E-Market Integration: A Steep Climb

Consultants work to conquer complex mountain of vertical Web businesses

Consulting companies are jockeying for position in the business-to-business space by trying to provide an assortment of prebundled applications that demystify the confusing process of doing business on the Web.

But while most consultants said they feel some sort of offering is needed, the task of generating a one-size-fits-all solution for users in specific businesses has proved daunting.

Cap Gemini Ernst & Young last week announced it is teaming up to tackle the complexity and time-to-market issues associated with creating B2B trading exchanges.

The alliance will draw on the expertise of GE Global Exchange Services, or GXS, of Gaithersburg, Md., in interconnecting and integrating large trading communities and Cap Geminis B2B strategy and systems integration skills in integrating buyers and suppliers into new trading exchanges.

But getting to a point where its possible to create preintegrated application bundles and out-of-the-box interconnection of buyers and suppliers is not likely to happen in the near term, said Pravesh Mehra, global leader for B2B marketplaces at Cap Gemini, in Cupertino, Calif.

"Trying to make it simple integration—I can see [some of the large trading] exchanges sponsoring that," Mehra said. "But there isnt, in our mind, any that are really generic. That wont exist for a long time."

As part of the alliance, GXS will provide document translation services for converting electronic data interchange documents into Extensible Markup Language documents or other XML variants commonly used in e-marketplaces. GXS will also provide community implementation services and integration software to connect buyers and sellers enterprise systems with the e-marketplaces.

The two alliance partners will work together to create "self-connectors and in some cases help build out a hosted e-hub," Mehra said. "Were trying to put together a set of solutions with prebuilt connectors—such as [applications from] Commerce One [Inc.] and Ariba [Inc.], Oracle [Corp.] and maybe J.D. Edwards [& Co.], Baan [Co.], etc., and just connecting to the e-marketplace." For each marketplace that the partners create, Cap Gemini will establish an e-hub, a unique physical or virtual connection center.

Officials at implementation expert Deloitte Consulting said they are considering a similar offering, dubbed a preintegrated solution platform, or PSP. However, despite floating the PSP concept to the press last week, New York-based Deloitte is finding it difficult to nail down the specifics of a generic prebundled B2B package, according to a spokesman.

Deloitte officials said that by offering a PSP to the B2B public and private market sectors, companies will have a much easier time of connecting to those networks. By partnering with vendors, Deloitte officials expect companies to recognize quicker returns on investments by providing what officials hope will be a seamless integration of the trading partner network.

The result is that companies will see a much faster rollout and scaling of collaborative commerce capabilities.

But while providing implementation expertise is Deloittes craft—along with its competitors in the consulting industry—offering prebundled services may be too broad an initiative to help specific markets, according to Paul Hutchison, chief operating officer of FuelSpot Inc., an energy products exchange based in Golden, Colo.

"It really depends on whether or not you have a repeatable process, and not a unique problem with each customer implementation," Hutchison said. "Any time you can pull together ERP [enterprise resource planning] and those types of solutions with an e-commerce strategy, it certainly helps to bring in the Deloittes. If you look at solving problems of individual customers, its easier with a smaller team."

KPMG Consulting Inc. last week took its shot at reducing the time and complexity of creating exchanges based on Microsoft Corp. platforms in a partnership with Microsoft and Manugistics Group Inc.

KPMG will take the lead in creating strategy and integration services around Manugistics supply chain software and Microsoft .Net servers, according to Steven Gold, managing director of supply chain solutions for KPMG, in Chicago.

"So when we go to clients with a Microsoft-focused enterprise and supply chain needs, we have a prebaked solution that can be rapidly implemented," Gold said.

Prior to the three-way partnership, KPMG had taken other steps to integrate applications for trading exchanges.

"We put together a number of tool sets with a translator or piece of software that can integrate, for example, SAP [AG] into the Ariba marketplace," Gold said. "Its preintegrated with a reference architecture to allow that to be efficient."