I’m glad that Tradeshift has inspired so much innovation. When we launched five years ago everyone was basically laughing at our idea of an open, no-supplier-fee, cloud-based B2B network. Today we have been widely imitated by a number of players – most recently by Coupa’s “Open Business Network”…though it’s pretty hard to see what’s open or networked about it.
Given the hype in the SaaS space, it can be very hard for customers to navigate what is real and what is not, or even what the impact is of a certain feature (or lack thereof). So let’s start by defining the term “open business network”, assuming we’re all clear on the term “business”.
Let’s look at the dictionary’s definition of “open” and “network”:
Open (ō′pən), adj: Allowing access, passage, or a view through an empty space; not closed or blocked up.
Network (ˈnetˌwərk), noun: A group or system of interconnected people or things.
If you combine these into an open business network, we must assume that as a minimum, I can join for free; I can do business without restriction, with whom I choose; and that I can search and connect with other companies.
Further, the “business” part should signify that I can do this in a legal, compliant way, covering most business processes that are in common use between companies. “Open” can of course be translated to others having access to develop applications and functions on top of the network, just like Facebook or Twitter.
We wanted to believe…so we tested it
To test Coupa’s open business network, we created a supplier account on their open network and tried to run through the most common business processes.
We were expecting a lot, especially since Coupa has recently started declaring their “love” for suppliers with this marketing video they showed at their sales event last year (11 months ago). We thought at that point that some of the features were under development, which is to be expected – so they must surely be there today.
Sadly, we didn’t get far. Once I created an account, I was taken to the main screen and I immediately tried to search the network for some companies to do business with.
Unfortunately, that was not possible. I could add a logo and our address, but apart from that all functionality had to be unlocked by the customer we were trying to do business with.
Once that was done, we could only do business with that specific customer, nobody else. We also couldn’t invite other customers or suppliers to join us. There was no way for me to access my data or to integrate to my ERP system from my supplier account.
Why you should care
Now as an enterprise customer, you might ask yourself, Why is this relevant to me? Apart from Coupa claiming a lot of credit for a network that’s clearly not there, there are several reasons you should be worried:
- If suppliers have no way to add more customers on the network, you are fragmenting their business process and severely limiting their value in joining.
- If suppliers can’t integrate to their back-end systems in an easy, simple way, there is no way for them to get data in and out of their ERP system without having to type it in twice. Essentially the supplier is locked in, to one customer, on their premises, with no integration options or access to data or ability to create or find more business.
- More concerning than either of these things is the inability to create branches or validate content on the fly like we do with Tradeshift’s business firewall. This means you have no easy way of managing your suppliers’ master data or the quality of the content coming through.
I think it’s fair to say that Coupa’s Open Business Network so far is only a broken promise. For easy comparison, here’s a list of key differences between the “open” Coupa network and Tradeshift:
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