A forthcoming set of prepackaged software integration tools from Covisint LLC aims to solve one of the nastiest tasks in business-to-business e-commerce: automating data movement across a firewall and into a companys internal fulfillment system. But whether it will meet that goal is yet to be determined.
As proposed, the Covisint Site Server tool set will provide a standard approach for integrating complex business processes.
But the effort could stop well short of that goal, as some top-tier suppliers in the auto industry, Covisints biggest backers, are not interested in turning over access to their most sensitive transaction data to the exchange.
"We have a very thorough integration at this time," said John Crary, vice president of IT at Lear Corp., the third-largest OEM auto parts supplier, in Southfield, Mich. "There are some suppliers that are very, very close to us, have been supplying us for years, they have engineering on-site and work shoulder to shoulder, and were so well-entwined now it doesnt make sense to do it differently."
Covisint Site Server 1.0, which Covisint has completed development of but not yet implemented, will accommodate fairly simple integrations, according to company officials, also in Southfield. For example, a customer using Covisints auction tool and Site Server could send a purchase order via Covisint from any major ERP (enterprise resource planning) system to Covisints Oracle Corp. ERP system. The software, which was built with the help of application integration developer WebMethods Inc., translates the data among various enterprise systems through the use of Extensible Markup Language-based adapters.
Site Server 2.0, which is expected in the second or third quarter of next year, will be able to extract and move larger volumes of data at a rapid rate. It would enable, for example, a buyer doing high-volume procurement to automate the gathering of data from a B2B catalog Web site and push it into purchase orders through his or her fulfillment system, officials said.
Once Site Server 2.0 is soundly tested and available to customers, Covisint will look to widen availability beyond the auto industry. "The first focus is to ensure that what we put out there is stable, scalable and secure," said Dan Skrbina, senior integration architect at Covisint. "It will probably be more labor-intensive to install, and once we prove it out, we will try to make it more automatic. The next phase is to really roll it out to the masses."
A study published last month by the Center for Automotive Research, of Ann Arbor, Mich., reported that 77 percent of top-tier auto industry OEMs in the next two to three years will insist that their suppliers conduct business electronically, compared with 15 percent that do so today.
Because Covisint is so well-ensconced in the auto industry, whatever it creates will likely contribute to integration standards within the community and drive standard business processes. But that doesnt mean it will have an impact on B2B more broadly.
"Their history, their idiosyncrasies are geared to this industry," said Lears Crary. "A side benefit to this is that over time standards will develop [from Covisint]. Not just standards, but you get the de facto processes that evolve."
The idea of an online exchange selling packaged integration software is not untried. Atlanta-based ForestExpress LLC worked with WebMethods to create prepackaged integration adapters. But Chief Technology Officer Bob Renner said this will not make his exchange the standard bearer for all B2B integration but simply one of many hubs. "We think that companies will tend to associate with one or two large exchanges, and then we can do interoperability agreements with other companies," Renner said.