Trying to Ease PTN Pains

ERP vendors woo customers with packaged apps.

Several giant software developers are bringing out new packaged applications designed to free companies from the chore of cobbling together business-to-business private trading networks from scratch.

But while the goal of providing faster, easier deployment of closed networks for sharing design and transaction data with trading partners is welcomed, the packaged software in many cases remains fragmented and immature, observers warn.

PeopleSoft Inc. is strengthening its offerings with software built in part from applications it gained in its recent acquisition of Cohera Corp., while ERP (enterprise resource planning) application competitors SAP AG and Oracle Corp. and systems integrator Electronic Data Systems Corp. ready their own offerings.

But as those vendors vie for supremacy, they are essentially competing in many instances with their target customers, which are building their own PTNs that amount to home-grown extranets with collaboration capabilities.

Jim Puzar, senior program manager of IT at contract manufacturer Flextronics International Inc., said his team will likely eschew ERP vendors altogether when it does take a look at creating a PTN.

Puzar said he will likely not look to his ERP vendor, Baan Co., because it does not have a core competency in developing applications for collaboration or building PTNs.

"Flextronics likes to go with start-ups, and the reason being we can take [an equity] stake in [that type of] company and shape the software to make it more of a contract manufacturing model," said Puzar, in San Jose, Calif. "Just from the way we behave, we would be looking to some small startup or someone with a really unique offering."

PeopleSoft, of Pleasanton, Calif., will round out its PTN offerings with applications due by the first quarter of next year. Those applications will provide more fully rounded e-catalog integration and management to PeopleSoft customers in part because of the companys acquisition of Cohera, of Hayward, Calif. The acquisition was announced late last month at the PeopleSoft Connect user conference in Atlanta.

Included in the private network offerings is PeopleSoft Trading Exchange Services, which has three main components that help customers build PTNs. PeopleSoft Cohera Catalog Management System, which became available at the end of last month, integrates Coheras catalog management capabilities with PeopleSofts collaborative e-procurement applications. A Trading Partner Management application offers a repository that maps transactions, and a Dynamic Pricing engine manages all aspects of contract negotiation and pricing in an auction environment; both are slated to be available in the first quarter.

For the sell side, PeopleSoft will ship its eStore application in the first quarter.

PeopleSofts next release of its namesake Internet-enabled ERP suite, Version 8.4, offers upgrades for the PTN-minded enterprise. These will include enhanced integration capabilities in the form of prepackaged adapters to outside systems, including possibly ERP, supply chain management and PLM (product life cycle management) platforms. PLM offerings enable companies to digitize and share product planning, design, manufacturing and distribution information for collaboration via local networks and the Internet.

Although the Cohera acquisition adds much-needed functionality to PeopleSofts PTN offering, content management is only a piece of the PTN puzzle. And while some analysts say PeopleSoft has a good vision, some say that the companys PTN product remains fragmented and not ready for prime time.

Meanwhile, SAP subsidiary SAPMarkets Inc. is taking its own approach to providing packaged applications for PTNs. SAPMarkets, of Palo Alto, Calif., along with partner Commerce One Inc., is retooling its MarketSet public marketplace platform to be more in line with the demands of PTNs, according to Faheem Ahmed, senior manager of solution marketing at SAPMarkets.

Although there is no specific release date, an upgraded version of the MarketSet software will have more fully rounded content management and integration functions that are in line with the needs of companies building PTNs, Ahmed said.

Oracle already has exchanges that company officials said provide functionality akin to a PTNs: Product Development Exchange, a product development collaboration hub, and Supply Chain Exchange, which provides capabilities for collaboration along a private supply chain.

In addition, although the Redwood Shores, Calif., company hasnt announced them, it is offering new exchange-related components on its Web site: Supply Chain Intelligence and Product Development Intelligence. Companies will be able to use both to better analyze collaboration with suppliers in a PTN setting, according to officials.

Taking a slightly different tack is EDS, of Plano, Texas, which closed its $950 million purchase of PLM software vendor Structural Dynamics Research Corp. earlier this month. SDRC, of Milford, Ohio, became part of EDS Unigraphics Solutions division, which will build PTNs.

With the temporary name of EDS PLM Solutions, the new SDRC will continue to compete heavily in the PLM and collaboration space but will have EDS huge installed base to market to.