SAP Ariba Live Event – Positive Customers, Light Sabres and Impressive Progress

Greetings from Prague, still a beautiful city but now overrun by tourists to the point where parts of it might as well be Disneyland. But that’s progress, I suppose, and it is still has one of the most beautiful night-time city vistas in Europe.

We’re in town for the SAP Ariba Live event. We’ve covered SAP and then SAP Ariba intermittently, but it is five years since I attended a conference held by either firm. In fact, the last was in May 2012, when I spoke at the SAP London event on the very day (May 22nd) that they announced the Ariba acquisition!  So, it is good to start getting closer to the business that is still – even after rapid growth from others in the market – in many ways the dominant force in our industry from a tech standpoint.

The first point to make is that this is a big event. The Prague Hilton is a modern, impressive if somewhat monolithic and huge (800 bedrooms) hotel, looking out over the river and near the centre, and the event has totally taken over the place. Literally every room and bedroom is given over to SAP Ariba and delegates. Estimates of attendees range from 1200-1500; I reckoned there were 1000 comfortably in the room for the keynote yesterday. While there are a lot of the firm’s own staff here, and folk from partners like the consulting firms, it is an impressive turn-out, some 30% up on last year apparently.  

Monday there was an initial keynote then some training type sessions during the afternoon but we didn’t make it in time. There are multiple breakout sessions running in parallel for much of the event, so it is difficult to know quite what to focus on. Indeed, there were 139 different sessions (including demos, panels, presentations) listed in the agenda-builder.

The Tuesday opening plenary sessions featured a whole range of SAP Ariba senior executives and the odd customer too. We were surprised there wasn’t more of a strategic overview to start with – or indeed a bit of self-promotion (“we’ve had a great year”) but maybe we missed some of that on Monday. Instead, we dived straight into some quite detailed – but interesting – discussion on several major initiatives; including “Spot Buy” and tail spend management (through catalogue solutions), direct materials sourcing and management, and customer success.   

There was some focus on benefits for the users but perhaps it is the German SAP heritage that drives this pretty engineering-driven and technical approach to the sessions. We’re not criticising mind you – certain other firms prefer to tell you how great they are rather than get into the real detail, so the lack of arrogance and bulls**t, and focus on improving product capability, was refreshing really. On the catalogue and tail spend side, a partnership with Mercateo was a major discussion point. Mercateo provide an extensive B2B catalogue offering, but “Unite”, their next step and to be offered via the SAP Ariba platform is particularly interesting, and we will come back to that shortly.

Two sessions we attended later featured impressive SAP Ariba implementations in huge industrial firms – ThyssenKrupp and BASF. Both are putting the software at the heart of their procurement transformation approach. We’ll have more on those stories later, and we will also comment on an interesting panel discussion looking at issues facing financial services firms. The two businesses featured there were far from typical “big banks” though as you will see.

Another highlight was a “fireside chat” (nothing of the sort really, it was three guys in a meeting room perched uncomfortably on worryingly high stools) with two of the SAP Ariba top guys, Alex Atzberger and Paul Devlin. Alongside them and acting as their client reference was an old friend of ours, Andrew Croston, now CPO at Smith & Nephew, where he seems to be doing a great job. More on that to come too. I also went to the Women in Leadership lunch, (men were invited) which was very much – and quite rightly – about inspiring women in business. I struggled a bit to separate the clichés from the pearls of wisdom to be honest, but hey, it was not really aimed at me.

Finally, a word about the very enjoyable if somewhat eccentric evening event. Held in the huge Art Nouveau Industrial Palace, it featured amazing food, and a succession of talented if slightly odd entertainers, including a lady with light sabres that made amazing patterns when she spun around manically. She could also – don’t ask me how – get them to spell out “SAP Ariba Live” with lights in the air. Magic! Unfortunately, my camera only got “E – SAF” for some reason…

All in all, this was an impressive day. It is clear SAP Ariba is really focusing on filling many of the gaps and opportunities that their extensive client base has identified in their products and capabilities. They are not going to give up their market leadership easily or in a hurry, and their partnering strategy looks good too – we picked up interesting gossip around how certain other firms are alienating former allies. So much more detail to come on sessions, but we will leave you with an embarrassingly amateurish picture of the amazing light spinning lady.

 

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