Digital procurement’s new frontier: Closing the knowledge gap with market intelligence tools

SciQuest

The last several weeks of the COVID disruption has laid bare just how little companies sometimes know about their suppliers. It has become evident that truly knowing your suppliers goes beyond which one has passed their certifications or which one is hitting their KPIs. Your teams probably keep tabs on that, or soon will. But who is keeping tabs on what’s happening outside of your organization, giving your business visibility into the things that are beyond their sphere of vision?

“As organizations seek to become faster, more resilient and more agile, the modern procurement professional needs to know, in real time, what is happening in the suppliers’ world,” said Tim Czerwonka, COO of CatalyticsHub, a newly launched supplier intelligence tool from the procurement consulting firm Proxima. “For example, it should influence your thinking if your supplier (or a prospective one) has had poor financial results, made an acquisition or divestment, made a key hire, announced a new innovation or is facing litigation.”

Up-to-the-minute knowledge on suppliers and their competitors has proven to be crucial in a crisis. Still, it will be just as critical as businesses reboot and seek to gain an advantage in the inevitable race to come. At scale, digital tools are going to be a big part of the answer. They are the only way to find, join up and process the vast amounts of data out there in a way that can be harnessed by procurement. But is this happening?

Today, most digital procurement tools look inward to help stakeholders understand and improve what is happening inside of organizations, like driving efficiencies, lowering costs, increasing insights and managing risks. Those tools are a must in the modern world, but there is a blind spot because they don't tell you what's going on outside your business.

“We are not talking about risk and resilience tools here, or certifications, or onboarding tools,” Czerwonka said. “There are some great solutions out there, and they have a place. What we are focusing on is how procurement can access market intelligence to know what is happening in the market right now.”

Why? Because external insight is compelling. It tells you things that you probably don't know, and it gives you a platform to challenge internal thinking.

Procurement professionals all have war stories to tell about the battle to gain better stakeholder engagement. What if it turns out that stakeholders and superiors really just want to be challenged with insight? What if they want to look to procurement to learn something they don't know about a supplier, a client, prospective customer or new trend? Like, what’s going on with 5G? Are their emerging blockchain solutions? Where are our suppliers in the news? What about their competitors? What are the emerging innovations?

In today’s fast-paced world, supplier and category managers need to have those insights on tap — and certainly quicker than an RFX process can deliver them.

That is one of the next challenges for digital transformation — how does procurement add that next level of value to internal data by telling its company leaders things that are happening right now outside of their own organizations?

To find out more, we interviewed Tim Czerwonka about CatalyticsHub. He's based in London and gave us some insight into the new version of the market intelligence tool that's been in development for six months and launched in beta just a few weeks ago. The tool is already in use by several procurement organizations and a fast-growing number of supply chain and procurement professionals.

Q&A

How did your career lead you to this point, and why is a digital intelligence tool like CatalyticsHub important?

Tim: The majority of my career has been in industry procurement and procurement consulting. I have always been trying to find better ways of keeping informed about my key suppliers, and the things that interest me throughout. Whether it’s to manage key contracts, run a sourcing exercise, create category or supplier strategies, or prepare for negotiations, the most up-to-date information consistently enabled me to make the best decisions.

However, I have often been frustrated that finding that information could take days or weeks and it would often be out of date not long after it was found. When you're making high-stakes decisions every day you want to be sure that the information you're using is as up to date as it can be.

From my in-depth research over the years in procurement roles, it became clear that the data exists, it's available, it’s just hugely time-consuming to keep up to date. The data has never been brought together and fed to people to act upon.

This compelled us to look at how we could create that intelligence tool to bridge the gap, allowing our users to work with what’s happening right now.

How does CatalyticsHub gather information and make it actionable?

CatalyticsHub monitors activity and data about suppliers, categories and trends across the internet around the world. We track news and information sources and then consolidate and curate the information into relevant and manageable insight for our users to act upon.

We’ve created dedicated dashboards for all of our suppliers (and categories) which contain the different data points and news stories and these give our users different views and ways of interrogating the information. So at its simplest, a CatalyticsHub dashboard consolidates useful information from potentially thousands of sources, into one place, with associated search, trends, filters, etc.

But it doesn’t end there. We also use AI to perform sentiment anlaysis on the information we hold  to allow our users to quickly jump to news that might be good or bad in nature. This is very cool because it allows a hub users to quickly understand where there is (and the amount of) positive and negative news coverage so they can quickly take advantage of an opportunity or mitigate any risk.

The last thing we are doing is overlaying some human intelligence also, to curate what we think are absolutely must-know bits of information about your suppliers and put this in a live feed and searchable timeline. So our users can collectively know more about what interests them.

It seems like there's a lot of clutter online. How do you narrow down all of the information that's available?

Firstly, we look at a lot of stuff, and you are right, there is a lot of clutter. But hidden within it are some gems. We use a hybrid human-and-machine approach and use our AI and data experts to build bespoke algorithms for each feed. We couple this with the power of human thinking to finesse the information so that it's relevant, easy to consume and actionable.

Additionally, we developed a number of visual ways to present the data, rather than just looking through reams of articles, so that users can narrow their focus on the issues or opportunities they want to know about. Shortly our users will be able to create a very personalized experience within the platform — deciding on what they see and how they see it.

All that said, we have to be careful not to go too far. The purpose of the platform is to tell our users things that they don’t know, as well as consolidate feeds from their trusted sources. In our most interesting use cases, we find pieces of information that the users wouldn’t ordinarily have. This showcases the power of the CatalyticsHub.

For example, hub users will know about a recent data breach that occurred in India, and was only reported in India. This particular attack would’ve bypassed anyone looking solely at domestic news, but the breach affected a large number of businesses like Google, Infosys and Accenture. Over 22 million email addresses were stolen, including emails from big-name companies and suppliers. This will likely result in a high number of phishing attacks for years to come. How would your suppliers manage this inevitable consequence? Could they protect your sensitive data in the event of a successful attack? There are many questions you would ask your supplier, but only if you know about it in the first place.

Most people focus their research on domestic or regional news and data, and a small number of sources at that. They rarely have the resources to look across the entire internet. This is why CatalyticsHub exists. We find insights for you and deliver them in real time.

So who would you say that Catalytics Hub is aimed at right now? What's your target user market?

The key users are procurement and supplier management, but it's also relevant to anyone that needs to be informed on an industry or a particular supplier or group of suppliers.

For instance, if you manage a jet engine manufacturer in the supply chain, and you have to know what's happening with the manufacturer to ensure consistent operations, there's relevance to having complete, real-time information on that supplier. How they're performing? Are they hiring or firing? Have they had any manufacturing issues? Has their competition?

We have customers across the spectrum, in procurement and supplier management but also in business functions like operations, HR and IT. Anyone who needs or wants to be fully informed will find significant value in our tool.

And of course if your competitors are using it, then you can know what they know!

What's on the roadmap for further developing this tool?

We're focusing on personalization, notifications and integration in the short-term, letting our users decide what they see and how they get notified of key events, whether that be in our tool or via a data feed into their procurement tools.

In the mid-term, we have a clear goal of bringing all the available data together in a way that allows users to be fully informed as events are taking place. We have a vision that supplier and market intelligence becomes dynamic. It reacts and updates in real time to the events and data as it happens. We aim for our users to be the most informed person in the room.

 This Brand Studio post was written with CatalyticsHub.

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