Hellios – Collaborative Supplier Information Management and Why Technology Can’t Do Everything! (Part 1)

Colin Maund, founder of Hellios, is always interesting to talk to and we enjoyed catching up with him a couple of weeks ago in Oxford. The firms’ office is just off the A34, a couple of miles west of the city, with spectacular views (except for the pylons) across to the dreaming spires from the fifth floor of the “Seacourt Tower.”  (A plug for The Fishes too, a very impressive gastro-pub nearby where we had a quick but very enjoyable lunch.)

Maund was one of the driving forces behind Achilles for many years of course, but after leaving that firm in 2012 he started Hellios, which works in a similar field of supplier information and risk management albeit in different sectors and with a new business model. So, how is it going, we asked him.

“Growing steadily - it is the “inevitability of gradualism” as Sidney Webb put it!”

Webb was of course an early leader of the Fabian Society and a founder of the LSE, and you get quotes like that from Maund – he isn’t your typical software CEO! But the growth has in truth been somewhat better than gradual, we would say, at around 30% a year, and the firm now has some 30 staff.

The core activity is detailed compliance checks on suppliers, across a wide range of information, which gives confidence to the buyers (users) who form part of industry “communities.” Hellios is working with two communities at the moment; one in the defence industry and one covering financial services, which has 11 user members currently.

But the “gradualism” does come into it in the sense that it is quite a long, slow process to build both the supplier data and indeed to attract, then bring the community users, on board. As Maund explains:

“We are working with a very large defence firm for instance, but each business unit acts pretty separately, so it is taking a longer time than we would like to bring each major division in turn into the programme.”

What about bringing the suppliers into the platform – do the users dictate the prioritisation?

“Some firms want 100% coverage with all the suppliers included as quickly as possible - others prioritise. But the data that the buyers hold is often fairly poor and disaggregated, so prioritising is not as straightforward as you might think!”

Gathering the information from suppliers is also more difficult than one might expect. It is not just a case of a quick template and an instant response.

“Some suppliers respond quickly but many don't. Why? Well, some just can't see any immediate benefit in filling in the process! Others are worried because they actually have something they would rather not highlight to their customers or are just concerned about why their customers want to know all this information. It is unusual for buyers to have the resource available to verify information – we find most just accept what the supplier says in a PQQ or RFI - and often in truth the data is not there to back up the assertions,” says Maund.

A typical questionnaire from Hellios can be up to 500 questions, althought most are shorter that this, so the sheer quantity of data also requires some management. Some clients pull the data into their own supplier systems, while some use it directly from the platform. From the outset, Hellios has used Aravo technology to collect information and distribute it to buyers – that appears to have been a smart move, avoiding heavy software development costs for Hellios, and the two firms seem to work together well.

The supplier is responsible for updating time-critical information like insurance certificates but “we will keep nagging them if it does not happen.” The supplier can change much of the information at any time as appropriate, but “everything is checked and re-validated at least every 12 months and any time-critical information is updated constantly.”

So, how does Hellios make its money?  “The business model is that both buyers and suppliers pay fees to Hellios.” But doesn’t that lead to push-back from suppliers – particularly small firms?

“The communities determine how they want to structure it. For example, the financial services group decided that any SME supplier shouldn’t pay anything. For bigger firms, the fee is pretty small in the greater scheme of things.”

So that is where Hellios is today – but in part 2 we ask Maund about the future, and get into issues such as GDPR, and whether automation is going to revolutionise supplier information management.

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