Thoughts on Ariba Live in Prague – June 2017

Blog - Thoughts on Ariba Live in Prague

I attended my first SAP Ariba Live event in Prague from 12th-14th June and thought it would be useful to share some of my thoughts for those of you who didn’t attend.

The event itself was very impressive overall in that a great deal of thought, time and investment had clearly gone into the venue and the organisational logistics.  SAP Ariba’s branding was very prominent, there was an endless supply of food and drink for everyone, and the event app enabled delegates to effectively plan their time over the three days.

The attendees included seasoned professionals from some of the biggest and highest profile procurement departments in Europe, with delegate numbers up from c.1000 in 2016 to around 1500 this time.

The overall message to the audience was clear – Ariba have made it their mission statement to Make Procurement Awesome, adopted the hashtag #MakeProcurementAwesome and made it a key part of their branding.  The phrase was repeated regularly by the leadership team to drill the message home to potential and existing customers alike.  

Conference delegates were encouraged to contribute to the message as well through videos and interviews where they were asked “how do you make procurement awesome for your organisation?”

Many of these interviews will be shared on and will make for interesting viewing for anyone looking to understand the potential benefits of using the SAP Ariba solutions.

There was a presentation by the leadership of the business on each of the three days which drew the vast majority of the 1500 delegates attending.   Led by Alex Atzberger (President), Alicia Tillman (CMO) and Paul Devlin (General Manager EMEA & MEE) they really set a very positive tone.  All were slick, very well choreographed and crucially didn’t go on too long ensuring the audience remained engaged.  

They included live demos of various aspects of the current range of solutions from other key members of the leadership team.  They also interviewed several existing customers live on stage.  These interviews had clearly been well rehearsed, and the case studies brought to life the real difference that the Ariba solutions have made to organisations such as BASF and MSD.

After these presentations, delegates could then break away into smaller sessions to learn more about their chosen areas, whether it be through workshops, presentation or panel discussions.  I particularly enjoyed the the piece on Cognitive Procurement even though it’s very much about the headlines and potential at this stage.  I think we can expect to see a lot more about that as the alliance with IBM’s Watson business takes shape in the coming months.

The live demo’s were largely seamless and even the very rare glitches ended up being quite funny.  For example when the CTO couldn’t log into his Ariba account three consecutive times because he had his caps lock on, he still managed to make the best of it, much to amusement of the audience.

The Hilton in Prague was an ideal venue for this type of event.   The partners and sponsors (mainly consultancies who partner with SAP Ariba on implementation projects) were nicely spread around a high traffic area giving them a real opportunity to make a return on their investment, which isn’t always the case at these events.

It was big enough to accommodate everyone, but not so spread out that it was hard to find the people you wanted to meet.

The Ariba Marketplace area was an excellent environment for networking and watching a range of demo’s which was great for me to develop my product knowledge, meet customers and some of the great people I have helped the business hire.  

On to the technology – there was a time when people weren’t particularly complimentary about the Ariba solution or the interface.  Well those days are gone.  The investment from SAP is now really paying dividends with a range of solutions available to empower any procurement department.

Whether it be the guided buying capability, the new spot buying partnership with Mercateo to address tail spend with a single invoicing solution, the movement into direct materials or the new partnership with IBM’s Watson business to push Cognitive Procurement, the technology has taken a huge leap forward.  The user interface is also impressive and has taken a positive step towards the B2C formats that we are so used to in our personal lives.

The general consensus amongst those that I spoke to is that SAP Ariba now have a series of game changing tools available to their customers that will no doubt fuel their already impressive growth figures since SAP acquired them.

What Does This Mean For The Procurement & Spend Management Job Markets

I learnt a great deal about what the future holds for procurement and from the conversations I had with many people it’s clear we have a significant challenge in this sector – a clear skills shortage.

Whether it be the Consultancies needing experience of procurement technology implementation and associated transformation projects, solutions providers needing similar people and sales professionals who understand the challenges procurement leaders face, or the many other skill sets required in spend management technology, the sector is growing at a pace that the relevant talent pool can’t keep up with.

So my message to the procurement professionals I work with is clear.  The procurement skill set required to be a leading professional is going to evolve rapidly as organisations embrace the power of this technology, whether it be Ariba or their competitors who will no doubt respond by improving their own solutions.  

You should find a way to get some exposure to these solutions as fast as you can.  CPO’s and other Procurement leaders, it’s time to train your people in this new era of procurement.  Ambitious professionals, now is the time to find a way to get some experience in this field if you haven’t already.  There is a skills shortage which the profession needs to address and developing yourself in this field will undoubtedly increase your market value.

Ask for training, go to events like this one, watch the presentations and demo’s on the web.  The tools and resources are out there to get you started.  The link above would be a great place to start because of the customer stories on there.