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Clarus -Sprinting or Going the Distance?

Written By: D. Geller
Published On: October 20 2000

Clarus - Sprinting or Going the Distance?
D. Geller - October 20, 2000

Event Summary

Clarus Corporation (NASDAQ: CLRS) announced the addition of strategic sourcing capabilities to its ClarusAuctions product. ClarusAuctions is a hosted (i.e., ASP) B2B trading service that supports twelve different kinds of auction. The enhanced capabilities in version 2.1 include:

  • Support for wireless access via phone and PDA

  • The addition of weights to the evaluation of RFQs. With this feature sellers can apply weights to the individual items on an RFQ when determining which response best meets their needs.

  • The ability to create a private branded auction within the public ClarusAuctions site; access can be limited through secure encrypted access keys

  • The capability for bidders to remain anonymous

Clarus also announced a number of new customers for its Clarus eMarket digital marketplace. Clarus eMarket enables direct buyer-to-seller connectivity, without the central hub associated with other marketplace solutions, such as those from Ariba and Commerce One. It is the first Windows 2000-based digital marketplace framework, and is built upon Microsoft's latest technologies. The new marketplace customers include:

  • AvidXchange.com, a commercial real-estate site that will also use ClarusAuctions

  • HispanB2B, which is designed to provide Hispanic-owned businesses access to the Fortune 500

  • LabBook, which provides access to genomic data

  • Wachovia, a financial services provider that is building a procurement service that it will use internally and make available to its corporate customers

  • VerticalCity, a builder of online communities targeted to vertical content

Market Impact

Just over one year ago Clarus divested itself of its entire ERP business and dedicated itself to becoming an e-commerce company. The effect on revenues of giving up the ERP business makes Clarus look almost like a startup. Figure 1 shows the company's actual quarterly revenues, compared to the pro forma revenues taking only the e-commerce business into account. The Figure also shows comparable numbers for Ariba (NASDAQ: ARBA) and Commerce One (NASDAQ:CMRC).

Figure 1. Quarterly Revenues

click here to view larger version

As we read the tealeaves, Clarus is trying to follow in the wake of industry leaders Ariba and Commerce One while selling a different model. For example, while the Market product boasts that it eliminates the intermediate vendor hub, Clarus is still effectively in the hub business because it sees the need to recruit suppliers through its SupplierUniverse trading network. Grant for the sake of argument that Clarus provides better content management and other support to its suppliers, as it claims; it isn't obvious that this is a better model for buyers, and buyers are Clarus' customers. Certainly, there are companies in the mid-range and somewhat larger that will want a marketplace with Clarus' "direct" architecture (called ClarusDirect); however, we believe that there is more to offer most companies with the promise of a marketplace that is part of a larger network. Both Commerce One and Ariba use this as a significant strength, in somewhat different ways: Commerce One through the promise of trading in the global economy and Ariba through its developing emphasis on the supply chain. We wonder if Clarus' anti-hub emphasis is really going to catch the forward looking fish it needs as customers.

While we don't see Clarus as likely to be competing against Ariba and Commerce One directly most of the time, they are both real and virtual competitors. Real because they recognize the need to have a wider market: witness Commerce One's tight partnership with mySAP. Virtual because there are mid-market players offering product suites that include procurement who connect to Ariba or Commerce One's marketplace, in this way offering the homey touch in front-end software and the power of a large trading network.

The market for auction software is somewhat different. Although both Ariba and Commerce One do have offerings, not to mention specialists like FairMarket, this seems like a market that still needs to define itself. The new features in ClarusAuctions seem to give it considerable strength and a real opportunity to carve out a place for itself.

User Recommendations

If you're looking to create a digital trading service, ClarusAuctions is worth giving a serious look. TEC believes strongly in the weighted evaluation approach, and if the items you envision your marketplace handling are suitable for that sort of multi-attribute evaluation you'll want to give this service a test drive.

eMarket definitely calls for a careful feature-by-feature analysis. If it is the right product for you we think you'll also want to look very hard at Clarus' financial position and pay particular attention to their sales strategy. With almost $200 million in cash its easy to see a scenario in which an aggressive sales and marketing program, together with the choice of some key verticals, makes eMarket a premier choice. It's also not too hard to imagine a scenario in which the company, whose valuation is about $325 million, becomes a takeover target for the auction product and some of its technology, with eMarket softly and suddenly vanishing away.

 
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