Driving decisions on supplier numbers

Streamlining the supplier base should only be done with care, says Carl Millington, director of utilities at Achilles.

Large cuts to the supplier base make headline news. In November last year, support services and construction company Carillion, announced that it was cutting its supplier base from 25,000 companies to just 5,000.

In February this year, Balfour Beatty's construction services UK division set out its plans to reduce the number of suppliers it uses from 27,000 to 10,000. Such moves are also under way in the Water utilities sector too. Initiatives along these lines are met with great enthusiasm in the City as expectations rise for significant cost savings. For Carillion the slimming of the supply base is part of a drive to save £140M a year by 2013.

Such radical rationalisation of the supply base sends shock waves down the supply chain, and perhaps, to some extent, that is the intention.

Keener pricing on contracts are achieved through a combination of a desire on the part of the supplier to retain business and the opportunity to discount on larger scale contracts.

A smaller supply base also allows for closer collaboration between supplier and buyer, with all the potential for efficiency gains this affords.

Consolidating the supply base may deliver cost savings, but what does it do to a buying organisation's exposure to supplier risk? Does increasing your dependency on a smaller group of suppliers work for or against your long-term aims? And, if the strategy is sound, how do you go about reducing supplier numbers?

In many respects, it is easier to manage supply chain risk when you have a fewer number of suppliers. A clear focus can be applied to a more refined list, risk analysis is easier to conduct and closer checks can be carried out to verify data on higher risk suppliers. Costs for managing a smaller supplier base should also be lower as there are fewer reviews and audits to conduct.

Record keeping
However, a prerequisite for both managing supplier risk and rationalising a supplier base is to have access to accurate, clean data that reflects the current status of regular suppliers. For many corporates, the large number of suppliers they have on their database may be misleading.

There can be significant numbers of duplicated records, with the same supplier being entered onto the database several times due to misspellings or inaccuracies in address details et cetera. Cleansing a list to remove duplication, errors and one-time purchases is essential to understanding your supply base.

It is quite common to see lists of suppliers come down by 50% through this process. Equally important, records need to be regularly checked and updated to ensure accuracy is maintained. The problem is, most companies do not allocate the necessary resources to maintaining and updating their supplier information - the result being that purchase orders end up in the wrong place or that failings occur. Further issues arise when it comes to spend analysis.

Often when people raise purchase orders they are in a rush and so assign a purchase to an inappropriate category. Then when it comes to conducting a spend analysis an incomplete picture results. Consistency in the approach taken to record keeping is critical to managing and maintaining a supplier database.

Companies that have grown through acquisition may struggle with having a single, well thought out process for gathering and storing supplier data.

Legacy systems and disparate pools of information create a fragmented view of the supply chain and result in mismatches of supplier data which cause confusion, create errors and work against the benefits that come from a common view of the supply base.

For instance, benchmarking suppliers only becomes possible through having consistent and accurate data. If organisations are to make important decisions on their supply base they need to address these issues by centralising supplier information and introducing processes that create consistency of data across the entire enterprise.

Time and effort must be spent on ensuring that the right questions are asked of the supplier, the correct depth of data gathered, appropriate to the risk presented by the supplier, and that the information is, where necessary, backed up by methods that verify that data. In order to help buying organisations within the Water utilities sector find the gaps in their data, Achilles is able to perform a gap analysis of a buyer's supplier list against the industry's Utilities Vendor Database (UVDB), run by Achilles. Lists can be cleansed to remove errors and duplication, and contact details can be provided where possible.

But perhaps, one of the most critical elements of the process is to highlight those suppliers that represent a high risk to the buyer and where further action is necessary. Those suppliers not listed on UVDB can be onboarded to the system. Only by having complete visibility of your supply base can supplier numbers be rationalised and risks properly assessed and mitigated. Driving these efficiencies in the supply chain and making the savings that boost investor confidence starts with healthy supplier information.


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