Not all businesses' automation software solutions are alike. North Carolina-based SciQuest wants to stand out from the crowd by offering a cloud-based suite of services to help businesses of all sizes meet their procurement challenges. PYMNTS recently spoke with Eric Zoetmulder, Vice President of Product Management at SciQuest, to get the details on what SciQuest is doing to, as the company puts it, “turn spending into savings.”
Introduce us to SciQuest. What makes you unique?
EZ: [When you look at business automation solutions and spend] management and all the organizations that are in [the space] today, 99 percent of those organizations offer point solutions or part of the downstream procurement or part of the upstream procurement. Some do sourcing well, some do process well, some do eProcurement well, some do payments well, [and] some combine some parts of that.
But SciQuest is one of the few companies that [put] all of that together in one seamless suite in the cloud.
The way I kind of look at it is, if you think about spend management and our business systems that [go] with it, you have a value creation portion of it – where you identify spend savings opportunities or cost savings opportunities – and you have a value-capture component, which is where, once you’ve decided to work [with] suppliers and have your contracts in place…you actually ensure that people are compliant and can very effectively use those contracts to get their business done.
SciQuest puts all of those components together in one seamless suite, with one very easy-to-use UI, which is available in the cloud. It’s tablet-friendly on an iPad; we’re getting mobile-enabled, now, too… If you look at our whole environment, it’s a very unique value proposition for our customers.
[And that] value proposition [goes] beyond the software. We are putting suppliers at the center of our technology. If you look at our customers and our suppliers, it’s a network: all of our customers can do business with suppliers in our network; all of our suppliers can do business with all of our customers – in their network, as well. We support them with supplier services and unique customer services. We believe that technology is not there just to be cool, but [that] technology is really there to add value to both sides of the equation.
We help suppliers get enabled…and that is really helpful for our customers, who want to [very quickly] enable large numbers of suppliers in their networks. We have a unique set of supplier services that augment[s] our technology.
On top of that, there is a very strong commitment to customer success. We have inside our support services the concept of client partners. These are essentially “power consultants” that are connected to our customers for the [entirety of the customer’s] relationship with SciQuest. They help customers with monthly and quarterly reviews, understand how our customers are using our technology – help our customers include the use of their technology – but also really solve business problems.
For example, if we measure how fast orders get approved or invoices get processed, we measure how many of those invoices are fully electronic or keyed in by an organization [itself]. We understand how many suppliers are using certain commodities and whether there’s an opportunity to consolidate spend, or to help our customers figure out what kind of savings opportunities there are in certain commodities.
Those client partners and our support services don’t just sell the technology and help our customers use technology better, but they really work on business problems that drive value and return on investment for our customers.
If you think about our overall customer business – yes, it’s technology; we’re very much a software business; we sell great technology in the cloud. But we augment that with services that are unique, that help our customers and our suppliers drive value.
Let’s talk about BPAs – business process automation solutions. They are expected to reduce time and money spent on completing business processes, but that will require a very large investment, a lot of installation time and a great deal of maintenance. From an ROI perspective, are the benefits really worth it?
EZ: It’s funny that you say they are expensive to install…and [require] a huge investment. When I look at our installation timelines, and I look at our investments, [they] really [are] not that big.
Typically, our return on investment is anywhere from 6 to 10 times what the…costs are for our consumers – if not larger. Installation times run anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks at the smallest, to longer, and it really depends on the amount of change management that is required and whether a customer buys a portion of our suite or tries to install the entire suite in one go.
Of course, [the] size of the company matters a little bit in that, as well; [it] makes a big difference if you install at a large Fortune 500 company or estate, versus a small community college or a midsize organization. That really does make a difference. But all in all, for us it’s [a matter of] turning on the license, and we help our customers install in a very short amount of time.
We have a unique paradigm in which we install, as well; we’re very agile in that [way]. We bring a tremendous amount of best practices and pre-installed technology in place. Essentially, we bring our technology in and we ask our customers, “Why wouldn’t you be able to use this tomorrow?” Based on that paradigm, we walk our customers through the installation process, and very quickly have a working prototype, and then a working installation running.
On the other hand, what I think is interesting from a pure use perspective in our organization [is], when you look at our customers using our technology, I always joke [that] – particularly on eProcurement and invoice processing – our customers don’t want to spend a lot of time in our application. If you’re in business and you want to order your pencil and paper, or you’re a researcher and you need your research goods, you want to go in, you want to shop around, you want to get your product, and you want to get out of there as quickly as you can. And you want to get your products on your desk, preferably [by] the end of the day, if not early tomorrow. And you want to have it all approved: all of the accounting, all of the processing automated.
So we take a tremendous amount of effort and inefficiencies out of the process of getting goods and services onto the desks of those people that really need it today. It allows a sourcing organization, a supply-chain organization, to really turn around form being essentially an inhibitor and a doorstop, saying, “Hey, this is how you buy, and this is how you get your stuff” to being a tremendous facilitator that allows that organization to focus on either the most important procurements [or] the largest procurements, and really get out of the way of the day-to-day organization and business, [allowing them] to get their stuff done.
The value proposition is really, really strong. There’s a tremendous amount of inefficiencies [that] that we take out of the business, and the return on investment is very, very high.
Tell us a little bit about the main differences between conventional BPAs and those that are cloud-based.
EZ: If you look at the traditional ones – and you can name them: the Oracles and the SAPs of the world…on-premise ones – there’s an IT organization required to run those applications.
When you look at applications like ours, we don’t need IT in place. We need a business owner [who] owns the function [and] understands [the] application. That is the person [who] typically administers the toolset and makes sure that everything gets installed properly, and that it keeps running on a day-to-day basis.
You…take all the processes – hosting, managing, all the IT – but also upgrades and enhancements …and you simply replace it with one person in the business [who] really understands [the] toolset as we teach [him or her]. And [he or she] can take advantage of all of our releases. That’s sort of the basic concept.
On top of that, SciQuest releases new functionality three times per year at a set time…in a test environment for the administrator and [he or she] can take advantage of that technology, as well. So upgrade processes are tremendously simplified. Think about how a Google Chrome…simply put[s] new releases out and we just take advantage of it. That’s the simplicity of cloud technology.
SciQuest adheres to that with all of our customers, and continuously improves…apps, functionality, and new capabilities to our suite that our customers…can take advantage of. They’re always on the latest version; they can turn them on when and as they see fit.
There’s a very low cost of ownership that completely shifts the paradigm of who controls the technology, as it [becomes no longer] a technology solution [but instead] a business process tool that our customers and our suppliers take advantage of.
What are you hearing at SciQuest from your customers so far?
EZ: There’s excitement in our customer base…[particularly] about mobile and going into the cloud [with more than] just Internet technology that you can put on your desktop with a browser, but [with] true mobile application and mobile processes.
When you’re on the road, [being] able to approve the stuff that you need to approve, to review it, and to share it with others. There’s a lot of excitement in that area. As we get more and more into the new age, I think that’s an area that we’ll continue to build on and move forward with.
The other area that the customers are excited about is – [as] I talked about [earlier] – the ability to have a suite in place that not [only] deals with the value-capture side, or the eProcurement side alone, but also really worries about supplier management, supplier risk, sourcing and spend analysis, all in one suite.
You can really combine the value of understanding spend, sourcing effectively, and managing your suppliers, with the ability to very quickly translate that into transactions, and automating the efficiencies of doing your invoices, as well.
There’s a lot of value in that and our customers like that whole path of putting everything into one suite with SciQuest.
We grow with our customers and our customers grow with us. SciQuest is…very much driven by what our customers need in order to succeed. If we have a groundswell of things that customers [would] like to see in our application, typically we facilitate that and we build it in. There’s tremendous opportunity for customers to participate and grow our suite.
According to the SciQuest website, there’s a vision statement for the company, and it is to be the No. 1 cloud-based business automated solutions provider in the world. What’s the plan to achieve that?
EZ: There are sort of two parts to that.
One is our suite vision. We really believe that our customers [both present and future] prefer to work with a platform that does both the upstream value-creation part and the value-capture side…in one suite. They may grow to it over time, and they may go from one model to the next, but as we’ve progressed, we see more and more that becomes the need.
Instead of having two or three or four applications that…talk to each other a little bit, but you have to do a lot of hard IT work to get them to connect, to have it all in one seamless suite is really, really important. So that’s one core area.
[SciQuest has] acquired a number of companies that has helped us grow…our footprint, and they are all part of our suite, now. They’re all integrated, and it looks fantastic. We will continue to build out into different kinds of spend processes and business processes that deal with more than just procurement and invoicing; that will grow out. And who knows, over time, what kind of other processes we’ll add on to it.
The suite thinking, the focus on our network…mobile will be a big part of it. Through that, we will slowly but surely oil-stain to become the leader in the space.