Hellios – Collaborative Supplier Information Management and Why Technology Can’t Do Everything! (Part 2)

In part 1 yesterday of our interview with Hellios founder and CEO Colin Maund, we looked at the Hellios business model and progress since the supplier information and risk management firm started some five years ago. Now let’s move onto the future.

We asked him what changes he is seeing today in terms of attitudes to supplier risk.

“There is no doubt that supplier risk has shot up the agenda recently. The old laissez-faire approach is changing with issues such as reputational risk, cyber security, and GDPR all meaning that firms have to take this seriously and be more scientific in how they manage suppliers and supplier information.”

What about technology though? We heard in part 1 that the process of gathering and verifying supplier information is perhaps more labour-intensive than many would assume. Will technology eventually change this – will it all be totally automated one day? That drew a very interesting response from Maund, and we would note that Maund is not a technophobe in any sense – he just understands this business better than anyone, we’d suggest.

“You simply cannot do this by technology alone,” he explains. “Many suppliers don’t participate very willingly, and people make mistakes. Our input to chase and to nag is vital - you still need human intervention and that is not going to change quickly.”

But won’t “my machines” just talk directly to all my “suppliers’ machines” in time?

“That's fine in theory, but what if my machine doesn't want to give accurate information to your machine? Some firms don’t want customers to know about their supply chain, for instance, as it may be seen as a source of competitive advantage. Automation assumes willingness from both parties.”

In terms of how the communities work together, this seems to be an area where the benefits of collaboration between firms in the same industry outweigh any sense that sharing information might be giving up their own competitive advantage. What is the business case for firms to join a community?

“Simplistically, a firm with 2000 suppliers would need around eight people to manage supplier information in the way we do it. That is just not feasible or affordable for most firms.”

We then talked about the new GDPR (data protection) legislation coming into play soon.

“The financial services firms have agreed to look at it collectively. That was with the proviso that we could roll it out quickly. So all 11 businesses in the community sat around the table and agreed the questions to ask the supplier. We rolled that out late last year and so far over 600 firms have responded to our questions as their annual renewal falls due. We will do the main follow-up in May when the legislation is in place, as that gives us more leverage with those who haven't replied or have not replied fully.”

But Maund is keen to make one thing clear.

“It is worth noting that we don’t run a prescriptive pass/fail system. We don't give a view on whether you should or shouldn’t use a particular supplier for instance. Rather, we tell the users that there is a lot of validated information and it is up to them to decide how to use it.”

Finally, what about the future for Hellios? Is it more communities, as well as looking to grow the current ones?

“There is something in the wind,” is all Maund will say, but he does suggest that there are possibilities outside the UK. But that will require resources – it is essential in his view to be close to the customer and the suppliers “both geographically and culturally.” So we suspect there will be a Hellios office(s) in foreign parts before too long.

It is always fascinating to see someone successfully growing a business, and this is a rare case where an entrepreneur is building a second business! Many of us might have been tempted to sit back and take things easy after Achilles, but it is to Colin Maund’s credit that he is doing it all over again from scratch.  And doing it again rather successfully, as far as we can see.

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