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Dispatch from IBM Empower 2016

rdent’s analysts attend dozens of conferences each year. Typically our coverage of an event lags the event by days (and sometimes, unavoidably, by weeks), but our research objective/goal is not to be first to market, but rather to deliver reflective, value-added analysis of an event that is relevant to our readers. Today, however, I’ll try to do both almost as a necessity of my current travel schedule and project workload.

With Hurricane Matthew looming mere hours from shore, Mike O’Leary, Director, IBM Emptoris Procurement Services, opened the 2016 IBM-Emptoris Empower conference yesterday with a chuckle, “Welcome to sunny Orlando.” This ‘lucky 13th’ user conference was started back in 2003 when the small start-up, Emptoris, decided to hold its first user conference, which it called SourceCon. Mike noted that the world is a very different place, and that this is something that is true for the IBM-Emptoris company and its solutions, IBM’s procurement operations where Mike was working back then, and for the procurement profession in general.

To highlight the change, Mike referenced the fact that 13 years ago, in his role within IBM’s global procurement team, he and his colleagues spent a fair amount of time in the “IBM Contracts Room.” This was not some virtual collaborative space where contracts could be authored and executed, but rather, a literal room with file cabinets and actual paper contracts. It was a room where ‘contract visibility’ required you to open a file cabinet to see if a contract was there and then spend real time paging through it in an attempt to find a nugget of information. Today, Mike said that there is a client using the IBM contract solution to manage more than a million contracts and many others who are using the solution’s broad capabilities to author contracts and/or leverage the solution’s interview wizard to collaborate efficiently with internal customers.

On the sourcing side, things have changed, too, and IBM’s customers reflect a range of users, maturities, and uses – from the customer who runs more than 30,000 events annually (running everything from simple RFQs to complex multi-line bids that require sourcing optimization) to those that focus on more traditional eSourcing events.

Mike’s point was that the entire industry has grown and evolved over the last decade and that IBM’s broad support of diverse customer experiences reflects these industry changes. But, Mike also wanted to highlight that IBM-Emptoris has gone through many changes in just the last year, mentioning two major product releases, the adoption of design thinking into the ongoing development of its solutions, and the migration of its hosted customers to a new IBM cloud environment. Cognitive procurement, advanced analytics, and supply risk management are emerging as major themes at the conference and within the IBM-Emptoris solutions as they continue to evolve.

As a clear indication of industry change, Mike later welcomed Brian Hoffmeyer, Group Vice President of Marketing Strategies at IQNavigator, IBM-Emptoris’s new partner, to the stage to discuss “The Growing Importance of Procurement’s Role in the Labor Equation.” IQNavigator is a cloud-based contingent workforce management (CWM) technology provider based in Colorado. Its flagship Vendor Management System (VMS) offering, Compass, provides its users with functionality to manage a wide scope of CWM attributes, including services and SOW management, analytics and contingent workforce intelligence, supplier management, and talent sourcing. As our regular readers know, this is a topic near and dear to us and one that will only continue to grow on these pages and beyond as we advance forward [Sidebar: Those interested in the CWM space should check out Chris Dwyer’s Contingent Workforce Weekly, the industry’s first analyst-driven podcast.].

Brian’s presentation focused on helping to define the challenges and opportunities that exist for procurement in the management of its non-employee talent, highlighting some familiar market research metrics and the underlying drivers of the shift to the “gig economy.” He was also given an opportunity to discuss Compass and several impressive case studies. And, he concluded with a challenge to those procurement leaders in the audience who do not currently have control of this growing category of spend – “what are you going to do to make an impact?” – Readers of our research, I hope, have a few answers for him.

As I noted last year, IBM-Emptoris’ decision to carve out its own unique user conference from within the entire IBM ecosystem is a very smart move that will enable it to maintain stronger ties with its customers and prospects and make this event a better draw for sourcing, contracting, and procurement professionals.

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