prices, demonstrations and even free samples. While regulations and transparency should stop this having a direct correlation to contracts awarded, there is benefit that procurement can derive from this.

Where suppliers can accommodate lower prices, a loss leading strategy on price plays right into procurement’s hands. As the profession looks to drive down costs in both direct and indirect sourcing, procurement strategies are looking for greater innovation and strategic buying initiatives to achieve this, without just chipping away at profit margins.

The Power of GPOs

Let’s say, hypothetically, that procurement professionals are looking at loss leading strategies without knowing that this is what they are. A good procurement strategy would focus on ensuring that no matter how low the price is, it is sustainable for the market and the supplier. After all, it’s no use driving prices down and putting your supplier out of business. 

What if there was a solution in the market that would enable sustainable loss leading prices over the longer term, which procurement could take advantage of? The good news is that there is in the form of Group Purchasing Organisations (GPOs). Linking up with a GPO doesn’t diminish procurement’s role, rather it enhances it. Supplier consolidation activities can be aided and it’s not a ‘race to the bottom’ in pricing, meaning that required quality levels will be maintained.

GPOs will assist in gaining the best prices possible through sourcing at bulk rates, without the individual organisations having to increase their purchasing volumes. The GPO can then guarantee that these prices stay low, at the ‘loss leader’ level for the life of the contract, through the use of pre-negotiated contracts and the fact that, due to the volume, even the smallest organisation is treated as a key customer for the supply base.

Turning the Negative Positive 

As you can see, when done sensitively and sustainably, a loss leading strategy for savings can actually be a positive for procurement. Not only that, but by taking the route of the GPO, the strategy is open for the first time to smaller organisations, without the potentially fatal risks attached to it. As procurement strategies go, it’s a strong one, allowing for wider input and not undermining strategic supplier relationships. 

Who knows, you might even earn your organisation a slice of that impulse spend. Now that would be a good outcome, wouldn’t it?

Want to know how to gain the benefits of sustainable loss leading without any of the negatives? Then contact UNA today and join their growing network.   

Why Contracts Are Key to Executing Your Sourcing Category Strategy

The implementation of a category strategy is seen as best practice in procurement. But contracts themselves hold the key to success.

For procurement organisations, “category management” is considered a best practice for sourcing. Simply put, category management is the process by which companies segment all the goods and services they need to procure into discrete categories that reflect the specific common characteristics of the products they’re buying.

For example, the procurement department at an automobile manufacturer will likely be responsible for sourcing everything from steering wheels to cleaning services. While in both cases the company needs to make prudent decisions about its spend, what goes into to choosing vendors for those goods and services are obviously very different.

Some goods are highly commoditised and therefore cost will be the determining factor. Other goods may have stringent performance requirements attached to them. These will be evaluated based on the quality of the vendors bidding for business. Some goods are business critical. Others, less so.

A category management strategy for steering wheels may look something like this:

  • The company’s steering wheel vendors should be equally dispersed between the North American, APAC and EMEA regions;
  • No one vendor should supply more than 40 per cent of all steering wheels;
  • The total spend on steering wheels can’t exceed a pre-determined amount.

This strategy means that the supply of steering wheels is more resilient to disruptions like natural disasters (since they are coming from various geographies) and not exposed to undue damage if a single vendor fails (since no one vendor dominates the supply). And, of course, it provides predictability in how much will be spent procuring the product.

Making Sure the Category Strategy Is Followed

But designing the category strategy is just the first step of the process. The greater challenge is carrying it out. The history of large enterprises trying to execute category strategy-driven procurement shows that while they are sometimes able to apply the category rules at the time of sourcing, it becomes a struggle to monitor adherence during the operations phase of a contract.

For example, contracts may have been awarded assuming a certain mix of supply sources (with differing costs and quality parameters) to deliver on certain quarterly cost goals, but issuance of purchase orders in a different proportion at the execution stage will invalidate those assumptions and cause the category strategy to fail.

To improve compliance with a category strategy, leading enterprises are taking a new approach. Putting contracts at the centre of the process.

Using contracts to drive category management compliance is enabled by the emergence of digital contracts and contract management software. By managing contracts on an enterprise contract management platform, companies can leverage contract data to execute effective contract strategies—and design superior strategies to begin with.

How It Works

Let’s go back to the steering wheel example and see how enterprise contract management can optimise the process.

First, the procurement organisation develops the category strategy for steering wheels. The development of a category strategy is a consultative process and depends on data to draw insights and validate assumptions. Much of this data exists in past contracts: supplier performance on existing contracts, spend on different sub-categories and geographies, and other data points. That information, when available on a contract management platform, gives rise to a superior strategy.

Next, the company put out requests for bids from vendors. Contract requests and bid lists aligned with the adopted strategy are launched from within the contract management system. This ensures that the vendor shortlisting and price discovery process conforms to the category strategy.

Once purchase orders begin to be issued, business rules in the contract management platform ensure the strategy is carried out. If a buyer tries to execute a contract that goes against strategy – for example, with a vendor whose geography has already reached its limit in the strategy – the contract will be blocked or routed for special approval.

Finally, the contract management software monitors in real time vendor performance against the contract. This is done both through data tracked within the platform itself and through integrations with other enterprise systems. This way category managers can not only make sure contracts comply with the strategy, but that performance complies with the contract.

Contracts Are the Foundation

Since contracts are the foundation of buyer-supplier relationships, an enterprise contract management platform can support all phases of a category strategy:

  • Insights to develop the strategy;
  • Tools to execute the strategy;
  • Rules to enforce the strategy; and
  • Integrations to monitor the strategy.

Icertis is focused on how digital contracts and cloud-based enterprise contract management software can improve business performance, including in procurement. To learn why Gartner has named Icertis a “Cool Vendor in Sourcing and Procurement” and why “the clear leader” in buy-side contract management, contact us today.

Want to get access to more great insight on contract management, A.I. in procurement and all things procurement software? Icertis are one of the main sponsors for the Big Ideas Summit Chicago 2019, and will be delivering one of the keynotes on the day. There’s still time to register as a digital delegate – find out more and sign up today here!

How Procurement Professionals Can Look Like Rockstars

Will procurement ever achieve ‘rockstar’ status within an organisation? It’s an idea that hasn’t gained much traction in the past. But help may be at hand from a new source.

Muhammad suryanto/ Shutterstock

Despite the profession’s best efforts, the terms ‘procurement’ and ‘rockstar’ are uneasy bedfellows in a sentence. When you picture a rockstar – Keith Richards, Dave Grohl, Joan Jett, Pete Townshend – they are a free spirit; perhaps anarchic, but certainly someone who lives life by their own rules. Does this sound like procurement to you? No, me neither.

Even now, after all the efforts to make procurement a strategic partner, moving from transactional purchasing to strategic buying or strategic sourcing, the image of procurement remains the same. A profession that’s very traditional, process driven, compliant (not that this is a bad thing) and just maybe a little … boring.

Although some progress has been made, rockstar status is still a ways away. While there are huge, global names that have come from the profession, the name recognition is still an issue. You know Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates and Tim Cook, but do you know who their CPOs are?

Have you heard of Bo Andersson, formerly GM’s ‘Mr Purchasing’? How about Jennifer Moceri, CPO of global drinks giant, Diageo? Without wider recognition of what these rockstars have achieved, very few people outside the profession will be able to understand much about what procurement can deliver.

Collective rather than Individual?

The profession has spent so long trying to create ‘rockstar’ CPOs and leaders with global profiles that it may have lost sight of the true aim – to elevate procurement as a whole. When it comes to being a ‘rockstar’, the one thing that nearly all the greats have in common is a group by their side or backing them up. And it’s in this power of the collective that procurement’s ultimate success may lie.

For the collective profession it’s about understanding what the business needs, aligning a procurement strategy with the overall business strategy, and then delivering on this. Procurement will be treated as a strategic partner when it has earned the organization’s trust as a value-adding operation.

It might be an unpopular move, but the first thing that’s going to be on the agenda is savings. The drive in procurement has been to promote an agenda that covers more than just savings – efficiency, compliance, risk management and supplier development are just a few.

However, without even realizing it, the majority of these elements underpin savings and cost reduction. The trick is to not get too focused on savings to the detriment of the wider strategic agenda. Supplier consolidation and centralized procurement are a couple of approaches which tick both the savings box and that of the wider strategic aim of adding value.

Procurement Solutions – Your Backing Vocals

Rather stretching the metaphor of the rockstar and the band, it’s important to understand the tools available to help create your own procurement version of the Traveling Wilburys. Rockstar status won’t happen in isolation and that’s where procurement solutions and procurement consulting can take to the stage.

The best procurement solutions can help turn your data into a major strength through the power of spend analytics. Software can help organizations understand who they are spending their money with, how much they are spending and, most importantly, if they are getting what they have paid for. It makes spend visible, facilitating a greater understanding of how cost optimization and spend management will work within the wider procurement strategy.

As with any band, it’s important to pick a software solution that acts in harmony with existing systems, processes and how it will work once it’s been implemented. Given that employees are the ones who will be using it on a day-to-day basis, it’s critical that the solution is user-friendly, and that employees are trained fully.

Even the great rock bands (Queen, Black Sabbath, the Beatles) sometimes need to bring in external experts to push them on to greater things. For procurement it’s no different and the choice may be to engage procurement consulting organizations to assist.

These consultants can assist with software choices, implementation and running. But Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs) go one step further, offering contract monitoring, spend management and collective buying power through their membership network.

This can help drive savings targets, aid supplier consolidation and all the other positives that organizations want from their procurement teams. Put simply, they help transform procurement from an undiscovered and unappreciated talent to a global rockstar!

Visit UNA to learn more about the benefits of Group Purchasing Organizations.

Captain Planet, Power Rangers, Voltron … and Procurement

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s time for procurement to consider a procurement strategy angle it has never thought of before.

By Sean P. Aune/ Shutterstock

“Earth. Fire. Wind. Water. Heart. Go Planet!” “By your powers combined, I am Captain Planet!”

If you were a child of the 80s or early 90s, there’s a fair chance that you are familiar with these words. They are, of course, the words used to summon Captain Planet, via the power of five magic rings wielded by his “Planeteers”. The cartoon acted as an advocate for environmentalism and even spawned a charity.

What, I hear you cry, does a distinctly average 1990s cartoon have to do with procurement strategy? It’s not about how procurement can help to promote environmental sustainability. Need another clue?

Cast your mind back to settling down in front of your TV on a Saturday morning in the 1980s or 1990s. Did you ever watch Voltron? How about Power Rangers? If you did, and remember how our mighty heroes defeated their nemeses, you might be beginning to get the idea.

For the Power Rangers, it was creating the “Megazord”; in Voltron it was the combination of 5 robot lions (or 15 smaller vehicles depending on which series you preferred…). As we alluded to in our introduction, when people or organizations operate alone, they can be ignored or out-maneuvered. When they team up with others, then they wield much greater power that can be leveraged to create great benefits.

From Purchasing to Strategic Sourcing

Procurement may not face overwhelming opposition in the form of giant dinosaurs or evil polluters, but it faces its fair share of challenges. Elements such as maverick purchasing and non-compliance with processes serve to undermine procurement’s position as a strategic sourcing partner to the organization.

There is also the issue for small organizations that their procurement teams are seen by suppliers as non-strategic. Through this they may lose the opportunity to negotiate better terms in a contract, or end up being so far down the supplier’s priority list that they will never be viewed as an important customer.

A wealth of literature exists on why procurement should be creating better relationships with suppliers. Why shouldn’t procurement be looking to create closer relationships with other procurement departments and work together to improve their own strategic buying potential?

Think of your procurement team as one small part of the Voltron robot. If you join together with other small parts to create a procurement mega-bot, there’s little that will be able to stop you from achieving your goals. It’s no coincidence that we often refer to Group Purchasing as procurement’s “secret weapon”.

Here are the some of the benefits that can be reaped by combing your (purchasing) powers with other procurement organizations:

  • Scale or Spend Leverage: Probably the most obvious benefit based on using greater, combined volumes to drive a better price. Also known as “buying power”.
  • Price Alignment: Where one organization is paying more for a specific product than another organization, but then align their prices to the lower one. By working together and aligning prices, Police Forces in the UK have saved over £237 million ($339.5 million) in 3 years.
  • Collective Negotiation: Similar to the idea of Collective Bargaining between organizations and employees, but in this case, procurement with other procurement teams. It extends the idea of leverage, giving even the smallest organization presence at the negotiating table.

The Power of Many

Centralized procurement is usually focused within a single organization, but who is to say that you couldn’t have centralized procurement activities as part of an overarching procurement strategy? The options are there that could make this a reality and turn your procurement team into the organizational equivalent of a power ring.

If you’re not sure where to start, then you don’t need to look much further than the potential for outsourcing procurement via one of the many procurement consulting houses. Or, if you are after procurement solutions that enable your organizations to keep more control, you may choose to investigate the option of a Group Purchasing Organization (GPO).

A GPO can offer organizations the benefits outlined above and can back up all of this with hard facts too. Savings on direct and indirect sourcing, access to pre-negotiated contracts and linking up with other organizations to really leverage scale and volume to create tangible savings.

As Captain Planet said at the end of each episode to the viewer at home, “The power is yours!” Now it’s up to you to decide how to use it and if you’ll join forces to overcome the myriad challenges facing procurement today.

Want to know more about GPOs? Contact UNA to discuss the benefits of Group Purchasing.  

Why It’s Time To Grow Beyond Strategic Sourcing

If the CPO wants to have a seat at the table, they must move beyond delivering cost reductions to deliver solid and sustainable business value where it really counts: top line growth and business
innovation.

I recently worked on a large-scale program of strategic sourcing transactions across multiple business and technology functions. The strategic sourcing team produced a considerable volume of contracts and notably delivered significant cost reductions along with contractual obligations for supplier-led innovation.

While the strategic sourcing effort followed a mature process and produced great results there was a gap in the process for ‘hand-over’ from the externally sourced strategic sourcing teams to transition the contract relationship to the category management function. The hard-earned gains and concessions of the negotiations phases needed to be understood by the category manager and then further nurtured and managed through ongoing supplier relationships.

The gap in the process was understandable as the business was in a state of disruption after their acquisition and the brand-new procurement function was immatureand still finding its feet. Notably they were starting to implement a strategy for category management, so no doubt the situation will quickly improve for them.

However, this first-hand experience of this gap did highlight for me the impact on the procurement organisation if they are unable to transition from strategic sourcing view to category management.

Category Management is a way of driving and delivering value, growth and innovation and yet most companies struggle with the transition from Strategic Sourcing to effective Category Management.

Category Management includes strategic sourcing but it is much broader than that. The Faculty defines Category management as: a rigorous, fact-based, end-to-end process for proactively collaborating with stakeholders to develop and implement strategies that generate significant value that stakeholders recognise, from an organisation’s external spend.

It sits above and guides both the content and the sequencing of the lower level methodologies such as (not limited to): spend analysis, demand management, strategic sourcing, supplier relationship management and benchmarking.

What is a category?

A category is a grouping of materials or services that have similar supply and usage characteristics to meet business objectives. Managing by categories is a strategic approach which organises procurement resources to focus on specific areas of spend categories.

This enables category managers to focus their time on the business requirements, conduct in- depth market analysis, supplier capability and performance analysis to fully leverage their procurement decisions on behalf of the whole organisation.

Many CPOs understand that implementing and sustaining an effective category management process can deliver great benefits, it usually leads to:

  • Raising the profile and competency of the procurement function within the organisation
  • Significant savings typically 10-30 per cent
  • Reduced risk in the supply chain
  • Improved stakeholder relations
  • Improvements in service levels, quality, availability and value for money
  • The revelation of other sources of value and innovation from the supply base
  • Re-usable processes to leverage across other categoriesCategory management allows you to source more effectively and then to get even more value from constantly optimising the resulting contracts.

How to get started and maintain an effective Category Management function:

• Ensure that you have an effective and seamless transition process from strategic sourcing outcomes to the business-as- usual category management function

• Develop the logical categories for your business by bringing together products or services that have the same features and are bought from similar supply markets.

• Build an in-depth understanding of the organisation’s plans and business strategies and ensure that the categories are aligned to business goals

• Develop category benchmarks so that you can more easily identify additional improvement opportunities

• Use big data and business analytics to undertake continuous analysis of spend, (direct and indirect), market data and performance against benchmarks

• Undertake a program of constant price analysis on local and international markets and the monitoring of trends in the category

• Invest in a process of gathering supplier performance data for more quality and service improvements

• Monitor and track all the savings that have been achieved through substitutions, better compliance or contract negotiations

• Engage with your stakeholders! and have continuous discussions and reviews to ensure that all stakeholders are involved in decisions on the category.

The bottom line for the CPO

Category management will be a continuous improvement process that should form the basis for all future successful strategic sourcing initiatives. It requires the right level of attention and a good training program Category management will deliver a range of benefits such as being able to work with suppliers to speed up the time between initial adoption and full implementation. At the same time, also providing a layer of continual strategy adjustment once a new supplier or contract has been initiated.

Your category managers will be the ones responsible for all things related to a given project or managed service (gather requirements, collect bids and negotiate contracts) and their time will be freed up for engagement with the business to focus on their jobs and deliver better value.

Establishing the single points of contact means better co-ordination and this will streamline communication in a way that will vastly improve stakeholder and supplier relationships.

Sourcing, But Not As We Know It!

How many procurement pros do you need to manage $1 billion of spend? We examine the stats revealing the state of today’s sourcing landscape…

How many staff does it take to make a success of strategic sourcing?

We might not have a definitive answer to that question, but we do have access to some figures that tell us a lot about the state of the sourcing landscape today.

For instance, we know that companies dedicate 16 full-time employees (FTEs) to the sourcing process for every $1 billion in spend. It’s one of those stats that makes you think. At first glance this might sound ok, right? 16 full-time staff can achieve a lot. But $1 billion represents an incredible amount of procurement.

The fact is, most organisations aren’t maximising the value of their purchasing. Efficiency is being compromised, and in this there are a number of factors at play.

Periodic category reviews, while being the best way to ensure effective sourcing, are just not possible for most organisations with the resources available to them. This means companies aren’t adjusting their sourcing to account for changing market conditions.

Compounding the problem, the bulk of sourcing teams’ time – 50 per cent – is swallowed up by the supplier evaluation and negotiation stages, which in some cases can involve highly complex financial and regulatory work. With so much time spent on this phase, more strategic and potentially value-adding phases such as planning – which are still mostly conducted by category managers – don’t get the attention they deserve.

Looking at the landscape as a whole it’s no surprise that most sourcing projects are long and costly, and ultimately don’t deliver the results that stakeholders expect.

Strategic sourcing, it’s a-changing

And automation is the key…

More and more firms are convinced that digital transformation is the answer to increased efficiency in strategic sourcing, and they’re not afraid to invest in software that gives them a procurement advantage. In fact, they spend more than a quarter of a million dollars a year on these solutions. What’s more, they’ve found that this investment is paying off. According to these companies, supplier discovery, e-sourcing and contract lifecycle management software is helping them streamline the entire sourcing process – from discovery to contract signing. As a result, their total sourcing times are being reduced by 30 per cent as are their costs.

This is just the beginning of a trend that holds significant opportunities for organisations. But firms need to be bold in their thinking to achieve these results. Increasing FTEs isn’t the route to increased efficiency. Companies need to look to technology to help them transform their procurement processes and deliver faster, more cost-effective sourcing than ever before.

To discover how your organisation can embrace digital transformation and reduce costs and cycle times by 30 per cent, read The Hackett Group report now.

This Little Procurement Pro Went To Market…

How do you know when you should  go to market? ThomasNet discuss strategies for three common sourcing scenarios.

Haso/Shutterstock.com 

Strategic sourcing is all about generating a return on investment for every sourcing initiative. However, different sourcing scenarios require different levels of investment – in terms of time, effort and resources. Therefore, it’s important to approach each situation differently as well in order to produce the best results.

Here are three common sourcing scenarios, along with proven advice you can use to ensure an optimal return.

Scenario 1: Reducing Costs With A Strategic Partner

Your current supplier is deeply involved in the design, engineering, and process improvement of your product. You rely on them for the success of your day-to-day operations, and they have invested heavily in technology to ensure the success of your product. However, you are exploring ways to reduce costs.

When your incumbent supplier already acts as a strategic partner, the potential return on investment from pursuing alternate suppliers is significantly reduced. In fact, pursuing alternative suppliers can actually yield greater risk than reward. That’s because the supplier has provided you with capital investments that they have engineered and maintained, and the transition costs are likely to exceed the cost savings opportunities available with an alternate vendor. In addition, your current supplier has a comprehensive understanding of your product design, so they are less threatened by outside competitors who are likely working with imperfect information, and therefore less likely to reduce their pricing.

The Strategy

Rather than pursue alternative suppliers, you should engage the incumbent supplier in direct negotiations. Leverage the value your business brings to their operations; be upfront with your desire improve pricing; and be transparent about your procurement goals. Should negotiations prove unsuccessful, that may be a flag that your supplier is too complacent in the relationship, and alternate options can be explored at that time.

Scenario 2: The Unsolicited Proposal

Before reviewing a purchasing category, you reach out to suppliers within that category to notify them about your initiative. One supplier responds with an unsolicited proposal that reduces costs or otherwise increases value.

As a Supply Chain Project Analyst at Source One, this is a situation I encounter often. After a supplier realizes that their spend is being reviewed or a sourcing initiative is being considered, they attempt to get ahead of the process by offering up a proposal. The proposal typically includes a cost reduction in exchange for a longer contract or additional business.

The Strategy

The supplier is aware that their costs are not market competitive and are adjusting accordingly. However, while it may be tempting to award your existing supplier and reap the savings, it’s better to conduct a full sourcing initiative through an RFP, eAuction, or even an RFQ. At worst, you will have alternative bids to use as leverage with your incumbent supplier. At best, you can save a substantial amount of money. In fact, in my experience, the savings you can realize from alternate suppliers is often greater than the cost reduction proposed by the incumbent.

Scenario 3: Tactical Versus Centralised

Your business has been purchasing tactically in a particular category. The overall market basket is high mix, low volume, with very few recurring purchases to leverage for specialized pricing.

This is a common occurrence in indirect categories such as industrial supplies, industrial hardware, safety supplies, and office supplies. Employee preferences and unique company needs can influence purchasing, and standardization of products is nearly nonexistent.

The Strategy

 In this scenario, the continuation of tactical purchasing may seem like the most appealing option, as prompting a centralized supplier to bid on such an immense market basket would likely result in poor pricing and participation. However, it’s almost always prudent to conduct an RFP. Invite suppliers that can cover all required geographies and product categories. Focus on leveraging the overall value of the market basket to establish discount structures, rather than having suppliers exhaust resources pricing out an extensive product list.

To gauge the potential savings available, examine a random sampling of products and ask suppliers to apply the proposed discounts to those items to compare to your baseline price. If you do eventually move to a centralized account, lean on the supplier to drive product standardization and compliance. This will give you the opportunity to further refine pricing and terms down the line.

Other Strategies


Granted, not all sourcing events will fall into one of these three scenarios. However, there are some principles that can be applied universally:

  • Closely monitor the relationships with current suppliers
  • Don’t be afraid to shake up the status quo if a competitive event can yield cost savings or product improvements
  • Maintain clear and consistent communication between procurement and other departments
  • Above all, remember that the strategic sourcing process does not begin with the identification of an initiative, it thrives on the constant analysis of the current state of purchasing

Jennifer Engel is a Supply Chain Project Analyst at Source One Management Services, responsible for executing strategic sourcing and process improvement initiatives for Fortune 1000 clients.

This article was orginally published on the ThomasNet blog.