According to a report from the U.S. Small Business Administration, small, diverse businesses, such as women- and minority-owned businesses, account for more than 10.6 million of the businesses worldwide and are among the fastest growing segments of the U.S. economy. As a result, large enterprises are starting to make the connection that offering products and services that appeal to a diverse customer base can boost their competitive advantage. 

As a prime supplier to the government and other large organizations, CDW Corporation began to recognize and review the need for increased spend with diverse suppliers in late 2006. Customers were contacting their dedicated account managers to ask how CDW could help them achieve their diversity spend goals and as a direct result, CDW representatives felt it was important to take a hard look at our own processes and how diverse spend impacted our contracting and purchasing opportunities as well as our customers needs. To better meet these needs, CDW launched a Supplier Diversity program in May 2007. 

In just two years, CDW’s Supplier Diversity program has grown to include partnerships with 65 minority-owned businesses, 101 women-owned businesses, and 39 veteran-owned businesses, as well as additional classifications such as small, disadvantaged, and disabled. With a combination of new and existing suppliers, CDW’s minority/women-owned spend for 2008 totaled $229.6M versus $158.3M in 2007. Total spend with all small, diverse businesses has increased from four percent of total purchases to six percent or $472.1M in 2008 as well.

Integrating Supplier Diversity 
Diversity and inclusion have rapidly become important elements that both corporate and government customers look for in a solution provider. By creating a formal Supplier Diversity program, we are making every effort to reflect the diversity of the marketplace and to understand each customer’s needs and buying requirements. This strategy is critical to CDW’s future success and drives business.

Well armed with data, process and benefits supporting a Supplier Diversity program, we began to integrate Supplier Diversity into the supply chain process. Since CDW does not manufacture any products and our purchasing process is not centralized, we looked at: what products/services are being purchased and from who;what criteria of those purchases was most important and why; where and when do we use such products and/or services; how do we improve the process to create opportunities for diverse suppliers. 

With the success of CDW’s Supplier Diversity program, however, we found that there were a number of factors to consider when choosing and integrating a diverse supplier such as: experience (years in business, awards, certifications); capabilities (resources, technology, account support, location); existing customer of CDW; pricing; diversity status; whether or not they were an existing supplier of CDW. 

When engaging with a new diverse supplier, it is imperative to validate as many of the above factors as possible. An example of this occurred most recently in our distribution chain. A minority, women-owned distributor from California had approached CDW just as our Supplier Diversity program was launching to ask for an opportunity to meet with the product procurement team. After a review of capabilities, product lines and experience it was determined CDW would allow them to bid on upcoming business. The vendor provided quarterly pricing as requested and even took measures to implement packaging and transportation changes that would make them just as, or more competitive than legacy suppliers. This example is a true testament that diverse suppliers not only bring quality and expertise but are focused on meeting cost savings goals of the organization. Without the initial introduction, they may have not had the opportunity to bid and CDW wouldn’t have been able to maintain service levels and costs. 

Inclusion Drives Business

At CDW we believe that the U.S. IT marketplace is stronger and more vibrant because it values creation of opportunity for minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses. Some of the next steps for CDW’s supplier diversity program include adding diversity goals into performance plans of coworkers and management, and asking coworkers to think about diversity in how they measure success. Additionally, CDW launched a Tier II program with the top 20 manufacturer and distributor vendors in January 2009. In addition to requiring spend reporting from these vendors, CDW is creating a resource portal for these companies to search for vendors that can service the CDW account. 

For any company looking to create a supplier diversity program, remember that the program itself should do more than measure spend, it needs to create opportunities for these diverse suppliers and it is the organization’s responsibility to work with your primary contacts to open those doors. In doing so, you may see cost savings and/or better service levels. 

Nita Smith is the supplier diversity manager of CDW, a leading provider of technology products and services for business, government and education. Smith is responsible for developing and driving the supplier diversity program for the corporation. She is also responsible for forming strategic partnerships with suppliers and third party organizations and assisting customers to leverage CDW in their own supplier diversity goals. If you have any questions you’d like addressed in an upcoming Best Practices column, please send them to and we will forward them to CDW for possible inclusion in a future column.