Trade Extensions is Redefining Sourcing, Part II

In part I, we noted that Trade Extensions are redefining sourcing with their TESS 6 sourcing platform, unveiled at their recent user conference (which has already been discussed by the public defender over on Spend Matters UK), and indicated that what they were soon to release was significantly beyond first generation, second generation, even modern (third generation) optimization backed sourcing platforms, even though we didn’t precisely say what that was yet.

We outlined first generation platforms, and what the glaring issues and omissions were; second generation platforms, and noted how the rigid workflows limited not only flexibility but capability; and optimization-backed sourcing platforms, which, while much more flexible and capable and powerful, are also much harder to use for the average user. And we noted that in today’s post, we’d give a little more background on what’s missing.

First of all, especially in first and second generation platforms, usability is missing. The more the user wants to do, the less they are able to accomplish. Workflows are rigid, features are limited, and the optimization model is often fixed. And in third generation platforms, even though the flexibility is there and the optimization model is fluid, the reality is that the more the user wants to do, the more math they need to know, the more formulas they need to write, and the more difficult it is to build the cost models and scenarios.

Secondly, the more involved the process, the harder it is to determine the appropriate workflow. Since the most powerful platform is data centric with few controls, it’s just as easy to create a workflow that results in the core data being overwritten and destroyed or a workflow that results in an incomplete model as it is to design the right model under the right workflow that results in the right model and right scenario. Sometimes only the experienced can figure it out and get it right.

Third, most platforms centred around optimization have little or disassociated analytics support, when analytics and optimization need to go hand-in-hand in advanced sourcing. Even though Trade Extensions, like many leading platforms, has some analytics and reporting support, like many leading platforms, they are not currently best in breed in analytics. Optimization success requires appropriate cost models on accurate data in categories where there exists additional value to be captured. Without good analytics, the best categories may not be identified (and inappropriate categories may be rigorously pursued, wasting valuable time and resources to identify little or no additional value), the cost models may not capture all the relevant components at the appropriate level of detail to maximize the opportunity, and bad data can slip in and invalidate the entire result. Plus, forget about cleansing, mapping, and enriching without strenuous effort. (Considering this is the case in even most standard-faire analytics platforms, which claim to be best of breed, what can one really expect in a sourcing suite where analytics is just a component?)

Fourth, repeating events or creating similar events is typically quite cumbersome. Many platforms allow “copy”, but then a buyer has to go in and delete all the inappropriate scenarios, old suppliers, invalid starting bid data, etc. Some allow templates to be created, but these typically only capture the basic RFX questionnaires and cost models, and significant work is required to set up the timelines (which change little in phase duration), supplier pool, scenarios of interest, current constraints, etc. Trade Extensions allows templating, copying, initiation from fact sheets, and any combination thereof and is better than most, but there is always room for improvement and streamlining.

Fifth, visualization is limited, especially in first and second generation platforms. Most platforms limit visualization to standardized reports with graphics options limited to line charts, bar charts, and pie charts – which are not at all appropriate to visualizing global sourcing requirements and award scenarios. This is one area where Trade Extensions really shines, with Google Maps integration and the ability to plot global supply chains and proposed awards, but their dashboard reports are only average, and new 3-D charts are hitting the market.

Sixth, most platforms have limited support for different types of users and collaborators. While the lead buyer should be the one that builds and runs the event and identifies the award that is most likely the best, stakeholders need to weigh in on initial supplier identification, RFX response scoring, model design, constraints, scenario analysis, and contract proposals. Some collaborators can score, other collaborators can comment, and some users will need to create their own views, reports, and even scenarios. Depending on the affiliation of the user (organization or consultancy helping on the sourcing project) and their role, their access needs to be defined appropriately. Most platforms only have the concept of an admin or a buyer or a reviewer, and these are applied on a platform, and not an event, or task, basis. Again, Trade Extensions does quite well here, but anything to simplify user management for the buyer is a plus.

And so on. But these missing or incomplete requirements are key to advanced sourcing success.

For sourcing to advance, and the full power of advanced sourcing to be realized, a platform has to address these issues (and more) and do so in a way that enables buyers of all levels of experience and capability to take advantage of the platform and realize savings for their organization at an equal level. But this will only be possible in a platform that changes the way sourcing is supported, and that is why TESS 6 is redefining sourcing — so that, to at least a reasonable degree, it can overcome all of these limitations (and more). And do so in a way that makes advanced sourcing a natural exercise for every category — not just the high dollar, strategic or complex.

So just how is TESS 6 going to accomplish all of this?

We’ll finally get to that in Part III.