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.

How Strategic Sourcing Can Improve Your Organization’s Processes

Originally posted on my other blog, The Red Renegade.

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Your organization is working to improve its sourcing processes and strategy. Like areas of spend have been grouped together to determine what the organization spends annually. The department or division responsible for sourcing has identified areas of spend where savings can be realized.

But, as the organization delves deeper, they find that reducing outside drivers of cost isn’t the only hurdle they face.

There are materials and services within the organization that people have been dependent on for years, perhaps decades. Leaning these materials and services, or removing them altogether, will be a major culture shock. Senior management is even wary of cutting off these materials and services.

Senior management wants to save money, but the sourcing group knows that changing how materials and services are sourced, what will be sourced, and when will have a major impact on the organization’s processes as well as its budget.

Sourcing the material and/or service is just one part of the larger sourcing strategy. A lot of work goes into transforming the rest of the organization and how it does business in order for the wins in sourcing to have their full effect – one more part of total cost ownership. Process improvement in other parts of the organization are just as important as improvements in the sourcing function itself.

Total Cost Ownership

As discussed in a previous blog post, Total Cost of Ownership is everything that goes into before, during, and after the sourcing of a material and/or service.

Generally speaking, this includes administrative processing costs, technology costs, overhead, freight, the cost of lead times, if items are damaged, and rework that needs to be done.

Rarely do organizations look at total cost of ownership in terms of what their own organization is doing.

Does each project manager or department use the freight carrier they like the best?

Is there a service the company uses, but could be eliminated if project managers were held to better standards of planning?

Do employees make parts runs because favored suppliers “don’t deliver”?

It’s internal processes like these that need to be looked at in tandem with the improvement of sourcing the material(s) and/or service(s) and organization buys. They are as much a part of Total Cost Ownership as overhead or lead times on materials.

How so?

Let’s use an example from my experience.

The company I work for uses a freight service that only delivers between facilities in my company in the city we’re in. This freight service costs about $300,000 per year for them to move material from one facility to the other. We love this external freight service so much, their drivers park their trucks at our facilities.

Why do we use them?

Because sometimes project managers cut work orders associated with one facility, only to draw the material out of another. So materials needs to be shuttled around to ensure the proper materials are in the proper place at the proper time.

We also junk out some of our larger equipment, and this service transports the junked out equipment (they’re rather large) to our central processing facility here in town.

On the face of it, this is $300,000 expended by my company per year.

Immediately some will note that, if PM’s were held to a standard, and their work orders assigned to the correct facility, this would eliminate the need for this service. And can’t we use internal personnel (we have personnel qualified) to load the equipment and drive it to the central processing facility?

But it goes deeper than that. PM’s not assigning work orders to the right facility forces them to draw from that facility, which causes work in the warehouse, and then those materials aren’t there for jobs that are properly assigned to that facility, creating wait times as items are shuffled between facilities. Sometimes its time sensitive jobs that are forced to wait as the warehouses figure out where material went and what needs to be brought in from other warehouses. Sometimes people get lazy, and instead they just put in an order to have it bought from the supplier, costing the District even more.

So it’s not costing the company I work for $300,000. It’s costing them hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions, in additional man hours, rework, opportunity cost of inventory, and delays on projects.

Why do we still use this “shuttle” service then? Because we’ve had them for almost twenty years. Because no one has pushed back on PMs and other internal business partners to assign work orders to the correct facility. Because our warehouse personnel are doing the best they can within this system and the shuttle service is a Band-Aid that people have become comfortable with.

In this case, it’s not just a process – it’s a part of the culture.

Where to Begin

So where does a sourcing professional begin?

Start with the sourcing strategy.

The sourcing group has identified a need, and then they go and gather their facts. But they don’t just gather the facts on the surface. They have to dig deeper.

  • What are like materials/services that can be grouped with the one being looked at?
  • What vendor(s) provide this material/service and those grouped with it?
  • What internal stakeholders use these?
  • Why are they using them?
  • Why are they using them the way they are?
  • Are they still needed?
  • What would need to be done to consolidate or remove materials/services?
  • If this is done, how will it affect the processes and procedures of the different divisions and departments of the company?

These are just some of the questions that must be asked to challenge the status quo, especially if that status quo is costing the company substantial amounts of money.

And it has to be the group responsible for sourcing in the organization that must do this.

While part of sourcing strategy is definitely cost savings and value adds, it’s also process improvement around what is being sourced, and how it will affect the organization.

I caveat this with the organization should not mold itself around its sourcing department. The organization should mold itself around its overall strategy, and the sourcing strategy should support this. But if there are procedures (low level/tactical) changed by sourcing that will help the company achieve its goals, then these should be pursued.

Buy-In

As the sourcing organization moves to change the processes – and perhaps even some of the culture – of the organization, they cannot operate in a vacuum.

Any change initiative needs a guiding coalition, preferably upper management, and buy-in from managers at all levels. It will be up to the Director/Division Manager of the sourcing organization in the company to win that buy-in, and to communicate with upper management for their support.

This isn’t unique to sourcing. Any change initiative requires this. I would argue that sourcing needs it more since most people view sourcing or supply chain management generally as order takers, and resistance to change coming from this area may be greater.

Conclusion

The processes surrounding and effected by sourcing strategies within the organization for different areas of spend are just as much a part of total cost ownership as external factors. Sourcing professionals must take this into account when sourcing materials and services from a strategic level. Some organizations call these individuals Category Managers, and category management is a discipline all of its own with that broad focus. It’s up to the organization to determine how they will conduct their strategic sourcing, and they must do so with an eye to internal process improvement.

Finding Savings in Sourcing Before Cutting Headcount

This post originally appeared on my author blog The Red Renegade on February 24, 2017.

The Office Space Effect

Many remember (and chuckle, and seethe) at the scenes in the movie “Office Space” when the consultants are grilling the employees of the company to determine what they do to see if they are needed. Many in today’s workforce can relate to this. When companies need to save money or are trying to find efficiencies, where is the first place they look to cut?

Headcount.

The men and women that do the actual work in the company.

I am not advocating that executives cut their pay (though, that may help image-wise). I am a firm believer in free market capitalism and the freedom of people to amass as much wealth as they see fit. If the executives’ pay is the thing hurting the company though…

But cut the people that are making the company operate every day? Especially if those people are effective at their job? That makes no sense to me. (Note: I said if the people were effective at doing their job. If they’re not: fire them.)

Rarely do companies look at their sourcing activities, as well as other internal processes within the company, to cut the budget.

Developing more effective sourcing techniques and improving processes, and reducing total cost ownership will do more for a company, both up front and long term, than slashing headcount.

NOTE: I use the following terms here interchangeably.
•RFP/RFQ/Solicitation for Bids
•Supplier/Vendor/Contractor

Developing More Effective Sourcing Techniques and Improving Processes

This is anecdotal and I don’t have any hard data to back it up, but I am finding that many medium and even larger companies don’t have a central procurement/sourcing department, or a department within their organization that leads and monitors that function. Purchase orders are done as lists on excel spreadsheets, or over the phone. Many times supervisors or crew leaders simply go to the vendor with a credit card. This is an ineffective way of sourcing the company’s needs.

How do these companies know they’re getting the best price? Because the vendor tells them? Unfortunately, “Our supplier tells us we are getting the best price.” is the answer I hear time and time again, both in other companies and in the company I work for.

Developing effective sourcing techniques can help reduce costs almost immediately. Just a simple RFP can produce lower purchase prices. (We’ll talk more about purchase pricing below under reducing total cost ownership.)

The company I work for did this with their MRO. They discovered on some items which suppliers were telling us we were getting the best price we were being charged a 400% mark-up. When we asked the supplier why, the supplier’s response was, “You never asked.” It was no wonder these suppliers “loved us” so much – we took them at their word when they said we were getting the best price, and were able to overcharge us exponentially.

Control of bidding, purchase orders, and contracts – everything that goes into sourcing – with a central sourcing department, or at least one department within the organization that is given responsibility and accountability for this function, helps, too. They can work to set company policies, processes, and procedures around sourcing and, with upper management support, enforce it.

This is where your Lean and Six Sigma ninjas come in, too. Perhaps there are already procurement processes within the company, but there is clearly room for improvement. Mapping the processes and their sub-steps, and leaning them out by removing steps and/or red tape will save in work hours alone – and time is money. It doesn’t take spending millions on a consultant like McKinsey and Company, or Accenture to do this. Companies can do this themselves.

Developing better negotiating tactics and techniques can help, too. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) includes many techniques for negotiations in their CPSM Study Guide. And there are lower cost consultants and webinars out there that can help your company hone their negotiating skills. (Yes, I do have a bias against the bigger supply chain consultants. There might be some bitterness there. (There’s definitely bitterness.))

Finally, control of the procurement process, and by extension payment of suppliers, helps save. While there are some instances where parts or services are needed in less than 24 hours – I emphasize some – 95% of the time this is due to poor planning on the part of the Project Manager, the sourcing department, and the warehouses. (Note my use of and not or. It’s a team effort, and if one fails, they all fail.)

The company should limit who can input requests for orders, who can approve and issue these requests and orders, and then keep a close eye on invoices to ensure they match quoted pricing.

Working closely with the company’s warehouses can help set minimums and maximums (min/max) on materials so that what is needed most is in stock when it’s needed, while working estimates and forecasts on past spend and usage and upcoming project earlier can ensure that if additional materials or services are needed they are sourced well in advance. Having pre-negotiated agreements across the company with a handful of suppliers can ensure that support is provided when needed, and new one-off contracts aren’t being constantly issued.

Reducing Total Cost Ownership

So your company has a handle on its sourcing of materials and services. Controls are in place, and the processes have been made lean, mean, sourcing machines. Money is being saved.

But not enough.

The next thing a company should look at is the total cost ownership of the materials and services they are sourcing.

Here’s an example:

Lean Corp wants to go out for bid for buying and installing widgets. (Very original, I know.) They send out a RFP to five vendors. The bids come back, and Lean Corp short lists two of the vendors: Cheapo Co, and Quality Co.

Cheapo  Co can provide the widgets for $10, and charge $10/hour for installation.

Quality Co can also provide the widgets for $10 (widgets are probably a commodity, like steel), and charge $20/hour for installation.

At face value, Cheapo Co is the low bidder.

But there’s a catch.

Cheapo Co takes 3 hours to install each widget! That’s $30 of installation per widget!

Quality Co, on the other hand, only takes an hour to install each widget; $20 of installation per widget. And the equipment is up and running faster, meaning less downtime, meaning Lean Corp can produce more, sooner.

Lean Corp brings both vendors in for negotiations.

Cheapo Co won’t budge on their pricing, and offer very little extra for their services. C’mon, they’re clearly the low bid! They know it! They’ve been working with Lean Corp for over a decade and the working relationship is great. And Cheapo Co’s owner is golfing buddies with two of the VPs of Lean Corp. Why would Lean Corp want to award to anyone else?

Quality Co, on the other hand, offers extended warranties on the widgets they install, and they offer up to 10 business days of training per year at no charge, a value of $15,000.

That training has downstream effects in Lean Corp: the training which Quality Co provides increases the knowledge of Lean Corp mechanics and reduces rework they have to do, and reduces downtime of the equipment by dozens of hours per year – remember time is money. The additional cost reduction is compounded by the value added services Quality Co provides.

This is an extremely simplified example, but it gets the point across well.

Total Cost Ownership is a pricing model that takes into account everything before, during, and after the sourcing of a material or service. This includes (but is not limited to) materials that go into producing the thing being bought, labor hours that go into producing the material/service, overhead, freight, mark-up, how long it takes to provide the material or service, number of deliveries per week/month, estimated downtime, and inventory holding costs, to name a few.

Reducing the total cost ownership of the materials and services sourced, while working to increase the value added services the supplier provides, should be the goal of the organization trying to cut its costs, especially when trying to not cut overhead.

This can be done through negotiations with suppliers, or through internal efficiencies within the company itself.

Conclusion

Companies looking to reduce costs should develop more effective sourcing techniques and processes, and reduce their total cost ownership of materials and services before slashing headcount. This will not only create short-term wins, but a long-term, sustainable model of keeping costs low. It is up to senior and middle management of companies to enforce this so that it takes hold in the company’s culture.

Don’t misunderstand me: I am not advocating for never cutting headcount. If positions are completely outdated and unneeded, then they need to go. No need having the ten Accounts Payable clerks that were kept because that’s how many they had in the time before computers and now everything is automated so six of those clerks are being paid to check social media. And if individuals are truly underperforming, even after corrective actions, then they need to go.

Improving sourcing is where companies should start to cut their costs.