Is Procurement Ready to Say Good-Bye to the Spreadsheet?

(Featured Image from Microsoft website.)

Yesterday, June 27th, I ran across an interesting tweet. Jon Hansen (@piblogger1) tweeted the following:

I wholeheartedly agree with Jon. In this age of blockchain and and small app startups disrupting almost every industry you would think that procurement, and supply chain in general, would be ready to part ways with spreadsheets.

But are we?

An article from Robert Half reports that 63% of U.S. companies still rely on excel spreadsheets. And a Small Business Trends reports shows that 84% of Small Businesses rely on excel!

This comes as no surprise for a number of reasons:

  1. Spreadsheets are cheap or free. A small business needing to keep costs down can get Microsoft Office for the low price of $10 or so a month, or just utilize Google Spreadsheets for free. OpenOffice is another free offering that has a program just like excel. The list of free alternatives goes on.
  2. Spreadsheets is easy. I don’t care who you are, spreadsheets is easy to learn. And once learned, spreadsheets can be utilized to do a plethora of things. Organize data, create charts and tables, analyze said data and charts/tables. Even an iota of training can lead an employee to create a generally acceptable presentation of data. Want to learn more about how to do things in spreadsheets? There are a number of excellent free online resources, or you can pay for a book, or even pay for an advanced class at your local community college. Big solutions providers? Not so much.
  3. Current ERP/WMS haven’t done a good job creating a viable replacement for spreadsheets. Despite SAP, Oracle, Coupa and others making great strides, the numbers I cited above speak for themselves. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)/Work Management Systems (WMS)/etc. do not provide enough of a solution to effectively unseat the spreadsheet.

I have personal experience in this area.

The company I used to work for had used an industry specific WMS for decades. Spreadsheets were the norm for day-to-day operations. As I left, the company I worked for was beginning the long road to a major upgrade of the WMS. But when asked about spreadsheets and additional functionalities, the WMS supplier replied that the company would still need to utilize spreadsheets.

Two small businesses I’ve worked with in the Greater Omaha Metropolitan area use spreadsheets for 80-100% of their operations. One of the businesses effectively has a WMS at their disposal, but that only covers a small fraction of what they need to track, and the WMS doesn’t connect with the business owner’s bank account. Enter spreadsheets. The other small business is just starting up, and there is zero dollars in the budget for even NetSuite by Oracle. Spreadsheets fill that void.

Conclusion

I think, as do many others within supply chain and procurement, that it’s time to say good-bye to spreadsheets. It’s 2019, after all.

But, then again, we were supposed to have flying cars and cities on Mars by this point…

Maybe someone will come along and create that perfect ERP that finally replaces the spreadsheet.

Consulting

Last Friday I had the amazing opportunity to do consulting in the Omaha Metro Area.

The client was a start-up gym looking to better manage their inventory of supplements (collagen peptides, protein, etc.) and workout equipment (knee sleeve, wrist wraps, etc.).

It wasn’t anything high end. No C-Suite meetings. No hundred dollar steak dinners.

Just one hour with some Bulletproof Coffee while working on spreadsheets at Whole Foods.

I built them a spreadsheet to manage their inventory, forecast their demand, determine their economic order quantity, safety stock, and order point. All the while I explained the math and basic principles behind it what I had built. In the end I offered my continued availability.

Now the gym is better prepared to deal with its increasing demand for supplements and equipment. Of course, as they grow they’ll need better software than just an excel spreadsheet.

But I got them started on the right track.

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If you’re a start-up or small business looking to improve your supply chain, shoot me an email and set up a free introductory consultation: meybestprocurement@gmail.com.

In a tight labor market do you try to hire or automate?

Today (12/20/2018) the Omaha World Herald released an article on the labor shortage in Nebraska. This is in spite the population of Nebraska creeping up to 2 million people, and Union Pacific layoffs releasing workers back into the available workforce pool.

Nebraska isn’t the only place that has a labor shortage. The United States as a whole has a shortage of qualified workers in both white and blue collar jobs.

This may not sound like a supply chain or procurement problem, but it is.

Do you try to hire?

While human resources/human capital may be the lead on hiring, procurement professionals are sitting alongside them. Generally, it’s procurement professionals that work agreements with traditional hiring or head hunting firms.

In the 21st century the procurement professional can also reach out to other sources of hiring. Variable or contingent workforce companies and sites can fill a need that standard hiring can’t. Your organization may not get a permanent hire, but they may get the person or people they need for that important project.

However, some companies try to keep jobs within the states they are located in. Yes, they may be able to hire a contingent worker or two from Canada or South Korea, but those dollars are leaving the state, and perhaps the U.S.

Do you automate?

If your organization can’t hire more people, perhaps it’s time to automate more processes. AI and blockchain are the touted technologies that will change tomorrow, but many organizations, especially medium and small businesses, don’t have the money for that now, and may not have the money for that even in ten years.

Your organization has to ask itself what processes or reports can be automated with programs, either purchased or developed in-house. If in manufacturing or warehousing what machines or robots can be built or purchased – and can you afford – so your organization doesn’t have to rely on as many human workers?

Whether a program or a machine, procurement professionals will be there to lead the sourcing.

Conclusion

I didn’t address outsourcing here. Many companies already do so, and it is a consideration your organization may have to make. But if the focus is on keeping revenue and tax dollars in the state your organization is located in, and in the U.S., outsourcing may not be an option for you.

The same goes for variable/contingent workforce solutions. Your organization may put a requirement for workers located in the U.S. only. How will that effect the hiring process, and the project(s) those personnel are being hired for?

You will have to look at the total cost of ownership of the hiring or automation solution your organization is considering.