Strategic sourcing is an institutional procurement process that continuously improves and re-evaluates the purchasing activities of a company. In the services industry, strategic sourcing refers to a service solution, sometimes called a Strategic Partnership, that is specifically customized to meet the client's individual needs. In a production environment, it is often considered one component of supply chain management.
The term "strategic sourcing" was popularized through work with a variety of blue chip companies by a number of consulting firms in the late 80s and early 90s. This methodology has become the norm for procurement departments in large, sophisticated companies.
The steps in a strategic sourcing process were defined, in 1994, as:
- Assessment of a company's current spending (what is bought, where, at what prices?).
- Assessment of the supply market (who offers what?).
- Total cost analyses (how much does it cost to provide those goods or services?).
- Identification of suitable suppliers.
- Development of a sourcing strategy (where to purchase, considering demand and supply situations, while minimizing risk and costs).
- Negotiation with suppliers (products, service levels, prices, geographical coverage, Payment Terms, etc.).
- Implementation of new supply structure.
- Track results and restart assessment (Continuous cycle)
A slimmed down strategic sourcing process was defined, in 2012, as:
- Data collection and spend analysis
- Market Research
- The RFx process (also known as go-to-market)
- Implementation and continuous improvement
Note that while the modernized process combines the market assessment and cost analyses steps of the older model into a single "market research" step, and the supplier identification and sourcing strategy development steps into a single "go-to-market" step, negotiation has split into "negotiation" and "contracting". This is due to the heightened importance of market intelligence in modern strategic sourcing, and its ability to deliver value by improving both pricing and contract terms when leveraged against the identified suppliers.
Note also that, while both descriptions of the sourcing process are accurate to some extent, there is no standard set of steps and procedures. As strategic sourcing is put in place and practiced over time, many large, sophisticated organizations will modify the process to better meet their individual corporate needs.
Outsourcing a business practice to another company may also be incorporated into a sourcing strategy for services. This may involve the transfer of staff and assets to the outsource company. Due to the strategic and complex nature of outsourcing, many organizations such as Procter & Gamble, Microsoft and McDonald's have created what is referred to as Vested Outsourcing agreements to help create highly collaborative win-win business relationships. Researchers at the University of Tennessee provide guidance on how to create Vested Outsourcing agreements in their book Vested Outsourcing: Five Rules that will Transform Outsourcing. 
The sourcing plan is the result of all planning efforts on strategic sourcing. Into this planning all sourcing events are organized and detailed with all tactical and operational information such as, the sourcing team responsible for each event, when is supposed to begin and end each RFX steps (RFI, RFP, RFQ), the requirement, specifications of all services or materials and negotiations/cost goals. The objective of sourcing plan is to manage time and quality of the all sourcing events in the strategic sourcing program.
Operations research is a discipline of applying advanced techniques to help make better decisions. Optimization, in turn, utilizes mathematical algorithms to rapidly solve a business problem by evaluating all possible outcomes (or many outcomes) and selecting those ones that yield the best solution.
When applied to sourcing and supply chain operations, optimization helps the sourcing professional simultaneously evaluate thousands of different procurement inputs. This evaluation can take into consideration the global market, specific current supply chain conditions, and individual supplier conditions, and offers alternatives to address the buyer’s sourcing goals.
Cooperative sourcing is a collaboration or negotiation of different companies, which have similar business processes. To save costs, the competitor with the best production function can insource the business process of the other competitors. This is especially common in IT-oriented industries due to low to no variable costs, e.g. banking. Since all of the negotiating parties can be outsourcers or insourcers the main challenge in this collaboration is to find a stable coalition and the company with the best production function. This is difficult since the real production costs are hard to estimate and negotiators might be tempted to portray their real cost much higher than they actually are in order to demand higher fees for insourcing. High switching costs, costs for searching potential cooperative sourcers, and negotiating often result in inefficient solutions.
In popular culture
Strategic sourcing from a professional standpoint is lampooned in the American syndicated comic strip Sally Forth, in which the titular character's husband Ted Forth is employed within this field for the duration of the series's run. Sally Forth is currently written by the writer-illustrator team of Craig MacIntosh and Francesco Marciuliano.
Notes and references
- Nishiguchi, Toshihiro. Strategic Industrial Sourcing (New York: Oxford University, 1994) ISBN 0-19-507109-3
- Payne, Joe and Dorn, William. Managing Indirect Spend: Enhancing Profitability Through Strategic Sourcing (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012) ISBN 978-0-470-88688-5
- Vitasek, Kate. Vested Outsourcing: Five Rules that will Transform Outsourcing" (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) ISBN 978-1-137-29719-8
- Christian Schuh et al.: The Purchasing Chessboard: 64 Methods to Reduce Cost and Increase Value with Suppliers. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg 2009, ISBN 978-3-540-88724-9, online
- Gerd Kerkhoff et al.: The Bermuda Triangle of Business Wiley-VCH, Weinheim Düsseldorf 2005, ISBN 978-3-527-50123-6
- Daniel Beimborn: Cooperative sourcing: Simulation studies and empirical data on outsourcing coalitions in the banking industry. Gabler, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 978-3-8350-0946-2
- Payne, Joe and Dorn, William: Managing Indirect Spend: Enhancing Profitability Through Strategic Sourcing John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012, ISBN 978-0-470-88688-5