Getting the Pieces to Fit

SAP's VIP and xPD integration apps automate business processes and help employees share information.

Many manufacturers struggling in this down economy are looking to tighten processes and run as efficiently as possible.

SAP AG has rolled out integration software designed to help manufacturers do that by making it easier for IT managers to connect systems.

The Walldorf, Germany, company last week at its TechEd developers conference in New Orleans introduced two new members in its line of xApp composite applications—called VIP (Visual Information for Plants) and xPD (Product Definition)—to automate manufacturing processes.

VIP enables employees in the maintenance, operations and engineering areas at a manufacturer to share information across multiple applications and business processes using one composite interface, officials said. It allows users to steer their plant system and equipment hierarchy through a graphical object navigator, pulling up and drilling down into information.

XPD streamlines the processes of developing and designing a new product, SAP said. The composite application works across applications that support product development, including software for product life-cycle management, customer relationship management, project data, enterprise resource planning and supply chain management.

The xPD application supports the product design and development process by collecting and managing ideas and requirements from the business areas that are involved at each initial stage of development. The goal is to help companies define and evaluate new product concepts, as well as collaboratively design new products.

Paul Kurchina, manager of program management at TransAlta Corp., a power generator in Calgary, Alberta, is in the midst of implementing VIP in one of the companys scrubber plants.

"[We use it as] a single application that pulls together information and events from many different systems," said Kurchina. "Its a two-way pull from [SAPs] R/3 [suite of enterprise applications]. You have document information and another system that might be real-time plant information, and the cross-app interacts with all these."

Kurchina said that prior to implementing VIP, aggregating information from each plants systems was a struggle because everything was disjointed.

"If you look at any process, its a combination of things working together. Its not just about SAP or documents or [some other] technology. They have to interact in concert with the other to enable you to work that process," said Kurchina. "Our system before was crude. It might have an unfriendly screen in one system and no easy way to tie together information."

The VIP xApp runs on SAPs portal infrastructure and uses the companys Exchange technology for integration with other systems. Both are part of the MySAP Technology platform.

Kurchina said that it took him six months to implement VIP and that most of the time was spent on data conversion. He is looking for additional functionality in the next point release, including the ability to tie in work clearance; tie in generation of automatic work packages; and the ability for the system to be more proactive to make users aware of a problem before it happens, rather than after the fact.

Manufacturers can turn to other software to solve integration problems. TIBCO Software Inc. last spring announced four integration solutions that streamline business process integration. The PCM (Product Change Management) Net solution, developed with Sierra Atlantic Inc., improves the way high-tech manufacturers collaborate to design and manufacture products more efficiently, according to officials at TIBCO, of Palo Alto, Calif.

By integrating Sierras PCM software with other systems and distributing product information over the Internet, TIBCO is able to model the high-tech industrys data structure and business processes for streamlined product change management.

TIBCO said it expects to have 20 to 30 such solutions available by years end.

At the same time, enterprise application integration software maker Vitria Technology Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., announced four similar vertical offerings that it refers to as applications rather than integration platforms.

Vitrias Demand Management collaborative application provides manufacturers with order visibility and capabilities to aid in fulfillment of orders through the supply chain.

Stratex Networks Inc. runs applications from Oracle Corp., PeopleSoft Inc., Agile Software Inc., Siebel Systems Inc. and others and needed a way to draw information from all of them. Stratex CIO Lee Jones turned to Vitrias Demand Management software and has been very happy with its integration capabilities.

"We are a best-of-breed shop," said Jones, in San Jose, Calif. "I need a solution that gives me the flexibility to handle different things we come up against. We are dynamic in how we change our business processes."