Last week I partnered with Ernie Martin of Receivable Savvy to deliver a webinar entitled “Why So Many Portals?”  In the presentation, Ernie and I represented two complementary positions …  As an expert in the Order-to-Cash (O2C) space, Ernie represented the point of view of suppliers.  As a service provider into the Procure-to-Pay (P2P) space for over 15 years I represented the side of the buyer.

We invited attendees from both sides of the equation to a gloves off discussion about “Portals.”  By increasing the pool of invitees and due to a good promotion cycle, we pulled in a large audience from both P2P and O2C.  The general tenor from the discussion is that “Portals” mark a vast improvement over previous modes of commerce and communication; a self-service portal enables instant online communication between parties; they can be used to integrate complex workflows across multi-faceted entities; they can be used as a single source of truth; and they can abide the toughest security scrutiny.

All that good stuff aside, we could quickly tell that this presentation was a little different than previous webinars…  more so than any other topic that I have ever presented in any format – I received and reviewed a number of comments that demonstrated some real emotion on the part of attendees and non-attendees alike.

Supplier Portal Fatigue

The emotion stemmed mostly from the manner in which “portals” impact suppliers.  Specifically, suppliers have found themselves navigating a very crowded “supplier portal” landscape where many customers offer many different portals for suppliers to access and upload information.  The accepted reality is that there are too many of these portals and they do not function completely as advertised.  Add to that, they all require an unique log in and password and it is unclear if you will need to use them once a week or once a year.  Add to that… Add to that…  It’s no wonder that a term like “supplier portal fatigue” is becoming more popular among AR communities.

I am still processing a lot of the commentary from the event, but I felt like it was worthwhile to share a couple of the comments.

  • “We avoid using some of our customer’s portal – it’s just easier for us to submit invoices with email and get the remittance with our paper checks.”
  • “Even the staff at some of the customers that are currently deploying portals do not know what kind of portal they are on.”
  • “I heard the term supplier portal fatigue the other day and I had to laugh… that says it all.”
  • “What has happened to technology making life easier?”
  • “One of the biggest challenges of using our customers’ portals is the time it takes and managing the logins and passwords.”
  • “Customers want us to use too many different portals. We have to spend a lot of time learning how to use the portal, get set-up on the portal and the customer may only buy once or twice a year.”
  • “How can a supplier prevent themselves from being a prisoner of their portal?”

There is a Solution…

Despite the criticism (and to be fair, it’s not all bad) on supplier portals there is still a real understanding that widespread self service “portal” usage is an inevitability for buyers and suppliers.  It’s going to happen.  There have been too many glimmers of greatness in various “portal” solutions to deny the power and scalability that the portal model can offer.  There are too many advantages to be gained on both the side of the buyer and the supplier.  Add to that, there is a direct parallel between the “portal” vision and a number of successful social media networks.  There are many solution providers and enterprises looking at the power and scale of those social media networks and looking to repeat that level of efficiency and power in the P2P or O2C arena.   The similarities are so tantalizing.  What if you could have that one master network?

But for now… we are in an interesting point on the adoption curve.  Many practitioners see the potential of portals and they realize that wide spread self-service portals (which drive enterprise commerce) are inevitable.  These practitioners are highly motivated and they are innovating every day.  At the same time, there are a number of practitioners (as evidenced above) that have had bad experiences with portal products.  Perhaps these products were rushed to market or maybe the products are fine, but the instance was poorly deployed; in any case the bad experiences are adding to the growing sense of frustration and fatigue.

There are no quick answers to improving the supplier portal experience for suppliers, but in this blogger’s opinion there is definitely a solution… and it is logical… and it will work, but will take some time and effort.  Ultimately, the solution rests within the software provider community within the P2P space.  No great evolution in “portal” adoption can occur until the right solution provider (or team of providers) makes a couple of key decisions and developments…

But that is a topic I will leave for a blog to follow shortly.