Thanks yet again to the doctor for covering some news in the sourcing front with his piece ThomasNet Takes Sourcing to the Masses.
I think the doctor yet again hit the nail on the head with his understanding of this particular offering. For those of those that have not read the press release, Source One and ThomasNet have recently partnered in order to provide basic e-sourcing tools to the procurement and supply community. These tools currently offer basic RFX management as well as Reverse Auction tools for free to both buyers and suppliers.
Anyhow, I was going to leave some comments over there, but realized that this would be a bit of a lengthy rant, so decided to post it here.
The criticism, resistance and negativity that certain members of the procurement solutions provider community continue to comment on about tools such as www.WhyAbe.com and now ThomasNet should not surprise me. In fact, I actually find some relief in the amount of interest these business models are generating, because I detect a certain level of fear from some providers.
When we first launched WhyAbe we were told by many individuals and “industry experts” that we would put ourselves out of business and that there would be no way we could afford to maintain the tools for free. Here we are approaching our third year of success, and not only is our community stronger than ever, but we have many more rounds of releases in the works. The feedback from users of the tools have been overwhelmingly positive while the feedback from people that sell their own solutions has been overwhelmingly negative. And Source One, as a company is stronger and more recognized than ever before.
As Jason Busch commented over on Sourcing Innovation, perhaps ThomasNet is a little late to the game in providing these types of solutions to their user base. However, I have to disagree on rest of your points Jason. To think that ThomasNet missed the online sourcing boat altogether is completely incorrect. Not just to quote the major analyst firms (since many readers hate them), but our own experience with the end user community tells us that less than 10% of all companies have any type of e-sourcing system at all. If my math is correct, that means that the market is open to over 90% of worldwide companies (of all sizes) for various types of e-sourcing solutions. Perhaps, as I blogged before, that is why there seems to be dozens of new competitors in the market space.
Even if the market was flooded, to think that a creative solution could not disrupt the status quo would be a mistake. Anyone heard of MySpace? They were not first to market, and did not even have a unique idea. Facebook anyone? Some would argue they should not have even attempted to start-up because MySpace dominated the market. My point is, even though you can come late to the game with a product or service, there can always be a big spot for you in it, with just a bit of creativity.
Now let me get to some of Alan Buxton’s comments. First off, let’s look at what Alan termed as “utilization” of WhyAbe. Alan specifically looked at some recent “Public” RFX events that have been conducted on WhyAbe and assumed that this was a reflection of the adoption and utilization of the site. In fact, the mass majority of all events conducted on the site are held privately, and cannot ever be seen unless you were specifically invited by a buyer. Most companies are simply not comfortable with “open” or “public” events.
We have one organization in particular that has on average 3-5 successful events per week and has been conducting them for over the last year and a half. In fact, that particular organization completely abandoned a very well known major sourcing application in order to adopt WhyAbe.
Secondly, Alan indicates that there is a lack of suppliers for a particular commodity that he searched in. This is not proof that there is no utilization of the site, it simply indicates that there is weak supplier registrations in a particular commodity. In fact, one of the main motivations of striking the ThomasNet deal was to build a toolset jointly that can tap into their massive database of suppliers. But even if we had every supplier listed in the world, having a big database does not substitute proper strategic sourcing processes and supplier relationships. Most of the users at WhyAbe tend to invite their own suppliers after they have been qualified anyhow. WhyAbe was never originally intended to be a supplier identification tool.
To answer Alan’s questions as why RFX tools are better than email/outlook. I could name many reasons, but just to look at a few:
- The ability to add coworkers as reviewers (without sharing your inbox or forwarding every response)
- The ability to automatically relist an event and run it again in the future
- Certain compliance with internal or external policies
- Avoiding the “oops” of sending responding to a question or forwarding a document to the wrong supplier
- and both sets of tools support Reverse Auctions (which cannot be done in email)
And as per the comment “You don't need to read a 60 page manual to send an email.“ My site analytics show me that less than one half of a percent of all users have even ever clicked on the manual. The tools were developed specifically so that users can hop right on and start using them, without any implementation or training. In fact, we only wrote the manuals because one customer specifically required them in order to adopt the toolset.
Do the “masses” want this tool or any tool? That remains to be seen. But considering that WhyAbe has held hundreds of events and ThomasNet, brand new, has already held dozens of events, I would think it is clear that many users want some type of tool.
Also, thank you Eric Strovink for backing us up on the “pay to play” model that Charles Dominick suggested we may have participated in. I can definitely see why Charles said what he said, because I absolutely believe it to be true that you have to pay to play with most of the analyst firms. However, we have never contributed a dime to Gartner, they found us. Source One has been around for 16 years, way before most solution providers were even conceived, and WhyAbe has been around for almost three years, this past January was the first time that Gartner had ever even heard of us, so it is a long lengthy process to get noticed, if you are not investing millions into marketing (like almost everyone else is).
To wrap up this lengthy post (or rant), let me say a few things. Source One, WhyAbe.com, and ThomasNet are here to challenge the “traditional” model of e-sourcing solutions and procurement services in general. We are not surprised, but rather flattered, that other providers are attempting to find reasons why our models will not work, when clearly there is a market for them.
I think the doctor completely understands what we are doing, as he writes “Then, when an organization has identified it's needs, and, more importantly, identified what it can do well in house - and what it can not, it can always upgrade to a more extensive e-Sourcing platform and retain a PSP, like Source One, to help it with those categories that it doesn't have the experience, or the leverage, to get savings on.” I could not have said it any better myself. Source One is doing very well with providing Strategic Sourcing Resources to our customers. And we do not intend to compete with robust full-service procurement systems. We offer basic tools for basic needs.
As a shameless plug, here is something for “competing” service providers to consider. WhyAbe.com recently announced sponsorship opportunities on its site. Rather than criticize the tools, we welcome a full-service technology provider to advertise with us, and have the opportunity to show first-time procurement tools adopters what they are missing in the world of procurement and spend management technology.