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Exclusive article from Maistro: connecting supplier to customer through the digital marketplace

Exclusive article from Maistro: connecting supplier to customer through the digital marketplace

Laurence Cook, CEO of Maistro, looks at how digital B2B marketplaces are the future of the procurement landscape.

In a recent report, Gartner identified business to business (B2B) marketplaces as a future driver of change for procurement and procurement professionals all over the world. Through SAP’s Ariba Network and the Amazon Business Portal, which connects millions of global B2B buyers and suppliers, that future is already coming to fruition. Both Amazon and SAP are but two of the biggest examples as to how the marketplace is transforming procurement, but there is one marketplace provider that looks to looks to go a little further than simply connecting a buyer to a supplier. “There are quite a few organisations that will offer a matching service, matching customer and supplier and then stepping out of the loop,” says Laurence Cook, CEO at Maistro. “What we at Maistro do is we connect customer to supplier and then we offer managed services around that relationship. We believe that we are using technology and humans together to try and optimise our solution that we offer to our customers.”

Maistro is an online B2B Marketplace and Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered delivery platform designed to “accelerate the corporate buying process and optimise spend.”  Founded in 2007, Maistro works with organisations to extend supplier reach, eliminate wasteful and outdated purchasing practises and streamline the entire procurement delivery process. As Cook describes it, Maistro sits in the middle between customer and supplier. With a marketplace of over 30,000 pre-vetted suppliers, Maistro’s goal is to help companies connect with just the one. “We take a brief from the customer, their target budget, objectives and their deliverables and put them into our Maistro platform,” he says. “Through machine learning, we search our database to identify the best supplier.”

The company provides the customer with three leading suppliers, key information regarding those suppliers and how they can deliver on the customer brief and the power is then in the hands of the customer. Once the customer has selected the supplier, Maistro will connect the two. “That’s the bit where we sit in the middle. We make the procurement process digital while keeping the service personal,” says Cook. “Once everything is in place, then the project kicks off. What we then do, through our managed services, is run project governance throughout the entire project to ensure successful execution.”

The Maistro platform is powered by AI and machine learning, utilising key data and business intelligence to identify and vet the leading suppliers around the world. AI is but one of the key technologies dominating the current digital conversation and Cook admits that this has bred a culture of believing that AI is simply the answer to solving all business and procurement challenges.  Cook makes an analogy to ice cream. “AI can look at a specific problem that says, if it’s hot then we should sell more ice cream. If it gets hotter, sell more,” he says. “But if the temperature continues to rise to unbearable levels, no one will go outside and buy ice cream because it’s too hot. The AI will still say that increased heat equals increased sales.”

“AI needs to constantly adapt and the only way we can make it adapt is through human intervention.”

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This is where the managed service element of Maistro’s offering comes into play. Cook believes that while technology will allow companies to make great strides in identifying the very best, there will always remain a need for human interaction. This, he feels, is what separates Maistro from other companies offering B2B marketplaces. Maistro works to understand the customer’s needs through the way the customer thinks and marries its own innovative thinking to identify an optimal solution for the customer’s demands. “We then feed that back into the Maistro platform and then through AI, the platform learns from that," he says. “What we're trying to do is to get the platform to learn and to come up with the best solution that it thinks is right, coupled with a human being in that loop, advising the customer and thinking logically about how that could possibly work. Using those two things together to give the customer the best solution.”

Maistro works with customers in a wide variety of industry sectors and this provides the company with a broad picture as to what different industry players demand and what the key drivers behind that demand are. Cook points to a tobacco company, one of Maistro’s biggest customers, that has a footprint spanning 12 countries. In Europe, the company’s focus is centred around innovation while in Asia its cost. Through this one customer Maistro has a view of the intricacies of multiple markets. “They are looking to move from tobacco to reduced risk products and that’s a massive change for their business,” he says. “What they need then is speed and innovation across their supplier base. How quickly can we find them a supplier to match that changing focus? Maistro looks for innovative suppliers that can offer something different to any customer in any industry.”

Another example of this saw a customer request that Maistro connect them with suppliers connected to sonic branding, the practice of using auditory elements to brand a product or service. This was an area that even Cook himself admits to having a limited understanding of and this required Maistro to approach this particular request a little differently. “What we do a lot of the time is help bring the suppliers to customers that can educate them and help them make their companies more effective and, in the process, we learn as well,” he says. “There's no substitute for making sure that we are keeping ahead of the game by doing research ourselves. We don't simply react, we are proactive.”

This proactive approach has seen Maistro recognised on a global scale, not only by current and future customers but also by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS). In late 2018, CIPS announced that Maistro had become the latest CIPS Knowledge Partner. As a knowledge partner, Maistro will work with CIPS and its global members to address the evolving digital procurement landscape. Cook feels this is key in stimulating the procurement community. “We want to get the procurement community moving faster,” he says. “There are some that are slow movers and others that are first movers and even those that stand still. We need to educate the market and collectively address procurement challenges by understanding the solutions that exist right now.”

“I am incredibly passionate about helping the procurement industry move forward and I want Maistro to be able to be seen as the go-to supplier in terms of speed, innovation and cost. Those three things are core to any procurement function and we can be a catalyst for optimisation.”

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