RollStream — Taking a Consumer-Based Approach to Supplier Information Management (Part 2)

In the first part of this column, I examined some of the basics about RollStream, a vendor in the supplier information management market that takes a different approach than their competitors in targeting the SIM arena. Today, we'll continue this analysis, looking at how RollStream's solutions work in practice as well as the reaction I think that prospects and users will have to their approach vs. others. To recap and set the stage for this analysis, at the heart of RollStream's supplier management approach is what they describe as community information management (which when it comes to the supply side, encompasses everything we've come to think of that fits within SIM plus supplier performance and dispute management as well).

Perhaps the most interesting component of what community information management allows is the type of business "social interaction" to truly engage a set of stakeholders and suppliers in an environment that feels more like a consumer application than an enterprise one. This is not to say that basic workflow, forms and related depth are not sufficient -- they appear to make the basic grade after a quick look. But I can certainly see the ability to truly engage a set of suppliers just as you would a social network -- complete with tagging, flexible visualization (e.g., geographic map) and related capabilities -- to be a plus in some company's eyes, especially as it pertains to getting the most from a newer generation of worker accustomed to this sort of interface versus those schooled in the original ERP world.

In a demonstration situation, the interface will feel significantly less inhibitive than RollStream's competitors when it comes to performing basic tasks. For example, there are multiple ways of getting at the same information on a supplier based on how you want to discover it (or even stumble upon it as you look through a related item or meme). And it even includes pictures -- of supplier contacts, for example. The downside of this, of course, is that the application does not create the same set structure and hierarchy that forces a certain type of training and rigor on a user.

While this might sound like an advantage, it can actually be a disadvantage when it comes to making sure users are getting everything out of the application they can, such as the ability to make the most from performance management capabilities by knowing all of the reporting, administration and forms creation tricks. Moreover, it can also lead to a cluttered browser screen relative to competing products. However, it's this type of organized information chaos that so much of the social networking generation is already confident in navigating, so I'm not sure how much this matters.

At its heart, RollStream feels very much like a data repository to me, albeit with a rather modern and slick interface. While it most certainly lacks the depth of information and process integration as some other products in the market (e.g., tier two diversity process creation / monitoring and supplier risk management that enables the ability to see risk profiles as part of sourcing, spend visibility and other areas vs. simply in an information management module) I can certainly see how RollStream's fresh approach could prove appealing to companies evaluating them in the context of all the other solutions in the market. The ability to build communities of interest -- and even sub-communities of interest such as those by supplier category -- as well as specific teams, projects and initiatives is quick, easy and potentially powerful.

And none of this is to say that RollStream lacks what their competitors do when it comes to the ability to configure, for example, a supplier registration process on a highly granular level, complete with significant customization on a particular level (e.g., category), exception management and overall workflow design. In fact, some might prefer RollStream's intuitive set-up and administration to others in this regard. Still, at the end of the day, it feels to me that RollStream's overall interface and approach will probably be a bit too non-traditional for companies looking to set up basic supplier management capabilities.

After all, the last thing that many overworked professionals in this industry want is to have to administer a new community for both internal/external users on top of everything else they already do -- and are now being forced to do with a new supplier information management responsibility. But I'd argue that even if this approach sounds too radical for your particular company or specific supplier management need, toss RollStream into the mix. You might be quite surprised at how they stack up relative to some of the more familiar names in the space.

- Jason Busch

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