Greater focus on supply chain helps Achilles – our Adrian Chamberlain interview

Adrian Chamberlain has been in place at Achilles over 18 months now, a time of much change at what is almost certainly the world’s biggest supplier information management (SIM) firm, so it seemed like a good time to meet him and take a look at their progress.

He took over from Colin Maund, perhaps the key driving factor behind Achilles’ growth for many years, and well known in the industry. That situation is always a challenge for a new CEO, but Chamberlain has moved quickly to assert his own approach, bringing in a number of new senior people and leading interesting changes to the way the firm works.

His timing has certainly been good in one sense though – it seems like every week we read something in the media that reinforces the view that managing suppliers and understanding supply chains should be critical for pretty much every organisation. And Achilles, who work with clients to capture, verify and manage supplier information, are well-placed to help them respond to these challenges. We started our conversation with Chamberlain talking about some of the recent supply chain events.

“What we do can look a little eccentric – but it feels like the world is catching up to us”!

The horsemeat scandal, he says, “illustrates the complexity of international supply chains, and the need for businesses and whole industries to be transparent”.

It also demonstrates what he thinks is huge opportunity  for Achilles in helping organisations understand better their supply chains. Even with an annual turnover of around £60 million now, he’s right to point out that the firm is still quite low profile given its size and that it is “hard to quantify our potential”.

Achilles have two key differentiators compared to other SIM firms. Their global network of offices (23 at the last count) means they can do really detailed and local supplier information gathering, verification and even auditing on behalf of their customers. Secondly, they often work with industry “verticals”, developing SIM processes and databases across (for instance) the entire Utilities or Transport sector in a country or multiple countries. They’ve become very skilled at working with those industry groups in a positive and service focused manner.

Many of these groups have their own unique Achilles platform or database. However, one change Chamberlain is driving is a move to a common software platform. Does this indicate the firm is becoming more of a software business rather than a “solutions provider”?

“No – our definition is that we are a technology enabled service business run over a common platform. Much of my previous career experience was with firms who provided bundles of services to customers, always with high service levels”.

Chamberlain is quite passionate about this, it’s clear.

“The common platform will meet local community needs, make it easier for users to interrogate the database or for suppliers to register or get benchmarking information. All our communities will have their own ”front end”, and of course security will be carefully managed, but the common platform brings a lot of benefits”.

And as he pointed out, some multi-nationals subscribe to several different communities – for them, the common platform will be a major simplification. And it also enables Achilles to “lock in a single version of supplier truth” as he puts it.

There will also be opportunities for smaller suppliers registered and approved on the platform to get in front of many buyers globally. That sounds a bit like Ariba Discovery, and does raise an interesting issue – SIM sounds like a very different field to P2P (“purchase to pay”), yet when you start looking at Achilles as potentially holding masses of supplier data, and enabling communication, networking, searching for suppliers to do particular work... the potential overlap with the Ariba Network (and other similar services) starts to become obvious.

Anyway, much of Chamberlain’s focus is now on rolling out the common platform, one community and client at a time, so implementation is still in its early stages. And in part 2, we’ll look at some other innovative ideas Achilles is pursuing, and we will see that even terrible natural disasters have some positive consequences.

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