SAP Ariba Live Europe: the procurement revolution

SAP Ariba Live, an annual event mounted on both sides of the Atlantic by the cloud-based network for trading partners, is steadily growing both in size and scope.

With around 1,400 delegates attending this year’s SAP Ariba Live three-day conference in the Czech Republic’s capital of Prague – a 31% increase on last year, when Madrid was the venue – the European event is fast catching up on its US counterpart and on present trends could be matching it by 2025.

SAP Ariba’s president, Alex Atzberger, announced the figure at the opening plenary session this week and said that it reflected a doubling of the group’s customer base in Europe over the past year. He also launched the catchphrase for this year’s gathering, ‘Making procurement awesome’, which was heard regularly over subsequent sessions. It reflected the speed with which procurement is maturing and technology is opening up new capabilities.

With the digital transformation well underway, Atzberger said that the Ariba network aimed to make the procurement experience simpler and easier through the frictionless connecting of suppliers and buyers. “We’re excited by what we’ve done and also by what many of our customers are doing,” he told attendees. “Procurement projects are getting bigger and becoming an agent of change.”

According to Sudhir Bjojwani, SAP Ariba’s chief product officer, this is underpinned by the adoption by many corporations of advanced machine learning, which has speeded up the process of data cleansing, enrichment and normalisation that until recently typically took days to complete.

Google’s chief executive officer (CEO), Sundar Pichai, has commented; “We are moving from a mobile-first to an artificial intelligence (AI)-first world,” while research group Gartner believes that around 45% of enterprises will be using AI to assist their procurement processes by 2018. This is despite the fact that while AI systems are rapidly evolving, common problems exist such as too little insight derived from too much data and a poor linkage between insights, discovery and action.

However, businesses “have a real opportunity to transform with AI”, while SAP Ariba is further assisting the trend through various programmes that include the Spot Buy initiative, which links procurement departments with major suppliers. Already rolled out in North America, Latin America and Australia, Spot Buy is being extended to Europe through the network’s partnership with Mercateo, Europe’s biggest business to business (B2B) platform.

A social mission

The group’s aims also extend to achieving social change and “making the world a better place”. SAP Ariba is working with chief financial officers (CFOs) and executives across range of organisations towards this goal. Among them is the non-profit business Samasource, whose founder and chief executive (CEO) Leila Janah took to the stage to explain how the group connects individuals at the bottom of the economic pyramid and endeavours to find them work and lift them out of poverty.

Alicia Tillman, SAP Ariba’s chief marketing officer, introduced another of the group’s initiative dubbed ‘The Power of Purpose’, which is based on the belief that commercial values and social values aren’t mutually exclusive. She quoted Harvard Business Review authors Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, who wrote: “Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy or event sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success.” Studies suggest that companies placing social responsibility as a priority typically achieve a stock price performance 12 times better than those that do not.

In addition to overseeing SAP Ariba’s drive to make supply chains more transparent – thereby exposing practices such as modern day slavery and child labour – Tillman is an advocate of greater diversity and founder of a regular series of events titled ‘Women in Leadership’. The first of these, held in Munich two years ago, attracted around 25 attendees, while the most recent – in Las Vegas in March and this week in Prague – drew a crowd of more than 300.

Tillman also introduce on stage Justin Dillon, founder of the action group Made in a Free World, which is committed to ending modern day slavery. MiaFW has established a directory to identify regions of the world where forced labour still exists as part of its bid to eradicate the practice.

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