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Strategic Sourcing is Dead!!! (The Debate Rages On!)

Posted by thempowergroup on September 27, 2010

This is a repost from Sourcing Innovation.

The Strategic Sourcing Debate, Part VI: Yup. It’s still dead!!

Today’s guest post is from Dalip Raheja of The MPower Group, who declared that Strategic Sourcing is Dead, and who has returned to poke the hornet’s nest once more.

A very special thanks to those who engaged in a substantive debate, whether you agree or disagree with us. I am grateful for your time and kind consideration of our arguments and hope that you will continue to engage in the conversation. That was the Intended Consequence. The Un-Intended Consequence was the tone and tenor of some of the reactions. Let me apologize to those who got quite offended by my writing/language skills. As I have said in almost every conference I have spoken at over the years, I am a 3rd world immigrant trying to make a living here and learn the language at the same time, and that is still obviously a challenge for me. 🙂

I did not realize that this was a contest and that the doctor was playing Simon Cowell.  🙂  Had I known this, I at least would have gotten a haircut and put on a nice suit! But let’s forget for a moment who won or lost, according to the doctor, and let’s look at the substantive points made by a number of the respondents. I will address some of them here, and others in a later post.

Clearly, Tim Cummins (IACCM, The Death of Procurement) and I mostly agree on the substance of the hypothesis. Where we may disagree is how to solve some of these issues. What is unique about IACCM is it represents a very innovative nexus in that it brings both the buy and the sell sides together. Especially if you fundamentally believe at the end of the day that the Intended Consequence for both sides is to establish relationships (commitments according to Tim) which create and deliver mutual value beyond the contracted transaction. In fact, there are organizations where both of these functions (buy AND sell side contracting) have been organized under a single leader and we think that is just a fascinating opportunity to maximize value. We call it the JANUS model (feel free to come up with your own name). We think one of the Next Practices the community should adopt is that the Sourcing/Supply Chain function should be an integral part of the sales process (Mpower Blog). Let that sink in for a while and hopefully you will agree. For a detailed discussion between Tim and me on this topic, you can listen to arecording of the webinar Tim and I just delivered:

It is also interesting to note the most recent post entitled “(The) Strategic Sourcing (Debate Part V): My 2 Cents” where the author states in his opening paragraph:

“It’s called strategic, but it’s not used strategically.”

  Strategic sourcing, for the most part is seen as a procurement function, and typically, a transactional process leveraging tools such as RFx and Reverse Auctions in a tactical manner. Some large consulting firms, who offer services, treat Strategic Sourcing services similarly and mainly are utilized as “staff-augmentation”. For manufacturing organizations, where materials can be 60%-80% of the cost of goods, sourcing of direct materials needs to be approached as a Supply Chain challenge. Take the direct materials at the point of consumption and work backwards in the supply-chain several tiers, and understand costs. When the Supply Chain is worked cooperatively with suppliers, an organization can ask the question “How we reduce each others costs without adversely impacting each other’s margins”?

No disagreement with what he has to say. He does go on to give some examples of exceptions and while I don’t agree with all his examples, I would be very happy to agree there are many examples of pockets of excellence and we should find them and extract the Next Practices. However, I still maintain that to make the kind of dramatic change we need to make, mere CPR at this stage may not be enough.

In the post titled “Where does Strategic Sourcing fit in?”, the author shares a very similar professional background as mine (been there/done that, speaker and advisor) and has clearly posted a very thoughtful, measured response and I could not agree more with the gist of what he has to say. He lays out three questions, which he writes are even more fundamental, and I am happy to concede his point for a minute. What becomes obvious is we both end up in the same place … it hasn’t worked, it ain’t working, and it needs fixing right away.

Do your senior executives understand the enormous potential of modern supply management (only one element of which is strategic sourcing)?

I concur with this totally and this is exactly the argument we are laying out. What the author calls the “enormous potential” is what we are referring to when we talk about the destroyed value. And it is very clear senior executives do not understand that their Sourcing/Supply Chain organizations can help them get at this value because they only see their Sourcing organizations focused on cost/TCO.

Do your senior executives understand how to achieve that enormous potential — i.e., how to build the transformation roadmap and how to support it?

The quick answer is no. The more detailed answer is almost all organizations assume if they keep investing in their infrastructure (the consonants), they will get the results. And if the past few years have proven anything, it’s that this misses the whole issue of the vowels … how will these practices and the latest gizmos and technology be Adopted, Executed, Implemented, Optimized and Utilized?

If the answer to the first two questions is ‘no’, are you prepared to take a leadership role in helping your senior executives achieve the necessary awareness? If not, then debating the ‘strategic sourcing is dead’ question is moot at the company level.

And this gets at the crux of the issue because in a large majority of the cases, the answer to number three is a resounding NO!!! Furthermore, the follow-up question is why are we still where we are after 25 years? Until we understand that issue, I’m not sure how we go about determining how to fix it. Our research suggests that the biggest reason is the singular focus on cost (TCO etc.) gets in the way of senior executives achieving the necessary awareness because cost is but one element of their decision criteria and that is why we must fundamentally alter the sourcing process and initiate the process with their decision criteria while not abandoning cost.

The author then goes on to say: 

And to all of the above, I have a simple one word response … AMEN!! And that is exactly why we are issuing the clarion call to acknowledge that it hasn’t worked, it ain’t working, and we need to fix it right away. It was also very heartening to see a reference to a Transformation Roadmap because that is exactly what we have been recommending and delivering to clients for more than a decade. I will agree we are going further and saying the current approach and process (even with the latest technologies, decision optimizers, risk simulators, etc.) ain’t gonna work; and, we can either keep trying to fix it or we can all agree that we need to apply a fresh perspective and come up with something totally different.

  • Believe it or not, 25 years after the birth of strategic sourcing, many companies of all sizes still are not aware of “true” strategic sourcing.
  • Equally astonishing, a surprising number of companies believe they are using strategic sourcing, but in fact are not.
  • Perhaps as a reaction to the need for “quick wins” in the current business environment, some companies who previously used a true strategic sourcing process have since “dumbed down” their process into a tactical ghost of what it used to be.
  • As noted above, trying to introduce and embed strategic sourcing without the supporting pillars of a transformation roadmap is likely to generate only short-lived benefits.

 

So please join the debate, and yes, debate implies a conversation. All I ask is that we keep the confrontations constructive and stay away from the name calling, innuendo, and disparaging comments. We will be the first ones to admit that if we are now right, then obviously we too have been wrong in the past. And if you are truly a committed defender of the status quo, our best wishes to you. I will respond to some of the other commentary in a later post. I will also provide my reading of the Doctor’s TVM and Gartner’S DDVN.

Thanks, Dalip!

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