Category Archives: Supplier Information Management

Supplier Solutions – All About the Space … (Repost)

… of Supplier Enablement. In our recent post about Supplier Networks, we discussed the value wasn’t what the provider typically promoted, but the fact that it greatly decreased the effort required by the supplier to do business. It enabled them to be efficient, whereas most sourcing and procurement applications just suck their time.

So if you are going to buy a supplier management solution, then it better be one that truly, truly, truly enables suppliers. So what does this mean?

Find a solution that focuses suppliers on missing, outlier, and information that can’t be confirmed.

Many solutions just send out regular “please review and correct” alerts and call that supplier information management. But information management isn’t about reminders and checking boxes, it’s about finding issues and fixing them. A good solution identifies missing information, information that is outlier from norms (i.e. an insurance certificate is usually only 1 year, but the supplier entered 10), and information that can’t be confirmed (such as third party audits from organizations that can’t be found in government registries).

Find a solution that makes integration with supplier’s systems (MRP, CRM, order management, etc.) easy.

Suppliers need to quickly get POs out of your portal and into their order management, MRP, ERP, accounts receivable, etc. system for which your vendor will likely not have an out-of-the-box integration solution that you are able to implement on behalf of your supplier. So make sure the solution has a well-defined API that makes it easy for the supplier to integrate their systems if they want to and well defined file formats that will allow them to export orders, etc. from your system and import shipping notices, invoices, etc. from theirs.

Find a solution that includes cash forecasting capability for the supplier based on your early payment discounting schedule.

Face it. A supplier isn’t going to go for your early payment discount program just because you say it’s a good idea — they need to run their own numbers and realize that 2% is less than they are paying in interest, etc. Give them an easy to use calculator, especially since their Procurement or AR guys are likely NOT as financially adept as your financial modellers.

In other words, if you want a true supplier solution, find one that truly, truly, truly enables the supplier. Not just you.

Supplier Management Is Not Enough. But Neither is Enablement. So What Is?

Very good question.

As per our post two years back on how it’s time to go beyond supplier management (which has been a thing every since Aravo burst onto the scene way back in 2003), supplier management is a lot more than just information tracking, performance metrics, and simple compliance requirements.

As per our last post, it’s also:

  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
  • Supplier Information Management (SIM)
  • Sustainability Initiatives
  • Supplier Development
  • Risk Management
  • Compliance

and

  • (Supplier) Contract Management
  • New Product Introduction
  • Maintenance, Repair and Operation (MRO)
  • Services and Service Management
  • (Supplier) Spend Analytics

but it doesn’t stop there. There’s also:

  • Supplier Discovery
  • Supplier Financing
  • Supplier Marketplaces
  • Supplier Networks
  • etc.

And then there’s the fact that the organization needs strategic and high performing suppliers, and most won’t make the cut until they are enabled. But just enabling a supplier to do better (one time) is not enough — you have to be able to take advantage of that enablement. Which means you have to be able to monitor, plan for, track, utilize, and respond to the changes made by the supplier. That requires a fairly advanced system.

And, as per our previous article, you need visibility (into the supplier and its supply chain); value-driven design (that produces a product a consumer wants); and verocity (for real time spend insight). But that’s not everything. You also need vetting (so that you can insure regulatory and compliance requirements are met); variability (as different suppliers require different levels of management and insight); and vindication (objective measurements over time that you made the right choice). And so on.

We still don’t have the answer, but we do know that the platform must be more than just information management, checkbox tracking, and messaging with audit trails. It must be collaborative, open, flexible, and evolving. Then, maybe in a few years, we’ll have a better idea of what the right answer is really is.

Be Wary of FREE Supplier Discovery

As per our recent pieces on how supplier discovery shouldn’t be a kick in the pants, at least today, it shouldn’t be free either — because a good supplier discovery solution costs a lot of money to maintain.

A number of vendors are now offering, or considering an offering of, free supplier discovery bundled with their Sourcing or Procurement Solution because, just like it shouldn’t cost suppliers to do business on a network, it shouldn’t cost you anything to do searches (when search engines are free), in their view.

And while it sounds great in theory, at least today, it’s not practical in practice. Computing power, storage, internet access, and electricity costs money … as does a lot off the software used to enable this FREE supplier discovery (as there is no free software, someone still has to compile it, integrate it, maintain it, etc. And this resource time is costly as well). Google only enables free search because it makes money on ads and services that it sells, which subsidizes the internet search.

This means that the only way a provider could really offer free discovery is if it was subsidizing that search with other software offerings (which means you’re still paying for it as it could charge less for those offerings if it was not subsidizing supplier discovery). And if it this is its main offering, you need to ask how it’s making money as it costs a lot of money to maintain a good supplier discovery solution, and if the provider tells you it is cheap (and some providers are making this argument), then the solution is not good.

I’ve heard some providers argue that since there is so much supplier information out there freely available on public directory sites (paid directories that are open, supplier associations, government registries, investment sites, etc.) that it would be cheap to scrape and combine all off this information if you have a good AI engine and all you really need is just a lot of storage and fast internet access, which can be relatively low cost. And while this sounds good in theory, it’s not good in practice.

First of all, the majority of all supplier listings are micro-businesses, and most of these aren’t big enough to serve a corporation in any capacity. Many have never done any substantial business and there’s not enough information to assess risk or capability. Many listings are outdated and incorrect and many more are for out of business suppliers. Many listings don’t have enough information to determine products or services to any level of accuracy. In other words, the majority of free information is bit-garbage.

In order to have a good supplier directory, you have to have information that has been manually validated to a reasonable extent. Which means that either the vendor needs to spend a lot of expensive manpower validating or start with third party databases that have been manually validated, which cost money to access. Either way, good information costs money, which means that a supplier discovery vendor can’t create or maintain anything good for free.

Which also means that if the information is good, it’s likely also limited to a directory supplier discovery vendor has built up over time from its customer base, which will only be good for you if there are like organizations doing business in like geographies already in that customer base.

So, just like there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there’s no such thing as a good, free supplier discovery service. At least not today or tomorrow.

How Do You Identify a Truly Stellar Supplier

Assuming one exists, how will you know one when you find one?

Five years ago, we asked how do you identify a stellar supplier? One way, as we pointed out, was to find a supplier that actively self manages. A supplier which measures, tracks, and even reports its own performance against SLAs and KPIs, accepts — and even helps to identify — the corrective actions it needs to take, actively works to not only meet expectations but exceed them, and communicates as soon as something happens that could threaten a KPI, SLA, commitment, or expectation.

Then, if you find multiple candidates, find a supplier that wants to collaborate. Find a supplier who will work with you to jointly identify opportunities for efficiency improvements and cost reductions and help keep costs down for all. This is even better. But is it as good as it gets?

No. You want a supplier who will open its books, at least so far as what it’s costs are that affect you. And what you can do to bring those costs down. That dives into its overhead costs and lets you know if energy, manpower, or cost of capital (if it needs to borrow to meet daily cash flow needs until you pay for finish goods 30 days after shipment) and what it could use from you to lower costs — such as faster payments, help with de-regulated energy negotiations, or production line improvements and lean initiatives to keep manpower costs steady. And into raw material costs, and where it needs more volume or negotiating leverage to keep costs down.

And then a supplier that helps you identify your tier 2 supply chain risks. What good does it do for a buyer to know it’s tier 1 risks when most disruptions begin further down the chain — and when the only way to possibly recover against them is to get early warning. A truly stellar supplier also works with you to put in place systems that will allow the supplier to report on potential disruptions in its supply chain (when raw materials don’t show up in time, when the quality of components it gets goes down, etc.) so you know when trouble might be brewing and, if your supplier needs help, when you can help it to prevent troubles later.

A truly stellar supplier doesn’t hide its risks and costs from you — it shares the and allows you to work with it hand-in-hand in lean efforts to create truly stellar supply chains.

Tealbook … Not Just a Journal Anymore!

When you hear teal, you probably think of the colour which gets its name from the coloured area around the eyes of the common teal, and when you hear tealbook, you’re probably thinking of a notebook in the calming hue of teal, perfect for a journal or personal contact book … maybe even one you can keep your supplier contacts in!

But we all know the problems with a contact book. Contact information changes as people are shuffled around the company. Contacts leave the company, and you not only have to update their information but add a new contact. There is only a limited amount of room for notes. It’s really hard to share the information, and, if your peers are also using handwritten ‘teal journals’, get them to share the information, especially when you need it quickly.

That’s why supplier information management (SIM) modules and platforms were developed. All of the supplier and contact information in one place, accessible to, and updatable by, anyone in the organization. Plus, anyone can search the supplier database for suppliers new to them … but not new to the organization. This was one major limitation. Another was lack of community intelligence from peers. Were they selected or known for certain capabilities, or not? Do they have other customers for a product or service who will serve as references? Are they (now) capable of satisfying a minority designation or certification requirement (in a certain geography)? You can ask this, update the system to track it, but a community keeps this information up to date.

But most importantly, with traditional Supplier Information Management (SIM), you know what you know and you don’t know what you don’t know. You have no way of determining how many potential suppliers you don’t know about for any given category or requirement. Or how good the suppliers are for your needs relative to the suppliers you don’t know about.

That’s where a modern Supplier Information Management with Supplier Discovery platform comes into play. A modern supplier discovery platform, which is more than just a supplier network — as a supplier network is nothing more than a database of suppliers that have been transacted with through a particular platform, allows a community of organizations to keep track of, and provide information and recommendations on, potential suppliers (whether transacted through a platform or not); potential suppliers to self-identify and provide relevant information up front (such as diversity status and certifications); and all parties to share information of potential relevance.

tealbook‘s vision is to create a shared, trusted, supplier base with 100M suppliers that provides a central repository of reliable supplier intelligence that can be used as a stand-alone platform or integrated with your current ERP, sourcing, procurement, contract management, and other spend management systems of relevance through an easy to use API and an interface that is configurable to your organization’s processes and privacy preferences. tealbook already includes 1M vetted, and de-duplicated, suppliers with rich insights and expects to grow daily at an exponential rate to reach 4 million within 12 months.

And while this three-year-old start-up doesn’t have the 100M supplier database yet, they have the solid foundations for a reliable, scalable, extensible, and integratable community supplier intelligence platform that can be configured to your organization’s needs. That is getting the attention of some of the biggest organizations and consultancies in North America.

In the tealbook platform, a user can easily do a search for potential suppliers, review verified supplier profiles, review community generated expertise tags (similar to individual specialty tags on Linkedin), review provided supplier content, create a supplier list for vetting, interact with the supplier to get more information, interact with her teammates for initial vetting and review, and then select a subset of those suppliers for export for consideration in her sourcing/procurement project. And she can do it through the web platform, or the mobile app if she is documenting new potential suppliers at trade shows. Plus the database of connections and employees is always up to date, so she knows who to contact, and who she knows, or knows of, at the potential supplier.

Supplier Discovery (incumbent or new) can be quite time consuming without such a platform. Most organizations would resort to searching online databases, getting recommendations from professional societies, going to events to get information from peers, and so on. Discovery can take weeks on its own when a proper platform with a community built and maintained platform can knock that down to hours. And the information is a lot more reliable than that obtained from a single source. This reduces the time, effort, and risk to discover, pre-vet, and qualify new suppliers substantially — which makes for an improved sourcing and procurement process.

And the search in the tealbook platform is quite powerful — it’s not just keyword, industry, tag — it’s also specific to your data and connections — it’s semantic and it uses machine learning to increasingly improve the relevance of supplier recommendations. And that’s key to identifying the right suppliers for you. And it’s a great choice even if your platform has a basic SIM module. For example, tealbook complements newer sourcing platforms such as ScoutRFP (and eliminates the need for a supplier network entirely), Coupa customers can add on tealbook to fill in the holes in the Coupa S2P platform, and Ariba customers are, as you may have guessed from above, finding it provides that missing piece: mobile, user friendly and socially derived supplier intelligence. With tealbook, they are finally able to rapidly and easily look up updated supplier data, identify and qualify known or new suppliers without going through an extensive process before initiating a sourcing event in Ariba.

In other words, if you are looking to know more about suppliers who have already transacted with your company or regularly need to discover new suppliers (including increasing access to innovative and diversity suppliers) check out tealbook. It might be the platform for you.