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Getting a Handle on Spot Buying

SAP’s Ariba teams with eBay to improve rogue B2B procurement for buyers, sellers and enterprises

It remains one of the last bastions of enterprise spend over which companies have little or no control. Yet companies have been loathe to tamper with how their employers and managers buy ad-hoc goods - known as indirect spend, shadow purchasing, or "spot buying."

Now, SAP's Ariba cloud is bringing the best of flexible, innovative spot-buying practices into a more controlled and sanctioned process by teaming with eBay and its B2B marketplace for an integrated, yet dynamic, approach to those indirect purchases not covered by contracts and formal invoicing.

Such scattered, and often unmonitored, spot buying amounts to 15 to 20 percent of a typical enterprise's total purchasing. And so it provides a huge opportunity for improvement, the type that cloud, big-data analytics, and a marketplace of marketplaces approach can best solve. [Disclosure: Ariba is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

The Ariba Networks Spot Buy service was announced today in Orlando at Sapphire by SAP CEO Bill McDermott. "The most intractable CEO issue of our time is complexity," McDermott said in a keynote address Tuesday. "It's getting worse and worse. We see a dream for a simpler SAP, and a simpler customer experience."

Long before the Web, the Thomas Register or vertical industry buyers' catalogs were the mainstays for how many business goods were discovered and procured. There were often done with no contracts, no bids, and no invoices. A material or product was needed, and so it was bought and paid for - fast.

The Web -- and especially Internet search - only increased the ability for those workers in need to find and buy whatever they had to to get their jobs done. Because these buys were deemed "emergency" purchases, or amounted to smaller total amounts, the rogue process essentially flew under the corporate radar.

Under the new Ariba Networks Spot Buy service, major and public online marketplaces are brought into the procurement process inside of SAP and Ariba applications and services. eBay is the first, but Ariba expects to extend the process efficiency to other online B2B markets, said Joe Fox, Vice President of Business Network Strategy at SAP.

Pilot program

The new indirect procurement approach, which will operate as a pilot program between August and December this year, before general availability, will allow those buying through the integrated Ariba Network's Spot Buy services to use eBay's PayPal service to transfer and manage funding, said Fox.

Consistently updated content about B2B goods (services support will come later) will be available to users inside of their existing procurement applications, including Ariba, SAP and later third-party enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, explained Fox. The users can search inside their Ariba apps, including soon-to-be-delivered mobile versions, alongside of their traditional purchasing app services, he said.

"It's consumerizing business," said Fox, adding that users gain convenience and access inside of procurement apps and processes while enjoying ad hoc flexibility and one-click, no-invoice payments from converged markets, catalogs and sanctioned search. Enterprises, on the other hand, gain a new ability to monitor spot buying, analyze it, and provide guidance and curation of what goods should be available to buy - and on what general terms. "It's the best of Web-based buying but with some corporate control," said Fox.

We are facilitating access - with controls and filters - to all the public and third-party content from various markets. It's basically unlimited appropriate content for buyers and seekers.

Eventually, as multiple marketplaces become seamlessly available to procurement apps users, deeper analysis - via SAP's HANA big-data infrastructure on which all Ariba apps and cloud services are being deployed - will allow business to determine if redundancy or waste indicates that the sourcing should be done differently.

The net net, said Fox, is that more unmonitored spending can fall under spot buying, even as some spot buying can move to more formal procurement where bids, negotiation and payment efficiencies such as dynamic discounting can play a role. What's more, analytics can be applied to a whole new area of spend, amounting to higher productivity over many billions of dollars of B2B spending per year worldwide.

"We are not going to build any marketplaces," said Fox. "We are facilitating access - with controls and filters - to all the public and third-party content from various markets. It's basically unlimited appropriate content for buyers and seekers."

These marketplaces will also allow those selling goods and products to gain improved access into the B2B environments (such as the SAP installed base globally) as a new way to go seller-direct with information and content about their wares. New business models and relationships are no doubt bound to develop around that.

Fox said no other business app or procurement services providers have anything like the new offering, one that targets rogue and unmonitored buying by workers using open and aggregated mainstream markets for B2B goods.

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