Co-exprise was founded back in 2004 with a goal of building a new-type of direct sourcing solution not yet available in the North American marketplace. The goal was to integrate the new sourcing tools of the day — namely RFx, auctions, project management, collaboration, product information management [PIM], dashboards — with bill of materials, supplier engagement and management, and workflow management — capabilities not found in standard sourcing tools but desperately needed by manufacturers to handle their direct sourcing needs. In fact, it was so revolutionary that the doctor described it in 2007 as the first solution on the [North American] market to make a serious, honest, effort to address the complex direct sourcing problems that other systems cannot handle because these types of problems are unique and require a distinct solution.
The Co-exprise platform was relatively unique in its day in that it was built on a number of basic building blocks, including workflow management, business process rules, collaboration technologies, a centralized repository, project management, cBOMs (collaborative Bills of Material), cost models, and analytics, that were inherent to, and invasive across, the platform. This meant that all of the technologies were integrated into one collaborative workflow where all of the common data required by a direct sourcing professional was always accessible and analyzable. But, fast forward a few years, the platform had one failing — and that was that it wasn’t designed to be multi-tenant SaaS from the ground up.
Why? Back in the early 2000s, fast internet wasn’t pervasive, third party data center and application management was expensive and, most important, manufacturers wanted to keep their proprietary data in-house and valued deep security over remote manageability. But now that cost is paramount (and SaaS is always cheaper than in-house for non-IT enterprises), the cloud is accepted, and multi-tenant SaaS managed by professionals is often more secure than the corporate intranet, the playing field has changed and modern manufacturers want a SaaS platform.
So, shortly after a regime change, Co-express decided that it needed to go true multi-tenant SaaS, and that it would re-build from the ground up … as DirectWorks. Doing this would allow them to take advantage of new web development capabilities, such as better UI and distributed processing, that might not be doable if they just tried to do a straight port. So was this the right thing to do?
Yes and No. The new platform has a very easy to use and clean UI. Is extremely simple for the mid-size manufacturers that still use a traditional BoM sourcing approach that it was designed for. It allows manufacturers to organize items into products and products into programs so that sourcing and management can be done at the appropriate level. It still has good RFQ capabilities and a supplier repository. And a graphical dashboard with reporting capability.
But it still doesn’t have many of the features in the original Co-exprise product. There are no auctions. They may not be common, but sometimes it’s the fastest way to source commodity raw materials and items at market prices. Co-exprise had a fair amount of configurability and a workflow manager with some capabilities to customize the application to the buying organization, and the new SaaS product doesn’t really have either yet. The BoM structure and sourcing process is very inflexible, and there are no hints of true SRM.
However, while the indirect sourcing platform space is quite large, the direct sourcing space is quite small. The only players are DirectWorks, Pool4Tool, and SupplyOn — the last of which is mainly oriented around electronic interfaces and document exchange (but which also includes proposal, auction, and contract management capability). And while Pool4Tool, which used to lag in usability and integration among its modules, has now caught up and surpassed DirectWorks, Directworks has managed to port over half of the capabilities they built over ten years in two years, so it’s conceivable in two more they could be back to their glory days and a major fighting force on the market. Time will tell. And SI will be watching.
For a much deeper dive into the new DirectWorks, watch out for the upcoming Pro series by the doctor, the prophet, and the maverick over on Spend Matters Pro!