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Today’s businesses are increasingly affected by a convergence of multiple forces: social media, the cloud, business networks, big data, analytics, and more. These bring with them a huge amount of valuable data and information, much of it available in real time. Yet as SAP cloud senior vice president and chief marketing officer Tim Minahan points out, we’re reaching the point when “real time” is no longer good enough. For example, if you hear in real time that your manufacturing plant has gone down, or your biggest customer just defected to a competitor, it’s already too late. Instead, to stay ahead, companies must become predictive businesses.


So what is a predictive business? One able to anticipate future events with a high degree of accuracy, then assess potential responses and implement the best ones quickly and effectively. And while multiple resources can help you attain this goal—such as the cloud, mobility, and business networks—predictive analytics is the most important. At the Ariba LIVE 2014 conference, James Tucker, senior director of business network strategy and marketing for Ariba, and Will Caseber, director of value engineering for Ariba, led a session on why predictive analytics matters so much—and how you can use it to drive success for your business.


“In the future, businesses will be expected to possess the talent, tools, processes, and capabilities to analyze past business performance and events to gain forward-looking insight to drive business decisions and actions.” Lawrence Maisel and Gary Cokins, Predictive Business Analytics: Forward Looking Capabilities to Improve Business Performance


What is predictive analytics?

As Tucker explains, “Predictive analytics is like preventative medicine for business.” It uses various techniques from statistics, modeling, machine learning, and data mining to analyze current and historical facts to predict future events. In business, predictive models use the patterns and relationships found in historical and transactional data to identify risks and opportunities, helping companies make informed, intelligent decisions.


Tomorrow: Why does predictive matter for your company?

If you don't want to wait until tomorrow, go to our Supply Lines group to read the full article.

Did you get the latest issue of Supply Lines directly in your inbox?  Supply Lines is the go-to publication for e-commerce decision-makers, marketers and sales practitioners. All the articles are now available at

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You know social media is essential in today’s B2B world, but how can you tell if your social strategies deliver the intended results? All too often, your efforts seem to fall into a black hole, making it tough to justify the time and money required. And while social does a great job of starting the relationship, traditional sales and marketing tend to convert it to a sale, which means the effects of social can get lost in the shuffle. What you really need are ways to both improve and measure the impact of social media on lead generation and customer retention—and to translate that into metrics like revenue creation, costs, and sales volume so you can close the gap between social and your bottom line.


Nichole Kelly, CEO of Social Media Explorer/SME Digital and author of How to Measure Social Media, feels your pain. In a session at Ariba LIVE 2014, she outlined her company’s comprehensive three-pronged approach to social media that leverages social selling on LinkedIn, inbound marketing, and marketing automation to fill the sales funnel—achieving an average 15% contact-to-meeting conversion rate and 450% growth in the last year alone. Along the way, she described plenty of easy, low-cost actions you can take to start generating measurable results from social media in record time.


Tomorrow: Social strategies that can deliver results

If you don't want to wait until tomorrow, go to our Supply Lines group to read the full article.

Do you want to know more about Punchout?  Do you have challenges with Punchout?  Learn more about Punchout from one of our Ariba Supplier Solutions Providers,, in this blog post by Matt Fisher.



This post is a humble attempt to help Ariba suppliers/sellers by:

  1. Describing what a punchout catalog is
  2. Walking through the typical punchout flow
  3. Identifying some of the advantages and challenges of punchout
  4. Providing additional sources of information for your organization to become punchout capable




Even though I’ve been helping suppliers and buyers conduct business electronically with each other since Ariba’s early days in the 1990s, this is my very first post on Ariba Exchange. With every visit to the site, I’m increasingly impressed with the growing sense of community and look forward to contributing and learning from you all.


We’re all experts at something, and while supplier enablement is admittedly my one area of expertise, I sincerely acknowledge that there’s always more to learn from people. With that said, all of us who have worked with punchout catalogs know that no two definitions of  punchout are the same, and it’s different every time we try to explain it to someone.


I offer this first post to the community and welcome any and all feedback as we continue to help each other.


1)    What is a Punchout Catalog?

The majority of large corporations and many government agencies use some kind of eProcurement solution like Ariba Buyer to streamline and control the millions or billions of dollars of products and services that they buy every year. The employees in these organizations are being asked to use these eProcurement tools to create purchase orders rather than simply using their credit card to buy directly from suppliers’ B2C eCommerce sites or in a physical store. By driving spend through these tools, buyers gain control through approval rules, visibility through reporting, and bargaining power by driving business to contracted suppliers.


The preferred way for employees to create purchase orders is to use catalogs. Catalogs make it easier for employees to create accurate and detailed purchase orders that are most likely to be fulfilled without issue by suppliers. Employees would prefer to use catalogs and simply add what they need with a few clicks rather than being forced to manually type in all the required information in a “non-catalog” purchase requisition.


There are typically two types of catalogs:

A.     A relatively simple spreadsheet that lists supplier products or sometimes simple services, e.g. Ariba’s CIF file.

B.     More complex punchout websites that are similar in functionality to the common online ordering website. Punchout sites         have a special ability to integrate with customers that use eProcurement systems like Ariba Buyer.


For the less technical business owner, account manager, or sales rep, a punchout catalog is an online ordering website that your large customers can connect to in order to find the information they need about your products or services. Sounds simple enough?


For the more technical IT manager, website administrator, or consultant, a punchout catalog is a customized eCommerce shopping cart that integrates with eProcurement systems through a series of HTTPS posts transmitting predefined cXML documents that allow for secure authentication and ultimately the transfer of item information from the site’s cart to the buyer’s purchase requisition. Whew!


It’s an impressively technical solution that provides a deceivingly simple result: customers are able to get into your site securely, get a quote for what they need, then transfer all the information they need.


2)    Typical Punchout Flow

Here’s an attempt at walking you through the typical steps when a user (your customer) wants to buy something from you using your punchout website:


1.  Log In

  • Users log into the company’s eProcurement system (e.g. Ariba Buyer).
  • Unlike typical business to consumer (B2C) eCommerce, the customer will never log into your punchout site directly from the Internet, e.g. – it will always be accessed via the eProcurement system.
  • This is a huge advantage for suppliers as there is no need to administer hundreds or thousands of individual usernames and passwords – this is all handled on the buyer side.

2.  Browse or Search

  • The users browse or search through the potentially numerous catalogs to hopefully find the link to your punchout website.
  • Keep reading for a tip on how to increase the probability of getting found.

3.  “Punch Out” to Website

  • When users click your punchout link in Ariba Buyer, they seamlessly enter your punchout site. At first glance, it may appear that the customers have simply been forwarded to your website; however the users are actually still in their Ariba Buyer sessions – there will be an Ariba Buyer-branded frame at the top of the browser window.
  • This is where the term “punch out” stems from, as users are still in Ariba, but they’ve now connected out to your website for the sole purpose of grabbing the information they need to complete their purchase request.

4.  Transfer Cart Contents

  • Once customers have punched out to your website, they’ll search or browse for their desired product or service just like a typical online shopper would.
  • The checkout process is different, however. When users decide to checkout their carts, instead of the site prompting them for shipping and billing information, they are taken back to their purchase requisitions within Ariba Buyer, and the items that were in the punchout website carts now magically appear in the right spot within their purchase requisitions!
  • Note that customers have NOT actually purchased anything from you yet – remember, they need to send you a purchase order, so what they’ve really done is simply gathered a quote themselves with the help of your punchout site.  True customer self-service!

5.  Submit for Approval & Transmit Purchase Order

  • Once users have finished adding items to the purchase requisition, they are required to enter/confirm additional information such as shipping address, account(s) to be billed, and internal notes such as justification explanation, the requisitions may require approval before purchase orders are finally transmitted to the supplier.

One common misconception is that punchout suppliers must now switch to receiving purchase orders via cXML and start transmitting invoices via cXML as well. While this is a best practice, buyers typically don’t care HOW you receive your orders or transmit your invoices, as long as you fulfill the orders quickly and invoice accurately.

3a) Benefits for Suppliers


These are just a few of the main ones and I’m sure many of you can offer others:


  • Control the Shopping Experience (Or At Least Part of It)
    • Suppliers that simply provide local catalogs have absolutely no control over the shopping experience beyond the content of the catalog. On the other hand, a punchout allows complete control over the shopping experience and catalog content once customers enter your site.  Suppliers tend to find punchouts more empowering as they can actually see what their customer sees.

  • Update Catalog Content As Needed
    • When it comes time to update your product catalog, if you are using a CIF file, you’ll need to ask coordinate with your buyer to ask permission to make the changes then rely on them to upload the file into Ariba Buyer.  With punchout, you are allowed (and expected) to update your catalog yourself, without the customer needing to do anything.  It is a best practice to at least notify your customers of any notable changes.

  • Upsell and Cross-Sell
    • One way to take advantage of your punchout site is by upselling and cross-selling. If a customer is looking at a camera, suggest that they look at two others in an effort to push more preferred items.  If a customer has added a camera to their cart, suggest additional items they may have forgotten such as a case and tripod!

  • Become “Stickier”
    • When buyers invite you to integrate your punchout website, they’re investing time and effort in you. It’s in their best interest that the integration is thoroughly tested and your website is as user-friendly as possible. Once integrated, they typically are not in a rush to do it all over again with another supplier anytime soon.

  • Market Your Punchout Abilities to Other Customers
    • Now that you’ve taken care of the immediate need to provide a punchout solution to one of your customers, use your new capabilities to your advantage!  Issue a press release. Email all your other customers to see if they are using eProcurement. Update your Ariba Supplier Network profile. Consider joining the Ariba Ready program. Definitely contact Ariba Connection Solutions and express your desire to service additional Ariba customers:

  • Provide Enhanced Functionality
    • When you have a punchout site, you have the opportunity to continuously add value. Rather than just provide the bare minimum requirements that your customer has requested, go crazy with value-add functionality! Strive to provide the best punchout possible. Your buyers might even agree to announce notable new functionality to their users, improving your exposure. My next post will include a long list of impressive ways that suppliers are adding value for their customers.


3b) Challenges for Suppliers


Again, here are just a couple of challenges, however there are more:


  • Getting Found in eProcurement Searches
    • The truth is you’re essentially at the mercy of your customers when it comes to how easily your punchout link can be found. You can’t highlight your link, make it bold, or have it float to the top. You might be fortunate enough to be the only listing under your category, or you might be one search result in a listing of thousands. Once the punchout site is up, ask your buyer how best to advise customers on how to find your punchout link.
    • TIP: Suppliers should provide buyers with a list of recommended keywords to help increase the likelihood of your punchout link to be found within Ariba Buyer (e.g. if you’re a printing company add keywords like “business card, letterhead, letter head, envelope, notepad, note pad, print”).
    • NOTE: Instead of providing your buyer with a simple link to your website’s homepage, a more advanced option might be to provide individual links to every category (aisle level punchout) or even every product (item level punchout). This combination of a punchout website with a more detailed catalog file is called level 2 punchout. There are pros and cons to level 2 punchout that I’ll save for another post.

  • Deciding How Best to Go Punchout
    • If you already have an online ordering site, you have three options: try to do it all yourself (DIY), partner with an integrator to outsource at least the new cXML punchout piece, or simply license a turnkey punchout capable shopping cart.
    • This is often a difficult decision to make, especially if you’ve invested substantial time and money in your existing website. The most common approach (in my humble experience) has been to go with the option with the least risk and unknowns: a second site that is already punchout capable. I’ll save this option analysis for another post as well.
    • If you don’t have online ordering capabilities today, then the option is clear: go with a solution that can address all of your customers, both those that are asking for a punchout catalog ASAP and any other customer that may want to order online but not necessarily via punchout.


4) Where to Get Help


Ariba provides suppliers with useful documentation, live webinars, and third party solution providers:


1.  Ariba Supplier Network Help Page

2.  Ariba’s Live Demos


3.  Ariba Supplier Solution Providers


About the Author

Matt Fisher is the founder and COO of, the longest standing Ariba Supplier Solution Provider, providing suppliers with Ariba certified punchout capable solutions known for their extremely consumer friendly look and feel and a long list of feature functionality, implemented by experienced professionals.  Visit for more information.

Yesterday, we discovered what predictive analytics meant. Today, we'll share how it can do for your company.



Why does predictive matter for your company?

The ability to make good predictions can literally make or break your organization. And while you may have a business scorecard, you need to ask: is my scorecard smart enough? If you’re still using traditional reporting solutions that answer questions about what happened last quarter, the answer is no. Though historical reporting has value, it’s a look in the rearview mirror—telling you what has happened rather than what will happen. Predictive analytics flips that equation, enabling you to look forward so you can avoid wrong decisions and make the right ones to gain strategic advantage. For example, predictive analytics might help you:


  • Identify hidden revenue opportunities within your customer base
  • Retain your high-value customers, employees, and partners with the right retention offers
  • Enable your call center agents to delight customers with the best next-step recommendations
  • Build long-term customer/employee/partner relationships with intelligent interactions


If you think all this sounds a bit futuristic, think again. Innovative predictive technologies are already enabling many companies to achieve these goals and more. For example, SAP Predictive Analysis helps organizations use the power of predictive across multiple business functions, and SAP InfiniteInsight automates modeling and deployment tasks to make predictive analytics available to users in diverse operational environments. “These tools make it easier for end users to define predictive models for their particular areas,” Tucker says.


While there’s still a ways to go before predictive becomes the norm for every business, inroads are visible in many areas (see sidebar). Tucker likes the story of the Oakland A’s. As depicted in the movie Moneyball, the A’s successfully used predictive analysis to identify and fill the positions needed to produce a championship team—despite having the lowest payroll in all of baseball. “It’s a fantastic example of how an organization used predictive models to identify the right talent required to achieve their objectives,” Tucker notes.


Who's using predictive today?


  • Utilities use smart meters to effectively track consumption in neighborhoods and homes, then compare that with environmental data to predict upcoming energy needs on the grid and take corrective action as needed.
  • Healthcare organizations use predictive to map patient outcomes for specific treatments and anticipate where the market’s headed on new technologies and protocols—enabling them to staff appropriately, invest wisely, reduce hospital readmittance, and cut costs.
  • Retailers employ mobility and location tools to predict and drive what consumers will purchase--for example, stores can text passersby with sale alerts about the specific items they most want to buy.
  • Telecoms use predictive to monitor customer usage trends and get notified when consumption falls so they can take steps to secure shaky accounts.


Functional groups

  • Sales teams use predictive to assess the likelihood of a deal closing in a given quarter, prescribe corrective action if needed, and correctly forecast revenues. Mobility tools give sales reps on-the-spot awareness of the probable price a customer is willing to pay.
  • Staffing/HR targets the best candidates through predictive. For example, the Navy SEALs use a sophisticated model to identify those applicants most likely to make it through the strenuous and costly BUD/S training, increasing success rates while protecting their investment.
  • Business planning, forecasting, and budgeting are predictive models and core, data-driven activities that every business uses. They also help companies gain competitive advantage, identify new revenue opportunities, increase profitability, improve customer service, and drive operational efficiencies—all named as top predictive benefits in a recent Ventana Research survey.


Tomorrow: we'll cover steps for best practices

If you don't want to wait, go to our Supply Lines group to read the full article.

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