David Bush Chimes in on ISM

As I could not attend ISM this week, I asked David Bush, a friend, colleague and fellow blogger, if he would mind posting a summary of his thoughts on the event. David is co-founder and VP of Business Development for Iasta, a rapidly growing e-sourcing provider, and also serves as Blogger-in-Chief for E-Sourcing Forum, a great blog that covers all things E-Sourcing (and one which I contribute to from time to time). Please join me in welcoming David to Spend Matters. I'm thrilled that he took the time out to write up his thoughts in ISM. Thank you David!

I spent 4 days in Minneapolis at the 91st Annual ISM conference, which represents over 39,000 purchasing professionals globally. Over this time, I tried to collect my thoughts of the event into one synopsis for Spend Matters readers, due to Jason's aggressive travel schedule this month. Coming from the vendor perspective, I may have different outlooks then the attendees did, so I welcome comments to add to my observations.

The first thing I did after setup and review of the floor was to analyze the breakdown of the exhibitors. Out of the 100 vendors that were exhibiting, at least 35 were in software and had specific functionality which pertained to Spend Management (the focus of this blog). This large number of providers demonstrates the huge value proposition that exists from these types of tools. I know first hand that this conference is not cheap, and the investment needed has to be justified by each company that exhibits. In our case, I believe we have averaged one new client each of the 4 years we have exhibited as a direct result of the contacts made (and countless contacts made have helped to build relationships over time).

Another interesting situation that I encountered came from meetings that I had with Purchasing Magazine and Supply & Demand Chain Magazine. Both groups took great effort and quick interest in learning about how E-Sourcing Forum and Spend Matters were doing. Both blogs have generated a great deal of buzz and recognition over the last year as tremendous resources of information and refreshing new ways to build interest in supply management. Watching the respective growth of visitors to our sites has been very gratifying and exciting. Outside validation is always very important to benchmark yourself and the efforts that we put into this idea. (Actually E-Sourcing Forum was Jason's idea and he pushed me for 8 months to launch it before we did so, last summer.)

Ariba generated quite a bit of discussion at ISM this year but not for the reasons that I think companies should make a habit of doing. As Spend Matters was covering Ariba Live, talk around the vendor and attendee community was about Ariba's striking absence. It was not a small matter and was the topic of a great deal of discussion and confusion. ISM is by far the best and largest purchasing conference, so Ariba’s scheduling issues that caused a complete overlap was perplexing, especially since not even 2 people were able to come and represent them. It is their choice, but it was odd. Joining them in conspicuous absence was VerticalNet and Frictionless -- make of that what you will.

From the presentation side, I had a chance to take in a few speakers. One speaker was George Harris of Calyptus Consulting Group. He did an excellent job and made some really interesting points about strategic sourcing and total cost modeling. He is also a fan of reverse auctions which I liked hearing. In addition to that, I was able to sit in on Lou Dobbs keynote speech, which left me unfulfilled. Lou lived up to his TV persona of being an equal opportunity offender of the political right and left but never went into anything of substance regarding offshoring and outsourcing. Those are two flashpoint topics on his news program which have the cross hairs pointed directly on the purchasing community but he never got very close to the fire. I was looking forward to watching some sparks fly but it never materialized and, I suspect, that the size of his check or the people running the show got to him in some respect. It was a very good speech but I believe it could have been spectacular.

If there was an overarching theme this year, I would have to peg it to supply chain risk assessment and avoidance. My friend Jim Lawton of Open Ratings packed the house on the subject more than once and many other sessions focused on the topic. Although the speakers were not heavily slanted to Spend Management, the fact that so many solutions were represented showed the demand for the tools as well. Since Jason speaks so highly of vendors like Rearden Commerce, I took some time to get acquainted and do agree, it is pretty cool stuff. They blew out the doors with a massive booth display and a small army manning the grounds.

Speaking of vendors, Doug Cunningham of Procuri is underpaid. That guy works the floor of a conference like he is running for office. I think Procuri has partnerships with every company there except Iasta. It seems like they are doing really well and with great people like Doug and Tim, it’s not a surprise. Have a good summer, guys, and see ya at the pool!

As far as the attendees this year, I have no choice but to say the traffic was lighter than in years past, although I was told attendance was around 2500 which is much higher. What was lacking in quantity, however, was made up for in quality. People at this show were much more educated than previous years and seemed determined to be making decisions, as opposed to window shopping. I can remember times in Nashville and Philadelphia when our booth was overrun and people waited to speak with us. That was not happening this year but I was pleased with the people we did talk to.

Rolling into 2007, which is in Las Vegas, I believe there will be a very strong jump in attendance for a couple of reasons. First, it's Vegas. Second, momentum and advancements in the industry. And third, well, it's Vegas. ISM told me that the emerging trends right now are focused on BPO, supply chain risk avoidance, globalization and TCO. Those sounded more like emerging trends from a couple years ago to me and I will throw my hat into the ring too. Building on the TCO-TVM value proposition, I think there is going to be a growing interest in advanced sourcing optimization. There is no good reason it should be handcuffed to ocean freight and logistics categories.

All things being equal, I think the conference was great for everyone involved.

David Bush is Co-Founder and VP of Business Development for Iasta, a rapidly growing e-sourcing provider. David also writes and edits the blog E-Sourcing Forum.

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