Using dating sites like Match.com as a model, the e-procurement network makes it easier for companies to find and qualify suppliers and vice versa.
Does online dating hold the key to finding better suppliers for your business and better customers for your own goods and services?
The high-concept pitch for the Ariba Discovery service that Ariba introduced earlier this month is that it's "almost like Match.com for business." Since the mid-1990s, Ariba has been one of the champions of using the Web for business-to-business commerce, rather than proprietary Electronic Data Interchange networks. Starting with routine procurement tasks like buying office supplies, it has broadened its offerings over the years -- but has remained mostly oriented toward "more efficient transactions and collaborations between known buyers and sellers," Tim Minahan, chief marketing officer, said in an interview.
One reason customers have been pushing for that to change is that procurement is becoming more difficult at a time of widespread bankruptcies and global supply chain risks, which are forcing buyers to seek out new suppliers more frequently, Minahan said. "The sourcing tools we and others provided traditionally didn't really help them with finding and qualifying suppliers. On the supplier side, participating in our network helped them get a greater share of wallet with existing customers but didn't necessarily help them find new business. So what we've created here is really a sort of Match.com for business."
As on the online dating site, prospective mates fill out a profile on their virtues, wants, and needs and the system suggests prospective matches. The analogy breaks down pretty quickly -- responding to a request for proposals doesn't leave much room for flirting -- but there is some social media-like notion of requesting an introduction and then messaging back and forth. Ariba also scores buyers and sellers based on their track record of doing business with others in its commerce network, much as Match.com and eBay rate members based on ratings from members they've dated or done business with.
"That is a model we think about every day. One of our goals is to make business commerce as easy as personal commerce," Minahan said. Though the nature of the transactions may be different, issues like establishing trust between parties that have never met, as on Match.com or eBay, are very relevant to Ariba Discovery, he said.
Early success stories from beta users of the product include Stage Stores, the parent company of department store brands including Bealls and Peebles. When Stage discovered just before the holidays that the maker of its custom shopping carts had gone bankrupt, Ariba Discovery helped it quickly find a substitute, Minahan said. "That same day they were able to find a supplier that met their needs -- the company that had bought the patent to the shopping carts -- and within 48 hours, they had negotiated an agreement with that supplier."
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