Friday Rant: We Need a New Generation of Spend Management Products (Part 1)

When I look at the universe of most procurement, sourcing and even supply chain software products in the market, I see what represents a logical continuum of solutions that have been around in some form or another for ten, fifteen or in some cases (especially in the supply/demand planning areas), nearly twenty years. Granted, we've seen some improvements in this time frame, especially around ease-of-use and total cost of ownership for more basic and less customized implementations (SaaS/cloud has played a big role in this). Yet the fact that the so-called market leaders have largely failed to deliver any sort of breakthrough innovation in recent years and still compete either on base price (e.g., Ariba) or absolute capabilities/function (e.g., Emptoris) tells me we're missing out a new generation of product.

Fortunately, however, I do see some hope on the horizon. But it's not coming from the big guns (though ironically, given ERP's legacy, one could argue Oracle's long-term vision with Fusion procurement -- not to mention its current supplier management products -- and SAP's Spend Performance Management product are steps in the right direction for the larger players). Rather, the true potential breakthrough innovation I'm seeing in the space is coming from a handful of upstarts as well as Spend Management outsiders that have set their sights on redefining what it means to deliver offerings in this sector.

In this Friday Rant series, we'll quickly profile the types of breakthrough innovation we're seeing from a handful of players, including Co-Exprise in the direct materials sourcing area, RollStream and Aravo (for very different reasons) in the supplier management area, Simplifying IT in P2P and Endeca for broader procurement, supply chain and cost reduction analytics that go far beyond what we've come to think of as "spend analytics." Let's start today with Co-eXprise.

I recently had two chances to see updated demonstrations of the Co-eXprise product and it continues to surprise me with the nuances and thought the team has put into it. They've essentially built a product from the ground up that represents a complete direct materials sourcing and management toolset. Anyone who has tried out any of the traditional e-sourcing platforms including Ariba, Emptoris, BravoSolution or Iasta who tries Co-eXprise will immediately see they're dealing with an entirely differing sourcing animal -- a direct spend-focused solution that can handle the most hairy and complicated RFPs. The platform is simply not comparable with anything else given its ability to drive collaboration and information exchange at the design/parametric level, protect IP in a global sourcing environment, compress design and other files into a tiny and secure file size and build massively complex (but easy to use) total cost models within the application.

In addition, Co-eXprise has what I'd describe as the most elegantly rebuilt Excel application within its browser interface I've seen (users can also use Excel if they want to upload data and models, but they no longer have to). In short, the solution represents a truly new sourcing platform for direct materials. I guarantee if you're a manufacturer involved in products that you need to specify (versus those in a catalog), that if you spend an hour -- or better yet, two hours, given all the complexities of what it can do -- with the platform, you'll want to find a way to use it.

What is most surprising about Co-eXprise is that none of the other sourcing players outside of Pool4Tool and to a lesser degree Ivalua, Emptoris and BravoSolution (with their integrated and solid SPM capabilities) have attempted to build in even 50% of the direct material-focused capabilities that Co-eXprise has. The solution essentially competes in a market one of one. Some may confuse it with general collaboration tools; others may accidentally lump it in with PLM. But it's neither. Rather, Co-eXprise is a next generation direct materials sourcing cockpit, platform and collaboration engine designed entirely for the real world of manufacturing. In reality, it's much of the direct materials sourcing IP (e.g., the former FMKT Savings Implementation solution) that Ariba should have embedded in software from its FreeMarkets acquisition but never got around to.

Jason Busch

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