First came Concur Fusion in San Francisco, its first since SAP spent $8.3 billion last year to acquire the travel and expense management vendor. Then last week Ariba Live! took place in Las Vegas. SAP acquired the spend management vendor for $4.6 billion in 2012. Along with contingent labor management vendor Fieldglass, acquired last summer for just over $1 billion, these three companies make up the newly formed Business Networks Group, headed by Concur CEO Steve Singh.
Describing the Concur acquisition as "the biggest single bet that SAP has ever made," Singh told the audience in San Francisco that the concept of business networks had been core to the decision:
It's a bet on Concur, it's a bet on our vision ... and a shared bet that [SAP CEO] Bill [McDermott] and I have, that what you're going to see in the next generation of business applications is business networks.
Defining a business network as a company that connects its customers to an ecosystem of service providers, Singh set out what he saw as their future role.
What you see at Concur and other leading edge companies is the beginnings of transformation in enterprise software.
More and more you're going see business networks being created. More and more you're going to see in enterprise applications that it's not good enough to just solve the problems within the four walls of your own company, but you have to actually connect to the rest of the ecosystem to make sure that you serve your customers exceptionally well.
That is exactly what Ariba, Concur and Fieldglass have all done, he added.
Every one of these companies went about connecting their customers to the ecosystem that serves them. Every single one of them is a business network.
Connecting the networks
The next step, he went on, is to connect the three networks to deliver additional value to SAP customers. He outlined an example in which an airplane maker connects the sensors in its aircraft directly into the Ariba network so that they can automatically order spare parts when needed.
Very shortly, what you're going to see is the capacity for that Ariba network to communicate to the Fieldglass network and actually ask for the contingent labor repair team to be notified of the replacement part and come in and actually make that replacement.
Imagine connecting the Concur network to that so we can go book travel for that repair team and actually follow their [journey].
What you're seeing is different parts of the ecosystem are being driven into action by the network automatically. That's where software needs to go. It needs to solve your problems for you automatically ...
The real power of this is when these networks talk to one another. When they drive value automatically and on my behalf. When they solve a problem for me without my ever having to say anything about it.
That's what software should do for all of us. That's the future that we see and that we are creating.
At Ariba Live, newly appointed president Alex Atzberger was also talking up networks.
The world is really a network, and increasingly it's a digital network. We connect you to this world. The vision for Ariba remains, which is to be the world's digital enterprise commerce network.
The conference keynote featured customers that had already become users of Ariba and Concur long before SAP had acquired them. Nadia Malek, head of procurement and supply chain at avant-garde circus performance group Cirque du Soleil, boasted of its use of Concur, Ariba and SuccessFactors: "We were smart because we did it first."
Jim Gillespie, VP and global head of e-procurement solutions and operations at global insurance group AIG, described the company's journey as one of the first users of Fieldglass, as a long-term Ariba user and with 95 percent of its travel and expense spend channeled through Concur.
But interestingly, Atzberger chose to cite the news of Ariba's tie-up with Docusign to take paper out of the contract process as his example of networks working together:
I think that's the future. Networks need to network.
News at the Ariba event included a new Fiori based interface, new mobile apps and access to templates, how-to videos and best practice advice.
Concur was also showing off a modernized user experience as well as integrations from its app to the likes of Uber and Starbucks which post receipts directly into the expense report. Another interesting app, originally developed during a hackathon day at the Ford motor company, uses a device installed in your car to automatically track trips ready for posting to an expense report: "Essentially the car is filing your expense report for you."
I think this network message is spot on but there still seem to be some differences of emphasis depending on which part of SAP you are talking to. When I interviewed SAP's EMEA president last year I again got a slightly different spin that was more focused on big data and the role of HANA. So it's still going to be interesting to see how this all comes together at SAPPHIRE.
Disclosure: SAP is a diginomica premier partner.
Image credit: by SAP.