The autumn months are a busy time in terms of conferences in the procurement technology sector and I’ve attended four excellent events in London recently. Whilst e World offered a chance to compare a wide range of solution providers, Coupa, Basware and SAP Ariba organised single vendor events underpinned by their own sales agenda.
Each of these events offered an insight into the capability of the software through a number of informative presentations, and the cultures of the respective organisations. I offer my own thoughts and comparisons below.
As a specialist recruiter in the sector and largely impartial observer, I find these events a very useful way of developing my knowledge, keeping up to date with the latest developments in the technology and enjoying the networking opportunities that exist between presentations. It’s great to catch up with long established contacts, meet new people and listen to conversations about people’s experiences of using the technology.
I’ve been to several eWorld events now and it is the best option if you are looking to get a flavour of the myriad of options available in procurement technology.
This year had even more exhibitors than the equivalent event last year with the vast majority of the major players represented in the exhibition area.
There’s a wide range of presentations from solution providers, implementation partners and end users offering the procurement professional an great learning opportunity.
The opening Keynote, Procurement And The Brexit Bombshell from Dr. John Glen, Director of The Centre for Customised Executive Development Cranfield University was very interesting if slightly alarming for a self-confessed “remoaner” like me. His advice was “plan for a hard Brexit, hope for a softer one.” If you get the chance to see him present, take it. Alternatively you can find him on YouTube.
I particularly enjoyed watching Mo Ahmad of Ariba talking about #MakeProcurementAwesome for the Mid Market and Ian Thompson of Tradeshift’s presentation on Procurement Innovation: How to Successfully Transition from Being Measured on Savings to Being Measured on Value?
Both raised some interesting points and had an engaging, thought provoking presentation style.
You can view the other presentation topics and request details here: http://www.eworld-procurement.com/programme/
My only real negative about this event is that its surprising not to see more senior decision makers attend given the quality of the agenda and potential value of these solutions. The audience appears largely dominated by middle management procurement people who seem to gain a great deal from it so I ask are the leaders missing out?
The next eWorld event is on the 28th February.
Messrs Edbury & Daley at eWorld
The venue of Park Lane Hilton set the tone for the event along with a very upbeat feel about the environment. With impressive lights and modern introduction music, it was standing room only for Rob Bernsteyn’s opening address. He gave a very bullish, strong performance, articulating Coupa’s values with an impressive presentation, extolling their Value as a Service mantra.
A Coupa slide
He was followed by Paul Desrosiers of KPMG’s procurement technology practice. Paul interviewed two Coupa/KPMG customers in a well-rehearsed Q&A offering an insight into what Coupa has brought to their organisations.
The Digital Leader – KPMG
With over 700 people in attendance, there was just enough space in the venue and this resulted in quite an energetic feel to the event, particularly around the exhibition area where the likes of KPMG, Deloitte, Hackett, Bearing Point and Xoomworks were all exhibiting as potential Coupa partners.
I had a series of very interesting conversations with the consultants that I know from these organisations that typically had one common theme – there’s a shortage of people with experience of implementing the Coupa technology (and many of the competing solutions) to the extent where it can achieve its full potential with all the associated change management work that accompanies the use of such a powerful platform.
Of course it’s one of our jobs to help our clients overcome such skill shortages and we have various methods we can recommend but more on that another time.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was watching the dynamics of the event. There was a lot of visible evidence of potential deals being discussed between Coupa sales people, prospective customers, and the various implementation partners giving a real buzz to the environment during the breaks.
My personal highlight was the presentation by Paddy Lawton, founder of Spend 360 (acquired by Coupa in January)
Paddy Lawton of Coupa talks about Neural Networks.
He gave a fascinating summary of his journey from the origins of Spend 360 with manually inputted and analysed data to the point where he’s at today. In the process of explaining this journey he articulated a very compelling case for the use of these technologies with the emphasis on the value of the data, both now and in the future. His message was largely echoed by Eric Wilson at Basware event the following day, and if there is one key headline for the layman to take away, its that the sooner you start to make better use of your data, the sooner you can start to reap the enormous rewards for procurement.
As an aside the food was excellent and a lot of people seemed pleased with the range of top end Coupa branded merchandise. The flask will certainly come in handy for me on the golf course this winter!
The following day took me to CodeNode, a very different, more understated venue with a real technology theme. On a smaller scale to the previous day, it felt more intimate and the presentations had more of an educational rather than sales feel by comparison.
There were plenty of Basware staff on hand to meet with potential and existing customers and the venue made for easy networking and open discussion.
Matthew Syed (AKA “The Ping Pong guy” from the BBC radio podcast and Times journalist) gave the opening keynote and he was absolutely excellent. His presentation on “black box thinking” was fascinating. He talked about the “growth mindset” offering comparisons of learning methodologies between the aviation and healthcare sectors with some references to sport thrown in. It’s well worth buying his book or watching some of his presentations on YouTube if you haven’t seen him speak.
He was followed by the aforementioned Eric Wilson (VP of S2P at Basware) who covered a range of topics including the huge importance of data. He discussed how our current machines will be obsolete soon but the data we are producing through them will only increase in importance in the next few years.
Eric Wilson of Basware
There were several other really interesting presentations from the likes of Theresa Lacey and Louis Fernandes, and again it offered a great opportunity to develop one’s knowledge of the power and importance of spend management solutions.
Theresa Lacey Making Sense Of The Terminology
It was great to see some of my contacts from the old Procserve business and compare the different cultures of the US owned Coupa versus the Finnish owned Barware – fascinating stuff for a recruiter.
The Future Of Procurement – Ariba
In early November Ariba invited both customers and potential prospects to its latest event. The Royal College of Surgeons was an atmospheric venue with its 500 year history, on-site museum and intimate lecture theatre where it felt like the audience were almost on top of the speakers.
It was a largely educational agenda with a subtle sell of the capabilities of their solution thrown in, making for another enjoyable event.
It was great to see Justin Sadler-Smith back in the sector after recently joining the business. He gave an excellent introductory speech and more evidence that he’ll bring a great deal to Ariba’s business in the UK, particularly with the partnership with IBM on Cognitive Procurement given his background at Emptoris.
He was followed by former SAP CPO and now Chief Digital Officer, Marcel Vollmer who gave a really insightful view of the impact of technology in both our personal and professional lives. He also talked about SAP’s own implementation of Ariba.
Between them they touched on some interesting issues including:
- Procurement moving into a different space in future business with its changing value proposition
- The growing importance of data scientists in procurement
- The potential for areas like Category Management to be largely automated
- The move towards supplier management and innovation rather than just delivering hard savings
- A strong message that the potential for change is here now and able to move at a rapid rate if we embrace it
Later in the afternoon I really enjoyed listening to Andrew Croston of Smith & Nephew who gave a warts and all account of their experience of implementing the Ariba solution with consulting support from Deloitte.
It was a refreshing change from the often 100% positive presentations that are so common at such events. He was largely very positive about both organisations but also gave a good account of the challenges they’ve faced, and some useful feedback for anyone about to embark on a similar transformation journey. His dry northern wit also kept me and the rest of the audience amused throughout.
The three partners exhibiting were excelerated S2P, Deloitte & Apsolut but in keeping with the rest of the event they appeared to be in educational rather than full on sales mode.
Some Final Thoughts
- Procurement professionals really are spoilt for choice with solutions at the moment, the power of the technology is amazing, the real challenge lies in how you harness it for your organisation and finding the skills required to do so.
- Procurement professionals should go to as many of these events as possible. There are so many ways to learn about what’s happening and ultimately to enable you to choose the right solution for your business.
- The skill shortage I’ve been talking about for so long shows no sign of abating but you can raise your own profile and knowledge by embracing these learning opportunities.