Coupa and Ariba — Analyzing Comparative Claims (Part 2)

- February 25, 2010 2:02 AM
Categories: Spend Management |

Today, we’ll continue our analysis of whether Coupa’s claims against Ariba hold up under scrutiny, taking an objective look at marketing versus reality. Let’s begin with the core buying process. When it comes to requisitioning, Coupa claims an “Amazon-like shopping cart requisitioning supports catalogs, punchout sites, free-form requests, and specialized web forms.” It also suggests it has the “completely unique iRequest and iBuy innovations that allows users to requisition virtually any item from virtually any website, with review and approval control.” Coupa also claims that AMR Research backs up its comparisons here. In contrast, “Ariba end users can order from catalogs and punchout sites. Ask about free form ordering and one-click buying functionality. [Ariba has] No functionality to match Coupa iRequest and iBuy.”

In reality, I’d argue that Coupa has indeed taken things a bit further than Ariba when it comes to flexibility in requisitioning; however, in larger organizations, iRequest and iBuy defeat the purpose of rationalizing spend with specific suppliers to hit volume-discount thresholds. Going to non-contracted supplier sites through iRequest and iBuy may not constitute a maverick purchase in the purest sense, but it’s certainly close to one, given the lack of a contract, price sheet, and potential discount/rebate schedule.

Moreover, with Ariba, SAP, or Oracle, it’s possible to use Vinimaya to carry out a similar function. (Word to Coupa: check out what Vinimaya has done here, including its patent-pending virtual catalog/supplier network. You’ll be surprised.) In fact, Vinimaya goes substantially beyond iRequest and iBuy, so if you like this capability and you’re a larger organization considering a solution other than Coupa, do check it out (also check out what jCatalog has done outside of pure catalog capabilities here). So what’s the verdict on this claim? I’ll give the nod to Coupa with the caveat that it’s not the only one thinking along this line. Ariba could expand its vision here.

For approval management, Coupa claims that “business users can reconfigure approval workflows in moments, plus full review and approval capabilities via email and mobile devices (no login required) … [and that it's the] only vendor with dedicated iPhone application for reviewing and approving requisitions.” In contrast, Coupa claims, with Ariba, IT must intervene in the case of “approval-flow modifications … and [it is] unknown if managers can review and approve requisitions without logging into the system.” I reached out to Ariba on this subject to get the party line, and to confirm some of my own research. Ariba says that today, it’s possible for “customer administrators” who are non-IT resources to “easily add/modify/delete fields, workflow, and users as well as quickly manage catalogs with automated review tools.” I recently saw this level of configuration with Ariba’s services procurement technology, but have not observed it with more recent P2P releases. Still, I do not doubt the claim. Coupa may be correct in this regard if comparing older versions of Buyer, but it’s factually incorrect in making this comparison with Ariba SaaS P2P today. Still, on the mobile front and on the relative simplicity of the process, Coupa beats Ariba.

Next let’s turn to Coupa’s claims around underlying technology. Coupa says that its own solution is deployed on a “100% cloud-based infrastructure, [with] SAS 70 Type I and II certified, 99.999% uptime, multiple innovation-rich releases each year, implementations measured in hours and days, built with Ruby-on-Rails (RoR), and hosted on Amazon Web Services.” Personally, I think there’s a lot of confusion about what separates a cloud-based application from one that is SaaS. Ariba clearly is SaaS, meaning its applications can operate in a multi-tenant environment, just as cloud-based applications can, although cloud apps tend to do it on virtual, scaling infrastructure vs. dedicated server facilities. Still, Coupa is obfuscating some of the differences here and creating its own definition of what separates cloud from SaaS. Personally, I’d put greater stock in the opinion of my fellow Enterprise Irregular Phil Wainewright about what the cloud is; by his definition, Coupa does not count, at least as I read it.

In contrast, Coupa claims, Ariba is “on demand, but not in the cloud. Could vary by module. Beware significant costs and effort for upgrades and customizations.” “Could vary by module” shows a lack of homework here on Coupa’s part; moreover, the semantics of SaaS vs. cloud are not entirely clear. Ariba could deploy in the cloud by Phil’s definition, but I’m guessing that its customers would prefer it not. Moreover, Coupa’s comparison makes no mention of Ariba’s network business. One could argue that Ariba provides connectivity that is more cloud-like than what Coupa offers (though it, too, is not built on a cloud stack as far as I can tell — not that it matters in the least from a user perspective, mind you).

Regarding Coupa’s claim that Ruby on Rails is superior: the verdict is still out on whether it’s the best development platform for speed or a potentially unstable platform for rapidly scaling organizations. I’m not a developer so I’ll stay out of that one, but let’s just say that there’s no definitive view on it, and some IT organizations may tell their procurement organizations to be wary of any enterprise app developed on Ruby. I’ve seen this before, and I’m sure we’ll see it with Coupa if it touts Ruby too much. Best to say silent on the issue.

So what’s the cloud verdict? Coupa’s dancing around terminology here, and splitting hairs. Neither vendor is “in the cloud” according to a purely technologist view of cloud development and cloud computing, although Coupa might be closer. If Ariba hosted on Amazon’s servers, it too, could make similar claims. In my view, the more important point is that at the end of the security shift in the server room, a cloud vs. SaaS approach doesn’t really matter one bit — or byte — to how procurement will interact with the application.

Stay tuned for further analysis of Coupa and Ariba next week.

Jason Busch

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