RFPs & Rising Technology Demands

Rising technology demands across all types of commerce have steepened the curve when it comes answering RFPs. Our RFPs and Rising Technology Demands series examines the state of the modern RFP, what big customers want, and the path to winning the business.

In the Series:

When the RFP Calls for PunchOut: Understanding and Implementing Eprocurement Integration

Like an RFP itself, PunchOut integration presents a lucrative opportunity from a large customer or prospect. Also just like an RFP, the technology requirements can be daunting.

A request for PunchOut integration is almost a microcosm of an RFP.

Major themes we see in RFPs are integration, including how systems from two or even more different parties communicate with each other automatically; logisitics, including inventory control and how (and how soon) orders can be fulfilled; and security, including how access is restricted (or prevented) for shared business platforms, such as by SSO (Single Sign On).

PunchOut touches all three banners. PunchOut is integration between an eprocurement system and an ecommerce website and, frequently, also a business management system. It aims to streamline logistics, ostensibly spend management but also inventory visibility for the buyer and fulfillment efficiency by the seller. It also inherently features a security layer, where only a certain set of buyers will be able to access the PunchOut website.

Also like a Request for Proposal itself, PunchOut integration presents a lucrative opportunity from a large customer or prospect. Also just like an RFP, a request for PunchOut integration can also be daunting both in terms of understanding the technology requirements and then in implementing the technology. Many businesses not only don’t know how to implement PunchOut integration – they don’t even know what PunchOut integration is in the first place.

There’s no shame in that.

Sales-minded professionals aren’t expected to know the granular ins and outs of eprocurement-to-ecommerce trading partner integration. But it underscores that when a request for PunchOut integration comes up, often in an RFP itself, the first thing businesses do, often, is try to find out what PunchOut is. In fact, that may be what brought you here. Essent routinely fields inquiries from businesses who have a PunchOut request (or, in some cases, demand) from a big prospect. They want to be able to understand it and implement it – or, ultimately, as is most often the case, have Essent implement it for them.

Here, we’ll explain some of the difficulties and opportunities of PunchOut integration; what PunchOut integration is; why your customer or prospect wants PunchOut; and discuss some of the options for implementing PunchOut.

So that next time you see PunchOut integration in an RFP, you know what it is and what to do.

Long or impossible implementations are a familiar story

"We had lots of difficulty in finding a partner or doing it ourselves to launch the PunchOut. The Essent team has helped us a lot."
-- Fernanda Oliveira, President at KA Software

Essent often hears from companies who’ve tried to go it alone for PunchOut integration, or went with an inexperienced or offshore provider, and the stories are similar. They’re half a year or more into the project but with little progress to show, no end in sight, and a big client who’s becoming increasingly frustrated. And they need help right away.

One recent Essent client, KA Software, based in Brazil, needed PunchOut integration to satisfy a large customer who does business ingternationally but was roughly a year into the implementation with almost nothing to show for it. KA Software contacted Essent. Essent worked with the big client on KA Software's behalf, identified and solved the issues, and ultimately implemented the integration in a few months.

"We had lots of difficulty in finding a partner or doing it ourselves to launch the PunchOut,” said Fernand Oliveira, President at KA Software. "The Essent team has helped us a lot. You do have the experience and expertise needed. We are very satisfied with the results. Thank you and the rest of the team so much for all the help and work done so far! It has been great to work with all of you.”

The customer, she added, planned to have KA Software provide additional products through the PunchOut website.

Another company needed PunchOut to satisfy a large organization who has a brand recognized worldwide. After fits and starts with another provider over the course of almost a year, the integration was implemented by Essent in a few months. It turned out that there was a firewall issue that wasn’t spotted until Essent expertise was introduced.

Essent is contacted regularly by companies in these scenarios and almost always can triage the situation, identify the snags, and implement the PunchOut integration in a fraction of the time that had already been spent.

What is PunchOut integration?

PunchOut creates a dedicated sales channel between the buyer and the seller to streamline transactions for a more profitable partnership.

In one sentence: PunchOut integration connects a buyer’s eprocurement system with a seller’s ecommerce website.

In other words, the buyer purchasing system like Ariba, SAP, Oracle or any number of others can exchange information and documents directly to and from the seller’s ecommerce website. It creates a dedicated sales channel between the buyer and the seller to streamline transactions for buyers and sellers alike. It’s like regular ecommerce, only faster and more efficient.

The buyer can directly source from the seller’s ecommerce site, define and exchange product configuration information, and generate and edit Purchase Orders with automated supervisor approval. Since the buyer is working from within their eprocurement system, spend management and other business rules are enforced and transaction data doesn’t have to be re-entered.

On the other side, sellers make their ecommerce website available within the buyer’s eprocurement system. This means product information is made automatically available to the buyer and product configuration choices can be automatically received by the seller. Since the seller website is integrated with the buyer eprocurement system, the Cart is updated to match the Purchase Order and is automatically converted to a Sales Order in the seller’s system.

PunchOut is integration between a buyer’s eprocurement system and a seller’s ecommerce website that creates a number of advantages.

Why do buyers want PunchOut integration?

Buyers ask for PunchOut integration in RFPs primarily because it makes their buying process easier.

Buyers ask for PunchOut integration in RFPs primarily because it makes their buying process easier. The integration automates several steps that the buyer otherwise would have to handle manually.

  • Procurement specialists automatically know that the seller is an approved vendor (otherwise, why would there be the integration?).
  • The seller’s product data is automatically fed into the buyer eprocurement system so that procurement specialists don’t have to go looking for it.
  • Product configuration and Carts are automatically sent to the seller.
  • Supervisor approval and Purchase Orders are automatically generated for the buyer.
  • And, perhaps most notably, buyer spend management rules are automatically enforced.

Why do sellers want PunchOut integration?

PunchOut also makes the seller's processes easier -- and creates a dedicated sales channel with a big buyer

Sellers who are asked in an RFP for PunchOut integration will find advantages as well. It establishes a dedicated sales channel, usually with a larger customer who has an elevated level of spend. It’s a direct line to big buyer.

While buyers ask for PunchOut integration in RFPs primarily to simplify their own purchasing, the integration also creates advantages for sellers by automating tasks that otherwise would need to be performed manually.

  • Product data and product configuration options are automatically provided to the buyer.
  • Carts and configuration information are automatically received from the buyer.
  • Carts and POs can automatically be converted to Sales Orders (presuming the seller ecommerce website also integrates with the seller back office).
  • Orders can be processed more efficiently with shorter turnaround times and greater profitability.

The overall advantage, however, remains that a buyer with a lot of spend is provided a direct channel to buy from you.

What makes PunchOut integration difficult?

PunchOut is time consuming if not impossible for the inexperienced integrator going it alone.

PunchOut integration isn’t something you take out of a box and plug in. When a customer or prospect asks for PunchOut in an RFP, that means two systems from two different organizations must "talk to” one another in an automated fashion. Getting the granular details of the integration right requires expertise, analysis, and, even in the best scenarios, often a good deal of trouble-shooting. It’s a matter of trying to get two separate systems to speak the other’s language, on a technological level, and it’s often arduous – before even taking into account trading partner business rules and proprietary systems and configurations.

The onus is almost always on the seller to implement the integration (or have a technology provider implement it). But PunchOut is time consuming if not impossible for the inexperienced integrator going it alone. It also often needs to happen while a big customer or potential customer is breathing down the seller’s neck asking why it isn’t done already.

What are the options when PunchOut is requested in an RFP?

Some companies have the information technology expertise, personnel, and infrastructure to implement PunchOut in-house. But most companies do not.

A request for PunchOut integration envelops the major banners of RFPs by including integration, logisitics, and security. Also much like the RFP itself, PunchOut presents large opportunities but also can be daunting in terms of understanding the technology requirements and then, to an even greater extent, implementing the technology requirements.

The only effective choice for implementing PunchOut integration in most scenarios is to partner with a technology services provider who understands PunchOut, how to implement it, and who has implemented it before. Some companies have the information technology expertise, personnel, and infrastructure in place to implement PunchOut in-house. But Essent knows from experience that most companies do not. Even those who feel they do often wind up ultimately reaching out to us.

Implementing PunchOut requires expertise in cXML and other integration protocols; and security, including Single Sign-On such as through Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML). At the same time, it requires back-office and ecommerce systems capable of integrating not just with one another but the buyer eprocurement system.

For most companies, it's unlikely that these capabilities will be in house. You'll almost certainly need a partner who understands the technical details and who let's you tell the RFP issuer with confidence that you've got this covered.

A request for PunchOut integration in an RFP is big opportunity. It's also a big project. It's important to have a technology partner who can handle it for you so you can win the business and establish a dedicated sales channel with a big customer.

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