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Involve Suppliers Early

Involving suppliers early (ISE) is the process of assessing the reaction of potential suppliers to an identified need. ISE can reveal the prevailing attitudes and solutions in the market as a whole and contribute to a more effective requirement that is well aligned with the market, improving the likelihood that the desired outcome will be achieved, and can also elicit alternative approaches and innovative solutions,.

ISE provides supplier perspectives at the earliest stage of the purchasing process. While it ordinarily is directed at groups of suppliers to get a variety of inputs, individual suppliers can also be targeted for input. This process is for information gathering exclusively; it is not used for supplier selection or proposal evaluation, and there are no commitments made on either side.

Recommended Procedures

There is no set process for ISE; the nature of the purchase will affect the process in each case. The following are some suggested basic steps:

First, the Purchase/SCM Team should attain knowledge of the market as a whole. The Team should have a thorough and accurate picture of the market when preparing to talk to suppliers. When deciding on which suppliers to initiate communications with, the Purchase/SCM Team should seek to identify industry leaders in the relevant marketplace, as well as incumbent Postal Service suppliers if available. The key areas of focus are:

Feasibility - whether what is sought is feasible or has ever been done

Capability - the ability of the market to provide what is required

Maturity - whether there is an established market and whether there are enough suppliers in existence to provide competition

Capacity - whether the market can provide what is required on a large-enough scale and in a timely manner

After identifying key focus areas of the market, communications focus on important factors such as the likely level of market interest, the technical or business feasibility of what is proposed, best value, supply cycle time, and whether unexamined business options exist. Additionally, the following should be examined:

What capabilities exist in the marketplace to fulfill this need?

Are there other, better approaches or solutions that have not been considered?

What other technologies are available?

What are the main concerns? Are there issues that have been missed?

Extent to which subcontracting will be necessary

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Effective, two-way communication is essential to ISE. Postal Service needs must be defined in enough detail that suppliers can respond effectively, but needs should also be general enough to allow suppliers to propose alternative solutions. The following will help foster the necessary business relationship:

Work with suppliers as equals and stakeholders

Avoid an "us vs. them" mentality

When necessary, provide a guarantee of confidentiality

Speak in terms of what the Postal Service and the supplier can achieve together, rather than what the supplier can do for the Postal Service

Maintain flexibility and openness about new approaches

Postal Service Benefits

ISE can provide numerous benefits, and as a result the purchase/SCM Team can:

Establish that there is a market for the requirement

Confirm that the scope and objectives of the purchase are sound and achievable

Discover new, innovative, or alternative solutions

Underscore potential issues or problems with the project

Gain real-world, first-hand knowledge of what suppliers can and cannot do

Package the need in a way so that the market is encouraged to respond and that real competition is stimulated

Create a requirement that is well framed, focused, feasible, and likely to interest the market

Identify potential market areas

Manage supplier expectations

Manage Postal Service expectations

Lay useful foundations for contract and relationship management by considering how the arrangement may work, including whether multi-supplier groups may respond to the requirement

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Supplier Benefits

Suppliers may also derive benefits from ISE. Suppliers can:

Assess whether the opportunity will be suitable when it is solicited

Reduce overhead in researching new business avenues

Contribute to market-focused specifications

Raise issues and questions about the opportunity and the purchasing process options at an early stage

Gain a valuable insight into Postal Service working practices, requirements, and priorities

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