Category Archives: SaaS

ScoutRFP – Spreading their Silicon Sunlight from the Western Shore

When we last covered
ScoutRFP back in 2014, they were hoping to help laggard Procurement organizations leave the dark ages (Part I and Part II) and enter the modern age. Launching with nothing more than an easy RFP solution (which was a 15 year old solution at the time), ScoutRFP has taken off like a rocket in those organizations that needed an easy, lightweight, solution for everyday events with a price tag they could afford.

The RFP solution was, and still is, 100% SaaS and designed to work with minimal inputs. It guided the user through a minimal workflow to create the RFX, select the suppliers, evaluate the responses, and make a decision. It was very flexible, allowing the user to create the RFX to the level of detail they wanted, or keep it high level (and cut and paste the instructions and questions from Word). And it gave the organization visibility into, and some control of, spend. The CPO could define a hierarchy and see what everyone was doing, the directors could see what their teams were doing, and the buyers would see their events — and all the reports could roll up as well. It was simple, but it hit the suite spot of low complexity and low price for organizations trying to crawl out of the unlit Procurement dungeons.

It was such a hit that, based on this capability and reception alone, ScoutRFP was able to secure $2.75M of funding in 2015 (from NEA, Zapis Capital, and Google Ventures) to extend the platform and raise an additional $9M of funding this summer in a series A funding round. And move west (to San Francisco).

Since then, ScoutRFP has added basic e-Auction capability, project management and savings tracking, Supplier Information Management, and an improved Supplier Portal.

The platform now has the ability to track all requested, current, and upcoming sourcing events and their associated status; categorize the events using any desired organizational categorization scheme; quickly initiate new events (RFX or Auction) from the pipeline; and even auto-include re-sourcing events when contracts are set to expire. Requested events can come from any organizational stakeholder with budget or spending authority, and all spend can be placed under (minimal) management.

In addition to this new project management capability, the savings tracking capability can sum up all savings for a period of interest, in real-time, based upon (negotiated) price differentials and (expected/purchased) volumes, or savings numbers (to date) provided by appropriate Procurement or AP reps. The data is tracked in a drillable fashion and a manager can quickly see how the totals compare across categories, departments, and employees. This allows the manager to ensure that high-value categories get sourced first and that buyers who aren’t delivering value get training (or replaced).

The SIM functionality is basic. It allows the organization to track all supplier information of interest, tag the suppliers with key-phrases of interest (for quick selection by category capability, geography, performance, etc.), and build lists for quick selection in sourcing events. There’s no scorecarding or performance monitoring, but it can be used as a supplier master and it’s easy to get data in as supplier data can be loaded from existing platforms, and updated data can be pushed back out to existing platforms, using the API. And the platform makes it easy to track supplier activity — events they participated in, questions they asked, bids they made, and so on.

In the current version of the platform, suppliers can have their own portal where all of the bids they have been invited to by all of their customers are accessible through a single log in, or, if the supplier prefers [or customer(s) demand(s)], they can have a separate portal for each customer. The suppliers also have the same collaboration features available to the buyers and can invite their peers to collaborate on bids and survey responses.

The system is shaping up nicely and for an in-depth dive on ScoutRFP, and the platform, including its strenghts and weaknesses, see the recent Pro series [membership required] over on Spend Matters (Part I, Part II, and Part III) [membership required] by the doctor and the prophet.

Freightos: Still Flippin’ Freight Quotes Faster than a Fleet-Footed Feline on Guarana

When we last checked in on Freightos a year ago, they were serving up real-time freight quotes for global shipping and were just launching the marketplace where buyers could search by “lane”, see public freight quotes from shippers serving those “lanes”, compare them, and book quotes. (And a buyer can define a lane by zip code or city, and the software will automatically identify all relevant [air]ports.) Since then, the Freightos marketplace has been growing, and a few noticeable improvements have been made:

More, and bigger, carriers.

Now that big global companies have publicly announced their adoption of the platform — including Sysco, Marks & Spencer, and Panasonic US — bigger forwarders and carriers are signing up and there are a plethora of good, competitive, economical options for all major lanes between Asia and North America — which includes complete multi-modal options from just about any zip code to any zip code in the regions of interest (and almost all major ports and major distribution centers are covered).

More refined cost tracking and rate comparison. 

Upon launch, Freightos provided buying organizations the ability to upload all of their contracts and associated rates. The UI has been improved and it’s easy to compare the contract rate against the current market rate of a carrier as well as the market rates of other carriers side-by-side and to see the relative delivery times that correspond to the rates. (The models break down the cost and delivery time component of each leg of the journey. Truck to port, ocean or air cargo from port to port, truck to distribution center, etc.)

The detail provided on quote breakdown is incredible compared to most platforms that simply collect an all-in-one delivery free for each segment and the government tariff rate(s). If relevant, the platform will break out delivery fee (per unit), fuel surcharges, messenger charges, e-document charges (at origin and destination), lift gate charges, manifest system charges, customs charges, each export and import tariff, SOLAS administration fees, docking fees, temporary storage fees, freight station fees, pier pass fees, cleaning fes, chasis fees, handling fees, and local charges.

Immediate Online Payment with Booking

Since Freightos can now collect payment immediately upon booking through the marketplace, this provides two major advantages over the initial version of the platform where a buyer requested a quote, a supplier replied, and then a booking was made at a later time. The buyer gets the booking they need when they need it, no fear of the lowest cost or preferred carrier maxing their quota (and the option disappearing because someone else selects and pays first). Secondly, since all marketplace payments flow through the platform, Freightos is able to offer the service free for buyers and at a low cost to service providers, who pay a small transaction fee (which should cost them much less than it does to hire multiple sales people to respond to offline RFQs all day with the same quotes cut-and-pasted into multiple Excel sheets of various formats).

More Powerful and More Responsive Drill Down Filters

Not only can you select/deselect ports, modes, forwarders/carriers, intermediate routings, and intermediate ports/distribution centers, you can also include or exclude additional requirements such as lift gate, cross-docking, etc. in your search and comparison. The platform is effectively doing hundreds of searches across (potentially) thousands of carriers with dozens of options in real-time.

Streamlined Document Management

The platform can store, index, and cross reference all contracts and documents (such as insurance certificates, compliance certificates, etc.) related to all carriers used by an organization and they can be easily retrieved when a quote is accessed or easily managed through a carrier management interface.

A Full Featured API

You can include the power of their marketplace in your sourcing application. You don’t have to use their web-interface, you can embed the search functionality in any platform you are currently using to get worldwide shipping estimates and available carriers in real-time.

Freightos is getting very close to becoming the powerful freight management solution that will not only be Supply Management’s best friend but the default platform for all logistics tenders and spot buys performed by the organization. Stay tuned. We’re sure we will be hearing more from Freightos in 2017.

The Corridor to Enterprise Contract Management

While there are a lot of vendors offering up contract management solutions, there are few vendors left offering pure-play contract management solutions. For example, even long-time contract specialist vendors like Selectica have acquired sourcing and procurement vendors (like Iasta and b-Pack in Selectica’s case, which changed it’s name to Determine). About the only pure-play contract vendors left Apttus, Corridor, Exari, and Novatus.

Among these few pure-play vendors left, Corridor Company occupies a relatively unique position in the enterprise software market with its deep visibility into their global buy-side and sell-side contracts with unique capabilities around obligation management, distributed reporting, and what they call counter-party management.

While not a well-known name in the Supply Management space, Corridor Company is a New England-based provider of a SaaS contract management solution that has been in business since 1998. Starting out as a services provider, Corridor Company, which has completed over 450 contract management projects (including dozens and dozens of projects for the largest global multi-nationals) to date, switched to a software provider in 2008 to better serve the increasing needs of their customer base and now serve over 40 global customers on their platform.

In addition to the unique capabilities highlighted above, Corridor has one of the deepest DocuSign integrations out there, integrates with major ERP platforms (including SAP, Oracle, and Dynamics) out of the box, integrates deeply with Sharepoint (that it is built on), and, unexpectedly integrates deeply with SalesForce.

While lots of solutions have shallow SalesForce integration, Corridor on the other hand, has a deep SalesForce integration. All data and meta data can be embedded in the salesforce application, with each Salesforce user having access only to the data they would in the platform, and, most importantly, the ability to punch into the relevant part of the Corridor platform (using single sign-in) to do contract research or maintainence.

Another strength of the platform is distributed reporting. Most contract management platforms have good, integrated, reporting capabilities with dozens (upon dozens) of built-in reports, but the capability is generally limited to canned reports or reporting capabilities which create one report for the filters, sent to one distribution list. But when you have a large global organization with multiple, distributed, contract management departments, dozens (or hundreds) of distributed contract management professionals, each needing a slew of similar reports on a daily basis, having to manually define hundreds of similar reports dozens of times is not only burdensome, but unmanageable when they have to be maintained over time. Thus, Corridor built the ability to define a meta-report and then filter out sub-reports targetted to each user who needs only a subset of the data (based upon their locale, department, account assignment, etc.). Each report type is only defined once, no matter how few, or many people need it and what subset of data they get access to.

There are more unique capabilities as well, and for a deeper dive, we recommend you check out the recent Pro coverage [membership required] on Corridor Company by the doctor and the prophet over on Spend Matters (Part I, Part II, and Part III), especially if you have deep contract management needs not met by an average module in an average Sourcing platform.

It’s 2016! Welcome Back to the Industrial Age of SRM!

State of Flux just released their 8th annual supplier relationship management research report entitled Digital SRM: Supplier Relationships in the New Technology Landscape and while it reveals the handful of leading supply chain organizations are, or are moving towards, digitization, it reveals the majority of organizations are not only stuck in the past, but moving back towards the industrial age in their supplier (relationship) management processes. Scary!

So scary in fact, that I hope that the purchasing wizard Pete Loughlin of Purchasing Insight does a follow up to his piece on how we are now arriving in the digital economy – turn your watch back 40 years entitled we are moving forward in the digital economy, turn your watch back another 40 years because some of the practices many global organizations are still practicing with respect to supplier relationship management could literally be straight out of Marshall Monroe Kirkman’s classic The handling of railway supplies. Their purchase and disposition.

And I’m not joking.

Many organizations are still doing nothing more than inviting bids by public advertisement for a year’s supply and taking the advice that the pulse of the market should be continually felt and, clearly, not thinking about the importance of managing relationships after the purchase order is cut.

And while it looked like we are making progress last year, the simple facts that:

  • the number of businesses failing to invest in any SRM-related training rose from 26% in 2015 to 39% in 2016
  • 80% of companies are not achieving on-going benefits from external spending (compared to what they could be)
  • 87% of companies are still using Excel (which is essentially just an electronic version of a general ledger at most companies) as their primary SRM tool

demonstrate that, for the majority of organizations, the digital age (which for the consumer has been here for almost two decades) is still decades away.

After all, why are Purchasing Manages still panicing when they receive the 2:00 am phone call from the CFO informing them that their primary supplier in China just filed for bankruptcy and the company needs to know ASAP what the impact will be. If they had modern supplier relationship management systems, it wouldn’t take them 48 sleepless hours pouring through accounting systems, ERP systems, and spreadsheets to figure out what products come from the supplier. With modern supply management best practices it wouldn’t take them weeks to identify a new supplier and months to switch. And with good supplier relations, they definitely wouldn’t have to absorb the price doubling mandated by the receivership for continued supply of the critical product lines.

With proper supplier relationship management, you know as much about the (financial) health status of your strategic supplier as you know about your own organization. With proper supplier relationship management, you know all the products that are being provided, in what volume, in what consumer product lines they are being used, and what the impact of a stockout or termination of the line will be. With proper supplier relationship management, a company knows which other suppliers it is using that could also produce the product, how long it would take to switch, and how much it would cost. And with good relations, the last thing the supplier personnel would be comfortable with is charging their best customers an unexpected, possibly contract violating, unmitigated price increase, and would fight any suggestions by the receivership management to increase prices to any degree.

And the sad thing is there is no shortage of basic SRM systems these days. Not all are industry leading like (and not all will deliver anywhere near the value of) State of Flux’s Statess solution, but there are so many ways for an organization to enter the digital age that it’s shocking just how hard they fight to stay in the industrial age.

Hopefully, now that the results have been demonstrated for eight years in a row, they’ll finally accept SRM is not a passing fad, its the foundation for a new reality, buy in, and go for it. At the very least, hopefully they’ll check out Digital SRM: Supplier Relationships in the New Technology Landscape and realize what could be.

Trade Extensions is Redefining Sourcing, Part VII

In Part I, we not only told you that Trade Extensions unveiled the upcoming version of their optimization-backed sourcing platform at their recent user conference in Stockholm, recently covered by the public defender over on Spend Matters UK, but we also told you that, with it, Trade Extensions are redefining the sourcing platform.

Then, after discussing a brief history of sourcing platforms, and common limitations with most of the platforms on the market, we dived into many of the advancements Trade Extensions, despite already having one of the few third-generation sourcing platforms on the market, is making to take sourcing to the next level. Numerous usability enhancements, composable workflows, centralized fact sheets with even more powerful processing, easy repeat events, and better user and collaborator management. We also noted TESS 6 is coming with a whole new approach to in-platform analytics, but held back because we first need to provide a history of spend analytics (in Parts IV and V) and its shortcomings.

In our last post, we noted that the first thing Trade Extensions has done is to create a whole new analytics rule language which makes the definition of cleansing rules, enrichment rules, and the application of existing mappings and mapping rules a breeze. A single natural language rule with a single cleaning, enrichment, or mapping sheet can process an entire file of millions, tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions of transactions (as long as you don’t expect to view more than a million at a time). A few rules can link purchase orders, invoices, goods receipts, and payments and make it easy to see where the missing records are. Even a junior analyst can do it with ease.

But this isn’t the only significant advance that TE has made. Realizing that the hard part is the creation of an initial set of mapping rules for a new or not yet analyzed data source, they’ve created a new approach to mapping. Getting the message that, as per yesterday’s post, the traditional secret sauce isn’t always enough and a more generic recipe is needed, they’ve adopted the generic recipe outlined by the doctor and taken it to the next level. (At Trade Extensions, all amps go to 11.)

Often, when p-card data or invoice stores are the only data that is available, all the user has is a vendor (short) name and an associated receipt with abbreviated line item info or a vendor name and line item detail. And all the mappings have to be on the product description field. In this case, rules need to be built up as mappings on single words or phrases, with double word or phrase overrides for more complex mappings with further triple word or phrase overrides for sub (sub) categories, and so on. In this case the user will define a key phrase (or regular expression on a key phrase), look at the mappings, create a modification for special cases, and then move on in an attempt to identify another key phrase (that will trap a large number of transactions).

This works, but it’s a slow and cumbersome process. The small sample a user selects to try and manually identify keywords through a quick scan might not be representative, and the user might pick relatively low frequency words or phrases for the first few dozen, or hundred, rules and get nowhere fast*. So what’s the solution? AI? Definitely not. If there’s not enough data for you to always make a good decision, why would you blindly trust an algorithm (that may have been tuned on completely different data sets)?

The solution is AR (Automated Reasoning) and guided rule construction. In TESS 6, during the creation of an initial mapping file, the buyer can select a text column and the system will identify the most common words and phrases, in descending order, and guide the user through the selection and creation of appropriate mapping rules. The user will see, in a transaction file with a lot of office supplies, that “file”, “paper”, “pens”, and “boxes”, appear frequently; “copy paper”, “ballpoint pens”, and “file boxes” appear less frequently; and “xerox paper copier”, “bull pens”, and “junction boxes” appear even less frequently. Each time a general rule is created, the user can drill into the (potentially) affected transactions, see the next most common set of (sub) words and phrases, and, if necessary, easily define an override rule of higher priority, and then either drill in further, or back up to the unmapped set. The user can, very quickly, map the transactions until 90% to 99% are mapped … to an acceptable accuracy.

And, moreover, the rules are always run on a file in order of the least number of affected transactions. Since each override rule is designed to apply to a smaller set of transactions, running the defined rules in order of the least number of affected transactions means all the (super) special cases are defined first. It also means that if a rule defined first would fire first, that the initial rule was not defined as generic as the user believes it was or the nature of the data has evolved over time (and the appropriate mapping rules should be evolved as well). In addition, these mappings can be created in conjunction with one or more classification columns, such as vendor (if two different vendors use the same language to described what are two different products to the buyer) or some other categorization code (from the accounting system or the ERP).

Since many words and phrases are common, the reality is that even a million records can often be mapped 95%+ rather accurately (on a first pass) with only a few thousand rules. This can be done, by hand, in a few days, and be considerably more accurate than even the tenth pass over the data by a current generation automated mapping solution which has to be trained and corrected for weeks by the offshore data centre until enough accuracy is obtained that you could even consider looking at a spend report.

The rule language is easy. The interface is even easier. And the guided manual mapping capability puts analytics into the hands of every buyer. And since it’s all fact sheet based, the data can come from anywhere, anytime, be analyzed on the spot, and pushed anywhere it’s needed. It can come from the procurement system, be analyzed, and a subset used in an optimization scenario, or a set of award scenarios can be combined, analyzed and reported on. Data can flow back and forth with ease, and be classified and manipulated with ease.

It’s what analytics in a sourcing platform should look like. And it’s only in TESS 6.

* which is not a desirable state of affairs for spend analysis