HICX Solutions – Mastering Supplier Master Data (Part 1)

In this three-part interview, we talk to Costas Xyloyiannis and Hassan Ismail, founders of HICX Solutions. In part 1, we take a look at the background to the business and how it got to where it is today – a rapidly growing solution provider in the supplier information management and supplier master data space.

The Beginning

HICX does not fit neatly into the major procurement solution provider categories – definitions such as sourcing, purchase-to-pay, or source-to-contract. “Supplier Information Management” is probably the best shorthand to describe the HICX solution, but as we will see later, that terminology is used pretty inexactly in the industry, and in addition, the HICX capability does extend beyond that, into areas such as risk and contract management.

But to go back to the beginning, there are a number of unusual and interesting aspects to the HICX story, and the first of those comes right at the start. Costas was at Imperial College, London, studying Computer Science, when he got a final-year student placement with Novartis back in 2001. That happened to be in the procurement department – a twist of fate that defined his life since then.

The CPO of Novartis at the time asked him to build a website for the procurement team. His success and speed in doing that (while other parts of the business were spending a fortune paying consultants to do the same) led to the CPO asking him to build a “global supplier database”.

At this point, Costas saw some potential in this from a wider business perspective – it was also certainly more lucrative than working in the student bar! So, he enrolled Hassan, his friend and hall-mate from Imperial. “We were two of the tech geeks, really”, he explains.

As well as their own work, it was also interesting for them to see Novartis implementing Ariba – and then ICG Commerce and SAP for different applications. “We saw that ERP systems which were supposed to solve all the challenges of supplier data simply didn’t”. That’s a theme we will come back to later and which is still central to the HICX proposition today, 15 years on.

Soon, the challenges and fascination of supplier information management became obvious to Novartis and Costas. For instance, Novartis signed up to the UN Global Compact, which covered a range of CSR-type issues, and suddenly procurement was expected to have a process in place to collect data and track many thousands of suppliers.

Then other requirements came along – such as information security, data privacy, more environmental and human rights compliance. All of these challenges emphasised the importance of having a clear central supplier data record, and helped the HICX founders understand what was needed for effective supplier information management.

“Of course, procurement can’t be fully responsible for all of these issues, other parts of the business have to play their role, but procurement can bring visibility and governance to the process”, according to Costas.

Becoming a business

Moving on, our young entrepreneurs realised that as much as working in effect as consultants inside Novartis was fun and made them decent money, it was not really scalable. So, in 2004, they took steps to “become a product business – we needed to build a generic product based on the original concepts”.

Remember, the guys at this point were still only in their early twenties, so, perhaps not surprisingly, “we made some mistakes. We really didn’t know how to go to market; we tried to build a relationship with Dun & Bradstreet, we looked at working with and through big consulting firms, but while we were always profitable, we didn’t grow in the way we thought we should”.

After this period of strategic trial and error, the turning point came in 2012, with the decision to become more self-standing, and recruitment of a US sales team. Soon, some big-name customers were signing up, in the UK and the DACH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), as well as the US – names such as BAE Systems, AutoNation and EDF Energy. In recent years, growth has accelerated, and the firm now has over 30 customers and is reporting growth rates of over 40% per year.

So, what is it that is attractive about the HICX concept and product? We’ll have a go at explaining that in part 2.

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