Friday Rant: ISM — A Tale From the Other Side of the Aisle

Baltimore was the host city for this year's International Supply Management (ISM) convention -- a 4-day activity that concluded last Wednesday. For those who haven't been to these conferences, ISM is a nearly 100-year-old not-for-profit organization that draws nearly exclusively on members and volunteers for its events. This approach creates a setting which might lack some of the creature comforts of corporate user conferences, but in return is rich with participants, ranging from students to junior buyers and seasoned professionals at all levels as well as representatives from solution and service providers, many of whom are exhibiting at the trade show run in parallel with the many workshops on various supply chain topics.

I had the pleasure of participating in this year's event, as I have in so many previous ISM conferences. It is always a good learning experience, a great opportunity to make new contacts, and to maintain old relationships. It is a small industry and there are many familiar faces every year at ISM. This conference had a unique angle for me -- my first ISM after a solid year of working as a Spend Matters analyst. In prior years I'd worked for various solution providers. Approaching the event in a unique non-competitive position let me speak comfortably with everyone attending while getting a quick feel for the latest plans from many firms.

Much is under way. Many solutions available now are far ahead of what was available only a few years ago. Since a good number of the firms delivering these solutions are turning in impressive sales growth results, I'm not alone in my assessment. It's a good time for all to revisit technology selections given the plethora of good options in the market today.

This year saw good turnout among practitioners and vendors alike, with an upbeat feel to it. Some of the exhibiting firms were: Ariba, BravoSolution, Co-eXprise, CombineNet, D&B, ePlus, GEP, Hiperos, Iasta, IQNavigator, Oracle, Ivalua,, Revitas, SAP, Scanmarket, SciQuest, Vinimaya, Volt, and Zycus -- among many others. Some solution names were missing, notably P2P firm Coupa, as well as suite provider b-pack. Ariba had a tiny booth compared to years past.

If you're planning on going to ISM in the future, to make your experience even better, I suggest that all practitioners do their homework before going to the expo. Just as you expect suppliers to understand your business, it helps if you try to understand in advance what the solution providers can do for you. Such an approach might get you thinking outside the box, encouraging a way to come up with creative ways to really make a difference.

My advice to technology vendors and solution providers lies more in stepping away from buzzwords and acronyms, and instead emphasizing how your solutions are making your clients more efficient, effective and successful. I find great client success stories, especially those rich in detail to be more appealing and convincing than seeing a long list of features. This might sound obvious, but I come across all too many who are making their pitch as if they were responding to the proverbial 600 question RFP.

To summarize, if you are interested in quickly getting face time with senior management from a broad cross-section of the leading solution providers in the marketplace, and in general get your finger on the pulse of what is going on, ISM is a very cost-effective place to be for practitioners and providers alike -- the budget bite of the fees to participate and exhibit are modest compared to other events. That said, providers should be aware that not all booth visitors are as senior as may be desired -- an even greater reason to focus the pitch on business cases rather than feature lists.

See you at next year's conference . Mark your calendars now! In 2013, the conference will be held near Dallas, TX from April 28 - May 1.

- Thomas Kase

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