D&B's New Spend Apps: Beauty Over Brawn (Part 1)

Editors Note: This is the first part of a three-part series. Part 1 will provide background and context for D&B's new Spend Management applications. Part 2 will analyze two of the products and how they stack-up in the market. And Part 3 will provide further context around D&B's new solutions and how they can fit into a procurement organizations overall Spend Management technology portfolio.

I recently had the chance to walk through a product demonstration with D&B's Jim Lawton and JV Kelly Group's Ryder Daniels. For those not familiar with D&B's application role in the Spend Management world, the venerable content provider has had applications for quite some time -- mostly in the spend analytics and risk areas -- but only really began to make a name for itself as a true solutions provider when it acquired Open Ratings and decided to co-develop a next generation of solutions with JV Kelly Group. In addition, D&B has also been able to bag at least one very large deal of late which has significantly expanded the size of the groups overall contribution to D&B's revenues (though it's unclear how committed D&B corporate is to the Spend Management sector overall). Regardless, the D&B / JV Kelly Group relationship is certainly unique.

D&B makes no secret of the fact it's working with JV Kelly (which I honestly found to be surprising at first). But once you've seen the new applications -- and if you know JV Kelly Group -- it would be pretty hard to hide their UI handiwork behind the scenes (but more on that in a minute). Still, the joint development and go-to-market relationship is certainly not something you'd see every day. As Jim and Ryder put it to me, "JV Kelly is a partner in the development of D&B's supply management applications. D&B is a source of information. JV Kelly is a provider of services in the spend space (including custom development). We've partnered on applications to help bridge the gap to make actionable use of the information." In addition, D&B is working with JV Kelly as a provider of outsourced procurement services.

Commercial relationships aside, what clearly differentiates D&B's new offering is the fact that it was designed from the ground up around the user experience (using Flash/Flex as the primary development environment). You could tell that Ryder and Jim were anxious to jump right into the demonstration part of the briefing so that I could see this for myself. When I did, I was not disappointed. Without question, the application has the most elegant UI I've seen in the Spend Management world to date. The only ones which are comparable are MFG.com's latest Flex release and SAP's xAPP for spend visibility -- two other applications also built in Flex. The power of the way D&B and JV Kelly built these new applications is how easy it is to visualize and analyze different sets of information. For anyone who has operated in a traditional BI or spend analysis environment in the past, the metaphorical jump would be like from moving from the initial version of Windows to Leopard (Apple's latest operating system). It's that significant.

But outside of the UI, how do D&B's applications stack-up? In reality, they're quite focused in scope, and D&B has no intent of becoming an end-to-end provider (at least not from what I gathered during our conversation). D&B is really only offering solutions in a handful of areas, all of which revolve around the sharing and analyzing of spend and supplier information. The two products that I looked at were D&B's Supply Portfolio Manager and their Supply Analysis Module. The net of my relatively quick analysis is that depending on an organization's particular needs in the spend visibility area, they probably will meet around 60-80% of their needs from a functional perspective, depending on the level of capabilities required (especially when it comes to the actual analysis of spend data at a power user level). But I believe the UI is so compelling, for non-sourcing analyst types, that the application will virtually sell itself in many situations (perhaps even alongside competitive solutions which might be significantly deeper in certain areas).

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this analysis to find out how D&B's applications compare to the rest of the market and to see a screen shot of the new solution.

- Jason Busch

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