If you attended Ariba LIVE 2013 in Washington, DC, you know this year’s conference delivered on its promise to help attendees “Join the Networked Economy” and drive greater value for their business. Through interactive networking, the seller education workshop, and keynotes and breakout sessions, seller participants got lots of information on the e-commerce tools, resources, and processes that enable more effective collaboration with customers—along with insights into innovative new ideas and emerging trends.

 

Weren’t able to attend? Then do the next-best thing: follow Jerry as he writes about his Ariba LIVE 2013 experiences in his “seller diary,” giving an insider’s view of conference highlights. Then click the links to watch videos and SlideShares of presentations from the event.

 

Ariba LIVE Diary, Day One: Monday

Okay, so I’m here to learn what this Ariba thing is all about. Since our company recently joined the Ariba® Network at the request of a customer, I need to know as much as possible about what that will mean for us. Registration went smoothly, they had my name and everything, and I headed to the Seller Education Workshop.

 

So, the session started off with people from Ariba giving brief talks on different topics (this PowerPoint has details). We learned about the new Seller Management Organization, designed to support sellers in getting the same value from the network that buyers do. Then we discussed strategies and resources to help us progress along the “e-commerce maturity curve,” which is the typical stages sellers go through as they work their way up the food chain in using Ariba and collaborative commerce. The speaker made this easy to understand by telling a story about “cauliflower and maturity.” It’s interesting how moving up the curve is like evolving as a person or business, and I could really see the value of being a mature e-commerce company (slide 28 shows the numbers). Then we talked about “Integration Express,” a quick consultation to assess whether you’re a candidate for integrating your back-end systems to your customers through the Ariba Network.

 

In the breakout groups, we all exchanged ideas and shared stories. I got to hear firsthand how my peers are overcoming barriers in their organizations plus “lessons learned” from their experiences, which was extremely helpful! First, I went to “Best Practices for Creating and Managing Your Ariba Network Profile,” which focused on how you could improve your Ariba cloud profile to get more attention from buyers. (This made me realize that Ariba is more than just a way to transact with our customer—it also offers opportunities to get new business.) Next, I joined the “Optimizing Your Sales Proposals” group, where I picked up some valuable info on how to get the best results when responding to an RFP or RFQ through Ariba. I wrapped up with “Using Ariba Discovery as a Business Development Tool,” where people suggested ways to grow your business through this buyer-seller matching service.

 

After dinner, regional receptions were held at the hotel. I went to the Midwest one and ran into a few colleagues, so we got to chat about business over drinks—a relaxing way to end the evening.

 

Ariba LIVE Diary, Day Two: Tuesday

Excited about the first “official” day of the event, I headed to the ballroom after breakfast to attend the morning general session. Ariba CEO Bob Calderoni started things off with “The Next-Generation Ariba,” explaining where Ariba is headed and what the SAP acquisition will mean. It all sounded positive, with the change giving Ariba greater global scale, more resources to support customers, and new capabilities like analytics and mobility with SAP HANA powering Ariba solutions. For sellers that means access to thousands of potential new customers, plus availability of real-time market data and community intelligence to make more informed sales and financial decisions. Next, leaders from three buying organizations talked about how they’ve harnessed the power of the Ariba Network and e-commerce for their businesses. It was interesting to hear the customer perspective on what’s possible through the technology. Their sellers are benefiting too, using e-commerce to become truly strategic partners and drive up sales.

 

I headed next to the Trading Partner Enablement Luncheon, where the main topic was the onboarding/enablement process. We discussed ways this can get derailed, like through a poorly planned enablement strategy or ineffective change management, and what buyers and sellers can do to collaborate better and avoid these problems.

 

The general session after lunch was led by Sanish Mondkar, Ariba executive VP and CPO, who talked about “The Next-Generation Network.” He described how the network is evolving beyond its initial aim of connecting buyers and sellers for greater process efficiency to the next wave: network-derived intelligence that gives both sides greater insight. He also walked us through some innovative new Ariba services, including a feature called Spot Buy on Ariba Discovery that promises to open up plenty of business opportunities for sellers.

 

The rest of the afternoon was devoted to breakout sessions, where I learned more valuable information. In “Debunking the E-Commerce Myths: Addressing Common Misperceptions to Take E-Commerce to the Next Level,” the speakers turned several myths on their heads—including the ideas that 1) e-commerce separates you from your customer, 2) e-commerce has to be managed by IT rather than sales and marketing, and 3) e-commerce requires a big IT budget. For example, account manager Tammy Wagner of SHI International debunked the first myth by explaining how e-commerce reporting and analytics help her team better understand customer behavior and enhance customer service, which actually improves relationships and retention. They saved one customer 20 percent by examining their software purchasing patterns and putting them in a more appropriate license agreement, and saved another customer tens of thousands by negotiating more favorable pricing based on analysis of their monitor purchases. So rather than creating distance, e-commerce makes customers see them as (I even made note of Tammy’s exact words) “a valued partner and a trusted partner.” It’s driven major sales gains as well, with the team capturing 55-56M USD in business annually.

 

Then cSubs CTO Ken Redler flattened myth #3, showing how e-commerce enables his company to innovate in ways that give them parity with larger vendors—and it doesn’t take a huge IT budget (which as a small company, they don’t have). After their first Ariba integration, the costs and time involved fell sharply for each subsequent one, plus they were able to leverage the benefits across many customers. Ken said, “Once you’re integrated with a platform like Ariba, you’re a known quantity to the buyers. The journey was easier than expected…at least for Ariba, it’s well thought out, well documented, there is support, there are forums. Ariba really does treat the supplier as a customer.”

 

Another interesting session was “E-Commerce: The Must-Have Sales and Marketing Tool for Finding Buyers Ready to Buy and Retaining Them,” where John DiStefano, research director at B2B Magazine, presented results on emerging trends from their study on e-commerce and marketing. Clearly, B2B selling is getting more complex fast, and the findings show how best-in-class marketers are managing this through online channels. One thing that really struck me was the way some companies are changing their organizational structure and responsibilities to better respond to market changes. For example, B2B e-commerce is driving increased alliances between the CIO and CMO roles, and most people agreed that growing technological, branding, and customer interaction synergies between IT and marketing are a natural outcome of this as well. And the momentum is accelerating. For example, asked to name the one solution they were most likely to use in the next 12 months, 88 percent chose online marketplaces like Ariba Discovery, and 49 percent said B2B networks.

 

After all the new ideas, I was ready for a change of pace, and the speed networking event did the trick. It was fun and a little crazy, but also productive. Each buyer-seller pair got just three and a half minutes to exchange information and ask questions before the signal was given to move on. Yet even in that brief time you knew when there was mutual interest, and I connected with several decent prospects.

 

Spent the rest of the evening at the networking reception and after-hours party. Apparently, this party is “legendary,” and it definitely lived up to the hype. It was great to talk to some of the speakers and other sellers in a casual setting. I also got to meet some buyers, so I have to make sure to follow up with them!

 

Ariba LIVE Diary, Day Three: Wednesday

Today was filled with more breakout sessions and new ideas. One highlight was “Accelerate the Sales Cycle through the Perfect Order,” where sellers and buyers participating in the Supply Chain Council’s perfect order initiative explained why they got involved and how Ariba has helped them meet the goals. The rewards sellers got from participating included things like higher customer satisfaction, lower inventory, shorter cash-to-cash cycle times, and fewer stock-outs. Several panelists said that e-commerce capabilities are becoming table stakes for sellers, and Chris Lawler, e-procurement business manager for Agilent Technologies, noted that “The bar is rising every day on what the customer is expecting from you” (like perfect—not just pretty close—orders). He said that in their pilot project with HHMI, Agilent achieved 80 percent touchless transacting through electronic ordering, order confirmations, ship notices, and invoices, boosting that to 94 percent after adding PunchOut and cXML. Integration also helped them build shared efficiencies with their customers, simplify the customer experience, work more strategically, and strengthen trust and credibility.

 

On the buy side, Jennifer Roberts, manager of supply chain systems and processes at Sonoco, explained how they use Ariba to concentrate spend with strategic sellers who really grasp the benefits of the perfect order initiative—for example, they’ve moved from using 20+ waste management vendors and over 50 temporary service sellers to just one of each! (This really brought home to me the importance of being a seller who can comply with the new, higher standards e-commerce is driving.) Billing accuracy also shot up—with one seller going from a 10 to 90 percent accuracy level—delivering nice benefits for both Sonoco and their sellers (like no more wasted time resolving errors…hard to argue with that).

 

I also got a lot out of “Increasing Customer Retention through Automation: B2B Automation and How to Do It,” where we really delved into the whole integration thing. I learned what integration is—end-to-end automation that enables touchless processing of everything from orders to invoices—and what it’s not (emailed POs or manual data entry through the portal). Next came a buyer and seller—Gretchen Harms, enterprise sourcing manager for First National Bank of Omaha, and John D’Aquila, applications support manager for SHI International and a supplier to First National—who described their approach to integration plus the benefits they’ve gained. Harms said that while they don’t require sellers to integrate, they strongly prefer it for both catalogs and invoices, since it speeds invoice submission and reduces errors while increasing efficiency for them and their vendors.

 

The day and the conference ended on a high note with several more fast-moving sessions. The lineup included Ariba president Kevin Costello’s talk on “The Next-Generation You,” followed by “Networked Relief: How American Red Cross’s Connected Supply Chain Fuels Faster Disaster Response” delivered by Red Cross CPO Jill Bossi, and last but not least, the closing keynote presentation by Steve Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media, who put a broader economic perspective on what we’d all spent the last two days talking about.

 

I left DC with a lot of new of ideas, great connections in the e-commerce community that can help our company be successful, and a contact list full of new prospects. All in all, this was an inspiring and informative event. I’m looking forward to next year!

 

This article is part of the current issue of Ariba Supply Lines. Ariba Supply Lines is a quarterly newsletter that provides valuable tips, best practices, and the latest thinking to take your online business relationships with your buying customers to the next level.

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