Zeroing in on B2B Integration

IPNet, Commerce One, Valdero unveil suites.

As more e-businesses turn to business-to-business collaboration for linking partners in the supply chain, developers IPNet Solutions Inc., Commerce One Inc. and Valdero Corp. are looking to oblige.

The three companies are rolling out iterations of their respective software suites that enable enterprises and their trading partners to capture and integrate data from one another.

"A year and a half ago, B2B communication required that either the two trading partners installed the same software or you worked together to define your own communication standard," said Phil Hill, technical strategist at Inc., a medical supplies e-marketplace in Nashville, Tenn. "There was secure and reliable software [in that] either we both had the same software or sat down and defined standards."

Medibuy has turned to IPNets BizManager to integrate partners and suppliers to its hub. It does not use the software for internal software integration. "It has nothing to do with middleware," Hill said.

IPNet next month will introduce the second generation of BizManager.

BizManager 2.0 aims to simplify the task of integrating all levels of suppliers through a Java-based transaction delivery and community management server. The software will enable companies to exchange transaction data via electronic data interchange, binary and flat files, XML, and data that complies with the Health Level Seven and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act specifications.

Included in the new product family are vertical-specific solutions. IPNets BizConnect, a Java-based connectivity solution, enables small and midsize businesses to connect with larger hubs.

The Newport Beach, Calif., companys BizMail module is aimed at small trading partners that lack the resources and IT infrastructures to connect to multiple suppliers.

BizMail "is such a lightweight integration mechanism that you can provide it to trading partners with very low technical capabilities and have a secure transaction," Hill said. "As wonderful as IPNets Transact product is, it does require some expertise. And its not uncommon in the health care industry to not have that level of expertise."

Separately, Commerce One last week made available Version 5.0 of its namesake collaboration platform. In this version, the Pleasanton, Calif., company has broken the platform down into modules, making them less expensive and easier to deploy, according to CEO Mark Hoffman.

In this way, Commerce One said it hopes to slip its software into more companies, where the developer then will have an opportunity to upsell more modules.

Commerce One 5.0s Source module provides visibility and control of strategic sourcing across an enterprise. Its RFx templates allow buyers to build complex bid packages. Additional applications include Quotation Analysis and another called Supplier Performance and Sourcing Intelligence. A fourth application, Contract Management, addresses the life cycle of a contract and is expected to ship next quarter.

Commerce Ones Buy module includes Procurement, Contract Labor Procurement, Auction, Invoice Management and Payment, Supplier Self Service, and Trading Partner Connectivity applications.

Collaborative Platform integrates e-commerce business processes within and outside the enterprise, according to officials.

The company plans to announce Version 6.0 of its suite this summer. The cornerstone of that offering will be support for Web services, Hoffman said.

"What we want to do moving forward is [provide] a standards-based architecture that will take us into the Web services world and [electronic business] XML and incorporate them into our platform and build a platform that is about how all these play together," he said.

Valdero, which will officially announce its launch and its first software offering this week, is taking a slightly different approach. The Mountain View, Calif., companys namesake supply chain control software offers a suite of five modules that manage supply chain functions on a day-to-day basis, picking up where supply chain demand planning systems leave off.

Valdero promises a 12-week implementation. It performs the deployment so quickly because it uses adapters and metadata to integrate back-end systems, officials said.

In July, Valdero will offer Version 2.0 of its software, which will round out the suite with a Resolution module that will enable users to resolve exceptions. Later, the company said it plans to develop what officials call "continuous demand" software that will allow users to forecast demand on a daily basis, rather than monthly or quarterly.

Getting companies to accept strategic sourcing as a key IT initiative could be an uphill battle.

"We bought [process collaboration software developer] Exterprise [Inc.] last year and began to bring that into the Collaborative Platform," said Commerce Ones Hoffman. "However, it is still not resonating in organizations. A lot of people flat out just dont get it."