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Learning from the Community with Case Studies on Approaches to Supplier Experience

Learning from the Community with Case Studies on Approaches to Supplier Experience

HICX recently held the second of its Supplier Experience Community Working Group events. This second virtual event saw the coming together of around twenty leading Procurement and Digitalization practitioners, from some of the world’s largest enterprises, to specifically discuss supplier experience and Supplier Experience Management (SXM).

A case study approach 

In our second session, the focus turned to supplier journeys, ensuring supplier engagement and considering how to involve suppliers in design aspects of the user journey.  

For this session, the workshop was based on experiences of recent implementations. The case studies covered examples of dedicated Supplier Information Management (SIM) and internally-built solutions. Discussions centered on how to address the following areas:  

  • Making the business case for a supplier portal and high-level objectives 
  • Methods of enrolling suppliers into a tool 
  • Securing supplier engagement and enhancing the supplier experience 
  • Common challenges with supplier experience management 
  • Outcomes, measuring success and metrics influenced 

Business case considerations and high-level objectives 

Before starting the project, it is worth noting that whichever approach is chosen for rolling out a supplier portal or supplier experience solution, it will require multi-stakeholder engagement if the total value of the project is to be realized. There are many stakeholders to consider, from suppliers, supplier partners and business users through to the systems themselves.  

In the session, we learned that while not all requirements from all teams and systems can be met in the first phase of an implementation, carrying out a full evaluation with all the stakeholders involved is still hugely important as it reveals the potential scope for the longer-term and enables prioritization of specific requirements while balancing the need for business continuity.  

We saw from case studies that specific business drivers may differ from organization to organization and will be determined by their existing technology architecture. However, a common objective across all projects is to support greater levels of collaboration with suppliers, while ensuring that their interests are represented. Central to this goal is facilitating efficient, two-way communications between buyers and suppliers. 

The first challenge, of course, is ensuring that suppliers either register or are registered in the system. Given the size and complexity of a typical supplier base, experience shows that this itself requires tactics and planning.   

Enrolling suppliers into the system 

From the examples presented in the workshop, it was clear that the best method for ensuring that suppliers sign up into a new system will always vary based on business continuity considerations linked to the approach being adopted, whether that’s dedicated SIM or an internally-built solution. 

For suppliers to be able to use any system and manage their data, the data itself has to be available and accessible in the correct formats in the first place. In the case of a dedicated SIM solution being used as a platform for building the supplier experience, it is feasible to migrate existing information from current systems into the new system, thus providing a central repository for all data to be used across the business and establishing a single source of truth that can serve other systems. It is then possible to insist that all new suppliers enter the system when created, with no exceptions.  

If, on the other hand, the supplier experience is being built via integration of different platforms (and is not using a dedicated SIM solution), then it is necessary to work with the various platform vendors for support on the integration requirements needed in order to bring areas such as contracting or supplier relationship management successfully into the environment – and to enable features such as single sign-on or single interfaces. 

There is then the question of how to migrate the existing supplier base into a new system. During the workshop session, a number of options were discussed, such as sending out direct invitations, inviting suppliers to join organically when certain data maintenance tasks are required, or indeed using a combination of these tactics. With a dedicated SIM solution, it is likely to be driven by specific initiatives that incentivize adoption, especially for those suppliers that represent the higher proportion of spend. Meanwhile, a build approach will probably rely more heavily on organic growth over the longer term. In either case, the methods chosen will be determined by business continuity considerations. 

Securing supplier engagement and enhancing the experience 

Both dedicated SIM and self-built approaches aim to increase the level of supplier engagement on an ongoing basis by offering superior, enhanced experiences. 

This is achieved by identifying value-add features that can be incorporated into the portal, with the aim of securing return visits and encouraging ongoing usage. Such enhancements could include payment and invoice updates, automation of processes, or the inclusion of third-party information. 

With a dedicated SIM approach, centralized availability of data means that back-office functions can be added with relative ease and two-way communications can be facilitated with features such as chatbots; with the build approach, care will need to be taken around how to provide efficient navigation to the relevant applications and how to route enquiries correctly. In both cases, the objective is to provide a seamless experience, regardless of the technologies that are running in the background, with one central point of access and the elimination of multiple log-in credentials. 

Other ideas might be to allow suppliers access to their performance scorecard, which in turn will facilitate review meetings as both parties already will have had access to and the time to consider the data, as well as using the platform to report back to suppliers at the end of specific campaigns, such as showing a supplier how they stand in relation to others in areas such as sustainability following a questionnaire. 

Another discussion point inspired by the use cases was how data should also be used within the platform to enhance the content experience for suppliers, such as displaying content in the preferred language or adapting the portal’s functionalities and the type of information shown based on criteria such as the type of supplier accessing, or the role of the person accessing the portal. 

Common challenges 

The legacy of how information has been captured in the past to serve traditional systems often means that the complexity of supplier organizations is reflected in supplier data, which impacts how their accounts are represented by that data. However, as the group discussed, this also provides an opportunity for suppliers and buyers to work together to reduce duplicate or redundant accounts and to simplify how the supplier is represented, which suppliers also understand the benefit of doing. 

Processes will need to be established in order to facilitate activities such as email invitation initiatives, as this relies on a contact name for the supplier being available. As availability of this information cannot be guaranteed, especially in the long-tail of suppliers, an onus will need to be placed on capturing or adding this data.  

If, in a build scenario, access to the portal has initially been controlled via a named supplier leader and the invitation sent to a named key account manager, considerations would have to be made on how this might need to be adapted for future requirements, for instance where a relationship may not be as tight, or where the relationship is handled outside Procurement. 

As the process of registration involves the supplier taking action, there will always be the challenge of slow or no responses. It is, therefore, also worth considering tactics such as task reminders, links to videos or access to a helpdesk in certain scenarios in the event of non-registration. 

Another key challenge is regarding security. When suppliers are claiming centralized data, it requires verification that the applicant is valid. When experiences are being built through integrations, how to ensure data security while enhancing the digital ecosystem for suppliers must remain a top consideration. 

Outcomes, measuring success and metrics influenced 

One measure of success is the extent to which other functions begin to actively request features or enhancements to support their own tasks.  

A tool that provides a direct connection to suppliers will create significant interest. Teams responsible for areas such as compliance, risk, R&D, quality, sustainability, diversity or cybersecurity will all quickly understand the value and efficiency of a platform that facilitates information capture as part of a two-way process. Therefore, the greater the number of suppliers registered and engaged, the more interest will be generated. 

Other metrics that will be influenced include the rate of rejection in the supplier creation process and an overall reduction in the time to onboard a new supplier. 

Conclusion

Experiences from the Group showed that the best approach is to focus on those processes where the end-to-end workflow has been identified and can be managed.  

The advice is to avoid trying to accomplish everything in the first implementation but instead make sure that certain workflows or procedures are working as required, learn from those and use those learnings to move onto the next aspect.  

For each step, the data, integration and UX considerations must be taken fully into account. 

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