Ariba at eWorld, Supplier Infonet and mixed messages

It’s the unexpected stuff that makes conferences and events worthwhile as much as the set-piece speeches and workshops. The recent eWorld event had a great example of that. We saw two quite different sides of SAP / Ariba, still the market leader in our procurement and supply chain software ecosystem.

Firstly, we had the excellent James Marland (VP, Network Strategy at Ariba) giving a really entertaining and energetic speech – with some serious content too. He took us through some of the evolution of procurement, ending up with what he sees as the next step, which is all around social media, collaboration, and big data, and what it can do for us.

The core of one new technology solution that Ariba are now offering in response to these trends is the SAP InfoNet product, now called Supplier Infonet, which we got rather excited about more than a year ago. It pulls in supplier data from a number of sources – publicly available news, other media, D&B and similar sources, as well as the user’s own performance information. But the next level comes from incorporating data from other SAP Ariba clients, to get a picture of (for instance) how the supplier’s delivery performance for you compares with what they achieve generally in the market.

Ariba have taken the InfoNet product further again since I last saw it, building in some consumer-type features (based on the Ariba supplier network and Discovery capability), so you can get functions such as the ability to see lists of “other suppliers you might like to see, who do similar things to this supplier”. That’s a great example of this big data / social media / consumer type mash-up that we’re likely to see more of in the procurement space.

So this was all very positive in terms of SAP / Ariba synergy. However, one expert SAP client user gave a different view when questioned at another eWorld session. He expressed frustration at the post merger situation, and a feeling as a user that the two firms (SAP and Ariba) were still not as aligned as they might be, with some internal friction evident even to an outsider, which was affecting his ability to develop future technology strategies.

It’s always the danger after acquisitions and mergers, particularly where the power balance maybe isn’t that clear. RBS just got rid of the vast majority of NatWest’s senior team (including me) when they took us over back in 2000, which at least made it clear who was in charge! It’s a bit different here, where arguably Ariba’s position in the procurement space was at least as strong as SAP’s, and in some sense the Ariba “business” is now in the driving seat within SAP.

We should also be careful about judging an entire business on the comments of one person, even if it was a major client. It may be that every other SAP and Ariba client is delighted by progress post acquisition.  And the firm clearly has great potential with products such as Supplier Infonet and many other market-leading capabilities. However, perhaps they need to make sure big clients feel happier so that they are expressing more positive public views than we heard at eWorld!

And to anyone who rushed off from the event to the Ariba website to find out more about Infonet, I hope you had more luck than me. After half an hour of searching, Googling and page flicking I found nothing. Is  that another sign of a lack of joined up thinking in the firm?

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