Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Operating the World's Largest B2B Network with SAP Ariba COO James Lee

James Lee and Kevin Benedict
Any discussion about social and business networks, small world networks, the “network effect” and critical mass is fascinating to me.  In this interview with the multi-talented James Lee, Chief Operating Officer of SAP Ariba, we dig deep into the operations of the world’s largest business to business network, SAP Ariba.  This transcript has been condensed and edited for readability.

Kevin: James, you’re the COO of the largest B2B network in the world. If I’m not mistaken, it’s expected that by the end of the year, there will have been roughly $3 trillion worth of transactions conducted over the network. Wow!  Tell us about your role.

James: We’re very proud of what we’re doing here at SAP Ariba. Mind you, we’ve already surpassed the $3 trillion mark, and we’re looking forward to even more growth! We are also currently the largest procurement cloud solution provider in the world, and now with Fieldglass joining us, we’ve become the leader in services procurement as well.

As the COO, I have operational responsibilities across our end-to-end business. Some things I spend a lot of my time on include looking at our product portfolio and determining how to prioritize investments, how to drive sales excellence through a strong go-to-market plan, how to leverage big data to improve our offerings, and how to formulate a commercial model that would ensure our continued success not just in the present, but in the future as well. I’m also in charge of many of our talent-development and community-building initiatives.

Kevin: Digital transformation has impacted every one of us. Give us some insight into how it has affected you at SAP Ariba.

James: No business is immune to digital transformation. Our network allows both us and our customers to digitize processes across all spectrums and categories.

Digitalization forces us to constantly improve our offerings, lest we be left behind. For example, we’ve now adopted SAP’s in-memory database platform, HANA, to improve SAP Ariba’s performance and provide real-time reporting. We’re also leveraging a lot of new technologies, like chatbots and smart feeds to improve our user interface and experience. Another development driven by digital transformation was the introduction of automation to the Ariba solution; Ariba now executes repetitive tasks on its own, thereby enabling customers to spend more time on the critical aspects of their operations, such as strategy.

Kevin: With the scale of the operation you’re running, what are some of the challenges you have to deal with as COO?

James: While we are enjoying immense growth, the market is hypercompetitive and constantly changing, and the pace of this change is incredibly fast. We’re always trying to innovate so that we can provide more value; it’s about more than just features — the content we put out, best practices, know-how it all matters to our customers.

Another aspect of the business where I devote a lot of my time is how to scale it. It’s not possible for us to scale to the extent we would like by doing everything on our own, and this is why we’re pushing hard to develop a strong and vibrant ecosystem around us. Ideally, we want to work with partners who don’t just resell and deploy our solutions, but will also act as solution extensions for our B2B network.

Kevin: What are the key areas of focus for SAP Ariba and Fieldglass in 2019?

James: Customer delight is a big one for us. Our number-one focus is to deliver the experiences, features and content that delight our customers. As for how we do that, we’re dedicating a lot of time and making some heavy investments into our user interface. We understand the importance of an intelligent, efficient and intuitive user interface. We’re also very intent on ensuring the reliability and quality of our platform, so that our customers won’t have to worry unduly about disruptions in their supply chains.

Customer-driven innovation is another way for us to achieve customer delight. We have customers telling us what kinds of features would make for a better experience with our solutions. For instance, self-service tools and embedded Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are common themes. It’s also about geography-specific conditions; data regulation laws, for one. We want to ensure that our customers can find success with our solutions regardless of the region or industry of operation. Clearly, there are a lot of aspects to customer delight, and we want to attack all of them.

The second area of focus would be on scaling our business. We already talked a little bit about the partner ecosystem we’re trying to build. I’m truly convinced of the importance of winning and succeeding with our partners. We simply cannot be successful trying to do and build everything on our own. This is why it’s crucial that we identify the right partners for us, empower them and collaborate with them to ensure that they provide solution extensions for us, they effectively become a part of our services operations, and position our solutions appropriately to leading organizations throughout the world.

Watch the complete interview here!

Kevin Benedict
SVP Strategy, Regalix Inc.
Online TV Channel RegalixTV
Website Regalix Inc.
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.