Coupa Inspire – the P2P shift is underway, says CEO Bernshteyn


Spend management cloud firm Coupa touched down in Paris last week where CEO Rob Bernshteyn talked up a strategy of extensions to ERP.

Rob Bernshteyn
Rob Bernshteyn

We’ve seen some of the largest software companies in the world over-promise and under-deliver. That’s why we are focused on real, measurable, quantifiable results. We’re taking big ERP deployments and getting real strategic extensions from them.

That was the top-line message from Rob Bernshteyn, CEO of spend management firm Coupa, as he kicked off the firm’s Inspire conference in Paris last week. He told his audience that 17 years ago, he had lived in France working on a project for a big telco – unnamed – which had spent millions of dollars on some “German software” – also unnamed (ahem), but “some of the best core accounting software of the time”.

But the issue with projects like these has been the lack of upfront measurable metrics, he said:

You need to focus on measurable success critera. Some 85% of our customers now have clear, measurable success criteria set up. There is no question of what it is that they are trying to deliver.

Alexander Kleiner, General Manager, EMEA, picked up the European side of the story for the European audience.

Coupa now has a direct presence in a number of European countries, including a major support center in Dublin. Kleiner talked of the firm serving north of 200 organizations, with combined revenues in excess of €2 trillion. He said:

Those customers are getting real insight into metrics. They can foresee change and react quickly. There is no long term without a short term.

Of course the best testimony at such corporate shindigs is best, and most convincingly, delivered by the customers themselves.

First up was Pascal Giorgi, Purchasing Equipment Director at smart card manufacturer Oberthur Technologies, which needed to realize the benefits of state-of-the-art Purchase-To-Pay (P2P) systems. The firm had, he said:

Lots of people not focused on value tasks, but on admin. There was not enough focus on selling.

The firm shortlisted two potential providers to address this and selected Coupa:

As well as the quality of the engineering presentations, we choose Coupa for the agility of its interface. In the smart card industry, we need to go quickly on solutions. It was the best interface that we saw.

Work began on deployment on the 7th of September, with BearingPoint as the chosen systems integrator. As of last week, the necessary interfaces have all been defined and work has begun on defining the change management plan.

Next up was Finnish steel manufacturer Outokumpu, whose Director General Procurement IT and Indirect, Michael Richnau, talked about the firm’s global transformation program to harmonise its disparate systems, from “ERP up”. Procurement has been one of the first units to go global, with Coupa selected during the summer.

The firm has a hard deadline in going live at the beginning of 2016 and work on implementation is underway, with Accenture as the chosen systems integrator. Richnau said:

We were looking for usability. Connected to that was need for functionality. Our old systems were not good for usability. We’re looking for a lot of automation.

Both of these programs are running to tight deadlines, but Kleiner says this is something that Coupa is seeing as a trend and in fact European customers tend to be slower than their US counterparts:

Implementation projects in Europe take longer than in the US. They are a bit more considered. Despite that sense of caution, we’ve seen compression of implementation times here.

At Coupa we measure projects in days, weeks, months, not years.

Shift underway

With the keynote over, I took the chance to sit down with Bernshteyn for some face time, the other benefit of industry events like Inspire. He’s clearly a man with a sense of purpose and conviction that he’s in the right place at the right time:

There is a real shift happening. You can just feel it from the size of the deployments that we’re tkaing on, the add-on users, the add-on modules.

Bernshteyn reckons that the Coupa footprint is currently running at 25% each for SAP and Oracle implementations with the rest spread across JD Edwards, Microsoft Dynamics and various vertical industry ERP offerings.

The sales pitch for all this is very simple, he argues. If you’re a customer who wants an SAP/Oracle-style “one throat to choke”. then Coupa’s not for you:

We don’t want to begin a relationship with someone who is planning for an adversarial approach. We’re looking at how we can most quickly deliver business value. What is the customer goal? Is it to reduce maverick spending? How are we best suited to do that as an extension to ERP? We don’t have an ERP agenda, we’re giving you much more flexibility? It’s just a better approach. We’re not selling software, we’re selling clear business value.

The entry point to prospect organizations can be bottom-up via the likes of Accounts Payable or procurement – or top-down – via the CEO or CFO. Equally it can be via the CIO. Bernshteyn argues:

If a CIO is not thinking about cloud, then they’re thinking about retirement. This is one of the least risky areas to start in the cloud, one with the least impact. What’s the worst case? It’s not like taking customer data up to the cloud? So even to those CIOs who are the most risk-averse, when they evaluate cloud, we often go in first.

For example, in deployments when they buy NetSuite, Workday and us, it’s often us that goes live first. Amex Global Business Travel bought us, NetSuite and Workday and they deployed us first. They got 15,000 people live on expenses and then procurement.

But there are still challenges to be addressed. Both NetSuite and Workday have higher brand profiles than Coupa to date, something which Bernshteyn acknowledges is a situation that needs work. A fast way to raise awareness might be an IPO, but, while that remains an option, it’s clear it’s not a priority at present.

In the meantime, the SAPs and the Oracles of the world will continue to flex their own brand muscle with counter-messaging. Bernshteyn says:

The message from them is ‘one throat to choke’. They are quite rightfully protecting their own base. We can handle that.

Our challenge is this: what are the deals that we’re not involved with because we don’t have the brand profile to get on the list?

My take

One thing I found interesting about the Paris event in this respect was that the two customers who took to the stage were organizations whose relationships with Coupa are still in the early stages. That seems to indicate a significant degree of confidence in the journey on which they are embarked.

The customers that are live are happy ones. But getting that higher profile is something that needs some attention, along with the focus on spending on R&D and functionality.


Disclosure – at time of writing, Oracle, NetSuite, SAP and Workday are premier partners of diginomica, while Coupa is a partner.