Emptoris: A Eulogy for a Great Company

Phyllis/Adobe Stock

When the dust settles from the death of Emptoris, many people will quickly forget the debt of gratitude we owe to its founders, managers, software developers and various owners over its many years. Perhaps more than any other company from the first generation of procurement technology firms, Emptoris had a greater impact on the sector than even, I would argue, FreeMarkets, my former employer, or Ariba, for that matter.

While others on the Spend Matters team will no doubt have additional comments about Emptoris on a personal level, I wanted to be the first to put some words to paper this morning. We’ll also, of course, do our PRO coverage this week on the news (as a team), but I felt it seemed wrong not to talk about the history and people of Emptoris first.

Emptoris Was Way Ahead of Its Time

It’s easy for people to forget everything that Emptoris accomplished. After all, when today’s millennial category managers and analysts use a spend analytics module, field a supplier assessment or survey, conduct a supplier performance KPI assessment, run a multiround RFP, leverage sourcing optimization for the first time, use a VMS to manage contingent labor or collaborate with legal in building a contract, they are using sets of tools that Emptoris (and the companies that it acquired) often pioneered.

We all owe a big debt of gratitude to Avner Schneur (and his wife), Ralph Guanci (who I miss dearly), Kevin Potts and others who led the early charge for Emptoris. They developed, bought and sold products that were ahead of their time.

This was a group that changed the strategic procurement technology world arguably more so than any other company at the time. It was also a collection of personalities — and then some — which I, along with many others, miss in the politically correct procurement technology sector today. Who could forget the famous “toilet flush” during an internal company call? (Sorry, guys, I had to put this one down for posterity’s sake!)

A Turnaround Many Forgot

Emptoris triumphed through real adversity, too. At one point, FreeMarkets hired a couple of technology analyst firms to spy on Emptoris while conducting research and see if it was infringing on any patents (because the firm was proving such a nuisance taking away customers).

The subsequent patent infringement lawsuits leveraged these findings and ended up tanking Emptoris’ private company valuation, nearly killing the firm before Marlin Equity swooped in, settled the complaints and turned Emptoris around, with Patrick Quirk at the helm (who did a tremendous job), before selling it to IBM for a huge gain.

Leading the Charge Before Others

There are many things people may forget about Emptoris that are worth calling attention to, as it charted the course for others in the sector.

Here are just a few, lest we forget the debt we owe:

  • Emptoris was one of the first technologies to truly bring the (end-to-end) strategic sourcing process online in a manner that customers could customize to suit their requirements. Unlike FreeMarkets, it was not just a simple RFX or auction tool. It paved the way for category management and more.
  • The firm pioneered sourcing optimization even before CombineNet and Trade Extensions (and Keelvar, for that matter) opened their doors. Granted, it didn’t always work as sold, but Emptoris popularized the idea of driving procurement to move beyond auctions. Every single geek in the procurement sector should have a huge debt of gratitude to Rina Schneur, Avner’s wife, who co-founded Avinamart, which became Emptoris, for her pragmatic application of operations research to strategic sourcing and procurement. We should also thank Michael Lamoureux (and his colleagues from MindFlow, which Emptoris also acquired in this area) for contributing to this legacy. There are also some hilarious old posts around “my solver is better than your solver” types of debates, which you can find on the web (and via Spend Matters search).
  • Along with Zycus, one could argue that Emptoris was the firm that popularized spend analytics and brought people out of what my colleague Pierre Mitchell likes to call the BASS (big ass spreadsheet) world of analyzing procurement data. Emptoris shrewdly bought its way into this market through acquiring Zeborg in 2003 (before Spend Matters was founded).
  • Emptoris also had the foresight to move into supplier management in 2011 (buying Xcitec) before 90% of procurement organizations even thought of this area as a critical element to enable via technology (see our past coverage here, here and here). Emptoris even bought into supplier performance management before this (through acquiring Sherry Gordon’s little firm, Valuedge).
  • Years before SAP acquired Fieldglass and put it in the same cloud business unit as SAP Ariba, Emptoris bought a vendor management system (VMS), Click Commerce, making it the first suite vendor to pursue services procurement…
  • …and it also became the first procurement suite vendor to deliver real contract lifecycle management capability (CLM), gained through the acquisition of diCarta.

Celebrating the Past 

One can quibble with the many things about Emptoris that did not go right or fully as planned (and there are many things!) But on the whole, Emptoris did more to move the procurement technology sector forward than just about any other vendor I can think of, driving bold move after bold move on the organic development and acquisition trail.

Rather than tossing barbs at IBM in this final chapter as we slowly bury Emptoris over the coming years — or complain about what did and did not work in earlier Emptoris releases — we should remember everything the firm did to lead the technology charge for procurement. It’s easy to forget that Emptoris got its start back when FreeMarkets was still running auctions over a dedicated IP network and Ariba was still proving out the market opportunity for its operational resource management solution (ORMS).

For everyone involved in this journey, we won’t forget what you contributed to the great world of procurement technology. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Emptoris alumni and future alumni.

To everyone involved in Emptoris, I say, “Thank you.” Your work has inspired a generation to embrace procurement technology in ways that we never could have imagined at the time. And it won’t be forgotten!

Voices (18)

  1. Bob Ferrari:

    Jason- A well articulated commentary and tribute to Emptoris. It’s sad to observe more than one IBM acquisition, with lots of potential, reach its demise.

  2. Kamlesh Wadhwani:

    I worked with Emptoris contracts management team for almost a decade and had a great time. I felt sad when I head the news that Emptoris is going to end its journey.
    I had always been missing my Emptoris team, the great time and unforgettable moments that we had for all those years.

  3. Nancy Grasse:

    I was at the very beginning with diCarta. I am so sad that no one sees the value of the product and how it revolutionized the contracts management industry. IBM is totally missing the market in this product. But this is not the first time IBM has missed the market. When will they learn, really?

  4. Samir Bodas:

    Great write up indeed, Jason. We have a lot of ex-Emptoris folks here at Icertis, and the quality of their employees – professionals with great aptitude and attitude (values) – is another testament to what a wonderful company it was!

  5. Dipesh PS:

    Emotional but very well written.

  6. Kala:

    What a beautiful tribute! Love the comments also. I hope all of you wonderful people will stay and bring your innovative ideas to the SAP Ariba partnership, looking forward to this exciting collaboration!

  7. Sheece Baghdadi:

    Thank you for writing this Jason! Emptoris was a wonderful company. And you are right, no point in analysing what went wrong anymore.

    This situation reminds me of a green day song, this is to all my fellow colleagues.

    —-
    Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
    Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
    So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
    It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time
    It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right
    I hope you had the time of your life

  8. Abdul Husain:

    Thanks Jason, nice tribute to Emptoris.

    In Emptoris, I joined in EMS – Event Monitoring Services team which piloted in Pune, India. I was totally new to the supply chain domain, however I was prepared to explore and learn in depths of it. Emptoris provided the platform and thanks to Sean Correll for making things so simple at my initial stages. The diCarta acquisition was announced on my joining day April 3rd, 2006 and then onwards Emptoris in its domain was unstoppable. Our diverse teams grew together and work was so exciting with lots of new learning.

    Emptoris, with the growth it made over the years, was truly a powerful brand and I could have never imagined it would be made to set down like this.

    Thanks to Emptoris!

  9. Atul Sinha:

    Thank you for this article! I would bookmark it and read it in the future whenever I miss my days with IBM Emptoris. I have worked on multiple platforms serving the same business processes and easily found Emptoris as the best, both in terms of technology stack and the functional aspects. It’s a sad day for us Emptoris folks that once a leader in its field is going to end its journey soon. I wish IBM had handled this offering better.

  10. Thomas Hiller:

    So sad to see it going away. I was part of the professional services team for 6 years and I will never forget the family ship, dedication and across border commitment of every single employee I worked with.
    And still I am connected to many of the chaps and it is the spirit that still builds a foundation of trust and professionalism.

  11. Kevin Potts:

    Jason – what a thoughtful and kind obituary. I remember a seminal moment back in the early days when we were working to figure out Emptoris’ position. I had a conversation with David Dobrin, and he eloquently described the Sourcing Trinity as Ariba the Elegant, FreeMarkets the Wise, and Emptoris the Powerful. We grabbed ahold of that “powerful” brand position and ran with it successfully for the next seven years. And we had a great time along the way…well, not always, but mostly. Thanks for all the evangelizing you provided to help make this a software category worth caring about. Kevin

  12. Sean C.:

    Well written and spot on. Although I left Emptoris/IBM over a year ago, I still find myself talking about what “we do” at Emptoris. I enjoyed working with Avner, Ralph, Kevin, and a host of others in my years at Emptoris. As you mention, Pat Quirk was the right CEO at the right time and brought the company out of the lawsuit as one of the biggest/baddest players in the market. The good experiences will not be forgotten.

  13. Kelly Barner:

    Very nice tribute Jason. I am horribly sad that we’re officially marking the Emptoris sunset. Emptoris (well, Sean Devine really…) gave me the opportunity to go from an entry level procurement analyst to a consultant with broad procurement experience across industries. (True story: when I was interviewing for the job at Emptoris, I found out the salary for the position and almost pulled myself out of contention because I didn’t think I could possibly be qualified. I hardly slept for a week preparing for my case study interview… and got the offer).

    Fortunately, the very best part of Emptoris – the people who brought it to life and applied it to a myriad of business challenges – are still active players in procurement and beyond. I connect with them all the time and we compare timelines: ‘did we meet?’

    Kevin Potts taught me more about branding than anyone else I’ve ever met, and working with ‘real Accenture consultants’ Sean Correll and Jon Hayes opened my eyes to the importance of polish in all client-facing situations. I bought my very first maternity clothes with an award I won for my work on a high profile consulting project, and you could not ask for a more dedicated, caring HR director than Jane Johnson.

    Our clients ranged from huge multi-national corporations to small local companies, but they all recognized the unique advantages of Emptoris and we worked our hearts out to help them meet their goals.

    Was there sometimes a little bit of sausage making going on behind the scenes? Oh you’d better believe it. But I like to think that it was because we were having ideas faster than functionality, user interfaces, and integration could move.

    Thank you for everything Emptoris!

  14. Alex:

    I wonder who will take over the baton in driving this industry forward. Having the two dinosaurs now mingling with each other I recon it won’t be SAP/Ariba.

  15. Walter:

    Thank you, Jason! I, along with my colleagues, will greatly miss the adventure we have been on.

  16. K:

    IBM HAS PIONEERED THE ART OF PURCHASING WELL RUNNING, PROFIT MAKING SMALL AND MEDIUM SIZED COMPANIES AND RUINING IT TO ASHES.

  17. Eric Lynch:

    Nicely put my friend!

  18. Vijay:

    Thanks Jason for such a great tribute to Emptoris! I agree with you completely on the fact that Emptoris has inspired the procurement technology vendors several times in past and will continue to when people will look back to this evolution.

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