Friday 16th June, 2017
One of the things I enjoy most about going to AribaLive is the mix of nationalities that attend – something that doesn’t quite happen in the same way at UK or US events. AribaLive in Prague earlier this week was no exception. The sense of driving towards a common purpose despite – or perhaps bolstered by our differences, gives the event a unique buzz. Or perhaps it was just given a particular poignancy this year by our soon to be ex-EU status!
And “purpose” was something that was top of the agenda for SAP Ariba President, Alex Atzberger, who believes that procurement is about to head into a golden age, where if we act with a purpose that isn't simply about making savings - then from a personal, strategic, inter-company or global perspective, there’s the potential to truly make procurement awesome. It's something that he believes in so much that #makeprocurementawesome was the event’s alternative hashtag and was emblazoned across the chest of the event staff. That kind of enthusiasm is infectious.
I last went to AribaLive in Europe about 3 years ago in Rome and I think the numbers were about 500 or so. This year, the event seemed to take over the whole of the Prague Hilton and attracted around 1,500 attendees, testament to the company’s growing influence in Europe. And that’s an influence that's likely to continue as the company's eye for innovation shows no sign of slowing down as Ariba’s big announcement on Tuesday made clear. Forming a partnership with Mercateo in Europe takes a shot at clearing up ad hoc spot buying and wrapping the long tail of suppliers into an easy, controllable broad market place.
SAP Ariba has certainly been busy and you could almost see the long term growth plan unfold on the stage, though some elements, such as the introduction of blockchain, still seem to be at fairly early stages. But one thing that shone out, and I suppose unsurprisingly for a brand which prides itself on the power of the network, was an almost crowd sourcing approach towards building out solutions, with key customers such as Merck and BASF in the driving seat for co-innovation.
And the same could be said for being able to spot an alliance which could both plug a solution gap, and help spread the network. Last month’s strategic alliance with IMB Watson as enthused by SVP and Chief Product Officer, Dinesh Shahane is all about capturing the rich intelligence and capacity for predictive data that lies within contracts and sourcing activity. Though he agreed that it’s likely that existing processes will run in parallel with the old ones until the cognitive procurement capability outperforms, which he expects would be between 3 – 12 months. Happily for category managers, he didn’t think it meant the end of the line for them, and said it was more about augmenting, rather than them being taken over, or entirely automated.
But having a network that’s visible, traceable and efficient also means that companies are increasingly able to shine a light on any risk in their supply chain. And risk comes in all shapes and sizes, not least – reputational damage. SAP Ariba is doing their bit to help improve lives, and offset that risk by helping to limit modern slavery. I say “limit” because CEO and founder of Made in a Free World, Justin Dillion, says that there’s no such thing as a perfect supply chain, and often finds himself asking C-level execs “how many slaves is an acceptable number for you to have?” As you can imagine, it’s not a conversation that sits easily, but does help them to focus. I took the opportunity to interview him about this further and how it fits in to the SAP Ariba solution, so I'll be talking about it in more detail in the next week or so.
I went to a lot of excellent breakout sessions – from Women in Leadership to a close look at Thyssenkrupp’s procurement transformation and the changing procurement practices at Smith and Nephew. And again, we'll take a closer look at some of these next week.
But there’s no point being in Prague if you don’t see any of it, and on the Tuesday evening we were all bused out to the beautiful Art Nouveau Industrial Palace for an evening of entertainment and excellent food, and dare I say it, the rare sight of toe tapping, hip shaking procurement professionals and various analysts too!