Trade Extensions is Redefining Sourcing, Part I

At their recent User Conference in Stockholm, recently covered by the public defender over on Spend Matters UK, Trade Extensions unveiled the upcoming version of their optimization-backed sourcing platform. With it, Trade Extensions are redefining the sourcing platform.

In first generation sourcing platforms, you have stand-alone Spend Analysis, RFX, e-Auction, Decision Optimization, Contract Management and, maybe, Supplier Information Management (SIM) modules where each module feeds into the next in a well-defined linear order: Spend Analysis into RFX. RFX into e-Auction, Decision Optimization, Contract Management, and/or SIM. e-Auction into Decision Optimization and/or Contract Management. Decision Optimization into Contract Management. Contract Management into SIM.

In second generation sourcing platforms, which permeate the market today, these modules are better integrated and data is more fluid. Data can flow back and forth between all of the modules. However, flows are still well defined. Data can flow from any module into any other, but only using well defined, scripted, workflows. You can’t break a process, or enhance a process, with capability from another module. For example, you analyze the spend data, and issue an RFX. You can analyze the costs that come back, and when you do, you can pump additional data into the optimization module. But as it’s not common to output multiple scenario awards into spend analysis, slice and dice for cost variances, and understand how the cost models and bids affect the global supply chain, there’s no easy way to push them into the spend analysis module. As a result, a user typically has to save the scenarios in .csv or Excel format and then import them into spend analysis.

In an optimization-backed sourcing platform, like TESS, that is properly defined all data is centralized in a data store and can easily be accessed by the RFX, Auction, Analytics, Optimization, and Contract Management modules. Because the system works off of common centralized data (known as fact sheets in TESS), cost models, and scenarios and not predefined, rigid, workflows, the user can approach the sourcing event the way they want to approach the sourcing event. They can create RFIs, send them out, get data back, create cost models, send them out for completion, analyze them, optimize them, go back to suppliers for cost concession or innovation requests, jump straight to negotiation and award if they get an innovative proposal, realize that a supplier can only satisfy 75%, cut the contract, and then push the unsatisfied demand back to the RFX for a subsequent round for a secondary supplier and so on. It’s extremely flexible. But it takes a skilled user to understand how to manipulate a tool that requires an advanced understanding of models, scenarios, workflow composition, and analysis. In fact, considering the user may not only have to design the workflows, but also the fact sheets, formulas, constraint definitions, and sourcing process, the skill level required to maximize the value potential of a sourcing is often more programmatic than an average user can handle. It essentially takes a skilled software developer to maximize what the platform can deliver.

And even though Trade Extensions, with their leading, state-of-the-art, optimization-backed sourcing platform has dozens upon dozens of clients making very extensive use of their platform and getting industry leading returns, they have also realized that the best results are from the most capable users and that there is always an opportunity to do better still. And not ones to settle for anything but the best there can be (even though they have the most powerful optimization-backed sourcing platform there is), they decided to figure out how to do better still. However, realizing that they were optimization experts and not design experts, they took a step back to figure out what was needed. After much consultation, soul searching, experimentation, user canvassing, and testing, they came up with an approach that will allow not just the pros, but the beginners, to use the platform with the same ease and achieve the same results, no programming skills, or training, required. And, even though they are already industry leading, that’s how they are redefining sourcing.

So what in particular is Trade Extensions doing?

We’ll get to that. But first, a little background on what’s missing (in Part II).