Collaborative Commerce

Software vendors expand e-trading products

When manufacturers set out to take advantage of electronic cataloging, many settled for simply listing the parts and products available. These days, as buyers demand more information and place more unique orders, such lists simply dont suffice.

As a result, some manufacturers, in turn, are pushing their business-to-business software providers to give them more capabilities for collaborating online with customers. That way, "All the players are present—the manufacturer, customer, distributor and raw materials supplier—and on the same page," said John Crossno, chairman and CEO of Agito Inc., in Dallas, an e-hub for the motion control industry.

Software vendors, including Ariba Inc., Parametric Technology Corp. and Datasweep Inc., are complying by adding more collaboration capabilities to their B2B e-trading products.

Ariba last month rolled out its Value Chain Management platform, essentially an expansion of its current platform, as well as expansions of the Ariba Commerce Services network, which will support a broader range of direct materials transactions.

To bolster its collaborative e-commerce message, Ariba announced new partnerships with Zeborg Inc., SeeCommerce Inc. and Syncra Systems Inc. These partnerships add collaborative planning, value chain performance management and value chain analytics to Aribas core functionality of providing a B2B commerce platform to customers.

Ariba, of Mountain View, Calif., had been partnering with i2 Technologies Inc. for supply chain capabilities, but that relationship was already strained when in January Ariba bought Agile Software Inc., which provides supply chain automation functions.

The partnership with Syncra and Agile complement Aribas partnership with i2, Ariba officials said. Executives at Dallas-based i2 would not call this the end of its partnership with Ariba. But some observers said Aribas latest moves will squeeze i2 out of many engagements with Ariba.

"If you look at Agile, they have a huge install base in collaborative product commerce—over 600 customers," which squeezes into i2s space, said Karen Peterson, an analyst with Gartner Group Inc., of Stamford, Conn.

Syncra, of Waltham, Mass., last month said it is working with enterprise software developer PeopleSoft Inc., of Pleasanton, Calif., to enable consumer goods companies to extend their supply chains to key trading partners over the Internet.

Manufacturers not wanting to get in the middle of partnership smorgasbords have other supply chain software options. PTC, of Needham, Mass., late last month announced the availability of Windchill ProjectLink—an intercompany collaboration product that will serve part of the supply chain equation.

The product is designed for collaboration on private and public exchanges, with the goal that those projects will lead to direct procurement transactions on the exchanges, according to PTC officials.

Agito, which is beta testing ProjectLink and also is an Ariba customer, is focused on collaborative commerce. Agito engineers are working out the bugs, trying to get basic functions such as search and drop-ship orders to work in its multivendor infrastructure but are having tough going. This means Ariba may have its hands full in making its new partnerships work for customers.

"They [Ariba] are really going to have to do a lot for them to get in and really mix it up [with collaborative commerce]," Agitos Crossno said. "Were struggling."

Another software option comes from Datasweep, a provider of real-time collaborative manufacturing solutions.

Last week, the San Jose, Calif., company unveiled Version 4.0 of its flagship product, Advantage, which features a supply chain collaboration portal that gives customers a real-time view of private supply chains from the manufacturing floor on up.

Jim Puzar, senior IT global program manager for Flextronics International Ltd., in San Jose, Calif., is upgrading to Datasweeps Advantage 4.0. The main benefit of the upgrade is its real-time monitoring capabilities, which allow for better reporting, Puzar said.

"The market is shifting," he said. "Customers are wanting to be part of the manufacturing process as they outsource. To be able to deliver some Excel sheet a couple days [after an event] is now becoming unacceptable."

"With procurement, that is the next step in the way everything is going," Puzar added. "Being able to collaborate through the entire supply chain is an advantage."

Some analysts agree that securing direct procurement through the value- add service of project collaboration is viable.

"Simply squeezing supplier margins is eventually a zero-sum game that does not enhance revenue for either partner," said David Yockelson, an analyst with Meta Group Inc., also in Stamford. "Up to 80 percent of the product cost is committed by the time the product is designed, prior to procurement, further accentuating the need for both exchanges and enterprise to offer greater design chain management."

Ariba executives agree.

"If you look a couple years out, we want to support collaborative design, sourcing activity, transaction execution, forecast solutions," said James Kwak, director of commerce services at Ariba.