Category Archives: Marketplaces

BlueBean: Instant Coffee for Mid-Market “Tail”-Spend Procurement

Billing itself as a platform that lets you enjoy a consumer-like buying experience with enterprise-level controls on existing e-commerce websites, BlueBean is a new solution for easy, compliant, organizational Procurement that lets you control your budget and pay less right from your browser.

Billing itself as a “request-to-pay” solution, the goal of the BlueBean platform, and the founders, is to simplify end-user buying in an average mid-market organization in a Procurement-compliant way without the need for intake, orchestration, and/or a traditional tail-spend / expense management platform that expects an underlying e-Procurement platform when most of the spend in such an organization is driven by users (due to there only being a few categories where strategic procurement is worth while and/or an understaffed central Procurement department). Moreover, the goal is to deliver a completely browser-based SaaS solution that doesn’t require a buyer to learn a new platform to make a purchase from a vendor who has, or sells through, an existing on-line e-commerce site.

So what is BlueBean? For the end-user, it’s a consumer-like “coupon manager” app (implemented as a browser extension) that runs in the browser and allows them to quickly:

  • find preferred vendors for any product or service
  • identify the (discount) codes they use on the vendor’s site to ensure the organization receives their (GPO’s) pricing
  • request a virtual card for the product(s) or service(s)
  • instantly receive that virtual card if the purchase satisfies all defined organizational requirements
  • pay with that virtual card
  • … and capture the e-commerce receipt for automatic submission to the Procurement/AP department

In other words, for the average buyer, with the exception that they have to pull down the in-browser app to find the allowed/preferred vendors, request the virtual card, and then access and use the virtual card (when the request is approved), it’s a super minimally intrusive Procurement app that allows them to buy in the traditional e-commerce style they are used to without having to learn any new Procurement systems. Compare that to even the modern orchestration systems where these same users would have to log-in to the enterprise app, use the wizards, or, even worse, try to converse with the Gen-AI engine (that shows them the latest pair of Nikes when they want brake shoes to fix the delivery truck), and then jump to either the organizational catalog, or, if they are lucky, punch-out to the e-commerce site where they populate a cart they then have to pull back. In other words, BlueBean makes the average orchestration system look like overkill. (As orchestration was another app developed for Enterprise customers that needed a lot of Procurement modules and solutions, not mid-markets.)

The founders of BlueBean, who have built a number of enterprise Procurement systems, realized that while you need a Procurement system for large(r), strategic Procurements, also realized that for “tail” spend, traditional Procurement processes and systems are overkill, and this is why you have people avoiding them and/or being non-compliant.

The founders of BlueBean also realized that in order for an organization to have proper spend management, even Tail Spend needs to be managed, and, more importantly, it needs to be captured. So they created an app that allowed for Procurement to manage this tail spend without requiring organizational users, who just have to use the browser extension, to learn new tools or processes, which distracts these users from the job they need to do.

So they built a simple enterprise e-Commerce platform that is like a punch-out catalog management, p-card management, tail-spend procurement, budget-management, and a paypal/stripe platform all rolled into one — which also simplifies the process and technology landscape for overworked and under-staffed Mid-Market Procurement teams who need to roll out something to manage the majority of enterprise transactions that doesn’t fall under the strategic procurement spend they barely have time to manage (when you include all the OT they likely have to work).

Right now, the just-launched BlueBean platform contains the following capabilities:

  • Company Profile: the company profile (with subscription details)
  • My Profile: the Procurement user’s profile and access details
  • Account Details: the company’s expense account details — available and pending funding and linked bank accounts
  • Virtual Cards: the virtual cards that have been issued, and the users / teams they have been assigned to
  • Transactions: all transactions that have been put through the BlueBean platform (for the prescribed time-frame) (with receipt attachments)
  • Spending Limits: by person or team (or category, as a team can be setup per category)
  • User Management: the platform users (with their details, limits, etc.)
  • Savings MarketPlace: the sites that have been approved for organizational buying by the organization (from the BlueBean marketplace or the organization’s GPO marketplace), organized by category, broken down by savings plan (to keep track of each GPO, department, etc.)
  • Preferred Stores: the e-commerce sites that the organization has marked as preferred
  • Statements: monthly P-Card-like statements that can be downloaded or exported to your accounting system
  • Reports: simple, on-line, dynamic spend breakdowns by category, time-period, team/user, etc.
  • Security: security configuration

And, as noted, BlueBean allows for direct export of all transactional data, with receipts, into the accounting platform for full spend tracking and classification (by vendor and default category), which allows more organizational spend to be (at least minimally) under management.

It’s a very neat solution for a mid-market organization that needs to get tail-spend / end-user spend under management and under control, but doesn’t have a large Procurement team, the resources to train organizational users, or the time to impose full Procurement processes on organizational users who just need to get a job done. So, if this sounds like something your organization needs, even though they are the new kid (on the block), the doctor would recommend checking out BlueBean and giving your organization the caffeine-rush it desperately needs. It’s serving a niche that hasn’t been effectively served yet (as most existing Tail-Spend solutions were defined for larger organizations and most orchestration platforms require one or more Procurement solutions to already be in place, and a mid-market Procurement team doesn’t have the manpower, budget, or time to manage more platforms than absolutely necessary). The minimal imposition will make your end users happy (and that leads to adoption).

The Sourcing Innovation Source-to-Pay+ Mega Map!

Now slightly less useless than every other logo map that clogs your feeds!

1. Every vendor verified to still be operating as of 4 days ago!
Compare that to the maps that often have vendors / solutions that haven’t been in business / operating as a standalone entity in months on the day of release! (Or “best-of” lists that sometimes have vendors that haven’t existed in 4 years! the doctor has seen both — this year!)

2. Every vendor logo is clickable!
the doctor doesn’t know about you, but he finds it incredibly useless when all you get is a strange symbol with no explanation or a font so small that you would need an electron microscope to read it. So, to fix that, every logo is clickable so you can go to the site and at least figure out who the vendor is.

3. Every vendor is mapped to the closest standard category/categories!
Furthermore, every category has the standard definitions used by Sourcing Innovation and Spend Matters!
the doctor can’t make sense of random categories like “specialists” or “collaborative” or “innovative“, despises when maps follow this new age analyst/consultancy award trend and give you labels you just can’t use, and gets red in the face when two very distinct categories (like e-Sourcing and Marketplaces or Expenses and AP are merged into one). Now, the doctor will also readily admit that this means that not all vendors in a category are necessarily comparable on an apples-to-apples basis, but that was never the case anyway as most solutions in a category break down into subcategories and, for example, in Supplier Management (SXM) alone, you have a CORNED QUIP mash of solutions that could be focused on just a small subset of the (at least) ten different (primary) capabilities. (See the link on the sidebar that takes you to a post that indexes 90+ Supplier Management vendors across 10 key capabilities.)

Secure Download the PDF!  (or, use HTTP) [HTML]
(5.3M; Note that the Free Adobe Reader might choke on it; Preview on Mac or a Pro PDF application on Windows will work just fine)

The B2B Software Marketplaces Will Rise. Then the Hammer will Fall!

Thanks to Apple, every consumer thinks there’s an app for that. And for most consumer desires, there probably is. Especially since Apple’s App Commerce climbed to 1.1 Trillion in 2022. Yes, that’s 1,100,000,000,000 US Dollars! That’s a lot of money, especially when most apps are being sold for a few bucks.

When you consider:

  • consumer app marketplaces are now a Trillion dollar business
  • enterprises are buying more SaaS than ever, as every employee in every department wants an app(lication) to support every task they do
  • enterprises pay 10X to 100X what individuals pay per user license, and, thus, the opportunity of enterprise app marketplaces is in the tens (to hundreds) of Trillions
  • enterprises want easy, centralized, acquisition to limit the number of vendors they need to deal with / handle subscription invoices from

It’s easy to see why all the big software / cloud vendors are opening their own app marketplaces. A recent article on IOT Analytics shouted the rise of the B2B software marketplaces while quoting their B2B Technology Marketplaces Market Report (2024-2030) that noted that:

  • they are the fastest growing procurement channel (for software)
  • dedicated platform providers are seeing success
  • some sellers make Billions

And they will continue to grow for a few years. But then, the hammer will fall.

What one has to remember is the following:

  • many of these marketplaces are taking a big cut, like 30% or more, which is what a sales partner would have taken to compensate its employee(s) that actively sold the product, but they are doing NOTHING but creating a listing, making it searchable, taking an order, collecting a payment, and providing a license key … even when you consider cloud fees, payment processor fees, platform maintenance fees, they could be very profitable at 13% (remember that recent article on how roughly half a trillion dollars will be wasted on SaaS spend this year … well, this is only going to increase that as you’re paying almost 20% more than you need to for the licenses you do need and use)
  • apps, licenses, and overspend is going to proliferate rapidly as “approved” app stores make it easy for every employee with a p-card to buy what they want, when they want
  • those SaaS audits and rationalizations that identify 33%+ overspend are only going to reclaim at most 20% of that, if you’re lucky, because, even if the software developer is willing to refund unused licenses, they’re not going to refund that 30%+ they already paid the marketplace … and that’s if they’ll even talk to you because you acquired the license through a third party
  • there’s no real negotiation opportunity when you buy from a marketplace

So as businesses race to digitization, they will embrace the marketplace as it will help them get part of the way there very quickly, but then when they realize just how much they are spending on app(lication)s, and turn Procurement on strategic procurement of SaaS, the first thing to go will be the app marketplace purchases … and then … it will be time for the hammer to fall.

Consumer Dynamics are shifting like never before. But how does that affect Procurement?

Beyond the obvious, of course. But let’s backtrack.

A recent article over on Fortune noted that consumer dynamics are shifting like never before while purporting to give us some insights from Executives from Instacart, Atlassian, Nordstrom, and Black & Decker [who] share their strategies. However, the insights it shared related to the challenging technology environment the companies, and teams, face daily and not the consumer market in general, which is a very important topic not covered much by most of the publications and analysts that focus on how great the technology (especially AI-backed technology that may or may not work at all) is, but not how it helps you address the consumers that your organization is in business to serve.

Now, it’s easy to track change in demand if you have a good POS system, a good inventory system, at least weekly (if not daily) synchs, and a good DiY (Do-it-Yourself) Analytics system with baseline trend analysis capabilities that can signal changes in demand, the need for rapid reorders to prevent stock-outs, and increasing changes in demand as a result.

It’s not always as easy to track why. Sometimes there’s a strong correlation between the sales and a particular campaign, between the sales and a sustainability initiative, between the sales and recent price decreases in the product line or price increases in a competitor’s product line, or between the uptick in sales and competitor stock-outs, and in this case it can seem obvious, even if it’s not. For example, the campaign may have had nothing to do with it, it could have been the result of a single influencer promoting the product. The sustainability initiative may have had nothing to do with it, as customers may have known it would only impact the next generation of the product. The price decreases may have had little to do with it because it may have already been one of the lowest priced products available at the time as well as the one with the best brand reputation. The competitor stock outs may not have had anything to do with it because those might have been the higher priced products that were only stocked in low quantities anyway.

Moreover, even if you can determine the why with some statistical confidence, that still does not identify the underlying root cause as to why customers reacted to the campaign, the sustainability initiative, the price decreases, or the stock-outs. Are customers shifting towards your brand, adopting a preference for certain products, responding to certain messaging, or just veering away from certain competitors (or at least certain competitor products).

More importantly, how can you predict these trends early, when they are just starting, so that you can make the appropriate Procurement decisions in time to meet the shift in demand better than your competition. Certainly predictive trend analysis (using traditional machine learning fine-tuned to your problem domain) will help, but only if you can identify the right data sets and indicators, which will also mean being able to detect shifts in early sentiment early. So sentiment analysis (not overblown generalized error-prone Gen-AI) will also help.

But that’s just the beginning. Technology indicates possibilities, maybe even probabilities, but not guarantees. For that, you will need a human based assessment of the situation. And possibly an anthropological one. If you want to get ahead, you will need to think ahead of the crowd.

Low Cost Labour or Leveraged Labour — It’s Not the Same.

Organizations are always looking to cut costs to increase profits, and this goes double in tight economic times. An area that they are constantly looking at is labour, as it’s often the organization’s highest fixed cost. To reduce these costs, they try to move operations to low cost locales, low cost cities in low costs provinces and states for operations they need to keep in their home country, and they move as much labour as they can to low cost countries when they don’t have to stay at home, possibly through outsourcing.

In their minds, they are leveraging cost differentials, global opportunities, currency exchanges, and making smart investment decisions. (And, in their minds, they are doing a good deed by giving people work who might not otherwise get it, often by taking jobs away from people at home that should be doing them.) And herein lies the problem, they think they are saving money by leveraging low cost labour instead of leveraging labour for greater value. And, guess what, the labour that gives your organization more “value” is not the lowest price labour you can find, even for jobs that are traditionally seen as relatively unskilled, or low-skilled.

Let’s take the common example of a call center. Thanks to modern technology, and low cost VOIP, you can put it anywhere there are speakers in your language, often eliminating expensive landlines at the same time. When you move jobs from a $15 hour minimum wage location to an offshore location that costs you $3 an hour in comparison, that saves you 80% right? Maybe. Let us say the local resources you replaced were better educated, better trained, more familiar with your products, and resolve 80% of issues on a single call of 12 minutes or less, for an average issue resolution cost of $3. Let us say the new resources are not as well educated (average high school diploma, not college or university educated like your local resources), minimally trained (they are told how to politely answer a call, but no de-escalation training), and no familiarity with your products besides overview documents and issue resolution scripts. As a result, it will be likely that it takes them an average of three (3) calls of thirty (30) minutes each to fully resolve an issue. This means that the average cost for this “low-cost labour” to resolve an issue is $4.50. That’s 50% more than using a well-trained local resource to resolve the issue. That is not savings. Plus, some of those customers are not going to be happy that a 10 minute problem took 90 minutes of their time plus hold time plus time in between connecting to the rep. And a small percentage of those customers will switch to your competitor when it comes time for them to replace the product. That’s definitely NOT savings!

Let’s take garment production as our next example. This is a typical outsourcing industry that tries to find the lowest cost locales possible. When you go to the lowest cost locale, you end up paying significantly higher freight costs, possibly being stuck with inferior quality garments when the plant switches to lower quality fabrics, possibly ending up with garments with lower shelf life due to inferior stitching when they are manually made by lesser-skilled resources. In comparison, imagine you had a nearshore location that was low freight, used locally sourced high quality fabrics, and skilled workers who used a mix of automatic stitching machines and hand stitching, as required, for high quality production. If quality goes down, satisfaction goes down, and customers start to complain. Then brand reputation goes down and sales go down. Is that savings? Well, if the local production is $5 a garment and the outsourced production is $2 a garment, maybe. But what if the outsourced garment shop uses labour that is child labour under local laws (if not their local laws), the media gets hold of the story, it blows up, and there is a big brand backlash and sales drop 40%. Is it still savings? I’d argue not.

Let’s move upstream, to software development, which is happening more and more often due to many countries having good education systems and skilled workers who aren’t demanding the inflated IT salaries in the USA. Now, there are a lot of countries with highly educated talent who can code (like Poland, India, etc.) that are not the USA, Canada, the EU, the UK, and other countries where high tech has been traditionally clustered, and many of these, after currency conversions, have talent for 1/3 the cost or less. If they have about the same coding rate (in terms of lines of code per hour) as these first world countries, you can argue that it’s a saving. But it’s not just code lines per hour, it’s error free code lines per hour and, most importantly, it’s finishing the project on time, on budget, and to spec. Most IT projects fail and go well beyond budget and timelines and this is triply true in IT Software Development Outsourcing. (the doctor does not want to recount just how many projects he’s seen fail over the years, especially after advising companies not to outsource certain projects, which they did anyway.) Why? Because software development requires more than the ability to code, it requires understanding what the software has to do, who it has to do it for, how it has to do it, and why. If you don’t understand the domain you are developing for, the business who will be implementing the system, the culture of the user, and how they need to work — the system will be a failure even if it’s delivered mostly bug free. So while this is usually expected to be the largest area of cost savings, it’s usually the largest loss a company, especially one new to the game, ends up taking. (Outsourcing can succeed with the right, hybrid, model, but most companies have no clue what this is. Only a few figure it out.)

In other words, if you are trying to leverage low cost labour for cost savings, you’re usually looking in the wrong place. Especially if you are interested in maximizing return on investment, in whatever form that takes (lower total cost of ownership, higher sales, better brand image — which positively correlates with more profit). If you want to leverage labour or value, it’s the right labour, not the lowest cost labour. The labour that is the most productive, produces the highest quality product, gets it right the first time, and keeps your customers coming back. That’s true low-cost labour, because properly leveraged labour increases company profit, making labour costs low in comparison. Think about that the next time you try to replace talent with untrained troops.