As I started to dig into the vendor management system (VMS) platform sector for the first time, I quickly spotted a pattern among providers: When asked what it considered its differentiator, every single one responded: "our analytics." Now, as a somewhat educated outsider peering into the space for the first time, I thought this seemed straightforward enough. The structural nature of most unmanaged and distributed contingent workforces inside many organizations makes it very difficult to effect savings and improvement without a baseline from which to measure. In other words, simply gaining visibility into the types of labor you contract and the process by which you manage them is often a significant step, a big win in and of itself. Given this, it's not surprising that providers would prioritize analytics and the benefits of reporting on even the most basic information.
Simply claiming, however, that a solution is differentiated does not in fact mean it can deliver capabilities above and beyond that of its peers. Moreover, when it comes to VMS analytics, the question of what counts as "differentiation" is even more challenging, given the need for both MSPs and organizations themselves to interact with the information. Because of this, I think that the question of differentiation and analytics -- and whether or not this should be a determining factor in platform selection -- is one that organizations should explore in the context of the capabilities of their MSP partners. As part of this, procurement and HR organizations should also ask themselves how involved they want to be in the data analysis themselves (versus waiting for updates from their MSPs).
If they do want to get involved in the data analysis themselves, it may make sense to prioritize solutions that provide a combination of dashboarding, reporting, and OLAP capabilities -- rather than simply serving up a set of preconfigured reports every month and forcing the user to head to Excel Land if they want to slice and dice data on their own. In this regard, I was recently impressed with how Peopleclick Authoria has embedded Business Objects as the core analytics and reporting tool in its solution. Granted, while the specific execution of more detailed queries and reports requires users to launch into the Business Objects environment (which is provided for free as part of the SaaS solution), the level of data drill-down that becomes possible is a cut above some of the other solutions I've observed (for those that really do want to get into the data weeds).
Of course, the key component of analytics is benchmarking data, but this becomes more difficult to put a finger on from a differentiation perspective, because benchmarking is as much about the data itself as how it's presented (this is really under the purview of MSPs). So before you go out and fall in love with a dashboard or analytics UI that you think will change everything about how you manage your contingent workforce spend, it's also worth thinking about how your services partners will support you in this regard when it comes to showing how your program stacks up against others. It's probably also worth asking them which VMS is best for your analytical needs, based on how involved you want to get in the program analysis and management itself.