Coupa and IBM Announce Partnership – What Does it Mean?

ibmcoupaThere was an interesting announcement at the IBM Empower annual procurement event last week from Coupa and IBM about co-operation between the two firms. A broader sales and distribution partner agreement was announced, one built on top of a previous partnership between the two software vendors.

IBM’s procurement technology is centred around the old Emptoris product suite, which is strong in sourcing, contract management and related areas but does not really include purchase to pay capability. Coupa of course made their name with their purchase to pay platform – catalogue, ordering, invoicing etc. So there is an obvious fit there, and that should enable IBM to do better in RFP situations where clients are looking for full “source to pay” capability. The arrangement also gives Coupa credibility in terms of this being a "seal of approval", from what is still one of the most respected IT firms in the world.

However, as my US Spend Matters colleagues pointed out, the arrangement does perhaps raise more questions than it answers. Apart from the obvious speculation around whether this might be the beginning of an IBM acquisition approach to Coupa, how the partnership will actually work is key for clients and the firms themselves. For instance, as Spend Matters US says;

  • Will Coupa, which has historically been perhaps the most aggressive solution provider in sales pursuits in the broader S2P sector, also support IBM sales, where the Emptoris product line is stronger – or will Coupa prefer to push its own modules? We have observed in this sector that sales behavior in the field and business development/marketing alignment do not always walk in the same direction.
  • Given that IBM has developed pre-built connectors and APIs, what will the integration actually look like? In which system will a vendor/supplier master reside? How will portal registration and the updating of vendor data compared with catalog/content data work? These are just a few of the integration questions that matter.

There are also issues of cultural fit - Coupa has expanded dramatically in Europe in the last two years, for instance, but is still a lean, fast-moving and pretty entrepreneurial team. IBM Emptoris has some great people, but still has to work within the IBM culture and process, with the London South Bank monolithic office perhaps an indication of some residual attitudes and approaches, driven by the corporate history and DNA.

There are also some questions about the future – as Coupa develops better offerings in areas such as Sourcing (Emptoris heartland), at what point might customers decide Coupa actually can meet all their needs across source to pay? anyway, all very interesting, and you can read more in our Spend Matters US analysis here. This is how that article finishes. (But do read the “comments” below the article too – they are very interesting).

“We are excited to see IBM Emptoris expand the breadth of its capabilities that it can deliver through the partnership. But with partnerships such as this, the devil really is in the execution details. For our perspective on the partnership and prospect/customer recommendations, please see our Spend Matters PRO analysis, published earlier today.”

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