There’s only one truly open supplier network – and it’s called the Internet.
But it’s not very efficient. Lots of noise – very little signal. And it's inherently not yet solved a hard set of B2B problems for us, at least not yet.
Let me explain: buyers want rich supplier discovery to find and qualify suppliers, but there are few standards, and it’s a Wild West of B2B e-marketplaces and electronic directories all vying for the poor suppliers’ limited marketing budgets. You can’t blame the buy-side providers, though. They help solve the chicken and egg problem by building scale and then being able to dictate de facto standards. For example, you can complain about the many drawbacks of cXML, but it’s out there and getting used.
From the suppliers’ viewpoint, they just want to hang out their virtual shingle and get found, but they have to set up shop; get SEO-optimized; pay for social media advertising; and then have to pay multiple intermediaries of all forms to get exposed to various buyer communities. Even the “open supplier networks” that have freemium entry points push hard for suppliers to pay more for value-added services.
And even a provider like Google does the same thing (e.g., you can set up shop with Google and register your business, but don't expect to keep that data synchronized outside of Google). It’s not inherently bad, but while it’s better than cobbling point-to-point systems, the providers don’t really enable suppliers to connect to other buyers outside the control of the solution provider. And this is all just for supplier discovery…
Now, consider all the redundant work suppliers do to respond to buyer RFx requests that are 75-90% the same, but yet slightly different. Different requirements for certifications, for transaction formats, and for basically the same data to enter in a buyer’s supplier portal.
But imagine a new world, where the concept of a ‘supplier network’ becomes a set of discoverable and available web services and associated data that has persisted in trusted/distributed registries that buyers can access directly or through authorized channel providers. The data is written once by the supplier and accessed flexibly by the buyers and other value chain participants as needed.
In this environment, each supplier would have its own unique and non-proprietary ‘license plate’ company identifier (i.e., an open-source version of DUNS) that would be the ‘key’ to the supplier information that the supplier maintains, but that is also extended to third parties who provide additional services on the open network.
But this is just my own idea. And it brings me to a request: how can we best overcome the inefficiency of supplier discovery within ‘business networks’? How can we effectively kill first-generation, closed-network architectures?
I’ll put this to you, my friends and readers, in a major “ask” tomorrow. Stay tuned, and join me in helping crowdsource answers to one of our biggest challenges (and opportunities) in procurement and sourcing technology. If you are itching to throw your ideas on the topic into the ring, you don’t have to wait for Spend Matters’ first crowdsourcing exercise to begin. Drop me a line: pierre (at) spendmatters (dot) com, or post a comment.
Finally, per the title of this piece, let me say I’m certain Ariba, Basware and D&B will continue to provide value to customers. The ROI of e-procurement and P2P is undeniable. They won’t die — but Blockchain does have the potential to be a revolutionary disruptor in supplier networks, procurement technology, and supply risk ratings.