'Tis the season of the holiday spirit -– and vendor-ranking comparisons -- in the Spend Management world. As many readers know, I've been around this space far too long not to put coal in analysts' stockings when they deserve it. And most analyst rankings have enough flaws -- or at least a lack of transparency -- to warrant someone tossing in a bag of the non-environmentally-friendly stocking filler. But occasionally, analysts get things right, or they at least make a valiant effort at getting at some form of comparative vendor truth. Such is the case with a recent AMR Research analysis of contract-management vendors. Sure, I could point to numerous areas about which I have questions (e.g., the relative rankings of one large Spend Management vendor relative to those of other best-of-breed providers are too close in the functional comparison areas, in my book). But in general, the format, approach, and qualitative components of the analysis make it a useful tool as an initial scan in better understanding the vendor landscape for contract management.
In framing the study, Mickey North Rizza, Chris Fletcher, and Mary Kate Hernandez, the AMR Research analysts who authored the study, suggest that “Contract lifecycle management (CLM) technologies have great promise, but their full potential has yet to be realized by most companies. The enterprise buy side is the predominant buyer, and legal departments are beginning to recognize the need, but sell-side buyers are still trying to understand the revenue opportunity of CLM technologies.” In my experience, this is only partially the case. Legal, in many large deals, is in fact the functional area of the organization, driving companies to make the purchasing decision for anything but cheap, low-end tools.
Perhaps it’s because of this bias on AMR’s part that the Spend Management and supply-management vendors in the study do so well in comparison to pure-plays on a functional basis versus in the field, when best-of-breed providers like Upside tend to emerge victorious over suite vendors when customers really know what they want and are willing to shell out for the best possible solution. It does not explain, however, what appear to be almost universally high reference rankings for many of the key vendors in the study. Granted, references are only as bad (or good) as those that vendors provide in this type of analysis, but given many of the challenges that some contract-management customers have had from certain providers in the past 24 months, I’m surprised by where some people showed up. Still, I suppose, you can’t argue with objectivity based on interviews combined with transparency in showing the results (a key feature of AMR’s new comparison approach). Which is not something Gartner provides in its infamous Magic Quadrants.