Friday Rant: Beyond Sourcing and P2P Applications — Are We Entering the Platform Era??

This week, I sat through a relatively quick demonstration of the FullStep sourcing platform (sourcing is but one component of FullStep's suite -- they also excel in supplier/part quality management, supplier performance and related areas). While I'll be writing up my analysis of FullStep once we've had the chance to complete our research, the hour I spent drilling into parts of their platform from a workflow and configurability standpoint suggests to me -- along with other somewhat recent demonstrations of solutions from vendors like Intenda, IQNavigator, Aravo and Co-Exprise -- that we may have transitioned into the era of platforms. Not just platforms in the traditional sense of the word -- rather, absolute configurable environments that take over the role of operating system built upon how we work and what we require in our functional tools. At their core, these are operating systems that don't require custom development or coding to truly shine. Rather, a technically savvy business user or analyst can run with the kernel provided to them and create a truly bespoke environment without knowing a single line of Java, PHP or any other development language.

The notion of a platform or operating system that can, with relative ease, mirror highly complex real-world workflows and processes is not new in this sector. Consider Frictionless, whom SAP purchased years ago (or Atlas Commerce, which became part of Verticalnet which is now, in part, in aspects of the BravoSolution DNA). Functionally, it's taken the SAP Sourcing (Frictionless) and contract management application nearly a decade to get at or close to the levels of perennial sourcing favorites like Ariba or Emptoris from a functional standpoint (it's still not there in some areas, mind you). Yet it garnered a sizable following years ago because of the degree of configurability the platform enabled. Because at its core, like the others I mentioned at the start of this rant, it's an operating system to build on rather than just an application.

Perhaps it's useful at this point to define what separates out an OS/platform from an application (which may also help those in the early stages of considering what the heck they need from a vendor). OS/platforms:

  • Allow you first to look at process and then mirror a current/desired state in the application rather than starting with an application and configuring/customizing from a base case
  • Provide a means to create a truly customized workflow/process/rules environment throughout the application rather than just in select areas without custom development
  • Often deliver something that feels exceptional as a core component of an architecture that can be deployed throughout the system (e.g., in the case of Co-Exprise, the ability to create a new level of document protection in global sourcing environments for everything from Word to PPT to 2D/3D renderings)
  • Often trade out (but not always) absolute functional capability in specific areas for configurability and user-defined work cases at lower levels. For example, FullStep has one of the better multi-attribute weighting/comparison interfaces and engines I've seen for both price/non-price factors, yet it lacks the ability to add non-item based constraints
  • Often win over IT-type users and stakeholders relative to other solutions based systems integration advantages (third-party tools, ERP, etc.)
  • Can often be used to support business applications/requirements outside of the area they were initially created for (and purchased, for matter)
  • Simplify the upgrade process (both SaaS and non-SaaS) in highly configured deployments relative to installed software (i.e., if you want to take advantage of technology coming around the corner from your vendor anytime in this decade without a major heart attack during an upgrade, OS/platforms may be the way to go)

Organizations that go down the OS/platform line may certainly feel like pioneers relative to their peers who feel safe using industry-standard applications designed to drive highly specific use-cases and outcomes. And depending on their appetite for uncertainty and asking "why" and "what" more than "how," they may or may not be good candidates (and clearly, many users of OS/platforms make decisions by happenstance without realizing the underlying power of what they've purchased). But for a certain minority of companies, the decision to go down the OS/platform line is often a no-brainer when they see the type of power at their fingertips to create an application environment that can mirror the optimal DNA of a specific corporate culture or industry.

As a final side-note, the OS/platform topic is a theme we've tackled before. And you can be sure (especially as we continue to discover new solutions that leverage a platform-based deployment approach) you'll be hearing more from us again on the topic.

Jason Busch

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