Rearden Commerce’s (Ketera) New E-Sourcing Tool — Simple, but not Simplistic (Part 1)

Today we welcome the first technology review by Spend Matters tool curmudgeon, Thomas Kase. For those who don't know Thomas, he has a long and infamous history, including winning national level Olympic pistol shooting competitions (and such) in Sweden before he ever discovered this sourcing and supply chain thing. He has a modified, soon-to-be race-ready '70s Mercedes SL with so much torque, the only suitable transmission is a 3-speed factory automatic used in their race cars of the era. We hired him hoping his knowledge of sourcing and supplier management would be as good as his shooting -- and driving!

Thomas recently had the chance to spend an hour demoing Rearden Commerce's new e-sourcing tool. For those who don't know Rearden, they acquired Ketera last year, and the latest sourcing toolkit represents the next release of a Ketera solution. But it's one that flexes its muscles in a range of new ways. Previous iterations were too support-intensive, too complex/complicated despite only basic underlying functional capability. The new solution is clearly user-friendly. In our view, after playing around with the interface and walking through the nuances of RFX creation and analysis, there is no excuse for buyers to not execute or suppliers to not participate in online sourcing activities.

The buyer experience starts with a quick snapshot (dashboard) view called "My Events," showing all current activities at the user's fingertips. Auctions even carry a scrolling "ticker tape" feature to keep participants abreast of changes as they occur. It's possible to create new activities (RFI, RFP, RFQ or RA) either from scratch via a breezy 8-step process or even more quickly by copying a prior activity. The options to pick and choose which content (items, vendors, bids, etc.) to carry over to the new activity are extensive, yet user-friendly.

Sourcing Supplier Response Main Page: this is a screen shot of the main page that the supplier sees when responding to a reverse auction

The Ketera Sourcing solution has a sufficient amount of embedded guides that even an e-sourcing novice should be able to build an RFx without problems. A novel approach to help features is the way it uses images to illustrate outcomes – for example, the results of different weighting approaches in the solution's questionnaires are displayed as different images, making it easier to understand the impact of the options.

Once executed, the results (e.g. bids, questionnaire responses) of RFx activities can be evaluated online in the tool or exported to Excel for offline examination. Rearden's technology road map contains an emphasis on expanded import/export functionality via Excel to completely enable offline event creation.

Users can choose to publish events to the Ketera Network for access by any vendor – this feature is particularly useful for public sector clients. The integration reminds us of what Ariba has done with its Discovery and Sourcing tools and MFG.com has been doing for some time with its supplier network, and we believe this supplier search/sourcing combined functionality will continue to gain traction across vendors.

Rearden's emphasis on user-friendliness comes with a heavy emphasis on "one size fits all" (something that many SaaS solutions have in common). Ketera Sourcing solution is a clear example of this design approach, meaning that several options are available but they are not client-specific. Consider the two following examples:

  • The solution relies on commodity codes specific to Rearden's Ketera solutions – built on a customized UNSPSC code set – and is not configurable to company-specific codes. In practice this is probably not an issue for many firms since an organized set of commodity codes is frequently not used by even the largest of companies. To drive sourcing methodology throughout an organization, a robust commodity code set which is sufficiently granular to capture the products and services acquired plus support matching vendor capabilities is an essential feature. However, unlike the more megalomaniacal sourcing platforms out there, the Ketera solution does not assume to become the only platform used by its target audience, so I think this is not an issue.
  • Limited vendor management – in particular, client-loaded vendor searches are initially limited to just company and contact names. This was a surprising approach, but since the solution relies on the Ketera Network to capture the remaining information, as vendors log in and complete their registrations, additional content becomes available for searches. In other words, the Ketera solution assumes that users already know their current suppliers – or they go to the Ketera Network to find new prospects. Reasonable assumptions; just don't expect deep searches around your current suppliers until they have completed their Ketera Network registrations!

Target audience

In Spend Matters' view, it is clear that Rearden's ideal sourcing client is one where the procurement organization operates in a flat, egalitarian approach where information is broadly shared and little bureaucracy is needed. Examples would be core corporate sourcing teams or divisional/business unit teams where the emphasis is on reducing cycle time, increasing transparency, consolidating the workspace onto a shared platform to raise effectiveness rather than focus on delineated sign-off escalations, budget restrictions, and creating data silos – the latter approaches are frequently seen in large organizations with substantive sourcing teams that reach broadly across the organization.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, when we provide some more context behind the solution and how it stacks up in the market.

- Thomas Kase

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