Search Global Suppliers: Directories and Discovery (Part 1)

While some might argue that Google has essentially catalogued the world – from books to blogs – the search giant fails to provide a universal engine to access relevant information on global suppliers. Some see this as the Holy Grail of discovery for global supply management initiatives. In fact, much of the interest in companies like alibaba.com comes from the perceived value of their directory and the suppliers willing to advertise on it.

But not a single supplier search engine has crossed the global, regional, and category chasm. Not ThomasNet, which does a commendable job on the domestic industrial side, including custom and catalog parts but backed away from its global strategy. Nor Ariba, which has had better success scaling the transactional side of the network relative to its somewhat nascent supplier search and discovery business. This has left the door open for a new type of provider to potentially own the market for originating or aggregating global search and discovery supplier information.

Enter Panjiva, a company best known for aggregating global trade information, providing supplier and competitive insight into trade and customs activity. Earlier this fall, Panjiva briefed Spend Matters on its latest initiative to create a supplier directory that would enrich its current database and then make it searchable by all.

In speaking with customers, Panjiva learned that many were using the service to do research on suppliers. But they would then have to hunt for additional insight across various sources, from contact information to product details and catalog information. In order to build an offering in this market, Panjiva enriched its own database by crawling some seven million web pages to build its content. The result is a supplier database that provides a useful starting place to gather information on global vendors.

Even though the Panjiva supplier search engine lacks the ability to match part or requirement attribute information to supplier capabilities, it's still a useful starting point for information on global suppliers, containing not only contact details, but also trade information including container volume for specific product types. The Panjiva search engine also pulls back product information, photos, and related data associated with a given global supplier's products.

Users can filter results using a variety of criteria including desired countries, global shipping activity/volume levels, locations, specific shipments, data sources, and other related fields. Depending on the Panjiva subscription level, customers can see an additional basic directory listing (including the type of trade information on customers and volume trending available via the standard Panjiva subscription service).

The data Panjiva provides in this search context is a mixture of web-gathered and self-reported supplier information. When users drill down on a given supplier, Panjiva can provide other information as well, including top product terms based on customs information and the number of domestic (US) customers – again based on the underlying trade data in the Panjiva system. Perhaps most important, in addition to showing Panjiva data, the search tool shows the other data sources used in gathering the supplier profile details.

In the second installment of this series, we'll share some takeaways and learnings from Panjiva, including where it and others will take global supplier search, validation, and insight next.

- Jason Busch

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