The Sourcing Maniacs 2008 Vendor Tour Part VII: Emptoris

At this point in the story, I ask the Sourcing Maniacs to jump ahead and discuss their expedition to Massachusetts for Empower and what they learned.

This is a long post, since the maniacs love to go on and on and on at times, so I’ve broken it up into Preamble and Discussion. If you’re short on time, you can skip the pre-amble, which doesn’t have a lot of content.


Guys, if I may interrupt, can we jump ahead a little bit?
Yakko, Wakko, & Dot startled, probably forgetting I was even in the room as I’ve been rather silent to this point during the recounting of their massive summer road tour
Wha …
Dot You’re still here?
the doctor Of course! I’ve been listening intently to your story.
Wakko That’s right! We were telling you the story of our summertime blues
Yakko I’m gonna raise a fuss, I’m gonna raise a holler
About a workin’ all summer just to try to …
the doctor Yakko!
Yakko Yes?
the doctor Can we jump ahead in the story to where you return to Massachusetts in your quest to sneak into Empower?
Dot I thought you wanted to here about our journey as it happened.
the doctor I do … but I just want you to jump ahead and tell me about your recent trip back to Massachusetts, because I know Emptoris is on everyone’s mind these days … and don’t you want to fit the “E” in at an appropriate place? Besides, as soon as you’re done telling me about your recent side-trip, we can return exactly to where you are now in your story.
Dot Promise?
the doctor Yes Dot, I promise.
Wakko? Wakko!
Wakko just lit four roman candles that he pulled out of his backpack and he is starting to juggle them.
You need to put those out now!
Wakko But juggling candles helps me focus!
the doctor But those are Roman Candles!
Wakko So?
Yakko & Dot They explode!
Yakko and Dot quickly grab the candles from Wakko and snuff them out.
the doctor So, can we jump ahead a little bit? Does it make sense?
Wakko Cents … don’t you need copper to make those?
Yakko Wakko!
Yes, doctor, I think it makes sense.
the doctor Then take it away!
Dot Wow, Vinimaya was awesome!
Yakko I never knew you could integrate more than one catalog in one view before!
Wakko … and simultaneously bring up every vendor of baloney in the world with their current pricing and get the best possible deal for your money today! I’m hungry …
Yakko & Dot You’re always hungry! Didn’t you just eat an entire Boston Cream Pie?
Wakko … and it was yummy! …
Yakko Look … way up ahead … I think that’s Pinky and the Brain!
Wakko I think so too!
Dot Let’s hurry!
  the maniacs pick up the pace …
soon after, Pinky and the Brain round a corner
when the maniacs round the corner, they see Pinky and the Brain enter a resort ….
they approach … a guard is guarding the door
Dot Quick! They’re in there!
Guard in a French accent
Halt! No en-tray for yoo!
  the maniacs come to an abrupt stop
Dot Do I know you!
Guard Yoo furry little hamzterz again? Yoo are not welcome here either!
Wakko We’re not hamsters!
Guard But yoo still zmell like elderberriez, yoo pointy-eared Ratatouilles!
Yakko What are you doing here?
Guard I go where dey send me!
Yakko What do you mean?
Guard I work for RAG … Rent-A-Guard!
Now go, or I shall taunt yoo again!
Yakko Let’s go … this guy is still crazier than us!
Wakko But …
Yakko We’ll have to find another way to find out what’s going on with Emptoris.
Dot But … Pinky …
Yakko Maybe we can catch them on the way out.
Guard I make fun-nee facez at yoo!
Dot OK … I’m getting weirded out …
Wakko Wakko starts making funny faces back
Yakko Wakko! Let’s go.
  The maniacs take their leave.


the doctor So, you didn’t get into Empower? Did you lean anything? Is there a point to this story?
Yakko We did overhear a few conversations at the local restaurants …
the doctor So, nothing more than rumors then …
Dot Some we heard a few times …
the doctor Well, with respect to those that you heard more than once, did you overhear anything that is more informative than what I already read on Spend Matters and heard from attendees?
Yakko Spend-What now?
Wakko Cost Matters, dude! It’s all about getting as much as you can for whatever you’re selling! It’s all about the mighty dollar!
Dot After all, it wouldn’t be Prada if it were cheap now, would it?
the doctor OOO-Kay … back to topic … let’s discuss what my readers probably already know and see if you have anything to add to it. Sound good?
Wakko Of course they sound good! They’re Bose speakers!
the doctor learning quickly that interrupting the maniacs does not lead to predictable results
Let’s start with the numbers. Any idea how accurate the headcount numbers reported on Spend Matters are? In other words, does Emptoris have almost 450 people, with 150 staff members in engineering and QA?
Yakko I never heard anyone at the local restaurants talk about headcount numbers.
Wakko They were more concerned with losing their shirts, though I don’t know how you lose something that you wear snugly around your body.
the doctor I think they were using a metaphor to refer to the current economic crisis, Wakko.
Wakko Wakko looks … thoughtful.
the doctor It’s unfortunate that you can’t add anything. I’d like to know more about the current R&D breakdown, and, in particular, QA vs. maintenance and support of existing products vs. development of new products vs. mid-term to long-term research?
Yakko Why?
the doctor 150 is a large R&D organization, esprecially in this space. If I had that many people, and they were the right people, I could do some great things. And the more they have on new development and mid-to-long-term R&D, the more you can expect from them in the future.
Yakko After our road tour this summer, I don’t know what to expect anymore! I used to think the solution our former employer developed was very comprehensive and kicked-ass … but now I know it only solved a small part of the problem and that there’s a lot more to sourcing than I thought, and a lot of new solutions out there to help companies address their problems.
the doctor That’s right, Yakko. It’s a wide world of sourcing, with great tools to help you if you know where to look. Let’s move onto the new developments coming down the pipe that Emptoris released details on at Empower.

I have gathered the following from Spend Matters alone:

  • better attachment handling
  • an enhanced notification & alerting framework
  • an updated preliminary bidding interface as well as optimized auctions
  • incremental awards capability
  • ad-hoc reporting capabilities that plug into Microsoft Excel
  • embedded domain knowledge

and I must say that, with the exception of the third and sixth improvements, they don’t grab my attention. We’ve known how to handle attachments for over a decade now, and open source content management / document management solutions with extensive attachment support have been available since early in the decade; if the architecture properly accounts for events, it’s trivial to send off a notification or trigger an alert on any event that occurs in the system; just about everything plugs into Microsoft Excel these days, and has for years; and incremental awards capability is a pretty logical product extension.

That being said, if the domain knowledge that was embedded was extensive, good, and guided the workflow … that would be incredibly useful to your average buyer and if the optimization was tightly integrated into the auctions, that would seriously rock. However, the later is much easier said than done. So, needless to say, I’m curious as to how far they have progressed down that road.

Can you add anything to this?

Wakko When I was hiding in the foliage …
the doctor You were … never mind … continue …
Wakko I heard a couple of men in suits talk about the new “drillable dashboards” and how cool they were. How they thought they’d be able to drill around their reports in real time and find hidden opportunities and then export the data to Excel and play around some more. They said it’s much better than the reporting they got when they first bought the solution.
the doctor A couple of my sources mentioned that too. I hope they did more than that. First of all, as I’ve said again and again, dashboards are dangerous and dysfunctional as they can give you a false sense of security. Secondly, with a spend analysis solution, which is one of the many solutions Emptoris provides, you can not only build your own “dashboard” reports, but actually drill around the entire data set in real time.

I was hoping that the dashboards were quick access points into their SRM application, since that’s the one place I see them being incredibly useful, and was hoping that you’d be able to provide some clarification.

But c’est la vie. Anything else?

Dot When I was pretending to be a waitress, I heard them talking about something called spend desktop intelligence.
the doctor The Prophet (of Spend Matters) mentioned that too, but I’m fuzzy on the details. Are they packaging up their best practices and market insights that they would have gained from working with their customers across America and Europe, and maybe trying to leverage it the same way Ariba is apparently realizing that it needs to leverage it’s category expertise?
Dot I don’t know. They mentioned how great it was that it worked with Excel and supported more ad-hoc reporting.
the doctor That makes it sound like its just an improved reporting tool, which it may be based on a few things I heard. But I hope I’m not getting the full story and that it’s more than that, especially since it’s been reported that they have a Center of Excellence with over 65 staff that speaks ten languages and works with customers across North America and Europe. With that many staff, they would be developing significant market and category expertise, just like the Ariba Supply Watch team, from working on the large number of customer projects that such a team could support over the course of a year. I want to see them package that knowledge up and build a tool that instantly puts it at their customers fingertips. That would be desktop intelligence!

Anything else?

Yakko I heard a couple of suits talking about something called agile contracting and whether or not the simultaneous amendments and mass amendments would be useful.
the doctor Well, if by simultaneous amendment you mean the ability for multiple parties to simultaneously collaborate in the drafting and rapid approval of a contract amendment, which is what I believe it is, that is very useful. But what do you mean by mass amendments?
Yakko I think it’s the ability to amend multiple contracts at once.
the doctor Well, that scares me a little.
Yakko Why?
the doctor Most amendments to a contract need to be mutual … between both parties. That means you can’t just go modifying a contract, once signed, willy-nilly, and that you definitely can’t go modifying a group of contracts willy-nilly … unless you want to give your legal advisor a heart attack. Now, it’s true that some modifications can be made unilaterally, but they are usually restricted to change of address, etc. Although the feature could prove to be quite useful in larger organizations during contract template maintenance and update, which is a huge task in itself if you have the same terms and conditions across multiple types of contracts, I can see it scaring legal council, who would thus be adverse to using it, especially if they think there’s a chance they could overwrite a live contract. Let’s hope they put out some really good messaging on this capability.

Anything else?

Dot Spend enrichment …
the doctor Yeah … I’ve heard this from multiple sources … but I’m going to cut you off at the starting line with this one. Spend enrichment is child’s play with a good spend analysis system (and if you don’t immediately see why, read the wiki-paper and the spend analysis posts on my blog), and doesn’t need much discussion.

What else?

Yakko Performance visibility within Contract Management …
the doctor Now that would be cool … especially if they tightly integrated their SRM application within their CM tool and, for any supplier, you could see how well they were doing at a glance, where they were weak, and what needed improvement … and could take immediate action. And if you can see their invoice accuracy, and verify that you are not overpaying, and thus realizing your negotiated savings … that’s useful. What were you able to find out about it?
Yakko Nothing.
the doctor Nothing?
Yakko They left the restaurant just as they started that conversation.
the doctor That’s unfortunate … as I don’t have any details on this either, though I’m told by multiple sources it’s coming. Anything else? Anything?
Wakko Something about A T K.
the doctor Do you mean AT Kearney?
Wakko I think so.
the doctor What did you hear?
Wakko Something about AT Kearney using Emptoris Spend Enrichment exclusively for all of it’s opportunity assessments.
the doctor Are you sure?
Wakko I think so. Why? Is it important?
the doctor Are you kidding? If you heard right, that’s huge!
Dot, tell me what you heard about what they are calling “spend enrichment” … their definition must be more extensive than mine if they’ve won over AT Kearney.
Dot Something about building in an item knowledge base and vendor knowledge base …
the doctor And???
Dot I got called to another table. I had to keep the waitress act up, you know.
the doctor That sucks. I’d love to know how they won AT Kearney … and to what extent AT Kearney is deploying them … I’d bet that to be one of the most important revelations to come out of Empower … after all, with the exception of optimization-based auctions, just about everything else sounds like logical, incremental, expected upgrades to their existing suite. But whatever they did to get the undivided attention of AT Kearney is certainly worth investigating! It’s too bad they won’t talk to us …

Anything …

Yakko They’re hoping to have their next release out soon.
the doctor I’ve heard that too. Did you overhear what’s going to be in it?
Yakko Dutch reverse auctions, dashboard intelligence, and better spend analysis.
the doctor Sounds about right. My sources didn’t provide much insight here, which is probably good since future development plans are always subject to change anyway. Did you hear if they are going to take whatever they have for auction-optimization up a notch? That could be so cool!
Yakko I don’t know. I didn’t overhear anyone talk about optimization at all.
the doctor That’s depressing. I know that I’ve said before that I don’t think it’s the best solution on the market, but let’s face it, you don’t need the absolute best optimization solution on the market to save big money the first time you apply it to a category … a good optimization solution, which they appear to have based on the details they released in a Spend Matters Post and other publications I’ve been able to dig up, will save you a small fortune (especially if it is significantly more affordable than the best solution out there, as there is generally not that much of a difference between a good, solid, optimization solution and a great one, which generally only saves you additional dollars on significantly complex or specialized categories), and from what I understand, they’ve made some definite improvements, at least on the usability front, over the last couple of years and I bet there’s still a lot of categories their average customer could save 10% (or more) on. (And, these days, that’s a lot of money!)

But what should I expect from the market? The true leaders get it, and the laggards, which, apparently, constitute the majority of the space, don’t. I guess I’ll just have to keep educating them that optimization is easy, that they can do it, and that they can save money … significant money … and this is doubly true if they are already using a solution (like Emptoris) that has optimization. (Even though I’m starting to feel like Rob Schneider in an Adam Sandler movie.) I hope that, for the sake of so many companies which are in unnecessary financial jeopardy, it doesn’t take me much longer.

Anything else?

Yakko Not really.
the doctor Dot?
Dot No … I was really much too busy having fun playing waitress …
Wakko I got so comfortable in the foliage, I feel asleep.
the doctor So you didn’t hear anything more than I did. Pity. Because what I’ve been told, by attendees, and heard over the last few months doesn’t go much beyond the coverage on Spend Matters, the news sites (Supply and Demand Chain Executive, ITWeb, and their own Emptoris Connect news site), and the Analyst sites (like Forrester, AMR, and IQPC). And my readers want more than that. They want deep insights into problems, solutions, and vendors who can help them. Not marketing fluff or the superficial coverage, which is often no more than parroting press release, that most of the news sites seem to be content with these days.

On a different subject, did you meet up with Pinky and the Brain while you were in the area?

Dot Pinky came to see me …
the doctor And?
Dot He told me some funny stories.
the doctor Any contain any insights as to what’s going on with the vendor world?
Dot Not really. They were just about the Brain’s latest attempts to take over the sourcing world.
the doctor Tell him to share them with me! It’s been a while since I’ve heard from him.

Well, if there’s nothing else, I should let you get back to your story.

Yakko Where were we?
the doctor Reviewing notes.
Oompa Loompa Doom-pa-dee-do

The next part of the story continues after where we left off in Part VI.