OPINION: Don’t get milked by your suppliers
We’ve all done it; stuck with the same old suppliers year after year, because they’re doing the job and let’s face it, it’s far less hassle to stay put than to make a change. Whether it’s for banking, car or home insurance, or even utilities, as long as their prices haven’t risen too significantly and you’re getting what you pay for, why go to the effort of changing?
For the consumer a failure to review supplier agreements means that at worst you’re potentially missing out on a more competitive deal (and a complimentary Meerkat), but for a business it can have much more serious consequences.
A large organisation will typically have hundreds or even thousands of contracts in place and lack of management of these contracts can have a huge impact on business performance, bottom-line and risk.
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Auto-renewing ‘evergreen contracts’ are a problem we see frequently and they cost organisations millions of pounds in wasted budgets or unintentional spend. With no system in place to effectively manage contracts, they can easily get ignored or forgotten about and without realising it you’re locked in for another 12 months. Worst case scenario, a high value contract has auto-renewed just as you sign another with an alternative supplier offering a similar service, or decide that you no longer need this service at all. It’s easy to see how missed renewal dates, contract overlaps, timely supplier reviews or intended supplier terminations can be overlooked.
This can be an inconvenient truth for large organisations whether they have a procurement function or not, left grappling to manage the contracts they have in place without clear visibility of them.
Aside from wasting money, with no control over contract terms, how can you be sure that your contracts are delivering what was originally agreed with the supplier? If you’re not in the habit of reviewing or monitoring your supplier contracts the service you are receiving may have gradually moved away or deteriorated from what was originally intended. The supplier may have been providing alternative quality products (substitutes), or changed services levels or personnel (in the case of professional services) and other factors that differ from the original terms agreed – all of which could potentially reduce the value of the original agreement.
It’s also necessary to consider the changes that will undoubtedly have occurred in your business since your contracts were first put in place. Throughout the lifecycle of a contract it’s highly likely that your business will have changed in some way, whether that’s changes to pricing or other things which may affect the terms of the original contract, or your organisational needs. For example, the sum you spend with a supplier may have quadrupled since the start of your contract, putting you in a far stronger buying position. This of course should mean you are in a better position to negotiate discounts or lower rates, but it is difficult to do this without having the facts at your fingertips.
The first step towards managing contracts effectively is to have a clear and in-depth understanding of them, but this won’t happen if they’re stuffed in the top drawer of a filing cabinet or indeed held in turn by each departments that owns the supplier relationship.
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The last thing any department head wants is to be going into a new budgetary period with a legacy of unwanted supplier costs to justify and accommodate. It’s one thing to have to field tricky conversations with your CFO, but another entirely using up valuable budget on historical services that are no-longer essential to you.
Your suppliers’ contracts themselves hold the answers to many of the key things you need to know in order to effectively manage them. How often do you actually review your suppliers’ contracts and how do you get the information you need to effectively monitor, manage and measure the value they are delivering to your business?
Contract control gives you sight of which contracts are up for new renewal in the next few months. If you’re unhappy with that supplier then you have the time to put them on notice, or appraise their performance and renegotiate a better deal. Or if you wish to invite new suppliers to bid for the contract you have time to factor this work and consider your options.
Effective contract management is an essential part of the supplier management process and is only made possible if they are held in a central repository so that they are accessible for all key stakeholders.
Such a repository enables all contracts to be reviewed periodically to determine if changes are needed or even if it should be renewed at all. The growing realisation for this process to be automated has led to the adoption of contract management systems, delivering a simple and secure way to store contracts which are easy to audit and provide automated alerts and reminders if an agreement is due to expire. And a full contract management system within an integrated source to pay process can further streamline the process by automatically adding newly sourced suppliers’ contracts to the repository for future tracking.
So don’t risk becoming a cash cow to your suppliers because contracts were signed and filed away years ago. A structured and more formalised approach to contract management is the key to unlocking operational efficiencies, compliance and savings.
Daniel Ball is a director at Wax Digital.
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