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What is Category Management and How Do You Use It?

How Category Management Can Decrease Your PO Processing Time

In any organization, procurement is one of the main departments of the company that touches and manages organizational spend. Whether it be procurement for business continuity e.g. inventory purchasing, or procuring for business support e.g. IT – if an organization does not have a strategic approach to its procurement or a clear procurement process, spending can get out of control and become damaging.

According to APQC’s Open Standards Benchmarking about category management within procurement – studies shows that organizations that have initiated category management programs have a median supplier lead time of only six days compared to 14 days for those organizations that have not initiated category management programs.

For PO processing, those organizations that have initiated category management programs show a median turnaround time of eight hours versus a median 15 hours for those organizations that have not initiated category management programs.

What is Category Management? 

Category management can be defined as a strategic approach to procurement, where the organization segments its spending on bought-in goods and services. The segmentation arranges goods and services in discrete groups depending on the functions of these goods and services.

Some of the categories on which organizations typically spend include:

•    Office management

•    Human resources

•    Professional services

•    Security

•    IT

•    Transport

•    Travel and entertainment

•    Medical

•    Industrial products/services

The Role of a Category Manager

This is a specialized procurement role in which the person handles a specific category of goods or services e.g. Professional services, IT or logistical support. This person is charged with strategic sourcing, creating a category plan, and providing oversight in the category.

Category managers handle supply chain relationships for their category role. This requires them to have a background in the category being handled, e.g. an IT category manager should have a degree in computing so as to help make purchasing decisions by justifying the need for the purchase to internal stakeholders to make sure they are getting the right product assortments.

Some senior procurement executives such as Fortune 100 CPO Reza Hagel believe that the current category manager role as we know it should be spit-up into a domain expert role with the aim to manage stakeholder relationships and a purchasing manager role focusing on the new generation of added value procurement services.

Hagel also notes that the foundation for business modeling is absent and the use of data in decision makings and strategic planning is not part of a defined process.

The Category Management Process: 

There are many ways to develop a category strategy, but here are some questions and points to consider.

•    Definition – What should the different categories and sub-categories be?

•    Spend analysis – How much spending is going to each category and its sub-categories?

•    Market analysis – How does the supply market look for each category, does it fit the customer needs?

•    Improvement – The market intelligence gained from the market analysis is applied. This may lead to a change in specifications, changing the scope of work or finding a new supply base and new vendors.

•    Continuous application – This knowledge is continuously applied in strategic sourcing and transactional purchasing.

There are certain pre-requisites for successful category management: 

•    An analysis of organizational strategic goals, and tying sourcing to these goals.

•    Updated pricing analysis on local and international markets, and the prevailing trends.

•    An updated analysis of organizational spend vs market data as well as benchmarking KPIs to identify areas for improvement.

•    Supplier performance data.

•    Analysis of any savings gained through negotiations, substitutions and compliance.

•    Continuous engagement among all stakeholders to ensure that everyone is onboard with the organization’s purchasing decisions.

What are the Benefits of Category Management in Procurement?

•    Centralizing Spend Data– There are benefits of consolidating and centralizing spend including easier tracking, logging, and reporting. There are also opportunities to outsource if the spend analysis shows that it would be cheaper to do so than procuring.

•    Opportunities for Cost Savings – Category management works by leveraging expertise and experience of category managers in gaining insight into a category and its sub-categories with the aim of creating value from each purchase. If the company is in need of IT hardware and software for 10 new staff, for example, the decision on whether to buy or lease the hardware, buy software or lease cloud computing services and other tech decisions are made from an area of expertise.

•    Better Vendor Risk Management – With category management, an organization is able to gain an in-depth understanding of each vendor. The operational risks associated with a supplier can be used to benchmark in dealing with other suppliers in the category and sub-category.

•    Purchase to Pay (P2P) Process – When the process of dealing with one supplier in a certain category has been perfected, it can be replicated when dealing with other suppliers in the same category rather than coming up with unique processes for each supplier.

•    Benefits from Holistic Spending – Strategic sourcing brings in the economies of scale. By buying for the long term in different product categories, the category manager is able to offer higher volumes or larger scope of work to the suppliers. This saves time by avoiding repetitive transactional purchases. It also offers the power to negotiate for better prices.

•    Streamlined Business Strategy – When doing strategic business planning, category management comes in handy by tying specific strategic goals to strategic purposes. If a mining company is planning to expand its operations in the next 3 years, for example, category management in heavy machinery and equipment gives a more streamlined strategy, as the company will be able to identify suppliers and capital in advance.

Any business benefits a lot from adopting category management as one of its best practices in procurement. It has the capacity to add value in reducing supply chain risk as well as drive innovation in different supply chain categories. An organization is able to tap into opportunities to manage demand, have better cash flow management, and enforce greater compliance of standards from suppliers.

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