Key Analyst Takeaways from Unimarket NOW! 2019
Last month, Levvel Research attended Unimarket NOW! 2019, held in Charleston, SC from Wednesday, April 24, 2019–Friday, April 26, 2019. The following post provides an overview of the event and a Levvel Research analyst’s industry insights.
Charleston, South Carolina is a city that punches well above its weight, culturally. Charleston has made Travel + Leisure’s Top Cities list 6 years in a row. It’s an understatement to say that the small city of less than 150,000 residents is a tourist destination. Charleston is a pillar of architecture, culinary art, and historic charm. But what makes Charleston stand out is the unbelievable friendliness of its populace. The Lowcountry exudes southern charm. Perhaps taking a cue from its host location, Unimarket’s biennial user conference exuded a very similar feel. Instead of making nebulous promises and predictions for the future of procure-to-pay, Unimarket NOW! served as an exchange for industry best practices and ideation for organizations in higher education. It stood out from other conferences because customers, suppliers, and the solution provider had the opportunity to simultaneously connect and learn from each other face-to-face in a warm, welcoming environment.
One of the ways Unimarket achieved this environment was through its roundtable sessions. At these sessions, attendees had the opportunity to speak to conference presenters and Unimarket’s staff of experts on various topics, such as cooperative purchasing, eliminating paper, electronic payments, and return on investment/value realignment. These roundtable sessions usually started with more specific questions on what the presenter had discussed in his session into questions only tangentially related.
Levvel Research was invited to present on calculating return on investment from implementing a procure-to-pay software, alongside Wanda Hernandez, Touro College & University System’s Executive Director of Operations & Procurement. The session went over the key data points and considerations necessary to calculate a return on investment figure to present to key stakeholders and used the Levvel ROI calculator to evaluate Touro’s procurement, AP, and payment automation maturity pre- and post- implementation of Unimarket. This was a particularly enlightening session because it touched on topics outside of the hard dollar figures. After ensuring everyone had a clear understanding on the mathematical aspects of implementation, the session also discussed employees moving from the tactical tasks of a pre-implementation back-office to the strategic tasks of post-implementation and the cultural mindset shift in a post-automation environment. Some examples include unforeseen benefits and possible hurdles to automation, such as: employees hoarding fewer products due to the knowledge that they can order supplies whenever they need, which leads to cost savings via space reduction and a reduction of large, inaccurate orders placed on product that may be sitting in an employee’s closet; or how to address employees’ reluctance to embrace the more strategic nature of their job after implementation.
Another session at the conference was led by OnPay Solutions and focused on the challenges and best practices when moving to electronic payments. One of the questions that piqued Levvel Research’s interest was around why Unimarket chose OnPay as a payments partner. Darren Blakely, President of Unimarket North America, answered the question by pointing out how well OnPay fits with their culture. He pointed out that most big payments platforms take a more bully-ish style approach to converting suppliers to virtual card, and he knew this simply wouldn’t work in the higher education space. He also briefly spoke on how software companies have some advantage over banks when it comes to taking the frontend spotlight for payments, as they know more about organizations’ transactions than banks do; banks know payment information starting from when they receive a payment file, whereas software companies have info starting before then with the purchase requisition process.
Towards the end of the conference, Unimarket was able to brief attendees on recent product improvements and their roadmap for 2019-2020 and beyond. Unimarket has increased its ability to support customers with multiple organizations, improved catalogue and searching, including scalable catalogue microservice and enhanced template and filtering, integrated a p-card payment gateway, and most extensively, rolled out a new UI and modules to present a refreshed user experience. Their upcoming strategic product changes look to further develop their product improvements from 2018 and also build out their reporting, dashboarding, and auditing capabilities.
Unimarket is utilizing personal feedback from and conversations with its customers to construct a roadmap that will be focused on user experience. This approach will separate them from competition because while other companies will be guessing what their target market wants, Unimarket may already know. Other providers will be focused on how to incorporate flashy technology and features, while Unimarket will let their customers’ dictate what should be prioritized. NOW! 2019 differed from other conferences due to its customer-driven nature and conversational tone. While many focus on their own agenda, Unimarket separates itself with its willingness to listen to the concerns and pains their customers have and adapting their strategy and product to improve the daily work lives of AP and procurement employees.