On the second day of LIVE, three members of the Ariba team took the main stage for what appeared to be a well scripted Q/A led by Tim Minahan on the future of the Ariba product and service suite. John Stevens, VP of Ariba Consulting, Bob Solomon, SVP of the Ariba Supplier Network and Bhaskar ... each answered questions on Ariba's services, supplier network and overall technology direction, respectively. While there were not any breakthrough product announcements, the Ariba ship certainly is beefing up its cargo hold in at least a couple of areas.
One certainly is customer service. On the previous day, Kevin Costello announced a new initiative to improve the overall Ariba customer experience. Essentially, the new program he outlined looked very much like a Kent Parker-led Six Sigma program to manage, measure and improve the overall solution delivery experience (I'm sure the old FreeMarkets GSO/market making folks got a chuckle about how Kent has now extended his process reach across the entire company). No management approach is sacred, I suppose, in the hands of a manufacturing process guy who puts the customer first. In addition to this one initiative, the panelists suggested that Ariba is taking steps to make integration into back-end systems "even easier" for customers as well as taking "best practices from the services teams and embedding them in the tools" to drive an enhanced user experience.
New services solutions read a bit like what AT Kearney and others have done over the years such as building out category best practice information that tracks what is happening in specific industries, categories, etc. The information is aimed specifically at category managers who need information from around the world to improve their strategies -- who may or may not want to buy specific, expert consulting or category sourcing services. Ariba is also playing up its education and training curriculum and John Stevens pointed out that Ariba now has over 30 courses available online.
Switching tracks, in the area of the Ariba supplier network, Bob Solomon suggested that Ariba has focused extensively not only on improving features for buying organizations, but the overall user experience for suppliers as well. Enhancements include new invoice conversion services which allow buyers to "relieve themselves" -- I'm trying to not picture this in my head -- of the "issue of paper very quickly" by having suppliers send invoices to a different lock-box run by third party Ariba partners. In addition, Ariba continues to build out and market its discount management capabilities through Orbian as well as developing new partnerships (e.g., Amalto) on the supplier enablement front. But perhaps the biggest network news is new MFG.com-like capability for buyers to post open RFQs on the network without necessarily going through Ariba's sourcing applications to suppliers who wish to bid on the business. While revenue models were not discussed in this regard, I would assume this model will charge suppliers for accessing RFQs, copying the model MFG.com has commercialized in the manufacturing space.
Stay tuned for a separate post on specific enhancements and new offerings regarding the Ariba solution suite -- not to mention further coverage and analysis on developments in the Ariba Supplier Network (including whether or not suppliers are throwing their own version of the Boston tea party in response to the Ariba supplier fees).
- Jason Busch