Iasta Morphs and Grows (Part 4)

In this final post in our mini-series on Iasta, we'll examine the provider's product roadmap as well as how Iasta stacks up in the market today from a competitive standpoint. As I previously mentioned in an earlier post, SmartSource Release 8.0 introduces a number of basic supplier management / supplier information management capabilities. Procurement organizations can now control fields and profile formats while allowing for supplier self-registration and management. Think of it as SIM-lite designed around the end-to-end strategic sourcing and category management process. While this capability will most likely prove insufficient for those that want to keep track of detailed compliance information (e.g., quality certifications, insurance certifications, sustainability and diversity data, risk data, etc.), it nonetheless should represent a great first step to collecting and managing basic supplier information in a single contact and data management repository built around supplier self-service.

Moreover, Iasta's supplier information management capability is directly connected into its contract management module, letting users capture supplier information once and leverage it across the supplier and contract management lifecycle (not to mention the sourcing lifecycle as well). On the subject of contract management, Iasta will finally début a new contract creation capability in 2010, as well as a broader performance management and score-carding capability in the same timeframe. Iasta prioritized these product enhancements based in large part on customer requests. By listening to customers as the primary driver of its solutions roadmap, Iasta learned that users want additional tactical support embedded within the application modules.

Based on these customer-driven requests, Iasta is prioritizing a number of other product-related enhancements in SmartSource as well as SmartAnalytics. By the end of 2009, for example, Iasta will include Dutch auction capabilities in its negotiation toolset. While I covered Dutch auctions yesterday in greater detail, the basic premise is that a buyer sets a base price in a market for a lot which then continues to rise by predetermined amounts until a supplier takes the market by bidding, ending the auction. Winner take all. This is in contrast to a Japanese auction in which the bidders are always "in the market" until they opt out as the price drops. Personally, I think Dutch auctions represent an easy way to abuse suppliers (especially incumbents), but sometimes, especially in supply-constrained markets and those where incumbents won't budge, they can serve their purpose.

On a more pedestrian functional level, Iasta is planning to release new live event and new survey formats in forthcoming releases as well. They're also planning to incorporate an item master concept that will allow companies to directly populate items from a sourcing event into a contract. In addition, Iasta will be releasing new award management capabilities, and further down the road, also intends to unleash a supplier network concept that will allow organizations to share/trade information and participate in a network for supplier discovery.

A decent roadmap you might say -- especially from a tactical perspective -- but how does Iasta stack up in the market? Based on significant feedback I've gotten from Iasta customers in the past 12 months, I'd say pretty darn well. I have my own opinions -- and have used an earlier version of their toolset to run an event myself -- but I think the best gauge of the quality of their solution is that they've become what I believe to be the dominant supplier to consulting firms, outselling Ariba and Emptoris, among others, including capturing many of the boutiques. Moreover, Iasta's regular customers are strong supporters of the tool, especially from an ease-of-use perspective. The old tree navigation structure (think Windows NT) is alive and well with Iasta but this is an asset, not a liability.

In terms of feature / function capabilities, if a prospective user put Iasta up against all of the other players, they'd probably find that the sourcing module compares quite well. Granted, it's missing a few capabilities (including highly configurable workflow, tight linkages to other modules (at this point), and certain auction formats), but in general, it's more than enough for most companies. Moreover, Iasta's optimization capability is superior to many of the other sourcing platform providers and compares favorably with some of the leaders in the market (including Trade Extensions) in certain areas from a self-service perspective.

Other Iasta modules don't stack up quite as well (at least in terms of what they've developed themselves versus partnered on). For example, their contract management capabilities don't hold a candle to others (in Iasta's defense, however, they're not selling contract management as a stand alone component). And in spend analysis, Iasta has pieced together a set of solution(s) from multiple providers as well as some of its own development efforts (think of them as a general contractor for spend analysis vs. the actual spend carpenter). Yet Iasta would be the first to say that their primary focus over the years has been sourcing, and this is the market where their application truly excels in its own unique way.

In summary, for any company considering sourcing or optimization software and services, it would be absolutely criminal to not put Iasta on your shortlist of providers. Likewise -- and this is particularly important in today's climate where some practitioners claim to be unhappy with how their incumbent vendors are treating them -- it's clear to me that Iasta is a company people like to do business with. How refreshing!

Jason Busch

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