Enterprise buyers come on down to Coupa Community.ai to find out if the price is right

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright February 2, 2022
Community intelligence goes up a notch with Community.ai, connecting benchmark data and spend management peers across the Coupa customer base.

Donna Wilczek Coupa - screengrab from Zoom call
Donna Wilczek, Coupa (screengrab from Zoom call)

Coupa is stepping up its community intelligence offering to customers with the rollout today of Community.ai, which benchmarks data from across the vendor's customer base to help enterprise buyers work smarter and strike better deals. Embedded directly within the Coupa product, Community.ai provides AI-powered data insights to help buyers identify where they can achieve better pricing, improve supplier selection, and process purchases more efficiently. It also adds new support for person-to-person networking between spend management professionals in the Coupa customer base. The new offering is the culmination of a long journey to deliver AI-powered data insights from over $3 trillion of cumulative business spend managed through the Coupa platform. Donna Wilczek, SVP Product Innovation & Strategy at Coupa, says:

For the last 12-13 years, our moonshot has always been around, how do we combine data and people and become smarter together? We're finally now at a level of volumes of data, of both the transactional data, the spend data, as well as volumes of people, where we can bring these two together. That's what we're doing here with Community.ai.

Coupa's first venture into AI-driven data insights came in 2017, with the introduction of a supplier risk management tool. Later it added benchmarking to identify potential process improvements, such as identifying below-average approval times. Now in addition to sourcing and process benchmarks, it is rounding out the offering with price benchmarks across many items purchased by its customers.

Today's announcement highlights four types of community insight:

  • Pricing — view aggregated statistical pricing analyses for items frequently purchased across the Coupa community and take action with prescriptive recommendations to help identify and execute on new savings opportunities.
  • Process — benchmark performance against industry leaders across requests, orders, invoices, and payments, to better understand procure-to-pay process efficiency.
  • Early payment — track organization performance on early payment discount opportunities.
  • Supplier search — Search the Coupa community to discover new suppliers, improve sourcing event selection, and increase spend with diverse suppliers.

Connecting spend management professionals

AI also plays a crucial role in the second aspect of today's announcement, which provides new ways for Coupa users to connect with other spend management professionals across the customer base. Unlike professional networks such as LinkedIn, where there's no objective validation of an individual's self-reported expertise, the Coupa network looks at someone's transaction history on the platform to determine their expertise. So that when, for example, a user is looking to connect with others on pricing intelligence, the system will suggest contacts with an established track record in that field. Wilczek explains:

Instead of surfacing up legal experts and contract experts, what we would want to surface up at that point are sourcing experts — people that have historically engaged with pricing intelligence for a particular area. [We do that] using our AI to determine who are the experts, based on their past behavior and their past actions across the platform.

That is a really interesting aspect of being able to *derive* the experts instead of the person *telling* us what they're an expert in.

In Community.ai, this ability to connect with other experts is now embedded directly in the flow of work in Coupa platform, rather than being in a separate community area. Wilczek continues:

Historically, we've always had more of a destination site focus, where our customers in the community could connect with one another in ... a place for the community to gather and seek topics, best practices, and connect and share information.

We've now evolved that into a business process model that says, right within the business process, when the person is doing the work, how do we surface and connect them to experts in that particular business process?

Three aspects of these community connections are highlighted in today's announcement:

  • People finder — Search for specific people, or connect with community members with filters based on role, region, industry, or commodities they work with.
  • Updates — a new community overview page provides real-time notifications on new content, events, and product capabilities, tailored to a user's specific role.
  • Messaging — a simple cross-company chat service to connect with other relevant users in shared parts of the BSM workflow, allowing for open dialog.

Making connections

The people finder and messaging capabilities have an upfront opt-in process so that users are always in control of their visibility and who they're connecting with. Some contacts are introduced via a matchmaking process, where the system makes an anonymous approach on behalf of each contact, and if the match is accepted they can see each other's details and decide whether to take the connection further. Other connections start from viewing a basic profile that a community member has made available and then initiating a connection to chat and exchange information. The aim is to offer a digital equivalent to the kind of networking that people have always done at industry events, as Wilczek explains:

Prior to the pandemic, you would meet people at conferences, and you would sit down at a conference, and you would introduce yourselves, and you would now have a 'friend for life' that you could chat with around your particular area. And we effectively said, how do we create that model in a digital world? ...

We should embrace continuously this notion of connecting data with community and to drive smarter decisions and being smarter together. A lesson clearly here is that it's not enough to just connect in physical worlds and rely on the chance meetings of people.

As in those in-person encounters, it's up to each individual to maintain professionalism around issues such as trade secrets and business practices. But there are many areas of potential co-operation even between competitors, notes Wilczek:

What we're finding is that some elements transcend competition. What I mean by that is areas like ESG, [or] how businesses work together with their supply base to understand what suppliers might be diverse businesses, or what suppliers might be at risk ...

That's the beauty, I think, here of Community.ai. It's, how do we help use AI to surface up data and connect people for better results across the globe?

Because of the length of time Coupa has been collecting data with its customers' permission, the benchmarking it can now offer provides a significant competitive advantage, she believes:

At Coupa, we have actually contracted with our customers for permissioned use of the data over the last 12 years. So the volume of data has grown continuously over time, [with] permissioned use. When we look at the market at large, we do not see evidence of permissioned use of that type of data. So we see it as definitely a competitive moat, and one that grows by the day.

My take

Coupa has made big bets on the value of benchmarking its customers' data to help them achieve better outcomes — CEO Rob Bernshteyn has even written a book extolling the virtues of community intelligence. At diginomica, we agree that community data and feedback is an important part of the SaaS/XaaS model and a crucial component in enabling customer success. It's good to see Coupa making further strides in pioneering this model.

At the same time, it's interesting to see the vendor make what is effectively a relaunch of a set of capabilities that it has already been marketing for several years, and I wonder if customers are being slow to pick up on these features. Perhaps they will now be persuaded with the addition of pricing benchmarks, which sound like they could be potential dynamite in the hands of buyers who are paying over the odds to unscrupulous vendors.

But I think the bigger innovation here is the AI-enhanced networking, because one of the big challenges in any social business network is validating people's authority on a specific topic. At a time when in-person networking has been severely restricted, we need more digital mechanisms to help people connect within communities of interest, but establishing trust at a distance is always an obstacle. Using the activity that's been recorded in the systems they're using seems to have strong potential as an objective metric. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

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