How to avoid vendor price and availability misery when quoting large ICT projects (the data integration dilemma in Cisco VAR quotes)
Today’s ICT pricing sources reside in different silos. This makes VAR quoting from different sources difficult. Cisco’s CCW is accessed and formatted differently from other vendors. The same goes for different distributors. Merging prices, discounts, incentives, and delivery data manually is a difficult and time-consuming job. Until now, resellers tried to automate this work by writing scripts and configuring Excel templates. These automation efforts are useful up to a point when BoMs reach thousand of items and proposals include ten or more data sources, gathering the information becomes a hard task on its own.
The parsing and uniform format problem
When customer quotes reach thousands of lines and ten different data sources (vendors, distributors, and service providers) simply gathering the data into one workspace, usually a spreadsheet or a database, becomes a complicated process. To handle complex processes, we simplify the problem, develop specialist roles (quote specialists), or create an automated solution.
To simplify the problem, we can try to limit the number of vendors or sources we use. Then comes specialist development, a solution many medium and large resellers adopt. Finally, some resellers automate the import and integration of data. They write scripts or program applications (Excel, Salesforce, databases). All three solutions either limit our ability to work freely or require investment in software development.
API and parsing, bridging the format gap
We can divide the price and availability interface into an API phase and a data parsing phase. The two prepare data into the workspace (a separate article on opportunities in quoting in the workspace to follow). The preparation of data into a workspace is an opportunity to solve issues in both accuracy, which eliminates errors, and workflow efficiency, which reduces time.
Pricing tactics and strategies
Fast and accurate interfaces from BoMs and price lists are both tactical and strategic considerations. Tactical considerations fall into speed, workflow efficiency, work quality, and sales staff ability. Strategic consideration falls into price optimization, source selection (disti or direct), collaboration (internally or externally), and flexibility with additional service providers. Better tools and more efficient workflows allow for more tactical and strategic flexibility.
Project and item details: metadata, hierarchy
As the project grows in size there are also more details to configure and track. The Cisco CCW system is a good example. Each item can have tens of metadata items. These come from pricing, technical specification (software revisions, expiration dates) as well as purchase-related details (when a license needs renewal). Essentially a Cisco BoM has all the details hardware and software engineers will need to operate and maintain the project. When a project manager can keep all the details in one place, not only in the Cisco CCW location, maintenance and upgrades are faster. Managers can also make more informed decisions.
Using BoM data in tier 2 quotes
Today’s Tier 2 VARS depend on distributors to price quotes. They also face the issue of different vendor’s formats into one quote. These two factors mean duplicating the BoM data entry work (entering data twice) or using automation (scripts or templates) to overlay and parse data into your workspace. Tier 2 quotes are the most complicated business processes in a proposal. Thought should be given to how the work is done and overall results.
Sharing pricing information internally and with customers
Pricing is a strategic task in which resellers optimize taking into account supplier factors (discounts, incentives, availability) and customer factors (working relationship, account size, strategic importance). Quoting a proposal is a collaborative process. The easier this process becomes and the faster changes are done, the faster a final customer quote is ready. When interface into the workspace is quick, pricing strategies are faster to test and see. Getting prices and delivery on an item level quickly is a business advantage. When the customer is knowledgeable, this advantage becomes a strategic factor.
Today’s continuous communication stream means keeping customers updated in real-time. When negotiating a proposal speed is a strategic advantage. Updating price or delivery from a distributor to the client should take a few minutes. When you need to spend hours importing and formatting price data, negotiation slows down. This factor should be taken into account when designing and running a quote operation.
Quoting large and complex projects for VARS today can be a difficult challenge. Data sources from different locations need to be connected and formatted. The integration and automation of data sources is both a tactical and strategic advantage.
editor’s note: the article also published in LinkedIn (Rafael’s timeline) see here