RFP templates save us time; RFP management features capture intent to respond and signing of NDAs

What is our primary use case?

We use SMART by GEP for spend management. It is heavily used for enterprise spend and diversity reporting. We've been using it primarily for the latter, which is good. We report our diversity spend out to our board of directors on a quarterly basis. In order to do diversity spend, you've got to get your denominator right, which means you have to figure out what the enterprise spend is.

Some of our category groups have been using the enterprise spend for their initiatives.

In terms of e-RFx, we've been using a tool for a number of RFIs and RFPs — mostly RFPs depending on the category and the use case. We work with the teams try to figure out what the needs are, where they need our support, whether we need to build the RFP on their behalf and facilitate it, or if they will build it and we will just monitor and help them out throughout the process.

We also work with suppliers who may be having issues. We're getting a little bit more strategic with that in 2020, building out a robust pipeline and timing, so that we can make sure that we have support in that area.

Sustainability is actually the next thing that we're going to be focusing on. That one's a little bit tougher, not from a tool perspective but from a data perspective, because there's a sense that having suppliers identify sustainable products will be a lot of work. Then we have to remap the data schema. A whole bunch of stuff that needs to happen, so that's an initiative for 2020.

How has it helped my organization?

SMART definitely saves us time when setting up an RFP, on the order of many hours. We have templates set up with our legal-approved terms, NDA, all of the language about the company, the code of conduct. We have our agreements attached to them as well. The team can take them and add in the information that's specific to the project and push things out. They don't need to build it out in Word. Technically, you could take a Word template and do that, but SMART helps with the facilitating of sending it to people. Recipients have to submit their intent to respond; we get that electronically. Before they can open the RFP we get them to sign off an NDA electronically, so there's a time saving there. Any supplier code of conduct or the like, they have to attest to and sign off on that electronically, so we save that step.

There are additional time savings in managing communications. If you have an open RFP and there are questions, you can manage all of the questions and answers in the thread inside that RFP. All the suppliers will get any notifications that you want them to get, and everything is within the body of the RFP so you don't have to worry about things in email, outside of the system.

The back-end is probably where we see the largest time savings and efficiencies. Sending out an RFP in a Word doc seems really easy. Email it to everybody. They will fill it out and send it back. But then it takes hours upon hours — and I know this from experience — to consolidate and normalize all those responses, trying to get them into a cohesive summary. That can take days' and possibly weeks' worth of work, depending on the size of the RFP. That can be done as soon as it comes back. It's summarized, it's normalized, and it makes the scoring process a lot easier. The setup in the back-end, in particular, is a huge time saver. It could save anywhere from five to 10 hours in a 30-day period.

SMART by GEP has also helped us with diversity spend management.

One of the situations that we had was that our company split in half. We had to work with GEP to clone everything that we have and split it out. So the other half of the company had their version of the GEP tools and we had our version. During that process, our sister company made significant changes to the spend module. Their leader, the VP of procurement, told me that he actually wasn't impressed with the toolset, particularly the spend tool from GEP, and he put it out to bid. As part of the proposal that came back, GEP came up as one of the top-tier candidates.

GEP came in. Tony Butler is an amazing dude. He's really revamped and reinvigorated the organization. He's our relationship manager and he serves us well. So, he got the team together and said, "Hey, how can we make this process better? What can we do"? He went in with ears open, listened, did a needs analysis, came back and said, "Okay, we hear where the issues are. We hear what you want to do. Here's how we can address it." They put a very comprehensive strategic plan together and implemented it. They were able to clean up and rationalize the data. They were able to reduce the cycle time from about 45 days to 14 days.

They were able to get down to level-four reporting, which is very detailed reporting. They didn't have that before. They were able to significantly reduce the number of reporting categories as well.

Now, our sister company is very happy with the data. I actually had a confidential conversation with the VP of procurement and he told me, "We were not happy with these guys and we put out the bid. They came in, they impressed us with their plan, they implemented the plan, and cleaned it up. We have great insights into our data. We have very detailed metrics, now, as a result of their efforts and their strategy." He was thrilled. In fact, they ended up buying more modules because of that. 

So I reached out to GEP and said, "Hey, let's share those best practices because our data is originally from the same source. We have a similar problem to the one that they had. Why don't we use it? Let's not reinvent the wheel. Why don't we employ some of those strategies on our spend?" We're doing that as we speak. I was able to get them in to our new VP of procurement and do that same presentation. We didn't put them out to bid. Now, we're going to talk about what they were able to do for our sister company; how they were able to rationalize and how they were able to save time. We're going to try to employ those same types of things to improve our data. That's a real story of how they were able to really turn things around. They almost lost the business but they turned it around.

In addition, we had an end-of-2019 wrap-up meeting, and 2020 strategy meetings, a couple of weeks ago. We had all of our directors and those above them creating strategies. The IT team, which rolled out the new SMART spend tool was just raving about how great the tool is and about the capabilities. Our spend management expert just couldn't say enough about how great that team was and how they were able to make all these changes quickly. He said that had helped them to really focus on different strategic initiatives for that area. So I can absolutely say it has impacted the organization in a positive way.

What is most valuable?

Overall, the ease of use of the solution is good. I really appreciate their flexibility, when it comes to the voice of the customer, and their sensitivity. While their tool wasn't the best out of the gate, they continually make updates to it to make their tool best-in-class.

What needs improvement?

On the spend side, we had some difficulty with the usability, initially, but then they rolled out SMART and they built out a new spend cube, and that was light-years better. Part of the reason I hadn't rolled it out fully to the team was because it wasn't as user-friendly as I would have liked. But they addressed that in a newer version last year.

I rolled it out to a subset of my team earlier this year. It was almost a proof of concept type, phase-one rollout, and it actually went very well. We plan on doing a full-scale rollout training in 2020 for the rest of my category teams. Everybody will be running their own spend reports and using this to manage their businesses.

I'd like to see drag-and-drop reporting. They have the old model for reports where you have to click the "run" button. The thing runs and then you have to export it to PowerPoint. If you're doing a presentation, you have to export it out as Excel, and then you have to go through all this stuff. There is a concept called portlets, which are like an app or a window within a window. If they had a page with four different portlets on it and four quadrants, then each one would be independent and you could run and filter down each individual portlet in each quadrant. That would be beautiful. If you wanted a nice view that has spend data from a particular business unit or a particular region, you could do all of those individual filters on one page as opposed to having to export it to Excel and run four different reports. That's a big one for us.

There is some stuff related to RFP on their roadmap, like the ability to pause an RFP. It could be that you're running an RFP but the business changes; you acquire a company, or the leadership or initiative changes. Instead of canceling and then reissuing, you may want to pause it. That's something we brought to their attention. That's something that may be on their roadmap. They have a track record of making changes and implementing those updates, so I'm sure they'll address that.

For how long have I used the solution?

We've been using SMART for about 10 years. Our previous senior vice president came over from another company where he was working with SMART and he brought it over to us.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Overall, the stability has been good. We've had some issues with RFPs, suppliers couldn't get in or were having an issue submitting something. That happens occasionally. But that's not a common situation. It's been stable.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

From our end, the scalability part is invisible. It's not like we're going to be throwing a few thousand people on it. We're dealing with onesie-twosie users.

We're looking at self-service spend reporting. Our buyers, our category team, will be able to go in and run their own reports. I asked them a question during our department strategy meeting and said, "By a quick show of hands, how many people have access to the reports and run their own reports?" Only one person raised his hand. I'm going to change that.

I inherited the spend. In the past, they would run reports for the team because the data was taking it out of context. The data wasn't inaccurate but it wasn't complete either. Data was counted twice in certain areas. It was a train wreck to give the team access at the time. We're trying to fix the reporting structure, clean up the data, and then we're going to roll it out to the teams so that they can run their own reports. They should be able to manage our business and run reports whenever they want.

How are customer service and technical support?

We reach out to tech support. Sometimes we'll reach out to our relationship manager or the tech lead for the given tool that we're working with and that we're having issues with.

Tech support could use a little bit more work. We've had a conversation with GEP and they understand it. There were a couple of issues with RFPs where a supplier was having issues. They called and, unfortunately, tech support had them on the phone for an hour. That's a long time. Our concern was that these things weren't getting resolved quickly enough and people were getting frustrated. I had that conversation with the leadership team and I think they've addressed it because I haven't heard much since that point.

There were a couple of things in the tool that were a little bit frustrating. But when we brought it to their attention, I can honestly say — and I have been working with these guys for a long time — almost everything that we've brought to their attention has been put in their development pipeline and worked on and actually implemented. They haven't implemented every single thing, but the majority of it they have, which is pretty phenomenal. Most companies don't do stuff like that.

Their tool has become a much better tool over the years. They take customer feedback very seriously. They look at how the feedback will impact other clients, positively or negatively and, if positively, they will put it into a development pipeline and they'll usually implement.

That's not something you typically hear. It may change every once in a while, but these guys are pretty astounding at taking things as seriously as they do.

It's a good tool. It's a solid tool, depending on which part we talk about. The RFP tool is good. It has a few little quirks, but they've worked them out. They are constantly rolling out updates, which is good.

We have a direct line to their management. They've made some changes by way of staffing levels and tremendously boosted their effectiveness. They have made some really good moves. I've worked with them for a very long time and it's almost a night-and-day difference between then and now. They are sensitive to issues and changes.

How was the initial setup?

We've done the setup in different stages. The earlier version of their RFP tool wasn't great. Not to say it was bad, but it just wasn't great. There were a lot of constraints. But again, they've done a good job of taking customer feedback and making changes. So we had some growing pains with that one. There were also some technical issues at first, but they've addressed most of those. They hop on those things, typically, relatively quickly. 

An example would be the ability to attach large documents. There was a limit and we were sending out a huge RFP or we were going to be getting back huge files. It was for furniture specs, so there were a lot of images and spec documents. We ran into some major issues with a big RFP. We ended up having to use Dropbox and it was really messy. Those were early days. Unfortunately, a couple of people, because of that experience, were soured by the tool. We've upgraded two versions since then. It's gotten better. 

We pretty much have full adoption from our team members to whom it has been rolled out. No pushback. GEP has done a good job of doing the updates. We're going to do a full-scale adoption next year on the spend side. On the spend side, adoption is moderate right now, but it will be full-scale adoption in 2020.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

I've used SAP Ariba, as well as Oracle Sourcing and Oracle's spend management. I trained on Siebel, but that was not sourcing. I've used some other tools, like BirchStreet, which is a P2P, and Adecco.

It's been such a long time since I used Ariba. They've been bought by SAP. At the time, their tool was more sophisticated than GEP's tool but it's an unfair comparison. This was back in the early 2000s. I can't really compare the two. I'm sure Ariba is a way different tool now. 

My time using Ariba and my time using SMART are two different time periods in the progression of technology: the reporting technology, communication protocols, etc.

What other advice do I have?

The biggest lesson I've learned from using SMART is that the evolution of technology can be affected by the voice of the customer. It's very powerful.

We have only used the e-auction module twice since we got it. We are trying to get the team to use it, but we don't make anything. We're a hospitality company. There are some things that can be done in e-auction — I'm not saying we can't do anything there — but my team is not really experienced with the e-auction tools. We're trying to get them up to speed and figure out a category where it makes sense to run it through an e-auction tool.

Their AI and machine learning features are one area that I'm highly interested in. I've talked to Tony Butler, our relationship manager, and let him know I want to learn more about it. I heard it about it at a high level. That's something that would help us tremendously because we are a little resource-constrained and we do have repetitive issues with data. I really want a detailed presentation on how GEP is using it because we'd like to potentially leverage that.

In terms of integrating SMART with our ERP, we get a feed. It's not really an integration. We get exports out of those systems which are imported into GEP. It would be nice to have full integration. That would be great. But we're not there.

I have one system administrator on SMART who manages the technical aspect of it. We will have about 50 people using it. The sourcing procurement managers and buyers are facilitating and setting up the RFPs and managing them. And then the stakeholders use it to score them. Those are the guys who might review the RFPs electronically before they go out, and approve them electronically. 

I would rate the solution at eight out of 10. I'm never that guy who always rates 10. I'm very impressed with the solution overall. With the rating of eight, there is room for growth. Maybe, once we implement those AI tools, it might be a nine. Had they not made the recent changes that they made, it would have been more in the seven range.

Their tool wasn't the best out of the gate. They have worked really hard and have been really focused on becoming a best-in-class company and they've been able to do that. They've been at the top of the industry reviews for years now, and that is a result of focused effort, hiring the right resources, as well as trial and error. The main thing that has made GEP successful is being sensitive to the voice of the customer. I can definitely attest to that.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

Public Cloud

If public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid cloud, which cloud provider do you use?

Microsoft Azure
**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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