Spiceworks, a social business network focused on small business IT professionals, has dished up a new feature that's intended to make the jobs of its members easier by streamlining the process of purchasing business technology and services.
Austin, Texas-based Spiceworks, founded in 2006, boasts 1.5 million members. In addition to online social networking, it also offers free IT systems management software, including network monitoring and helpdesk software.
The firm's new Request for Quote (RFQ) feature uses the social networking capabilities of the Spiceworks community to automate the often complex and arduous task of purchasing small business technology and services. It gives small business IT managers the ability to solicit vendor quotes for technology goods and services, share quotes with peers and place orders directly within the Spiceworks network.
"Social commerce has changed consumer buying habits, but the approach has yet to take hold among businesses," said Scott Abel, cofounder and CEO of Spiceworks. "With 1.5 million business professionals in Spiceworks, our community spends more than $260 billion a year on technology products and services. The new RFQ feature is the latest of several capabilities we will unveil that aim to harness the collective buying power of the Spiceworks network, while also providing technology vendors a way to benefit from the growing wave of social commerce."
Tabrez Syed, vice president of products at Spiceworks, noted that buying small business technology and services often numbers among the most time-consuming tasks of small business IT professionals. The purchasing cycle typically consists of gathering a bundle of tickets together and then contacting multiple vendors and gathering bids. For small businesses working on government contracts, there are additional hoops to jump through. It's a manual process that Syed noted could take days or even weeks.
"It becomes a pretty complicated business," Syed said.
With its new feature, Spiceworks aim to change all that through a streamlined interface that allows small business IT professionals to track needed goods and services in a purchase list and then solicit bids from multiple vendors at once when enough tickets have accumulated. Syed said that with Spiceworks, the buying process could be completed in hours, or even minutes.
Additionally, through the use of templates, users can save and reuse previously submitted RFQs for recurring small business technology purchases, such as outfitting new hires or printer ink.
Syed explained that small business IT professionals can use the Spiceworks RFQ feature to get bids and buy from any vendor or reseller they already work with. When a request for quotes is submitted through the small business social network, the vendors receive the RFQs electronically. Once a bid is accepted, users can complete the purchase through Spiceworks.
Spiceworks offers vendors the option to integrate their product catalogs with the social network, making it even easier for small business IT buyers to order their wares. So far, CDW is the only vendor that has taken that additional step, but Syed said driving toward more vendor integration is a primary goal of Spiceworks now that the RFQ feature is up and running.
"The thing that [beta users] are driving us toward is more vendor integration," he said. "That's the primary feedback we've gotten."
Syed noted that the RFQ feature also aims to make it easier for users to seek out new vendors. Buyers have the option of anonymously requesting and receiving bids from technology vendors. Syed explained this capability allows buyers to explore options without exposing business critical information.
Small Business Sharing
To further streamline the purchase process, Spiceworks users can share their RFQs with coworkers to collaborate on the buying process, and the company said it plans to soon allow users to more easily share RFQs with others in the community to help them gather advice and feedback for more informed purchasing decisions.
"For businesses like mine, technology is not an impulse buy, but rather a considered purchase," said Kevin Burns, systems administrator, United Health Centers. "By integrating the automated RFQ feature into my daily workflow, Spiceworks is making the technology purchasing process much simpler, while also directly connecting me with vendors and peers so I can buy in a social way."
Spiceworks is free to users and largely advertising-driven. Vendors can pay for premium placement.
Thor Olavsrud is a contributor to SmallBusinessComputing.com and a former senior editor at InternetNews.com. He covers operating systems, standards and security, among other technologies.
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