Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Cloud? – Getting To Grips With Supplier Collaboration

It's not uncommon at eWorld for exhibitors to use their speaking slot as an advertisement – but sometimes we can forgive that, as on this occasion, because a) it gave a back-to-basics look at cloud P2P for anyone today still not sure about implementing it and b) it focused on the actual direct benefits felt by existing customers – which others can expect to achieve. So this was a close look at what 'cloud' means, and how it can be harnessed in terms of improving supplier collaboration and mutual transparency. Probably a bit basic for anyone already at the forefront of this technology, but surprisingly there are many firms out there that still don’t understand/are scared of – ‘the cloud’ apparently.

i2B is a P2P provider based in the northeast. It has more than 25,000 users across 20 or more countries. And if that isn’t testimony enough of their take-up and success, they boast an impressive implementation time of only 28 days. That, we have found, is one of the more attractive and most common drivers behind provider selection – a quick implementation that will cause the least possible friction to the business.

Phil Tompkinson, Co-Founder and Technical Director at i2B explained how, back in 1999 when the internet was just starting to be used as a commercial tool (which really doesn’t seem that long ago in the careers of some of us – how on earth did we manage 10/20 years BC (before connectivity)? Phil and his partner spotted a gap in the market to help purchasers and their suppliers to collaborate better. “We were actually pioneers then,” he said, “but we didn’t know it – we just told customers we could help them manage their suppliers better.” By 2006 we were just beginning to hear about ‘the cloud’ – so they’d tell customers it was just like using someone else’s computer or network, no licences, no software, no investment – just use it and see how you get on. Enter the SaaS era. And here we are today, when it’s become almost business-critical, changing the way we do business altogether.

Phil talked about three key clients and gave examples of the benefits they gain from using the i2B cloud service. Centrica, Weir, and Aggreko – all need no introduction.

With such success stories, like these customers, why are people still afraid of the cloud? we wondered.

Apparently, he enlightened us, it’s all the fault of those pesky IT people – he didn’t actually say that. But he did say that 75% of IT people are scared of the cloud: they don’t trust it; fear of hackers and security breaches are the number one barrier to cloud adoption. We loved his anecdote that “when we talk to potential customers, we find that the purchasers love what we do – but, for the reasons we just mentioned, IT faces drop when we mention the cloud!”

Ironically, it’s the hackers that are keeping them safe! Security is of course paramount for providers like i2B in the cloud space. So every six months, they pay a third company to carry out some ‘ethical hacking.’ Basically they try to break into your system to see how robust it is and whether you fail or pass. Phil explains that it does take time to build up that robustness, but now they pass the test every time.

So with that fear laid to rest – what about those benefits.

Ability to communicate, anytime, anywhere - when the procurement officer has left the building at the end of the day, or maybe is simply in another country or time zone, enquiries aren’t a problem. No more phone calls - everyone can access what they need to know. If you want to find out who purchased an item, when, how much it cost, or whether it’s already in stock, it’s all there. There’s no need to go source it again or pay for it again.

Full automation – creating, ordering and dispatching are all automated. You may have an anti-slavery policy for example that you want to share or communicate with all suppliers, or send out contracts that would have gone via email, or generate and send a PO – in the cloud, you can see that they’ve received it, when, who viewed it and the action taken. Someone like Aggreko might have 50K order lines a week, many requiring rescheduling – those requests are automated, and can simply be declined or accepted. Centrica may get many installations put back or brought forward; there’s no room for error or confusion.

Transparency - on all levels. A supplier can see where their invoice is, what’s processed and what’s paid. The buyer no longer fire fights supplier queries and all replies are in an audit trail, back-office systems are updated. There’s a record of everything and every change request can be accepted or declined. Performance is visible, OTD numbers, amount of defects and so on.

Suppliers like the transparency and especially the speed of invoice processing; buyers can work on more useful things for the company – like negotiating and sourcing. But the bottom line is improved collaboration all round.

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