A tale of two catalogues part 1: ProcServe

Catalogue (I'm sticking resolutely to the UK spelling here) management is an undervalued part of the procurement technology eco-system.  But it can make all the difference between an e-Procurement implementation succeeding, or floundering on the shores of user rejection or hostility. Making it easy for users to buy what you, as procurement, want them to buy often depends on the way goods or services are presented to them on the P2P system.

And there are a few firms around who make this their speciality. We've previously covered Science Warehouse, who provide catalogue (and related P2P) technology platforms that cover highly complex 'life science' environments such as universities and laboratories. So today we'll discuss Proc Serve; to be followed by J-Catalog - two very different organisations but both of whom make catalogues the heartland of their offering.

ProcServe is a slightly unusual animal. A spin-off from PA Consulting, they won the contract from the Office of Government Commerce to run the UK Government 'Zanzibar' eMarketplace platform. Zanzibar was developed by OGC with a view to becoming a government-wide 'marketplace' (a supplier network, enabled with catalogues and ordering capability) but it never quite lived up to the expectation of being a common system across Government.

However, Zanzibar has had some success - in Wales for example, that vision has been pretty much realised, and indeed Wales is seen as a great example of how public sector procurement collaboration can work well.  Zanzibar is also used by organisations including DWP and the CPS; and it underpins other platforms such as OPEN in the Education system and xchangewales eTrading. 

As well as the Marketplace element, ProcServe are largely UK focused, offering eProcurement and eInvoicing solutions, and are obviously strong in the catalogue management area as that forms such a key element of the marketplace.  Their solutions integrate and work alongside ERP systems, providing the additional functionality that those systems often lack in terms of catalogues and general user-friendliness. As well as working on the buy side, they provide supplier organisations with catalogues and eCommerce solutions; for instance, running the B2B catalogue platform for a major telecomms company.

They've also got a services / consulting arm, which works mainly around implementation, supplier enablement and training services to support the solutions. In all, the firm has around 50 staff; so although they don't disclose their annual turnover, I'm guessing at approximately £4 or 5 million.

The greater collaboration expected in public sector procurement could benefit ProcServe; a single platform for central Government may well be good news for them. On the other hand, the reduced volume of public sector spend and contracts could also be a negative.  The contract to provide Zanzibar runs until 2012; I assume OGC (Cabinet Office / Buying Solutions?) would have to re-compete it, but I'm not clear what would happen if Proc Serve didn't win it - would some of their staff get TUPE transferred out?  Or might Government let Zanzibar 'die' instead, and public sector clients could just use off the shelf solutions, with ProcServe one of a number of strong providers.

ProcServe clearly have some interesting solutions (although I haven't had the full product demo yet) and capable people, very knowledgeable about the public sector in particular and they're certainly worth considering for public sector organisations looking at eProcurement solutions. Their very strong focus on the UK public sector is both a strength and a weakness; but they've got some strong 'embedded business' now (e.g. Wales) on which to to base their growth.

One final interesting snippet from our discussion. ProcServe obviously compete for pretty much every eProcurement tender that comes up in the public sector. But more than 50% of the exercises to buy eProcurement systems that are commenced never get to contract award. Just think of the waste of time and effort that goes into that from a buyer and supplier perspective - not a good indicator for public sector procurement!

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