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Ariba lends a hand to thrifty spenders

The e-commerce software maker introduces a mix of new and enhanced business applications to help corporate purchasers squeeze more out of their budgets.

Software maker Ariba unveiled a mix of new and enhanced business applications Tuesday, all aimed at helping people whose job is to spend money, to spend less.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company plans to release a new version of its so-called spend-management software suite by the end of the year. Ariba Spend Management, a set of applications for automating tasks connected with corporate purchasing, is a revamped version of the company's well-established procurement software with added programs for online bidding and contract negotiation.

In addition, the company has set a March shipment date for its new Ariba Category Management software, which is designed to help purchasing managers keep better track of daily tasks related to big upcoming buys using an electronic "dashboard" that displays the status of various bids and specifications for contracts. The product incorporates workflow and other tools for customizing the software and automatically routing data.

Ariba has faired better than most other so-called business-to-business e-commerce companies in the aftermath of the collapse of online business marketplaces. Ariba shares closed above $3 Monday and have always managed to stay above the $1 mark. By comparison, its one-time fiercest rival, Commerce One, was in danger of being delisted from the Nasdaq composite index after its shares languished below $1 for months. Commerce One issued a 1-for-10 reverse stock split in September.

Other once-mighty e-marketplace companies, including Ventro and PurchasePro, have disappeared altogether. And shares of Verticalnet are hovering right around $1, despite the e-business software company's 1-for-10 reverse stock split in July.

"A year and a half ago we saw that boat was sinking, and we jumped out," said Jim Frankola, chief financial officer at Ariba, in an interview. "Commerce One didn't do that. I haven't seen them in a competitive situation in over a year. They are really completely off our radar."

Still, Ariba's boat is sitting much lower in the water than it once did--the company's shares traded at $183 in March 2000, in comparison with their sub-$4 level now. Revenue fell 43 percent to $229 million in its fiscal year 2002, which ended Sept. 30, and Frankola said he expects Ariba to report flat or slightly higher revenue on positive pro forma earnings in the first fiscal quarter of 2003, ending Dec. 31.

In separate news, Ariba announced a new agreement with long-standing sales partner IBM that will see the two companies rekindle their joint marketing efforts. They will promote bundled packages of hardware, software and services from both companies.