From ‘Ariba Live’ to SAP Ariba not-so-live: A dispatch in the coronavirus era

SAP Ariba launched the 19th annual version of its Ariba Live event today, but this year was a virtual event since the physical Las Vegas event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Las Vegas has plenty of microbes anyway, but not of this sort, and SAP Ariba was obviously right in canceling — like SIG, Basware and many other procurement conferences.

As the title of this post suggests, the event is not truly live but a series of pre-recorded webcasts. It’s not a bad strategy, and a much more “resilient” approach to eliminate technical snafus, although some real-time Q&A or audience polling might have been nice. The experience is actually reflective of where everybody is these days — working virtually out of their home “offices” with all the kids home and the pets on the loose. As a personal aside, my wife did a virtual yoga session last night, and it was hilarious watching people’s webcams and how the participants were getting interrupted by kids and dogs (no goats, though).

The first Ariba Live session was from Chris Haydon, who is “President of Procurement Solution Area,” which in German SAP speak means that he’s the senior product/strategy executive. Commercial operations have been folded into broader SAP, and there are many coordination/integration touchpoints across the SAP ecosystem too numerous to highlight, but Spend Matters’ PRO subscribers can get into the gory details here.

Chris mentioned that the SAP Intelligent Spend Management group includes not just Ariba and Fieldglass, but also SAP S/4HANA operational procurement. The code bases are very different, and the integration is a “work in progress,”  but this integrated product strategy is necessary and needed (do note that Concur  has been split off, but there’s still some level of product/integration work that’s occurring). Our previous predictions have (and are) that overall product functionality will have to move to the SAP S/4HANA product (and underlying platform), but this will be a long slog.

Chris was webcasting from his house and talked about disruption being the new reality and that intelligence and risk management will be aggressively infused into the solutions. Here are some notable quotes ...

  • “Intelligent Spend Management is not a piece of software. It’s a profound and forward looking change in how we look at procurement. It’s about expecting more from our spending and taking greater advantage of data, insights and intelligence to provide business continuity.”
  • “Intelligent Spend Management is the re-invention of the procurement experience.”
  • “It’s a thoughtful and deliberate realization that we need to move beyond focusing only on creating simple screens and user interfaces (author note: we agree!) and instead empower procurement to succeed amongst today’s disruptions and the known disruptions of tomorrow.”
  • “It’s time that procurement becomes the epicenter of ideas and collaboration. It should own the intersection and innovation of commerce between organizations.”
  • “Let intelligence do more of the work.”
  • “We want to embed sustainability and risk context into every single supply chain event.”
  • “We at SAP ...” (author note: Chris didn’t say “SAP Ariba.” The assimilation is complete!)
  • “Unlock the power of community intelligence.”

The final quote on community intelligence is clearly in response to client demand, but more specifically to Coupa who uses community intelligence to great advantage (see here for more on the concept). Interestingly, SAP Ariba had the chance to really bring that concept to bear with its FreeMarkets acquisition (now sold off to Accenture in terms of sourcing services), the supplier network (which is slowly pivoting to a platform play rather than a profit center derived from transactional supplier fees), and Supplier InfoNet (which is apparently still a thing, but we suspect will be dovetailed into the SAP Ariba Supply Chain Collaboration product). Still, there’s nothing like competition to provide clarity and urgency.

Honestly, though, it’s refreshing to see Chris in charge. He’s not only a very savvy operator but also extremely knowledgeable and passionate in procurement and supply chain (i.e., great aptitude AND attitude). Barry Padgett never had the passion for the space, and Alex Atzberger did a great job but was being groomed for bigger C-level things. Chris also has many arrows in his back as the SVP of customer value the last three years, and he truly understands the customer pain points and objectives. His leadership is needed now more than ever at SAP Ariba, and we truly hope that he can make a positive difference so that the market is healthy.

OK, I’ll wrap this up. Stay tuned for our highlights and analysis of the other SAP Ariba [Nearly] Live sessions.

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