Daily Archives: April 28, 2008

CVM: Not Just About Supplier Diversity Anymore!

CVM Solutions, one of Spend Matters’ Nine Vendors to Watch in 2008, appears to be on a quest these days to conquer the sourcing space, with their intent to offer supplier data enrichment, supplier relationship management (SRM), spend analysis, and a soon-to-be-launched procure-to-pay process management solution. According to Jason, CVM is a “best-kept secret” because of their extensive data enrichment services, supplier portal, and their new uber-workflow and process management engine that creates a level of control and visibility that he’s not seen elsewhere.

Now, I don’t know if they’re the “best-kept” secret, but when it comes to their data management capabilities and their new process management engine, they’re certainly a well-kept secret. Their extensive data management solution allows you to track extensible & customizable information on each supplier of a generic, location-based, contact-based, business registration, financial, capability, diversity, contract, sourcing, SRM, administration, and documentary nature – including scanned attachments which can be easily uploaded by specifying meta-data, printing off a cover-page with a system-generated bar-code, and faxing the document (with a cover-page) to a CVM provided fax number. (Reducing the number of steps in the traditional scan, convert, upload, tag, index.) In other words, their data management capabilities are in the same class as Aravo, a vendor I’ve written about before. However, due to their extensive supplier information databases (as the largest provider of diversity information in the US with enrichment data being culled from over 330 external databases and over half of the Fortune 500 as customers), they can also quickly and easily enrich your data, eliminating the need to integrate a third party’s data stream into your supplier data management / supplier information management solution (SIM), which might reduce the Total Cost of Ownership for a company that needs extensive amounts of third party data (as long as their pricing for enrichment services remains competitive with Austin Tetra and D&B.

For an initial release, I was also quite impressed by their new procure-to-pay process management engine. Although it’s not competitive with either your best-of-breed e-Procurement suites or your best-of-breed e-Sourcing suites when it comes to procurement and sourcing capabilities, with proper use, its flexible design allows you to accurately track all of your ongoing projects, and their current status, with respect to each supplier and each category and manage the process which, for most companies, probably involves at least three or four different systems (spend analysis, e-Negotiation, contract management, e-Procurement, e-Payment, order management, etc.). For example, their default assessment / supplier selection / contract draft / contract approval / transition workflow allows a category manager to document where each sourcing project is, and, when a supplier is selected, track where the project is with respect to contract drafting, approvals, and issuance. This information is then integrated with the data repository, where you can define alerts to notify you when certain quotas are reached / not reached in a time period and when a contract is about to expire. Steps can be added to, or removed from, the workflow, as required by your organization, and it allows you to continue using a collection of best-of-breed products from multiple vendors but still track your project status in one-location (which I believe is critical because there isn’t a single suite vendor with more than 3 solutions that is Best of Breed in everything – and when a best-of-breed solution can squeak out even 2% to 3% more on 100M+ spends, in today’s economy, I don’t think you can justify not going with a BoB solution).

I was also impressed by the usability of the application from a buyer’s perspective and a supplier’s perspective – which is important when you want to capture tier 2 diversity information from your suppliers in addition to asking them to use the tool to enter and maintain their basic information. The only thing I didn’t like was the response time – many screens took an average of 3 to 4 seconds to load in the demo (and I’m not willing to blame the internet as I have high speed cable on a 15MB rated network and can sustain 1MB/sec download times on my machine with ease). If you’re going to be maintaining large databases, you’ll need to ask about their SLAs and insure that you have enough processing power and bandwidth dedicated to the application. (Fortunately, with today’s hardware prices, you can do that at very affordable prices!)

I was, as regular readers might guess, not impressed with their “spend analysis”, or, more appropriately, with their classification of their spend reporting program as “spend analysis”. It’s a good reporting package with over 30 pre-configured reports that has all of the day to day reports that managers and accounting and tactical purchasers are going to need … but when it comes to the true analysis capability required by your power buyers, it’s just not there. In other words, like many of the spend analysis applications on the market, it will satisfy all of the requirements of management and your tactical purchasing team, but none of the requirements of your power buyers. However, it is seamlessly integrated with their platform, so if you were willing to augment it with a stand-alone power tool for your power buyers (like BIQ), it would allow them to focus on true analysis and not have to worry about meeting the reporting requirements of management or the tactical buyers AND allow those individuals to quickly and easily access spending reports augmented with supplier information, diversity data, and standard classification systems such as NAICS and SIC. Plus, if you maintain complete contract pricing information (which is quite easy to do in their solution for commodities), it can automatically generate “offender” reports for accounts payable when you’re over-billed or accounts receivable when you reach the discount volume. So, if you can get a good deal on it, the “spend reporting” solution could be worth the price when you calculate the opportunity cost of a power user of a companion BoB application generating standard reports for management and accounting vs. digging for new opportunities. Plus, and this could be a key selling point for them, they have an add-on Federal Reporting Module that can be configured to automate Federal and State Agency reporting down to the contract level – and anyone who has had to prepare these reports knows how time-consuming they can be.

Finally, they’re also getting into Risk Assessment Reporting, which, after some of the recent supply chain disasters we’ve seen in recent years, is likely soon to be a must for larger corporations. When it comes to talking-the-talk, they’re certainly ahead of much of their competition in understanding “risk” and the importance of measuring it, planning for it, and proactively dealing with it. When it comes to walking-the-walk, their reports appear to be more-or-less comparable to their competition, especially since they can pull in D&B risk scores and supporting data. However, these days, I don’t think a financially based risk-assessment tells the whole story. I think they need to integrate more sources of information, especially for small businesses (like Austin Tetra is doing), to arrive at a more complete risk picture. It’s good for a first offering, but I’d like to see how it improves over the next year before locking in any long-term agreements. This is an emerging market in the sourcing services sector, and I’m not sure if anyone really has a good lock on what the right solution is.

In summary, I think they are a well-kept secret when it comes to supplier data management and, now, sourcing and procurement workflow management, I definitely think they have a lot of potential on the SRM/SPM side and the risk side as well, and even though they don’t have true “spend analysis” (just like the vast majority of vendors who make the claim), I think that their “spend reporting”, and their federal reporting module in particular, is quite good from a usability perspective, especially for non-technical management, accounting, and tactical buyers. They’re definitely a company to look at and keep an eye on, but like other extensive suite providers, they’re not best-of-breed in everything (no matter how good the “eye-candy” UI looks).