Social Collaboration and Information in Procurement Applications

Over on Spend Matters PRO, we're busy wrapping up four-part analysis exploring the future of social collaboration and information within procurement applications, including an current available capabilities and those which more advanced providers are planning for tomorrow. It's a useful primer on the topic for technology providers, practitioners and consultants alike keen to explore and learn about social media, social tools and social collaboration in the context of procurement applications, routine and process.

Below, we feature Part 1 of this series from Spend Matters PRO. Not yet a member? Subscribe, test it for a week for free, or request a demo.

Social news, media and collaboration are all around us within the procurement, finance and operations worlds. On LinkedIn, popular procurement related groups have thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, members. While size is not necessarily a gauge of value – just as savings or PPV is not necessarily the most important KPI in measuring procurement performance – it amazes us that the group Ariba started on LinkedIn, Sourcing and Procurement has 58,523 members. Niche social networks aimed at procurement, such as, a beta site originally created to encourage ways of fostering category-level collaboration between organizations, have also emerged.

Some of these sites promise structured collaboration amongst professionals. One of the concepts behind, for example, is to enable users to post live sourcing projects, on a category basis, and contact other "peers" at third-party companies working on the same spend areas enabling the ability to share category intelligence, best practices (e.g., templates) and experience. There's also a means of researching basic supplier information, including news, financials and contacts.

Despite this focused approach, has not made it out of beta (we know this because we're a part of the team that created it). During the initial beta deployment, we ran into numerous challenges, primarily focused on the best means of fostering collaboration and concentrating energy around a specific topic at a specific point in time. We found that the technical aspects of social collaboration can often prove the easy part. It's the human elements that are the hardest!

While the concept is not yet dead, we think a lot of the foundational elements of social collaboration are going to increasingly work their way into procurement applications themselves. Take the case of Fieldglass, for example, which we wrote about earlier this week. While Fieldglass is still only taking early steps toward what those who spend time on Facebook would consider social collaboration and networking on a peer basis, it is clearly moving its application in the right direction.

RollStream, a supplier management application owned by GXS, is also heading in the right direction – and is actually ahead of Fieldglass and others in looking at how the core toolset incorporates social frameworks, collaboration and architecture into both internal and supplier interactions, communication trails and related areas. Yet if we take a step back for a minute, what are the most important foundational elements of where social collaboration can fit into a procurement application itself?

The first area is file sharing. Here, sharing files in the context of a desktop or mobile browser by selecting them like uploading a picture onto Facebook – or uploading from an iPhone in the case of say, a video of a plant tour – is a good place to start. What procurement can do with file sharing is similar to what SalesForce has done with its Chatter product, where you can "securely share [files] with colleagues, teams, and even people outside your organization with a simple drag and drop. You can make comments on files, track version control, and subscribe to receive updates the minute anything changes."

If you think about commenting and sharing a news story, photo, video or update on Facebook, you've got the idea. For example, a supplier diversity manager might upload a snapshot of dashboard with the latest KPIs pertaining to a supplier's performance and then invite others, potentially business stakeholders, to come in and comment and annotate the original dashboard information, which is then captured as an unstructured collaboration note alongside the underlying system of record-based information itself.

Next is feeds – similarly to what SalesForce has done with Chatter. Feeds can provide the ability to "monitor the people, groups, and projects that matter most to you in one spot ... teams [can] work together on fast-moving issues such as sales pursuits, customer projects, and marketing campaigns."

In the context of procurement, a feed could be RSS of a blog or news site. Or it could be a feed tracking commodity prices. For example, the MetalMiner IndX provides an API-based feed for 700 metals prices that can be consumed within the context of any type of procurement application. But a feed doesn't have to come from a third-party source in the form of news story or data. It could also come from internal systems or a supplier's desktop. It might archive, for example, SMS of SMS-like texts from communications with suppliers. Or it might include one-click access to voicemails that have been tagged as part of a project with specific information – or webinars, videos, etc. There's really no limit. But the key (and the value) is being able to read, archive, collaborate and comment on the information while also using it in a structured manner (when necessary).

Another concept is groups within a socially-oriented application (sourcing, supplier management, etc). SalesForce Chatter also provides an archetype here for procurement to follow. As SalesForce observes, "groups help your teams get organized, share information, collaborate on documents, and work more productively to get things done. [One can] set up private groups ... to work privately on sensitive projects with specific colleagues or public groups for information that's relevant to the whole company."

Groups have tremendous applicability across the world of procurement tools. For example, in a supplier management context, the ability to create a group that consists of procurement, supply chain, environmental, health and safety and risk management professionals to manage an audit of a strategic supplier could be highly valuable. This group, like a LinkedIn group, could share files and engage in structured/unstructured collaboration activities together.

Perhaps most important of all, social collaboration in a procurement context gets out of the Microsoft Office (Excel, Outlook, etc.) environment in which the richness of conversation and dialogue is lost – or never occurs in the first place. But more on that in Part 2 of this series, next week! And stay tuned as we explore how to get social curmudgeons engaged in activity without them even knowing their slowly getting dragged into the corporate equivalent of Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and Pinterest.

Spend Matters PRO subscribers can access Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 (publishing later this week).

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- Jason Busch

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First Voice

  1. Kevin Lemmens:

    Nice post. It’s an interesting and challenging topic. I think procurement is just in its early stages.

    You mentioned RSS feed with procurement related blogs/news. Readers may be interested in the following site:
    it combines several procurement blogs/news sites, and automatically (RSS) displays the five most recent blogposts. (it’s a ‘beta’ version)

    Kind regards,

    ps. keep up the good work SM

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