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Q4 Strategic Alliance Quarterly Sourcing Outtakes: The Power of the First Draft, Ever-Changing Tech Standards, Customers and the Cloud, Value vs. Discounts

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Wednesday, December 11, 2019

In our upcoming issues of Strategic Alliance Monthly and Strategic Alliance Quarterly, we will examine the changing nature of supplier collaborations in today’s business world. In a lengthy feature for Strategic Alliance Quarterly, we dive deep into how advanced digital technologies are transforming sourcing and procurement managers’ jobs such that they now need alliance management skills and practices to effectively carry out their responsibilities. Meanwhile, a feature in our next edition of Strategic Alliance Monthly explores how a company can become a preferred supplier in the eyes of its partner.

As is the case with just about every piece we put together for ASAP’s publications, there were plenty of great insights left over from our interviews with experts from the ASAP community that don’t appear in either article. Here are just a few of those nuggets.

Alliance Agreements and the Power of the Pen

Andrew Eibling, CSAP, vice president of business development and alliance management at Enable Injections, Inc., made it known several times during our conversation that he felt that, in pharma, the procurement division was generally a parking lot for nonstrategic partnerships. In other words, wind up with a procurement manager as your point of contact and odds are that you have almost zero chance of having any real influence over the partner organization’s affairs. In that discussion, Eibling noted that initial contract negotiations offered a sign of how a partner will view your organization and relationship. The goal is to agree on a contract that hews closer to the principles set forth in The ASAP Handbook of Alliance Management rather than a boilerplate supplier agreement, and the best way to ensure this is to compose the first draft for the partner’s review.

“Somebody has the power of the pen. Who drafts the agreement first? Everyone wants to take the first pass because that becomes the substrate you’re going to work from,” said Eibling. He added that an alliance agreement “tends to be more bidirectional versus what we would get from a monodirectional supplier agreement [where] you will do what’s on the schedule according to the terms we agreed to, and that’s that.”

Are We a “Standards Fit”?

An important element to assembling a tech alliance that we didn’t end up exploring in great depth in the feature was the layer of complexity added by the number of disparate standards for emerging technologies, such as cloud and IoT, competing in the marketplace. Companies putting together a smart tractor, for example, have to find partners that are not only a feature/function fit and a cultural fit but also a “standards fit,” so to speak—that is, they base their systems on technical protocols that align with your IT architecture.

“Things are moving so fast. You might get a standard out there and get everybody to adopt it, but then some new technology comes along that disrupts it all. You’ve spent all this money on standardization and it didn’t endure. That’s one of the reasons why, as a supplier, you need to know what your customers’ sourcing strategies are, and if you’re going to be compatible with the direction they are going in,” said Russ Buchanan, CSAP, vice president of strategic alliances at Xerox and ASAP’s chairman emeritus.

As an example, Buchanan talked about how companies that base their technology on proprietary standards want to be sure to avoid getting entwined with organizations that are placing their chips on open source models.

“OK Google: I’m Seeing Other Cloud Companies”

Subhojit Roye, CSAP, vice president and head of alliances at Tech Mahindra Business Services, singled out the three cloud Goliaths—Google, AWS, and Microsoft—as another potential source of complexity in constructing an alliance. One or more of those vendors may pressure the manufacturer to make it the exclusive cloud platform for the new product or service, but in many cases decent portions of the OEM’s customer base may be split among each of the three cloud leaders. The manufacturer can’t risk alienating a portion of its clients. Thus, the sourcing manager may need to stand up to a powerful market mover, something alliance managers have been doing for years.

“Suddenly, if you’re the procurement manager you have to explain to Google, ‘I’m sorry, but customers are demanding that we have to talk with all three companies,’” Roye said.

Don’t Nickel-and-Dime a Valuable Relationship

More than one interviewee stressed that lower prices are no longer the end game for sourcing and procurement managers. Overall value is the buyer’s main goal. Roye explained the situation in greater detail.

“The procurement function is becoming more and more strategic. The chief marketing officer is becoming critical. Chief customer service officer, the head of sales, and the CEO are suddenly banking on the procurement officer to say, ‘Listen, those days are gone. Don’t nickel-and-dime the vendor. Don’t ask him to give us a $10 item for $6. We’d rather get more value for $10. We’d rather pay him $12 to make sure he’s happy with us, he gives us our products on time—we don’t wind up with a screw-up on Thanksgiving or during the winter holidays—or he doesn’t switch at the last minute and go to a competitor.”

Remember, this is just what hit the cutting room floor. Be sure to check out the next issues of Strategic Alliance Monthly and Strategic Alliance Quarterly for more great insights into alliance management vis-à-vis the sourcing and procurement functions in today’s corporate landscape. 

Tags:  alliances  Andrew Eibling  AWS  Cloud  digital technologies  Enable Injections  Google  IoT  Microsoft  procurement  relationship  Russ Buchanan  Sourcing  Strategic Alliance Quarterly  Subhojit Roye  Tech Mahindra Business Services  Tech Standards  transforming sourcing  Value vs. Discounts  Xerox 

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Supplier-User Collaboration Requires More Than Advanced Technology—Alliance Management Is Needed, Too

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The World Economic Forum (WEF) issued a white paper this month calling for all players along the manufacturing chain to expedite the adoption of advanced digital technologies that enhance the collaborative supply chain. WEF has given the industry plenty of homework in the directives it detailed in the document:

  • Mine artificial intelligence (AI), predictive analytics, and machine learning technologies to reduce material consumption and increase resource efficiency
  • Utilize electronic labels, such as an integrated electronic display or a machine-readable code that links to a webpage (e.g., QR code), in order to foster the seamless movement of products across different regions that each have their own unique information and labeling requirements
  • Leverage digital twin technology to combat fraud
  • Use the potpourri of “it” technologies—blockchain, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), edge computing, predictive analytics, etc.—to increase supply chain network agility so that organizations don’t miss a beat when faced with natural disasters, new tariffs, social instability, equipment or infrastructure failure, or any other unforeseen events that can disrupt operations
  • Remanufacture, reduce, reuse, and recycle parts wherever possible

WEF’s report is dotted with success stories from household names, including Foxconn, Ralph Lauren Corporation, Apple, and General Motors.

Now, nobody’s disagreeing with WEF’s premise; there’s an urgency for component suppliers, assembly manufacturers, final-product producers, and users to adopt these technologies—those who don’t will perish. However, we were struck by the relative simplicity of the use cases put forth in WEF’s paper. This isn’t to say that the achievements of the aforementioned brands came easily or that they implemented these technologies handily, but the case studies consisted largely of linear one-to-one relationships.

In reality, many of the increasingly complex products and services that manufacturers are trying to deliver today depend on an ecosystem of multiple deeply intertwined partners. As Russ Buchanan, CSAP, vice president of global channel strategy alliances and operations at Xerox and ASAP’s chairman emeritus, noted in a recent discussion about sourcing in the new economy, there can be as many as five or six vendors delivering a single smart vehicle, heart monitor, or other interactive device. Each of these partners has its own large network of suppliers and subcontractors. That is a lot of moving parts!

With each of these players bringing an essential part of a solution, a collaborative supply chain needs more than just these wonderful technologies themselves to deliver transformative solutions.

“The sourcing community is definitely being very sophisticated in some cases in managing their suppliers like alliance partners,” said Buchanan. “Increasingly, I find that the people in sourcing need these [alliance management] skills. When they start to work with a supplier, they’re trying to get more than just the lowest possible cost of commodity, the primary mission of most sourcing agencies. Increasingly, what you hear us asking our suppliers for, and what we hear our customers asking us for is, ‘Do more than that. Give me good value, but also give me innovation. Help me change my business. Help my transformation be more competitive in enhancing my customers’ experience working with us.’”

There is a much deeper degree of codependency between alliance members working together to construct solutions of this nature than the average supplier in a company’s network. This interdependency makes it much harder to switch suppliers in the face of a political revolution, seven-on-the-Richter-Scale earthquake, or sudden tariff hike, even if your predictive analytics algorithm is recommending and providing the blueprint for a change. That digital twin will certainly help the partner ecosystem synthesize a voluminous amount of data into actionable direction on how to maintain and enhance physical assets, systems, and processes, but it won’t help you iron out disagreements between each partner over how to implement changes.

As the degree of mutual dependence increases in manufacturing partnerships, the less effective advanced digital technologies will be in enhancing collaboration without good old-fashioned “soft skills,” particularly those set forth in The ASAP Handbook of Alliance Management. After all, conflict management, issues identification, and risk mitigation are integral parts of managing an alliance. Andrew Eibling, CSAP, vice president of business development and alliance management at Enable Injections, Inc., said it takes more backroom interaction to maintain a healthy relationship once you make the leap from run-of-the-mill supplier to strategic ally—or “Vegas-rules discussions,” as he framed it, where “you can have conversations with somebody about the partnership, but what we talk about stays here.”

In other words, supply chain collaboration has in many cases risen to a level of sophistication that requires more than just state-of-the-art software to drive industry-changing outcomes.

Be sure to check out the forthcoming editions of Strategic Alliance Monthly and Strategic Alliance Quarterly in Q4, which will feature deeper explorations of the evolving relationship between alliance managers and the sourcing and procurement functions as the latter more and more often find themselves managing their supplier relationships like alliances.  

Tags:  alliance managers  alliances  Andrew Eibling  artificial intelligence (AI)  Enable Injections  manufacturing partners  partner  predictive analytics  Russ Buchanan  sourcing and procurement  Strategic Alliance Monthly  Strategic Alliance Quarterly  supplier relationships  World Economic Forum  Xerox 

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