When you just look at a purchase from a pricing perspective, it would be reasonable to think that purchasing products directly from the manufacturer be an effective way to reduce unnecessary overhead and markup costs. While I generally find this to be true in practice, if it were that black and white the large number of distributors thriving in today’s markets would cease to exist. Manufacturers and distributors each have strengths and weaknesses, but in a strategic purchasing landscape you do not always need to choose between the two. In fact, developing a balanced relationship with manufacturers AND distributors often proves to yield the most value, particularly with high volume purchases.
The following is the transcript from a recent BMP Radio interview with Brian Seipel and James Patounas, both from Source One. If you would like to listen to the podcast, please click here.
As we covered in Nearshoring: Why Now?, outsourcing production operations to Mexico (or nearshoring) offers a number of tangible and intangible benefits over traditional “low-cost” country sourcing. Take China as a prime example: with labor rates in China, on average, exceeding those in Mexico since approximately 2013 and holding an advantage in productivity per worker, Mexico is increasingly becoming a hub for U.S.-based companies looking to transplant their supply chain operations. In moving operations closer to home, many companies are either fully or partially outsourcing manufacturing to suppliers in Mexico and in some cases, even placing full production facilities in that country. Sourcing suppliers in Mexico, however, is not without its obstacles: challenges that can quickly halt nearshoring operations for unprepared companies.
When you think of outsourcing manufacturing operations, what country do you typically think of? China? Vietnam? Philippines? Yes, Asia is typically the go-to region for companies looking to cut costs by outsourcing production processes - and for good reason. Asia possesses both the labor and raw material resources to make the region an effective substitute to higher cost labor in the U.S. and the limited availability of certain raw materials in North America.
While outsourcing to low-cost countries such as China has its benefits (i.e. labor/overhead costs, raw material costs, scalability, freeing up the business’ time to focus on other critical functions, etc.) it comes with challenges as well. Lead times, language barriers, time zone differences, IP integrity, and a general lack of physical presence make outsourcing certain functions a constant struggle for US-based manufacturers and can outweigh the initial savings gained over the long-term. Companies oftentimes look at the price-tag of outsourcing functions such as IT support or manufacturing assembly work, figuring the decision is obvious. However, to minimize risk and to optimize/streamline domestic manufacturing operations it is important to weigh the pros and cons of outsourcing, especially in deciding which low-cost region to outsource to, which processes to outsource, and which partner(s) to use.
As a procurement professional, I am frequently tasked with conducting a spend analysis on behalf of current and potential clients, but for those outside of the industry, this may be an unfamiliar exercise. In this post, I will attempt to provide a crash course on spend analysis, answering some of the most commonly asked questions about the topic: What is a spend analysis? Why should I do one? And finally, how do I do it?
A spend analysis is a very broad term that refers to… you guessed it! Analyzing the spend of an organization with the objective of understanding where money is being spent and where there may be opportunity for cost savings or process efficiencies. Spend analyses are conducted by procurement professionals in an attempt to get a comprehensive view of all of an organization’s expenditures and they are frequently the starting point for beginning the strategic sourcing process. There are a number of benefits to conducting a spend analysis, but the most important is transparency. A spend analysis provides a holistic view of all spend (indirect and/or direct) in a given time period, typically during a fiscal or calendar year. By doing this, you are able to gain visibility into where spend is being allocated, who the top suppliers are, how many suppliers you use for certain services, and areas of opportunity. For decentralized organizations, a spend analysis may reveal potential service redundancies across departments/brands and provide insights into areas of consolidation across supply bases. Along the same lines, a spend analysis provides organizations with the information needed to increase spend control by showing where and how spend/budgets are being allocated. Although there are many reasons why an organization would conduct a spend analysis, the benefits are consistent.
How often can you find 80% savings in your telecom bills? When it comes to legacy services, more often than you’d think!
In all industries there are mergers and acquisitions: Telecommunications and Technology being one where M&As occur more frequently than most. These changes can have significant impacts on the products and services customers are purchasing in terms of the actual technology being offered and the prices they are paying for it.
I recently completed an audit for a customer in the healthcare industry where I was asked to review their telecommunications invoices and look for more cost effective solutions than their current voice services. The first thing I noticed was how high their bills were for basic voice services - almost 480% higher than normal industry standards! The customer had not really looked at their bills for years and simply continued to pay the same monthly charges thinking all was right as rain. Understandably, patients are the priority for them - not the cost of their phone service. For this specific customer, the technology they had in place was a legacy service where the underlying carrier had recently been bought by a global industry leader, who had subsequently developed more cost effective products offering the same functionality at a much lower price. Unfortunately, carriers do not always offer up the insight into technology changes and lower cost options when it is in their best interest to keep the higher price bills in effect.
Presented below are some quick tips for reviewing your telecom bills to determine if a change in service is viable, beneficial, or more cost effective:
- Recurring Charges: How long have you been paying the same price? Pricing changes are common with technology-driven services. If you have had the same price for 3-5 years and under multiple contract terms, it is time to take a look at the market with fresh eyes. There are always compelling reasons or special circumstances for contracting a fixed price for longer terms such as newly implemented networks and systems; but for basic voice services…I don’t think so.
- Time Passed Since Last Going-to-Market: As mentioned, most telecom companies are continuing to develop new innovative ideas and upgrades to their technology; most likely within 3 years of their current technology. If you have the same service in place for more than 5 years, it is probably time to take a look. I know “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”; but why not just get a feel for what is available and for a potentially lower cost? After all, it may be up to procurement to determine when something is ‘broke.’
- Contract terms: When was the last time you looked at your contract? Do you (really) know what your current terms are? If you cannot answer these questions, chances are the answer is probably too long and you are month-to-month or under some ridiculous auto renewal clause. It is important to read the small print in your contract as you could be committing to an unrealistic term length with no out...unless of course you are planning to spend more money with the same supplier for an even longer term.
When we presented the opportunity assessment to our healthcare client, they were understandably shocked. We moved forward by leveraging the market-competitive offers to contract a new technology at almost one fifth of the current cost. The soft dollar costs of implementing the new service were eclipsed by the overall savings, making this a huge financial and technological success.
As I encourage you to review your bills more closely, let me add that the idea of tracking down wasted spend and going to market for legacy products and services is not limited to the telecom industry. It can be applied to any business commodity and begins with simply questioning the products and services you’re paying for.
According to TechInsider, there are warehouse robots currently in place that could potentially boost productivity up to 800%. Yes, you read that correctly: eight hundred percent. With huge boosts in productivity, it comes as no surprise that companies such as Amazon are taking automation to the next level, but what impact will it have on their employees? If the numbers stack up, the robot takeover could be imminent, but that does not necessarily mean human warehouse employees will become obsolete.
As with most technological advances, employees must adapt. Remember when basic computers were introduced to the workplace? Let’s take a look at some of the robots being used today, how they’re being utilized, and most importantly, what it means already or is going to mean for their human ‘coworkers.’
Continuous cost reduction in the manufacturing industry is a supply chain best practice, but all too often it is mistakenly seen as unsustainable by strategic sourcing and procurement departments. For many companies the question is, ‘how can I reduce costs while limiting the impact on quality?’ Before jumping right to substituting materials, there are other options for delivering cost savings - yes, even over time.
In the first part of this two-part series, I established the reasoning behind establishing a diverse supply chain in the nontraditional sense. Emphasis on maintaining a supply chain that is diverse in geographical location, capabilities, and overall corporate values is vital in maintaining supply chain resiliency, sustainability, and adaptability. To achieve a supplier mix that fits these goals, the right questions must be asked during an internal supplier rationalization process, overtaking the traditional values of an RFx.
With the increased pressure to offer viable advantages over their competition, telecom giants like AT&T and Verizon have recently placed greater emphasis on how well equipped their networks are for the rapid increases in data consumption by consumers. While carriers show promising advances in “future proofing” their networks’ ability to accommodate such changes, it ultimately depends on how well their new network is designed to adapt to the rapidly changing technology available to meet increased demands.
The way we do business is changing rapidly. Workplaces are virtual – with employees working flexibly: at any time, from any location, and using many different devices. In the face of such continuous change, it is important to ask if your network infrastructure truly “futureproof.” Whether your organization is national or global in scale, it is imperative to execute any infrastructure related improvements based on both immediate and future goals.
This post was written by Michael Hinkley, an intern at Source One Management Services. If you are interesting in hearing his perspective on procurement as a career and as a part of the larger business, click here to listen to our conversation on BMP Radio.
Whether you’re preparing for a sourcing engagement or looking to improve supplier relationships, effective forecasting and planning is key to staying ahead of your supply chain and formulating a procurement blueprint. When buyers and sellers aren’t on the same page about expected volumes, usage schedules, and run sizes, both may experience surpluses or shortages. This, in turn, can lead to dire consequences for operational efficiency and the bottom line – yours and your suppliers’. For instance, the over unitization of warehouse space, as a result of a constant excess of inventory, will lead to increased effective unit prices. However, with accurate forecasting and improved supplier communication, you not only optimize your internal processes but allow your suppliers to run a more efficient operation with better turnover rates and proper resource allocation.
While some may believe that direct mail programs have gone out of style similar to print advertising, industry trends indicate quite the opposite. According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Statistical Fact Book, the spend associated with direct mail has been increasing over the past few years from approximately $44.3B in 2012 to $44.8B in 2013, and a decent leap to $46.0B in 2014 – and for good reason. The average response rate for a campaign targeting recurring customers was 3.4 percent for direct mail, compared to 0.12 percent with email. In addition, the average cost per lead for a campaign targeting new customers was $51.40 for direct mail; whereas email was $55.24, meaning that the cost to generate a qualified sales lead or order was about $4 less with direct mail than email.
Over the past few years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been cracking down on unethical billing practices at major telecom carriers like Verizon and AT&T. This past October, Verizon paid as much as $64.2M in cash and phone credits to settle a class-action lawsuit for over-charging subscribers of their Family Plan[i].
The case against Verizon accused the telecommunications giant of charging Family Plan subscribers for “in-network” minutes that were supposed to be free, or charging customers with additional phones on the plan $0.45 per minute going over the allotted minute allowance (instead of the $0.25 that was charged to the primary phone on the plan).
The FTC also filed suit against AT&T for throttling data for unlimited data plan subscribers when they used over a specific amount of data during a billing cycle. They explained that AT&T failed to adequately inform customers who had signed up for the unlimited data plan that their speeds would be slowed if they used more than a certain amount of data. Even worse, “When customers canceled their contracts after being throttled, AT&T charged those customers early termination fees, which typically amount to hundreds of dollars,” the FTC said in a statement.[ii]
Telecom contracts aren’t designed to be easy to read and understand. As a result, customers frequently end up paying more than they should for their carrier’s services. While the cases of Verizon and AT&T are the result of dishonest billing practices, customers often fall victim to subpar contract terms and conditions, including overpaying or even paying for services they don’t actually need.
The funny thing about podcasts, or any content based on creative interaction, is that there is always more good content than you get to use. Sometimes the most interesting detail or insight ends up buried deep in a less-consequential part of the dialogue. I had exactly that experience with Diego. There was a lot of back and forth in preparation for the podcast. In one revision of the notes we were all working from, a single statement jumped out at me:
“Although it may seem obvious, it is not until recently that many companies realized that their supplier base can propel them to the next level (strategically speaking) or be their demise. The reality is that more frequently than not, suppliers are given a lot of power by their customers, and unfortunately many times companies’ simply don’t know it, or they don’t understand how much they rely on some suppliers, who may or may not be looking after their best interests.”
The long term plan of Tesla CEO Elon Musk to establish a widespread energy solution might finally be coming to fruition. After the public adoption of his electric cars, the Tesla Model S and Roadster, Musk has now moved on to the release of both a battery for residential use and a larger battery for industrial application, called the Powerwall and Powerpack, respectively.
Powerwall is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery designed for energy storage for residential consumers. According to Tesla it is primarily designed “for load shifting, backup power and self-consumption of solar power generation.” Two variations of the Powerwall have been released: a 10 kWh model which is listed at $3,500 and a 7 kWh model listed at $3,000. Their big brother, the Powerpack, is expected to be released in 100 kWh capacity blocks and is designed to be scalable from 500 kWh to 10 MWh.
On April 13, Joe Payne, Vice President of Professional Services at Source One Management Services, published his review of Supply Market Intelligence for Procurement Professionals on the Strategic Sourceror blog. You can read his full review here.
Payne, the co-author of Managing Indirect Spend with Source One’s Bill Dorn, described the take on market intelligence for procurement as “spot on,” saying, ““Supply Market Intelligence for Procurement Professionals” tackles one of the most important, yet least tangible aspects of the sourcing profession – how to get access to good, relevant information about supply markets quickly, and then maintain that information so that you have it when you need it.”
You can read the other reviews of Supply Market Intelligence for Procurement Professionals, including reactions from Susan Avery (My Purchasing Center), Jon Hansen (Procurement Insights), and Gerard Chick (Optimum Procurement) on the Cottrill Research blog here.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket.” Choosing to dual source a category means using two (or more) suppliers to provide identical copies of a product or service. Many companies choose to dual source a product to maintain quality levels of service to their customers and mitigate potential supply chain issues.
Supply chains are similar to humans—imperfect. Their successes within business plans are a product of accurately forecasting how to survive crises and minimize damage in high-risk scenarios. Balance is the key to surviving most situations. In a supply chain, the accord between supply chain efficiency and risk mitigation can be difficult to achieve.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know the future for certain? There are few fail-proof ways to see shifts in the business landscape before they occur, but there are ways to ensure your goals stay on the correct path regardless of what direction the future takes. Procurement departments, for instance, have objectives that require analysis of factors beyond historic trends—considerations like supply market volatility, supply chain disruption, regulatory changes, and a whole slew of other unpredictable situations. Unless corporations start adding fortune tellers to the payroll, successful procurement groups will continue to optimize their function from the insight gained through predictive analytics.
It’s no secret that when a company is looking to solicit bids for a project, opening up a Request for Proposal (RFP) offers a simplified, standardized, and centralized means to compare diverse bidders. A well-crafted RFP separates the best-fit from the less qualified. A poorly executed request, on the other hand, will shut out even the most qualified providers before they have a chance to shine.