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AI in Supplier Discovery: Tomorrow [PRO]

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In Spend Matters’ last PRO article for the AI in Supplier Discovery series, we overviewed some situations where you can find it today, or at least functionality that looked like it was enabled by artificial intelligence (even if it was not), and set ourselves up for a discussion of true AI that is going to creep into supplier discovery platforms tomorrow.

However, when we say true AI, we mean the definition of AI as “assisted intelligence,” because there is no true artificial intelligence out there and probably won't be for a very long time (with some futurists conjecturing it will be 2060 before machines are as smart as the dumbest of us). Note that we don't even mean “augmented intelligence,” as even though the platforms will augment your knowledge, it will still be up to you to make the right, intelligent, decisions tomorrow. (And maybe the day after that, but that is a subject for our next article.)

In our last article, we reviewed the capabilities of the leading discovery platforms today, which mainly revolved around:

  • Smart search
  • Community intelligence

...and the intersection of both.

We discussed how the improvements in computing power and web-usability made it possible for platforms to implement better and more powerful search algorithms that actually made searches useful across wide supplier directories and networks; how community intelligence allowed an organization to quickly narrow potential supplier pools down to reasonable sizes; and how the intersection allowed for the definition of "like" searches that could not be done before now.

But as of today, those "like" searches are still pretty high level. And they are best at finding suppliers that provide finished products and services that can be well-defined and compared to other suppliers that provide similar finished products and services. In fact, most systems with "like" searches are for the identification of suppliers for indirect. Not direct. (And not services either.)

But that is going to change tomorrow. Tomorrow, supplier discovery systems are going to support:

  • deep capability match that uses bill of materials, production requirements and other deep factors to support supplier search for direct suppliers
  • resource capability match that can identify needed skill sets, knowledge and related attributes for services suppliers

And we'll finally have smart supplier search for all. But how will it happen? And what will it look like? Let's explore.

After EcoVadis’ Sustain 2019: Product Strategy, Roadmap and Prospect/Customer Analysis (Part 3) [PRO]

EcoVadis, which provides vendor ratings and scorecarding for sustainability and broader CSR metrics as a component of an integrated “many-to-many” supplier network and platform, has an aggressive product roadmap to expand how users interact with and leverage the supplier intelligence, which is at the very core of its value proposition.

Today, in this final installment in this Spend Matters’ PRO series based on our analysis from the EcoVadis Sustain 2019 customer event, we turn our attention to the future direction of where EcoVadis is expanding its capabilities. We also include customer/prospect recommendations.

In previous Spend Matters PRO coverage on EcoVadis, we offered a recap and update on the provider’s most recent capabilities and solution footprint — and an analysis of where EcoVadis fits in the broader supplier management and supply chain risk management landscape.

After EcoVadis’ Sustain 2019: How Its Offering Fits With Supplier Management, Risk Management Solutions (Part 2) [PRO]

supply risk

Last week, I represented the Spend Matters analyst team at EcoVadis’ Sustain 2019 customer event in Paris. In between lessons on sustainable supply chains, vendor CSR ratings and French labor unions I never knew existed — thank goodness for British Airways when the Eurostar shuts down because a handful of customs workers at Gare du Nord decided to protest Brexit by striking — I had the chance to learn about the latest enhancements to the EcoVadis platform.

In Part 1 of this Spend Matters PRO research series, we shared some of the most recent capabilities that EcoVadis has embedded in its sustainability and ratings supplier management platform. Today, we turn our attention to explaining how EcoVadis fits in the broader supplier management and risk solutions landscape. (Hint: It is a complement to other solutions, but not a replacement for them, at least not yet.)

We will conclude our series with a look at the EcoVadis solutions roadmap and landscape in the coming weeks with specific recommendations on what it means for current and future customers who are likely to also make investments in adjacent solution areas and need to think about the architectural “fit” of all these components together. But to answer that question, we first need to explore where EcoVadis sits today in the broader supplier management and supply/supply chain risk management technology and solutions universe?

This Spend Matters PRO research brief provides insight into all of the components that comprise the supplier management and supplier/supply chain risk management sectors. It then attempts to place EcoVadis, a sustainability and CSR specialist in vendor ratings and management, in the context of these two highly complex solutions markets. Our analysis includes detailed functional and requirements for each of these solution types.

K2 Sourcing: Vendor Introduction, Analysis and SWOT [PRO]

The history of e-sourcing software stretches back to before the dot-com bubble burst, yet few of the original providers of RFX and auction management tools exist today as they did at their inception.

Some were bought and consolidated into the mega organizations we know today (e.g., SAP Ariba, which acquired FreeMarkets and Procuri), while others have slowly drifted into oblivion (RIP Emptoris). The result is that, with a few notable exceptions, procurement organizations today have few choices for standalone providers of e-sourcing tools.

One of those remaining options is K2 Sourcing, a provider of RFX and auction management software that has quietly served mid-market procurement organizations since 2003. Based in the Milwaukee area, K2 grew out of its founder’s frustrations as a procurement professional with the RFX and reverse auction platforms available then.

The young provider set out with one of the first cloud-based solutions in the space with a goal to “create the fastest, easiest and most transparent method for buyers to screen and select suppliers.” And while a lot has changed in the procurement and technology worlds in the past 16 years, K2 has managed, through a combined offering of subscription software and supporting sourcing services engagements, to build a stable and respectable client base, counting brands as varied as Verifone, Lozier Corp., Big Lots, Milwaukee Tool, Tempur Sealy, Kaiser Permanente and others.

This Spend Matters PRO Vendor Introduction offers a candid take on K2 Sourcing and its capabilities. The brief includes an overview of K2 Sourcing’s offering, a breakdown of what is comparatively good (and not so good) about the solution, a SWOT analysis and a selection requirements checklist for companies that might consider the provider.

WPS Management (Wescale): Vendor Snapshot (Part 3) — Summary and Competitive Analysis  [PRO]

Procurement organizations today don’t have to do a lot of legwork to build an initial shortlist for choosing an e-procurement or procure-to-pay solution. A Google search will return dozens of companies vying for your business, and the Spend Matters SolutionMaps for E-Procurement and Procure-to-Pay Suites make the process even simpler, rating top providers of these solutions against specific organizational requirements based on buyer demographics and psychographics.

Figuring out the differences between all of these choices, however, is easier said than done.

One of the key ways procurement organizations can do this is by understanding what type of market a vendor seeks to address. Although in concept the potential market a vendor is targeting could appear similar to how others position their solutions, the reality is that each provider is unique in terms of their best-fit customers, their capabilities and the technological foundations of their platform.

This is especially true of Wescale, which provides P2P functionality fit for a variety of businesses through an open business integration platform approach (PaaS, or platform as a service) not commonly seen from e-procurement or P2P providers in the North American market. For that matter, Berlin-based Wescale is not commonly seen outside of Europe — but to the detriment of potential U.S. and global customers that might overlook it due to its primary geographic focus.

This third and final installment of this Spend Matters Vendor Snapshot covering Wescale, the branded name for WPS Management, includes an objective SWOT analysis of the provider and offers a competitive segmentation analysis and comparison. It also has a recommended shortlist of candidates as substitute providers to Wescale as well as provider-selection guidance. Finally, it offers a summary analysis and recommendations for companies that can best take advantage of Wescale’s capabilities.

Part 1 of this series provided an in-depth look at Wescale as a company and its specific solutions, and Part 2 gave a detailed analysis of its solution strengths and weaknesses as well as a review of the user experience.

AI in Supplier Discovery: Today [PRO]

With this briefing on supplier discovery, we continue our series on AI in various source-to-pay technologies, which we started with AI in Procurement (Today Part 1 and Part 2, Tomorrow Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, and The Day After Tomorrow) and continued with our recent series on AI in Sourcing (Today, Tomorrow Part 1 and Part 2, and The Day After Tomorrow) and AI in Sourcing Optimization (Today, Tomorrow and The Day After Tomorrow Part 1 and Part 2). The goal of this series is to define what is available with AI today, what will be possible tomorrow, and where the future may take us.

But first we must remind you of the status quo: Artificial intelligence does not yet exist, in the strictest definition of the term.

However, if you define AI as "assisted intelligence" (systems that can automate repetitive and standardized tasks performed by humans) or "augmented intelligence" (systems that can learn from humans and their data to provide insights that lead to, or recommend, better decisions), then there are technologies out there today that meet that need.

Today, the mainstream applications of AI in supplier discovery (which are, sadly, few and far between) generally fall into two categories, which themselves have limited functionality, but, there is still some functionality and it is a beginning.

WPS Management (Wescale): Vendor Snapshot (Part 2) — Product Strengths and Weaknesses [PRO]

FM Global Resilience Index

While not well known outside of the European market, Wescale delivers a unique set of procure-to-pay capabilities originally built from its e-procurement plumbing and catalog management roots as Wallmedien and WPS Management, now branded as Wescale.

For many years, we have watched with admiration as this R&D-centric provider has taken a road-less-traveled approach to enabling procurement users. But when it comes to procure-to-pay, where is it strong and where is it weak?

This Spend Matters PRO Vendor Snapshot explores Wescale’s strengths and weaknesses, providing facts and expert analysis to help procurement organizations decide whether they should consider the vendor. Part 1 of our analysis provided a company and detailed solution overview, as well as a recommend fit list of criteria for firms considering Wescale. The third part of this series will offer a SWOT analysis, user selection guide, competitive alternatives, and additional evaluation and selection considerations.

After EcoVadis’ Sustain 2019: Company Update, Solution Overview and Technology Enhancements (Part 1) [PRO]

sustainable

This week, Spend Matters founder and analyst team member Jason Busch represented the Spend Matters team at the EcoVadis Sustain 2019 customer conference in Paris, where about 500 attendees gathered.

EcoVadis, a sustainability/CSR solutions provider that combines ratings content (CSR focused) and a technology platform, is not so dissimilar from providers such as Avetta and ISNetworld, albeit that it focuses on vendor sustainability practices and metrics rather than general compliance/credentialing (e.g., insurance validation) or “pre-qualification” for health and safety.

But like these related firms, EcoVadis is able to take advantage of platform economics (network-based economics) in its business model by qualifying and rating suppliers a single time — with yearly updates — and then leveraging this information across the procurement community. What is special about all of these models is that unlike pure-play technology solutions (e.g., supplier information management) or even general risk management offerings, they tend more toward “winner take all” markets because suppliers carry their credentials with them from customer to customer.

This approaches provides value for all parties and makes switching potential solution providers such as EcoVadis more painful (when alternatives even exist), creating an incentive for buyers and suppliers to remain using the system on a permanent basis. But unlike Avetta (which is growing but still must compete with Achilles and ISNetworld), the only material competition that EcoVadis faces — in a single industry/vertical only — is via the highly specialized, not-for-profit Sedex.

This two-part Spend Matters PRO update provides an overview of what is new at EcoVadis. Today, we provide an update on EcoVadis (overall) and explore its recent solution update and overall platform. An introduction to EcoVadis can be found in our PRO Vendor Snapshot coverage: Background & Solution Overview, Product Strengths & Weaknesses, and Competitive & Summary Analysis.

Sourcing and Engaging the Independent/Freelance Workforce — An Emerging Ecosystem? (Part 3) [PRO]

The overarching question motivating this five-part Spend Matters PRO series is one posed to practitioners: “As a services procurement manager, should I be paying more attention — maybe even taking action on — the independent contract workforce, or ICW, as a supply of skills/expertise?”

In Part 1 of this series, we examined if measures of size and growth of the ICW population provided a clear basis for answering this question and found that, at least in our opinion, it did not (see Part 1).

We also proposed that, in addition to monitoring demand within one’s organization (something not adequately done by most procurement organizations), the extent to which a new ICW ecosystem is emerging could also provide some basis for answering the question. We also proposed looking separately at the extent to which an ecosystem has been forming to:

  • Provide enterprises with the required capabilities to source, manage and maximize the value of this independent/freelance population (Parts 2 and 3 of this series)
  • Provide independent/freelance workers with the access to the opportunity pathways and the support/services they require to function as viable “operators.” (Part 4 of this series)
Starting in Part 2, we began looking at the formation of an ecosystem enabling organizations’ usage of (source, engage, manage and pay) independent/freelance workforce. In Part 2, we reviewed findings from a recent panel survey of CW/S solution provider executives which suggested that a new ICW ecosystem has been taking shape recently. When asked this: “Over the past three years, have you seen the emergence of new digitally-integratable, configurable ecosystem(s) of solution and service providers focused on enabling organizations and independent workforce on the demand and the supply sides?” over 80% of respondents answered “Yes, to some extent,” while none answered “No , I haven't seen that happening.”

In this third part of the series, we will continue this same assessment of an emerging ecosystem enabling organizations usage of ICWs , but dissecting it at the category and provider level.

In Part 4, we will provide a similar assessment, but from the standpoint of how ICWs are enabled/supported to function as viable operators. In Part 5, we will synthesize the findings and offer recommendations for services procurement practitioners and senior executives.

Services Procurement is Broken: Finding Fixes Beyond Contingent Workforce Management, E-procurement [PRO]

If you google the term “services procurement,” you’ll see an article from my colleague Andrew Karpie touching on the topic front and center. He talks about the need to transcend the traditional contingent labor-centric view of what is in fact a much larger scope dealing with the procurement of all services. Aggregate annual spend on complex services by U.S. organizations is on the order of $9 trillion to $10 trillion, while spend on temporary staffing is only on the order of $0.02 trillion. When looked at with a wider-angle lense, the scope of services spend is huge. But ...

This is where I’m going to carry the discussion forward. The problem that I’ll address is, to put it bluntly, the management of services spend is shockingly poor.

There are many reasons for this. The first is organizational.

A spend category like direct materials is fairly straightforward in terms of organizational reporting ultimately into the supply chain organization (and/or business unit). The same can be said for lab supplies managed alongside R&D or data center equipment managed alongside IT. But services are trickier, not only in their inherent complexity and variability, but also because of their organizational governance. For example, if I’m looking to bring in some DevOps contractors to supplant my IT outsourcing provider’s capabilities, do I use an IT category team, a contingent labor Center of Excellence or perhaps an IT Vendor Management Office to have the ITO vendor provision the resources?

Beyond the organizational governance issue, the bigger problem is the fragmented nature of managing (not just procuring) services and the underlying systems to manage them — even just in source-to-pay. Case in point: There is not a single source-to-pay solutions provider in the market that offers deep support for all enterprise spend on a platform with a single code base and a unified data model.

And this is 20 years after e-procurement systems started being developed. Let that sink in.

But before a few of the S2P suite vendors get their knickers in a twist over this statement, keep in mind that what I’m including with the term “deep support” is being able to track services work to the contingent worker level that temporary labor solutions (aka “VMS” solutions) and those solutions supporting independent contractors. These contingent labor procurement platforms for their part are only touching a portion of the spend, and the expansion of many of them into SOW-based spend isn’t necessarily something that firms want to use for all their contract-based spend given that modern S2P suites can do a reasonably good job of setting up SOWs against MSAs, modeling basic rate-based service catalogs, and then matching them to the downstream invoice-to-pay processes. The trick, however, is how to go beyond the basics and handle the real life requirements of complex services categories.

This transformation will require a new way to understand/frame services and a new class of architecture and platforms to meet these needs — while also making some practical moves with existing tools (e.g., using modern CLM platforms as a critical core to modeling the commercial details/attributes of these services). It will also require procurement to align more tightly with IT and to leverage an emerging ecosystem of platform providers and approaches that can help rise above the functional silos that manage services spend in disjointed ways.

Extracting maximum commercial value from services can only be done at an end-to-end process level, and procurement has an opportunity to help optimize the sourcing, consumption, settlement and ongoing management of these increasingly digital and externalized services (and their providers). By more easily extending the capabilities of digitally savvy suppliers into internal value chains with internal stakeholders, but also ultimately out to external customers, procurement can proactively be part of broader enterprise digital transformation activities.

In this SpendMatters PRO analysis, we’ll dive into the challenges of segmenting external business services (e.g., understanding the interplay between digital-dominant and labor-dominant services) and how to look beyond the traditional contingent labor approaches (hint: Segmenting the market based on the presence of a statement-of-work is clearly not sufficient).

Later in this series, we’ll dive deeper into a new commercial framework for services and then map the resulting business requirements to technology requirements and associated vendor/solution types that transcend the source-to-pay market (e.g., enterprise CLM, ITSM, low-code platforms, etc.).

WPS Management (Wescale): Vendor Snapshot (Part 1) — Background and Solution Overview [PRO]

Wescale is the broader “procurement umbrella” and new open business integration platform of WPS Management, a provider that traces its roots to 1997 with the creation of Wallmedien AG, one of the first e-procurement solutions for the SAP environment in Europe. We’re sorry if this sounds confusing (it is). But what matters is that since its founding, Wallmedien AG has managed to grow its core business in e-procurement while also adding additional capabilities through its affiliated businesses and product lines, including WPS4/Procure, Meplato and recently Wescale.

Wescale is the platform through which all WPS Management solutions are integrated. WPS Management (branded as Wescale) has participated in the Spend Matters E-Procurement SolutionMap, competing with specialists such as Vroozi, BuyerQuest, OpusCapita (jCatalog) and others with similar platforms like Basware, Tradeshift and Determine (now Corcentric).

This three-part Spend Matters PRO Vendor Snapshot uses facts and expert analysis from Wescale’s participation in the 2018 SolutionMap to help procurement organizations make informed decisions about the broader umbrella of capabilities this provider offers. An update will be published this summer, based on Wescale’s latest 2019 capabilities.

Part 1 of our analysis provides a company background and detailed solution overview, as well as suggestions for when organizations should consider the Wescale platform. The remainder of this multipart research brief covers product strengths and weaknesses, competitor and SWOT analyses, user selection guides, and insider evaluation and selection considerations.

E-Catalogs: The ‘Fifth Element’ of Procurement [Plus+]

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E-catalogs are still a key part of any e-procurement solution and e-marketplace. However, they are no longer simply a tool to load the prices and features of products and services for approval and then integrate into an e-marketplace to purchase against it. Today, e-catalogs are becoming an intelligent and integrated source of information that enable nearly all purchasing scenarios, with the support of a robust e-marketplace where requesters can search between e-catalogs (including punchouts or any other e-commerce site) — all while in compliance with the organization's business rules and standards.