New Coupa Release — Updated UI, Features, Same Opinionated Spend Management Attitude (Part 1)

Last week, Coupa released their latest "cloud" Spend Management solution. I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of hours digging into the product a few weeks back with a number of members of the Coupa team, including both the technical and product management leaders behind the release. To say that Coupa's approach -- and newest release -- to Spend Management is simply unique in the market because of its ease of use and commendable UI does not do it justice. Nor does labeling the vendor a native "cloud" provider (which does provide some forms of differentiation), but only captures a bit of what Coupa's solution DNA is really about.

No, what separates Coupa and their latest product is that they continue to bake a strong opinion into their product about how companies should buy and manage spend rather than simply offering a basic P2P enablement platform -- in the cloud or otherwise. This attitude comes through loud and clear in both the small tweaks and complete UI redesigns they made in certain areas of their latest release. Coupa is opinionated Spend Management. Period.

In a series of posts looking at Coupa's latest release and providing a general update on the vendor, I'll share my thoughts not only on the product, but their overall philosophy -- specifically what makes their approach quite different from competitors trying to solve the same problem. Today, I'll cover some of the basics from the release news and some of the context behind it. Following this, I'll offer my own impressions of the latest version of the solution. Finally, we'll conclude the series by looking at Coupa's recent traction in the market and compare/contrast this with others.

To begin, Coupa differentiates itself the most from others because it's hard to label their application as just an "eProcurement", "P2P" or "Spend Management" tool as we'd conceive of traditional definitions/descriptions. When we think of these terms, we often think of automating the traditional indirect and/or MRO procurement process (and maybe services as well, but that's largely under the VMS umbrella). Yet when you begin to use the Coupa solution, you see they designed it with an eye to support an entire range of purchases -- really, anything an organization buys. Indirect is the first focus area for sure.

But the entire cloud-based solution can sit on top of other external tools/sites/services (e.g., Amazon) or internal systems (e.g., ERP/MRP, VMS or even another indirect system) to serve as a front-end interface to capture all purchases. Granted, the level of detail you'll capture for certain categories will be different than for others, and I'm in no way advocating that Coupa is a replacement for other systems (other than indirect eProcurement tools). But the ability to drive all buying through a single front-end platform is unique, in our view. This does not come through loud enough in their marketing, but is completely apparent when you dig beyond the usual demo scripts around indirect. Indeed, Coupa is not just a P2P or Spend Management tool when it's used in this way -- rather, it's a single interface to drive all buying in an organized, highly- or semi-controlled manner depending on the system configuration and the categories of spend it supports.

And ... what an interface it is. Coupa has interjected its own opinion into what users should see or not see at various stages of the buying and approvals process (and T&E for that matter). It's opinionated for sure, but it works. In the latest release, Coupa has completely reconfigured their homepage to now include, in their words, to-do list capability "for users to review pertinent information and take immediate action to approve, reject or hide purchase requests or expense reports with a single click." They've also enhanced search and browsing capability on a category-by-category level to drive compliance to the proper supplier and the contracted price. This is based on -- as Coupa describes it -- a new multi-level commodity structure that lets companies "define a commodity hierarchy, and use that hierarchy to power" the actual shopping experience.

The new search features present both structured and unstructured information (some of it gathered via external sites at the point of query) to both guide users to the right supplier and also to serve as a real-time reality check on external pricing. When there is not a contracted supplier for a given item, this type of external search and subsequent requisition approach can still deploy internal process controls and approvals, leveraging the Coupa platform.

Other noteworthy upgrades include email-based workflow and response capabilities that let approvers view, approve, disapprove and comment on transactional requests (e.g., requisitions, invoices, etc.). Mobile support is now included as well, but is not a separate app. From a cost-control perspective, Coupa now offers views into budgeting (and available budgets), which showcases yet another strength of their UI capability. Using the application, those with budget/P&L responsibility can view, in real-time all activity that may hit a line item covering both POs and T&E submitted data (more on T&E later in the next post in the series...there are lots of nifty innovations in here as well).

Stay tuned as our coverage of Coupa's latest release continues. We'll also showcase some screen shots to bring some of the concepts we've talked about alive. Coupa's latest release may not be everyone's cup of tea. But this is precisely why it's likely to be appealing -- and different -- for those that subscribe to their solution and design philosophy.

Jason Busch

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