Synching with State of Flux — Do the Oscillations Resonate?

It’s been a few years since SI checked in with State of Flux, so when the oscillations recently synched, it was time to see what this long-time leader in Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) has been up to. With it’s long history in helping clients actually manage supplier relationships, and 15 years doing global supplier research (having just completed its global benchmark survey for it’s 15th annual supplier management study which will be released later this year), it’s not only a grand-daddy of the space but one which gets wiser with age.

If you review the previous posts on State of Flux and their SupplierBase solution (which was, once upon a time, called Statess), you’ll see that State of Flux offers an extensive Supplier Relationship Management platform that, to various extents, offers capabilities in:

  • supplier & prospective supplier management (& onboarding)
  • supplier performance management / KPI tracking
  • supplier compliance management [intelligence]
  • supplier risk management
  • supplier contract management
  • supplier ESG management
  • supplier innovation (challenge) management
  • supplier reporting / snapshots
  • supplier relationship / plan management

We’re not going to repeat anything we covered before, especially in our posts on

… but we are going to highlight recent improvements or capabilities that were not highlighted before (which may or may not have been there in 2016).

We’re going to take the “modules” one by one, and cover them in the order above, starting with: supplier & prospective supplier management.

You can’t have SIM/SRM without supplier onboarding and basic supplier management, and in terms of the management, they have it down quite well. You can customize your profiles, track as little or as much as you want to on your suppliers (by supplier type), quickly pop-up an overview card or a status card (on how many outstanding actions, items, messages, meetings, KPI flags, risk flags, data updates, etc. you need to review and deal with), and dive into any area of tracked data in any of the categories we are going to cover below.

In terms of onboarding it’s good, but it’s one of the oldest parts of the platform and a bit slow, so, to that end, it is currently being updated end-to-end to take advantage of all recent stack and technology improvements, streamline the process, improve the response time, and enhance the UX.

Moving on to supplier performance management / KPI tracking, as per past coverage, they’ve always had this down pat and can support multi-level KPIS, roll-up and down divisions, departments, and teams as required in any split you want, normalize all metrics to a common scale for (dashboard) display and comparison automatically, and give you deep insight.

The only real weakness is that they don’t yet have an (Open)API or support integrations to any other enterprise systems where key performance data resides. (It is on the roadmap, but we don’t have an expected release date.) As such, you are limited to their import functionality, and will likely need to export all the data you need in CSV and manually (schedule) the imports, or having an API custom developed on demand (which they can do during system implementation) to any system you need integration to.

With respect to supplier compliance management, which they call Intelligence, they’ve always been good here, and have supported certification/compliance document tracking for years, but with their generic survey capability and extensive experience, upon setup, they can help you build / provide you with templates, for a whole host of compliance needs and requirements and go as broad and deep as you desire. They can also track certificates, insurance, product spec sheets, and any other documents that you require.

And then there’s supplier risk management which, like compliance, they’ve been good at for a while, and like compliance, not a lot of new capability (that will get your attention). Their platform takes a buyer-centric approach to risk — the buying organization defines what’s important to them from a performance/relationship perspective, what the risks are, the information that will help them assess that risk, builds the questionnaires and surveys they need the suppliers to answer, includes those in onboarding / innovation challenge / ESG / contracting initiatives, and then build metrics to assess them.

The only external risk data feed / risk score they can import out-of-the-box today is CreditSafe, which is retiring, but they have an integration with S&P Global Partnership forthcoming to replace it. Also, as per above, they don’t yet have an (Open)API to allow you to plug and play risk data feeds of your choice, but can custom integrate any you need upon system implementation. You have to send surveys or load well-formatted CSV files. Better integration/load capabilities are on the roadmap, but there is no committed date yet for general release, nor decision as to how complete a public API will be. So if you can’t send surveys, you will have to export the data into flat files and load them.

Now for supplier contract management. This is where you quickly notice one of the most significant enhancements to the platform since SI last covered it. While it still doesn’t do authoring or version tracking, and they do integrate with Zoho for that if you want it, they have implemented a full end-to-end contracting process model that consists of the following steps:

  • request – where it captures the contract type, the product/service category and template, and the necessary approval routing;
  • creation – where it captures all of the necessary metadata, and then the contract document and/or integrates with zoho for the creation of the contract document (and version tracking)
  • review – where it forces the appropriate people to review their portions, confirm review and okay and issue, and potentially sends the contract back to negotiation
  • final review – where key parties have to sign off before it is sent to the managers/owners for approval
  • supplier signature – which can be through DocuSign integration
  • buyer signature – which can be through DocuSign integration

The process is so good that an average mid-sized enterprise won’t need a Best-of-Breed (BoB) standalone CLM, and just a basic authoring solution, like Zoho, to get contracts under their control.

Tackling supplier ESG management, this is a relatively new module that allows an organization to track it’s ESG initiatives, the associated data, supplier assessments and reviews, associated challenges, and select data to support the supply base / supplier development plans (which we’ll discuss down the virtual page). It’s not meant to be an ESG Calculator, Scope 3 solution, or similar offering. The whole point of it is that it’s not just compliance or risk, but an area on its own that must be managed.

With regards to supplier innovation (challenge) management, this is one of their classic areas of functionality, as they were one of the first pure SRM platforms to include it as sometimes the only way for a supplier to be right for you is if they can come up with a better solution to your problem or product production through a challenge.

That being said, it’s not NPD/NPI, it’s not full project management, and it’s not even full innovation (but more challenge) management (as that may require CAD/CAM diagrams, extensive on-line design/visual collaboration, etc.), but it gets the job done, it’s easy to use, it’s streamlined, and it can be fit easily into overall supplier profiles and programs.

We’re not sure how much has changed in underlying reporting and dashboarding capability, but we can say it does look a lot cleaner and seems to load a lot faster than years ago. Also, not only are they highly configurable (as you would expect in a modern BoB solution, although there are limits on how much is self-serve vs. State of Flux configuration), but as they have learned and advanced through the years (through their consulting practice and fifteen years of research), their out-of-the-box configurations have improved by the year to the point where most organizations should get the majority of the metrics and insight they need with out-of-the-box configurations.

Finally, we’ll tackle the core of the platform the supplier relationship / plan management capability. This is where they’ve done the most work, or at least the most improvement, since SI covered the solution last. While it’s not to say that, regardless of what was and was not said above, they have not made improvements across the entire platform in the past six years, as they most certainly have, it is to say that only a few areas are really standing out as being considerably improved (and not just updated/progressed as expected).

What really stands out here is their integrated support for supplier-based strategic and joint business plans based on a full relationship profile and a 360-degree relationship assessment. The depth of detail that is captured around:

  • the relationship context
  • the relationship SWOT
  • strategy / development goals
  • 360-degree interaction
  • governance (with respects to roles and responsibilities on both sides)
  • risks
  • contracts
  • spend / category information (which must be loaded)
  • projects / action plans

is second-to-none. If this is the type of capability you are looking for with regards to strategic supplier management, this is the capability you really need a demo of, and not a third party overview. You need to see it to get the full depth of the capability and potential for your organization.

In addition, they have improved their meeting/calendar/communication management functionality and you can schedule all of your meetings inside the platform as well as manage all of your communications, including those through e-mail, so you maintain the complete interaction history with the supplier and its personnel.

In other words, it’s not only managing the supplier data, or the interaction, but all aspects of the relationship as well as the plans to improve that relationship. It’s rather unique in that way. It may not be best-in-class in specific functionality, and you may need to augment certain areas for risk, innovation/NPD/NPI, ESG, etc., but you have the central management platform and data store that you need to power your supplier-centric sourcing and procurement eco-system.

If this sounds like what you want in a strategic supplier relationship management platform, then the State of Flux SupplierBase solution should definitely be on your shortlist. Especially when they can offer full service around integration, best-practice consulting, training, and research findings to jump-start a program or shift an existing one into high gear.

Postscript: We’ve covered State of Flux, and their philosophy to leading SRM practices, quite a bit in the past. Here are some in-depth series from 2015 and 2016.