SAP Ariba Live – Bigger Than Ever, Business Good and a Global Megastar Impresses

Many thanks to Peter Smith for reporting on Day 1 at SAPAribaLive yesterday - we'll be hearing from our GM Jenny Draper on Day 2's events tomorrow. 

Yes, “Business Good” is a pun. There is no doubt business is very good for SAP Ariba, whose event kicked off yesterday in a beautifully sunny but not too boiling-hot Barcelona. It’s a truly enormous event now, with the main hall seating some 2,500 people and pretty much full for the initial keynote session yesterday afternoon. 4000 attendees in total is the number being quoted.

But “business doing good” is also a central theme here. Yesterday morning the firm held a half-day Sustainability Summit as a prelude to the main event. This was much more intimate, with around 50 people discussing the range of issues that make up “sustainable procurement” – from modern slavery to water use and carbon reduction. I’ll be writing a more detailed review of this shortly, but let’s just note how far this broad issue has gone up the agenda in recent years, to the point where most of us felt the half-day could easily have spread into a whole day or more.

The main event opened with a live violist, live dancers, great graphics and bubbles coming from the ceiling. Pretty low-key really…! We then had Tifenn Dano Kwan, Ariba’s CMO, as our host, introducing five other speakers, who all had one thing in common – they were women. This was clearly a statement, and a very welcome one, thinking back to the many, many events I’ve been to over the years which were totally male-dominated.

That decision, the sustainability focus and the general tone of the day, all added up to a sense that procurement (and therefore SAP Ariba) is becoming concerned about more than just “savings” and transactions. Speakers talked about the power of the single connected network – there is apparently 20 trillion Euros of global commerce and the Ariba network handles 3 trillion of that. So, how do we want the world to spend that money? It sounds a little pretentious maybe, but SAP Ariba wants to “help the world to spend better.”

Of course, in order to be effective in these new areas, procurement needs to have effective visibility and transparency of the supply base, and SAP Ariba is putting a lot of effort into these broad “supplier management” areas. We saw some impressive looking new developments around providing clients with very useful and insightful dashboards that enable easy drill-down (and even some cross-organisation benchmarking – it would be interesting to look into that further).

Jennifer Morgan, President of the SAP Cloud Business Group (i.e. super-important person) spoke about three key issues, all based on what customers are telling the firm. Firstly, they want better, faster, higher-quality support – so the firm is adding headcount globally (e.g. 100 quality assurance reps), looking at processes, and investing in “cloud architects.”

The second is integration, across the “intelligent spend” group (Ariba, Concur, Fieldglass) and the wider SAP world. So, if you agree Ts&Cs with a supplier in Fieldglass for a SOW contract, that should seamlessly integrate into Ariba. Onboarding of new suppliers is another area where better system integration can save time and effort.

Finally, innovation – delivered by SAP and by partners on an open platform basis. For example, Ariba worked with J&J to re-focus category management towards the wider “sustainable” approach we mentioned earlier, for instance helping to direct buyers to appropriate firms in the sourcing process.

We then had Lisa Gonzalez Smith, Global Director of Purchasing Information Management at Ford talking to Val Blatt of Ariba about Ford’s major procurement transformation. A lot of interesting content here, we may come back to that too, with some excellent advice around the importance of people and change management rather than just focusing on the tech.

Finally for the session, we heard from Amal Clooney. Live, she is just as impressive as on screen; smart, thoughtful, courageous, passionate … she’s also a very good speaker, as you might expect.

She talked about human rights and her work helping Yazidi women who were abused in Iraq by Isis fighters, and helping persuade government bodies to pursue Isis fighters for their crimes. The story around the world is bleak in some ways, she said. As well as the dreadful treatment of women in many countries, journalists are being persecuted, and she has helped two young men in Myanmar gain their freedom after their investigations and writing upset those in power. Then LGBT human rights brings in a whole range of other depressing stories.

But Clooney said there is hope – for instance, campaigning got the Sultan of Brunei to reverse a new law that would see death by stoning a possible sentence for gay people. And Nadia Murad, one of the Yazidis, has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps Clooney will also win that one day – frankly, I’d love to see her and Mr Clooney rule the world, really.

Other points to note – the Fieldglass / Ariba merger was mentioned a couple of times, but I suspect there will be more on this in the next two days. Barry Padgett was not mentioned … but I got the impression there was more surprise than sadness at his decision.

Summing up, and away from the Amal hero-worship, we’re at a critical inflection point for the procurement profession. CPO surveys such as Deloitte’s continue to show most procurement organisations focusing mainly on savings and too often still working in silos. But it does feel like procurement leaders are embracing the idea of wider value and competitive advantage. That sees the wider issues around “sustainability” becoming more important, with procurement gaining a more strategic role in those businesses. And SAP Ariba are looking to align themselves with this movement – a movement that does require firms to have better data, visibility and supply base transparency, all of which must be enabled by appropriate technology.


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