Category Archives: Market Intelligence

Will Coupa Inspire Sourcing?

In our last post we asked whether or not Coupa inspired at Inspire, referencing our post from last week that asked if they would inspire and indicated where inspiration might come from, and determined that, for an average Procurement professional, Coupa most definitely inspired. But it’s Sourcing and Procurement. Did Coupa inspire Sourcing?

The short answer is no (but it’s not the full answer). Sourcing wasn’t really addressed beyond the statement that with the acquisition of Trade Extensions, most likely being (re)named Coupa Sourcing Optimization, Coupa now has the ability to do complex events, as complex as an organization requires. And while this is true, it’s not very inspiring to an organization that might not even know why they truly need advanced sourcing.

But then again, as of now, Coupa does not really understand advanced sourcing. Up until now, for a Coupa customer, sourcing has been very simple RFXs and basic auctions, age old sourcing technology that any strategic buyer would not find very interesting. But, fortunately for us, Coupa readily admits this. And, as of now, have not decided when, or even if, they are going to integrate Trade Extensions or Spend 360 into their core platform. (Their expectation is they will integrate what makes sense at the right time, but recognize that these were Power User Applications acquired primarily to support current, and future, power users.)

This is good news. The main reason every acquisition of a (strategic sourcing decision) optimization company has failed to date is, as pointed out in a previous post, because the acquirer believed they understood the technology, could integrate, and take it further (and immediately preceded to do just that). But, as we pointed out in a previous post, the ultimate procurement application is the exact antithesis of the ultimate sourcing application. For starters, one is no UI and the other is a UI so complex current desktop systems cannot support it yet.

Based on the history of acquisitions of advanced technology in our space, the only chance of success is to allow both of these acquisitions to more or less continue business as usual, independent of Coupa’s primary business, until such time as all parties collectively, and in conjunction with their collective user base, decide what integration makes sense, when, and how. (And, fortunately for us, this is exactly what Coupa plans to do.) Moreover, in most companies, the people that do the complex sourcing are not only a small user base but are not the people who do procurement and requisitioning. As a result, effective integration right now only consists of pushing transactional data to Spend360 for opportunity analysis, kicking off a sourcing event in Trade Extensions, and then pushing a selected award into Coupa for contract creation and tracking.

As long as Coupa takes advantage of the new Trade Extensions 6 capabilities to define workflows and UX that are easy to use and consistent with what a Coupa power user might define, then they can create a transition for their more advanced organizations into true sourcing, and, more importantly, the Trade Extensions 6 platform can offer a path for those customers that need a more modern Procurement application. And letting each unit do what it does best will insure that, for the first time in the history of acquisitions of advanced sourcing technologies, all parties will actually thrive.

In other words, by saying and doing essentially nothing at this point with respect to their recent advanced sourcing acquisitions, Coupa is actually doing the best they could actually do because it’s going to take them a while to figure out what they got, what they can do, and how all of these units will work together. As far as the doctor knows, they haven’t even hired a translator yet who speaks advanced optimization, machine learning, econometrics (and risk), and truly simplistic Procurement and can teach all parties a common language. So, even though they’ve historically advanced as fast as possible in Procurement, the fastest way for them to advance beyond is to actually slam on the breaks and start again in first gear. If they do this and maintain this philosophy, at a future Inspire, they will finally inspire sourcing in a way that their Source-to-Pay brethren have not.

Did Coupa Inspire?

Last week we asked if Coupa would inspire at Inspire, especially given that most big companies, especially in the Procurement arena, have not given us much to be inspired about as of late. In fact, most announcements in the Procurement Arena have consisted of new UIs, name changes, and acquisitions — none of which does anything for the end user who needs to do a job day-in-and-day-out and spends much of it fighting with an outdated processes implemented by an even more outdated technology causing them to go prematurely bald as they rip out their follicles one by one.

We said that in this day and age you don’t get inspired unless the technology brings value and a technology doesn’t bring value unless it offers something more than the same-old same-old which could include an inclusive design (that also provides functionality needed by suppliers to serve buyers), a multi-functional application (that supports the organizational stakeholders that Procurement must serve), or a better user experience (which is not just a fancy-smancy UI).

So, to this end, did Coupa Inspire?

Inclusive Design?

Definitely. In this release they’ve made it easier for suppliers and service providers to acknowledge POs, flip to invoices, enter timesheets upon services completion, and respond to buyers. The suppliers can determine whether or not they want dynamic discounting, and what terms they will accept (and not need to opt in to or opt out from buyer offers one-by-one). They can maintain their catalogs and use the collaboration tools. With Coupa’s new release, it’s a more inclusive design.

Multi-Functional Application?

With InvoicePay integration, AP can now pay suppliers in 31 countries and know they are being fully compliant with local regulations. Their inventory functionality makes it easy for office managers responsible for indirect inventory. Their single data store gives Finance visibility into all spend under management. And their new risk scoring functionality gives buyers visibility into potential risky transactions that are being directed at potentially risky suppliers. It certainly is becoming multi-functional.

User Experience?

Coupa has figured out the most important feature of a Procurement UI, and that is, simply put, no UI. Procurement is a tactical function that is focussed entirely on servicing a need in the most efficient and effective manner possible. A user shouldn’t see any more than they need to see, do any more than they need to do, and, most importantly if they don’t need to see or do anything, they shouldn’t need to see or do anything at all. If all that is required is an approval for a requisition that completely satisfies all the requirements, and the approval is only required because the total amount exceeds an amount where all requisitions must be approved, then if the approver is aware the approval request is coming, is aware of what it’s for, and has given verbal approval already, then all she should need to do is press a button in the approval request email or send a yes response to an SMS — no application entry needed. In Coupa, she can do that, and a number of other processes have been simplified as well.

So, did Coupa inspire?

For an average Procurement professional, most definitely yes!

But what about a sophisticated sourcing professional, who has to do demand consolidation, new supplier identification and strategic supplier management, complex negotiation, and sophisticated contract creation? Well, that all depends on their read of what Coupa’s acquisitions mean … come back tomorrow.

Will Coupa Inspire?

Inspire starts tomorrow, with what many would consider an impressive line up of speakers, including the great Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. The question is, will you be inspired, and, most importantly, will you be inspired by what they have to offer.

It’s a good question, and one each person will have to answer for themselves. But, at least in the doctor‘s view, an equally good question is what should inspire you?

In our space, most of the technology being sold is, believe it or not, (well) over a decade old. In some cases, it’s *gasp* two decades old. RFX / Auction is over two decades old, and one of the early purveyors, FreeMarkets, was founded 22 years ago. Coupa launched its core offerings on Procurement Independence Day 11 years ago, and the core technology in each of the half-dozen companies it has acquired over the last few years is over a decade too — including Trade Extensions (now Coupa Advanced Sourcing) and Spend 360 (Coupa Analytics).

So what should inspiring? Especially in this day in age? One word. One critical word that is the last word in Coupa’s one sentence event description that claims Inspire is the biggest industry event for creating real, business value. New and differentiated value that you could not obtain before. And where should one look for that value?

The User eXperience

A good user experience can’t be oversimplified. An application that takes a week to learn basic functionality and a month to do anything of moderate complexity greatly extends time to value and limits how much a user will ever be able to do. But an application that is intuitive, makes it easy for a user to do standard tasks with no training, and complex tasks with the help of user guides gets a user to value quickly. Plus, a good experience makes a user want to do more while a bad experience makes a user want to avoid the application as much as possible. And a user experience that is leaps and bounds ahead of the current standard will bring immediate, unexpected, benefits that cannot be predicted.

Multi-Functional Application

Right now, a lot of the current technology is not only narrowly focussed on Procurement but also on direct and indirect sourcing of products and basic services. There is little focus on specialized areas — such as Marketing, Legal, and Finance — or on broader applications — such as Finance analytics, Logistics improvement, MRO. An application that can also provide the same value to other departments and bring more than point-based value to the enterprise is many times more valuable than an application with limited focus and even more limited results.

An Inclusive Design

As SI has continually pointed out over the years, your success is extremely dependent upon your suppliers’ success because their failings are your failings. If their products fail, your customers blame you. If their reputation fails, so does yours. They need to be as successful as you in order for you to succeed. So tech that helps you make this happen is key.

So, in summary, when looking for inspiration, look for that which is going to really change the way you, and your team, does business. And if you find this at Inspire, then it will be a game changer for you.

One Hundred and Six Years Ago Today …

The United States Supreme Court declared Standard Oil to be an “unreasonable” monopoly under the Sherman Antitrust Act and ordered the company broken up. Given the constant M&A spree across the technology space as a whole, and not just the Procurement space, the concept of an unreasonable monopoly is again becoming relevant.

Alphabet (Google), Apple, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle are all Fortune 100 companies, and all of these not only control massive amounts of data (that is now more valuable than gold), but massive amounts of software — and in most cases, back office software and, in a couple of cases, Procurement software. Now, only Oracle has a major Procurement offering, with SAP (Ariba), a Fortune 200, being the biggest in our space, and makes companies like Coupa (at a mere 1.67 B valuation, 1/70th of SAP’s) a drop in the bucket, but still, at the rate Coupa in particular is gobbling up companies and building a best-in-class S2P offering, it won’t be long before an Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft, or even a Salesforce take interest and gobble them up, offering an integrated inbound-outbound back-office management system at a 100B+ valuation like SAP.

At this point you gotta wonder if we’re soon going to have to worry about technology monopolies and our software companies being broken up — Alphabet has undue influence over the internet even compared to Apple and Microsoft; Microsoft has undue influence over the desktop even compared to Apple; and Apple has undue influence on the mobile market with its iPhones and iPads, and these companies all have a host of other offerings (subsidized by the insane profits their primary product lines offer) that are, or will, become hard to compete with. And if one of these companies ever gets the IBM back-office model or the Oracle one-instance model right, they will literally have an enterprise software monopoly.

And the sad thing is that while data, internet, desktop and software monopolies are bad, right now Fortune 500 / Global 3000 companies desperately need end to end solutions in order to be efficient, effective, and bring their laggard supply management programs into the modern era. We need a few apparent monopolies to define the space, get it recognized, advanced the laggards to the point where they are ready for best in class solutions, but then we need these monopolies hampered so that new best in class companies have a chance to take the space program. It’s a delicate balance that is needed, but will it be maintained?

Analytics Gotchas To Watch Out For!

Companies win or lose in the modern marketplace based upon the actionable insights they can derive from their data. We’re in the age of information warfare (that is used against us everyday, especially in political elections, but that’s a post for a different blog), and companies are competing with, or attacking, each other based on the quality of their data. This is why big data science is taking off and why many companies are engaging third party “experts” to help them get started. But not all of these experts are truly experts. Here are some questions to ask and gotchas to walk out for when considering the pitches from supposed experts.

What’s in the 10% to 20% that wasn’t mapped?

While it’s true you can get a lot of insight when 80% of the spend is mapped, and often enough to get an idea where to dig in, there’s two things to watch out for when the data “experts” come back and say they’ve mapped 80%. First of all, is it 80% of spend, 80% of transactions, or 80% of the supply base? Be very careful to understand what 80% was mapped. If it was spend, chances are it’s the big value transactions, and the tail spend is unmapped. If the tail spend contains small, but critical components to production (such as control chips for expensive electro-mechanical systems), this could be problematic if this spend is increasing year over year, or everyone could be okay. If it’s 80% of transactions, this could leave the largest value transactions unmapped, which could completely skew the opportunity analysis. If it’s 80% of the supply base, the riskiest suppliers could go unmapped, and the risk analysis could be skewed.

How many of the recommendations are backed up with your data and not just industry benchmarks?

If the “expert” says that their benchmarks indicate huge opportunities in specific categories, make sure the benchmarks are based on your data, and not data gathered from your competitors (and used in lieu of doing a detailed analysis on your data). Make sure the “experts” are not taking shortcuts (because your data was dirtier than they expected and they didn’t want to make the effort to clean it).

Remember what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said, It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. And, specifically, before one has their own data, not just any data!

Never forget there are lies, damn lies, and statistics!

In the best case, statistics are used for supporting arguments rather than leading, illuminating, arguments. In the worst case, they are used to plug holes in the preliminary analysis that the “expert” would rather not tell you about. (Experts rarely want to admit your data is so dirty and incomplete that they couldn’t do their preliminary analysis to the promised level of accuracy in the time given. They’d rather discover that during the project, after they have it, and, if necessary, put in a change order to clean it for you, and take more of your money.)

Remember that statistics can be used to skew arguments just about anyway you want to, especially if you are willing to use +/- with 90% confidence …

Not everything that can be counted counts!

Remember what Einstein said, because in this age of data overload it’s never been more true. Detailed analysis on certain types of trend data, social media reviews, and segmented consumer purchase patterns don’t always yield any insight, especially when the goal is spend reduction or demand optimization. It all comes down to what Denning said, if you do not know how to ask the right question which will help you focus on the right data then you discover nothing.

There’s no such thing as an alternative fact!

While most consultants in our space won’t try to sell you alternative facts, they may try to sell you alternative interpretations to the ones the data suggest. This is almost as bad. Always remember that Aldous Huxley once said that facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. If we only had to deal with experts and consultants ignoring facts. These consultants especially in the political arena, that try to sell alternative facts or alternative interpretations are selling what has to be the biggest crock of bullsh!t they have come up with yet.

Finally, its not only opportunities that multiply as they are seized (Sun Tzu), it is also misfortunes that come from making bad decisions from bad or incomplete analyses.

And yes, someone has to be the gnashnab!