What is our primary use case?
We primarily use it so that we can do sourcing with suppliers. We're able to send out notices to our suppliers to say, "We have an RFP or an RFI or an RFQ that we want you to bid against." We use it to collect their input and evaluate what we're getting to decide which vendor we will use in the particular situation.
That process requires that we have both the sourcing module and the supplier management module. The supplier management module is where we keep track of our suppliers and we can communicate across the platform to the supplier in multiple ways. We can send information back or get information from them, rather than go through email.
The third module is the spend analysis module. That is where we're able to evaluate how much we spend on different vendors, both from a CapEx and an OpEx perspective, year over year. We're able to say, "This is how much we spent with vendor A in 2017, 2018, and 2019." We use that information both to see whether that spend is increasing or decreasing, and primarily, so that we have the ability to see those spends and determine whether we want to push more at a particular vendor or less.
We're also using it for auctions. We're able to send out information to all the vendors for a particular product and say, "You have X amount of time to respond, and we want to see who's got the lowest price." They can't see each others' bids, so they have to sharpen their pencils to be able to win.
Some of the reasons we went with a solution like this were
- to keep everything in one place
- to have a tool that helps us facilitate sourcing
- to facilitate some of the hard-to-do things when it comes to evaluations.
How has it helped my organization?
The sourcing module is a place we can always go to find all the information we submitted to a vendor and what they submitted back to us. We don't have to worry about, "Where is that file that we received?" We can then keep track of all the vendors that we use and we can determine which vendor has a better shot for us if we want to get some information really quickly.
An easy example that we use this platform for is that we want to hire a person to augment our staff. We have six or eight vendors who would do that kind of work for us. We're able to send the requirements for that staff position to all of those vendors. We're usually looking for a contractor, not to hire. We're able to ship that out really quickly to the vendors. They read the requirement and respond back with the resume of someone they have available who fits the requirements. We're able to quickly get that information from them. It doesn't get lost in emails because someone on the team is monitoring the system. We do get emails, but we're monitoring the system to get this information as quickly as possible. It's really meaningful and effective in getting that information out to the vendors.
The time it saves is when you have already created several RFPs or RFQs or RFIs and you can leverage those templates for the next time you have requests. So you don't have to recreate everything from scratch. You can say, "Create an RFI and use X as a template," where you're picking something that has a similar approach. That's where there are time savings.
You can also evaluate the dollar responses very easily and quickly, and compare them to those of the other vendors. One vendor says they'll charge $10, another one is $15, and a third one is $25. You can evaluate all the vendors in terms of their costs and see them on the screen together. So some of the evaluation functionality is great for time-savings. It doesn't save you any time in reading the RFP or reading the proposals and the information that the vendor sends back. With those, if you have to read them, you have to read them.
What is most valuable?
The one we use the most is the sourcing module, sending requests for information or requests for quotes or proposals to our vendors. We use that quite a lot.
It's really easy to use. You don't have to train vendors. You can add a new vendor at any time, and that vendor will get an email saying, "You've been selected to participate in our RFP, and you do X to get your ID set up." That works really well.
Another thing I am really happy with is that you pay for the super-users but you don't pay for the vendors. You can have as many vendors as you need, to do what you need to do. They're all-inclusive with the price that you pay for the subscriptions for the super-users, who are typically the people in my company who are putting together the requests and putting them out there.
It also gives you an opportunity to evaluate multiple vendors' responses to the questions. You can actually compare them in one view where you can see each question and what each vendor has responded to. That's a great way to do it rather than trying to do it on spreadsheets.
What needs improvement?
One of the areas where they could do better is by creating more standard templates when it comes to IT cost. IT cost has various components to it and if I want a vendor to be able to reply about cost related to IT, I would have to create that template. If I want them to tell me the hardware costs, the software costs, the professional services costs, the cloud or subscription costs, etc., I would have to build that template myself. Once I built it, I could save it and use it again and again. But sometimes building a template takes a lot of time.
In addition, what we do now is write out a Word document with our requirements and submit those requirements by attaching that document to the information that goes out to the vendor. Similarly, we send a template out with it and say, "Please respond in this format." That gets attached as well and then the vendor downloads that information and creates a proposal offline in the template that I've sent. They then reattach that information to send it back to me. That's fine and it's effective.
But I wonder if there is a different way where we could physically write in the requirements, rather than having to create a separate document and then attach that document. And similarly, have responses back without being put in a Word or an Excel document. On the other hand, as I think about that, there are advantages to having the separate document because you can download it and go off and read it. You don't have to be connected to the network to do that. Similarly, the vendors can type it up offline and then attach it. So I don't know if that's really something that they can move on.
For how long have I used the solution?
We've been using it since 2017.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
It's been very stable. I haven't had any issues with it. I did notice, however, that last week they had quite some issue that they were trying to resolve. It took them a couple of days to resolve it but, overall, we don't have any issues with its stability.
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
I can only speak about the two modules we have. As far as I'm concerned, for those two modules, scalability is no issue at all.
How are customer service and technical support?
Support is very responsive. When we reach out to them, they're very easy to work with and they're very conscientious to help get to a resolution as soon as possible.
We've only reached out, in many cases, to add in a new user, because my team turned over and the person who was doing that left. The new person had to learn how to do it and needed help from time to time to get that going. Other than that, because of the modules that we use, there have been no issues with tech support. They're extremely responsive, and we more so around the time when we were implementing the solution.
They have added a person who is focused on making sure that we, as clients, are successful. We didn't have that at the beginning, so that's a good thing. That person has been very meaningful for us, having someone to whom we can reach out to and be in touch with. She does not live here with us but she's local, so that gives us an opportunity to reach out easily. And she's reaching back on a regular basis, asking if there is anything else we need, and what can she do to help us be more successful?
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
We used Word, Excel, and email.
How was the initial setup?
They had to set it up for us. It was a configuration, not a customization. It was a matter of working together to decide if what they had would work for us. The hardest part of the setup — and I have to tell you, it's the same thing with Oracle, even as big as Oracle is — is that you have to get your supplier information into a spreadsheet which is uploaded. And you have to get other sets of information, such as whoever the evaluators are, and things like that, into a spreadsheet. Everything has to be put into a spreadsheet to be loaded up. Getting all the information together and handing it off to them to be loaded into the system is the hardest part.
Then you have to get whatever templates you want to use set up so that they can be loaded in as well. Otherwise, they did the work. We didn't have to do it. We provided the information that would be loaded in and we did the testing.
I don't remember exactly how long it took, but it was between three and six months. That was primarily because our availability was affected by the fact that we're doing procurement and we're busy. So getting that information together took time. It could be done in three months, including all the testing, since we were just doing two modules.
We don't have anyone specifically managing the solution, but my procurement team, which has three people, uses it and administers it. There's not much to administer, other than if we're adding a new vendor. And now vendors can go in and update their profiles. We create an outline and they can go in and update them.
What about the implementation team?
We worked directly with GEP, only. There were two to three people we worked with on their side. We worked with one guy to make sure we had the right set of requirements and information. They showed us how to do the templates and how to set up the data that would be loaded in. Then it was someone offshore who could load it all up. Then we worked with a PM to take any issues we had and get them resolved.
What was our ROI?
I haven't tried to do return on investment. It was better, in my mind, to have something than to have nothing, and at this point I'm not trying to convince anyone that we should keep it because nobody is bothering us. But if I were to extend to more modules, I would definitely have to show some kind of a business case. I'd have to do some analysis on how much we have used it and what it brings back in terms of return.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
There was one other option called Determine. The contract system that we had was from a vendor named Selectica. Of course, GEP has a contract module as well, but since we had a contract module from Selectica we didn't try to change that. But then Selectica was bought out by Determine. Determine came in and said, "Hey, we're going to switch you out of Selectica to Determine at no charge." The legal people went ahead and did that.
When we started looking at procure-to-pay, we also looked at Determine to see how it compared to GEP, especially in the procure-to-pay space. On the procure-to-pay side, from my point of view, they were pretty comparable. We did not go into a whole lot of detail. We thought that since we use Determine for our contract system, and it has all the other modules, our leadership would be okay if we moved everything to Determine. But we did not pursue that at all. So that we have a contract system in Determine, and we have GEP for sourcing.
What other advice do I have?
We're only using two modules. My lessons learned are that this is great, but if I were able to use the whole suite it would make my life in the procurement space so much better. I actually have an individual who sits there and does nothing but key in invoices because we don't really have a good way of dealing with that. If we were able to get all the modules, that would eliminate that position, or I could use it to do something else. My lesson learned is: You actually need the whole suite. Just using one-off modules here and there is good, but it doesn't give you all of the return that would be meaningful.
It's important to note that we need to spend enough time to make sure that we have the team learning how to use it. We've done a couple of different training sessions, especially when the team turns over, or if someone else is added to the team. It's the kind of tool that you might be using a lot for over several weeks, if you're doing multiple RFPs, but it's also the kind of tool that you may not be doing anything with for a week or two.
If we had all the modules, it would be different. Then we would be using it pretty much every day. The piece that I would recommend, if you pick up this system, is to make sure that people understand that training is important. My team thought it was, "Oh no, you don't really need that much training because it's a simple thing to learn." And it is simple to learn, but it's also complex in that you have to understand procurement and the different parts to procurement. Some people on my team may have been new to procurement or they did it differently in a different company. So they have to know how to do all parts of it.
We have three people using the solution directly and another two on another team who use the auction module. In terms of adoption of the system, the team that is doing the auctions got one set of training and they seem to be doing very well with that. The procurement team, doing the RFPs and RFIs, has gone through quite a lot of turnover so I've had to schedule a couple of training sessions for them.
When we first initiated the system in 2017, it was a little kludgy, but it had the capabilities we were looking for, so we were okay with what it was. But over the last two years they have modified it and some things are much simpler. For example, it was really hard to set a time and date for when all the responses needed to come back. They've changed that so that it's much easier to set that time and date. And sometimes we might need to change the time after we've sent out the requests for information or quote or proposal. We might say we're going to extend the time by two days or three days. It's much easier to do that now and extend the time.
The other area was using the questionnaires. When we send things out we're able to say, "We want you the vendor to respond to these questions." Creating those questions was a lot harder. Now, it's much easier to create such questions and for the vendor to respond.
My initial intention with the solution was to make use of more modules from a procurement and invoicing point of view, the three-way match, which this tool will allow you to do. I started that effort but it got railroaded because we are going to be putting in an ERP system to handle just about everything. So I had to stop that part of the project which would have allowed the system to help me create POs and help me do that three-way match between the invoices and the PO. That would have been a great time-saver because you can create the POs. Right now, we create the POs manually in a separate system, and then we manually look at the invoice and manually look at the PO and confirm. The manual nature of that process doesn't allow me to say "I have a PO with only $10 left on it and this invoice is for $20." This system would have allowed me to do that but I wasn't able to get that.
Because I'm not integrated, my spend analysis module is a lot more manual than I would want it to be. If I were using all the modules, that's when analysis would pick up information from all of them and give me that information without me telling it anything.
The solutions AI and machine-learning features have not yet affected our processes in any way. Those would come with some of the other things if we were able to do them. It would be probably in the procurement space. And there is also having the vendor be able to take its POs and flip them into invoices and submit them right there. Another thing that could be done by AI is in validating or reporting, but I'm not using any of that yet. I don't have any AI or machine-learning in the modules I'm using.