The Network Effect: A Supplier's Perspective

Since Ariba LIVE, I've grown increasingly interested in the impact of network-based supplier management and on-boarding approaches. Having heard a number of first-hand accounts from suppliers which attended the event and consider the Ariba Supplier Network (ASN) a major sales channel, I thought it might be worthwhile to dig into the story of one vendor to better understand the potential of these networks to drive commerce from a supplier's vantage point. I finally got around to my investigate work earlier in the month when I caught up with Tricia Johnson of Telepress, a niche, targeted provider that specializes in business cards and other corporate identity printing. Telepress' focus is tying print services to corporate identity. They serve a range of clients, including many Fortune 500 organizations that put a premium on brand identity and protection.

Today, Telepress has 60 employees, and revenue in the range of $6-7 million. Their sweet spot is high volume / short run products such as business cards and corporate letterhead. To serve this market, Telepress has invested significantly in self-service web-based tools to let users place orders for cards that meet the specific design criteria of their company. Telepress' customers place value on the fact that they that can consistently manage design and printing in a streamlined process while also connecting rapidly with eProcurement applications.

Telepress is an eProcurement pioneer of sorts. They became involved with Ariba in the late 90s before much was known about the vendor, and before there were proven benefits associated with eProcurement in general. Telepress' first official connection with the ASN started when Cisco Systems, a current client, purchased the Ariba solution, and wanted to onboard Telepress as a supplier in their online catalog and eProcurement system.

After Cisco, Telepress went through 5 additional integrations with other current customers who had purchased the Ariba Buyer product and access to the ASN. Then, Telepress got its first phone call from an ASN user who discovered Telepress through the network. It turned out this prospect had done significant homework on Telepress already through the ASN -- based on feedback from other ASN customers. In other words, they were more than a highly qualified lead. They were ready to sign on the dotted line.

But Telepress' real breakthrough working with the ASN came when they became the first print supplier to be certified as "Ariba Ready". At this point, Telepress decided to exhibit at an Ariba LIVE event in Orlando in 2005 (previously, Telepress had exhibited at LIVE in Phoenix, in 2004). This second event showcase display was a "homerun" -- the small provider landed six new customers in just a matter of days. In addition to the differentiation it provides to its customer via its own online ordering interface -- which Ariba customers access as a punch-out from the ASN -- Telepress has been able to win this new business by differentiating itself as a supplier which can connect to an eProcurement implementation faster and better than organizations which are ten or hundreds of times its size.

By becoming certified as an "Ariba Ready" supplier and proactively marketing to Ariba customers, Telepress has been able to significantly grow its business. Today, 25% of its orders are coming through the ASN, and the company processes over 300 invoices per day through the network as well. Recently, Telepress has started to interact with customers using EIPP, allowing them to electronically submit invoices, check on the status of an invoice, audit the PO vs. the invoice, and check customer account balances.

When Telepress first learned of the ASN, they thought this type of online commerce was just for big suppliers. But in the end, they saw that their small size could play to their advantage. And they moved quickly to take advantage of the opportunity. Today, Telepress certainly credits some of their success to their relationship with Ariba. But they also believe their willingness to be proactive and invest in serving their customers' -- and potential customers' -- needs in an online environment has played a critical role in their growth. Tricia Johnson had these parting words to offer to other small and medium sized suppliers considering working with supplier networks: "It's critical to get past the fear that on-boarding will be a big, long-drawn out process. It does not have to be with the ASN. Telepress took a proactive approach about working with Ariba and getting involved in our customer's eProcurement initiatives, and now we're seeing the benefits that the network can provide."

Jason Busch

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