Category Archives: SaaS

Get Your Head Out of the Clouds!

SaaS is great, but is cloud delivery great?

Sure it’s convenient to not have to worry about where the servers are, where the backups are, and whether or not more CPUs have to be spun up, more memory needs to be added, or more bandwidth is needed and it’s time to lay more pipe.

However, sometimes this lack of worrying leads to an unexpectedly high invoice when your user base decided to adopt the solution as part of their daily job, spin up a large number of optimization and predictive analytics scenarios, and spike CPU usage from 2 server days to 30 server days, resulting in a 15-fold bill increase over night. (Whereas hosting on your own rack has a fixed, predictable, cost.)

But this isn’t the real problem. (You could always have set up alerts or limits and prevented this from happening had you thought ahead.) The real problem is regulatory compliance and the massive fines that could be headed your way if you don’t know where your data is and cannot confirm you are 100% in compliance with every regulation that impacts you.

For example, EU and Canada privacy regulations limit where data on their citizens can live and what security protocols must be in place. And even if this is a S2P system, which is focussed on corporations and not people, you still have contact data — which is data on people. Now, by virtue of their employment, these people agree to make their employment (contact) information available, so you’re okay … until they are not employed. Then, if any of that data was personal (such as cell phone or local delivery address), it may have to be removed.

But more importantly, with GDPR coming into effect May 25, you need to be able to provide any EU citizen, regardless of where they are in the world and where you are in the world, with any and all information you have on them — and do so in a reasonable timeframe. Failure to do so can result in a fine of up to €20 Million or 4% of global turnover. For ONE violation. And, if you no longer have a legal right to keep that data, you have to be able to delete all of the data — including all instances across all systems and all (backup) copies. If you don’t even know where the data is, how can you ensure this happens? The answer is, you can’t.

Plus, not every country will permit sensitive or secure data to be stored just anywhere. So, if you want a client that works as a defense contractor, even if your software passes the highest security standards tests, that doesn’t mean that the client you want can host in the cloud.

With all of the uncertainty and chaos, the SaaS of the future is going to be a blend of an (in-house) ASP and provider managed software offering where the application, and databases, are housed in racks in a location selected by the provider in a dedicated hardware environment, but the software, which is going to be managed by the vendor, is going to run in virtual machines and update via vendor “pushes”, where the vendor will have the capability to shut-down and restart the entire virtual machine if a reboot is necessary. This method will also permit the organization to have on-site QA of new release functionality if they like, as that’s just another VM.

Just like your OS can auto-update on schedule or reboot, your S2P application will auto-update in a similar fashion. It will register a new update, schedule it for the next, defined, update cycle. Prevent users from logging in 15 minutes prior. Force users to start log-off 5 minutes before. Shutdown. Install the updates. Reboot if necessary. Restart. And the new version will be ready to go. If there are any issues, an alert will be sent to the provider who will be able to log in to the instance, and even the VM, and fix it as appropriate.

While it’s not the one-instance (with segregated databases) SaaS utopia, it’s the real-world solution for a changing regulatory and compliance landscape, which will also comfort security freaks and control freaks. So, head in the cloud vendors, get ready. It’s coming.

Serex – Searing SRM into the CRM World

Serex was founded 23 years ago to help clients select, implement, deploy and effectively use CRM and marketing automation systems, something it still does to this day. However, a few years ago, during a routine meeting, a client asked if it had any systems to support buying because while it had its CRM and order management under control, and working like a fine-tuned oiled machine (their words, not Serex or SI’s), it’s Procurement organization was unable to keep up, and it was having to hire more and more buyers on a regular basis. Serex’s first response was, appropriately, why not use a social media platform to collect bids, and more specifically use a reverse auction and let the suppliers come to it? The answer Serex got was not the answer they expected — the organization had tried over a dozen auction platforms and not a single one met its need. Not one. (Sounds surprising, but when you consider the limitations of first generation auction platforms, it’s really not. And when you consider that marketing from these first generation platforms dominate the marketing airwaves, it would not be a surprise if only first generation platforms were tested.)

So Serex said that if they really wanted a useable solution that worked, they would build one, under an appropriate agreement. First of all, the solution would be designed under the guidance of the CPO, who had a lot of cross-vertical industry experience at Global 3000 companies. Secondly, the buying team would engage in regular review sessions, assist in UI design, and begin to use the beta as soon as it was ready. Third, the company would commit up front to use, so that the system would be developed by buyers, for buyers, and be used from buyers day one. And while new, and basic in some respects, it is obviously an auction platform designed by buyers for buyers that is used by buyers and works. (Serex’s first customer saved over 6 Million in its first year. And since launch, its first few clients have achieved similar success to its first customer.)

But the real proof that the solution is useable, even it is still a point-based procurement solution, is that all of the ten plus companies it is in negotiations with following it’s inaugural ISM event are all Fortune 500 companies, many of which already have big sourcing and procurement implementations with auctions (like Ariba, Zycus, and Emptoris). This only goes to show that while the e-Auction market is crowded, there is always room for a useable solution that does exactly what a buyer needs it to do in an easy and obvious manner. So while the platform has miles to go, the miles it has crossed make it well suited for a certain market. Which market? For now, in SI’s view, the mid-size market with a need for an easy best-of-breed solution.

The platform is essentially an e-Auction solution built to enable buyers to quickly set up and run auctions through quick bidder search and selection, quick product search and selection, quicker selection of which suppliers can bid on which products, and default auction parameters (which can easily be overridden). Complete product specs can be defined or uploaded as attachments if needed. Suppliers can send detailed messages during the auction to request or offer alternate delivery dates or substitutions for quicker delivery, and a buyer can update the auction specs as needed. In addition, all auctions are saved and new auctions can be created as copies of old auctions, and then updated as needed, allowing repeat auctions to be setup in just minutes (which is valuable if a product sells better than expected and an auction needs to be repeated on short notice to meet demand). (The auction platform has a built in attachment viewer that displays standard web formats.)

The platform also has a product manager sub-component that allows a complete product database that can be maintained and uploaded into the auction platform using a standard flat file format with attachments. In addition, a complete bidder database can be uploaded and maintained into the auction platform with all relevant supplier information.

Serex is not an extensive e-Procurement platform, but it’s one that fledgling organizations need when they want to being their strategic sourcing journey.

For a much deeper dive, check out the doctor and the prophet‘s in-depth dive over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required]. (Part I, Part II, and Part III.)

Procurement is Global. Platforms should be Global. Truly Global.

And, in particular, as previously noted, those platforms should form the foundation for Virtual Procurement Centres of Excellence. But just acquiring a platform is not enough. It has to be adopted — and not just in the center of excellence, but in every local purchasing department around the globe.

This means a global rollout, but not an instantaneous one. Big bang roll-outs usually end up in big blow-ups. The biggest supply chain disasters in history have often been the result of big-bang ERP or technology projects that tried to update the entire system all at once, often in a bet-the-company endeavour. Such a project even brought down a 5B company. (Remember Foxmeyer? Probably not, but that’s because a big bang ERP project resulted in a big bust.)

Now, a global Procurement platform roll out is not replacing the ERP and a failure likely wouldn’t bankrupt the company, but it certainly would be very costly and knock Procurement back into the dark ages it’s trying to crawl out of. So it has to be done right. So how do you do it right?

1. Take it in steps.

Start with just enabling the center of excellence so that the Procurement leaders can get familiar with the platform before the questions start rolling in. After all, they will be the trainers, leaders, barkers, and bugle-men of the solution, and need to be prepared the lead the charge. After that, enable just a few locations at a time until each is up and running.

2. Get the data model right before a single implementation.

Remember, you have to control the information and financial chain with the platforms, and this will require integrating with data from dozens, if not hundreds, of systems and sources. Without a good data model, integrations will be difficult and time consuming.

3. Identify the systems of record for each data component.

The days where the ERP is the system of record are long gone in leading organizations. These days, organizations have a financial system as the system of record for invoices and payables, a supplier management system for supplier (and sometimes catalog) data, local catalog management for products and services that are primarily sourced locally, a CAD/CAM system for product designs, a MRP system for custom product designs, and so on. Make sure the integrations with each of these core platforms is complete and accurate before using the new system for the first Procurement event.

4. Define small test projects that can be used to evaluate the implementation adequately before continuing with the roll-out.

Pick a few representative, but not mission critical, projects that can be completed in weeks (not months or years) that will adequately test the system, define milestones and checkpoints, and evaluate at each stage. Only continue when any issues or bugs are identified and corrected.

5. Make sure you have experienced, expert help for the roll-out.

Each office will have its own particular process needs, regionalization (in terms of language and currency), audit trail requirements, and so on. Expert help can not only help you identify these requirements but appropriate system configuration options for maximum performance and minimal complexity at each location.

In other words, create a reasonable plan, with expert help, and stick to it. Things will generally go smooth if you realize that, like every evolution before, the advancement of the Procurement function is a journey. You can’t always afford to stop and smell the roses, but you can’t afford to run through the thorns either.

Simeno – Global Catalogs for Global Businesses

Simeno, which is not yet a household Procurement name in North America, is a provider of a SaaS-based e-Procurement that has been around since 2000 and that has been offering catalog management solutions and services since 2002. Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Simeno has grown to be a rather large provider of such solutions in the EU and around the world. With 250,000 users in 60 countries, including users from dozens of Global 3000 companies, Simeno is still growing steadily, having recently opened offices in Germany (Hannover) and the USA (Chicago).

In addition to offering catalog management, Simeno also offers supplier-onboarding, catalog maintenance, and the custom requisition form creation services for their clients so all of their client spend — product and service — can flow through the system. But they are heavily focussed on selling long-term Procurement solutions centered around their catalog-based Procurement solution that can be integrated with the ERP, AP, and other relevant Supply Management solutions that can support the relevant parts of the Source-to-Pay cycle.

The core of the SIMENO solution is the catalog management capability which, like other leading platforms, allows clients to integrate punch-out catalogs, their-own catalogs, and vendor-provided catalogs (in various file formats) and search across all catalogs in real time. Simeno not only focusses on integration, but on fast upload and even faster search. Simeno can process extremely large updates (in the GB) in minutes, search catalogs of up to 10M items in 1.5 seconds and provide a real-time glimpse into what’s happening from a buying perspective in their global organization in just a few seconds.

This catalog solution is offered as a private cloud solution, where access to public catalogs and punch-outs can be as broad, or restrictive, as the organization wants it to be. The platform can be used in conjunction with, or as a replacement for, other catalog and purchasing systems, and can integrate with, or replace Oracle iProcure and SAP SRM UI5. Simeno regularly integrates with a host of ERP solutions and best-of-breed Sourcing / AP systems and can set up workflows to take data in and push data out as needed, which is all part of the initial set-up.

The catalog also supports 22 languages simultaneously, including accents and special characters, product and supplier centric views, and very easy requisition and purchase order creation. The form-based “guided-buying” solution works so well that some organizations have over 1,000 predefined forms, and define more as needed using the detailed form builder that can be used to create forms customized to the organization’s needs.

Simeno is very powerful, and there is a full solution around the platform with RFX, contract management, requisition, purchase order, and invoice management. For more information on these extended capabilities, and deeper insight into Simeno, check out the recent >Spend Matters Pro series (Part I, membership required) by the doctor and the prophet. The deep coverage is worth the time it takes to review it.

ScanMarket – Spreading P2P through the Clouds

ScanMarket is a Denmark-based cloud-based Source-to-Contract suite provider with hundreds of global clients and high adoption rates. ScanMarket claims that companies that switch to their solution see 3x gains in adoption and spend volume (put through the system), and it’s not an unrealistic claim (especially when the system is compared to older Source-to-Contract solutions). It’s another company that has been around quite a long time (since 1999), even though it’s not a name you know in North America.

Even though modules can be activated or deactivated as desired (and an organization can buy anything from just Project Management to the whole suite), ScanMarket was designed to be a single, integrated, source-to-contract suite that contains eRFX, eAuctions, Contract Management, Supply Base Management, Project Management, and Spend Analysis (which is the only module that is almost completely separate). Functionality can be purchased separately, but there is no versioning — ScanMarket is one platform, one instance (where ‘modules’ can be turned off depending on the functionality not desired by a customer). (ScanMarket provides a short, quick on-line introduction video overview of what they think an e-Sourcing platform is.)

The RFX solution allows RFI, RFP, and RFQ which support numerous evaluation settings via bid parameters and weighted scoring, a powerful bid matrix that can capture up to 1 Million data points in a single bid, a template (and question) library for quick event creation, (standard) Excel integration for offline completion, and integration into the sourcing dashboard. In addition, it contains the ability to copy events using multiple template settings that take just the desired data forward. In addition, the buyer can choose to just take some suppliers and some bids forward as well. It’s pretty powerful for an RFX platform.

The e-Auction platform is more-or-less your standard e-Auction platform supporting Japanese, Dutch, Reverse, Factored, and Forward auctions with numerous, configurable, bidding rules to match the event to the situation including individual starting prices, feedback options, blindfolding, proxy bidding, rank, traffic lights, staggering, blind period, reserve price indicator, and partial quantity bidding. Auctions can be monitored in real time on an item and lot level, and the buyer can choose whether to see a full tabular history of bids by item or lot or a real-time graphical “horse-race” view. In addition, the bids can be modified in real time using one or more modifiers (such as switching costs) or formulae (which can include factors to account for different defect rates) and allow buyers to do realistic cost comparisons (even if such cost comparisons are hidden from suppliers).

Contract Management provides a single, online, repository for all contracts with search and reporting. It supports templates (for quick contract data capture), version control, categorization, and buyer-defined meta-data with a detailed approval workflow to support negotiations. Contracts can be instantiated directly from the results of a (cherry-picked) RFX or e-Auction, dates specified, and appropriate notifications and reminders set.

ScanMarket SBM is their Supplier Information Management (SIM) solution that acts as the central, single, repository for all supplier information. It can capture all of the data you expect, including any and all attachments that need to be captured, index those attachments with meta-data, allow for repository-wide (metadata) search, provide full visibility into associated supplier activities (including event history, contracts, and captured performance), and maintain complete audit trails. It also integrates with the suite dashboard for dashboard-based reporting.

Project Management in ScanMarket is a single repository for all projects, notes and attachments that provides an integrated dashboard view of, and reporting across all, projects. There is customizeable workflow management, that allows for the creation of multiple project workflows that can be instantiated as needed, and the templated workflows can be customized for each task in each project across stakeholders and participants. There is also integrated communication and messaging and the ability to quickly jump into the appropriate point in the eRFX, e-Auction, supplier profile, or contract associated with the project.

ScanMarket is a solution that is definitely worth looking into. For more information, see the recent Spend Matters Pro [membership required] series by the doctor and the prophet. (Part I, Part II, and Part III)