RollStream: Community Management Becomes Supplier Management (Part 1)

Over the summer, I caught up with RollStream, a provider in the supplier information management arena that I've been meaning to write about for sometime, but somehow de-prioritized amidst other happenings in the market. This is a somewhat uncommon occurrence -- I try to write about providers I talk to and feel like sharing with the broader community within at least a month or two of my initial discussions with them -- but none-the-less happens from time-to-time for various reasons. RollStream is most certainly a provider that deserves to have its day on these virtual pages, not to mention others. For their approach to supplier information management appears quite different than many of the current players touting such solutions, a number of whom seemingly usurped much of Aravo's marketing and product management card.

RollStream's experience developing and helping to manage both customer and supplier communities is what sets them apart when it comes time to enable organizations better manage supplier information. Moreover, their experience working large clients across industries (e.g., McKesson, CardinalHealth, Dell, Walgreens, Esco, etc.) has provided them with the knowledge of scale that it takes to effectively deploy a broader enterprise program, despite their rather small size (30 employees when I talked to them last). In our discussion, I was personally impressed at the size and scope of engagement with one customer, who was working across multiple areas (e.g., sales, customer service, returns, supply chain) to drive a range of initiatives, from supplier registration/compliance to diversity, sustainability and contract administration.

Moreover, their case studies suggest an understanding of the nuances within both direct and indirect supply chains. For example, one organization in the medical device sector is using RollStream across 1,800 direct materials suppliers for a range of capabilities, from basic on-boarding and credential management to FDA policy/compliance and even co-marketing programs with top-tier suppliers. At the heart of RollStream's philosophy that enables this type of engagement is a belief that it's possible -- and indeed beneficial -- to manage both supplier and customer communities (as well as internal stakeholders) on a single platform. In this regard, they stand alone in the supplier information management market, a sector dominated by other providers focused exclusively on suppliers and supply chain related matters.

How does this approach differ from others and ultimately manifest in a different solution philosophy? It begins by starting with a belief in the power of community rather than simply an initiative (e.g., supplier compliance around diversity, insurance certificates, certifications, etc.) And it progresses to a platform that not only embeds rigorous yet flexible business process management / workflow capabilities as other competitors like Aravo, Emptoris and Ariba do, but also includes such elements as business collaboration, controlled community-based social networking and group-based learning and information sharing. And it also includes a number of other fundamental elements of what we've come to think of as supplier information management including a portal registration environment, forms management for information collection and automated alerts and triggers (e.g., for an insurance certification or contract expiration.

In my view, RollStreams' approach to supplier information management is a breath of fresh air in a market that has so far latched onto a common philosophy and group-think. But whether or not their message of community, collaboration and supplier management takes hold outside a rather small community of early adopters remains to be seen. Stay tuned for further commentary and analysis of RollStream in the coming weeks, including a look at some of the specific elements of their solution and what sets it apart in practice from others.

Jason Busch

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