These are tough times to be in business. Costs are rising but selling prices are not, mainly due to global competition. The arithmetic is simple: profits are being squeezed. Finding ways to drive down costs lower than your competition's has become more important than ever – but value and customer service can’t be ignored either.
I like to take an approach to supplier negotiations that I believe will help you gain an edge in these tough times. It starts by finding an answer to the ‘procurement conundrum’.
Many procurement pros are handicapped by having to wear two hats:
First there's the tough-negotiator hat. Driving down costs is a fundamental part of the job; that's why we spend so much time negotiating.
Then there's the good-relations hat. Production requirements and customer needs are constantly changing. Procurement needs suppliers to react quickly to fluctuating demands. As a result, we need to cultivate give-and-take relationships to make sure this happens.
It's easy to see how the two ‘hats’ conflict. Imagine phoning a parts supplier on Friday to coax him into running an unscheduled weekend shift, then on Monday asking for a better price. It’s hardly a recipe for long term success.
I recently read about ‘Broken Windows Theory’ from a 1982 Atlantic article by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson. It is a criminological theory that suggests small but visible signs of public disarray, such as broken windows, abandoned vehicles, litter, and disorderly behavior, create an environment that encourages more serious crime and a systemic breakdown in orderly conduct. Kelling and Wilson note:
“This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.”
This means that no matter how affluent or destitute the neighborhood, no matter who inhabits it, a non-compliant action will inevitably inspire further non-compliance.
Between the new technologies available and the tidal wave of talented individuals with people analytics experience, companies can now see their entire workforce in new and exciting ways. But while most organizations recognize the benefits of full workforce visibility, their efforts stall when those that need it can’t clearly articulate the benefits to company leaders and decision-makers.
While there are a number of ancillary benefits of full workforce visibility (e.g. worker quality improvements, access to talent, vendor performance comparisons) this article focuses on the different ways an organization can leverage new levels of visibility to drive cost savings.
Globalization has transformed the world into one big economy. Capitalist theory suggests that markets in an open and healthy economy promote widespread well-being by increasing competition and ensuring the availability of goods and services. Increased competition then drives production cost optimization, research and development, quality management, differentiation, innovation, and other positive externalities. Broadly speaking, competition generates wealth.
Procurement organizations often note one pursuit above all else: getting a seat at the table. I think we have coined this phrase more than any other in the procurement space in the last decade. If you’re not familiar with this concept, it is the desire for procurement to been viewed as a valued asset in strategy building and decision making by its customers: the broader organization. Put simply, procurement wants to be heard early and clearly by their internal peers.
With the popularization (and even consumerization) of cloud computing, the as-a-Service (-aaS) business model has emerged as the predominant choice for enterprise software. The ability to bundle core software with value-added features and services for an ongoing fee has proven valuable for vendors and customers alike. As-a-Service delivery of software (SaaS), platforms (PaaS), and infrastructure (IaaS) are now common market offerings, while other examples including communications (CaaS), databases (DBaaS), and networks (NaaS) are emerging as viable business models.
Metrics are a critical aspect of measuring the success of any business function. The importance of quantifying progress against goals and objectives cannot be overstated. Without a metrics program, underperforming organizations are unable to target functional areas that require improvement, and growing organizations are unable to set goals or scale resources to align with the changing state.
Because procurement organizations are often challenged by stakeholder resistance and a lack of executive-level sponsorship, metrics are key to demonstrating value. Sourcing efficiencies, cost savings, stakeholder satisfaction, and overall procurement ROI are just the starting point for capturing bottom line impact. While these are often viewed as the foundation for a metrics program, the final structure can’t be established without being certain of data quality and availability.
Automation and Artificial Intelligence, terms that generate both controversy and wonder, have established themselves as critical elements of our future. Not everyone is pleased by this; the looming prospect of a sci-fi world has engendered fear and reluctance throughout the workforce.
In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey struck a significant blow to the Houston, Texas metro area, home to the sixth largest import terminal in the world as well as all of the shipping lanes in the Gulf Coast area. Given the strong economic linkages between the Gulf Coast and the country as a whole, Harvey impacted the U.S. economy far beyond the local region.
Supply management professionals were on the front lines of the economic side of this environmental disaster. Imagine yourself as one of them: your facility and/or your suppliers’ facilities are in the hurricane’s path. Damage is done during the storm, and you will have to deal with the after-effects, including ongoing impacts on transportation and labor. How do you prepare for the unexpected? How will you cope with the aftermath? What do you do?
When working with transformation advisory clients, we often talk about the role of procurement and the need to change how they are perceived within the organization. Changing stakeholder perceptions is not an easy task, nor does it happen overnight.
So where do we begin? Stakeholder relationship management.
To effectively and efficiently run a business, you need two simple elements – someone to spend the money and something to spend the money on. In other words, your stakeholders and your suppliers. There are many other complexities to be ironed out, like where the money comes from (revenue) and who assigns the authority to spend it (governance). Procurement acts as the liaison in this process, serving as the key intermediary between stakeholders and the suppliers.
Picture this: your organization needs to create a multi-year contract covering critical components for its manufacturing process. Because of the technical nature of those components, management requests that the team creating the contract be led by procurement but also include engineering, R&D, and finance. Each of the people involved will have different priorities, even though all agree on what they want the end result to be. How do you present a united front at the negotiation table?
What would you do?
Have you ever wondered why your savings projections supersede the realized savings? Have you ever been challenged by your finance department to validate the projected cost savings one year into an agreement? Has your C-suite ever complained that procurement’s estimates and projections go unrealized? If you have faced any of these or similar situations, you are not alone. Savings projections often fall short of reality, but why? For many procurement organizations, their sourcing efforts aren’t felt due to noncompliance.
Before examining Hurricane Maria’s stampede through Puerto Rico, let’s take a glimpse of this Caribbean island before the natural disaster hit. 3.4 million U.S. citizens live in this commonwealth of the United States. After being “discovered” by Columbus, the island endured Spanish colonial rule, disease, African slavery, attempted colonization by the French, Dutch, and British, the Spanish-American War, and the unending ambiguity of territorial status.
This past May, Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy with more than $70 billion in debt, exacerbated by the Jones Act, which doubles the cost of goods due to American control of Puerto Rican ports. PREPA, the main electric company on the island, has $9 billion in debt, resulting in total absence of modernization efforts of the power grid in Puerto Rico and frequent outages.
And then, Hurricane Maria happened, inflicting widespread devastation where significant challenges already existed. There is an opportunity here for procurement to play a significant role in helping Puerto Rico cope and eventually recover: by delivering the right supplies and services at the right time for the right cost in the right amounts to the right places.