Dispatch From the Annual NMSDC Shindig, This Year in San Antonio

If you ever get near supplier diversity as practiced in the commercial sector, you will come across the tongue-twisting acronym NMSDC – the bane of many conference speakers. NMSDC stands for National Minority Supplier Development Council – try to say that three times quickly!

Every year the organization holds their national event in a different city in the country, Denver was the location last year; this time, it’s in San Antonio. The business expo portion of the conference wrapped up on Monday evening this week, with 5,000 to 6,000 attendees, a fairly large conference.

The organization goes back to 1972. Although partially focused on policy-making in DC, it mainly works with certifying smaller minority owned businesses, historically with a focus on black-owned businesses in particular, but all minorities are included and active in the organization. The certified firms are then engaged in matchmaking with the large Global 2000 firms that are corporate members and sponsors of NMSDC.

Additionally, NMSDC provides training in various aspects of running and growing a small business – there are many similarities with ISM (which NMSDC has a partnership with) and ISM has relatively recently rolled out a supplier diversity certification program as well. Regionally, the organization has chapters in many large states or areas – e.g. GMSDC is in Georgia – where it has corporate (non-diverse) members such as Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Newell-Rubbermaid, UPS, and many others in additions to the many diverse member firms that the organization certifies (validating that the minority firm is indeed majority owned and actually operated by an African-American, or an Asian, or a Hispanic, etc.).

With that as background – how was this year’s conference? This was my 6th or maybe even 7th NMSDC conference, with many familiar faces, companies, and activities – and I thought I'd share a few observations.

New NMSDC national database - A longstanding flawed offering by the organization is about to get better. There will finally be a national database of NMSDC-certified suppliers. Long overdue!  Comments about the new solution below as it was shown publicly for the first time yesterday.

The less said about the old version, the better. Suffice to say that its shortcomings were legion and spawned several business opportunities for firms like AECsoft USA (now Sciquest), CVM Solutions (now part of Kroll) and SupplierGateway/DIR (still independent!). The new NMSDC tool will be based off a product named PRISM – a relatively off-the-shelf product developed and supported by Early Morning Software, out of Baltimore.

A quick summary of PRISM’s features as they were presented (I have yet to assess the capabilities in depth):

  • Mature product – 16 years in production – currently version 7.14
  • SaaS deployed
  • 16 deployments nationally
  • Not custom for NMSDC – but configured to their needs
  • $100B in spend has gone through the solution’s bid board feature
  • Surrounding features include CLM, n-tier spend reporting, SIM functionality, Payroll features, workforce utilization, and DOL EEO1 reports around workforce composition
  • Supplier search and sourcing
  • Supplier registration

One reference site used during the presentation was Hillsborough.prismportal.com. This implementation features searches that go beyond the MBE category (small and woman owned for example), but this will probably be omitted in the NMSDC version. Early Morning Software also has a “PRISM Nation” module, a national supplier DB.

I will do a deeper review of Early Morning Software’s and PRISM’s capabilities later, but at this stage it looks like the firm can deliver significant capabilities that should greatly enhance the visibility into NMSDC’s database – which has been a major trouble spot for years. Their challenge will most likely lie in persuading NMSDC’s leadership to enable the features to their fullest.  The organization is notoriously protective of its database, and even though it seems counterproductive to their mission to keep the data under so many locks and keys, I suspect that NMSDC will continue to do so.

NMSDC consolidation – It happens to all organizations. It was announced yesterday that NMSDC is (somewhat forcibly...) merging several chapters – San Diego joins with Arizona, Las Vegas will go to Northern California, St. Louis goes to Indiana, and Ohio’s two councils will merge into one. And there are more changes. In the bigger picture, NMSDC is cutting councils from 36 to 24 in order to increase efficiency and reduce overhead.  According to NMSDC, this is also something that has been requested by corporate members as well as larger diverse suppliers, as it means fewer councils to stay current with.

Hire experienced supplier diversity pros – The NMSDC chapter consolidation, which rumors tell me has been a rather contentious issue internally, is obviously leading to the elimination of several senior positions. I have heard talk about attrition at the councils’ senior levels right away, before positions are eliminated. This could be an opportunity for corporations to hire seasoned senior diversity program managers, and for solution providers to hire program managers to help you address product shortcomings, strengthen your small and diverse supplier management features, and sell your product in a new area.

No reciprocal certifications – These are going away. Previously you were certified by one chapter, which became your “home” chapter. And then you had to get reciprocally certified by other chapters if you were selling your goods and services more broadly. It’s an antiquated approach that mostly wasted time and money on rubberstamp activities – good to do away with.

You can read more about the NMSDC roadmap here, and check back for the second half of this post.

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Voices (2)

  1. Thomas Kase:


    Perhaps I should have said a “working” national database… The old one (MBSYS) was fairly horrible. Stale content, sad searchability, and prone to crashes. Also, and possibly not MBSYS fault, but the fact that supplier records disappeared right away as their certifications expired made audits unnecessarily difficult or impossible. Strangely some certified suppliers (Corporate Plus) weren’t to be seen in the database – at least at times. Not much of a database – certainly didn’t meet corporate needs. There’s a reason for the change to PRISM! The shortcomings of MBSYS also helped fuel the vendor master scrub business – something that gave CVM Solutions and AECsoft USA (now SciQuest) a lot of business.

    You also touch on an area where NMSDC has failed to meet either corporate or diverse supplier needs – the lacking export/download functionality. Example: if I’m a corporate member, and plan to have a regional diverse supplier event, and I want to contact certified NMSDC suppliers in the area, I can’t do that on my own – can’t get those records from the database. This is a shortsighted design. Connecting corporates and diverse firms is paramount – don’t be a roadblock, be an enabler. Companies use CRM systems or other ways to manage outreach efforts, preventing them from using their preferred method of engagement isn’t helping the supplier diversity cause.

    So, maybe I do know things… 🙂

  2. Martha Edwards:

    There was always a national database…. get your facts straight. What people always complained about was not being able to download the database for their own use, which should never happen anyway. But NMSDC always has had a national database. And corporations are the ones that are against having a bid board. NMSDC has brought that to the attention of their board going back to 2006 and their corporate members have made it clear that a bid board is not preferable especially if other corporations can find out what they are looking for. So why don’t you get facts before posting things about things you apparently know nothing about.

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