What is ‘Supplier Portal’?
Also known as a vendor portal, it is normally a web-based solution provided by the buyer organization to connect with third party suppliers of goods and/or services. It allows the vendor to perform self-service transactions like submit invoices, track payments, order updates, etc.
Normally in a buyer organization, 90% of purchases happen from around 10% of suppliers whereas the remaining 90% of suppliers contribute to only 10% of the purchases. For high volume suppliers it makes sense to use a supplier network type of solution (E.g. SAP Ariba Network) which provides system to system integration. However, still, a big tail of suppliers with low data volumes need to be managed via scanning or supplier portal type of solutions.
What is ‘Supplier Assistant BOT’?
It is a BOT which has conversational capabilities like humans and it can also connect to enterprise applications to extract data based on user requests.
Chatbots are based on NLP which stands for Natural Language Processing, it’s a type of artificial intelligence technology that aims to interpret, recognize, and understand user requests in the form of free language.
Its purpose is to automate the conversation with different business partners in an enterprise world. At this moment chatbots are mainly used for customer support. However, it has the potential to be used with many other partners like suppliers, employees, contractors, transporters, external agencies etc..
Example: P2P transaction processing collaboration BOTs.
All Assistant BOTs are based on SRACE (Smart Rapid App Configuration Engine) framework. One of the use cases of this framework is a Supplier Portal with conversational capabilities, collaboration capabilities and some machine learning features.
Every native application has a different UI, resulting in a learning curve for the consumers hence putting them off from app-based culture. However, the supplier assistant is a chat-based UI like WhatsApp, Skype, Workplace etc. and these channels are growing in popularity.
Current Challenges and how ‘Supplier Assistant’ adds value
Many businesses have recognized the opportunity to lower costs by implementing supplier self-services through a “Supplier Portal”. As we look back on the past ten years of evolution of the “Supplier Portal”, still there is low adoption of such portals from a supplier point of view and this is because of some challenges mentioned in the table below.
The “Supplier Assistant” can address many of the current challenges faced by a supplier and a buyer which can help in improving widespread adoption of the “Supplier Portal”.
|Challenges with Supplier Portal||How “Supplier Assistant” can help?|
|The supplier has too many supplier portal URLs from different customers/buyers.||Supplier (contact person) can add “Supplier Support Assistant” as a friend to their social media accounts like Facebook/Workplace/Skype/Skype for Business.|
|Supplier organization has a team of people using these URLs and often the password gets locked due to incorrect attempts, which results in delays.||Suppliers don’t need to remember any URL or password; the supplier can simply chat with the BOT to get details from the supplier portal or make an update to the supplier portal.|
|Buyer/Customer need to put additional staff to support the supplier’s technical issues like their user account locked, password reset etc which is an unnecessary cost.||There is no risk of the account getting locked hence no need for additional staff for account maintenance.|
|If invoices are not getting paid on time, then many suppliers don’t know the correct contact person or steps to get the resolution. This ends up in a series of an email chains||Majority of the questions will be immediately answered by the BOT without any human support.|
ERP systems used by enterprises are designed for access to internal user roles like employees, approvers, shoppers, accounts payable, etc. However, they are not good for external users like suppliers without any intermediate hub solution.
I have mentioned these Enterprise level challenges and how the supplier assistant can add value in the table below.
|Challenges with current ERP system (Buyer) and Business Applications||How “Supplier Assistant” can help?|
|Due to the complex UI of business applications, users need a lot of training before they can use them productively.||Simple human-like chat, will not require any training.|
|Current ERP systems are not designed to work seamlessly with new collaborative channels like Facebook Messenger, Workplace, Skype, Skype for business, Whatsapp, Google Assistant, Alexa etc.||SmartApp Framework provides seamless integration to different collaborative channels. There is no development required.
When the supplier’s representative/contact person, interacts for the first time via a social media channel (Example Workplace / Skype for Business), they will be verified using a supplier EmailID and after that they will be able to access the BOT from that account without verification.
|External users like suppliers can’t be given access to core backend system as they need to access them from outside the firewall. Hence there is a team of people who are just answering supplier queries||The SmartApp Framework can work as a proxy or as an additional layer between the supplier and ERP core systems. This will reduce the risk and suppliers will not have direct access to core ERP systems.|
|When a supplier has a new question/query, they need to call or email the support team. For calls, they need to call within working hours and for emails, they need to wait for the reply which may take a few days.||Supplier Assistant BOT has 24×7 availability, it will be able to check and provide an answer to the majority of questions like invoice status, payment status, and order details. This will result in lesser question/query volume.
Where the BOT is not able to provide the answer by themselves, the BOT will notify the relevant team members (AP team, shopper, category manager/purchaser, tax team etc). This will speed up the process significantly resulting in cost saving.
|In many cases, these questions are manually routed to other actors within the enterprise which becomes a time-consuming process.||In case the BOT is not able to answer the query then it will be picked by a human support team and the suppliers will know about it. Additionally, based on the question, the BOT will route it to the correct user/role BOT.
If the supplier has its own “Customer BOT” then the “Supplier BOT” from one Enterprise can directly interact with the “Customer BOT” of another enterprise and provide a ‘human to human’ alike system integration.
|RPA(Robotic Process Automation) provides process automation for enterprise transactions, however RPA tools cannot be made easily accessible for an enterprise user base which limits the use cases for RPA.||SmartApp Framework provides an opportunity to link collaborative channels with RPA tools for both internal (Enterprise users) and external users (Suppliers, Customer, Transporters etc).|
|There are big development costs and effort is required for individual problems and processes.||Using SmartApp Framework, without any major development, a variety of use cases can be implemented and the framework provides a lot of re-usability.|
|When using the supplier portal, the supplier is normally provided with a single account which is used by multiple people within the supplier organization.
From the traceability point of view, it becomes difficult to find which sales or accounts personnel has performed the transaction due to a common account.
|Smart Assistant BOT User Console. This is the user console which provides user management functionality which manages all social media user accounts (Skype / Facebook / WhatsApp account connected to master user account in the backend)
Smart BOT framework can keep the track of social media user accounts at transaction level as well.
How it works?
The SRACE framework supports multiple collaborative channels as mentioned below:
Based on the role and preferred channel suppliers, employees(shoppers), AP team and purchaser can perform certain transactions and process steps. Some of these steps are mentioned as below:
|Supplier||Employee/Shopper||AP(Accounts Payable) Team|
Supplier & Buyer Collaboration
This video demonstrates how easily buyers and suppliers can collaborate using chatbots to remove inefficiencies and communication blocker. In this video, we have used an example where the supplier has received a new order which has incomplete details and supplier can’t process it. Later using chatbot supplier is able to get the required missing details and able to process the order.
Invoice Status via Phone Call
Enable suppliers to call on a phone number and check Invoice / Payment Status. A very simple and effective way to make your suppliers self-sufficient, which results in significant cost saving.
End 2 End P2P process demo
This is a demo of the end2end P2P process using ‘Skype’ / ‘Skype for Business’ chatbot. Suppliers, shoppers, and accounts payable team collaborates on Skype to perform P2P transactions like view new orders, shipping of goods, goods receipt, invoicing, track payment, etc. A new, unique, simple and cost-effective way to collaborate between different P2P roles.
About the Author :
Atul Gupta | Director
I’m Atul Gupta, Director at Smartphone Biz Apps Limited,UK..
I am an innovator, entrepreneur, SAP expert and life-long student of new technologies with current focus on AI and Machine Learning and on occasion – a teacher of these subjects.
I began my SAP career in 1997, and since then I have been instrumental in many SAP implementations in the SAP Procurement and Logistics space.
As a seasoned SAP consultant, my goal is to use my vast SAP experience with new technologies to provide unique business solutions.
I love meeting new people and learning new things, so please feel free to say hello and share your story with me.