Auction confusion

Here are some items that popped into my google alerts recently for reverse auction:

  • A lowest unique bid wins gambling site. Their press release appears to be deliberately confusing given that talks about reverse auctions, procurement auctions and e-sourcing before diving into their  gambling piece. They even go so far as to claim that “The legality of low unique auctions has been proven by the American, British and the Danish governments who are all using the low unique auction concept [for awarding procurement contracts].” (No they’re not, they’re using reverse auctions – they aren’t using gambling sites)
  • Forwards Dutch Auctions for mobile gear

I know some of you will consider this is just me quibbling over semantics but this is pretty important. Surely buyers need to know their auction types to be able to run effective sourcing projects. Just like they need to know their DDP from their FOB. I get really riled when people use the same term to mean completely different auction types. How many buyers would know that this auction here is not a reverse auction at all but is a forwards dutch auction?

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Learning from mistakes

The stories we hear about (software) product development tend to be the success stories. The guys who made it big. And a never ending analysis of “how you can be just like them”.

But very few people know precisely what combination of vision, skill, timing and luck made them a success. And fewer are able to articulate it. And personal experience tells me that I learn as much, if not more, when things go against me than when things go swimmingly well.

So I learned a lot from this post which describes a failed project and ascribes some of the failures to engineering decisions made during the product development lifecycle. The three mistakes Ari identifies that are most generally applicable to software developers are:

Mistake: Defaults Matter
Mistake: Make it Instantly Useful
Mistake: Don’t Let Technology Decide

For the record this is how I landed up at the post. Started by looking around at Max Bleyleben’s blog on Technorati. Which took me to Max Niederhofer and from there to  Union Square Ventures and from there to Ari’s great post

Spreadsheet Worst Practices

I’ve long contended that, behind all the hype about Source To Pay systems and SRM packages and Flex interfaces and eAuction software, Excel remains one of the top 3 software tools for buyers. (The other 2 being Outlook and Google).

So I enjoyed reading this article on CFO.com all about spreadsheet worst practices and how to avoid them. Here’s how the article starts:

There’s little doubt that electronic spreadsheets are the most widely-used financial software application. But they are also the most-abused.

The article clearly struck a chord with CFO’s readership, as they published a follow up with readers’ views.

The CFO article is directed mainly at those who use Excel for number crunching, analysis and what-if planning. So the practices in the article will be of most interest to buyers who use Excel for analysis. But there are also some nuggets that you can pull out of the articles, even if you only ever use Excel for issuing RFQ templates.

The practices CFO highlights:

1. Poor segregation of data. Some people use Excel just as a super calculator. So if you look into a cell you might find the formula “=300000*1.50+158000*1.46+250000*1.20*0.95”. While it might make sense to the person doing the calculation at the time that we are looking at the total forecast spend for three different parts (300000 units at $1.50, 158000 at $1.46 and 250000 at $1.20 less a 5% discount), a formula as bare as this is not going to help explain the data 3 months down the line
2. Poor documentation of assumptions. The last part in my example formula is 250000*1.20*0.95. You could read this as 250000 parts at $1.20 with a discount of 5%. But why the discount? Does the discount always apply? Or is it some volume discount based on ordering over 200000 items?
3. Poor documentation of constraints. Don’t put one complex formula in a cell. Remember in your maths exams when you were always told to show your workings? Same applies in Excel. Better to use multiple, intermediate calculations to show how you are getting to the final result.
4. Difficulties in making changes. If we decided that we wanted to change the forecast volume for part B to 180000 then it’s not immediately straightforward to know where to update the spreadsheet
5. Now it’s here, Now it’s not. The ability to change one value in a spreadsheet and have all the relevant values re-calculated is very powerful. But it’s also easy to lose track of where you were before you started your what-if scenarios. CFO.com’s recommendation is to use different worksheets for different scenarios, with one master worksheet to summarise and compare the results of your different scenarios.
6. Presentation Ready. It’s not hard to set your spreadsheets up for printing – with headers, footers, page sizing, repeating columns and rows. But it’s often overlooked, to the annoyance of the people you are emailing your spreadsheet to.

Domain name rant update

A few days ago I posted my views that domain names are too cheap. Here’s an article from Mashable which is also bemoaning the ease and prevalence of domain squatting out there.

While doing some research on various Wikis out there, I’ve found that a company called the Information Superbrand (check out the whois info here) registered the domain www.pedia.com, as well as over two hundred various ****pedia.com domain names, such as travelpedia.com or tvpedia.com. In some cases, a domain wasn’t available so they just used subdomains, for example parent.pedia.com.

Mashable doesn’t offer any viable solutions beyond “I think it sucks” and “it strikes me as wrong.” The comment string similarly doesn’t offer any analysis beyond indignation at the problem.

Wise up suckers. The only way anything will get done with this domain mess is if they become too expensive to register.

Fame already! w00t

Golden Pebbles has only been going for a week or two and already it’s in the top spot at Google!

No joke. Look here.

Fame Already

Number 1. Numero Uno. The big kahuna.

Ok, admittedly it might have something to do with the fact that I’ve spelt “scaleability” with an “e” and most seem to spell it without the “e”. But heck. It was fun to see some traffic coming through from that search.

Roger. Out.

Greener sourcing – a personal tale

Last year I moved out of London and bought an electric scooter from these guys for driving the 3.5 miles between my new house and the train station.

The story so far:
1. When it first arrived it didn’t work: the batteries weren’t functional. It took a good two weeks to get it workable.
2. Finding an insurer was a mission. There’s apparently only one in the UK. They aren’t cheap.
3. Stuff just fell off the scooter. Nothing major (yet). But still I haven’t got working replacements.
4. One of the options I bought they never even delivered. Kept fobbing me off for best part of 9 months (and I didn’t have time to chase every day).
5. It was vandalised once (someone yanked an important cable out) – and the supplier  expected me to be able to fix it. Heck, I don’t even own a soldering iron, let alone feel confident digging around in the bowels of the scooter.
6. Kids have sniggered at the man on the scooter … Until they realise it’s electric whereupon their sniggers are replaced by wows.
7. Fellow commuters are impressed by the electric scooter. Then they overtake me on the way home.
8. It is fun to drive a nearly silent machine. But it would be nice if it would go faster.
9. It’s nice not to need to stop and fill up with petrol (though I have no idea whether the electricity I use to charge it is cleaner, greener and/or cheaper than petrol would be).

It’s clear that this bike is still bleeding edge. It’s still the domain of enthusiast hackers. Definitely not ready for consumer prime time.

Parallels for professional buyers:

Beware of getting too far ahead of yourselves on green initiatives. Unless you have the time, inclination and executive support get too far ahead of the pack and you could struggle (1,2,3,4,5).

There is a good marketing angle (6,7).

And, heck, it might even make you feel better (8,9).

To be honest: When I look at my buying decisions at work I haven’t gone out of my way to buy greener at work. The only thing I can recall doing recently is ticking the box marked “plant a tree for every server” on a hosting deal.

Overheard on the train

One: two girls, apparently recent uni grads. They discuss catching up with a friend of theirs on Facebook. And they discuss the blog another friend of theirs used to have.

Two: a “young professional” couple. logging onto Facebook to catch up with friends.

I love the way so much technology is being more and more, well, normal.

10, 20 years ago, technology was strictly for young men with dubious hygiene skills and an aversion to sunlight and exercise. (I still remember the farting competitions held by some ABAP colleagues in their windowless office). You even got bonus management credibility points for NOT knowing how computers worked and needing someone else to type your documents for you.

But fast forward to 2008 and my 10-year old god-daughter spends a LOT of time on sites like http://www.girlsgogames.com/ while Instant Messaging their friends.

And this article on Mashable  http://mashable.com/2008/03/08/girls-web-uk-us/

I find this shift very exciting. I only wish I were at school now and had the internet to help me discover the world.