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SAP Ariba focuses on simplicity at Ariba Live conference

SAP Ariba announced measures to make procurement simpler and more flexible at its Ariba Live user conference, including guided buying and an open platform.

Simplicity and transformation were the main themes at Ariba Live 2016. The annual gathering of SAP Ariba users and partners was held this week at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

The conference attracted about 3,000 attendees, the majority of whom were buyers on the Ariba Network, a cloud-based e-commerce platform that connects business buyers and suppliers.

During the opening general session, SAP Ariba President Alex Atzberger stressed that the company was committed to making life easier for buyers to connect with suppliers and to conduct transactions with as little friction as possible. He said to do this, SAP Ariba is offering a module, called Guided Buying, and it will open the Ariba platform to partners and users, and allow industry- or business-specific customizations.

The point is to drive adoption of the platform, which Atzberger acknowledged had suffered from excess complexity in the past. The most visible manifestation of the move to simplicity was the redesign of the user experience in the past year, and this will continue with Guided Buying, which Atzberger said may be looked on as a "historic" announcement in a few years.

Getting rid of complexity

"It's all about getting rid of complexity," Atzberger said. "We are deeply committed to removing any barriers to adoption."

Sudhir Bhojwani, senior vice president of applications suite for SAP Ariba, also stressed that adoption can happen only with happy users. "If you don't have happy users, you can never have 100% adoption," he said.

Guided Buying is designed to give Ariba Network users the same kind of buying experience for business that they have with consumer sites, such as Amazon. They can find the goods and services they need, and easily pay, but this will all comply with recommended company procurement policies and procedures.

"The problem now is that users are confused by too many systems. They don't understand the right buying process, and they can't find the preferred vendors," Bhojwani said.

Guided Buying provides the buying experience that different users need in the procurement process, which Bhojwani described as "no touch" users, who may use the system only occasionally; "light touch" or functional buyers, who may purchase goods a few times a week as a routine job function, but it is not part of procurement; and "heavy touch" users, who are fully involved in procurement.

Each of these users will have a buying experience that corresponds with their function. The occasional user, for example, may purchase a gift for a customer, but Guided Buying will give a warning if the gift exceeds a certain set limit, triggering an approval process. If the gift is under the limit, the transaction goes through, with no intervention. The important thing, Bhojwani said, is that the transactions occur seamlessly, whereas previously, they may have required emails going back and forth, delaying the process.

More complex transactions -- for example, the purchase of a $200,000 piece of office equipment by a light touch user -- can occur just as seamlessly, Bhojwani explained. Once the search is initiated, the Guided Buying page displays items that have been selected from approved vendors by the procurement department, and rules for purchase can be included in the process. The equipment purchase may require three bids from approved vendors, and the purchaser can make the selection and the transaction completes, without intervention from procurement.

Todd Altpeter, vice president of IT at Vantage Group, an electrical material replenishment provider based in Chicago that primarily services Fortune 500 companies nationwide, was generally satisfied with what he saw from the session.

"It was good from my perspective as a supplier to understand where the network's going, as many of our customers are heavily involved in e-commerce or exploring one, and Ariba is by far the largest that we deal with," Altpeter said. "It's hard from the supplier side to understand the buyer side, so seeing the roadmap and seeing the Guided Buying is leading me to make decisions on how I want to tailor my products and offering going forward."

Altpeter explained that as a supplier, the company usually has sole-source agreements with buyers, and the Guided Buying would help it to drive business to the preferred channel.

"Rogue spend is always an issue in our space, so seeing something like that will benefit us from that standpoint," he said. "Also, understanding how the Guided Buying process works is going to show me what kind of data I will need to provide to the buyer side -- not only pictures, but attributes [and] that kind of thing."

Helping customers meet changing conditions

Because businesses will need to adapt quickly to changing conditions, SAP Ariba will open the platform. "We are unleashing innovation for everyone through the platform," Atzberger said.

Rob Enslin, SAP's vice president of global operations, said businesses will need to adapt very quickly to changing circumstances if they expect to survive. "You will win in this economy if you can know what's going to happen before it happens and react to that information quickly," Enslin said. "The digital economy is about speed, speed, speed, and you need to take advantage of this to stay competitive."

Customers and partners will be able to enhance or adapt SAP Ariba applications using standard-based APIs and can deliver them on the SAP Ariba platform or any other cloud platform of their choice.

In a discussion onstage during the general session, analyst Josh Greenbaum of Enterprise Applications Consulting noted that merely putting a pretty face on the applications is not enough; there needs to be real substance for the digital transformation to take hold. However, SAP Ariba has the advantage of the SAP Business Network and integration with technologies such as SAP HANA, he said.

"The quality and usability of that data floating through the network is an untapped resource of extraordinary potential, working with that data to optimize cash, to identify your different potential opportunities," Greenbaum said. "Whether that's on the banking and insurance side better enabling supply management, there's a wealth that's there if you can really tap in, and it's a very big deal. As a user, I like to take the opportunity of taking me out of the category of being a weak link in the supply chain to being an equal partner in the supply chain. I may be small, but I'm not weak anymore, because as an individual supplier, I can leverage this enormous opportunity and that's pretty powerful."

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