IBX, Portum, and Some Great English Slang

Back in the B2B boom era, one of my most vivid memories of doing work in the UK came from sitting in a pub with a now-former MD of a major European exchange when he explained the finer points and multiple definitions of a key piece of slang in the English language. The topic of our conversation was the word, "Piss", which I learned has got to be one of the most versatile terms one will ever encounter. Now despite the rather vulgar implications of the word in the rest of the English speaking world today, the term actually dates back to Shakespeare's time. And I actually own an original Jonathan Swift manuscript -- or what I believe to be original -- of a hilarious poem he comprised noting the importance and usefulness of a "piss pot" in his inventory to an Oxford scholar. But back to the subject at hand. As a former English major and literary enthusiast, I'm all ears when a colleague wants to hurl forth on a scholarly manner such as the etymology of useful English slang rather than a technology or business issue. So you can imagine when this fellow I referred to -- who had extensive Spend Management experience within the E&C vertical -- started explaining the various roots and meanings of the word "piss" to me.

For one, the phrase certainly does imply that base activity which all partake in. But it also has other meanings. Consider that "to get pissed" implies enjoying a few too many pints of Fullers or Best. But to "take the piss" out of someone means to subject them to a verbal assault or ridicule, as I did when I attacked Oracle's spend visibility Black Paper a few weeks back. The meanings go on. To "get pissed" at something or someone implies a degree of anger aimed another party or concept. And to be "full of piss and vinegar" implies that one is full of boisterous energy, perhaps even youthful arrogance (as we were at FreeMarkets). They're probably more meanings as well, but by the time we had gotten to this point in the conversation at the pub that night, I was sufficiently pissed as to not remember the rest of it the next day. In any event, all of my fellow bloggers will no doubt note the benefits of a phrase which has so many meanings, and the wonderful conversation it can make over a good pint of bitter.

But in the context of today's post, I will use my last definition on the phase. In other words, "I am pissed" when it comes to the latest European Spend Management deal -- IBX's acquisition of Portum. The reason for this vitriol is actually aimed at myself, as I've let my knowledge of European Spend Management vendors decline considerably in the past year or two, and while I familiar with both companies, I confess that my background is about the same as a journalist or analyst who would try to fake their way through a write-up on the vendors without really knowing them well (incidently, as further proof of the wonderful literary value of the phrase of the day, if another party did just that, I might be forced to "take the piss out of them" in a post on the subject if I were so inclined). But I disagress. Specifically, today, I'm pissed at myself for not having greater context with which to analyze the deal.

But here's a bit of set up so that you can form your own opinion. The acquiring party, IBX, has undergone significant growth in recent years, and is arguably one of Europe's largest best of breed vendors in the Spend Management market today. IBX got its start in the North of Europe, and the Portum deal is squarely aimed at bringing it to the South. Like the raiding Viking parties of old that terrorized Europe, this deal is squarely aimed at giving the Scandinavian vendor a base camp to go out and torment other providers in Germany and beyond. Portum has been around for quite sometime as both a self- and full-service E-Sourcing provider. A few years back, I remember how they stole a few deals from under us at FreeMarkets. Back then, I severely underestimated the value Germans placed in buying from Germans. This sort of cultural hubris we had at FreeMarkets cost us some deals to Portum, even though we knew that our mousetrap was superior, even on European soil. But since then, Portum has gotten traction in Spain and France as well, among other countries, though the vendor was still small in the scheme of the broader European Spend Management landscape before this deal.

Beyond this, I will not fill the page with hyperbole or praise or praise for the deal. Nor will I restate and embellish the press release, a tactic favored by so much of the old media and even some analysts. I honestly need to do some more digging before forming a strong opinion one way or the other. But I'm hoping this will happen quickly, as I don't want to "stay pissed" at myself for long!

Jason Busch

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