Tradeshift co-founder Gert Sylvest, and CPO Roy Anderson, reveal how their global open business platform is transforming the future for buyers and sellers. By Elliot Francis
Tradeshift was founded in Denmark in 2010 by Gert Sylvest, Mikkel Hippe Brun and Christian Lanng. The trio’s ambition was to connect organisations across the world with an open business platform capable of transforming the way buyers and sellers interact by digitising and connecting every process. With over 800 staff based in 13 countries worldwide, Tradeshift helps businesses connect with all their suppliers digitally; remove paper and manual processes across procure-to-pay; seize early payment discounts to save money and buy what they need while managing supplier risk.
Sylvest’s vision is clear: “Marrying social technology with hard transactions will change the way the world thinks about business and finance, and allow us to bridge major digital divides.”
The Tradeshift Platform
Our platform allows you to run applications to meet the needs of what you’re doing when you’re doing it,” explains Tradeshift’s CPO Roy Anderson. “Different roles, such as advertising, legal services, facilities or engineering, have different requirements, requisitioning means and connections to their suppliers. They want a system that works for them. Tradeshift creates a user centric model – versus a procurement centric or IT centric model – providing different tools for different skillsets.” Tradeshift’s platform can connect the dots digitally offering a breakthrough in use-ability. “The key element of procurement is penetration,” he adds. “Getting all of your customers on board is a lot easier with this user centric tool.”
Anderson’s career path included the role of CPO at MetLife where he managed close to 20,000 suppliers. With just a few hundred of those automated, his resources were tied to managing the risks and costs of unconnected services tied to an IT-centric model. Today, he identifies three areas where Tradeshift can drive transformation in procurement… The aforementioned deep penetration of connectivity with suppliers digitises the supplier base. Secondly, the platform allows for user centric applications. With the penetration and platform established the third key benefit for users is access to a growing marketplace of products and services. “It becomes something that can work for a CPO very effectively,” he maintains. “You can tie into the Tradeshift marketplace and be able to buy your product at your price, and use the services without having to do the enormous work of setting up and running through the business case and the IT resource plan and the implementation efforts.”
Since 2010 Tradeshift has been targeting the Fortune 5000 companies and branching out to cover the whole Source-to-Pay cycle, moving inside organisations and onboarding employees for accounts payable automation, and increasingly for procurement alongside services offered via the marketplace. This innovation has helped define the company’s strategy on AI, blockchain and IoT. “We started to implement Machine Learning and AI back in 2012 and created CloudScan, an industry first scan and capture for the accounts payable process. What differentiates those who profit from Machine Learning is the ability to solve the network layers. Being a cloud-based network platform, we have the ability to learn from both the individual company’s best practice – procurement, invoice approvals, product classification – and how it works across the network. This has helped us develop automatic invoice coding and approvals based on existing patterns.”
“It’s always an educative journey,” believes Sylvest. “We’ve been approaching things from a new angle since we went 100% network first in the cloud. Customers that are successful on our platform buy into the bigger vision… When we use apps on a phone, everything is connected by default. Companies get that. After 40 years there is only one way to go, greater digitisation of the supply chain and the collaboration between companies. The challenge for them is to embrace ways of breaking down data silos to leverage the benefits of AI. Big players like Google and Facebook are driving this and putting out their technology as open source and using engineering communities to develop this at breakneck speed. The issue lies in how you adapt and use the technology, so most enterprises today are embarking on that learning process to make sure they reap the benefits.”
The automation of e-invoicing has been a resounding success for the company. Tradeshift Pay is now utilised globally by hundreds of businesses and was recognised in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Procure-to-Pay Suites in 2018. “Tradeshift’s model is to do digital by default,” confirms Anderson. “We work with suppliers to be able to get their documents digitally ripped to start, moving away from paper that needs to be scanned. It’s always going to be a tailored activity, but ultimately suppliers can see that by embracing a digital network, accurate invoices make for accurate payments. Finance teams can manage their working capital more efficiently, suppliers can be paid faster while cash be used more effectively…” Anderson reckons what’s good for the supplier is good for the client. “This is an enormous value proposition to many of our customers,” he adds. “The next step is to digitise the front end – the sourcing of the data analysis and spend analytics; the contract requisitioning, catalogue, and all of the services linked with that.”
Partners delivering applications
The Tradeshift platform is home to more than 300 visionary applications, like FRDM, which allow users to make purchases that elevate both profits and people by offering supply chain transparency from supplier down to raw materials level. “With the FRDM application, you can target the areas where slave labour is prevalent. If the product or service you buy has the potential to be at risk, you can mitigate that risk and aim to eliminate it.” Allied to this are sustainability apps such as Eco and tools for a multitude of tasks from background checks and spend analytics to requisitioning and forecasting.
Tradeshift on trend
Anderson notes that as supply chains digitise, clients are demanding speed, ease of use and a lower cost of implementation. He recalls that in previous roles, as CPO at MetLife and Fidelity, he would create a marketplace inside the company of trusted suppliers with the right risk portfolio that was sustainable, to allow internal customers to get the job done. This could take months – even years in some cases – to set up the suppliers and relevant content, contracts and technology. “My goal now is to be the CPO of an entire network of companies,” says Anderson of the Tradeshift marketplace. “There are organisations out there that separate you from your supplier. I consider that bad business. Our platform will give companies the flexibility to have products and services readily available to capture and curate their own solutions in a matter of days. Now they’re going to get aggregated buying opportunities, but still be able to have their relationship with their manufacturer or supplier.”
Predictions on Procure-to-Pay
Sylvest believes the marketplace embodies the idea of the network, rather than the traditional one-to-one procurement model which misses out on the economics of scale. It’s a place where Tradeshift’s app strategy (300 and counting) will flourish. “When we founded Tradeshift, we chose to make all of our interfaces open source for third parties to develop services,” he explains. “B2B spending is very complex and for every category, especially materials, third parties will bring specialism that can enhance services across different geographies. What will set us apart in the market will be the ability to combine the procurement process with product formation, fulfilment, payment and the financing of the physical goods or based on the invoice.”
Sylvest is most excited about the work Tradeshift is doing with ten of the largest banks (HSBC, CitiBank etc) to provide supply chain financing and discounting in the App Store. “They’ve chosen to have a presence in a competitive marketplace where it’s up to users to decide which financial services suit them best. For me this is proof that our network strategy is working.”
New frontiers for Tradeshift
Tradeshift Frontiers is the company’s digital innovation arm working on two major themes: the future for FinTech and how to connect the physical supply chain with the financial supply chain. Both of these are looking at ways to integrate Blockchain. “Tradeshift Cash was launched in 2018. With half a trillion dollars flowing through the network in receivables, what if you could take those receivables and tokenise them? By turning them into a digital asset you use the Blockchain as a marketplace where invoice tokens are for sale amongst financers. Instead of a traditional sale of invoice volumes over six months, we envisage a much more fluid process where invoices are tokenised in real time and out up for sale. In this competitive model financers compete based on their appetite for risk and knowledge of an industry.” Tradeshift is also working on Ecosystem Finance – extending credit for outstanding receivables between two parties down the supply chain with further tokenisation.
Faster and friction free financing is the ultimate goal for Tradeshift as it bids to make B2B buying as simple as using a consumer credit card. A key part of its development over the next 12 months will be onboarding partners to deliver critical mass with SKU development for products on the shelf.
“Once you’re digitally connected, then you start to build the value from there,” adds Anderson. “But suppliers don’t necessarily see that value on day one, it takes them time to be able to turn that into an ROI… But, if we look into the future, the only suppliers you’ll want to deal with are those that are digitally connected; more accurate, complete, compliant and transparent in their process. The alternative will be risks in the cost structures.”
Over the next 12 months, the goal for Tradeshift is to add more suppliers to its marketplace, and grow the digital ecosystem. “We’ll build the tools and the connectivity to be able to add a massive amount of value,” pledges Anderson. “It will open people’s minds, just like they did with Y2K when they had to invest in new ERP systems, and they’re investing in this digital environment. This is not an evolution, this is a revolution in how supply chain thinking will be done.”