Revisiting Ariba's 9s5 (Rambling Number 2)

This post will be one of my last on Ariba's latest release -- except for a forthcoming one sharing some of the latest details on the Procuri integration -- until I actually have a chance to play around in the sandbox with the actual solutions at LIVE this year. If you're curious about reading the previous post in this mini-series, you can find it here. As a final aside before digging into my analysis, I got a question this week from a reader about why I'd choose to focus so much on analyzing this product news. To be candid, it's because I personally believe that Ariba will be the vendor that everyone else -- ERP providers included -- will be gunning for from an on-demand perspective in the coming months and years. True, there are providers who individually might have better point solutions, but at this point, Ariba is the first to truly package an end-to-end analysis-to-source-to-procure-to-pay-to-contract manage capability (remind me never to use that many hyphens in a sentence again -- my 6th grade grammar teacher must be turning over in her grave).

Enough explanation. Let's get into the heart of the analysis. Which I'll start today by talking about the integrated approach to content and software that Ariba is beginning to show with 9s5. For Ariba, the real power of the on-demand message will eventually be all the non-functional aspects of the application (which eventually will be only one selling point of the solution suite).

Already, by embedding category playbooks and procurement content (essentially a supplier enablement component) at the core of the sourcing and procurement aspects of 9s5, Ariba is showing how they intend to raise the discussion up a notch in the sales process beyond just software and basic templates. Relative to folks like Emptoris, this will not provide much differentiation in the areas where the two overlap (Emptoris has pursued similar initiatives in areas such as sourcing and supplier performance management, surveys and development). But overall, it's a smart ploy and one that should bode well from the broader suite perspective as Ariba builds in true end-to-end content support into the application.

I suspect that this process knowledge and category/supplier/catalog content will play well within the ERP SRM customer base which Ariba -- and others -- would so desperately like to gain a strong foothold in. This concept of "extending ERP investments" is a bit of a soft sale compared with the more aggressive "ERP and IT has made you a sickly SRM guinea pig and taken advantage of your systems ignorance, stupid" approach which I might try in certain situations. But still, I suspect it will resonate, allowing Ariba to poke around the edges of stalwart SAP and Oracle shops by showing ways they can enhance investments while also telling a solid integration case.

This last point is non-trivial, I might add. One of the challenges in one procure-to-pay Ariba deployment that I know of right now is the process and complexity of individually provisioning and architecting integration across multiple sites and ERP environments. It can be done. But it's not as simple as one might envision it (though it will become more routine overtime as the Ariba deployment teams and their SI partners get used to operating in an on-demand deployment world).

So what's my net, "site unseen" solution take on 9s5? Overall, it's very positive. Ariba really has made the transition to being the only end-to-end on-demand Spend Management vendor that has successfully packaged category expertise and supplier content together across the board (alas, with just a few holes, which other vendors are capable of filling). But just because they have the solutions ready -- and because they're bug free -- is not to say that prospects should be the first to volunteer themselves for the end-to-end on-demand experience. I'm guessing that outside of the point solution areas which already are somewhat simple and quick to implement (analysis, sourcing, contract management) that the deployment times and overall customer implementation experience from the core procure-to-pay components will drastically decrease and improve, respectively, later this year. At present, it appears in the case of the on-demand procure-to-pay area specifically, that Ariba's products are a couple months ahead of the rest of the organization's ability to rapidly get organizations up and running in more complicated environments.

- Jason Busch

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