At this point in time, you’d think reverse auctions would be old news in Procurement, seeing that FreeMarkets was running reverse auctions twenty years ago and the doctor has repeatedly bashed their use in strategic sourcing (because they are not strategic), but they’re not.
There are two reasons for this.
1. They have an important role to play in tactical Procurement.
2. Companies new to strategic sourcing are still convinced by first generation solution providers with great marketing teams that they are still the greatest thing since the spreadsheet and that the historical savings opportunities are still there.
And while the doctor would like to think that the majority of buyers of these solutions fall in group 1, the reality is that the majority of buyers fall in group 2, and, once acquired, will treat every strategic sourcing event as a nail and use the auction tool as a hammer. So if that is the case, then the buying organization better get the best damn auction tool out there (since they will still need the auction for the tactical procurement nails when they figure out there is a better way to do strategic sourcing, and will actually need the auction tool more).
And these organizations will need a useable solution. The reality is that while just about every suite and point-based sourcing and procurement vendor offers an auction tool, not all of these are good auction tools against modern standards. Many first generation tools have no way to bulk select suppliers, bulk select products, bulk upload starting bids, import historical data, bulk upload attachments, etc. — ease of use capabilities you would think that would be standard. In fact, for the most part, only the newer reverse auction tools from smaller best of breed vendors targetting the mid-market tend to have the usability one would expect.
Usability and efficiency capabilities in an auction tool is key. I’ve heard countless stories about big organizations taking 1 to 3 weeks to set up a large global auction for large bill or materials or global category in a first generation tool when that same auction could be set up in a modern tool in 1 to 3 hours.
And this is where Serex comes in. Serex is an interesting entrant in the e-Procurement space. Originally founded 23 years ago to help clients select, implement, deploy and effectively use CRM and marketing automation systems, something it still does to this day, a few years ago, after a routine meeting with a client that asked if it had systems to support buying, it decided to enter the e-Procurement space when it found out that its client had tried, and passed on, over a dozen auction and sourcing platforms because not one met its need. (Serex was shocked at this as it knew there were a lot of solutions and assumed some were good, but figured it one Global 3000 couldn’t find a useable solution, then there must be other companies in this group that couldn’t find a useable solution either.)
So, after securing beta customer support (and a commitment for monthly guidance from the CPO with over two-decades of cross industry experience in large mid-size and Global 3000’s as well as weekly buyer availability), they began development of a new auction solution that would be developed by buyers, for buyers, and used by buyers. (And it is. Serex’s first customer saved 6M in year one and since full launch this year, its first few clients have logged over 14M in savings. And this is one reason why all of its prospects are large mid-size and Global 3000 organizations, despite the fact that the solution best fits the mid-market, which they have traditionally served on the CRM side.)
The reverse auction solution was designed to enable buyers to quickly set up and run auctions through quick bidder search and selection, quick product search and selection, quicker selection of which suppliers can bid on which products, and default auction parameters (which can easily be overridden). Complete product specs can be defined or uploaded as attachments if needed. Suppliers can send detailed messages during the auction to request or offer alternate delivery dates or substitutions for quicker delivery, and a buyer can update the auction specs as needed. In addition, all auctions are saved and new auctions can be created as copies of old auctions, and then updated as needed, allowing repeat auctions to be setup in just minutes (which is valuable if a product sells better than expected and an auction needs to be repeated on short notice to meet demand). (The auction platform has a built in attachment viewer that displays standard web formats.)
And that’s the solution. With the exception of a product manager sub-component and a bidder management sub-component, there isn’t even an RFX, which is probably the biggest short-coming of this new e-Negotiation tool — because sometimes you just want a simple tool to collect bids and make a decision. This is the biggest weakness of the tool. But Serex built it in a little over a year, and can easily build it out considerably in the next year. SI expects that in two years it will more or less compete on par with the other best-of-breed e-Negotiation mini-sourcing suites aimed at the mid-market along with adding capabilities that will cause larger organizations to adopt it onside their first generation Source to Pay platforms that they are locked into (but which are not useable enough to use on the majority of procured categories).