Improving Data Visibility

Vendors aim to ease supply chain exchanges.

Enterprise software providers are answering IT managers calls to ease data exchanges between their systems and those of competitors.

Siebel Systems Inc., Commerce One Inc., SAP Markets Inc. and Tibco Software Inc. have each introduced products or partnerships that they said will improve the efficiency and power of communications among enterprises along supply chains.

Enabling IT organizations to interoperate along supply chains is no easy task. "If you think about going across vendors—SAP [AG] to Oracle [Corp.], for example—and you start saying company X [subcontracts] widgets from company Y, and company X needs a widget redesign, just sending the designs back and forth, commenting on them, making sure everyone speaks the same language, [ensuring] security and proper workflow, it gets pretty complicated," said Vincent Kennedy, director of technology at Cargo Lifter Inc., in Raleigh, N.C.

"When you start talking about integrating ERP [enterprise resource planning] to [product document management software], one size does not fit all," Kennedy said. "This stuff is very complicated. There is nothing simple about this—and you cant do it part time."

Recognizing the need of some businesses to tie customer preferences into the product design life cycle, Siebel last week announced an alliance with Parametric Technology Corp. that will integrate Siebels sales, marketing and customer service automation applications with PTCs Collaborative Product Development software.

The result of combining the technologies will be that Siebel software users will be able to view rich digital product data—such as product attributes, CAD files and market literature—that resides in PTCs software.

In addition, companies will be able to pull customer preferences from Siebel applications into PTCs product development process for better decision making and product innovation, said PTC officials in Needham, Mass.

An as-yet-unnamed integrated product will be available in about six months. PTC will build it, and Siebel, of San Mateo, Calif., will validate it.

Separately, Commerce One earlier this month announced a partnership with EAI (enterprise application integration) software vendor SeeBeyond Technology Corp. that eventually will add EAI functionality to Commerce Ones portfolio of business-to-business e-commerce software.

Later this quarter, Commerce One will introduce protocol gateways for its procurement software that let users transact business using native protocols such as RosettaNet or electronic data interchange. The Pleasanton, Calif., company will also make available adapters that integrate back-office applications from such companies as PeopleSoft Inc., Oracle and SAP with Commerce One procurement applications. The gateways and the adapters will be developed with SeeBeyond, of Redwood Shores, Calif.

At the same time, Tibco is acquiring Talarian Corp. in a deal valued at $115 million. Both companies offer similar messaging-based integration technology, but the acquisition gives Tibco, of Palo Alto, Calif., Talarians healthy customer base and its multicast technology, which enables customers to more quickly respond to trading partners.

"Talarians SmartSocket technology is, in some ways, very similar to the technology that Tibco offers in that they use the publish/subscribe communication model," said Terri Tutt, senior architect at TNT Logistics North America Inc., who looked at both technologies when researching EAI technology. Tutt went with Tibco. "You really have to start digging down into the guts of how to enable that type of technology in order to understand the nuances between the different technologies," said Tutt, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Separately last week, SAP Markets unveiled its mySAP SRM (Supplier Relationship Management) suite. The software capitalizes on parent company SAPs mySAP Technology platform by providing a holistic view of all supplier-facing relationships through integration capabilities with both SAP and non-SAP supply chain management, product life cycle management and ERP applications, according to officials.

SAP Markets SRM solution, available now, replaces the San Jose, Calif., companys E-Procurement applications.

With application developers and middleware makers targeting the same problem—enhancing supply chain communications—there is mounting pressure on both camps.

"Vendors have always been doing a good job in providing features, but now they are improving the service levels they can give, which is critical in dealing in any kind of B2B scenario where reliability and scalability becomes critical," said Greg Battas, chief architect of the Zero Latency Enterprise group at Compaq Computer Corp. Battas group is working to improve the efficiency of B2B communications.

"More and more, enterprise vendors are recognizing that they need to talk to and support other products," said Battas, in Indianapolis. "Look at these EAI products—three years ago, they put themselves in the center of the universe; if they drew you a picture, they were in the center. Now, theyre a member of a bus."