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Ariba looks to the future

The next BriefingsDirect thought-leader interview focuses on the Ariba product roadmap for 2014 -- and beyond.

Ariba’s product and services roadmap is rapidly evolving, including gaining more analytics capabilities. BriefingsDirect had an opportunity to learn first-hand how at the recent 2014 Ariba LIVE Conference in Las Vegas.

To learn more about the recent news at Ariba LIVE -- and also what to expect from both Ariba and SAP Cloud in the coming months -- we sat down with Chris Haydon, Senior Vice President of Solutions Management for Procurement, Finance and Network at Ariba, an SAP company. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: What’s changed in the business-network market? What’s shifted since we spoke last a year ago?

Haydon: There’s a lot more interest. People are just starting to really understand what business networks really mean.

Haydon

In some of the conversations coming through, large corporate enterprise buyers are really looking for a single hole through the firewall, if you like. They’ve done some great work in optimizing their internal business processes, but they really understand that the next undiscovered country is in collaborating with their suppliers.

But it’s not just their suppliers. It’s payment providers, logistics providers, and a whole heap of supply-chain stakeholders. We’re seeing that larger conversation over not just a single business process, but a holistic business-process view.

I think the other really interesting thing isn’t a trend. It's probably a confirmation of what we already knew, particularly in the southern hemisphere. Mobile is on the increase and is now bypassing of the laptop, specifically in some emerging markets.

They’re the two macro trends that we are seeing that are manifesting themselves in our new business acquisitions.

Mingling with others

Gardner: So “mobile first” is really important, as is the notion of a boundaryless organization. You don’t just exist as an island. If you’re going to be really adept and productive and develop some of the great insights you can through data, you need to allow your borders to mingle with others.

Haydon: That’s right. And it’s a network effect as well. People don’t want to do all the heavy lifting themselves. They’re really starting to understand that there is the network here. I can adapt, not adopt, so to speak, and really accelerate the business by leveraging the existing community.

Gardner: Have there been any technology shifts that we’ve had in the past year that have enabled some new and interesting things at the business networks and applications level?

Haydon: We’re in the early stages of redoing parts of our technology to take advantage of where the growing trend is going to come. We spoke about mobile, but it’s not just mobile. It's more about user experience and how we focus specific use cases on where an improved screen, an improved device, or both makes sense in the user context. That’s a really big change for us as well.

We’ve spent the last 12 months, and we will spend a good part of the next 12 months, rebuilding the platform to really be able to take advantage of these larger trends around real-time analytics, big data, and all that, but translating that into actual actionable use cases.

Gardner: What are the highlights for you at Ariba LIVE 2014?

We have some amazing customers, and the adoption of our customers is just superb for us.

Haydon: First, there’s another record turnout. We have some amazing customers, and the adoption of our customers is just superb for us. We want to drive more value into both the buyers and the sellers.

There are some pretty interesting announcements that we’re doing. We announced AribaPay last year, and we are happy to announce this year that that’s well on track. We’re going to be doing more on AribaPay, but this is really transforming the B2B payment space and leveraging that. We want to bring the payment process within the visibility and the view of the network. We think that’s pretty huge.

Second, you’re going to hear about us doing more innovation than ever before. We have some significant investment from SAP, which will translate itself into globalization -- moving into Russia, moving into China -- and into new business processes, like supply chain and payment, as well as leveraging the great infrastructure and platform that SAP has in mobile. You’ll see three to five mobile-centric use cases delivered in Ariba within the next 12 months.

Gardner: What about the Ariba-SAP synergy? How has that changed Ariba. It’s been a while now since the merger and acquisition. What can you tell me about the relationship and the character of the company?

Embracing the cloud

Haydon: SAP has really embraced the cloud. And it has worked so well in terms of a lot of the cloud DNA that Ariba brings to the table. SAP has truly embraced that.

And for us within Ariba, there are three or four dimensions. One is certainly global, and SAP is everywhere. A global sales force and, more importantly, global know-how is very important.

Number two is industries. Historically, Ariba was not very industry focused. Now, with SAP, with their vast industry expertise, it really will enable us to drive great solutions into specific industries globally.

And last, but not least, it’s getting access, from a product-management perspective, to lots of new things to play with and great platform tools. We have HANA, and we have released some products on HANA starting this weekend.

We’ve seen some really great synergies in the first 12 months and we expect more next year.

We’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to put the network on HANA, accelerate that investment in mobile, other aspects on reporting, and deep integration with the business suite. We’ve seen some really great synergies in the first 12 months and we expect more next year.

Gardner: Let’s look at this whole spectrum of data and analysis. Data scientists and business intelligence (BI) professionals have been creating reports and developing the fruits of a data infrastructure for years, but what we are starting to see now is the use of analytics and visualizing the analytics.

We’re giving it to folks down on the line of business, not just at the very tip of the organization, but throughout the organization. How has this need and demand for greater data and greater analysis capabilities translated into what you’re doing at Ariba and SAP?

Haydon: This is actually part of why people understand the business network and why the business network is starting to take off. If you think about what’s so great about SAP/Ariba and our great capability, we have this great business network, more than 600 billion in spend, and more than a million suppliers.

I’ll go into technology for a second. It's the promise of what an in-memory database can give us. Imagine when we can put all of those transactions in real-time that are flowing today, imagine when we double it over the next three years or something like that.

Power of HANA

And we put that in real time because of the power of HANA, real-time analytics, whether it's lead time or a moving price average. We won’t just dish it up in quarterly reports that an executive sees. What if a supplier is responding to an order confirmation and they can see that the average lead time has changed? They can take an action and do something about it to fill their customer’s needs.

What if you’re a procurement officer and you’re going to do a sourcing event? You can see that five extra suppliers come on or there is some problem with your core supplier because they are out of stock. If there’s a natural disaster hitting, what if you can see that real-time?

That’s the promise that big data and analytics delivers in something like the business network, which gives us a holistic view that is unparalleled, particularly when we are able to marry that with the master data that exists in the applications or in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

Gardner: What strikes me, Chris, about this era is that for so long, companies relied on their own data and their own analysis. There was really a wall around the activity with BI.

But now, with things like third-party networks, like the Ariba Network, they can start to get data that might be anonymized. Privacy issues have been worked out and people are allowing data to be shared. That’s where these real insights are coming. It’s the volume, velocity, and variability of the type of information.

None of this happens without the appropriate privacy, anonymization, aggregation, and all of that.

So what comes in terms of a business application benefit? Where are you driving these visualizations and this data? What can we expect in the next 12-18 months in terms of analytics meeting business applications?

Haydon: The first one, which we have already announced, is Supplier InfoNet, which is our HANA-based alerting and supplier information system, which can also feed in. We’re  releasing that and we’ll be building that integration into our solution set. That’s the first thing.

We’re kind of feeling our way here, and you brought up an excellent point. None of this happens without the appropriate privacy, anonymization, aggregation, and all of that. That’s the given that you have got to work out first.

But once you have that, we want to look at point areas to road test what it looks like. Maybe we just show to a supplier and say, “When you’re responding to an event, your lead time is x percent slower than all your other competitors.” There’s some peer pressure, and we’re not sharing anything else, but it actually helps the salesperson understand where they are.

It’s the same thing on the buy side. If you confirm that the moving average price of this commodity in the United States moved by 5 percent, you might want to consider having a sourcing event. Those are the type of point things.

Most meaningful

The holistic dashboarding and automated alerts will come. We just want to work out those flows and what’s most meaningful. That’s where we go back to the point about the user experience. How do we do that? Do we need to expose that in a mobile app with an alert, or is that just an icon that pops up on your screen, or both. That’s how we want to intersect the two.

Gardner: Let’s move into mobile. You mentioned "mobile first." That’s really an interesting concept, but it seems to me that it's more than just a screen definition. You really need to rethink processes when you start to go to that mobile tier and recognize that people are 24x7, regardless of location, intersecting and  interacting with business processes. So what should we expect from mobile innovation?

Haydon: I wouldn’t even couch it as “mobile first,” but “mobile as required.” First and foremost, what we are focusing on for our mobile strategy is, notwithstanding putting in place, just the core platform to enable it. When we’re looking to our features that we build in our products, we want to focus, which, as you were alluding to, is how does the end user need to consume this information?

If it does make sense that a mobile device is able to present that, then we’ll do it. We are not doing it for the sake of having a mobile solution, just to have it out there. We don’t need to do that.

We want to take a focused approach. We want to embed the mobile development paradigm within our current development product teams.

Obviously, some things bubble to the top, approval apps or flipping a purchase order or a new event, and we will do those. But we want to be quite systematic in what we’re going to do.

Also, from a product development sense, we want to take a focused approach. We want to embed the mobile development paradigm within our current development product teams.

What does that mean? It means we’re not going to have a mobile team out on the left, running and building 500-600 apps that they think they should build, and then our core feature team doing it. We’re going to have our engineers, our product managers, our quality assurance (QA) people thinking about mobile in parallel with the screen and how that enhances the customers or the user experience to deliver the business outcome.

While we might be somewhat slow compared to others, some competitors are saying they have 20 mobile apps. We think our way is going to deliver better business outcomes by taking the user experience construct and making that, whether that’s mobile, analytics, or screen, all in the same context.

Gardner: I like the idea that it's process first, regardless of the screen, but this seems to give you an opportunity to move and scale into new regions in some markets. In China, for example, the smartphone is the primary device and screen.

It also allows you to scale down smaller businesses. You can run a business on a smartphone. Why not have cloud business services to accomplish that? What about that global reach? What do you expect for the next 12-18 months in terms of expansion vis-à-vis any number of services, but mobile being part of that?

New data center

Haydon: A couple of things. Number one, since we first spoke, we announced our first European data center, and that was commissioned in December. We already have a number of customers live already. We’re in the process of dealing with that.

We have also announced data centers in China and Russia for our applications. So in terms of just global deployment, we’re investing in data centers which will deal with a lot of the data privacy and encryption table stakes to even get started.

And then, just being on the back of SAP is one of the really great synergies that we get, in that they have in-country local product managers who are born and bred and live in the jurisdiction to be our proxy customers, the voice of the customer actually in-country as we look to embed in there.

Gardner: Into our next subject. What about governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) topics and issues. It seems that we can’t really divorce concerns about privacy and security and risk amelioration from business activities, especially as we consider that boundaryless organization. We want to expand into new markets and allow enterprises to do more business and supplier activities across these boundaries.

All decisions -- procurement, supply chain or others -- are made with a risk-management focus.

So how do we think about embedding GRC both as a process and as a technology in the Ariba roadmap?

Haydon: Ariba had a pretty good legacy of being at the forefront on a lot of that. Maybe we didn’t give ourselves credit, but for the longest time, we have had security, privacy, availability, and confidentiality processes and certifications. Some competitors have one, some competitors have two or three, but we had five.

We are also payment card industry (PCI) compliant. That’s a pretty high threshold. I know other companies have PCI compliance, but I mention those points because that’s part of our DNA. You have to start thinking about that, you have to understand enterprise problems and build your operations, your infrastructure, and your technology around that. We’re in a pretty good state.

Obviously, these GRC compliance processes are growing. Risk management is like a new mantra. It's the forefront of anything else.

I mentioned our data centers. One aspect of dealing with in-country data privacy, obviously, is having a data center in a jurisdiction. As I said, we commissioned our European data center. One in Germany is primary, and there is a failover elsewhere. That should deal with a lot of EU data-privacy concerns. Then, Russia, China, and so on.

The second piece that we do have, being as part of SAP, is that SAP has a very comprehensive GRC process themselves to make sure that they don’t do business with customers that are on particular restrictions or watch lists internationally. It's not just the US or the EU, as I understand. SAP reviews 13 or 14 data sources, not just one or two.

Trading partners

So we’re bringing those processes into the Ariba Network to make sure that we don’t do that, but we also notify our trading partners as well, and that’s part of the value-added service. You may well be doing transactions or trying to do an event with someone not appropriate from a risk perspective.

The last piece, a little bit related to this from the roadmap, is that, in the course of this year, we’re looking to build out on the Ariba Network support for US public sector. Once you start into the public sector for business process transactions, you get a whole heap of compliance issues on encryption, accessibility, and a couple of other dimensions. Those requirements will be built into the network and also to our applications over the next 12 and 24 months.

Gardner: Now, back to products and services. Often, at these Ariba events, and I’ve been at quite a few, we hear about services that people are familiar with, but there are layers of new functionality and features. Are there any that pop out in your mind from 2014 that we should go over and s reflect on as maybe changing the way people think about doing business vis-à-vis cloud and vis-à-vis the networked economy?

We said we’re going to do a lot of innovation. We’re going to deliver on that innovation.

Haydon: Yeah, there are a couple. One is something released in Quarter 4, at least for our SAP clients. We have native connectivity between the SAP Business Suite and the Ariba Network. You don’t need middleware. It's a downloaded extension pack.

It's pretty game-changing, when you can download something and an order can go out of the Business Suite straight to the network natively. Let’s just remind people of that. That’s pretty nice.

Number two, we have a lot of new features and products coming out, as we said. We said we’re going to do a lot of innovation. We’re going to deliver on that innovation. I’d like to quickly talk about four.

AribaPay, which we touched on, is changing the role of B2B payments on the payment side.

At the top end of the funnel, we are also launching Spot Quote. This is pretty interesting. Forty percent of procurement activity is on contract or on catalog. In some industries, it's greater. This Spot Quote process enables us to take these tactical three bids in a buy from a buyer programmatically and put that out into the business network to be bid upon, and we can also identify new suppliers.

What's exciting about that is lot of process efficiency for buyers, but also for a seller. Think about this. It's almost like the budgets are already largely being committed, and they have a close date. It almost drops to the bottom of the pipeline. That’s pretty nice. It might not be the biggest deal, but I’ll take it.

Supply chain

We’re also releasing our first version of the supply chain, focusing primarily on retail use-case scenarios, working very hard with SAP to have end-to-end connectivity, and we are very excited about that.

Last, but not least, services on the network as well, extending a whole new type of collaborative services for estimate-based services, are going live.

So we have more innovation. It's supporting both buyers and suppliers, and going globally, in terms of Russia and China, and we’ll be adding Brazil and Mexico invoicing as well. So there are a lot of exciting things on the business network for customers, not only in the USA, but globally.

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At Interarbor Solutions, we create the analysis and in-depth podcasts on enterprise software and cloud trends that help fuel the social media revolution. As a veteran IT analyst, Dana Gardner moderates discussions and interviews get to the meat of the hottest technology topics. We define and forecast the business productivity effects of enterprise infrastructure, SOA and cloud advances. Our social media vehicles become conversational platforms, powerfully distributed via the BriefingsDirect Network of online media partners like ZDNet and IT-Director.com. As founder and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Dana Gardner created BriefingsDirect to give online readers and listeners in-depth and direct access to the brightest thought leaders on IT. Our twice-monthly BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts examine the latest IT news with a panel of analysts and guests. Our sponsored discussions provide a unique, deep-dive focus on specific industry problems and the latest solutions. This podcast equivalent of an analyst briefing session -- made available as a podcast/transcript/blog to any interested viewer and search engine seeker -- breaks the mold on closed knowledge. These informational podcasts jump-start conversational evangelism, drive traffic to lead generation campaigns, and produce strong SEO returns. Interarbor Solutions provides fresh and creative thinking on IT, SOA, cloud and social media strategies based on the power of thoughtful content, made freely and easily available to proactive seekers of insights and information. As a result, marketers and branding professionals can communicate inexpensively with self-qualifiying readers/listeners in discreet market segments. BriefingsDirect podcasts hosted by Dana Gardner: Full turnkey planning, moderatiing, producing, hosting, and distribution via blogs and IT media partners of essential IT knowledge and understanding.