I just returned home from 3 jam-packed days in Amsterdam at the SAP Ariba Live conference. Having been to the SAP Forum, UK&I User Group and a number of other SAP conferences, this was by far the most exciting and enjoyable I have attended. 

In a room full of professionals who clearly had a passion about procurement and technology, I learnt so much about Ariba and had a fun time doing so.

Whilst I could write an entire essay on everything that went on at the event, I thought it would be useful to summarise my top takeaways from the event as a whole...

1. Demand currently exceeds supply for Ariba. Speaking to both customers and Ariba employees at the event, I realised just how in-demand Ariba is right now. With SAP currently selling more projects than they can deliver, and key consulting partners short of Ariba Consultants, it's clear that right now Ariba's demand exceeds the current supply. To tackle this, Ariba are partnering with key players like Apsolut, BearingPoint, ES2P and IBM to "tag team" projects, slowly giving more responsibility and freedom for the partners to deliver on their own. Note: if you are an aspiring Ariba expert, now is the time to join a consultancy (get in touch with us to find out more).

2. Ariba fighting diversity with procurement.I wrote a piece last year (you can read it here) highlighting how SAP had challenged themselves to create software that could improve workforce diversity. Angela Cain from SAP Ariba showcased how Guided Buying can highlight suppliers who can help achieve diversity targets set by organisations. The idea of not only removing bias but also actively encouraging customers to use diversity friendly suppliers is a fantastic idea - making real change in the typical working day is a sure-fire way to help tackle problems like diversity in the workplace, global sustainability and even modern slavery.

3. The "Amazon feeling".This came up a number of times over the conference but most poignantly when Albert van Mastrigt from Philips gave an anecdote of his daughter seeing him work. Whilst he was completing some work at home, his daughter asked what he was doing. When he explained he was making orders and shopping on the system his daughter said "you're not buying anything, you're just typing data". Realising the gap between his teenage daughter and current workforce, Albert then went on to explain Philips are aiming to make Ariba have an "Amazon feeling"; simple to use, lots of pictures, a real shopping experience rather than just an order on the system. This was also reinforced by Ashley Bates from Shell who stated "it's time to move away from a transactional focus and start thinking of this as a relationship business". I'm all for this - a successful procurement team is based on successful relationships with suppliers - but I'm also interested by how much Amazon was used as an example.

4. Automation is on the agenda As the age old saying goes "if you need to do it more than once, automate it". Ashley Bates from Shell gave a good analogy: if you don't breath you die, but if you breath alone it doesn't make for an amazing life. For organisations to go to the next level with their procurement systems, the everyday tasks (breathing) need to happen in the background for new and innovative processes to flourish. The same ideology came through when Jim Ridgwick from Save the Children explained what S2P automation meant to their organisation - "[S2P automation] success is not how we can enrich the system with AI or sexy new tech, it’s how if you’re a procurement field officer in South Sudan, how can we simplify the technology to help them do their job out there?". Simplifying the basic processes can improve productivity just as much, if not more, as new improvements can.

5. Change management is still being overlooked This was both surprising and glaringly obvious. What was the one thing Sean Thompson from SAP Ariba said that customers said they would approach differently after implementing Ariba? Change management. This isn't surprising in the sense that change management is usually overlooked by organisations. We often expect people to change the way they work by just asking them to do so, rather than creating a culture of change and actively reminding them and nudging them towards the new. That being said, it's surprising this still happens to every customer. Amy Brann, a fantastic speaker and expert on neuroscience, spoke to the audience about the neuroplasticity and the way our brain can reorganize itself. It was a fun and easy segue into the change management discussion, but if SAP realises this as a key problem in implementations then a lot more work is needed (note, I did not come across any stands at the conference focused on change management, although there were tons that looked at increasing understanding of the Ariba system).

More to follow over the next few weeks on some other key takeaways. For anyone who missed the event and would like to replay any of the general session, you can follow this link to re-watch them.

What did you enjoy most about the conference? Get in touch to let me know what you did like, didn't like and would like to see in the future from SAP Ariba.