On Wednesday, June 22, San Francisco-based Tradeshift held an “Innovation Day” at the Hotel Eventi in Mid-Town Manhattan where they made several major product and brand announcements and focused on its main theme of innovation to a room packed with supply management industry analysts. Tradeshift CEO and co-founder, Christian Lanng, kicked off the event with a “state of the company” overview and laid out a vision for his company.
Founded in 2010 as an online business network, Tradeshift touts itself as one of the first vendors in the B2B market to make “free for suppliers” work at scale. Tradeshift’s business network is designed to function as a platform and features an open API architecture that allows third-parties to build applications on it. He also noted that they were the first to introduce machine learning for optical character recognition (“OCR”) technology directly into the cloud – i.e., CloudScan – an application that they built themselves.
According to Lanng, Tradeshift functions more like a “LinkedIn for buyers and suppliers,” with buyers and suppliers free to connect with each other, including third-degree suppliers. This functionality has allowed Tradeshift to grow its supplier base by 30% since last year. As a result, the company currently has 1.2 million suppliers on its network, including five of the world’s largest BPO providers and five major financial institutions – and they are active in more than 200 countries. Tradeshift has also grown its customer base, albeit not as substantially as its supplier base. According to Lanng, the company has picked up more than 50 new customers since June 2015 and is on track to have more than 100 total customers by year end.
This past January, Tradeshift expanded into China, picking up more than 20 customers, plus more than 100,000 suppliers. As Lanng said, China is going to be an important market, not just for Tradeshift, but for buyers and suppliers across the globe. He cautioned that if enterprises are not operating in Chinese markets, they are at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the competition.
For Lanng, the future of business will revolve around disruptive technologies, like process automation, machine learning, and what he calls “decision automation” – essentially an advanced form of artificial intelligence (“AI”) that will allow enterprises to automate routine decision making. In the next 18-to-24 months, Lanng believes that these technologies will enable enterprises to achieve superior results with risks that are comparable with human decision-making. He also believes that enterprises are moving towards a post-document world, where digitalization will replace paper-and-ink documents, ultimately saving enterprises significant costs, reducing errors and risks, and increasing efficiencies.
In a Market Filled with Disruption, Tradeshift Says “Go”
Disruptive technological innovations and trends, like automation and machine learning, underpinned Tradeshift’s major announcements of the day, foremost the launch of Tradeshift Go, a virtual assistant application intended for mid-market companies that seek to simplify the procurement and travel booking experience. Tradeshift Go leverages a combination of machine learning, automation, and human interface to allow users to make purchases and bookings and then coordinate review, approval, and payment in one location. It integrates with the same collaboration panel that is found across legacy Tradeshift applications, like its eProcurement app, Tradeshift Buy. Tradeshift Go’s plug-in also allows the app to work in browsers.
Users login to the Tradeshift platform, select the application, and “go” from there. They can search the app for direct and indirect categories by entering in common search terms and criteria. It then returns results and users are able to swipe right until they find their optimal choice. For those booking travel arrangements, Go will provide flight or train fares for given destinations and users can then swipe right for the preferred dates, times, and carriers. They can compare travel and hotel options using a line-by-line breakdown of expenses, cancellation policies, and other criteria. Users can upload their TSA Precheck numbers and it will automatically save it to their profile. Once they have made their selection, the app will also return recommendations for rental cars, restaurants, and local attractions.
Managers can set pre-approved spending and require users to first gain approval when a purchase or booking exceeds the limit. When bookings exceed limits, users can request approval from their manager within the platform using a chat feature. Managers then approve or deny requests, issue follow-on instructions, and or issue payment in the form of single-use or refillable payment cards. Managers can also monitor purchases and bookings and set alerts for certain actions and amounts. Chat logs are saved to enhance auditing and drive compliance to internal and external regulations.
Tradeshift Go comes on the heels of, and is largely enabled by, Tradeshift’s recent acquisition of Hyper, a travel management startup established in 2015. It is powered by a hybrid automation/man-in-the-loop model that leverages algorithims, Big Data, and a dedicated team at Hyper (now Tradeshift) that returns results to the user. Hyper founders Minqi Jiang, Peter Zakin, and Derek Schaible built their travel bookings application to be intuitive, user-friendly, and compatible with modern apps that business users use in their personal lives. The result was an app that was compatible with Tradeshift’s open API.
Introducing the Tradeshift App Store
Speaking of apps, Tradeshift leaders unveiled a couple additional items to the analyst crowd – the launch of Tradeshift Apps, its own apps store, and the forthcoming launch of Tradeshift Skills. Tradeshift Apps went live the day of the event, and builds upon the company’s legacy as an application-centric solution provider. Sarika Garg, Senior Vice President and General Manager for Networks and Applications at Tradeshift, noted that the company built everything using APIs, so much so that “components of apps are apps themselves.” As the company progressed, it started building more strategic applications that could be leveraged by third parties, as well as its customer base. Then it decided to take things further.
Since January 2016, Tradeshift has invested heavily in resources to develop more apps, including a developer “ecosystem” in New York and a growing list of familiar solution providers, like Determine, riskmethods, and Apex Analytics, that have apps available in the store, with around 50 as of launch. Tradeshift is in ongoing talks with other solution providers to onboard more applications with the goal to have 100 apps by year’s end.
Tradeshift Skills is the company’s answer to a common dilemma for mid-market companies: how to provide resources for niche skills that procurement professionals need without breaking the bank. With the forthcoming Tradeshift Skills app, users will gain access to common procurement and supply management skill sets, like contractual/legal skills, and travel and expense management. Far from a comprehensive online learning and career development platform like ISM’s eISM or Mastery Model, Tradeshift skills is meant to provide on the spot training for the execution of tactical business processes. The company is due to deliver Skills for wide release on July 25, although they are currently rolling it out to their existing user base.
Automation, collaboration, and machine learning are increasingly becoming ingrained into the procurement and supply management solution landscape. Users are benefiting from these innovations to get what they need faster – whether that is direct or indirect goods, travel bookings, or approvals from on high. Tradeshift seeks to exploit this long-arching trend with its newer network/platform technology and aggressive hybrid app approach that can deliver its own apps (like Go) and those of third-parties to help increase efficiencies and transparency for procure-to-pay professional. Tradeshift is a well-funded company and its network numbers, aided by easy-to-use enablement features, are growing fast, but its future will be determined by how well its (and its partners’) innovations are adopted and the impact that they ultimately make.