onPanjiva — Will a Community or AppExchange-Like Model to Supplier Content Work?

It's not too often that you see true creativity on a continuous basis in the procurement space from both a product innovation and marketing perspective -- especially from small start-ups that can rarely afford to focus on anything beyond a single area if they're to succeed. After all, as anyone in the entrepreneurial world knows -- let alone any procurement organization -- it's the execution that matters über allies rather than just having, and even selling, good ideas. But Panjiva, a provider that competes in the busy space of aggregating and analyzing global trade data, has risen to the forefront of the market from a mindshare and ideas perspective in just a matter of months. Their most recent offering onPanjiva represents yet another level of marketing genius designed to inject some excitement into the supplier content marketplace.

According to Panjiva, the new program provides a means for third party supplier content providers to "publish their information on the Panjiva platform" representing "the next step in our efforts to connect global trade decision-makers with the information they need". In other words, Panjiva is attempting to become a distribution hub for the many decentralized sources of supplier information in the market -- from trade and risk information to parentage, diversity, compliance and many other areas. From a procurement perspective, they want to become a one-stop for consumers of supplier information to acquire data from multiple providers. It's either an incredibly shrewd or an incredibly stupid move depending on how you look at it. I sincerely hope, given the risk that Panjiva is taking by going out on a limb with the concept, that it falls into the prescient camp.

The existing world of supplier information is a highly conservative, highly staid marketplace. Granted, there have been a few signs of innovation on the fringes (e.g., OpenRatings and later DNBi combining supplier performance and supplier financial information to create a predictive risk model that is more accurate than looking at either information area separately), but in general, the market is about as conservative and un-innovative as it gets. Take supplier diversity for example. Leaders such as CVM Solutions compete more on accuracy and price than on innovative offerings (except, perhaps, in multi-tier supplier diversity programs, where innovation counts to some degree). This is a sign of a market in need of a shake-up. And who better than a company like Panjiva to do it. But it won't be easy for a number of reasons which I'll outline below.

To begin, the challenge of getting enough critical information mass across a large enough category of suppliers (e.g., domestic and international) will not be easy. Panjiva's core business is providing intelligence on global suppliers from a volume and risk perspective where cross-border transactions are involved. This requires a different competence than looking closely at say, supplier compliance and certification data (as does validating this type of data as part of a deep quality control process process versus simply publishing it to make it available). In addition, vetting and managing the quality of third-party data given the different requirements in each area will not be easy -- nor will managing information delivery, visualization and analytics that companies want to layer on top of it (especially when companies want to begin to combine sources of information together). Consider how managing and aggregating trade and manifest data from millions of suppliers requires a different competence than insuring the thoroughness and depth of supplier audit information or quality certification reviews (where individual supplier analyses can total 200+ pages in length).

Moreover, the ultimate consumers of this information within companies often vary significantly, perhaps rendering the concept of a single marketplace irrelevant. For example, the people who tend to care about supplier diversity have historically been different from those who care about green/sustainability, parent/child relationships, overall spend visibility, supplier performance, supplier financial risk and supplier compliance (e.g., insurance certifications, production processes, data management processes, etc.).

In the future, I would hope this changes and that organizations appoint a single point of contact or team for managing supplier information within their organization. But for now, most companies take a siloed approach to not only how they manage most forms of supplier information, but how they acquire it as well. This does not necessarily bode well for an onPanjiva type of model that offers a shopping mall approach to information. Still, the move shows the type of determination and vision that the supplier information management and content marketplace needs. Kudos to Josh Green, Panjiva's CEO, and his team for having the foresight to roll the dice on this one.

As a final aside, I reached out to Josh to ask how they would address some of my concerns around information quality. Here's what he had to say: "Applicants who are deemed promising, based on the preliminary application, will be asked to provide a data sample, answer "data diligence" questions, as well as provide information about the nature of the relationship they'd like to form [with us]." The types of questions Panjiva plans to use in the vetting seem reasonable in my view. These include, "questions around data integrity (e.g., please describe the maintenance of the data? How do you obtain the data? How is the data verified? How accurate is the data? How do you measure accuracy? How often is the data updated? What is the update process?"

All in all, it's clear Panjiva has done their initial homework on how to vet potential participants in their supplier content exchange model. But whether or not this takes off is anyone's guess. Still, I'm pulling for them, because if they can make this work, it will have a tremendous positive impact on procurement organizations when it comes to acquiring supplier content to better manage supplier information and supplier relationships.

Enough from me. What do you think of the prospects of such a supplier information bazaar?

Jason Busch

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