DeepStream: On a Mission to Enable Frictionless RFx Communication and Transactions

DPW caught up with DeepStream Founder Jack Macfarlane to learn more about his company's journey and what make his product so unique.

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Why did you start DeepStream? What problem were you looking to solve?

Macfarlane: Firstly, when I looked at the process under which businesses exchanged information in going from source to award it became compellingly obvious that the status quo, and the tools available to business users for these processes, were leading to high operational costs of doing business in addition to high informational opaqueness and the governance/ compliance risks which this
leads to. The exchange of information upon which they rely to get their procurement trades done was slow and broken - dominated by an overwhelming number of email exchanges filling up multiple email inboxes.

Secondly, when I thought about the path towards process automation and applying machine learning to assist human behaviour, it became clear that technology needed to start with a solution that replaced the incumbent medium of data exchanges (emails) in order to have a sufficiently large data set to apply these techniques to for the maximum benefit of clients in reducing the transaction costs between business users.

So together with a team of technology and product experts, we started on a journey on going deep into solving the problem of all business users reverting to emails & attachments - the only free-form informational conduit which was viable in addressing their needs of exchanging source-to-award information.

Existing software solutions, it seemed, had completely missed the reason why users wanted to deviate to free form emails. These systems tried to address the problems by creating prescriptive “happy paths” or feature heavy processes to help procuring goods and services, ignoring the fact that there was essentially an infinite number of pathways that users could take in how they
engaged with their suppliers.

When I looked at communication within the source-to-award process between  business counterparties or the RFx processes (our shorthand for Request For anything) the common thread was the overwhelming number of emails being exchanged which were not being displaced by overly complex (from a user perspective) suite solutions. This was the key cause of the highly inefficient and opaque business processes which we see today in the procurement market.

As such, with a technology focussed team, I set out on creating a highly user-friendly platform in automating all business exchanges of information in the source-to-award (RFx) process with one overarching objective: to create a truly viable replacement for emails for business users in their source-to-award communication. 

How would you describe DeepStream, and what’s the impact it can have on global transactions?

Macfarlane: In short, imagine a procurement officers’ (or anyone tendering out for transactions to multiple suppliers) life. They are (averages for example) sending out ~5 tendering requests a week, each to ~10 suppliers, and each independent supplier communication stream going back and forth with ~50 different exchanges in iterating information requirements to get enough information to make an “award” decision to contract with 1 supplier. This is done on email, with all of the resultant CCs/ BCCs/ FWds you would expect amongst a large number of business users. It’s a nightmare: slow, disorganised, disaggregated, unauditable with no automation or ability to deploy smart technology to help the users needs.

DeepStream, in an analogous way to Slack but for complex business-to-business interactions, moves all of these exchanges onto a user-friendly platform that replaces each user's email inbox within this process. Furthermore, as it is built on a multi-sided network platform, all users engage on the same medium and workflows can be automated and data becomes on-demand (and observable for machine-learning enabled assisted human decision making).

Over time, the platform reduces the cost of retrieving and exchanging information between businesses (and their users) in making purchasing/contracting decisions.

The impact of creating such a flexible, scalable and intuitive application which replaces emails for RFx processes is vast. You may say this is rich coming from me, however the belief is based on what our partners and users have told us plus the incumbent human behaviour we see taking place in procurement departments. As DeepStream is effectively able to streamline all RFx (Request for anything) communication, and because almost every industry requires purchasing at some level, the platform really does have unquantifiable reach and potential impact. If you read any of our case studies, you’ll see the same things come up again and again: that DeepStream saves users time, automates their communication flows for faster and more informed decision making, and materially improves supplier communication.

Our engaged users (and keeping them engaged) have been a massive key for success, and are our best ambassadors. They know DeepStream is changing the way in which businesses communicate with one another from source-to-award and they’re seeing the benefit of it. DeepStream helps to remove the pain points that come with too much manual admin work, compliance risks, poor governance standards, and lack of transparency.


“The demand to "go green" across the board will only accelerate - and the industrial business world has to - by necessity if nothing else - be at the epicentre of this acceleration.”

- Jack Macfarlane, Founder & CEO, DeepStream


What are your main drivers right now, where do you see your market fit having the most impact?

Macfarlane: Our licensed partner growth is up over 800% in the last 12 months, driven by high business adoption and a self-fulfilling network growth model. With partners ranging from Maersk and Xos Trucks to Altera Infrastructure and leading gigafactories, it’s becoming obvious the platform is industry agnostic to the extent the businesses need to contract with suppliers for products &
services. There is, however, a huge amount of uplift we are seeing in the Industrial CleanTech space, where the use cases are high and users in the sector often have a high propensity in engaging with more agile technology vs. being encumbered by legacy systems.

Also, having two of the world’s biggest management consultancies (and additional ones joining as we speak) using DeepStream has really widened the scope for our product’s use case. Their success at optimising their clients processes by introducing DeepStream across a variety of industries has only validated this further.

In steering the market fit for our target clients we drive a totally agile product development cycle, enhancing our product entirely off of user feedback: as the network of active businesses grows to the 4,000 marks we are able to absorb more feedback to deliver more acutely relevant product results. Furthermore, the data which is being exchanged between businesses is already providing the fuel for the machine learning algorithms we are deploying for users in providing value in terms of suggested RFx template automation and automating suggested suppliers based on buyer requirements.

We have over $5bn of transaction notional running through the platform to date, based on a purely product-led growth strategy: if that’s not a testament to a technology that’s clearly delivering, I don’t know what is.

Which technologies will have the greatest impact on procurement’s digital transformation?

Macfarlane: Procurement’s digital transformation is long overdue: driven by extremely inefficient communication processes between business users, high degrees of informational asymmetry between business counterparties, governance & auditability standards within the race to best-in-class ESG and new nascent technology coming on the scene which can deliver on these needs. 

In terms of specific technologies which are going to accelerate digital transformation in procurement, I would suggest that they fall into the following 3 areas: API integration across best of breed technologies; machine learning techniques in leveraging network data; and user based products focusing on intuitive useability vs. high system functionality.

API integration technology is creating a new paradigm where best-of-breed products can co-exist harmoniously in delivering a holistic technology stack for business users. It is a battle against the incumbent systems based software providers who have had a stranglehold on enterprises by seeking to provide everything under one umbrella, but providing a suboptimal product for each
value add vertical. New technologies are disrupting this status quo by focusing on delivering clear tangible value as point solutions and integrating across with other like-minded product first companies to provide a holistic experience. Procurement users are demanding the same kind of experience they have in their personal lives - e.g. multiple apps delivering on different aspects of their lives in a coordinated way - as they have in their business life needs.

Machine learning techniques in leveraging network data are advancing in sophistication in their ability to digest and deliver tangible value on the large amount of data flows which exist between procurement business users. This has a critical impact on the ability of software to break down unstructured data into observable data fields, ultimately recycling it in reducing information asymmetries between business users for their own benefit. A concrete example of this within complex procurement is the ability to observe the structuring of how requests are executed between business counterparties for different products & services and intelligently assisting business users as to what are optimal workflow structures for new requests being issued out to market. Suddenly procurement goes from cumbersomely building out requests over and over again to an intelligent system that optimises the structure of requests based on machine learning algorithms analysing scopes of work and translating that into a suggested request structure. This then automates required exchanges of information in going from source-to-award, with increasing accuracy based on the amount of requests being issued out on the platform by all users.

Last, but arguably most important, is available technology focussing on user experience above high (often redundant) functionality. Old software thinking is to maximise functionality at the cost of product intuitiveness for users. When you look at the most successful products available to people, where products for consumers in their personal capacity provide a bellwether for what will
come to businesses, this is the reigning philosophy. And business users are coming to expect the same kind of user-centric experience in their business endeavours: ultimately this will lead to way higher adoption rates and engagement, more data being exchanged on platform based software and higher efficiency of business technology given the larger number of users engaging in a common. This last point is the crux of the DeepStream philosophy - providing a viable digital alternative to the most commonly used business medium which is manual emails & attachments.

What makes your technology stand out from your competitors?

Macfarlane: We are the only product out there that as a starting point replaces all communication between business users from using emails (& attachments) with a digital application.

Whether it be simple RFQs or longer more complex RFx transactions between users, they all are done in different ways by users and as such do not fit prescriptive systems which lead to them just reverting back to emails.

This sounds simple (and I guess it kind of is), but it allows for the monumental amount of data exchanges conducted offline on totally free form emails to be displaced by digital software. This then allows the software to automate workflows, create network data from user interactions/ submissions and  facilitates the nearly infinite number of workflow stacks by which users seek to
communicate with one another. Furthermore, it switches businesses users from a completely opaque way of communicating to one which is totally traceable, auditable and observable in real time.

Whilst a huge amount of informational communication complexity sits “under the hood” (i.e. in the core software underpinning the platform), “above the hood” (i.e. from a user perspective) DeepStream provides an application that is as flexible and easy to use as the email experience people are so used to.  Users can onboard themselves onto the platform in a matter of minutes, whilst entire businesses can implement and deploy our software across their procurement department in under a day (no joke!).

As a consequence of this, and the application being built with a network based architecture, DeepStream deploys workflow automation and (currently in beta release) machine learning technology on these data flow between users to assist human decision making in going from source-to-award. By providing a product attacking the genesis of all informational exchanges in RFx processes the software makes light work of the procurement process: reducing costs of
engaging with new businesses, reducing the time burden of how RFx transactions are done, ensuring completely auditable communications and allowing procurement officers to focus on high value tasks rather than managing thousands of dispersed email chains for their transactions.


About DeepStream

DeepStream is on a mission to transform the RFx (Request For anything) communication and transactions between any buyer-to-supplier. We’re driving the change from emails, spreadsheets, and old business technology to efficient ways of working, using software that is user-friendly, engaging and transparent. With a little help from AI, our software provides tools that are customisable to any buyer-to-supplier workflow, and tailorable to companies’ communication and transaction needs - resulting in empowering users with frictionless, transparent and efficient processes.

Founded in London, United Kingdom, DeepStream is an interdisciplinary team of lifelong learners with backgrounds from a wide range of industries, countries, and cultural backgrounds. As a result, we bring fresh eyes and open minds to an outdated industry. Instead of replicating systems “because that’s how it’s usually done”, we create technology based on actual human behaviour, fighting and overturning assumptions with technology and creativity.

Today, DeepStream partners with some of the world’s leading companies across all industries and use cases — helping them empower their teams across the globe to realise their full potential.

DPW

DPW is the global innovation and mission-based ecosystem for digital procurement. We are driven by our purpose: To unlock the true power of procurement through excellence in digital.
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