Emptoris Empower 2011, Dispatch Two: Does Conservative Positioning = Conservative Product Strategy?

Please click here for the first post in this series.

Emptoris' latest positioning, which focuses on enabling organizations in the area of "strategic supply management (SSM)," could be a decade old. I remember grappling with what to call a similar segment of the market back when I was on the vendor side over a decade ago. Yet such a conservative positioning statement belies the complexity and nuance of the areas Emptoris is proposing to enhance and tackle for the first time as it unveils an updated overall product footprint, strategy and roadmap. At Emptoris Empower, I had the chance to drill not only into the Emptoris vision, but also double-click a bit on the current state of both their new as well as enhanced products and solutions. In a series of posts, I'll be sharing what I learned, beginning with the higher level material.

Going forward, one might mistake some of Emptoris' overall positioning (e.g., "source to contract" and "category spend management and compliance") as Ariba-like minus the P2P elements. But when you drill into the details and Emptoris' architecture, nothing could be more different. In contrast to how Ariba is headed down a path towards standardization and facilitating transactions, Emptoris is about customizing and tailoring solutions for unique customer environments. Neither vision is wrong (or right) -- but they could not be more different. At the same time, it's fascinating to watch the contrast in studies.

At Empower, for example, Emptoris highlighted an actual new upgrade screen for behind-the-firewall installs -- and how they've streamlined the process to migrate to their latest versions even in cases where significant customization exists. Compare this with Ariba, which is clearly long on B2B connectivity and has recently once-again embraced its CD customers according to our research, but has done fairly little to catch its CD codebase up to the SaaS version (it's still behind in eProcurement, for example, when it comes to certain feature functions). Emptoris, in contrast, is not only focusing on going after new areas where an installed model might make more sense (e.g., supplier content master data management or MDM), but on how to make the upgrade that much easier.

Let's take this example down into the weeds for a moment at the product level. Here, Emptoris is positioning its new Virtual Supplier Master capability at the core of what it does, wrapping all of its broader solution areas (e.g., source-to-contract, procurement intelligence and category spend management and compliance") around it, at least from a marketing perspective. The vision behind the Virtual Supplier Master is to creation an application that is the central hub of both internal and external supplier and ultimately item-level data. It will both consume and feed other systems of record, as well as interface with the supplier content world outside.

Emptoris described the Virtual Supplier Master to be as a platform to combine records to create a "golden master record." Specifically, it is a master data management capability, but it's one centered on supplier data -- and it can also integrate with existing MDM solutions. Within the Virtual Supplier Master, users might opt to create the single version of supplier truth for a range of fields/attributes including basic supplier details (e.g., industry codes, contact information, regions, banking details, insurance certifications, quality certifications) that also associates and combines intelligence from third-party solutions that are internal (e.g., SAP) as well as external (e.g., DUB, Equifax, BvD).

Users can edit and add attributes and the system relies on a combination of classification and error correction capabilities including "fuzzy matching" and de-duping capabilities to create a single version of the truth. Emptoris follows a defined process for collecting, validating and discovering information built around approvals, discovery, data enrichment, merging and qualifying supplier data, from basic fields to contact details and the external identifiers we listed in the previous paragraph. It's also possible to set a scoring threshold for association and search, for example, on a single attribute, which will show the confidence the system has in a given match.

The closest product to Emptoris' Virtual Supplier Master is Oracle's Supplier Hub toolset. Yet Supplier Hub is further along when it comes to adoption and usage -- not to mention leveraging the proven roots of Oracle and Siebel in the area of customer/supplier-centric MDM. It's great to see a new competitor like Emptoris in this area, but it's important to remember that it's an entirely different technical and business model to develop solutions built around becoming a push/pull central data repository than it is to deliver functional capabilities and workflow as standard enterprise applications. Most of the market will probably miss how big a shift this is for Emptoris to make. Yet we'll follow it closely at Spend Matters and when the solution gains transaction in the field and is commonly referenced by active users, we'll certainly share what we learn based on actual field usage rather than the vision we've outlined in this post.

Stay tuned for additional analysis coming out of Empower.

Jason Busch

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