Ivalua in Paris – Painting an Impressive Picture

As promised we have more coverage from Ivalua Now which took place in Paris last week. Peter Smith returns to share his thoughts ... 

Last week’s IvaluaNow conference, themed “The Art of Procurement” and held at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris reflected the rapid growth of the procurement technology firm (around 50% annually in recent years). Over 500 people turned up, a huge leap on last year’s numbers. The venue might have been part of the attraction: use of the conference facilities at the Louvre, and you get a tour of the galleries after hours, without the hordes of tourists, which is pretty special.

But the sessions in general lived up to the location – so here (in two parts) is a brief summary of some key areas of interest from the two days.

Ivalua Highlights

The strengths of Ivalua remain the broad and deep capabilities of the platform (see the Spend Matters SolutionMap analysis for much more on that), one of the few in the market that has been entirely built from the beginning on a common codebase.

That gives customers and users benefits in terms of common user interfaces and makes the whole platform more easily configurable than most. Ivalua’s revenues will be some $115 million this year, the firm now has approaching 500 employees (with low staff turnover) in more than 15 countries and claims a customer retention rate of over 98% - perhaps the most impressive metric of all. The partner ecosystem is particularly strong, from the giants like Capgemini and KPMG to regional players such as Optibuy in Poland. (I spoke to a couple of those partners off the record, and they were very positive about the relationship and working with Ivalua generally – pretty much every major implementation is primed by a partner.)

The firm tends to the low-key rather than high-profile, except maybe for these two days of the year, and it still feels like a privately-owned business (which it is) with its own distinct culture. “We think we can become market leaders - it will take time, but over 5-10 years, if we grow at 50% annually…” said David Khuat-Duy, the CEO.  That optimism, but with an accompanying note of analytical caution, seems typical of the firm!

Certainly, since a slug of external investment a couple of years ago, spending on both marketing and product development has grown dramatically, and that was reflected in a range of new capabilities and features announced recently and at the event, and a strong forward roadmap. As well as AI, (see below), there is an all-new, across-the-platform UI, a category management module, new direct materials features around bills of material and collaborative PO management … and to come soon, we’re promised advanced sourcing (optimisation), predictive analytics, more integration of third-party risk monitoring and more.

AI and All That

Talking of AI, there were a number of interesting sessions that featured that topic. Ivalua is perhaps a little less gung-ho and more cautious about AI than some, but that hasn’t stopped the team developing IVA, an AI-powered digital assistant that can help users with a whole range of tasks, from displaying relevant data from voice commands to providing guidance to order-placers. There is more to come in AI terms too around guided buying and in other areas.

But a recent report carried out by Ivalua and Forester suggested most procurement leaders still aren’t using AI, and Alex Saric and Vishal Patel from Ivalua talked about the importance of the “unified data foundation” if you want to really get something out of AI.  Basically, if your core data – on spend, suppliers etc. is rubbish, the best AI algorithms in the world won’t bring you much useful output. There was also a good panel discussion with a couple of senior practitioners on that topic. AI is coming, was the view, but we shouldn’t get too caught up in the hype.

One observation though – while we might be worried about AI taking procurement jobs, it may well open up new areas of added-value opportunity for us, just as it reduces workload at the less valuable end. So, for instance, if we use AI to search hundreds or thousands of our contracts to look for risks, in a way we can’t do manually, that is likely to throw up lots of risks where real live humans then need to negotiate with suppliers to resolve those issues. So maybe AI doesn’t spell the end of procurement jobs after all!

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