Coupa and Ariba — Analyzing Competitive Claims (Part 3)

In this third post in the series analyzing Coupa's competitive claims against Ariba (click here for Part 1 and Part 2), I'll turn my attention to the remaining claims Coupa makes against its Sunnyvale P2P neighbor (in case you're curious, Coupa's office is just out of mortar range of Ariba's West Coast HQ, but it's still close by my calculations, especially depending on how the purchasing winds blow on any given day ...) But I digress -- let's get back to Coupa's comparison list and do a fact check on its remaining claims as quickly as possible.

One of Coupa's claims is that it includes executive dashboards that "provide easy access to actionable spend analysis, actual savings data, and predictive spend forecasts" compared with Ariba, which does "not include" dashboards and requires "additional modules ... to perform analysis against procurement transaction flow." My verdict here is that Coupa is largely accurate. Although Ariba does have reporting capability within P2P, I would not put its dashboards in the same class as Coupa's from an overall visual impact perspective. Still, Coupa somewhat misses the boat in this comparison.

Reporting capabilities in a spend/supply management suite must transcend P2P. In fact, the more valuable reporting comes from examining a combination of direct/indirect/services spend -- which Coupa does not capture in its entirety. So while Coupa may provide better indirect eye candy, it'll leave organizations in the dark when it comes to the bulk (usually 75% or more) of their purchasing activities conducted outside the scope of an indirect eProcurement system. Now, Ariba does not have the best spend visibility reporting, dashboard interface, or analytics capability in the market (different solution providers take the prize in each of these areas). But it does have a decent overall visibility and reporting solution in this area in comparison to Coupa, which is only able to report on spending through its own system.

Coupa is again wrong -- and right -- when it comes to its claim that Ariba does not have "predictive analytics and alerts" to supporting forecasting spending into future periods. Here, Coupa says that its own solution features "easy-to-manage real-time alerts [that] inform managers and executives of spending thresholds and budget compliance even when they are not logged into the system." Through Ariba's workflow capabilities (which are quite strong), it's relatively easy to configure automated items including alerts, although I'm not sure I'd classify these as predictive, as Coupa is claiming (but I'm not sure if Coupa's are actually predictive in the sense they're algorithm or constraint driven). Still, in their favor, Coupa is set up for a more non-web and mobile environment to provide insight into activities through alerts. However, it would not be a big deal to create this with Ariba through an integration hub or model (e.g., Tibco) and customize it to the Nth degree if one were so inclined.

When it comes to "built-in budgeting support" Coupa says that "at login, managers see spend against budgets they own as it occurs, complete with drill down functionality to the purchase order and original requisition. Plus [we also offer] automatic adjustment functionality based on downstream events." Coupa questions whether Ariba has the capability to support "intra-period analytics within the application that allow managers [to] monitor spend vs budget as it happens." This is a bit of a loaded comparison because it's not apples to apples. Coupa may have a more elegant and simple approach to intra-period indirect reporting, but Ariba, per my earlier comment, provides a more complete -- although not perfect -- picture into total spending. Still, both approaches come up complete short of what's really needed in the market: a CDI/supplier hub capability that provides a full snapshot of spending and supplier activity across internal and external data sources at the point of query -- in real-time. So I'll grant Coupa a small victory in its claim here, but it's a partial one, at best.

Next, Coupa claims that it enables "Google-Like Search" capabilities that provide "A single query [that] launches parallel searches against hosted catalogs, form templates, how-to-buy policies, and the web, and renders unified search results that even include appropriate punchout suppliers" versus Ariba, which does not enable "users [to] search across multiple objects in the system." I personally have not checked out Ariba's latest search capability, but I know that previous versions offered parametric search features to consider different attributes across multiple sources. If the Spend Matters audience could chime in here, let's get other opinions on what Ariba currently has. I highly doubt that you can't launch a unified search, but I could be wrong. Regardless, you could easily attach a Vinimaya-like capability onto Ariba if you wanted greater flexibility to pull, query, and analyze results from truly distributed environments that would trump Coupa. My verdict? I need more information to analyze Coupa's claim.

In other areas including "Inventory Management, Supplier Network, Centralized & Desktop Receiving, P-Card Support, Invoices, RFQ and Superhero Mascot" Coupa has checkbox comparisons with Ariba that do not go into detail but do suggest parity. The depth of what each vendor can do in some of these areas is really what separates one solution from the other. Especially when it comes to supplier networks, invoice management, and RFQ capabilites, Coupa is not even playing on the same field as Ariba, let alone the same sport. This could change as Coupa builds out capabilities in these areas, but right now, Coupa checking the box across these functional areas in direct comparison to Ariba is a bit like France checking the box as an historic military superpower in comparison to the United States. Yes, both have standing armies (some are better at retreating than others) and a few nukes to threaten unruly neighbors, but the comparison stops there. We all know what happens when France goes to war and who comes to the rescue each time, in modern history. Which is precisely what Ariba might have to do with larger Coupa customers who think they're getting the same thing in these areas, but then discover the difference between claimed and actual capabilities.

Stay tuned for a final post in this series next week when we go into more detail on these three areas and more. I promise to keep any more Italian motorbike and French references out of it ...

But in the meantime, do stay tuned for a post tomorrow or Thursday looking at Coupa's recent product announcement which was overshadowed by it's anti-Ariba campaign. Under the surface, there's some good product news to report.

Jason Busch

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