From the supplier enablement process to addressing client needs, the B2B payments arena is ripe with hurdles that may be preventing forward progress. PYMNTS sat down with Bill Hirsch, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at BirchStreet, to understand his views on how procure-to-pay solution providers can rise to the challenge.
What are you hearing from your clients concerning their top B2B payments challenges?
BH: The top challenges today are really much more about what functions clients want to automate rather than when they want to automate. Historically, our clients have purchased a variety of different software systems to accomplish certain things, so they might have purchased a separate inventory system, BI system or procurement system.
Unfortunately, the problem they are experiencing now is that those systems are sun-setting, they are coming to end of life. The systems also didn’t talk to each other and were never being improved. The challenge lies in what can be done for the future and determining a future vision, which is something I believe most large companies are dealing with. How can this functionality be unified under one umbrella system? These are the major concerns of our clients today, identifying how to streamline these systems to produce greater profitability.
Given that payers have been paying in a certain way for years and suppliers having been paid a certain way for years, is there inertia in B2B payments?
BH: There is tremendous inertia in going through the payments cycle. Historically, BirchStreet has delivered files into a customer’s ERP or payable system and then left it entirely up to the client to pay. As the world gets more consolidated, the idea of writing checks – sometimes tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of checks – then processing check payments is just way too cumbersome.
As far as the inertia to eliminate that part, BirchStreet recently partnered with CSI Enterprises to automate the remittance portion. Instead of delivering a file to the ERP, we are now delivering it in conjunction with the ERP to CSI, allowing CSI to better help customers handle the payments.
In your opinion, who is ultimately responsible for the supplier enablement process?
BH: That seems to be one of the crux discussions these days. In our world, the supplier enablement process happens with the person who owns the relationship with the supplier. We are currently implementing a solution in Western Europe, where as we deploy we are encouraging the customer to work with BirchStreet and the supplier together. This will allow supplier enablement not only for procurement, but also for the acceptance of remittance. But it won’t ever gain full traction until all three parties join forces in order to talk about what the benefits to all stakeholders are.
Everyone talks about what makes them unique, and of course everyone believes that they are. How would you characterize your solutions – what makes them unique?
BH: A couple of things. First, our architecture, it’s written on a proprietary system, which allows us to be a multi-tenant fast-based solution. For our clientele, it means we are able to deploy faster. We can quickly implement changes, enhancements and new products, and then deploy them globally or offer them globally to all of the tenants in the marketplace. It’s a unique structure.
Then, we’re multi-module, which means everything surrounding the procurement of any product or any service, whether it’s obtaining legal service or purchasing a hamburger, is enabled through BirchStreet. Our clientele can use BirchStreet for a totally integrated recipe management system, capital budget management system, eProcurement system, AP (accounts payable) 3-way matching, and inventory. Any time a product or service is purchased, regardless of what it is, it’s able to come through our system with all of the same controls you would expect from just commodities.