Headlines from SAP Ariba Live – “We are listening”

The week of the 4th-6th June saw the biggest European procurement technology event in the calendar as the SAP Ariba roadshow rolled into wonderful, sunny Barcelona. If only it could be there every year!

The event had a different theme to typical software conferences and evidence of further evolution of the business’ message to customers over the past couple of years.  Ariba Live in Prague in 2017 was the age of “making procurement awesome” as they showcased all sorts of innovations. Last year in Amsterdam the message was about “procurement with a purpose” as the business embraced the CSR agenda. That theme continued strongly this year with a lot of coverage of ethical issues in the supply chain and rightly so, although this year’s headline was #3trillionreasons, a reference to the amount transacted on the Ariba Network.

What I did note was a more humble theme than other similar events with the tone set by the President of SAP’s Cloud Business Group Jennifer Morgan at  the opening plenary session. She talked about the business adopting an outside perspective with a greater focus on customer feedback. In plain terms, I thought the underlying message was “we are listening.”

Her three key action points were:

  1. Refocus on quality and support with problem resolution at the top of the agenda.
  2. Faster implementation (as evidenced by big developments in their partner ecosystem).
  3. Continuing to strive for innovation.

Jennifer was the first of six speakers that made up the all-female line-up in that opening session, including high profile guest, the very impressive Amal Clooney.  It sent a strong message about diversity in the business which continued on the second day at the Diversity Luncheon where the keynote speaker was the excellent Michele Mees.  I’d recommend her TED talk. Anyone who was there will remember it for one of the questions that was asked as much as her outstanding content. Let’s just say Michele did a wonderful job of educating us all about what diversity really means, and how it can truly benefit organisations.

The second day saw new President of the SAP Intelligent Spend Group Mike Eberhard continue the theme of working to improve the effectiveness of the solution.   He particularly talked about bringing customers together into the breakout sessions throughout the event to share their experiences and learn from one another.

Sean Thompson (SVP, Business Network and Ecosystem) built on this theme with the emphasis on the importance of using partner organisations as he told us that over 50% of implementations are now partner-led, whilst 75% of all implementations include partners.  I believe this is quite an increase from previous numbers.

The other big theme was the promotion of the power of the unified platform offered by the Intelligent Spend Management group.  Of course, news had reached the industry press that SAP was bringing the Fieldglass and Concur solutions into the stable before the event, but we heard more about the potential for this at various stages.

It struck me that the audience and partners received this news well, as they did indeed the message around members of the leadership team acknowledging that customer feedback and experience would be a central theme of how the business moves forward. It might seem like an obvious thing but it’s not something you hear enough of at these industry events in my opinion.

There were two other highlights from the main stage that I think worth mentioning.

The announcement of the partnership with Barclaycard streamlining payments within the Ariba Network – it was noticeable that the Barclaycard stand was mobbed in the next break and was busy all day as prospects wanted to learn more so that clearly went down well.

From a personal perspective, it was great to see Graham Wright and Mayank Chandla from IBM on the main stage as well, as they shared their vision for the future of procurement, particularly the development of their people enabled by tools like Ariba and Watson.  As regular readers will know this is a course we are particularly passionate about.

There’s so much more to cover from a wealth of breakout sessions and presentations so if you want a more detailed account I suggest you look at the coverage from our friends at Spend Matters here.

Next year the event is in Berlin so unfortunately there’s no beach on my day off and no sunbathing for Mrs Daley, but it’s another great city to visit.  I’m looking forward to it already.