Gartner's Strategic Sourcing Magic Quadrant: We Report, You Read and We All Decide

I usually have a more op/ed than reporting take on analyzing the news, but I thought I'd use this post to highlight some of the findings of Gartner's latest Strategic Sourcing Magic Quadrant, authored by Debbie Wilson, to kick off the inevitable commentary on the subject before offering up some more personal observations. Fortunately, this time around, everyone will be available to discuss the topic on equal footing, courtesy of Spend Matters sponsor BravoSolution, which has made the report available for free via this link. The first news to report about the quadrant is who did well: Ariba, BravoSolution, Emptoris, and SAP all made it into the winner's quadrant (i.e., upper right). As for who did not, many of the familiar names in the sector are either in other quadrants or did not make any quadrant at all.

The two providers that stand out most for relative placement/lack of placement, respectively, are our favorite ERP giants, SAP and Oracle. Oracle is noticeably absent from the quadrant (but had previously finished high in Debbie's last evaluation). Sources close to Gartner suggested to me that Oracle was unable to provide strong enough references in key areas, but I've not confirmed this. Regardless, I find it surprising that Oracle would completely fall off the map between rankings, having been highly ranked previously. SAP is noticeably in a strong position, and is positioned as having the strongest vision (Ariba, in contrast, has the strongest ability to execute). I find it ironic that Gartner lists an ERP provider as most visionary, and a best-of-breed provider as having the best ability to execute, but I suppose stranger things have happened (and SAP does have strong vision at the moment in the spend visibility and supply risk arena). Perhaps the relative placements of Ariba, SAP, and Oracle do, to some degree, tie back to the specific research process this time around.

As I previously wrote about this effort, the research process seemed rushed to many who participated. I spoke to a number of vendors who found the compressed timetable for recruiting references and filling in Gartner's information request overly challenging (although at least one provider did post a comment suggesting the timeframe was sufficient). What's more important is that Gartner called this a "strategic sourcing" quadrant, but in fact lumped together disparate areas including spend visibility/analysis, "supply base management" and contract management. From an aggregate-ranking perspective I think it's a bit atypical to consider these areas under the same banner -- especially considering that customers usually evaluate these areas separately -- but I'll leave that for you to debate and decide after reading the report. Moreover, who is buying "supply base management" at the moment? Memo to analysts: stick with conventional phrases like "supplier management" or "supplier information management" vs. trying to get too fancy with new naming conventions .

In my view, these types of vendor comparisons will always invite criticism -- some more than others; it's one reason I've avoided similar undertakings on Spend Matters. I think those in the best position to get an inside yet objective perspective on the report are AMR Research clients (AMR is now part of Gartner but offers a different research subscription). If you're an AMR client, set up an inquiry call with Mickey North Rizza, who is not an author of the report. Ask her which providers she recommends in the areas examined by Gartner's MQ, then see if her responses match Debbie's recommendation and overall findings. Better yet, set up a back-to-back call with Debbie and Mickey and compare notes -- that will give you the best basis for comparison.

As a service to Spend Matters readers, later in March I'll provide my own shortlist for each of the areas Debbie considered in her analysis. I hope theses lists will provide a more complete picture of the kinds of providers available for companies looking at sourcing, supplier information management, spend analysis and contract management collectively (or independently, for that matter, if you're willing to consider best-of-breed approaches).

In the meantime, what do you think about the Quadrant process and Gartner's findings? Is this a useful exercise for vendor shortlisting/selection or not? And more important, as procurement organizations, do you put much stock in these types of analyses in general, or do you see them more as fodder for IT to parade their top choices out? Let's get the conversation started.

Jason Busch

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