Why do we bother to gather market intelligence on the strategic commodities we are sourcing? The answer is that if we don't we may be exposed to unnecessary supplier risk and any competitive advantage we thought we had may be lost. Supplier risk can be present anywhere, anytime and with any supplier.
Supply Market Analysis vs. Market Intelligence
Supply market intelligence is a current buzz-phrase currently gaining rapid exposure. It is essentially an upgrade of supply market analysis and can be defined as the process of gathering, filtering, distilling and presenting information relevant to a company's supply markets. The specific purpose is to support accurate and confident decision making in the procurement process. A properly executed and insightful supply market study requires that significant and disparate amounts of research materials be collected through primary and secondary research.
Traditionally, supply market analysis has included developing a commodity profile, examining cost structures, researching suppliers, and identifying key market indicators. Being able to able to assemble a supply market analysis for a given commodity is a skill that is essential for every supply chain professional to master
Primary and secondary research
Primary research is information gathered through interactions with other people typically through meetings, one-on-one structured interviews, focus groups, and surveys. Primary research with current and prospective vendors is often more valuable and insightful than secondary research. The deluge of information available on the Internet, both reliable and suspect, can be accessed equally by billions of users. Primary research is an essential element towards creating a competitive advantage.
This is the fun bit. Secondary research is information collected from existing literature, publications, broadcast media, and other non-human sources. This is generally easier to gather than primary and is often valuable in relation to the effort expended. Whether you are studying the market outlook for male personal hygiene products in Southern Africa for the next five years or an in-depth analysis of future capital flows and investment trends in hospital construction, it is all "out there". A recent report on the South African economic environment predicts that the pharmaceutical industry will grow much faster than other sectors due to a strong continuing demand for primary healthcare level drugs, such as generics, antibiotics and over-the-counter remedies.
Intelligent steps to take towards really knowing your commodity
- Develop the Commodity Profile
Find out the international product classifications and document the commodity definition. Consult widely and get a clear understanding of the important technical and quality issues.
- Determine the Cost Structure.
Over and above the usual adding up of raw material costs, labor, transport, energy, overheads etc, you can be more innovative. Listed companies are required to publish financial statements and do presentations on their business results. Scour this information for clues to their cost profiles.
- Research all Suppliers
This requires focus and effort and is an on-going process. Establish if the global market is fragmented or consolidated, where the low-cost suppliers are, possible new supply channels and any pending mergers or buy-outs. This is an area is where you may need help from the specialist organizations that provide news and intelligence services, especially where they target unlisted companies. Customized dashboards are available that are designed especially to track activity within your commodity. But at a price!
- Identify Key Market Indicators.
The good news is that most global and regional market indicators are frequent, reliable and free. Economic and indicators track high level commodity prices, production rates, inventories, GDP and employment statistics. You can even set up alerts so that you don't miss any key events or developments.
Should your organization be kind enough to provide you with analyst support or if you have excess time on your hands, you can delve into technical and detailed analyses for important commodities using SWOT analysis, Porter's five forces and PEST. PEST stands for "Political, Economic , Social, and Technological analysis" and you can even upgrade it to PESTLE if you add Legal and Environmental impacts.
Whether you are based in Luanda, Lesotho or Lilongwe, you can have access to the same market information as the rest of the world. The difference is that you may not have the opportunity or the financial resources to source from outside Africa which limits your options. South Africa and Nigeria are the most developed markets and primary sources of supply for buyers in Southern Africa.
Supply market information challenges will always be with us
Identifying high risk suppliers is one of the major reasons why we undertake the laborious research into our supply markets. Risks can be mitigated to some extent through tracking and managing supplier performance issues and monitoring the changing financial status of key suppliers but this is not foolproof. It is necessary to have a Plan B ready where you have already identified alternative suppliers to replace or supplement existing suppliers. Avoidance of supply chain disruptions due to supplier failure is vital for business continuity.
Information overload is trap that it is easy to fall into, as is analysis-paralysis. Managing key suppliers by exception allows you to use your limited resources wisely. Continuous monitoring of high impact suppliers through the use of scorecards, graphs and charts helps ensure that you can store and share current information and provides an early warning system for senior management.
Sourcing managers, especially in Southern Africa, are doubly challenged as they are required to have a diverse supplier base. This can involve a time-consuming supplier qualification and record keeping process. Government regulations and economic development initiatives which are designed to offer supply opportunities to micro-, small- and women owned businesses need to be followed. In most African countries, a percentage of local content is an important requirement. All of these issues add complexity to the maintaining of a good supplier intelligence database.
Competitive advantage through knowledge and analysis
One's analysis efforts should be focused on heavily concentrated markets where there are a few large suppliers and also on highly fragmented markets where smaller suppliers can cause supply interruptions due to financial instability. Tracking of key market indicators can provide insights in supplier cost structures which helps determine if you are achieving the best possible deal.
An in-depth knowledge of the supply market dynamics in a commodity can reduce risk. By developing a comprehensive understanding of the number, type and structure of suppliers you can keep your options open and lower the risk of supply interruption.
Used within a strategic sourcing framework, a procurement person's strong primary research skills and the ability to track a commodity can deliver competitive advantage. If you are naturally inquisitive and like to follow trends, none of this will even feel like work.