Solutiam – A New Platform for Seekers of Procurement Market Knowledge

We discovered a new (ish) procurement platform recently that we thought you would be interested to hear about. From what we could see when we came across it, Solutiam takes buyers’ (called “seekers”) procurement-market-related questions and answers them with input from deep experts. It signs up, vets and coordinates those deep experts and matches them to the question of the procurement professional. We wondered how well that would actually work in practice, and how useful and targeted the answers would be - so we took a closer look.

It’s a development from (fairly) new consulting firm Enabling Procurement SPRL, founded in Belgium in 2015, but now with a UK office as well. It’s fair to say we hadn’t really come across them before, but you can read about them here. They offered us a chance to trial the platform and see what we thought – so here’s a report of our one-off experience.

We asked for a market consultation on eSourcing software, for what could be described as a mid-size, UK-based, manufacturing organisation with a budget of £100m, and we devised this question:

“We want to buy an eSourcing system. We spend about £100 million year, not all will go through the system but we want to be able to do RFPs and auctions across both direct materials and indirect spend. What are the things we should look for / ask potential suppliers when we make our choice – and can you recommend up to half a dozen suppliers who should definitely be on our list of firms to talk to. We are UK based.”

We started by accessing the portal, with a quick sign up. You have to choose between a market consultation or benchmark-related question to get started. But we are told by the firm that as they further develop the platform they aim to offer a full suite of questions covering all aspects of the sourcing/category management/procurement process. It then takes you methodically through the steps to frame your query. First you choose a category of question – there are many – we chose ‘Business Function Specific Software.’ Then you fill out your spend, geography, industry, choice of language (impressive – wonder if they use native experts or translators) and write your question (with room for added comments about yourself and requirement).

It then presents you with a choice of experts (you can shortlist them from 1 to 4) but we didn’t see any evidence of eSourcing-specific knowledge, at that stage, in the bios of any of the choices presented to us. We chose one, just to see how that would pan out (and wondered what the benefit of choosing two or more would be). But that seems a rather irrelevant step now, as the report we received was from another expert – no complaints by the way – who did indeed have deep experience in our subject.

The platform is pretty intuitive to use and navigates very well – surprisingly, it was super quick. I think it took about 2 minutes to fill in the form. The confirmation email was immediate and even gave us an exact date of when we would receive the report, which was in about a week’s time – it came early! The resultant report arrives laid out in the style of a Word document template which the expert has used to fill in, it does contain the instructions and advice for the expert, which seemed a bit odd – we thought that could be tailored better for the seeker’s eyes. However, that did not deter from the consultant’s answers – which were far from template-style.

It was a very detailed and considered review of our question, spanning six pages – and made some very knowledgeable and useful recommendations. We won’t go into the advice here, that is not our remit for this article, but suffice to say we were impressed with the level of intelligence it offered.

It began with a General Description of the Market, the types of suppliers within it, and explained them broadly to us. It then selected three suppliers it matched to our requirement and gave the reasons why they would be a good fit, taking into account, Quality, Price and Service. Again, it’s quite broad in this detail but a good foundation. It also gives both strengths and weaknesses for each – it’s not a sell, it just helps you decide the best fit. It then went on to describe the ‘cost drivers’ for its selection of suppliers – which was very thorough – and gave advice on what the buyer needs to have done in advance of choosing a supplier – like considering numbers of licences, forecasting the number of eSourcing events in the coming year, and how to communicate your needs to the market. So genuinely some strong advice on how to proceed. In fact, the advice on criteria to consider when making a selection was extremely welcome, and we especially liked the extra information it provided that you could realistically use in your own RFI or RFP -- that was very helpful.

The experts seem to be a mix of independent contractors, business owners, consultants, certainly people who have been deeply involved in procurement – our expert was co-founder of an eSourcing solution provider himself, and all advice came from his involvement in the industry, but avoided any bias towards his own firm, we’re pleased to say!

The platform is a little clunky, with some sections needing a little touch of ‘better English’ to make the questions a bit clearer. But we’re sure that will improve as the platform develops. Some experts have yet to include their bios for example.

And we don’t know yet exactly how the experts sign up to the portal, whether they are head-hunted, targeted, or indeed exactly how they are vetted (although we understand that they are). But we do know that they receive a fee once the ‘seeker’ is happy with the report. The fees go up in 250 euro increments depending on how many experts you choose, and the output you receive is very good.

It doesn’t have the detail, depth of technical explanations, or market comparisons that something like Spend Matters deep-dive tech analysis SolutionMap can offer, this is a different level of requirement. But, particularly for small and medium-size enterprises, which maybe don’t have the in-house resource, time, and experience to do detailed analysis or research in areas like technology, or maybe don’t have a procurement department at all, it could clearly be useful and is, above all, extremely good value.

We will continue to watch with interest, in the meantime, take a look for yourself here.

 

Voices (4)

  1. Jennifer:

    It sounds exciting. I like that it’s scalable. Smaller companies will be able to take advantage of this product in a way that is in line with their unique budgets without a long-term contract.

  2. Eric:

    It sounds promising– usually you can save a lot of time if you can just find the right person to ask. but i wonder how many experts they really have, or if for the test it was just an ”easy” question.

    1. Olivier, product director Solutiam:

      Hi Eric

      The question did not seem particularly easy to me: the eSourcing category is a fairly complex beast. An easy question would have been about forklift trucks or desks, basically a simple commodity product.

      As for the experts, all the people we have are great procurement professionals, but we still are short and are always looking for professionals who want to earn a little more. It is worth pointing out that experts can only register in one category, so they have deep and extensive knowledge of the subject matter.

      Most of the answers we see on solutiam.com offer substantive, accurate guidance that is worth much more that the 250 euro they cost.

    2. Peter Smith:

      Eric, We certainly didn’t select the question to be “easy” – and we chose it all by ourselves! We chose it because we could judge how good the answer was, so it seemed a good test. If we had asked about forklift trucks or similar, I would not have known whether the answer was good or rubbish! One test does not prove the service of course but it is fair to say we were pleasantly surprised. Peter

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