Data Is King

Today everything in business relies on data: sales, lost sales, materials in stock, efficiencies, budgets, demand, etc. It’s the exception to the rule that a business can run without at least some data as to the peaks and valleys of their sales.

This is no different for procurement. Today data is as important to an organization’s procurement and supply chain functions as it is to any other area. Data not only informs procurement about what’s going on, but is increasingly driving procurement decisions, such as how much to buy, how to enter negotiations, and even whether or not to eliminate the requirement for what is being procured.

Herein we’ll take a look at the ways data drives procurement, and how your organization can benefit from it.

Spend

How much you spend, what you spend it on, and how you spend is one of the most important data points for procurement professionals. What you will spend in the future is also important.

Why?

How much you spend gives you a number to work with, and helps the procurement professional set goals on reduction. What you spend it on can tell you if you’re spending too much for a material or service, or perhaps your organization is spending money on something it doesn’t need (ex. obsolete materials). How you spend can tell you if you spot buy, make multiple purchases resulting in paying for multiple shipments when you should consolidate them, and with how many suppliers.

Forecasting spend is important, too. What is that project in 12 months projected to cost you? Why?

Management

Gathering all of this information helps you manage that spend. Some companies can readily access this data and procurement professionals can begin tackling it. You may belong to a company like this.

Or, you may be part of a company that doesn’t have this data ready at hand. You may be the person that gives your IT department a heart attack. (It’s OK, they have health insurance.)

Managing this spend helps you and your organization make decisions on how to change certain purchasing trends, make decisions on how money will be spent, and why.

Unmanaged spend, also called Rogue Spend, accounts for roughly 29% of a company’s spend, according to The Hackett Group. If your annual spend is tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, your organization could be leaving millions or tens of millions of dollars on the table, something that directly effects the bottom line.

Getting spend under management helps you make decisions such as consolidating areas of spend and bidding out to find a single supplier that can supply it all in order to find better solutions that will help save money and avoid costs.

It can also help you begin the discussion on processes.

Process

Soft costs are hard for some people to grasp. They “technically” don’t exist, so why address them?

A perfect example is one I dealt with recently. Currently the company I work for has workers clean their own vehicles. The issue? That worker is being paid $30-$40/hour straight time to clean that vehicle. Lump on benefits, that’s roughly $45-$60/hour.

We began a project to contract vehicle washing services. Bids came back at around the $15/vehicle mark. A fraction of what it would cost for one of our workers to clean them. (The agreement is for approximately $65,000/year.) And vehicle cleaning would be done after hours, not affecting the work schedules of the workers.

The managers and supervisors we discussed this project with just shrugged their shoulders. “They’re on the payroll anyway, so why not just keep having them clean their own vehicles and not spend $65,000 a year?”

The issue is that these workers could be spending the time they are cleaning their vehicles doing their actual job. If you have ten or so workers taking time away from a job site throughout the month to power wash their vehicles, that reduces the efficiency of work done on that job and could extend the schedule of that job, even pushing it past the deadline. How much does all of that cost your company?

This could also include your procurement processes. Are there steps in your processes for purchasing, receiving, warehousing, and issuing materials? Or perhaps suppliers that provide services are late (costing you time and money) because of certain processes your organization follows such as unnecessary security checks.

Using spend data to look at your organization’s processes can help you address both hard and soft costs. The data gleaned from these calculations can help your organization become more efficient and effective.

Total Cost of Ownership

With spend managed you can begin to address Total Cost of Ownership. How is freight billed? How are shipments handled? How does the supplier bundle things? What’s the mark-up? What’s the cost of labor for the supplier to handle that product or service? What’s the cost of labor for your organization to accept that material or oversee that service? What are the manufacturing costs? What is the cost of holding inventory at the supplier’s location? What’s the cost of holding inventory at your location? Are there materials you can remove and still be effective?

All of these things, and more, go into the total cost of ownership. Tracking the total cost of ownership, perhaps through should-costing, can help you and your organization determine if you need certain materials or services, if there are features that can be removed, or if there are better ways of doing things.

Conclusion

Getting a handle on your data in procurement is as important as getting a handle on it in sales. As the procurement professional you need to be able to track how much is spent, what it’s spent on, how it’s spent, how much was spent in the past, and what your organization will spend in the future if you are to be effective in contributing to the conversation on how to change all of that for the better.

Tariffs and the Supply Chain

Plenty has been written on the ongoing tit-for-tat with Trump’s tariff’s on China; the news cycle can’t get enough. And in three days, tariffs take effect on $200 billion worth of imports from China should the U.S. and China be unable to come to an agreement.

I’ll let the political pundits discuss whether this is good or bad.

What I’m interested in is: How does this effect the supply chain? And I’m not just talking the prices of goods. What about logistics, supplier choices, and make or buy decisions? What’s to be done in such turbulent times? How should risk management be addressed?

Cost of Goods

With the imposition of 25% steel tariffs and 11% aluminum tariffs earlier this year, the prices of steel and aluminum have jumped upwards of 18%. While the steel companies are enjoying the profits, the rest of U.S. companies that utilize these resources, such as automobile, motorcycle, and technology (hardware) companies are seeing costs rising, some as high as 50%.

The additional 10% tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods will effect companies and consumers even more. Items on this new list include: meat, fish and seafood, fruits and nuts, beverages and vinegars, ores, slag, and ash, rubber, textiles, and machinery, just to name a few. A more comprehensive list can be found here.

I currently work in the utilities (energy) industry, and the effects of tariffs are already hitting our transformers, steel poles, vehicles, and some motors. Specifically, we recently sourced a specialized trailer that has a motor on it for pulling shipping containers (connexes, sealands) up onto it. For whatever reason these specific motors only came from China, and with the tariffs the company in China wouldn’t ship to the U.S. Our supplier had to go through a European company to source the motors from China, hiking up the price 30% compared to what we normally pay.

This brings us to our next topic. . .

Logistics

With tariffs come challenges in logistics. Products from China are going to cost more, and some companies are making decisions not to ship certain products directly to the U.S. (see my trailer example above).

It’s not just the goods purchased, but the shipping of those goods that have gone up. With tariffs comes an increase in cost of shipping those goods. Ships from other countries are held in port longer, delaying delivery, and increasing labor costs. Even the railroads in the U.S. are seeing an increase in costs due to tariffs from Mexico and Canada. When looking at total cost of ownership, companies are going to be looking at how tariffs effect shipping, and will have to make decisions based on those numbers.

Supplier Choices

Both cost of goods and logistical challenges are going to effect supplier choices by companies in the United States. For example, if Company A is going to pay the same price for steel and aluminum from China as they do in the U.S., but the steel and aluminum from China has a tariff on it, Company A is going to begin purchasing those resources from U.S. companies, or at least from companies in countries where there are no or much lower tariffs.

A simple example of this is the steel industry example given above. If I have to buy steel, I might as well buy it from a company in the U.S., despite the higher cost, because there will be no tariffs imposed on it. The same will go for many of items on the list of new tariffs being levied.

And what if the goods being shipped to the U.S. only come from China? Then companies, and their consumers, may have to live with much higher prices which include the cost of tariffs. Or. . .

Make-or-Buy

With tariffs and the costs of certain goods rising, companies may begin to revisit make-or-buy decisions.

Make-or-buy decisions are exactly what they sound like. Does the company make the product in-house, or do they buy it/outsource it from another company. With tariffs on certain goods and costs of those goods rising, some companies may be compelled to begin to produce more in-house instead of outsourcing.

This is an interesting turn of events as our current economy is a by-product of companies selling off assets they once owned to produce everything in-house. Decades ago companies like Ford used to own steel mills and smaller factories that made everything in support of producing cars. These companies then spun off or sold these assets to focus on what they were good at; in the case of Ford it was building cars, not managing the mining and refining of steel.

My opinion is that I doubt we’ll ever return to the level of “make” seen prior to the 1970’s/80’s. It just doesn’t make economic sense in most cases. (This is an unsubstantiated statement, and some economist or financial guy out there may prove me wrong, but there it is.) But more companies will have to take a hard look at how they produce their products, and make-or-buy decisions will be part of that decision making process.

Of course, a third option is companies do redesigns of their products or entire offerings so they include less or no goods coming from countries which have these tariffs imposed on them (in this case China), or stop providing the offering completely.

What To Do

Again, my focus in this article isn’t whether the tariffs are good or bad. Individuals with a greater breadth of knowledge and experience can opine on that. What I will comment on is what can be done in each of these areas. These are recommendations based on my limited (eight years) of experience.

Cost of Goods: The first thing I’d ask is, “What does it say in the agreement?” Taking steel as an example, your organization most likely locked in a price for that product which contains steel. There is also, most likely, a clause allowing a certain percentage of price increase annually, or throughout the year. I am not saying you should necessarily buckle down on that price. Your supplier is working to be tenable just like your organization. But use it as a starting point for the discussion on how the tariffs effect the price. Just because the cost of steel has gone up 18% doesn’t mean the cost of what you’re buying goes up 18%. But maybe 5% or 8% makes sense for your organization to pay while the supplier is still profitable.

Logistics: You should look at what countries you are shipping from, and what are the lead times once what your organization purchased enters the U.S. If lead times are extended, your planning for projects or product releases should also be adjusted. Are you able to source from the same company with a presence in a different country? Or is there a distributor in a different country that can provide your organization with the same product, tariff free? Can you work with your supplier in China to ship through another country, such as Vietnam? You should also work to leverage relationships with freight companies or rail road companies you work with to see how you can work together to mitigate the costs of tariffs.

Supplier Choices: Despite personal opinions on the merits or detractions of tariffs and trade wars, organizations across the U.S. have to accept the way things are (until if/when they change). Perhaps it’s time for your organization to begin to look into other suppliers within the U.S., or from countries that don’t have China-level tariffs imposed upon them. You and your organization may have to pay higher prices due to the tariffs, but it’s better to pay just higher prices instead of higher prices plus costs for tariffs. That said, you may be in a bind if what you source only comes from a company in China.

Make-or-Buy: Finally, you and your organization may have to have a serious discussion about make-or-buy (or stop providing the offering altogether). If sourcing from China and a U.S. company doesn’t make sense for your organization, perhaps it’s time to look into producing it in-house. These decisions aren’t made lightly; producing products in-house could cost millions, or tens of millions, in construction, start-up costs, and increased overhead and labor costs. But if it makes sense in the long run it can save your company money lost in higher prices, delayed shipments, and loss of market share.

Risk

A final thought: remember risk. Throughout all of the discussions you have with your organization about how to deal with the current state of affairs with tariffs, always ensure you are managing the risk to your supply chain in all of your decisions. For example, shipping through another country to get around tariffs on China may seem like a good idea at first, but what if the infrastructure and rule of law in that country are poor? Your product may disappear, or bribes to crooked officials may raise the price of your products to the point that you may have well have paid for the product with tariffs.

Think about how your organization can mitigate risks, and what to do in the worst case scenario. (Hopefully you and your organization are already doing this on a daily basis.) Can your organization help build up infrastructure in this country? Or should sourcing be shifted to a U.S. company with less risk in on-time delivery, but maybe higher risk in quality of goods that can be more easily addressed since they are just a quick drive or plane flight away?

Conclusion

Despite what you might think of them, the current tariffs aren’t going anywhere soon. But, with careful planning and risk management, you and your organization can navigate these turbulent waters and maintain your supply chain.

Standardization In Processes to Reduce Costs

Go to any department in your organization. How consistent are the ways people are doing things? How consistent are the results in that department? Is everyone on the same page, each person executing their job by a set of processes? Or is everyone doing their job their own way?

If your company is like the company I work for, standardized processes are a near-term goal – or in some cases a far off dream. Each person in a department has their own way to do work, and feels their way is best. Their way has worked thus far, why change it?

Standardizing processes is key to streamlining a department, and in procurement it can mean money saved that directly affects the bottom line.

Purchase Orders

Purchase orders are a primary issue when working to standardize. Some procurement agents process purchase orders one way, some another way. Some buyers have a checklist they follow each time, while other buyers just run the PO through the ERP system and send it to the supplier without another thought.

Standardizing purchase order processing should include, at minimum, the following:

  • Check pricing against negotiated numbers.
  • Consolidate duplicate line items.
  • Confirm material need dates.
  • Confirm shipping method and carrier.
  • Receive order acknowledgement from the supplier.
  • Update expected/promised delivery date from supplier in the ERP, and notify the stakeholder.

Just these simple standardized steps can ensure consistent outcomes each time. Consistent outcomes mean dollars saved internally in time worked on purchase orders and externally in keeping supplier pricing of materials and freight consistent with pre-negotiated prices.

Contracts

Contracts may be more complex than purchase orders, but standardization can be achieved in the process. The procurement specialists that are responsible for RFPs and contracts should have a checklist of everything they need to do, from the moment they receive the RFP/contract from their stakeholder, up to award. This checklist may even include contract management.

Templates are another way to standardize RFPs and contracts. While stakeholder specifications and requirements may differ, the organization should have a single template for procurement specialists to follow with standard information that each RFP and contract must include, such as RFP timeline, milestones, and evaluation criteria. The organization may have two or three checklists and templates for different RFP/contract situations, but each should follow a standardized, enforced process.

Conclusion

Standardization has many benefits, and in an organization’s procurement processes it translates into savings that directly affect the bottom line.

In fact, the German Institute for Standardization, DIN, recently published a report on how standardization positively effects companies. In the report, they found that not only did standardization give companies competitive advantages, but also lowered transaction costs and had positive effects on the buying power of the companies surveyed.

Now is the time to begin process standardization in your procurement organization.