Intesource – A Strong Sourcing Solution for Mid-Market Supply Management

When we last covered Intesource almost three years ago in 2010 in this post about intelligent sourcing through Intesource, we noted that this full-service offering eSourcing provider had a fully-featured e-Negotiation platform with SIM, document/contract management, and a relatively unique integration with Microsoft Sharepoint for those clients that ran on a Microsoft back-office and wanted to use these solutions to collaborative author documents and track changes.

Besides integration with the Microsoft platform, which is very common in the mid-market that can’t always afford, and often doesn’t need, the massive ERP solutions found in the Fortune 1000/Global 3000, other unique differentiators at the time were their massive template library for e-Negotiation events, integrated feeds from over 160 market exchanges for up-to-date raw material and commodity price information, and hands-on experience running tens of thousands of events. This put them in a restricted group of providers.

Since then, they have continued development work on the platform and added additional functionality that not only enhances the end-to-end strength of the platform, but narrows the group of competitors that can say the same. Three particular enhancements stand out — award analysis, market price centre, and mobile interfaces. We will describe each in turn.

Intesource has added an award optimization component that, while not true strategic sourcing decision optimization, is a very useful analytic component that will allow a buyer to determine a near-optimal, if not optimal, award for non-complex sourcing events. In the new component, buyers can create multiple award scenarios based on pre-defined rules, such as low-quote (which selects, for each item, the supplier with the lowest bid), low-group (which selects, for each group, the supplier with the total lowest cost for a group, or bucket, of item), or low program (which selects the supplier(s) with the lowest cost based upon a program specification, which could be to select suppliers with the highest quality, shortest-lead time, or MWBE specification where possible); or by hand-picking suppliers for each item and/or group. Then, the buyers can compare each scenario side-by-side to see how the different scenarios compare and what is gained for each price sacrifice.

Intesource‘s award optimization module is not true optimization in that there is no underlying model, it doesn’t support cross-item / group rebate / discount bids, specification of capacity is currently limited to the event level and the specification of macro-qualitative constraints is limited, and you can’t yet re-run a scenario to see what would change if a supplier increased/decreased prices/quality/etc across the board by 5%, but as SI pointed out five years ago in it’s post on (Spend) Analytics vs. (Decision) Optimization, if your organization had a spend analysis product that allowed you to build a spend cube any time you wanted – on any data you wanted – on any dimensions you wanted – and then throw it away when you’re done then there would be nothing to stop you from building a cube on your RFP or Auction data, building cross tabs and tree maps, and then changing the cube to look at the data a different way. You’d find that you wouldn’t need optimization or a plethora of deterministic reports to find out who the lowest cost supplier was, who the highest quality supplier was, who the lowest cost supplier was relative to your quality metric, or any other query that can easily be answered by rank and cross-tab queries. And, as a result, you’d be able to solve many simple scenarios without optimization — and this is what this tool is attempting to do. Intesource realizes that many supply management organizations, especially in the mid-market, don’t have the advanced sourcing and modelling skills required to build complex optimization models and is endeavoring to build a tool appropriate to its user base. And while it’s not perfect, the reality is that, for an average (smaller) mid-size organization, continued development will allow Intesource to approach an 80% solution as many sourcing events and models of a (smaller) mid-size organization aren’t that complex and this type of solution will get such an organization much further than just e-Negotiation alone.  And on those 80% of events, the results will be near-optimal, if not optimal. 

Intesource has centralized all of its raw material and commodity price feeds into a market price centre that integrates the feeds with additional graphing and reporting functionality, monitoring and alerts, and statistical modelling capabilities. In the market price center, users can view historical trends and price fluctuations, focus in on any particular period of time, extend trend projections into the future, monitor prices, cash, and futures contract specifications, set watch lists to monitor key categories, set alerts to immediately inform the user if a price threshold is reached or a price fluctuation exceeds a certain threshold, and even pull up all of the information associated with the exchange(s) a commodity or raw material is associated with.

Finally, like a few other providers, it is tackling mobile, but it is doing it in a smart way. The reality is that, while you might want mobile access because it sounds really cool, in practice it’s typically not very cool because you can’t do really do anything useful on a 3″ to 4″ screen, and what you can do is limited on even a 9″ to 10″ screen. Realizing that all you can really do is retrieve critical pricing and status information, Intesource is building a customized read-only interface that will allow you to determine current event status, bid information, and whether or not there is anything you need to to do or respond to when on the go.  And it’s working with its customer base to develop an appropriate interface that they can use effectively. 

Other improvements since 2010 include an improved contract centre with more (user-defined) meta-data, search, and alert functionality; an improved vendor management (SIM) capability with embedded Q&A, enhanced search, attachment management, compliance, and watch-list capabilities; more milestone and scorecard management capabilities; an RFI question library with thousands of questions indexed by category, commodity, and other attributes (built on an analysis of 12 years worth of RFI data) to allow for quick definition of templates and RFIs; and a roles-based public event calendar. Intesource is constantly developing new modules, functions, and features with a roadmap largely driven by its user community as all requests are reviewed quarterly by an advisory committee and prioritized based upon overall demand and usefulness.

Intesource is a solid player in the eSourcing mid-market that should be included in the candidate pool by any company that does most of its business in North America.