Digital supplier portals promise efficiency, supply chain agility, and ease of communication. However, for many suppliers, they seem to make the procurement process more tedious.
Are you constantly trying to figure out how each of your business partner’s system works? Do you need to log in manually to each platform? Do you have to enter data from your ERP system into each of your customers’ portals?
These are common issues for many suppliers, especially if dealing with multiple supplier portals from different customers. This is not only time-consuming and frustrating; it also makes you wonder why companies even use them in the first place.
In the following, we’ll take a closer look at what supplier portals are and why companies use them. We’ll then discuss the challenges they can present and how you can actually overcome these challenges.
What are supplier portals?
If you supply products to other businesses, you have probably used not just one, but multiple supplier portals. Sometimes they are also called vendor portals. Most known portals are e.g. SAP Ariba, Jaggaer, SupplyOn, Coupa, Onventis, SourceDay, or Mespas. They are digital platforms for handling procurement procceses online.
Procurement goes digital
In essence, supplier portals serve as an online exchange platform between different businesses, typically between customers and their suppliers. They are used to place digital orders, process invoices, check delivery and order statuses, share documents, and exchange information.
Using a supplier portal usually starts with an onboarding process. During that process suppliers log in to their customers’ portals and set up an account. Once two trade partners are connected on the platform, they can use it to handle nearly the entire procurement process digitally. Partners can submit, view, and edit purchase orders. It’s also possible to check on the shipping and delivery status of orders and to handle invoicing online.
E-Procurement in practice
Normally, large customers set up a vendor portal for all of their suppliers to use. For instance, the electric car company Tesla uses a supplier portal to handle shipments, deliveries, and orders from their different suppliers. Any company that manufactures or ships products for Tesla has to log in to the company’s supplier portal in order to view orders, update shipment information, or handle payments.
For companies like Tesla, this is very convenient. They can handle all of their supply chain management from order to shipment to payment, on just one platform.
The advantages of supplier portals
The digital order process offers a lot of advantages for companies that work with multiple small suppliers.
24/7 access to information
Supplier portals allow 24/7 access to trade partners’ information. Especially if a company is dealing with international suppliers, being able to access information and get delivery updates at any time without having to worry about time zone differences makes managing the supply chain a lot easier.
At the same time, everybody is able to see data as it is entered in real time. Information doesn’t have to be printed out or passed on from one person to another before it gets entered into the system. This speeds up work processes, lowers error rates, and also reduces paper usage, which cuts down costs.
Supplier portals also make the supply chain management process very transparent for all business partners. If, for instance, there is an issue with an order or a payment, it is easy to go back and look at the history, find the problem, and fix it. What could have resulted in a conflict between partners can now be resolved within minutes.
A transparent supply chain management process also makes it easier to access and analyse data. This makes it easier to discover and correct inefficiencies much faster, which can result in significant savings.
Save time and money
Supplier portals also significantly speed up procurement processes. There is no need to meet up in person with a supplier, receive documents, enter the data into the system, and exchange numerous phone calls until the order has been completed. Everything can be handled digitally on the vendor portal. Both partners can update their information conveniently online, which saves time, money, and resources.
In sum, from a customer’s perspective, there are many benefits to using a supplier portal. However, there is also a big problem - especially for small suppliers - nobody seems to talk about: They end up creating more work.
The challenges of supplier portals
As convenient as supplier portals can be for buyers, they can end up being remarkably tedious for suppliers. This is because as a supplier, you typically don’t just have to deal with one vendor portal. You have to deal with several. And since different clients use different systems, things can get very complicated very quickly.
Frustrating user experience
First, you have to familiarize yourself with each system. This takes time, especially if a supplier portal is not very intuitive. Employees might have to educate themselves on the system by watching tutorial videos or reading user manuals.
Employees might even have to figure out how to use the portal themselves. This is not only very time-consuming. It can also lead to errors, which can slow down the process even further or possibly upset clients.
Transfer data manually
Second, in most cases, you will not be able to automatically transfer data from your ERP system into your client’s supplier portal. For many suppliers, this means that your procurement team will have to spend a lot of time inputting data manually.
If you are dealing with several clients who all use different systems, this will increase your error rate and also be very frustrating for your team. More and more companies are now in the process of digitizing their operations management and setting up online supplier portals. That means the work load for your team will become increasingly overwhelming. In the end, your employees will mostly be busy inputting data instead of overseeing the procurement process and dealing with the customers.
The good news is: it doesn’t have to be this way.
How to make e-procurement more efficient for everyone
When faced with the difficulties of supplier portals, many suppliers’ first reaction is to refuse to use vendor portals all together. This might work for big suppliers with a large market share. For smaller companies, however, refusing to use supplier portals could cause you to lose customers. Many trade partners have moved to just using digital orders and prefer working with suppliers who will also use their procurement systems.
Another approach could be to try to connect each of your customers to your own IT system. This would enable automatic data exchange instead of having to manually enter data into the portals. However, you will need deep technical know-how and significant resource investments to set this up. Unless you have a dedicated IT department in your company, you will have to hire outside experts. This could be quite costly, especially if you work with many customers.
This is why some suppliers prefer hiring more people to be able to handle the increased work load of the digital order process. While doing so can temporarily solve bottlenecks for individual employees by lowering the workload. It still doesn’t solve the problem of the inefficiency of the system. You usually end up with more frustrated employees and higher costs.
So how to avoid getting cut out of your customers’ supply chains, creating additional work for your team, and increasing your costs? Your best option is to integrate all of your customers’ supplier portals into one system. This is where Procuros comes in!
Integration systems solve the problems between supplier portals and your ERP system
Integration systems, such as Procuros, allow you to handle all interactions from within your own ERP system. You don’t even have to log into the supplier portal anymore.
Procuros’ integration system connects directly to your ERP system, such as SAP, Oracle or Microsoft Dynamics. It also speaks the language of most supplier portals. Therefore it is able to convert information between your ERP system and the vendor portals automatically.
Procurement documents from supplier portals are automatically converted and exchanged between the vendor portal and your ERP system. Rather than having to create an offer in your ERP system, export it into to a PDF, log into the supplier portal, enter the data from your offer manually, and upload the PDF to the portal; Procuros will automatically pick up your completed order and transfer the data to the supplier portal – without you having to lift a finger.
For you, this means that you can simply use your system without having to worry about transferring data anymore. Procuros will do it for you. So finally, your procurement team can focus on what’s really important – the customers!