Navigating Procurement Data: Simplify to Think Outside the Cube

We’re excited to begin a new series exploring the future of how we are likely to work with and navigate procurement data through new interfaces, analytics and contextual capability in the future (for additional background on why we’re doing this as well as links to “how to” guides from our subscription research, please click here). Yet before we explore how procurement analytics has evolved, we’d like to pose a question: Why have we overcomplicated analytics and decision support?

And no, we’re not just referring to an uber-complicated spend cube someone can build in BIQ, Spend Radar (SciQuest), Iasta, IBM Emptoris, BravoSolution, Zycus or other procurement-centric tools. We’re primarily thinking about the ramifications of a scene in the movie Minority Report. If you’re into analytics, you probably recall the famous scene where Tom Cruise (playing the role of police Captain John Anderton) is working in a futuristic office environment to figure out the next crime before it happens.

But even with all of the visualization and 3D capability available to him, it takes Cruise a minute or two to figure out the next crime that is going to take place. After watching this many times, we finally decided to ask: in an all-powerful world of predictive analytics, why didn’t he just ask the system what would happen next? Perhaps this doesn’t make for good cinema (or seeing the buff arms of a superstar actor playing with super cool tools), but it’s a heck of a lot easier and faster to simply ask a system to tell you the answer.

Our takeaway question for procurement is the same: why don’t we spend more time asking our tools to tell us the answer rather than logging into systems, drilling through dashboards, running reports, and exporting charts? Or contextually, based on where we are, our schedules, or who else is with us in a meeting - why don’t our systems (our second screens, such as iPads) surface contextual information based on our surrounding physical circumstances? What if, for example, we could simply ask (or SMS) our procurement analytical tools the following type of questions:

  • Who are my largest suppliers (e.g., by parts/SKUs, spend, categories)?
  • What are my largest spend segments?
  • What items/SKUs had the largest price inflation last quarter?
  • Who are my high-risk suppliers?
  • Where can I quickly cut costs?
  • How much am I spending with my high-risk suppliers?
  • Which supplier risk ratings have dramatically changed since quarter?
  • How many new suppliers did we onboard last month? What was the average time to enable these new vendors?
  • What vendor diversity certifications expired last month?


Complex data visualization may look exciting, but it certainly isn’t the fastest way to answer your question. We’ll come back to what we term “the hyper-simplification of queries and interfaces” (voice, text, etc.) later in this series, including sharing some more advanced examples of text or voice-based queries that are theoretically possible to run. And we’ll even show some examples in prototype walkthroughs we’ve built.

Just remember for now that this approach allows you to treat the data that you have as a natural resource that you can leverage in different and more frequent ways. It does not replace modern data visualization, reporting and analytical tools. Rather, it enhances and expands what you’re already up to – and makes data all the more relevant and timely!

This post was co-authored by Jason Busch and Ryder Daniels.

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