Science Warehouse Customer Event – Focus On Product Enhancement

Science Warehouse (SWL), the Leeds-based eProcurement business, was initially a spin-out from Leeds University, created by Dr David Hames to meet the needs of scientists who found ordering complex products like reagents difficult using conventional means.

So it was appropriate that the firm’s customer event was held last week at the University, and was opened by Professor Lisa Roberts, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and a virologist herself who has been a user of the SWL product. She told around 100 delegates – both customers and some suppliers who sell via the SWL marketplace – that Leeds Uni has created 110 spinouts since 1995, and is launching Nexus in 2018, a major new innovation centre on campus that will provide incubation facilities and help create an “innovation community”.

She handed over to Philip Padfield, who has been CEO now at SWL for two years. He talked about a strategic decision to invest in the user interface (UI), the platform architecture and development of key features and capability, rather than spend money on international expansion, which had been the intent. That strikes us as a smart move; we all know how fast technology is moving and improving, and while SWL has a pretty loyal customer base, product investment must be a high priority to maintain and indeed grow that.

The firm has upgraded the “search” capability considerably, and later in the day we saw how that how works, and it certainly looked good. Apparently, customers at previous events had raised that as a key area for potential improvement.  In the next 12 months, Padfield wants to improve supplier onboarding further (there have already been positive changes in that area, including introduction of a new free option for smaller suppliers working through the platform), and introduce the “next generation” of e-requisitioning capability. There will also be tools to help users manage their own catalogues, and tools to support compliance to contracts and pricing.

As we heard later from the firm's CTO, the impressive Jonathan Russell, SWL executed a “lift and shift” of their data centre to Rackspace in August last year. (There is also a data centre in Australia, where the firm has a decent presence). “All of our new developments are now hosted in the Amazon Web Services cloud” he said, and wherever possible the strategy is buy not build, and use industry standard tools and practices. That is not driven by cost reduction, and the investment in infrastructure and cloud service is growing; this provides better outcomes and more flexibility, he said.

The event was attended by a number of SWL partners, including Spend 360 – acquired recently by Coupa of course. Spend 360 provide the spend analytics “engine” that is used in the SWL product, and so far the Coupa tie-up has not affected that relationship. Another partner is  Atamis, based in Wales,  who again provide spend analysis but also other capabilities such as sourcing and contract management tools. We don’t know that firm well, but we hope to feature more about them here soon. Their client base is heavily public sector, and while they are still small, they’re growing strongly.

The launch of the SWL “Procurement Trends” report, based on an extensive survey, was another highlight, and more on that shortly. So overall, it was a good day, with, a lot of useful two-way and indeed three-way discussion between SWL, clients and supply-side marketplace participants, and we’ll be back with more from Leeds in the near future.

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