Editor’s Note: Over the next few weeks on CPO Rising, we’re publishing some “best of” 2017 articles as we reflect on the year and prepare for the new year ahead.
The following is a transcript of an interview by Andrew Bartolini with Jack Mulloy, CEO of BuyerQuest. Some of the questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Jack Mulloy has spent the better part of his career in the enterprise procurement space. After earning his BS in Business, Accounting, and Management from Miami University and his MBA in Information Systems from Case Western Reserve University, both in Ohio, Jack began his career in IT business solutions at Ariba (now SAP Ariba). After nearly four years of sales and consulting work with Ariba, Jack left in late 2003 to launch Nitor Partners, a consulting practice that helps companies to set strategy and vision and implement Ariba’s solutions. In 2008-09, Jack founded a software company called PunchOut Catalogs, which helps companies to sell goods and services electronically to B2B and B2C customers. In 2010, Jack and his staff took the lessons they learned from PunchOut, flipped them on their head, and founded BuyerQuest, which is a commerce-like buying experience for large enterprises. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Jack recently to learn more about him, his background, his role at BuyerQuest, and his vision for the future of the industry. This is the first of two parts to our conversation.
Andrew Bartolini: Welcome Jack. Before we dive in, please share a little of your background in procurement with our readers.
Jack Mulloy: Let’s see, I started at Ariba in the early 2000’s, spending four years doing a combination of sales and consulting. I left Ariba in 2003 to launch a consulting business, Nitor, that offered integration services primarily around the Ariba solution set and helped companies set a strategy and vision and to implement them. The Nitor consulting business quickly expanded to include other solution providers in the enterprise procurement or source-to-pay space. Through Nitor’s early days, my team and I developed a molecular understanding as to (1) The main technology players in the market as well as their strengths and weaknesses and (2) the primary challenges and struggles that customers faced when using this technology. Nitor has been on a steep trajectory since then and is considered one of the top mid-sized firms in the industry.
Fast forward to 2008-09, I created a software company called PunchoutCatalog.com, a company that is still very much alive today. PunchoutCatalog helps companies of all sizes to sell goods and services electronically (B2B and B2C ecommerce); they may log into a site as well as punch out to an application and buy things that way. It’s sort of like Kleenex: Punchout Catalog is the brand, and people associate it with B2B ecommerce, so it’s now synonymous with the term “Punchout.” We started getting some traction with large accounts, and enabling dozens of suppliers for some big buyers. We created a really good buying experience – but it was a very splintered buying experience. The end users needed to know that they had to punch out to a specific vendor before they could search for what they were looking for. That buying experience was not optimal. So we took what we learned from a punch out perspective and we flipped it on its head. That’s how BuyerQuest came to be.
BuyerQuest is a commerce-like buying experience for large enterprises. It’s as close to consumers have come to an Amazon- or eBay-like procurement experience for enterprises, where when you log in to the application, you don’t need any training. BuyerQuest is what we call “walk-up user friendly.” It plays well into what I think procurement has been challenged to do over the last 20 years, which is to deploy self-service business applications that support enterprise procure-to-pay (P2P). That’s where we live.
AB: BuyerQuest has been gaining momentum in the market. In fact, Ardent Partners identified it as a “Hot Tech Prospect” a few years ago. Take us back to the beginning, why you started it and what you were looking to accomplish.
JM: Sure. So, BuyerQuest is the only truly ecommerce-like enterprise procurement solution in the market. With our consulting background, and after 100-150 different enterprise procurement deployments across different platforms, we consistently saw low user adoption. When companies failed to hit their ROI’s, it was primarily because they failed to get the end-user buy-in that was required to drive those savings and value. So that was the primary driver behind BuyerQuest.
When I put the team together, I had old school P2P folks who understand why every field is part of every object within the P2P lifecycle. Then we hired folks who had no idea about what procurement was. They knew ecommerce cold and they were highly skilled with WebSphere commerce. They came to us from eBay and Google. They really understood ecommerce, buying behavior, driving website traction, and things like that. So we have two camps even today – the P2P SME’s and the really smart ecommerce folks that drive our application. It’s helped us think long and hard about scale as well as usability.
Another issue that I saw with first generation eProcurement solutions was their inability to scale. Whether it be performance-related issues, usability issues, or a combination of both – the solutions weren’t built to scale. If you want to enable a truly ecommerce-like buying experience, you may have 10 million goods and services. That is the scale that no one can handle, except BuyerQuest. From Day One, we’ve regarded scale as necessary to complete our vision of driving a consumer-like buying experience.
With everything that we do at BuyerQuest, usability is paramount. It could be something as mundane as accounting filters, verifying accounting logic, or calculating tax – things that are table stakes in an enterprise procurement lifecycle. We look at each of those things and figure out how to make it more usable. We ask questions like, “What are people’s eyeballs drawn to on screens? Why is there latency, or why is the user behavior slower in this process? Why are people abandoning the legal services and procurement process in step one? What can we do to enable better behavior?” That is the mindset that we have. Our users always remain in our application. Look at SAP Ariba and Coupa users: 90% them are not in those applications – they punch out to Granger or Dell, or integrate with SAP Fieldglass, and then they return to the eProcurement system.
No matter how much you want to talk about unlocking cognitive capabilities, you can’t. You don’t have the data to do that. That’s the next step in our evolution – embracing cognitive, and taking the strategic advantage of having all contracts for goods and services in a single searchable application and then unlocking its cognitive capabilities. As we consider how to drive the highest levels of user adoption, we call it a “contextual buying experience.” We know who you are and what plant you’re logging in from. We know what you previously searched for and bought. We know what folks in your role typically buy on, say, Tuesday afternoons. We have all kinds of information that allows us to provide a really smart experience for the end user. The only way you can do that is if you control the buying experience and you have the data.
Tune in to Part II of this interview where Andrew asks Jack about how he has seen procurement organizations evolve over his career, about the challenges and obstacles they have faced and continue to face, and where he sees it heading.