A Cost-Tracking System to Fill the Bill

Bom.com's Web-based model is targeting small and midsize companies.

When Aspine USA Inc. merged with Ammtec Inc., of Tokyo, this winter, the small manufacturers operations expanded across several countries, making its spreadsheet/fax machine system of product collaboration and supply chain management inadequate.

Not prepared to pay thousands of dollars a month for a traditional client/server or hosting solution, ASpine opted for a new online, subscriber-based data management system founded on a bill-of-materials framework, from Bom.com.

"So much time gets wasted the old way, I just cant stand it," said Paul Yu-Yang, vice president of ASpine, in Oakland, Calif. "But I dont think we were in a position to spend tens of thousands of dollars [on software] right now." The medical device manufacturer collaborates with plants and research and development shops in Taiwan, distributors in North and South America, and, now, its new parent company in Japan.

As manufacturers increasingly outsource elements of product design and development, it becomes more unwieldy to maintain and update collaborative data in a timely manner. Enterprises that have outgrown the spreadsheet system but do not want to pay for all the functionality of licensed collaborative management software—from Agile Software Corp. or Smart Solutions Ltd., for example—now have the choice of an Internet-based data management system from Bom.com, a startup in Mountain View, Calif., for $100 per user per month.

Bom.com, which creates a central online workspace where data is stored, managed and shared at any time from any place, is targeting midtier manufacturers. The system captures complex relationships among materials, including part names, part numbers, manufacturers, vendors, prices, lead times and CAD files, from the earliest stage of R&D.

The product, which was launched this month, does not comprise the full suite of functions offered by Agile and Smart Solutions (for example, product change management workflow), but according to customers, it offers a unique cost-tracking feature that maintains running totals from start to end, shows the most expensive parts and assemblies, and allows the entire enterprise access to cost projections.

"Before, my boss was carrying a price list around," Yu-Yang said. "He would make changes and then send it off to the distributors, who would add the changes, and it would go back and forth for days. Now a machine shop can enter a price, and it is automatically reflected for everyone."

Bom.coms framework for data collaboration begins with the billing of materials at the earliest stages of conceptualization. "There are a lot of people trying to approach the problem [of online collaboration] from a project management perspective," CEO Michael Topolovac said. "That way, all youve really done is moved the mess on your desk to an online environment. Its still an unruly collection of data."

The pricing advantage comes primarily from the companys service provider model. The company administers the system from a data center in San Jose, Calif., which is less expensive than maintaining applications at each site in an enterprise. The network design includes multiple firewalls, separate authentication servers and a proprietary application security model to prevent customers from seeing one anothers data. Data is protected by Secure Sockets Layer encryption, and nightly backups further increase the systems reliability.

"Midtier companies are administering software because they have to, not because they want to," Topolovac said. "With Bom.com, they have the ability to create one definition of the product that everyone throughout the entire supply chain process can access."

Like ASpine, Westwave Communications Inc., a startup telecommunications access switch maker in Santa Rosa, Calif., wanted to upgrade from the spreadsheet data management model but did not want to pay for all the features provided by most vendors in the market. With a contract manufacturer in San Jose; design partners in Irvine, Calif., and Colorado; and fewer than 10 individuals needing access to the data, Westwave found a solution in Bom.com.

"As a telecom company, were very careful in how we spend money," said Hans Hartmann, vice president of operations at Westwave. "Bom.com really helps you understand where your costs are early in the field."

Agile offers a collaborative data management hosting service option that a startup can implement in as few as three to five days, according to Carol Schrader, vice president of worldwide marketing, in San Jose. "Weve built our business on small to medium-sized manufacturers," Schrader said. "The market in general has been serviced by companies that were very heavyweight in terms of [coding intensive requirements]. Agile really shifted that paradigm."

Also promoting its offerings as affordable for small and midsize enterprises, Smart Solutions emphasizes the functionality of its Smarteam products, which allow for the smooth flow of updated information.