Plumbing the Supply Chain

SAP's management suite uses intelligent agent technology to troll a network system for problems.

Is it enough just to connect the systems of partners in a supply chain? SAP AG thinks not.

The enterprise applications developer earlier this month introduced intelligent agent technology for its mySAP SCM (supply chain management) suite that company officials said will enable business managers to better control dynamic collaboration with trading partners.

SAP Event Management, which was rolled out at the Sapphire user group conference here, features agents that troll SAP and non-SAP systems in a supply chain network and alert managers when, for instance, late orders reach a predefined level. The agents, due in the second quarter of next year, also implement or suggest remedies for problems. As they learn more about the network, the agents can also screen nonproblematic events to determine if new efficiencies can be gained, SAP officials said.

SAP, of Walldorf, Germany, is teaming with BiosGroup Inc., of Santa Fe, N.M., to develop the agents that make up Event Management, which is a component of the mySAP SCM suite.

SAP is not alone in targeting agent technology for SCM, said Kimberly Knickle, an analyst with AMR Research Inc., of Boston.

For instance, Saltare Inc., of San Mateo, Calif., and Living Systems AG, a Donaneschingen, Germany, company, both employ agents to enable companies to organize and automate supply chains.

"It seems like using agent technology is coming back in favor," Knickle said. "The question now is how patient people will be with talking about the technical aspects [of agents]. Youre not going to lead your pitch to the business decision makers with it ... [but IT architects] are going to get it."

Agents are only one effort SAP is making to emphasize business-to-business collaboration. Also at Sapphire, SAP introduced new functionality in its mySAP PLM (product life cycle management) suite. The Product Designer component enables manufacturers to capture product needs in a flexible, structured way and then evaluate alternative ways to meet those needs.

Other new components for PLM include Recipe Manager, which provides functionality similar to Product Designer but for packaged goods companies; Collaborative Folders, for building virtual team rooms; and Quality Manager.

Coming next quarter to the mySAP CRM (customer relationship management) suite is the capability to deploy it as a stand-alone product that can draw data from SAP and non-SAP systems.