Category Archives: technical procurement

How P2P will Become the Technology of the Future

Discover the value that a procure-to-pay (P2P) system can deliver to your business today and over the next five years.


The evolution of procure-to-pay (P2P) has accelerated dramatically over the past few years. And we can expect the pace to pick up further over the years to come. Originally, procure-to-pay / purchase-to-pay technology was seen as a way to connect procurement to finance via accounts payable, and as such it started life in the form of expensive and rather inflexible bolt-ons to on premise enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. No wonder that for many years, P2P did not have the greatest of reputations, even among procurement professionals.

In the early 2000s, dedicated eProcurement systems emerged. Yet, many large enterprises still do all their purchasing and accounts payables through their ERP systems, even though this leaves much of the process highly dependent on paper in the handling of purchases orders, requisitions, goods receipts and invoicing. Or, in one word, routine. Many ERP implementations even lack a requisitioning facility and a means to communicate electronically with suppliers.

As to accounts payable, in many organisations that do not have a dedicated, built for purpose procure-to-pay solution, vendor invoices still arrive by mail or email and the data must be keyed manually into an ERP or other finance system. If the benefits of touchless invoicing were not already apparent, they have certainly become so in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The other major issue that continues to plague many organisations is our old friend, maverick spend (or off-contract buying), which is especially likely to occur when anyone looking to purchase items needed for everyday use is confronted with bureaucratic obstacles. Shopping online and submitting an expense report is much easier than submitting a requisition or purchase order that takes ages to process. Without a dedicated P2P system, maverick spend is difficult to monitor effectively. It results in lost money as employees buy at retail prices when you should be securing handsome bulk or wholesale discounts.

(Although worse than that, it forces happy-go-lucky procurement professionals into the role of jobsworths …)

And heaven knows, after years of online shopping with the likes of Amazon, corporate buyers expect the option to order online and enjoy an e-shopping experience comparable to the one they enjoy as private consumers. They expect an experience that is user-friendly, intuitive, and frictionless. Running low on stationery? Simply pick items from a catalog, review the shopping cart and place the order. And maybe pay with a V-card (single user account) number.

This can all be done via a procurement department’s P2P solution – against contracts negotiated with preferred suppliers. The P2P solution allows end-users to shop and track orders as easily as if they were shopping online, with the added benefit that all the information the procurement department needs is captured too, giving greater transparency. Plus, if the P2P solution is integrated with upstream processes such as contracts management and sourcing, the ability to monitor supplier performance against negotiated terms and non-price terms and conditions.

What you should look for in P2P now

A few years ago, people were still asking if procure-to-pay automation is worth it. I think that case has now been definitively answered. Especially if you wish to demonstrate the value of procurement – your value – to the business.

A P2P software suite integrates and automates the entire back-office lifecycle of requisitioning, purchasing, receiving, paying, and accounting for indirect goods and services. By creating standard workflows between buyers, procurement and accounting departments, a P2P solution should provide more transparency into, and control over, indirect spend and should create a more congenial relationship between all stakeholders. SaaS technology accessed in the cloud, such as the JAGGAER ONE suite, has made affordable, flexible and technically versatile solutions P2P available. A major advantage of SaaS is the ability to update functionality and innovate continuously without affecting the normal day-to-day operation of the core solution.

What you should look for in future 

Over the coming years P2P will increasingly leverage artificial intelligence, natural language processing and robotic procurement automation to deliver an even better buying experience on the one hand, while further cutting costs, increasing efficiency, reducing risk and improving governance and insight on the other. Generally speaking, you can expect P2P solutions to be more open, network-oriented, autonomous, collaborative and intelligent.

Here are seven trends that I think you can reasonably expect to reshape P2P not in some distant future but between now and 2025.

·   It will be a more collaborative environment for all stakeholders (internal and external) with full compliance, validations and approvals. P2P and MRP systems will collaborate through direct material order and fulfilment; P2P and corporate treasury will collaborate to support cash flow planning and optimize working capital

·   It will be more autonomous by taking charge of routine tasks such as all forms payment management and processing, improving the productivity of the payment process and the financial health of the supply chain

·   It will empower open business networks bringing together the entire community of buyers and suppliers, integrating and accessing external services and market intelligence feeds

·   It will be interactive with smart assistants assisting you through guided buying, vendor management and other chores

·   Enhanced intelligence will enable P2P systems to act proactively on behalf of users learning from and using all data sources and knowledge to make improvement recommendations to all stakeholder activities and the P2P process

·   It will deliver win-win finance programs to buyers and suppliers, for example dynamic discounting and supply chain finance programs

·   The focus of P2P will shift further from savings to value, reinforcing procurement’s profile as a strategic partner to the business

Conversational systems for guided buying and vendor management

Let’s stop calling them chatbots! Digital or smart help organizations will increase efficiency and achieve high levels of P2P user adoption because of their easy interfaces and clear answers. AI combined with natural language processing (NLP) has opened the door to new, more natural, and more intuitive interfaces that stimulate conversation with humans. There are many uses for digital assistants in procurement – too many to list here. However, the central issue is that procurement specialists are increasingly dealing with vast quantities of data, which means that a lot of their time is spent looking for information rather than using it. They will enable procurement specialists to converse with their AI-powered procurement software, which will do the heavy lifting involved in finding the relevant information and making intelligent suggestions as to what actions need to be taken in specific situations.

Through machine learning the digital assistant will be able learn about your preferences and your organisation’s policies and procedures. A good example is guided buying, whereby a person who needs to buy something will interact with procurement via a conversation conducted by a digital assistant. Based on the procurement strategy (preferred suppliers, preferred items, contracts in place, history of purchases, etc.), the digital assistant will propose solutions, perhaps looking through huge volumes of catalog entries to identify specific products or suggest alternatives.

Digital assistants can also be deployed for handling queries from suppliers, avoiding a lot of back-and-forth correspondences. I think they will become more engaging and human-like in their interactions with you. That, after all, was the original promise of artificial intelligence. But nobody’s perfect, so if the digital assistant cannot find the right answer, it can of course direct the user to a genuine flesh and blood procurement professional (you, for instance).

What innovations would you like to see, or expect to see, in procure-to-pay over the next five years? Let us know in the comments below! Keep up with the latest innovations at the 2020 Global Big Ideas Summit.

Defining Procurement 100%

Organic, original, challenging and aspirational – is this what procurement means to you?  Maybe it should.

In a recent conversation with a business partner where we discussed all-things procurement, a new notion came to mind. The more we talked about it, the more it resonated and the more tangible it became. The concept, as simple as it sounds, embodies a holistic vision of what procurement professionals must strive for.  We called it “Procurement 100%”.

“Procurement 100%”, is not the same as “100% procurement”.  It’s a concept that recognises everything an organisation does is not purely focused on procurement, but that procurement must operate at 100% to enable the organisation to achieve its goals. 

Procurement  is 100% Organic

Procurement 100% implies that procurement is alive and complex, and that significant effort is required to achieve it. All the moving pieces of an organisation will influence procurement and we must be forever diligent to maintain performance.

Procurement 100% is a moving target, is a relative concept that needs to be assessed and gauged within its ecosystem, as it is no stranger to everything else within a company. It is a set of goals that defines and redefines itself constantly as risks become real and resilience is challenged everyday.

Procurement 100% is both the exemplification of sustainability, and its susceptibility to external variables. 

Procurement is 100% Original

The most appealing thing about this concept is that the definition of Procurement 100% will be unique and different for every organisation.  Each company must think about what 100% means to the broader vision of the organisation and devise a path and a plan against it to achieve it. 

Only one rule applies. Procurement 100% is about achieving full operational transparency, enabling process compliance and capturing value at all times, no compromise. 

A procurement function that operates at 100% would be world class  – a function that balances process, people and technology in just the right way to enable the most ambitious goals of an organisation without wasting energy. It’s about making the right way to buy the easiest way of buying.

No procurement function is the same, or requires the same energy and resources to reach its full potential. Not every organisation will need the same set of tools, people and expertise in house in order to perform at a high level.

Procurement is 100% Challenging

Procurement 100% is an exclusive club, because it demands mastery of the competing forces of strategic vision and operational functionality. Many companies have great vision, but lack the on-the-ground resources to execute their plan. Others have strong apparatus, tools and operatives, but fail because there is no strategic direction. Everything gets tactical, too granular, and they are unable to change mindsets.

To me, the greatest ideas come from defining, embracing and deploying out-of-the-box approaches that make us a little nervous, where failing is done quickly and learnings are applied before the fear of losing again, anchors us more to our comfort zone where all is safe, where procurement is still tactical at best.

Procurement is 100% Aspirational

Procurement 100% gives everyone  a goal, a vision and mission to attain.  It speaks about something that must, and can be, measured. Anything under 100% means there’s work to do, everything at a 100% means it needs to be monitored.

I cannot define what Procurement 100% looks like for your organisation, but I can tell you that I don’t know a single entity who has Procurement 100%.   It’s not that they don’t strive for excellence and having a high performance procurement function.  Those who acknowledge the value of 100% Procurement are the same visionaries who keep raising the bar just before its reached.

What I can tell you is that in the holy trinity of procurement – people, process, and technology – each make up for exactly 33% of your winning formula. Achieving the right balance is the secret ingredient for you to figure out to unlock the full potential of your procurement function. 

Join us for the Global Big Ideas Summit next month to share what that 1% looks like for others.

How To Create A Procurement Service Desk

How can you centralise disparate tools and requests to receive, triage and manage work across the source-to-pay process without replacing your applications? It’s not as impossible as it sounds.


Are your stakeholders frustrated with finding their way through the procurement maze? As a procurement practitioner are you overwhelmed with navigating your way through a variety of disparate tools and requests, such as procurement, accounting and reporting, to get your work done?

Many organisations are increasingly improving the efficiency of the procurement process by implementing a “Procurement Service Desk,” which is a single, centralised user portal for stakeholder requests, routing, communication and PR/PO status reporting.

One-stop shop for “all things procurement”

By using one portal instead of multiple systems, the Procurement Service Desk provides seamless engagement for procurement and its stakeholders, which helps procurement organisations receive, triage and manage work across the source-to-pay (S2P) process. The single portal improves the overall user experience and outcomes with procurement for stakeholders, including requestors, legal, finance and operations.

With a Procurement Service Desk, stakeholders no longer have to spend days trying to figure out where to go, who to call, and what information is required to engage procurement. The platform provides procurement stakeholders with a simple user experience to submit procurement requests. A dashboard provides full visibility to requests and statuses throughout the end-to-end procurement process. Stakeholders and procurement now collaborate directly in the centralised portal instead of through numerous emails, files and phone calls.

Procurement organisations typically realise these value-based outcomes after implementing a Procurement Service Desk:

  • Automated triage of work to appropriate practitioners through intelligent routing
  • Improved user experience for clients, supplier and S2P practitioners
  • Workflow data captured in a structured manner for utilisation to improve processes, deliver efficiencies and provide an improved experience
  • Enablement of metrics that matter
  • Intuitive, easy-to-use platform
  • E2E flow supported by a single platform

Shortening the process through intelligent triage

Through the Procurement Service Desk, stakeholders submit requests covering the full S2P process, including sourcing, contracts, supplier onboarding, purchase orders and invoices. By using standardised processes and forms, the Procurement Service Desk ensures compliance and gathers required data from stakeholders.

Requests are based on standardised processes and forms, ensuring compliance and that required data is received upfront from the stakeholders. Because procurement professionals don’t have to chase down additional information from stakeholders, the Procurement Service Desk enables a more efficient process and quick turnaround times.

When a request is submitted through the Procurement Service Desk, the platform triages the request through intelligent routing rules to the appropriate procurement practitioner for no-touch handling.

Triage rules based on commodity, request value, country and supplier match the request with the most appropriate procurement practitioner. This automated triage ensures work gets to the right team quicker and more accurately, improving stakeholder customer satisfaction.

The Procurement Service Desk provides procurement with full visibility to the types of requests coming into the organisation through an executive dashboard, helping managers measure and address workload balance and required skills. The platform also provides improved data-driven insights based on the volume and types of requests received from stakeholders.

Integrating processes and systems

Because the Procurement Service Desk sits on top of an integration layer, the intake request process connects with the back-end disparate tools and micro services. Procurement manages their full workload in a single platform regardless of the back-end transactional systems. By sharing data from the intake process bi-directionally with the back-end transactional applications, the Procurement Service Desk eliminates data re-entry, improving process efficiencies and analytics.

The Procurement Service Desk also easily connects to other services, such as Marketplace and Analytics, making them easily accessible. Previously disparate tools and services, they now easily scale and function as a fully integrated platform.

After making the decision to move to a services desk, procurement organisations should begin looking for a system platform to manage the Procurement Service Desk and integrate their key systems. By working with a company with specific procurement experience, organisations reduce business disruptions and speed up implementation.

Learn how IBM Procurement Services can help to reduce business costs and meet the challenges of complex global enterprises through effective data-driven source-to-pay operations by visiting www.ibm.com/services/procurement

Procurement Innovation – What’s Next?

Procurement has seen some revolutionary changes over the last two and a half decades. From manual processes to powerful P2P Suites, there is no denying that procurement is becoming more innovative and tech savvy. But as a whole procurement tends to lag behind other professions – it’s time to lead the way for innovation, but where do we go from here?


Technology is driving industry forward at an exponential rate, globally. It’s hard to think of an industry that hasn’t adopted a new technology, at least to some extent, in the last several years. Technological breakthroughs are changing the world over, both from a consumer perspective, but also from a business one. From smart phone companies using fingerprint scanning and facial recognition to car companies implementing park-assist, adaptive cruise control, and in some cases, even self-driving capabilities. This is truly a world driven by innovation, and most industries and business sectors are investing heavily to that end. But what is procurement doing to keep up?

Where We’ve Been

To answer that, first it is important to see how far the profession has come. Although it has taken longer than other markets – the progress has been remarkable.

·   Manual Processes – Like most, this is what dominated the industry for a large period of time. Everything was done manually, from drawing up contracts, to sourcing and purchasing materials. This was quite a time-consuming process at a time when procurement lacked the complexity of today.

·   Emails & Spreadsheets – As technology began to become more mainstream the manual communications started to give way to emails, no longer requiring procurement professionals to travel onsite as often. The use of spreadsheets began to build the framework of an organizational system with excel becoming the main database of choice for many in procurement.

·   ERPs – Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is a software that handles business process management it allows an organization to use a series of integrated applications to control and automate many functions related to technology, services and human resources. This is one of the most widely adopted pieces of technology used in procurement today.

·   S2P Systems – This is the current cutting-edge procurement technology. A good S2P suite can bring cost savings, efficiencies and data visibility to your business. Our source-to-pay (S2P) platform, JAGGAER ONE, is a comprehensive suite that automates, optimizes and provides insights across the source-to-pay spectrum. Integrating seamlessly with your ERP, JAGGAER ONE can provide data transparency and visibility, while giving access to a powerful suite of end-to-end supply chain and sourcing solutions.

Procurement is at a Cross-Roads

Procurement has long been a cost-focused profession, largely relying on siloed processes and teams, taking a reactive and tactical approach. And, at one time, that was all that procurement needed to do. But it is now time for procurement to move into a new role – one that takes charge of the business and leads the way, becoming an integral part of the overall business strategy.

I believe that procurement professionals around the world stand on the threshold of a new age. The old paradigm of cost reduction, being reactive and only focusing on purchasing is drawing to a close. In this dynamic, complex and disruptive era, procurement leaders and experts the world over are searching for a secure, successful future.

With technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) becoming more mainstream, the applications for procurement are virtually limitless. Technology like JAGGAER’s Smart Assistant, which is powered by AI, is one such possibility. This conversational platform designed for procurement is a powerful tool, which will eliminate much of the tedious and manual processes that still plague the procurement profession today. AI will be a driving factor in the development of the procurement profession.

Where We’re Going

The result of all these technological advances in several years’ time will be autonomous procurement. As I’ve written in a previous blog “autonomous procurement is a platform with embedded intelligence, but a system that also continues to build on those capabilities to automate the full source to pay process without human interaction. However, this will happen only in instances where human input isn’t necessary or desired, such as repetitive or time-consuming tasks”.

It is incredibly important to remember that autonomous procurement is not meant to eliminate human input or the role of procurement professionals. The end goal here is to augment people, freeing up time to focus on value adding tasks and strategic thinking. Human insight is crucial in business – but this is all about using technology to eliminate mistakes, monotony and cut out repetitive patterns. The future platform will assist you at every step of the source-to-pay process and over time it will manage more & more complex activities autonomously, so we can focus on doing strategic analysis to unlock new opportunities.

The procurement leaders of the future will need to combine strategic thinking, along with an analytical mindset. Leaders are crucial in today’s times, especially with the rise of AI, algorithms and automation. In order to stay ahead of the curve procurement professionals will have to evolve – becoming more data-driven and strategic, because that is something that will always require a human touch. 

To find out more about where procurement has been, where it’s going, and what you can do to stay ahead register for our webinar with Gartner, Deloitte and Blue Shield.

Where do you think procurement is headed? Let us know.

Improve Resilience By Treating Suppliers As Individuals, Says Top Risk Expert

We can’t just get our own house in order. We need to help our suppliers’ suppliers if we want a truly resilient supply chain. Procurious gets expert advice from riskmethods’ Bill DeMartino


How can companies of any size manage the huge number of risks in any supply chain?

Procurious Founder Tania Seary recently sat down with Bill DeMartino, Managing Director of North America at riskmethods, to find out about risk and the future of procurement.

Become resilient or lose credibility

The word of the moment is definitely resilience. But where do you start?

Bill says it’s a process. Not long ago, most organisations were hunting for better information to react faster as threats emerged.

“So this is what I would really categorise as being reactive,” Bill explains. “We want to get better at reacting to events (which is a fantastic place to start by the way) and what I would think of as the journey to resilience.”

The pandemic obviously changed many companies’ perceptions of their own resilience.

Yet he points to data that we’ve seen a 300% increase in disruptions of all kinds over the past three years.

“That means that for organisations who weren’t before acting the mandate is clear; this is the responsibility of supply chain leaders,” says Bill.

“If they are unable to deliver on this responsibility, they’re going to be losing credibility within the organisation.”

The good news is senior management is recognising the importance of proactive supply chain risk management, which will likely lead to more funding.

Treat suppliers better

So we’re all after resilience. But what does that actually look like?

It starts with a shift in the way companies treat and manage suppliers, Bill explains.

“I think we’re on the precipice of moving into what I would call the era of collaboration,” Bill says. 

“Traditionally, we’ve seen working with most of our suppliers in kind of a generic manner and we treat a few of them very specially. 

“But I think that collaboration needs to extend to a broader set of enterprises and so that continuum will continue to be a major transformation element.”

From reactive to transformative

Changing the way we see supplier relationships is a good step, but it’s only the start. 

Once an organisation can react quickly and be more resilient, it’s time to transform. That’s why the most mature and forward-looking organisations are overhauling their processes right now.

“Transformation is not just enough for me to figure out how to be reactive, but I really need to think more proactively on how I can change the elements and the way that I think about the category,” says Bill. 

These advanced organisations are asking how well they understand category risk exposure. And how they can incentivise people to act on the risks they uncover.  

“So it’s really more of a holistic approach to risk resilience,” says Bill.

Automation frees up resources

The other hot topic is automation. Bill says it’s incredible how much of our supply chain can be automated. 

“Supply chain folks are just automating everything that they can and it’s crazy,” says Bill.

“We’re trying to automate all the AP functions, we’re trying to automate all the contract functions, and now we’re actually moving up into the next level and trying to automate the analysis in the diagnosis of the data and the information and insights in those systems.”

“[W]ith this automation we’re able to free up the scarce resources and get our folks to focus on some of the proactive resilience and collaboration efforts they really need for the organisation to thrive,” says Bill.

Risk management in today’s environment

What does great risk management look like today? 

Bill narrows it down to three priorities:

1) Change jobs descriptions and incentives. You need to think about culture change. 

2) Put in place technology that can standardise processes, then measure them.

3) Manage your people well. Ensure that staff are actually following those processes in the way you expect.

“That’s the shift in the maturation that we’re seeing from our customers.  Before, they would just get the information.  Now they are working out how to best utilise that information and become proactive in their risk approach,” says Bill.

Minimise risk, no matter company size

You might be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but I work for an SME. How does that work for a smaller company like mine?”

And it’s true. You may not have the resources or capability at the moment with everything going on, says Bill.

“A lot of smaller organisations are so busy just keeping the business going, no one is taking the time to take a look back and actually think about what it’s going to be in three to five years out,” says Bill.

“They’re  just worrying about survival today.” 

Even if your organisation is small, you’ll likely notice a rising interest in risk management – whether it’s from your customers and executive team. 

“Customers are asking them, potentially assessing them and looking to measure them in terms of their risk preparedness so that’s definitely helping [put risk management on the agenda],” Bill says.

“We are also starting to see a really strong sense of awakening from [senior leaders] and with the idea of a supply network.

“[They’re] thinking it’s not just enough for me to take care of my house, but I need my suppliers to also do the same for theirs.”

What can you do?

So whether risk management is at the top of your agenda already, or it’s just starting to gain importance, Bill suggests three key areas to get your house in order.

1) Using technology to manage risk: “There is an enormous amount of information that’s out there and the largest challenge that organisations have is how to filter through that information and uncover specific and relevant insights.” 

2) Make risk information visible: Can people in your organisation easily find information about risk? 

“We’ve seen a lot of folks who create risk scorecards or risk audits, and that information gets locked away somewhere,” says Bill. 

Instead, he suggests putting that information on your employees’ phones and laptops so they can easily access it when they’re talking to suppliers.

3) Integrate: The final step is to embed all of that risk information and data into other company systems.

As a supply chain professional, Bill says you should ask, “How can I integrate the technology and make it something that really impacts the way that we work?”

Going forward

Now that risk management is firmly on the agenda, you can use it to get ahead in your career. 

Bill predicts the most valuable procurement professionals in the future will be able to manage risk in two ways.

The first is artificial intelligence. Companies will need people who can use AI to spot patterns in suppliers to predict future events. 

“For example, if a supplier shutters a plant and fires the CFO, I could predict a bankruptcy is coming and reorganise my supplier geography to avoid disruption,” says Bill. 

“We can utilise artificial intelligence techniques to start doing pattern recognition and help folks better predict – never with 100% accuracy – but better predict what may be coming down the pipe for them.”

The second is to make suggestions on the best way to react if a threat actually comes to fruition. 

“There’s a number of different approaches that we’ve seen utilised to respond to an event, so we can bring all that information together and present to the individual in a way that allows them to very quickly assess their options, make decisions, and run.”

Bill DeMartino, Managing Director of North America for riskmethods, can be heard in the webcast series The Future Of Supply Chain Now.

How can you limit supply chain disruption and proactively plan for market shifts? Check out this IBM report to find out.

Who’s Using Blockchain in 2020, And How?

Far from being a solution looking for a problem, Blockchain is revolutionising jewellery, tea and coffee, beverage, food and automotive businesses.


While there is still some question as to whether blockchain technology can live up to the hype it has generated, it is making inroads into the supply chain environment.

The diamond and gold, tea and coffee, beverage, food, and automotive industries all have participants with blockchain applications under test, operating as pilots, or implemented as digital solutions to improve supply chain operations.

In most cases, these companies are using blockchain as an aid to supply chain visibility and product tracing, but some have applied it as a tool to streamline transactions and speed up the flow of information, goods, and materials.

In addition to private enterprise, blockchain’s interest among commercial organisations, authorities, and governmental bodies is also intensifying, increasing the technology’s credibility as a useful supply chain tool, although not the cure-all or panacea that early hyperbole may seem to have suggested.

The days of blockchain technology being considered exclusively synonymous with BitCoin and other cryptocurrencies have long been behind us.

Indeed, in the last couple of years, it has been hyped by many as the next big thing in revolutionary digital developments. Meanwhile, other, less-convinced observers have suggested that blockchain is a solution looking for a problem.

So how well is blockchain living up to commercial and organisational expectations?

Let’s look at some of its real-world uses in 2020 across the public and private sectors to see which prominent players have embraced blockchain, to what end, and what kind of inroads it’s making into the supply chain environment.

Blockchain in the Jewellery Supply Chain

Technology oriented participants in the jewellery industry, or more specifically, those in the diamond and gold businesses, began to adopt blockchain-based traceability solutions a couple of years ago. Today, at least two or three platforms are well established, and being exploited by several companies.

De Beers 

As diamonds, and to a lesser extent, perhaps gold, are resources with origins that can sometimes be controversial, companies like De Beers have seized upon blockchain to provide evidence that their gems come from sources that don’t involve insurgency funding or forced labour.

De Beers’ Tracr can provide provenance data for diamonds and track them from the mine to the retail outlet. The system has been enjoying success throughout its early phases.

As a result, plans are now in place to spin it off into an industry-wide association accessible to any organisation needing to track diamonds through the supply chain. At least two jewellery retailers are already taking part in a pilot of the platform.

Berkshire Hathaway

 A platform similar to Tracr is in use with American conglomerate Berkshire-Hathaway. This multinational enterprise counts jewellery retail chains and precious-metals companies among its vast portfolio of holdings.

TrustChain Jewelry is a blockchain initiative focused on the gold and gemstones used in rings. Its objective is to give confidence to the 70% of consumers concerned about the ethical background behind their jewellery purchases.

Some smaller enterprises in the jewellery industry, too, are either taking advantage of blockchain technology already or planning to do so as a way to improve supply chain transparency.

The sector appears to be one that does not need to look for a problem that blockchain can solve. It already has one in the form of conflict gems, and reputable industry participants believe blockchain can help them disassociate themselves from the controversy by proving ethical sourcing and refining.

T is for Transparency, and Tea

Lest you perceive that blockchain solutions are exclusively for high-value products such as diamonds and jewels, one industry that produces a far-less-costly, but highly treasured commodity, is also using the technology to improve supply-chain transparency.

Not too many of us are prepared to go for more than a few hours without the restorative effects of a cup of tea or coffee. But are we sure we’re drinking the real McCoy and not something with somewhat less beneficial effects being passed off as the most delicate Darjeeling?

Combating Counterfeiting

It appears that the tea industry, in particular, has a problem with counterfeiting. Unscrupulous merchants pass off inferior tea as that made from much higher-quality leaves originating in the world’s celebrated growing regions — and the more significant and well-known the brand, the more vulnerable it is to counterfeiting.

Even more nefarious practices exist in the tea trade, such as cutting real tea with other organic, or sometimes inorganic products to increase yield from a plantation’s crop.

It is against that backdrop that tea producers and even India’s government are hoping that blockchain will help deny counterfeiters access to consumer markets—and boost profits for producers and merchants that deal only with the best quality tea.

It’s Teatime for Blockchain

Unilever owns tea plantations in Africa and is using blockchain to improve sustainability and combat counterfeiting. It’s not that tracking and tracing tea through the supply chain is a new departure for the company: Unilever has been doing that for some time. However, blockchain technology is improving the speed and efficiency of the activity.

The blockchain solution, called Trado, is the result of a partnership between Unilever, Sainsbury’s, and the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).

Initially convened as an experiment, the participants, including farmers who received a financial incentive to feed data into the system, have deemed it a success, claiming that it has increased visibility in the tea supply chain and brought down the costs of financing sustainability incentives.

In a similar experiment, the Indian government’s Coffee Board of India is using blockchain to monitor coffee supply, and has already received some 30,000 registrations from farmers wishing to participate. The Tea Board of India is now planning to introduce a similar system as an end-to-end traceability solution.

Examples of Blockchain in Food Supply Chains

The examples we’ve looked at so far illustrate the uses of blockchain to promote sustainability in the supply chain and assure consumers that they are buying ethically sourced products. However, this fledgling technology also has the potential to save shoppers from harm to their health or safety, and perhaps even save lives.

 Walmart’s Blockchain Projects

Blockchain’s potential has been recognised and seized upon by consumer-goods giant Walmart, which has already undertaken several projects and proofs of concept in supply chain traceability. They include:

  • Tracing the origins of mangoes sold in Walmart’s US outlets
  • Tracking supplies of pork for sale in the company’s stores in China
  • A drone communication solution based on a blockchain platform
  • A new project in partnership with KPMG, IBM, and Merck to create a blockchain solution for tracing products in pharmaceutical supply chains

Among the objectives of these projects, is to enable fast responses on the rare occasions that quality issues arise in consumer-packaged-goods, requiring batches to be identified quickly and quarantined.

Walmart leaders believe blockchain technology can prevent, or at least minimise, the impacts of food contamination issues such as the e-coli contaminated lettuce and melamine-adulterated milk crises that rocked the US and China, respectively, several years ago.

With all movements of produce recorded immutably in a distributed ledger, tracing quality-compromised food or commodities back to the source can be achieved in hours, rather than the days, or even weeks, otherwise required for such an exercise.

Big Names are Backing Blockchain

Other opportunities presented by the use of Walmart’s blockchain solutions include the ability for consumers to scan products in-store and receive instant information about them, including their sources and the logistics processes involved in their journeys from origin to retail outlet.

Walmart has stamped its name in the blockchain early-movers hall of fame, not only with the projects already mentioned, but also as part of a partnership with several other food companies including Nestle, Dole, and Unilever, and technology behemoth IBM. The result of the collaboration is the Food Trust Blockchain, a distributed ledger solution capable of recording data associated with more than a million individual products.

Other Food Industry Blockchain Initiatives

Further examples of blockchain’s use in the food supply chain, with solutions either already operational or at the proof of concept stage, include the following:

  • An initiative by standards body GS1, in collaboration with IBM Food Trust, SAP, ripe.io, and FoodLogiQ, to solve interoperability challenges in food-industry blockchains.
  • The entry of Kvarøy Arctic, a large salmon producer, into Food Trust, as a way to facilitate the capture of provenance data for arctic salmon and the feed upon which they are raised.
  • The Norwegian Sea Food Association’s implementation of a blockchain for its members, enabling records about catches to be maintained relating to catch time and location, storage temperature, customs clearance, and details of fish feed used

Blockchain for Beer and Beverage

 Brewing companies, both large and small, are tapping into the potential of blockchain, with benefits ranging from the visibility of ingredients and processes for interested consumers, to the empowerment of subsistence farmers in third-world and developing countries.

Farmers Can Bank on Blockchain Benefits

Anheuser-Busch Inbev is the largest brewer globally. With the help of blockchain software, this giant of a company is helping subsistence farmers in Africa become more commercially capable, and connecting them directly to its supply chain without the need for expensive intermediaries.

Working with a blockchain startup called BanQu, AB Inbev is using a distributed ledger solution to build a relationship of trust with some 2,000 farmers in Zambia that supply raw materials for its beers.

The blockchain serves two primary purposes. The first is the one most commonly acknowledged as a supply chain benefit—transparency.

The second has a direct impact on the welfare of these impoverished farmers. The immutable records generated by the blockchain allows them to prove creditworthiness, open bank accounts, and develop their farms into commercially viable businesses.

Blockchain Passes the Alpha Acid Test

Other projects in the beer industry highlight the value and suitability of blockchain for SME’s supply chains. For instance, in the United States, a regional brewer in the San Francisco Bay area, Alpha Acid, has teamed up with tech giant Oracle to develop a blockchain-technology platform that’s accelerating and automating supply chain transactions.

The venture has provided Alpha Acid with an end-to-end dashboard view of its supply chain. It allows digital sign-offs for each stage in the beer-production process, from hop harvesting, through malting, brewing, and maturation.

This level of visibility is invaluable in brewing supply chains. The consistency of beer products depends on always following a precise formula, using ingredients that are inherently volatile in their chemistry, such as yeast, hops, and malt.

Alpha Acid’s blockchain solution receives sensor data from the brewery’s fermentation vessels and the company’s yeast, hop, and malt suppliers.

With all this information on record, any issues with a finished batch of beer can quickly be traced, enabling it to be isolated for problem resolution. Before the availability of blockchain, a much broader product recall would have been necessary, as it would not have been possible to quickly identify the affected batch.

Blockchain in the Automotive Supply Chain

Vehicle manufacturers have long been among the most avid adopters of digital supply chain technology, so penetration of blockchain into the sector should come as no surprise. Ford, BMW, Renault, General Motors, and, most recently, Tesla, all have solutions either in their sights or already in use.

Ford and BMW Among the Early Movers

For Ford, the blockchain is a potential answer to assuring the ethical procurement of cobalt — a mineral increasingly used for the batteries in electric-powered cars. Like several of the companies already mentioned in this article, Ford has teamed up with IBM to develop a blockchain for end-to-end supply-chain transparency.

Currently running as a pilot, the platform traces the provenance of cobalt and records all supply-chain events—from the bagging of the mineral at the mine, through refining and shipping, to delivery at car manufacturing facilities.

BMW, meanwhile, has piloted its PartChain platform, initially using it to track the supply chain movements of vehicle headlights, including all raw materials and components, and intends to broaden the scope to include suppliers of several other car parts.

Tesla is Trying it Too

As for Tesla, a blockchain partnership with port and shipping companies is all about improving supply chain speed and effectiveness. The progressive carmaker, known for its focus on clean fuels and electric power, has tested a blockchain application for imports to its factory in Shanghai, China.

Working alongside COSCO Shipping and Shanghai International Port Group, Tesla successfully used the technology to streamline the inbound supply chain to its production plant, achieving the following benefits, according to a report by Business Blockchain HQ:

  • Accelerated cargo pickup processes
  • Shortened release times for cargo offloaded at Shanghai port
  • Faster delivery times to the factory
  • Improved efficiency in the supply chain

All these gains arose because the blockchain solution enables faster transactions, helping materials move through the supply chain faster than would be possible using conventional handoffs.

Blockchain Gaining Real Traction in the Supply Chain

From high-value products such as jewellery and motor vehicles, through to everyday commodities like tea and packaged consumer foodstuffs, enterprises are finding that shared ledger systems can solve some of the issues they face, at least those relating to visibility and information flows.

Blockchain is proving itself a versatile solution, as applicable in the small-business environment as it is among the corporate giants. The examples we’ve looked at in this article are just a few of many projects, pilots, trials, and tests that companies across the world are undergoing.

Blockchain might not be a silver bullet to end all supply chain ills, but, like many other emerging digital technologies, it appears to be a welcome tool to aid supply chain management in most, if not all, industrial sectors.

We’ll be sure to keep an eye on its progress here at Logistics Bureau, and will continue to update and inform you about the growth and development of blockchain in the supply chain.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn and has been reproduced with kind permission. Rob O’Byrne is our special guest in our exclusive IBM Sterling Supply Chain series The Future Of Supply Chain Now.

6 Elements Of A Robust Category Strategy

A robust Category Plan and a Strategy will guarantee significant impact for your organisation with these 6 elements.


In my last article The #1 Reason You Need a Well- Defined & Formally Documented Category Strategy!, I purposefully oversimplified what a category strategy is by stating that it answers the 5 W’s (Who, What, Where, When, Why) as well as the How of a particular group of spend. Ultimately, it will act as a guide to the Category Manager in his/her application of different procurement levers & tactics to generate value in the assigned spend area. I want to dive a little deeper on this topic by discussing 6 key elements that make up a robust category strategy:

1) Internal Needs Assessment: this should set a baseline for the category and provide a basic understanding of sub-categories, major suppliers, key requirements & stakeholders, internal controls/policies currently in place, and a brief category history and some of the challenges & successes it experienced. This section is particularly useful when reviewing your category strategy with someone who is unfamiliar with the category and it scope.

2) Spend Analysis: the foundation of any category strategy depends upon a solid understanding of the historical and (ideally) forecasted spend. Without accurate and granular detail, it’s hard to imagine how you can formulate any worthwhile strategy that you can feel confident in. If you didn’t do anything else in developing a category strategy, at least conduct a thorough spend analysis before making any type of recommendations to stakeholders or your leadership. There are a million different ways to slice and dice your data, however, at the bare minimum you should break your spend down by sub-category, supplier, location, and business group/facility. Data visualisation is worthwhile to mention here and a skill in itself: how do you take data and transform it into an eye-opening story that opens the door to powerful business insights? There are several data visualization tools out there like Tableau that can help with this, but you can never go wrong by simply utilising Excel or PowerPoint. One of my go-to formats to visualize spend data is the infamous Pareto!

3) Supply Market Analysis: understanding of the supply market is key to developing a robust strategy. You can begin by gathering market intelligence and benchmarking information via a myriad of places and sources, however, Beroe Live is a decent place to start and it’s free. Commonly used market analysis tools are the Porter’s 5 Forces model as well as the Structure, Conduct, Performance (SCP) model. Personally, I feel Porter’s 5 Forces model is more useful when entering a specific sourcing event or deal negotiation as it will help analyze the level of competition that exists at a specific point in time. Therefore, I tend to utilise the SCP framework as party of my category strategy development process.

4) Category Segmentation: segmentation modeling really sets you up to effectively apply the appropriate strategies for the goods/services you are sourcing and should help prioritize where you spend your time and with who. The Kraljic Matrix, developed by Peter Kraljic, is a segmentation model that evaluates two key factors:

1) the overall importance of the good/service (commonly based off total spend, profitability impact, or value-add to the company) and

2) market complexity or supply risk.

These factors are then evaluated on a Low to High scale across 2 x 2 matrix creating 4 quadrants or categories: 

Strategic Items(High Value + High Market Complexity/Supply Risk)

Leverage Items (High Value + Low Market Complexity/Supply Risk)

Bottleneck Items (Low Value + High Market Complexity/Supply Risk), and 

Non-Critical Items (Low Value + Low Market Complexity/Supply Risk).

Similarly, this tool can also be used to segment your suppliers. This is important to note because your counterpart on the other side of the table has most likely engaged in a similar segmentation process in helping them evaluate the strategies to deploy with their customers. Do you know where you fall in their model? Does your supplier/category segmentation align with how your supplier views you as customer?

5) Strategy: all the fact-based analysis that has been conducted up to this point should highlight and allow you to articulate 2-3 high level strategies that will guide all procurement activity that will occur (I highly recommend anyone engaged in Category Management to read The Purchasing Chessboard as it is a great tool to stimulate thinking around category strategy, procurement levers, and tactics that can be deployed). It should also include goals or KPIs to help measure the effectiveness of its implementation. Leveraging 1 of the 4 general strategies in the The Purchasing Chessboard, if my strategy is to “Leverage Competition Among Suppliers” one of my goals or KPIs could be “Achieve 15% year-over-year costs savings in x good/service for next three years”.

6) Category Plan: now that you have this amazing strategy with lofty goals to save millions, a list of initiatives, projects or tactics must be developed that will deliver the results. The Category Plan should call out the name of the project, description of the project or tactic to be used, strategy alignment, value, and timing. A Project Prioritisation Matrix is a useful tool here to help you through this process. Although you may not formally develop criteria to plot your project on the matrix, it’s important to think about the Business Value and Ease of Implementation of the initiatives you have listed.

In summary, a category strategy is much more than a document that answers the 5 W’s as it becomes the critical guide to the Category Manager in his/her application of different procurement strategies, levers & tactics to generate value for the company they represent. By including these 6 elements in your category strategy, you are sure to deliver significant impact for your organisation and see transformative results.

Let me know your thoughts and the tools you utilize to develop your category strategies (I’ve created a Category Strategy template for those who may be just getting started!)

Managing A New Tech Project? Steal This Company’s Playbook

Make your new tech project a success with these tried and tested tips.


If you’ve managed a new technology project before, then you know the tech is the easy part. 

People are the challenge (and I mean that in the nicest way possible!)

Luckily, people and projects follow predictable patterns – no matter the size of your company. 

So here’s the playbook you need to make your new project successful. It’s the same one I’ve used to help dozens of companies like Credit Suisse and Honeywell launch systems on time and on budget.

And it’s yours to steal.

Step 1: Get the right people in the room

The most successful organisations are those that get the right people in the room from day one and keep them engaged the whole time.  

Who are the right people? It’s likely a mix of people across your organisation. Obvious inclusions are senior level decision makers. You also need to get the best technical brains in the room who understand the legacy system better than anyone else.

You need people who really understand your business – warts and all. Why are things done in the way that they are? What is the history? What are the processes? Are they defined in flowcharts and documents?  

You might think your own processes are well-documented, but they need to be really specific for the design phase (i.e. do emails/reminders have to be sent at a particular stage and what happens after X number of days; who do we escalate to?)

Next, you need to spend significant time making sure everyone understands and agrees the objectives of the new system. You need the people who hold the purse strings to agree, so you can get resources in place.

And prepare for scepticism – especially from people who have been around a while. These long-time employees have seen it all, and they might carry hard feelings from previous projects that didn’t live up to the promises.

So don’t be quick to dismiss those who seem negative; sometimes they are the key to understanding why something was done in the past, and to identifying where complexity can be removed. 

You’ll find if you address stakeholder concerns early on and make sure everyone feels heard and understood, you can get them on board and keep them there. And who knows? They could become your biggest ambassadors for the project. 

Plan for pushback

No matter how great your new system is – or how much time and money it will save the company – you should expect pushback. Most humans hate change. 

So approach their concerns with sympathy; after all, it can be hard to learn a new system.

And don’t forget about potential pushback from your suppliers. I often have customers who struggled previously with getting suppliers on legacy procurement systems.

Avoid that chaos by bringing your key suppliers in early.

For example, Maxim Healthcare struggled for seven long years to get suppliers on their legacy system. The suppliers pushed back en masse against the terms they had to accept, and possible fees faced by the vendor’s supplier network approach. 

So when they asked us to help them launch a new system, we put suppliers at the centre. Their suppliers were thrilled with the friendlier terms and approach. The result? Maxim Healthcare launched a shiny new P2P system in eight weeks with more suppliers than they acquired in the previous seven years. 

Define requirements and objectives

Before you go shopping, do the important work of laying down requirements and objectives.

Think of it like painting a room. The actual painting goes quickly; it’s all the prep work that takes the time.

Now is the opportunity to review your old processes and see if they’re still serving your company.

Get into the detail at the design phase and understand that documenting your processes will help to work out what you are doing now and where you can find efficiencies, cost savings, and better user adoption.

Everyone in your stakeholder group should agree on what your company needs in a new system. That will save you from scope creep (and many headaches) later on – when changes will be infinitely more expensive.

Once you know what you’re looking for, scrutinise different technology providers. Make sure you understand what is possible now with current technology.

At this stage, your provider should act as a friendly interrogator, questioning any areas they find in your processes that could be simplified. However, the act of removing that complexity is up to you. Will you make the most of the new technology you are paying good money for?

Look at the whole puzzle

A system may seem perfect in isolation, but you need to understand how it fits with the rest of your company set-up.

After all, you’re looking for a seamless flow of information, a consistent user experience, and a unified data model that supports 360 degree visibility of suppliers and activity.

None of that is possible if your company systems aren’t compatible. 

Also understand how the new tech system you choose can grow and change as your company changes. 

Some systems are too rigid to support those changes, meaning you could have a redundant system on your hands after only a few months.

And you should also consider how other existing company systems could change in the future. Are any of them due for an upgrade soon? Stay close to your CIO so your company makes the most of tech investments.

Allow for flexibility

Successful projects allow for flexibility in timing. Things will change and bumps will come up over the course of your project – no matter how precise your planning.

That’s why we use a hybrid agile/ waterfall method on our own projects (and encourage customers to use the same).

What does that mean? The waterfall approach is to build the system and then show it. Agile means to build as you go. 

Instead of choosing one over the other, we use both methods. That brings a nice balance of predictability with a level of flexibility to address unforeseen or evolving requirements.

At the design phase we try to lock down 80% of requirements and in this way we still maintain 20% for a level of flexibility. Though as mentioned earlier, it’s wise to get as specific as possible.

You might be surprised how quickly a project can come together this way. Take the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for example. They needed the ability to upload bid submittals electronically, and we helped them launch the feature in just one week. 

Nailing down exactly what you need will make the actual build phase go quicker. And building in contingency time means you won’t get caught off guard when you reach a hiccup. 

Send in the A-team

You need to take people off their day-to-day work and give them the time to focus on this project.  

Have dedicated project team members who solely work on launching the new system. They should be able to answer business and technical questions, and to report back on user issues and gripes. 

This is especially important during the early stages of the project, but no less important throughout the entire process.

The best way to mitigate issues is to plan for them by making sure that you have enough and the right resources.

Once the procurement system is rolled out, it’s key to keep the same team engaged so a knowledge exchange to the support team can take place. They should stay put for at least a few weeks after launch to ensure a smooth transition.

Finish strong

Successful project teams are always communicating. 

At the start of any new project, I set up monthly steering meetings at the executive level. There are weekly project status meetings with project leaders, Ivalua, partners and clients to share what has been done, the challenges and what’s planned for the next week. 

We put any roadblocks or risks on the table and take a realistic health check on the overall project status.

I also schedule “Work in Progress” reviews to keep everything on track and spot issues a long way off. 

These checkpoints allow us to confirm we are headed in the right direction, and we can take some feedback to adjust it when needed.

You can do this

To summarise, when you managing a new tech project of any size, there are the three keys to success:

1) Know what your goals are, and make sure these are communicated to your internal teams and to the companies you are working with. 

2) Have the right people in the room. 

3) Complete a robust, open and transparent design phase to get what you want and guarantee that your organisation gets what it needs.

Finally, make sure you report your after-launch success back to senior management. Ivalua did some research earlier this year that showed 67% of procurement professionals believe that their colleagues consider them to be a key business partner contributing significant strategic value.

They already know you are valuable. Your project is another opportunity to prove it.

Procurement Needs Less Processes – As They Are Slow, Boring And Self-Centered

Perhaps the best way to get things done is, ironically, to abandon the myriad processes we established to get things done!

I’ve discussed with a number of CPOs during the last months on how they have managed procurement during COVID-19. One recurring answer is along the lines of “we broke all of our processes and went to wild-west-mode.” Now, many say this with an interesting combination of sadness and pride. Sadness that they had to give away the great processes perceived to be the basis for any professional procurement organization. Pride and excitement of how procurement teams were able to improvise, work hard, and survive.

There shouldn’t be sadness for the breakdown of processes. This period has shown that processes are slow, boring and self-centered – and that we can live and thrive with much less of them. Many processes are manifestations of control-freak, risk-averse mediocre management but I admit there are cases where they can be beneficial.

Occasionally processes are great – when they allow for (almost) complete automation. For example, it’s great when routine tasks are mapped out as a process and automated to save people’s time and attention. Even in this case I see process more as a tool to enable (software based) automation rather than as the end-game.

Sometimes, processes can be helpful guidelines for a less experienced employee, and/or to facilitate coordination in teams. If you’re doing a supplier risk evaluation for the first time (and if it needs to be manually done), it may be good to have a process description to guide through the first steps. In these cases, processes should be seen as a learning method. Having consistent vocabulary and descriptions of a process helps communication and coordination across individuals.

Those are the exceptions. In most cases processes bring many hidden costs to our businesses.

Why procurement needs less processes

Processes are, almost by definition, designed to cover all sets of actions taken. This tends to lead to complex multi-step processes that often include a number of bottlenecks in the form of approvals and reviews. Whenever something bad happens in a company, management often asks “how we can prevent this from happening again.” The answer commonly is “let’s create a process.” Over time, there are more and more complex processes in place, gradually suffocating the organization and its creativity.

All this put together brings on a number of problems with processes:

  • Things get slow – there are so many steps to cover and so many approvals that getting even a simple task done takes a lot of calendar time. I believe this is the reason that lot of processes were broken during COVID-19: they were just way too slow to create a meaningful result.
  • Things get boring both for managers and the people driving the processes forward. CPOs often talk of a talent shortage in procurement. How to fix this? Definitely not by trying to reduce our exciting work to a process-led obstacle course. Nobody ever said “I just completed a 15-step sourcing process and that was the greatest moment of my life.” People don’t get excited about running processes but, unfortunately, they may get overly excited designing them. People get motivated about purpose, outcome, creativity and freedom, but not about executing processes. If we provide processes as tight guidelines on how to do things, we don’t get talent. Once we get real talent, we definitely can’t keep them with strict processes. It’s equally bad for managers – their job becomes one of reviewing and approving. Approving POs, business cases, vacation requests, what not. The brightest people who have worked hard, learned a lot, and would have a lot to give become rubber stampers.
  • Processes are also very self-centered. They assume that we can dictate the timeline – it may make our own lives more plannable, but it also takes out any options to leverage the opportunities that are coming up. Say, for example, you follow a strict quarterly business review cycle with suppliers. If supplier collaboration happens only through process-driven reviews, you are not leveraging opportunities coming up in between.

The world is getting faster and more volatile. In this new world, as the COVID-19 era has proven, processes are just too slow. I truly hope that COVID-19 did not only teach us that remote work is possible, but also that a more action-oriented, exciting procurement world is possible … But more on that on my next blog article.

This article was originally published here – it has been republished on Procurious with kind permission.

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.