Supplierforce: Supplier Information Management and Beyond (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, I re-introduced Spend Matters readers to Supplierforce, a Dublin-based Spend Management software/SaaS suite provider and consultancy with particular strengths in the area of supplier information management. Today I'll conclude my analysis by walking through some of Supplierforce's functional capabilities and its overall solution philosophy and approach. When considering what Supplierforce is trying to do with its platform, it's most important to remember they started by intending to make up for the shortcomings of procurement and supplier management in existing user ERP systems. In this regard, Supplierforce provides a virtual vendor master that allows users to push and pull data from multiple back-end sources to create a unified view of who their company is doing business with, in a way that is nuanced relative to other solutions.

By "nuanced," I mean that Supplierforce does not just provide a virtual vendor master to search basic collected information (e.g., contact details, payment instructions, contacts, insurance certifications), but also provides a single portal to gain access into data on supplier spending, performance, and risk. This is one of the first instances I've seen of an offering that truly integrates supplier information management, spend visibility, supplier performance and supply risk. Granted, its individual modules may not go as deep in certain areas as other solutions, but what Supplierforce has done is prove that SIM-based solutions are more useful when they're fully integrated into a procurement suite.

For spend visibility, Supplierforce applies its own, primarily services-driven, classification and cleansing capabilities to consolidate spend. Through a fairly simple reporting interface it then provides a snapshot of the suppliers with whom a company is doing business. The interface comes with the standard reports needed by organizations to gain basic spend visibility (e.g., largest suppliers, largest categories, non-compliance, PPV, etc.). The application doesn't hold a candle to the analytics capabilities of a BIQ, but it does provide some basic analytics capabilities for analyzing opportunities and tracking progress.

For sourcing, Supplierforce delivers basic capabilities that meet EU public-sector compliance standards (OJEU) as well as some of the needs of private-sector companies less advanced in sourcing and category management. For example, Supplierforce delivers basic reverse auction, scoring, and weighting capabilities for RFQs and supplier responses, while offering optimization or some of the more advanced auction features of specialists in this area. Still, the solution goes beyond the native "three bids in a box" capability resident in SAP SRM, for example (SAP E-Sourcing is a more sophisticated application relative to Supplierforce in the sourcing area). Its interface, while not the most elegant in the market, is also straightforward and easy to use; just about anyone with sourcing experience could start using it immediately without training.

While Supplierforce's supplier performance-management (SPM) capabilities fall short of what BravoSolution and Emptoris offer, they actually stand up quite well in the market overall by providing both a management and intervention cockpit. This helps procurement organizations establish a process for setting performance-management objectives and metrics, manage programs over time, and intervene with corrective-action requests and steps as necessary. From an integrated finance and operational view into supply risk, Supplierforce falls short of what D&B and SAP, among others, are doing, but it's on a similar level to other providers that claim supply risk insight built around toolsets for either spend visibility or supplier information management.

With regard to contract management, Supplierforce offers both repository and authoring capabilities. Like its e-sourcing capabilities, the stand-alone depth of the solution is nothing to write home about as compared to best-in-class solutions. Instead, Supplierforce's strength in this area comes from its integration with the rest of the suite to provide contract and compliance-related information in the same context as other forms of information necessary to better manage supplier relationships and improve compliance.

Overall, Supplierforce provides proof that relatively small providers in the market are capable of building out full-feature suites. Still, once Supplierforce begins to compete more aggressively outside its home market of Ireland, it will need to adjust to the competitive dynamics of an environment in which many organizations value the functional depth of specific modules over integrated capabilities build around a vision of supplier information management.

Jason Busch

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