Last week the Ardent Partners team participated a briefing with the executive team at Aquiire to get a general update on the company, its recent successes, and the general direction of its solutions and strategy. On the interview were Mike Palackdharry, President and CEO, Tulsi Zeidman, Head of Strategic Solutions, Kevin Smith, VP Marketing and Alliances, and Sundar Kadayam, Chief Strategy Officer.
Transformation: From V to A
Aquiire is the Cincinnati-based company that was formerly known as Vinimaya, an eProcurement and supplier catalog management specialist. While far from a household name, Vinimaya played well in its small niche before falling on tough times a few years ago. New capital (from Vora Ventures) and new management have led directly to a dramatic series of changes in the company’s core products as well as its strategic direction.
The new/current executive team was brought in to stabilize operations and develop a new strategy. The first key component of the new strategy was announced last August when the company unveiled “Aquiire,” a product the company refers to as the procurement industry’s first “real-time eProcurement suite.”
Aquiire was an exciting and bold stride forward for a company that had struggled to grow within the very tight niche of hosted catalogs. So bold, in fact, that today, the executive team believes that traditional sourcing and catalogs (the concept that gave rise to the company and kept it around since its inception) are fast becoming “outdated ways of procurement thinking.” More specifically, the company sees significant problems with the “traditional” eProcurement model that can support thousands of suppliers but limits competitive shopping and a company’s negotiating power across indirect spend categories and tail spend.
With a new level of interest and excitement regarding the company’s new offering, notably, its move towards real-time intelligence and responsive interfacing driven largely by Big Data and advances made via artificial intelligence and machine learning, the leadership team decided to adopt the name of its banner product and Aquiire, Inc. was born.
At the core, the Aquiire tool acts like a competitive shopping bot that can search and aggregate the current pricing on an item from a wide range of suppliers, creating a real-time competitive shopping experience that is taken for granted by consumer shoppers. This functionality allows requisitioners to search for items across the range of hosted and punch-out catalogs (that have typically been established by procurement teams via negotiated contracts) as well as other predefined supplier sites (like Amazon).
The tool aggregates the findings, including item, price, and supplier information into a single portal and enables the requisitioner to select the most competitively-priced supplier. And, while there are still some specific elements that need to be incorporated into the new tool, like the ability to incorporate shipping costs and calculate taxes so requisitioners are presented with the lowest total cost of ownership options (instead of simply the lowest priced items), the Aquiire solution today is helping to push the industry closer to a true consumer-like experience.
As its CEO stated, “Aquiire is working to re-envision P2P” and has three central tenets driving its product strategy and roadmap: (1) actionable savings and intelligence, (2) adaptable to procurement’s evolving strategy and (3) accessible within existing IT environment (which means that although Aquiire is a global partner of Oracle (across its different eProcurement solutions) it is building its solution agnostically so that it can sit on top of other eProcurement solutions like SAP Ariba and Coupa).
The Value of “Real-Time”
One area that Aquiire is trying to unlock that is currently overlooked is inaccessible savings, which they refer to as the “white spaces” in traditional B2B procurement. One of the issues Aquiire sees with the traditional eProcurement model is that there are thousands of suppliers to negotiate with and manage. And, while prices on B2C goods change rapidly and often, dramatically on sites like Amazon, or travel sites like Kayak or Expedia, pricing moves within B2B are much less transparent.
The Aquiire team sees an opportunity for significant savings via the process of real-time competitive shopping. Aquiire believes that when a sourcing team locks in standard pricing with a supplier for a term of one year or more, it may miss out on better mid-period pricing caused by typical market fluctuations like oversupply, sales, and seasonality. For example, suppliers may offer pricing that is significantly lower than the market average in an attempt to gain market share, dump inventory, or increase quarterly revenue. These sale price opportunities are frequently missed by the traditional corporate buyer. The Aquiire tool works to present requisitioners and buyers with a real-time view into market pricing by capturing a wider range of supplier pricing options.
Aquiire presented a series of case studies where it analyzed and contrasted actual historicFal spending patterns with the historical “real-time” market pricing and found that many companies could achieve double digit savings (millions of dollars) had the option of competitive shopping been enabled.
This has piqued the interest of many procurement departments who frequently begin using the Aquiire functionality to capture market intelligence and determine what the savings opportunities are or would be before enabling the functionality for enterprise end-users. Even if the procurement team does not enable the competitive shopping functionality, the data collected on purchases made relative to potential savings had elsewhere empowers procurement to negotiate lower prices with their suppliers.
Another part of Aquiire’s strategy is to make their solution adaptable to evolving procurement strategies. Aquiire believes that the ability to tag suppliers by important strategic criteria is an important aspect of the buying process. With this capability, buyers will have the ability to influence supplier search rankings manually or through a machine learning process.
The Road Ahead
Palackdharry stated that the company will have full P2P capability by the end of the year, with the immediate strength of the solution falling on the eProcurement side.
One exciting item on Aquiire’s roadmap is its drive to bring greater transparency into spend. As our readers know all too well, organizing historical spend data can be a major undertaking because the data is frequently in terrible shape. And, a lack of visibility into spend, which is still far too common among procurement groups today, makes getting an even reasonable baseline for formulating a procurement strategy very difficult.
Aquiire has plans to develop a visual spend map for users that process purchase order (PO) data. It involves applying an analysis of unstructured data that they call semantic clustering as a way to discover natural spend categories that exist within that PO data, without going through the typical data categorizing process.
Aquiire’s executive team says that its visual spend map will have a machine learning element attached to it that will help fuel the categorization of naturally-forming categories and then map them to what the customers have in their existing buying taxonomy. This is a novel and interesting approach to the spend data challenge (possibly even a variation on this potential approach to spend analysis that I introduced years ago).
This approach aligns with the company’s recent move to embed Zakta‘s algorithms and source codes within its own procure-to-pay (P2P) platform and bring real-time intelligence to eProcurement. Under the terms of this recent agreement, Aquiire will embed and further develop Zakta’s algorithms, which power machine learning, natural language processing (NLP), unstructured data mining, data discovery, and real-time collaboration, within its eProcurement solution in order to drive collaboration in real-time with suppliers and other buyers across the enterprise. These algorithms are said to facilitate a host of other functions for buyers, including providing an “enhanced adaptive guided buying and search experience,” a visualization of poorly structured spend, access to product and social media reviews, and the opportunity to collaboratively purchase with other stakeholders within the enterprise.
With all of the transactional data floating in and out of eProcurement solutions, there is an opportunity for procurement teams to “mine” that data and uncover hidden insight into suppliers, spend, markets, categories, and buying behaviors. And they can use that visibility and intelligence to alter behaviors, renegotiate contracts, terms and conditions, and look at commodity markets in new ways to create more value and gain a competitive advantage. Aquiire plans to have its P2P suite available by the end of the year and says it will continue to push the concept of competitive shopping and the value of “real-time.”
Aquiire, formerly known as Vinimaya, is a proud sponsor of CPO Rising 2017 – Ardent Partners’ procurement executive summit to be held at the Harvard Club of Boston in the historic Back Bay on November 8 & 9. Join us, Aquiire, and 125 procurement leaders and practitioners for this exclusive event.