Ariba Commerce Summit hits London

The Ariba Commerce Summit in London this week (the latest in a world tour of these events, Stockholm next week), wasn't quite what I expected.  As the "800 lb** Gorilla" in the supply chain software world, I went along thinking it would be a big, highly polished event. Well, while it was interesting, it wasn't those things.  I'll give some overall impressions of the event today, and go into some further detail on some of the presentations next week.

There were around 70 delegates along with perhaps 20 Ariba folk; quite a few of the attendees were from IT 'partners' of Ariba, with the rest split between procurement and sales. The handful of procurement people I spoke to were all on the technology side of things, ranging from a Head of eProcurement for a very large firm (big and pretty happy Ariba users), to more junior managers on the P2P side.

They also seemed to be a mix of Ariba customers and some who were in decision making mode. “We're looking to standardise our P2P as we're running multiple platforms at the moment”, said one guy from a very large US technology and engineering firm. “Ariba is just one option”.  I asked him what their key selection criteria were going to be.

“It's difficult” he said.  “There's quite a few options, and I'm not sure there's that much that differentiates them.  Usability will be important – it might come down to that”.    He also made the point that firms copy new features very quickly these days; what looks like a competitive advantage today is wiped out tomorrow.

Back to the event and my surprise at the lack of ‘slickness’ – good in some ways, less good in others.  It was 30 minutes late starting, the opening video didn't work (no sound) first time through, and a very poor room for such an event – a low ceiling, no stage, so poor visibility. I couldn't read most of the slides even with the small 'side monitors' provided which helped a little.  And I was surprised (not unhappy) that nobody from Ariba spoke to me all day (except to take my entry to the ice-breaking raffle); nobody collared me and said, “so what does Procurement Excellence do*?”

However, on the positive side, the lunch buffet was superb, with the best little quichey things I've tasted in many years. And the presentations ranged from OK to good; nothing truly inspirational, but all interesting and useful, although pitched at a fairly non-expert level, which suited me fine.

The finance-related aspects and benefits  of the Ariba Network seemed to be the dominant theme. Nigel Rayner from Gartner is a senior analyst on the financial systems side so he was very much in that area, as was one of the key Ariba speakers.  The options around working capital management for both buyers and sellers on the Network were stressed; we’ll come back to that next week, and indeed Supply Chain Finance and related topics are areas we need to get into more on Spend Matters Europe.

Somewhat surprisingly, spend analytics was another key topic. Several of the procurement practitioner speakers were clearly smart people, but for various reasons their organisations were at relatively early stages of the procurement journey.  So actually the leverage and compliance management that can be driven by spend analytics in a relatively immature procurement organisation were high on their list of benefits rather than leading edge eSourcing or use of the Ariba Network.

Again, we’ll pick up on that next week.

*Note to oneself: this is worrying Peter, you're thinking like a Sales person!

** or 360 kilos approx

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