Social Shopping Comes To Enterprise IT - InformationWeek

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Social Shopping Comes To Enterprise IT

Spiceworks adds a request for quote feature to its online community for IT managers.

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Information technology managers can automate the process of obtaining quotes from their vendors, and get access to product ratings and reviews in the process, by going through the Spiceworks online community.

Spiceworks has 1.5 million members in its online community for IT managers and workers, and Vice President of Products Tabrez Syed recently appeared as a speaker on community building tactics at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. But part of the reason it's successful is that the community is actually a feature of a free suite of tools for routine IT tasks like network management and monitoring, Active Directory management, and help desk operations.

"We've baked community into the workflow IT people are in from nine to five," Sayed said. Spiceworks provides the software for free, and vendors pay for access to the membership through advertising and informational webinars.

The new Request for Quote (RFQ) feature aims to simplify and automate the complex IT purchasing process by building the workflow into the Spiceworks social network.

"Today, if I want to get a quote from two vendors, they are going to be sending me back Excel spreadsheets and PDFs. With Spiceworks, I can enter the info on these things I want and with one click that request goes off to the vendors via email," Syed said. By clicking on a coded link in the message, the vendors can supply their response in a structured format "and conversations can go back and forth as you refine the RFQ. That way, it's fully documented, and you know exactly who you asked and what you got back from them."

The social dimension of the software means information about the process can be shared with co-workers so that they can add their comments, Syed said. Spiceworks also plans to implement a means for users to share an RFQ with someone outside their organization, such as a trusted consultant or advisor, with appropriate permissions and security, he said. That should be available in a couple of months.

The social, conversational process facilitated through Spiceworks reflects the fact that RFQs don't always reflect a precise set of specifications, and the process of picking the right product may require some brainstorming, Syed said. "Sometimes, it's more like, 'I'm trying to solve these problems--vendor, can you help me here.'"

CDW is the first sponsor to participate in the RFQ app, but Spiceworks members can send the RFQs to other vendors and distributors--anyone for whom they have an email address.

Kevin Burns, a systems administrator with United Health Centers of the San Joaquin Valley, said he thinks that will be valuable. "It will help with communication with our vendors, which is key to any purchase," he said.

His organization, a California non-profit that operates a network of health clinics, has just seven IT people on staff--essentially, one for each location--and the Spiceworks tools have proved an "actual necessity" because previously they had no system for tracking work orders. Having access to a community of peers at other companies whom he could ask for advice was a nice bonus. When it came to purchasing, United Health's procurement department has its own software, but Spiceworks will allow the IT group to do a better job of managing and tracking the steps in the process it's responsible for, he said.

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Deb Donston-Miller
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/15/2011 | 6:51:57 PM
re: Social Shopping Comes To Enterprise IT
"By clicking on a coded link in the message, the vendors can supply their response in a structured format."

This sounds great. I just wonder how many vendors will be able to respond in a structured way. In my experience, that can be a difficult thing to get them to do.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
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