No More Ariba Network Prisoners: 75,000 Suppliers (and Counting) are Transacting for Free

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Procurement transformation is usually about incrementalism. For a function that’s fairly conservative — and stands to lose more by making individual mistakes than it stands to gain from individual successes — this is a reasonable approach. But sometimes step changes happen fast. And sometimes, it happens with suppliers to procurement organizations, too.

The rapid rise of Amazon Business has been one of these changes, whether that’s perceived as good or bad. But for SAP Ariba customers, another one on the same order of magnitude in the past 12 months has been the adoption of suppliers transacting with free accounts. Pardon the frankness, but Ariba used to get a lot of, well, stuff that you step on when walking the streets of Paris without looking down for a network-based business that charged suppliers for connectivity (included along with a bunch of other things, mind you).

We dished out some of this ourselves. And we’ve covered this topic extensively.

Many of the these past screams and criticisms from smaller suppliers (and analysts) were justified. Smaller suppliers, including those transacting infrequently but receiving higher dollar value POs and sending large invoices, were the ones that yelled the most (rightly so), especially in cases where they did not want to use the Ariba Network to connect to other buying organizations or as a tool to market themselves.

But SAP Ariba finally listened, introducing what it described as Light Enablement in 2016, a first step down the “free path” for suppliers. Light enablement would eventually give way to Light Accounts, which added additional features, and Ariba continues to build out capabilities each quarter.

Light Enablement was a rapid success in terms of adoption. As of March this year, at SAP Ariba LIVE, Alex Atzberger reported that 33,000 suppliers had transacted $18 billion in spend with light enablement, and that 15% of Light Enablement customers had upgraded to paid versions of the network. Fast-forward less than a year to November 2017, when SAP Ariba told Spend Matters that now 75,000 suppliers have adopted “free” accounts (now “Light Accounts”) and that freely transacting suppliers have now opened up $9 trillion in overall PO spend volume.

Even if we pair that number down massively on an invoice level (as most PO dollars will not result in actual invoices being raised against them in a short time horizon), it is still a sizeable number, one we’d conservatively estimate at somewhere in the neighborhood of a $50 billion invoice run rate, as of Q4, and accelerating at a triple-figure annualized growth rate. (The open PO dollar volume gives us some forward-looking indication invoice volume to come).

To put that in perspective, Coupa reported in its latest investor presentation (November 2017) that it processed $267 billion in spend in the trailing 12 months. SAP Ariba’s own overall trailing network numbers are roughly $1.75 trillion range, based on its latest reports.

We caution that one should take all of these reported numbers with a grain of salt, as there are no apples-to-apples comparative definitions of what constitutes commerce or network volume between providers. And EDI-based networks trump all these numbers by an order of magnitude still (although SAP Ariba is already in the early stages of going after this market with a new cXML, network-based approach targeting the high tech and CPG supply chains initially, which it introduced earlier this year).

Moreover, some providers have, well, exaggerated volume in the past.

But in looking at the evolution of the Ariba Network, one thing is abundantly clear: tens of thousands of SAP Ariba suppliers are voting individually whether or not they want to pay fees for value-added services as paid members (or not). And they’re doing so in increasing numbers.

In addition, note that while the user count roughly doubled over the last six months, the spend volume has gone up roughly 500 times. Obviously there has been some pent up demand to transact some large spend POs (including direct spend and mega CapEx spend) that were historically kept off of the old supplier network pricing plan that can now come over, even if those POs need to be “fat fingered” into the system.

But back to what matters. Two years ago, suppliers had no vote on fees or no fees. Now they do.

That’s no excuse for the past when suppliers had no choice on the Ariba Network, but it’s massive progress.

The future of the SAP Ariba Network and the connectivity models of its competitors — including how comparing different networks and platform offerings requires peeling multiple layers of the connectivity and enablement onion — is a topic that we’ll continue to explore as 2018 draws to a close.

But for now, we’ll raise our first glass of eggnog of the year (the vegan kind for Jason) to Atzberger and the SAP Ariba team for not only doing the right thing by introducing a free network option but for doing so in a meaningful and sustainable way.

With the growth and numbers to back it up.

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Voices (17)

  1. D:

    The current functionality and customer “service” of Ariba is hauntingly reminding me of the deterioration and failure of JP Morgan’s “xign” pay-to-get-paid scheme. The portal is clunky, old feeling and plagued with interruptions. I am encouraging one of my larger customers to take it all in-house to avoid a repeat performance.

    My advice is to dump SAP Ariba for payment and invoice processing.

  2. thomas gilsenan:


    My firm has contacted Ariba at least 20 times in the last 12 months trying to dispute an invoice and we’ve only been able to talk to folks via email, all overseas, who don’t respond.

    We’re a small business that basically must use ariba for one key customer. We do not use any of the advance features, only submit invoices and receive payments. We are being charged very high fees and also forced into the gold subscription.

    I’d like to discuss this with someone in North America / US and get the fees waived or reduced to fees we can realistically afford, since we essentially have no choice but to use your service. We have patiently followed up so many times, but receive no meaningful responses. This is bordering on extortion and it’s certainly the worst customer service our company’s received in a very long time from a vendor.

    Can you please help? I found this email address on a recent thread on the internet and I’m hoping it goes better than all the time I spent on the phone this morning trying to get someone from Ariba to talk to me. The receiptionist refused to help me, directed me to support, support told me to call sales, and the accounts receivable extension tells us to send an email, then hangs up.


    –tom g

    1. Matt S:

      Hi Tom,
      I didn’t get very far when hit with an unannounced “silver” service charge of over £500 so I threatened to report them to the client (a very large Blue Chip) for their practises – they waived the charge and when that Blue Chip completely stopped outsourcing, I cancelled all contact with Ariba.
      That client was a good earner but I STILL enjoy the fact that I don’t have to deal with hateful Ariba any more! We’ve also more than replaced that income stream now.

  3. Jared Shattuck:

    We are currently trying to switch over to Light, but Ariba has locked us out. Something about not wanting to pay for a subscription which we never asked for, used, or wanted in the first place. It’s the truest definition of extortion and it’s having a massive impact on our business. Ariba customer service continues to talk with their hand out and not provide any leeway.

    Long story short I have two clients that want to pay us, but can’t since they have no control over Ariba. Literally being held hostage with our own money, as our my clients.

    Your article resonated as I’m trying to find a solution to fix this and it appears some comments actually got some direction. If anyone else is in this mess please reach out. This business model of putting people into subscription tiers with more benefits you don’t want just because you transact more than 4 invoices a year is asinine and illegal.

  4. Christian Lanng:

    75k suppliers is only 3% of the Ariba claimed size of the Ariba network and that $9 trillion number is obviously bullshit too, that would be $120m per supplier annually, that’s a far stretch. Did you ask them if they are still double counting all transactions like they used to?

    Here are some questions I would ask:

    Do all those non deployed free Ariba enterprise editions they been given away on BOM deals count into their spend number as “theoretically available spend”?

    How many deals have they been forced to give their light enablement accounts because they are no longer competitive?

    Can sellers access multiple customers and do out of network transactions or are they on crippled accounts?

    This is just more Ariba marketing bs, the reality is that in every single deal we have been competing with them in they have dropped the software price to zero, they are legacy, noncompetitive and still very seller unfriendly.

    There is a real, free open alternative today, that actually deliver value to sellers and buyers.

  5. Dale Patrick:

    Ariba “pay to get paid” extortion was among reasons I dropped our biggest client. Sent Ariba notice by phone, email and certified mail. Over a year later they still sent invoices for “fees” for the former client.

    1. Jamilla Wright:

      Hi Dale Patrick,

      We value your feedback on your experience. Please e-mail your contact/account details to and our Supplier Commerce Consulting team will reach out for next steps to help.

      Kind Regards,

      Jamilla Wright
      Analyst Relations Manager, Corporate Communications | SAP Ariba |

  6. Peter Smith:

    And that, Jamilla, is exactly the right way to respond! Well done! Back to Jason’s comments – I picked up similar positive vibes at the European Ariba event earlier this year. I think the super-rapid growth of Coupa – with Jaggaer/Bravo, Tradeshift, Ivalua lurking with intent too – has re-invigorated SAP Ariba. As far as I can tell, Ariba boss Atzberger is both humble and ambitious, a great combination as far as customers are concerned and I think we’re going to see positive developments in coming months and years as we get a real competitive fight for market leadership.

    1. MattS:

      Peter are you part of Ariba?
      They are an appalling outfit; look at the the complaints here. What are you hoping to gain by heaping praise on a firm just because they have added a scripted reply?
      Charging a crazy rate to invoice hapless customers dragged into a system, inventing a made up tariff and automatically adding it to an already ludicrous business cost, terrible response to queries; none are how you treat customers.
      SAP Ariba has somehow duped many businesses into using its dreadfully outdated software causing misery to hundreds of suppliers like us.

    2. MattS:

      How long have you been working for SAP Ariba then Peter?

      1. Jason Busch:


        In the spirit of disclosure, SAP Ariba comprises an immaterial portion (1% or less globally in 2017) of our revenue. We have no revenue concentration with any providers (except professional services firms, who sometimes use us behind the scenes or to advise them). And Peter is a partner of mine in our European entity (I am the founder and one of the owners of this overall Azul Partners thing, including Spend Matters).

        The majority of providers in the procurement sector are clients of one of our brands or affiliates (e.g,, Spend Matters, Spend Matters UK/Europe, Spend Matters Mexico/LATAM, MetalMiner, Public Spend Forum) in some capacity (or have been in the past), as are thousands of others engaged in procurement technology selections, digital procurement strategy, commodity strategy, etc.

        As everyone on this site who has read us for sometime knows, we have no issue speaking how we feel. We’ve gotten fired by a number of vendors for taking the piss out of them (when we feel they deserve it!) over the years. No one calls bullshit like us. It’s a badge of honor for everyone who works here.

        I hear your anger, but please do not attack Peter based on it. Maybe we can help you solve the problem (and no — we have no upside for doing so, no incentive)?

        I’m happy to take this offline with you — please feel free to call me on +1 773 525 7406 or email: jbusch(at)spendmatters(dot)com

        1. MattS:

          Well I finally managed to get a response; a pretty strong response from four different people from the company. Our account is now cancelled and cleared. I’m hoping that’s the last time we have to deal with such a firm.
          Back to clients we invoice by…errrmmm…sending them an invoice. By email. For free.

      2. Peter Smith:

        Matt, Yup, just checked and over the last 7 years, you’re right, we have booked a huge sum of income from SAP Ariba – £4,000 to be precise. That’s thousands, not millions… thanks to Ariba I drive a Saab with 99,100 miles on the clock (I am pathetically excited about hitting the 100K in the New Year) and regularly think about a holiday on Richard Branson’s private island with super models and Ed Sheeran. Then we go to Harrogate for the weekend. Seriously, (although all that is true), maybe we will do some more work with them next year, maybe we won’t. All I can do is tell it as I see it, because you never know who will / won’t want to work with you. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything other than pretty positive stuff about Proactis or GEP, both of whom have spent £4,000 LESS than Ariba with us over 7 years! Simply and honestly, I felt from Ariba Live in particular that there was new mood about the firm, but I’m not naive enough to think that translates into every aspect of their work being instantly changed. Do take up Jason’s offer – he probably still has better contacts in the firm than me.

  7. Jason Busch:

    I’ll lob in the next comment (I’m sure many more will be on the way). I met with one “paying” Ariba network supplier face-to-face a couple of weeks ago (who is also working with customers using other e-procurement systems). This company commented that they found the level of customer service with Ariba “night and day” different (better) compared to others which treat on-boarding, enablement and management as a means to an end (vs. as a P&L opportunity). Granted, this a high SKU vendor (MRO type mix SKU profile), and their experience may not apply to suppliers which have less complexity when it comes to SKU volume/mix (catalog), different integration needs, limited or no JIT requirements, broader connectivity (machine-to-machine) requirements or other areas.

  8. MattS:

    We have finished supplying to the one customer that used it; I’ve had about six generic emails demanding money we don’t owe yet when I ask for a refund on the six months silver tariff nonsense they put us on, it’s radio silence.
    They need to be sued.

    1. Jamilla Wright:

      Hi MattS,

      We are committed to all our customers and appreciate your feedback. Please e-mail and our Supplier Commerce Consulting team will reach out to you to investigate further.

      Kind Regards,

      Jamilla Wright
      Analyst Relations Manager, Corporate Communications | SAP Ariba |

      1. MattS:

        Right you have an email – I suggest you demonstrate the customer “service” so lacking and get this sorted. I have already wasted a lot of time trying to cancel the account.

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