The next BriefingsDirect business innovation thought leadership discussion focuses on how digital payments are catching on for many more companies in the business world following the popularity of services like Apple Pay in the consumer world.
We'll now explore how digital payment solutions are changing the game for small companies like 487 Consulting Services, which is seeing faster and simpler payments using AribaPay. And we will hear more about how B2B digital payment services like AribaPay are expanding around the globe.
To learn more about the future of business payments innovation, we're joined by Drew Hofler, Senior Director of Marketing at SAP Ariba; Ken Crouse, Principal Consultant and Owner at 487 Consulting Services in Folsom, California, and Bill Dulin, Vice President of Commercial Payments at Discover in Chicago. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Drew, for almost anything that consumers want to buy these days there's a swipe or a card chip, and we are now into wireless connectivity for payments. And yet, with business-to-business (B2B), we're still many times faxing and writing paper checks -- and it's largely still a manual process.
So why such a dichotomy between what people can do as a consumer buying gasoline, for example, and a company buying critical goods and services?
Hofler: It's fundamentally the difference between payments in B2B and the consumer world. For consumers, it's relatively simple.
Everything that you're going to buy is in a single cart at the time of payment, and it all takes place in one spot. The information and the payment itself happen together.
In the B2B world, that is just simply not the case. In the B2B world, you have an invoice that comes in for a good delivered or service rendered, and then payment may happen 30, 45, 60, 90 days later, and that payment may include more than one invoice.
Oftentimes in the B2B context, it includes hundreds of invoices on a single credit of funds into an account. So there's a huge gap between the payment and the information, and that’s what we're trying to solve. That's where the innovation needs to come, bringing that information that’s necessary for all parties to know what's being paid for, when, and why, bringing that together with the settlement of funds in a very secure environment.
Closing the gap
Gardner: But we are closing the gap. Tell us a little bit about AribaPay. How long has it been around and why is it now in a position to begin closing that gap even more rapidly than ever?
Hofler: We launched general availability of AribaPay a little over year ago, and we started here in North America. We've seen rapid growth and we just announced that we're expanding into Canada with our partner, Discover. We are also expanding, later in the year, into Europe and Latin America.
Even though the payment systems are different, the fundamental issue with B2B payments -- the disconnect between information and the settlement of funds -- is the same no matter where you go geographically.
So that's why we're taking it global, and why we're in a position to really change the game and innovate in B2B payments. We sit at the nexus of the digital network age, which is a very different age from where payments began.
You have electronic payments like ACH in the US (or SEPA in Europe) and these types of electronic payment schemes were created back in the '70s, based on a paradigm of that time, which was COBOL-based mainframes behind brick walls, and there was no way to connect a buyer's systems with the supplier's systems.
But now, we live in the digital age, where the Ariba network connects millions of buyers and suppliers together to transact and move terabytes of data in real time between back-end systems.
Instead of doing what B2B payments and electronic payments have done in the past, which is try to take a small subset of that information out and attach it to the payment, (using the ACH or to the SEPA formats, 140 characters in Europe, which is the same as a tweet, or 80 usable characters in the US) we're taking the payment and attaching it to all of this information that’s already on the Ariba Network, the purchase order (PO), the invoice, the reason why the invoice maybe paid a little less than was expected. All of that information is fully available on the network.
We make it visible with the payment, so that both buyers and suppliers know exactly what's being paid, why it's being paid, what this million-dollar deposit is, even if it's a thousand invoices, and why it may be a little different than the supplier was expecting. All of that is fully visible and available on the Ariba Network.
Gardner: Bill, tell us a bit about the role that Discover plays in all this. And how do you feel about the gap closing between what happens in the consumer space and what can now happen in the business space?
Dulin: I think I would like to start off with what AribaPay is not, and it's not a card offering. Usually, when people see the Discover logo, they're thinking of a credit-card offering, but this is not that. We're using our infrastructure to facilitate commercial payments.
In that case, we’re making sure that we're gathering the bank account information, we're acting as the financial institute of record, we're boarding the suppliers, so all of that information is now in our trusted network. That's how we show up as the financial institution, as the bank. We then move the money and, as Drew talked about a little bit earlier, along with that data as well. That's really where the gap is closing. We're bringing the data and the financial transaction together.
Gardner: Drew, this is not just for large companies. It should be for any company. The long tail, if you will, the larger number of people involved, will be those small-to-medium size businesses (SMBs). Is there something in it that's different or special for them other than your Global 2000 corporations?
Hofler: It’s particularly different for the receivers of payments on that long tail. The large companies have the IT resources they need to manage the complex electronic payments that are available today. That's based on EDI and things like that, and that's great.
But then the midsize to the smaller suppliers simply don't have the technical resources to consume the information in those formats. They just can't do it. What AribaPay really does is it makes it as simple as possible.
It is as simple as an email with the information about the payment and a link into their account in the Ariba Network that they can visibly see all the information around their payment in a very nice UI. For example, if they were expecting a $1,000 payment and they got $900, the big question is why. There may be 10 invoices on that payment.
They come in, click that link, and come right into their account on the network. They see the payment ID for that $900 that they have, and we show them exactly what was invoiced, the $1,000. You expected $1,000, but you received $900, and here exactly is where the difference is from.
They have hyperlinks to go into the invoice. They can see the comments that may have been made on how maybe something was broken on the pallet, and so they only paid for 9 items instead of 10.
All of that is a very simple online experience.
Gardner: Ken, tell me a bit about 487 Consulting Services, what you do, and then we'll ask about how you like to get paid?
Crouse: 487 Consulting Services is my personal business. It's a one-man shop. I literally get up in the morning, walk over and turn on the coffee pot and walk over to my desk. That's probably the best part of being an independent.
The other side of being an independent, though, is that I'm responsible for every single aspect of the business from submitting the financial filings that we did with Discover and getting on board with everybody and actually doing the work for which I'm getting paid. It's all done by me and is controlled by me.
There is no IT department. There is no human resources department. There is no large infrastructure behind me -- it's just me. I came to SAP Ariba via a customer that said they wanted to pay me that way.
Initially, I was a little apprehensive because I was expecting that I'd have to learn a new program. I could just flash back to COBOL in college back in the '80s, and that was petrifying, but the simplicity and the transparency of SAP Ariba was just refreshing.
The first webinar I attended, although scheduled for one hour, only lasted about 30 minutes because of the simplicity and then, within a couple of days, I was able to get all my paperwork together for Discover, and I was live on Ariba within less than a week.
Two weeks later, I received my first series of payments through Ariba and have been now receiving payments since the first of January 2015. Ariba has processed something north of 300 invoices for me amounting to probably 500 to 600 individual tasks.
Gardner: I think there are going to be more and more folks like you, smaller businesses, independents working to provide discrete services throughout our economy, around the world, many of them working off just the smart phone.
So this is an important part of our growing economy, but also it’s important for an organization like yours to have great visibility to know when the money is coming and when to expect it. Cash flow is pretty important.
So tell me a little bit about that visibility and expectation, and how this system worked better than paper, faxes, and checks?
Crouse: It's probably best that I just take a step back from that and review where I was before Ariba, and like you mentioned, it was a paper invoicing system. My customer required that each purchase order be on a separate piece of paper for the purposes of invoicing.
So I might create 15 or 20 invoices, put them all in the same envelope with a nice little transmittal sheet, mail them off. Then, 75 days later, when I'm not getting paid for some invoice, I would then get hold of them, and they would say "Oops, your invoice isn't in our system. And I'd start all over again. That would be a time out from work. I had to stop what I was doing, resubmit the invoice, and then start the clock all over again.
Now, with the Ariba Network, when it comes time to do my invoice and do it about twice a month, I open my Ariba account, identify the purchase order to be billed, click the service that's to be billed and click the submit button. Quite literally, the invoicing is just that simple.
Within a matter of minutes, I receive recognition that the invoice is in the system, as opposed to waiting 75 days for confirmation that it's not there. I receive a positive affirmation within just a matter of minutes.
And then, within 48 to 72 hours, I have a customer who has acknowledged and has approved that invoice for payment. At that point, I know with certainty that that payment is going to come in and on a date certain. I can forecast my cash accordingly and then go on vacation. I don't have to worry about it.
Gardner: Also, Drew mentioned this opportunity for more rich information to be associated with the transaction, remittance information for example. Have you been able to avail yourself of that and is that an important part of what you're doing, being able to see all the information associated with an invoice or a payment process?
Crouse: When I get the notifications of the payment being in there, it's broken down line item by line item that corresponds to the exact tasks that I have done for that particular payment. I enjoy the fact that it is all in one payment and broken out that way.
In the past, a year and a half ago, I might receive individual payments for all of those invoices. I'd get an envelope in the mail that might have a dozen checks in it and then, I'd have to go back and reconcile one check against one invoice. It was just a very time consuming and very clumsy effort.
The other part is that I wouldn’t necessarily get paid for all of my invoices submitted on a given date at the same time. I'd get paid for 10 of the 12 invoices and then would have to start this tail-wagging-the-dog episode of chasing around payments on the other invoices and payments. Although the majority of them might be paid in 60 days, it wasn't uncommon that they would stretch out to 120 or 150 days.
Gardner: Bill, any thoughts from the Discover perspective on the ability to not just repave cow paths, but actually do things in business that could not have been done before, given that we are digitizing these processes?
Dulin: A key for us in this, and what we haven’t talked about too much, is the compliance that’s around it. So as we are moving these payments, knowing who the customer is, anti-money laundering, all the regulatory compliance that goes around it. That makes it a more robust payment.
We become more sophisticated as the technology wraps around that payment, to know where it's going, where it should be going. If something has happened that triggers it -- it makes us stop and take a look, to make sure. Sometimes, we talk about purposeful friction. Something triggered an event that made us stop the payment and take a look around and make sure that we have it.
From our perspective in this case, it's not so much of the technology; it’s pulling that sensitive information out of enterprise resource planning (ERP) programs or other places that it shouldn't be and then putting it in a financial institution, again, using that technology around it to help secure that.
Gardner: Now, we heard a lot at the recent Ariba Live 2016 Conference about risk reduction and visibility in the supply chain, that it's really about managing your supply chain. Is there something about using AribaPay, when you have all that data associated that gives people more insight into their supply chain than they may have had, auditability, the ability to further define what it is that they want in terms of best practices, Drew?
Hofler: More data is better than less data, as long as you can consume it and put it in a usable format, and that's really what we are doing.
Knowing exactly who is being paid and removing the opportunities for fraud in the payment process is huge, and AribaPay really removes those opportunities for fraud or a vast majority of them.
We have this whole platform of information and data about the interactions between a buyer and their supplier, from the moment that they source, to when they procure, to the PO, to the invoice, to the payment going through. They can see the on-time performance and they can see how often that supplier requests early payment, if they're using Dynamic Discounting on the Ariba Network, and they can feed that back into the procurement side and start to define payment terms as a result of that at the very beginning.