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I’ve been to lots of Ariba LIVEs since my first one in 1998, but this is the first one as a tweeter and blogger. The real-time nature of “social” gives instant insight into what others are thinking. It also allows me to issue instructions such as “#AribaLIVE attendees, put down your phones, eyes up and listen to the violinist”, as the mainstage kicked off with the awesome Lindsey Stirling. It gradually dawned on the attendees that she wasn’t your average Vegas session artist: she herself was the story. Stirling is herself a stunning example of the power of Networks, and the way the Internet is breaking down the distance between a brand and a consumer.

Tim Minahan is often asked about the acquisition of Ariba and what it means. He stated that it is helping Ariba achieve its original dream for Business Networks. He introduced Chakib Bouhdary; (pause in twitter streams as bloggers furtively checking spelling, as he wasn’t in the program) who gave the stat that 74% of the world’s transactions touch an SAP system, so attaching the Ariba Network to all that commerce would be “pretty interesting”.

Ariba LIVE has always featured lots of customers speaking, but what struck me was how comfortable Blue Chip companies are with sharing numbers. I know that slides at these events have to go through endless levels of review. For example, Mark Loring (VP Proc, Deutsche Bank) announced that they had used the Ariba Network to reach a target of 70% e-Invoicing, and that the total program target was a reduction of opex costs of €4.5Bn : a billion here, a billion there, soon you’re talking real money. The many purchasing practioners in the room appreciated his comments of moving from “No PO: No Pay” to “No Budget: No PO”. Don’t spend what you don’t have, must tell my wife. Also noticeable was that the speaker stayed away from the Holy War of “Cloud vs On-Prem” and highlighted that they used a Hybrid approach, utilising what they had. For example their most recent implementation (Italy) was full cloud (deployed in 16 weeks, too) but other countries are using Hybrid: procurement on-premise with the Ariba Network in the cloud.

Erik Gershwind, the CEO of MSC gave the best analogies of the day (and I love a good analogy). He said that with ERP companies had their direct spend really under control, and it was as though they had spent a long time clearing out the garage. All clean and tidy, well labelled, no junk. But it was then as if your wife had said “Now you’ve done that, can you take a look at the attic?” The attic is full of unlabelled boxes, stuffed in haphazardly, dirty and dark. Just like your MRO spend (indirect, or goods-not-for-resale). Another great stat: there is 145Bn of MRO inventoey out there in companies, and 100Bn will never get used: that’s a lot of capital tied up. Erik said that you need three things to get a grip on this spend: Time, Technology and a 2nd pair of eyes. Another image that stayed with me was the comment “let technology be a flashlight”: use a Network to service your customers, good for you and good for them.

Bert Jacobs, is the CEO of Life is Good: I had never heard of this company before. And like most Brits, I’m usually pretty cynical when it comes to “motivational speakers” but Jacobs was different. Very funny and charismatic  (I heard one breathless female delegate say to her friend “OK, that’s it, I want his babies”) he told a relentlessly upbeat message without being soppy or simplistic; and always in the context of his business. Unlike the sportsmen/fighter pilot/musical conductor we often get, this guy ran actually ran a business, and in spite of his long hair and stubble, was no hippy socialist: “Capitalism can be good”. One take away for me, start conversations with “What’s Good?”. Every interaction, whether sales forecast call, customer meeting, or “Honey, I’m home” conversation with your partner will be better if you start with “What’s Good?”.

The first speaker on the second day was Dave Manley of Kohl’s who immediately got the attention if the audience that he was giving away 20% off vouchers at lunch. It was a reminder of the competitive nature of the retail business. Now, retailers are known for being tough on their suppliers, but Dave reminded us that he wants his suppliers to have a viable business too.

A big fan of eAuctions with Ariba Sourcing, he flashed up a graph of an auction where they saved half a million dollars before breakfast. Like a lot of Ariba customers they grew their solution from this single point solution to a fully integrated source-to-pay utililising the Ariba Network; and just like Deutsche Bank yesterday, Kohl’s makes use of Hybrid, mixing on-prem and cloud as it makes sense. I’m an old time PreSales guy, so it was great to see the customer flashing up screenshots (and using Retro product names) showing how their six stage process was now represented in software.

I learnt that refitting a store is pretty complex, 50000 items needed and it used to take 3 weeks to generate all the Purchase Orders needed. It now takes 3 hours and they all fly across the Ariba Network, with suppliers sending confirmations and other documents back. A very cool Ariba-written extension allowed a scanning of the receipt by phone, and if the item is damaged you can snap a photo and it will fly back of the Network back to the supplier.

Ariba’s EVP of Product, Sanish Mondkar, was up next with a review of all that has been achieved in the last year. Impressive sure, but I want new stuff, and no laptop on stage means no demo? I can’t do justice to the comprehensive roadmap that was shared, but a couple of points hit home. First, we’ve all heard about Hana, and that it’s fast (50x for some Ariba Reports), but Sanish was clear that he felt that one of the biggest benefits was simplicity.

He could get rid of all those staging tables, cubes, start schemes, data warehouses: the transaction system is the reporting system. Second, being part of SAP gives access to a deeper bench of talent and tools, this was particularly evident when he shared the impressive localisation road map: 75 countries by 2015 by using SAP’s localisation teams. As a European I also noted the roll out plans for Data Centres: China (2014), Russia, Brazil (in planning) as well as US and EU (live today).

So how about that demo? Great to see, Engineering VP, Mark Dao up on stage with his ipad showing the brand new Ariba mobile app on the big screen. Cue 100s of camera phones being raised in the audience to take pictures of the new screens, from the back of the hall it looked like they were raised in religious homage. The sudden appearance of these screens is another example of how the SAP acquisition is turbocharging Ariba, this time with the state-of-art Fiori platform. And Twitter lit up with the pictures.

The final speaker, Marco Lopez from utility SCE calmed us down by talking about the challenge of making trade-offs in a complex company. He emphasised that collaboration needs to be with both internal and external stakeholders. Marco  said that he came to Ariba LIVE last year as a prospective customer, this year he keynotes. Who’s up for next year? Slots are open.

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