In 2015, it has been heartening to read in the procurement professional literature the increased focus on supply market intelligence and the critical role it plays. Gerard Chick, in his excellent article, “Let’s Take a Sneak Preview at the Future for Procurement,” lists several predictions under various categories. Gerard’s predictions that address or touch upon supply market intelligence are as follows, directly quoted:
- A new definition of ‘expert’ – a significant characteristic of the new supply professional is the extent and depth of his or her knowledge they will become “students of their industry”. They will know everything, from the science, economics, law and politics of their supply markets on a global scale. (listed under “Supply Skill Sets must change”)
- Prices go transparent – market pricing for goods and services will become so transparent — due to e-sourcing, global trading networks and online communities — that price negotiation might well become a lost art. (listed under “Instantaneous business intelligence arrives”)
- Risk information catches up – as the general awakening around supply-related risk comes into sharper focus we will see consensus develop around how to measure risk, as well as more standardised, more readily available third-party information and networked communities where people pool data for operational risk assessment. (listed under “Instantaneous business intelligence arrives”)
- Procurement Intelligence moves into context – full visibility regarding spend, risk, performance — will become available. Ready access to accurate, timely, structured internal and external business intelligence will create unprecedented abilities to synthesize information in support of decision making. (listed under “Instantaneous business intelligence arrives”)
In order for these predictions to flourish, procurement professionals will become more proficient at using external information that is accessed from third-party data (TPD) providers. The question is, will these providers be able to adapt quickly enough to provide, in a more flexible and economic manner, the data required for professionals to become “students of their industry” and for delivering the instantaneous access that is described by Gerard? How successful one is in gaining the deep, yet comprehensive knowledge required to be a student of an industry, is solely dependent on the authority and quality of the information that is used to obtain and form that knowledge.
Information access is important when discussing supply market intelligence because it is imperative to use multiple sources when performing research. Using multiple sources allows for one to verify the quality of the information and not rely on one source only; that source could be wrong. Most important, using multiple sources allows, as one is reading, to connect common data points and see patterns emerge. This allows for the critical thinking process that enables one to make connections from what is being read to what is needed. From this, new valuable knowledge is formed and ultimately reported to the organization. But when subscription barriers, such as price and duration, restrict researchers from using multiple sources, gaining deep and comprehensive knowledge is less obtainable.
When engaging with TPD providers, we are currently still paying for information, in many cases, that has evolved from the original “prepackaged” company and industry research report model. This model focuses on what the well-intentioned publisher or provider thinks the researcher should know, but not necessarily what the researcher specifically needs to know, at the exact time that he or she needs to know it. The current models often times force us to a) invest in extraneous information we don’t need, b) spend too much for information, and c) subscribe for longer periods of time than required. Today’s procurement data needs are fluid and changing daily, and access periods should be aligned in accordance.
TPD providers, if they too wish to flourish, need to redesign their access and pricing models based on deep understanding of procurement’s information requirements. They should be applying the same practices that we in the procurement world are pitching to our own concerning the critical imperative of working closely with our stakeholders to help advance the key goals of our organizations.
To start, there are ways TPD providers can move forward:
- For examples of information providers meeting the tailored needs of organizations, one can look at newer supply risk providers, such as riskmethods and Rage Frameworks, that use big data and analytics to filter, monitor, and alert organizations of potential risk concerns. These concern areas, represented as risk indicators, are identified and determined by the organization.
- Marcy Phelps, of Phelps Research, offers some food for thought for providers. She surveyed AIIP (Association of Independent Information Professionals) members for their wish list items for information vendors. These are professionals who have vast experience with buying from TPD vendors, not only for their businesses, but for small and large enterprises as well. Three interesting recommendations from Marcy include: 1) “accept that yours isn’t the only game in town … tell me how yours works with or complements what I’m using,” 2) “offer flexible pricing models… not all firms can afford an annual subscription or will use it enough to make it cost-effective, and some might be interested in daily, weekly, or pay-as-you-go access,” and 3) “be willing to negotiate…you can see how I’m using your product, so let’s use that info…maybe I don’t need the full suite, so offer modules or other ways of slicing and dicing the content…”
The Future of Information Access
Can we possibly predict what the future of information access, in general, will look like many years from now? Jim O’Donnell, professor of historical, philosophical, and religious studies and university librarian at Arizona State University, shares his futuristic vision of what it should be like in 2100. His imaginative view of a global access model is optimistic and lets us start to envision, by breaking away from our current mindset, possibilities for both private and public organizations. (His article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, New America, and Slate.) The premise is that digital information sources should be made as universally and freely available as possible and centrally held and maintained. Currently major university libraries maintain (both vast and highly specialized) collections, and even if they would like to share information, and technology allows for it, they are restricted from doing so. Jim states: “We will see the consolidation of collections and a consolidation of the technical infrastructure of presenting those collections. And we will see the emergence of business models for paying for what we now think of as “publishing” that allow completely free and open access to the contents of this global library.” Will a future like this materialize? Who knows? But the takeaway is that the way we currently access information, has to, and will change.