Re:Viewing 2001: B2B takes a step forward... then two back

"Ariba... was jigging and re-jigging CEOs in a fashion that put the Riverdance troupe to shame."
Written by Sonya Rabbitte, Contributor

"Ariba... was jigging and re-jigging CEOs in a fashion that put the Riverdance troupe to shame."

For the world of exchanges, e-marketplaces, supply chains and ERP we lovingly refer to as B2B 2001 was a sobering year. Sonya Rabbitte has been following some of the key players - and has noticed a lot of hot air. It was a very close call - Covisint or Ariba. But a U-turn last month clinched it. What do I mean? For commanding column inches without achieving very much my B2B headline-hogger award for 2001 goes to Ariba. After an eventful - some might say disastrous - year, Ariba announced last month that it was to ditch its B2B tag in favour of the spend management theory. Unfortunately Ariba wasn't as efficient with its own spend and is set to be bumped from the Nasdaq 100 in a Christmas Eve shake-up. When the company wasn't busy pulling new strategies out of hats, it was jigging and re-jigging CEOs in a fashion that would put the Riverdance troupe to shame. Keith Krach quit in April and Larry Mueller took the helm, but not for long. Krach was back in July, to be replaced in October by former CFO Robert Calderoni (http://silicon.com/a49731 ). Confused yet? With an ending to 2001 like that and a beginning that saw the closure of chemical industry exchanges Chemdex and Promedix, it's fair to say the year was never going to be an illustrious one for B2B. But it all started so well. While rival Commerce One kick-started January with a fiscal year 2000 fourth quarter loss of $10.8m, Ariba was revelling in an operating profit of $14m. For a while the good times rolled. While Commerce One ploughed ahead with its SAP partnership, Ariba banked on its alliance with i2 to boost its e-procurement offering. But i2 was also looking for new ventures, and in March it acquired Rightworks - a competitor to Ariba - for $250m. It was the beginning of a spat that spanned the summer. Ariba dumped i2 and turned to Agile with a $2.55bn takeover bid (http://www.silicon.com/a43666 ). But after prolonged talks the deal fizzled out. The bankruptcy rumours began, followed by the buyout speculation (http://www.silicon.com/a44186 ). Perhaps IBM would be interested. Maybe Manugistics. Would Siebel cough up the money? Meanwhile Commerce One was busy spending money. Second quarter losses included a $2bn acquisition-related write off charge. Step forward chief strategy officer Chuck Donchess - and say goodbye. In May, UDDI founding members Ariba, IBM and Microsoft launched the first live version of the long awaited XML cataloguing standard. Despite rumoured rifts between the three camps, further versions are in development. Covisint was also shifting up a gear. Kevin English came on board as CEO and Peugeot signed up, joining founding members DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors. BMW is set to sign on the dotted line soon. Ford hailed the project a success after saving $70m on indirect procurement - and DaimlerChrysler triumphed with a four-day auction worth £2.16bn. But analysts, the cynics that they are, were quick to point out that the sums involved were loose change for these car giants (http://www.silicon.com/a47015 ). As the year progressed Ariba's fortunes fell. By October the company was posting a loss of 11 cents per share. But Calderoni stood his ground, vowing that the company would break even by next year. Commerce One also saw losses grow throughout the year, issuing a third quarter profit warning by October. In May CEO Mark Hoffman had said he expected the company to reach profitability by Q4. Whether this goal is achieved remains to be seen when fourth quarter results are released in early January. Among those who bowed out of the B2B limelight in 2001 were energy exchange PetroCosm, steel marketplaces MetalSite and MetalSpectrum, and the aptly named paperxchange.com. Marketplace operators VerticalNet and Ventro - owner of the ill-fated Chemdex and Promedix - rebranded themselves as marketplace service providers during the year (http://www.silicon.com/a41886 ). The gamble provided VerticalNet with surprisingly upbeat results in October. Ventro was not as successful and was threatened with Nasdaq de-listing. Which is where Ariba is destined for next week. As the old saying goes, hindsight is a truly wonderful thing. Just ask any Ariba executive.
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