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Industries:  General 

Specification Harmonization can help evaluate suppliers


By: Jayant Mukherjee
Customer Success Lead

calender01 Nov 2018


Procurement buyers face mounting pressure to add more business value, with the majority stating cost reduction as a focus area in the coming year. Around 78 percent of procurement executives said that cost reduction is still their top priority for 2018, according to Deloitte’s 2018 Global Chief Procurement Officer Survey.

Supply chain and logistics managers pursuing lean operations generally prefer to eliminate excess inventory. However, sales and marketing initiatives often lead companies to increase the volume of products they keep in stock. Moreover, ‘specifications’ (or ‘specs’) have become a critical factor. Big brands with different amounts of specs are attaining better evaluation and cost savings through the ‘specification rationalization’ exercise. Thus, the specification rationalization/ harmonization process has become a distinct trend across Procurement Organizations of all sizes.

In any supplier negotiation, it is critical to evaluate a particular supplier’s spend, and this is no different for packaging suppliers. In this article, we look at the spend for various packaging products, such as corrugates, films and labels, which have thousands of specifications, by suppliers and locations across the world. Sourcing managers are required to manage the spend and achieve cost savings for a particular category.

What is Specification Harmonization?

One way of explaining specification harmonization is that it is the prevention or elimination of differences in the specifications having the same scope.

Impact of Too Many Specifications

In the conventional business sense, it is always preferable to have many specs for packaging products to provide customers with customization as per their requirements. However, having too many specifications can result in a complex business process. This is because too many specs may require many suppliers, too many data points to collect and analyze, too many machines to make products and too much storage space.

A critical starting point is understanding what type of information and data sets will be most valuable in the ‘contract tendering/supplier negotiation’ process in today’s world of increasing complexities. Examples of such complexities include increasing number of suppliers, changing geographical landscape of the packaging industry and increasing ability to aggregate spends on the global/regional/local level. In fact, after procurement managers exhaust traditional savings approaches, viz., rate negotiations, volume consolidation and even low cost country sourcing, specification harmonization becomes one of most important tools to drive cost savings.

In the past few years, through interaction with procurement professionals, we observed that that the desired savings are not being captured despite spend consolidation for a particular category. The reason may be that category teams are missing huge opportunities by considering specs by suppliers for tendering only based on their contribution to the spend. Is this because there is so much diversity in specifications that category teams do not have space for consolidation, or is the reason something else?

Currently, procurement teams have started to conduct exercises regarding standardization of specifications. Is this something that category/sourcing managers should consider?

Implementation of this Exercise

One classic way to start a specification harmonization exercise is to conduct an ABC/Pareto analysis. This method is generally used for managing inventory but can also be used here.

The Pareto principle is also known as the 80/20 rule. In the ABC/Pareto analysis,  managers identify the top three to five specifications across suppliers in a particular country by production site that contribute the most to product spend (A-ranked products). Many specs that do not contribute much or contribute to the tail spend are also identified.

Let us have look at a case study/industry example.

Total Product Volume - 20.57 Million Units Spec 1 Spec 2 Spec 3 Spec 4 Spec 5 Spec 6 Spec 7
Incumbent Supplier A A A A A A B
Plant Gent Gent Gent Gent Gent Gent Chaudfontaine
Qty 9.98 0.65 3.13 5.93 0.7 0.25 0.13
% of Total Product Volume - Gent (Total Volume - 20.44 M)~ 99.35% 49.0% 3.2% 15.3% 29.0% 3.4% 0.1% NA
% of Total Product Volume - Chaudfontaine (Total Volume - 0.13 M)~ 0.65% NA NA NA NA NA NA 100%
% of Total Product Volume - Belgium (Total Volume - 20.57 M Units) 48.5% 3.2% 15.2% 28.8% 3.4% 0.1% 0.6%
ID Length (mm) 316 316 316 394 322 317 352
ID Width (mm) 213 213 213 263 226 217 265
ID Height (mm) 45 45 45 38 108 45 47
Flute type B B B B B B B
Outer liner Grade White Testliner Speedlite White Testliner White Testliner Speedlite White Testliner TWTC2
Outer liner grammage/m2 135 175 135 135 175 135 125
Flute 1 Grade Fluting Fluting Fluting Fluting Fluting Fluting RF1
Flute 1 grammage/m2 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
Inner liner Grade Testliner Testliner Testliner Testliner Testliner Testliner T3
Inner liner grammage/m2 135 135 120 120 135 120 120
Printing process: flexo postprint, offset, flexo preprint FLEXO FLEXO FLEXO FLEXO FLEXO FLEXO FLEXO
Pallet type Heavy pallet 1000x1200 Heavy pallet 1000x1200 Heavy pallet 1000x1200 Heavy pallet 1000x1200 Heavy pallet 1000x1200 Heavy pallet 1000x1200 chep
Product quantity per pallet 4400 4400 4400 3300 3300 4400 3600
Maximum pallet height 2000 2000 2000 2000 2000 2000 1800

In the above table, we have considered various specifications for packaging products for fast-moving consumer goods’ brand owners in Belgium at two production plants. We also considered their spend contributions.

Key Observations and Results

  • First, category managers look to identify the top two to three specifications (contribution to country spend) per the Pareto principle.
  • In this case, specifications 1, 3 and 4 contribute 93 percent of the product volume at the Gent site (~92.5 percent of the total product volume for Belgium). Therefore, clients might wish to negotiate the price as well as compare the price quotes (received through a request for proposal (RFP)) of incumbent and alternate suppliers on the above specs in order to have a better impact on the country spend/volume for a product.
  • Second, category managers look to identify various sets of specifications where ‘data standardization’ is feasible as well as identify  spend volume by site and country.
Level of Standardization Specifications Vol. Coverage-(% of Total Product Vol. for Belgium) No. of Specs (after spec. standardization) % of Spec. Consolidation
1st 1 & 3 63.70% 6 14%
2nd 1,3 & 6 63.80% 5 29%
3rd 2 & 5 6.60% 4 43%

Please note that before implementing the above step, category managers need to look at the variations for different sets of specs at each level of standardization.

Key Considerations

The following list provides things to ‘keep in mind’ when planning for specs. Harmonization/Standardization

Specification Harmonization - Part of the Lifecycle Mgmt. Process

Packaging buyers should implement specification harmonization only as an element of the overall packaging product lifecycle management to efficiently reduce procurement costs to the company.

Forecast Switching and Cannibalization

Brand owners should analyze and predict both the specification consolidation within a single supplier and revenue cannibalization (that occurs during consolidation among two suppliers), as it would help them thoroughly understand the financial impact of

specification harmonization/rationalization/ standardization.

Tailoring Decisions at a Meaningful Level

One should identify and analyze the need to perform specification harmonization for which the packaging sub-category is at the country/supplier or production plant level. One should also analyze the performance difference between the existing variants and the newly replaced standardized variant. Harmonization avoids the one-size-fits-all approach.

Changing the Strategy Rather than Making a One-Time Adjustment

Procurement Organizations should approach spec harmonization as a gradual change in their tactic vs. a one-time adjustment in their procurement plan. With this approach, organizations become more likely to avoid specs that are redundant or a reduction in specs (significant percentage of contribution - total spend volume of the product), which could impact supplier negotiation.

Test-Run before implementation

This exercise can impact (positively or negatively) the buyers’ procurement spend and its relation with suppliers based on the accuracy of planning and execution. Thus, rather than ‘rolling-out’ these decisions across all specs of a particular product for all countries simultaneously, SHs should look to implement planned decisions for a small batch to measure the actual impact and validate/analyze the estimated impact.

 Key Benefits

  • Reduction in raw material and packaging spend due to consolidation, leading to reduced unit cost
  • Increased forecast accuracy and reduction in complexity due to the elimination of small specs (toward their contribution to the total volume of the product)
  • Provision of higher visibility and leveragability to category managers regarding the spend for their product for better negotiation


The strategic ‘specification standardization/consolidation’ step of specification harmonization is becoming more important than ever. Thus, it is imperative that these key strategic decisions synchronize seamlessly with purchasing as well as other aspects of the supply chain and procurement.

Companies that look forward to adopting ‘specification harmonization/ rationalization’ as part of their supplier negotiation or procurement operation stand to gain the most and achieve the ‘cost savings’ they have forecasted/planned.

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