Friday, May 28, 2010

Is Supplier Risk Management “nice-to-have”?

We recently built a supplier risk management enterprise solution for implementation as a software as a service (SaaS) business model. The solution was architected based on inputs from various practitioners and domain experts in the industry as well as personal experiences in managing global suppliers in both large and small enterprises. It received many accolades and good reviews. However, we noticed that many companies had tough time justifying the budget for implementation of a supplier risk solution. Frequently, there are other more urgent priorities competing for the same budget. Some organizations tend to view Supplier Scorecard or Supplier Risk Management solutions as “nice-to-have” rather than a critical part of the enterprise operation. I beg to differ. Investment in risk management is somewhat like buying an insurance policy except it is much more critical. An insurance policy is primarily used for reactive or defensive purposes, whereas supplier risk management can be used much more proactively. Consider the recent examples of failures in supplier risk management in widely different industries:

Toyota’s failure in managing the supplier of braking systems (CTS Corp) that led to massive auto recall
Apple’s failure in managing Chinese suppliers (Foxconn) that violated corporate social responsibility obligations
BP’s failure in adequately managing subcontractors (such as Halliburton) for the offshore drilling platform leading to world's worst oil spill

In each case proactive management of supplier risk should have highlighted the danger so that mitigating actions could have been taken before it was too late. No amount of insurance could have provided as much benefit as an appropriate level of investment in supplier risk management. Typically, the investment required for managing supplier risk would have been just a small fraction of the insurance premium. Thus, in an increasingly inter-dependent enterprise that is constantly looking for operational efficiencies by outsourcing non-core functions, investment in supplier risk management cannot be over-emphasized. Is this the hazard of the “flat” world?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Is it Agile or Waterfall?

Quite often we have heard companies say that they are using Agile product development, but when we get into a discussion of their product development velocity or when I ask them how frequently they release their product, we uncover that the typical new releases take 8- 12 months or longer. Moreover, the release dates are not very predictable causing a lot of turmoil in the organization including customer dissatisfaction. This type of product development is closer to traditional “Stage Gate” or “Waterfall” development process. A true adoption of agile development framework will result in a significantly faster development cycle with more predictable and frequent product releases.
I started using agile methodology in late-1990s at HP. We used to call it "Evolutionary" product development as compared to the traditional "Waterfall" product development. We have had many successful product launches using this approach. Since then I have become a firm believer in the organized Agile product development process proposed by Scrum Alliance ( Time and again the Agile process has proven its merit to me by accelerating the development process and more importantly, by making the process more predictable while delivering a higher quality end product that is better aligned with the market requirements.

As indicated in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development (, a true Agile process must emphasize

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

Agile process delivers product functionality through frequent iterations (also called scrums). Large product features or requirements are developed over multiple iterations with each iteration involving a small vertical slice of the overall functionality. The requirements are fixed within an iteration or scrum but can change for a future iteration as the particular iteration is planned. The duration of an iteration or scrum can be anywhere between 1 – 4 weeks.

The traditional “Waterfall” approach specifically focuses on proper documentation and attempts to adhere to the documented plans and processes. As a result, the Waterfall process discourages changes in the product requirements once a major development effort has started. Unfortunately, in reality, the product requirement can change significantly based on more refined market data. This is particularly true for the longer development cycle. By the time the product is released at the end of an 8-12 month development cycle the market requirements are likely to have shifted in many fast changing industries.

Transition of a product development organization to Agile product development from a legacy Waterfall process is so radical that it cannot really be implemented partially. A firm executive-level commitment to change is essential. This makes the decision to adopt the agile methods as the most important step in implementing Agile development process. It requires a bold leadership that can act as a change agent and is willing to risk short-term setback to position the organization for a dramatic improvement in the product development efficiency. While proposing Agile methods it is important to emphasize the value of adopting Agile product development. The business users and executives are more interested in the business benefits than a religious debate about "Agile" versus "Waterfall".

Once properly implemented, the Agile development process provides more flexibility, more predictable development schedule, greater visibility into the release process and improved product quality. I hope to elaborate this in future from the perspective of a Product Manager, commonly called a “Product Owner” in the Agile parlance.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Back to Blogging!

It has been a long time since I have done any serious blogging in these pages. I have many excuses. I have been busy. In personal life sandwiched between taking care of my father and our two boys. In professional life sandwiched between my new passion of managing exciting products in Supplier Information Management (SIM) and serving the professional supply management community.

I have been taking care of both my parents for over 25 year. My mother passed away after prolonged illness in February 2008. During the last few years of her life, my father was also shouldering considerable burden of taking care of her as she was getting increasingly weaker and bed bound. I miss my mom more now than when she was suffering from her incurable disease. While she was alive, the very fact that she was around was comforting even though she was very much dependent on others due to her illness for most of my life (since I was about 2 year old).

Within a few months of mother’s death my father was diagnosed of having Parkinson’s disease. This was a major shocker. We were so focused on mom’s well being that we probably neglected his health. He also ignored the symptoms of Parkinson’s. I am fortunate that I was able to take some time off from work and clear my head. I also took a mini vacation with him and visited Indiana. He really wanted to visit India but settled for Indiana and visited my aunt's family.

During my travels, I started reading "Always Looking up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist" by Michael J. Fox. It is a book based on acclaimed actor’s personal experience with Parkinson's disease. It gave me a better appreciation about life and also what my father may be going through. Recently, Atlantic Magazine published a son’s tragic story of coping with father’s Parkinson’s disease. It touched me particularly hard as I struggle with my dad’s rapidly declining health due to the same disease. “Letting Go of My Father”, The Atlantic Magazine, April 2010.

I hereby make a personal resolution about bringing more balance into my personal and professional life. While doing so, I hope to blog more often in the coming days.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Search Vendors adding Spend Analysis capabilities

Jason Busch in his Spend Matters blog recently wrote about enterprise search vendor Endeca possibly entering Spend Analysis market ( In my opinion this is just another example of collision of Search and Business Intelligence markets. BI vendors were already applying BI toolkits to Spend Analysis and now Search vendors are also following them into Spend Analysis.
The worlds of Search and traditional Business Intelligence are merging. BI vendors are adding search features and search vendors are pushing the envelope for reporting & analytics. For example, ad hoc reporting can be better implemented by apply parametric search coupled with charting & graphing.

It will be interesting. Historically, Spend Analysis always included reporting & analytics components but advanced search and data mining capabilities can make spend analysis much more powerful and actionable. It will be worth watching not only Endeca but also other search vendors like Autonomy, Fast Search & Transfer (now owned by Microsoft), and even Google.

Search vendors can also leverage their technologies into Spend Processing which is essentially a prerequisite to Spend Analysis. In fact, quite often Spend Analysis vendors will bundle Spend Processing with Spend Analysis. To perform a meaningful ranking of search results, Search vendors have developed various algorithmic approaches such as K nearest neighbor for pattern recognition classifier, Bayesian for probabilistic learning classifier, different weights for different words for Vector Space classifier. Those intellectual properties and techniques can be effectively applied towards elements of Spend Processing such as spend classification, supplier de-duplication, spend clustering, etc. Thus, I would expect that search vendors will play an increasingly important role in Spend Analysis.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What is next for Google? (Google in the Enterprise)

Everybody keeps asking “Where Does Google Go Next?” Google is working on many fronts. There are very high profile initiatives such as “Open Social” for interoperability between various Social Networks, and “Android” for mobile phones. For me because of my interest in enterprise software, a more appropriate question will be “What is Google’s Enterprise Story?” Google is primarily about online ad leverage. But, surprisingly, Google has had limited penetration in the Enterprise ad revenue. Currently, Google’s enterprise offering is primarily limited to Universal Search or Search Appliance and Google Apps (check this out at In fact, Google’s enterprise strategy is not to embark on a major standalone development and instead develop enterprise solution leveraging Google’s core consumer products such as Google Search and Google Apps. Google’s Enterprise Group’s explicit charter is to extend Google’s consumer applications into enterprise space. Google has also leveraged its consumer offerings in the recently announced integration between and Google Apps. In this case Google Apps can be seamlessly used with SalesForce. This integration is now being extended to Salesforce’s and Cloud Computing initiatives.

Google’s narrow definition of enterprise solution currently only includes the following:
1. Site search for visitors to the enterprise website
2. Universal Search (using Google Appliance)
3. Google Apps
4. Google Geospatial Solutions based on Google’s consumer products such as Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google SketchUp Pro

However, there are significant opportunities for Google if Google expands its vision for the enterprise. For example, Google can boost online ad leverage by targeting traditional enterprise applications such as sourcing, procurement, and a variety of other e-commerce opportunities.

According to Gartner Google currently executes less than 1% of e-commerce traffic (Google Checkout). But, if Google can have the visibility to enterprise financial transactions such as buying and selling between enterprises (even if those transactions are not taking place using Google Checkout), they can sell a lot of targeted ads to enterprises that are selling to other enterprises. With the rapid adoption of Software as a Service (SaaS) approach by the enterprises, and Google’s entry into the enterprise application space is now a lot easier. Moreover, to accelerate the entry into the enterprise space Google may consider acquiring one of the enterprise SaaS companies such as Ketera (my previous employer), Reardon Commerce or other competitors. Since Google Search is used by individuals for learning purposes, there are companies in the HCMs arena where Google can potentially benefit (increased ad revenue?) by partnering or acquiring companies such as Saba (another previous employer), SumTotal, Success Factors, or other Learning Management vendors.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why This Blog?

Welcome to the inaugural post of Aloke Bhandia's blog.

I have been an active reader of and contributor to various blogs over the years. I have thought about starting my own blog for a while. Finally, this is my humble beginning. Ideas pop up as we go through life, both professional and personal. I will make an effort to record my thoughts in these pages. Due to my years of dabbling in various enterprise software, invariably there will be ideas around enterprise software business processes. Lately, I have been intrigued by the prospects of applying Supply Chain and Lean Manufacturing concepts to Human Capital Management, and hope to elaborate more in subsequent posts. Other areas of professional interest include building multi-company data cooperative for benchmarking and decision support, integrated strategic sourcing workflow, applying artificial intelligence techniques to classify large volumes of data (such as search results, transactional data, etc.). We are also building as a portal for supplier management knowledge repository, training, and procurement outsourcing services. There may be frequent musings on the trials and tribulations of launching such a large community website and a transaction portal.

Since we are raising two wonderful boys, occasionally, I may also stumble into parenting topics. Particularly, this summer, while boys are immersed in advanced Middle School and High Mathematics (so that they can skip ahead to the next level of math in the coming school year), I am having a lot of fun interacting with them, even though sometimes it becomes a true test of my patience.

I welcome comments from visitors of this blog.