GXS Rollstream – social networking for business? More than that, really (Part 1)

A very common theme in much we’ve written about this year from a technology perspective has been the desire of providers to use social media and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) type processes and interfaces in their B2B product design.

That also fits with another trend – towards more use and promotion of networks, whether buyer / seller networks focused largely on the transaction, or more general collaborative platforms to enable buyer and seller, or multiple buyers and sellers, to manage processes (such as sourcing), share information or knowledge, and communicate easily.

Nick Parnaby looking slightly scary

One of the first companies to identify the potential in this area was Rollstream, founded by Nick Parnaby. He started as a procurement practitioner in the UK, (good to see another provider-side leader who has done real procurement), then moved to the US and got into the first generation of e-Procurement marketplaces – remember the Worldwide Retail Exchange?

It was in these early, heady days of e-procurement that he started identifying the issues of governance and communication – the new marketplaces discovered that the key to success was not the core technology, but rather issues such as getting thousands of suppliers onboarded, sharing catalogues, and other practical aspects of dealing with a giant community of buyers and sellers.

Parnaby saw the potential to apply in a business context some of the emerging “consumer” approach – platforms that helped you link with your friends, such as the nascent Facebook. So he raised money to found Rollstream in 2006. The first customer was Tesco – nothing like getting a pretty well-known first client! The firm had grown slowly but steadily to around 25 people when GXS came along in March 2011 and acquired Rollstream.

GXS used to be known as GEIS – originally part of the huge GE empire. They were spun out of GE in 2002, and are owned now by a bunch of VC firms. They’re a large firm – around $500 million in revenue last year, and with managed services an important and growing part of their business, their prospects continue to look good. This is how they themselves describe what they do.

Data integration between businesses is essential to both growth and bottom-line performance, but it is challenging, complex and costly to implement and maintain—especially in today's increasing global reality. At GXS, we provide a unique cloud integration capability and approach that shield this complexity, reduce overall costs, while also improving business performance for our customers and their partners.

Basically, they enable transactions between buyers and sellers or other players in the supply chain; they’re huge in markets like retail, distribution, financial and insurance and similar where there are complex supply chains with large numbers of participants and massive numbers of links, documents and data going backwards and forwards.

The fit between the firms is clear – Rollstream, now positioned as a GXS product, provides the “social” layer, enabling easier and better communication between the participants who are using GXS network services.  So, as Parnaby puts it, “Rollstream sits on top of the trading grid”.

So what does Rollstream actually do – or enable you to do? It can start with the onboarding process, using the platform to enable easy capture of information about new suppliers. We’ve written a lot recently about Supplier Information Management (SIM) in recent months, and the importance of getting this central element of the procurement task right - here’s another example of a provider looking to facilitate that set of processes. And, never mind the "sexy" social networking parallels, that SIM imperative is the "serious" core of the Rollstream product.

Rollstream also then enables communication between the buyer and suppliers, which may be for a number of different purposes - and we’ll explore some of those tomorrow.  “It enables buyer and seller to get closer to the transaction – you can get an instant response to issues at transactional level”, Parnaby explains.

Which takes us nicely into the ODA / Skanska fraud we reported on last week. As we said then, if  ODA and Skanska had this sort of facility, a very quick communication between them to check that Skanska really had changed their bank account details would have saved a lot of problems...

More in part 2 anyway when we’ll look at the Rollstream product and its capabilities / benefits in more detail.

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