By: Sarah Scudder
Dedicated procurement software applications have existed since the 1990s, and their use is still growing. By 2025, more than 50% of large and mid-size companies around the world will have deployed procure-to-pay applications, according to Gartner’s 2018 Magic Quadrant for Procure-to-Pay Suites.
General procurement software works well for many types of purchases, but it’s not well-suited for print procurement because printed materials must be described in detailed and specific ways to enable suppliers to provide accurate pricing. General procurement applications don’t capture the level of detail or the specialized characteristics that are needed for an adequate description of printed materials, and as a result, buyers are often required to create product specifications outside the procurement software.
Purpose-built print sourcing software doesn’t have these limitations, and if your company makes frequent purchases of printed materials, it’s likely that you would benefit from implementing a print sourcing solution. When you’re evaluating a potential solution, you need to ensure that it has the capabilities required to meet your company’s needs. In our work with dozens of clients, we’ve found there are four capabilities that are particularly critical for most companies.

Broad Functionality 

An enterprise-class print sourcing solution will support the procurement of a wide range of printed products and marketing services. Most companies buy several types of printed materials, and a capable solution will be able to support all of these purchases. A robust solution will also support the procurement of marketing services such as graphic design, copywriting, mailing services, video production, fulfillment services and web design services.
Broad functionality also means that a print sourcing solution should support purchases that are based on competitive bidding, as well as contract or catalog-based purchases where products and services have pre-negotiated prices.
Therefore, when you’re evaluating print sourcing solutions, you will want to ensure that each solution can support all of the types of printed materials and marketing services that you buy. We usually recommend that sourcing professionals analyze the purchases they’ve made over the preceding year, and then test each prospective solution with each type of purchase.

Robust Bid Management 

The single most important capability of print sourcing software is the ability to support the competitive bidding process. Competitive bidding is particularly valuable for printed materials because it’s usually possible to obtain comparable quality from several suppliers. Because at any given time, some printing firms will have unused capacity, they are more likely to be motivated to offer attractive pricing to fill that capacity.
A capable print sourcing solution will simplify and streamline the competitive bidding process in three ways:
  • First, the solution will simplify the process of entering product specifications by providing a catalog of pre-configured product types that only require a buyer to enter relevant specifications. A good solution will also use drop-down menus that contain commonly-used values for each specification element.
  • Second, the solution will make it easy for buyers to select the suppliers who will be invited to bid and transmit the quote request to those suppliers.
  • And third, the solution will provide an easy way for suppliers to submit their bids.
These capabilities make it possible to manage all of the important tasks related to the competitive bidding process within the sourcing solution.

Extensive Reporting Capabilities 

Three important benefits provided by print sourcing software are improved visibility regarding spending on printed materials and marketing services, the ability to more easily track and manage supplier performance and the ability to monitor compliance with certain types of governmental regulations, contract requirements and internal corporate social responsibility mandates. These regulations and requirements often relate to the use of suppliers that are FSC certified, are owned by women, minorities, or veterans or are in certain geographical locations.
The primary way a print sourcing solution delivers these benefits is by providing robust reporting capabilities. An enterprise-class solution will provide an extensive set of standard reports and will also enable users to easily create custom reports.
When you’re evaluating print sourcing software, you should look for solutions with standard reports that track spending in several ways, including by:
  • Product type
  • Supplier
  • Supplier classification (FSC certified, woman-owned, etc.)
  • Supplier location
  • Organizational unit (department, division, branch, etc.)
The solution should also provide a standard report that enables sourcing professionals to track the cost savings realized on the purchases managed using the solution. And lastly, the solution should include reports that enable sourcing professionals to track key elements of supplier performance, such as bid turnaround time and on-time delivery.

Easy Implementation and Management 

A good print sourcing solution will be easy to implement and manage on an ongoing basis. Most print sourcing applications are now provided as cloud-based SaaS solutions. One advantage of SaaS solutions is that they are usually more simple to implement and manage than on-premises software because they require little, if any, IT involvement. But print sourcing software will require initial set-up work and some ongoing management, so, when you’re evaluating solutions, you need to ask your prospective vendors several questions about implementation and management, including:
  • What information will we need to collect and enter in order to begin using the solution?
  • On average, how long does it take new clients to complete the initial set-up process?

And for ongoing management, be sure to ask:

  • How do we add and remove suppliers?
  • How do we add and remove users?
  • How to we set user access and permissions?
  • How do we add new types of products?

Conclusion 

Print sourcing software will produce significant benefits for companies that make frequent purchases of printed materials and marketing services. But as with any business software application, it’s important to thoroughly evaluate potential solutions to ensure that you choose the right solution for your company.