ePlus — Exploring a P2P Vendor That Deserves to Be Known For Technology, Not Just Patents (Part 2)

Click here to see Part 1 of this post.

Any analysis of ePlus would fail to do justice to their core strength without a deep dive on their content management capabilities (including supplier self-service, yes, but also broader user search and active procurement management/curation of all information associated with a SKU, whether it is inventory or in a catalog -- or elsewhere, for that matter). ePlus probably can lay claim to inventing the catalog management space well over ten years ago, even before it was called that (and before we used catalog management in eProcurement). Yet they haven't been in a standstill for this time. Today, ePlus continues to develop and maintain a set of differentiated tools and capabilities including capability to support, cleanse and actively maintain a complete item master. Part of ePlus' ability in this area ties back to a supplier portal capability providing a level of automation and self-services to suppliers that goes beyond what we usually see in this market.

Because of its capabilities, the ePlus supplier portal and catalog is purposely built to be eProcurement system agnostic (i.e., you don't need to use ePlus Procure+ -- you can use any eProcurement system with it). The solution goes beyond basic supplier log-ins to upload information and update data. It also includes the ability to apply business rules and classification structures to submitted data sets, plus ways to create and maintain information that may exist outside of a specific supplier-submitted catalog (e.g., third-party networks, supplier web sites, etc.) In addition, ePlus' catalog management tool, Catalog+, supports a range of capabilities you would want, and think about, in such a system as well as the more esoteric features that might actually prove useful (and that you'd never think of unless you were doing this for 20 years).

Regardless, we'll dig into this solution in more detail in the next installment in this series, including how it applies a rules-based approach for processing catalog content as well as its ability to syndicate information. But as a preview, one of the paths ePlus taking their catalog management capability down is toward tracking and maintaining country-of-origin information on a one-to-one item basis in their catalog.

The last area I'll focus on today is supporting the incorporation of asset management into the procurement process, starting with sourcing/buying and progressing through to receiving, settlement, deployment, maintenance/warranties and ultimately, disposition. It's important to realize in this area that the capabilities of asset management are rarely (we reckon less than 5% of the time) ever tied into eProcurement. In other words, when a company buys something on the indirect side of the house, it's tossed over a proverbial wall never to be heard from again. Yet what asset management allows, in practice, is the ability to manage any type of asset (e.g., a notebook computer, a copy machine) on a total cost basis (using an ROI approach), looking at such areas as vendor response times for maintenance, warranty periods and the like.

In this regard, ePlus includes a full asset management suite of capabilities on top of P2P (or separate from it) that provides key elements such as asset tagging and monitoring, warranty tracking, vendor support management and overall reporting. This capability can allow organizations to drill down on queries like understanding what percentage of maintenance contracts are actually used and what the mean time to failure for a purchased item is. And of course, depending on deployment design, this system can be fed back to both procurement and front-line users to make more informed decisions going forward.

Within the ePlus system, users can automatically keep track of all the underlying elements that comprise an asset -- its physical elements (e.g., contracts, locations, licensing agreements), its financial elements (e.g., allocation, costs, invoicing and lease agreements, if applicable) and its lifecycle (e.g., receiving, maintenance, disposition, audit) -- and then tie this back into a procurement-centric context. Many Spend Matters readers might react to this with a "what's in it for me" mentality, but in reality, an integrated asset management capability that is tied into an eProcurement system can change the way procurement is measured to better align with true business costs over the lifecycle of an indirect purchase. Moreover, such information can be invaluable in managing supplier relationships, allowing the tracking of additional performance metrics to help make better decisions are supplier development, rationalization programs, etc.

Stay tuned as our analysis of ePlus continues and we look at the actual user experience of ePlus' set of spend Management applications.

Jason Busch

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