Are Ariba and Emptoris Placing Two Different Customer Bets?

In listening to the words of executives from both Emptoris and Ariba over the past year, I've picked up on different subtleties of strategy and direction. I probably should have put together the pieces earlier, but I finally realized this week how differently the two companies think about the procurement world (outside of one area I'll get to in a minute). In fact, despite the competitive rhetoric you'll no doubt hear from both parties, I'd wager that their strategies could very well take them in different directions. Yes, there will be serious competition along the way -- especially in the sourcing and sourcing solutions / services arena -- but one vendor appears headed down a path to cozy up to the CFO while the other is taking a much more operational approach to thinking about its future clientèle.

It should be clear which vendor views the CFO as their natural ally and champion. And that's Ariba. Even though Ketera is speaking a similar language these days to Ariba, they don't yet have the critical mass -- at their current size -- like an Ariba to make procurement into a finance-driven issue on a global basis. Ariba's investments and partnerships in EIPP and their supplier network show a clear strategy towards embracing issues which a CFO can get his head around. But to make procurement speak the language of finance -- and to get CFOs to make investments in procurement -- will require visibility and analytical tools and interfaces that not only help impact finance-driven metrics, but also lower the types of business risk that keep CFOs up at night.

Emptoris, in contrast, is talking the language of not just procurement, but of operations professionals. These might be supply chain leaders or business unit heads. Emptoris' language and focus on areas such as globalization -- and its implications on trade and operational business issues -- at their International User's Conference suggests to me that we'll see Emptoris continue to make product development and acquisition investments that more closely tie procurement into the operations of the business. But don't confuse "operational" areas necessarily with supply chain planning, forecasting and execution types of applications. Perhaps this will include better multi-tier sourcing as well as contract, performance and quality management. Or maybe it will take Emptoris in new directions we can't even think of yet. Regardless, it's clear to me from a long-term perspective that Emptoris' customers will not just be the CPO or VP of procurement, but executives on the operational side of the business in general.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, sourcing will continue to be the primary battleground for both providers. But my guess is that rather than continue to bludgeon themselves with aggressive reductions in price points -- Ariba has in fact developed a reputation in certain circles of the market the past year for its aggressive pricing of sourcing software -- we'll see investments in innovative features and services that will create differentiation among the two players. Who will win the sourcing market? I'm not sure. At this point, with the Procuri deal closing sometime later this year if all goes as planned, Ariba will have a significant advantage from an overall installed/hosted base and services capability perspective. Emptoris, in contrast, has fewer customers, but often more advanced deployments from both a solution capability and reach perspective.

What do you think? Are Emptoris and Ariba headed down different customer paths on the periphery of procurement, or do you believe that the fight for victory in the sourcing market will continue to keep them sparring on the same battlefield?

Jason Busch

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