Bolstering the Supply Chain

Some software and service providers are finding new ways to jump B2B data integration hurdles

Developers of business-to-business software have made big promises about how their products will improve the efficiency of customers supply chains. But many of the companies that bought into B2B for big returns have been left to count only pennies.

One reason for the lackluster returns is that integrating data from third-party applications into e-commerce frameworks has proved to be difficult.

"Its very hard to get into the back office of suppliers. Theyre not all [using] SAP [AG] and PeopleSoft [Inc.]" enterprise software, said Mitch Barlow, chief technology officer at American Petroleum Exchange, in Rockland, Md. "Were trying to get away from keying in [information] ... but this is a new process."

Companies such as Tilion Inc. and Asera Inc. are selling software and services that take new approaches to such integration hurdles.

Tilions Visibility Platform puts agents on networks where the supply chain or e-market data runs; gathers that data using Java servlets; and then sends it as Extensible Markup Language messages to enterprises, where it can be analyzed and integrated into databases.

CEO Chris Stone, the former No. 2 executive at Novell Inc., this week will introduce the Maynard, Mass., company and its software.

Aseras eService uses adapters to extract information from an e-commerce application and make that data available to enterprise applications. By cutting up the extraction target into five layers—user interfaces, workflow, content, context and business processes—Aseras software can accomplish complex integrations in about 90 days, said Asera officials in Belmont, Calif.

Wyse Technology Inc. uses eService to manage online sales to distributors and VARs in a sort of private online marketplace. The softwares ability to connect purchase orders and shipment records in different systems saves a lot of time by reducing manual processes, said Amy Young, director of sales planning for Wyse, in San Jose, Calif.

Young said she appreciates that Asera works with applications from many developers.

"There isnt one kind of software that meets every need," she said. "Id rather build on what we have already."

Some e-marketplaces have used the published APIs of their infrastructure providers to connect some supplier data to their systems, but often that isnt enough.

Creative Planet Inc. is using procurement software from Commerce One Inc. as one of three major components in a new film industry e-marketplace that the enterprise expects to roll out this spring.

Although Creative Planet has used the Commerce One APIs to integrate catalog information from suppliers, these APIs could not be used to integrate two databases that deal with movie production.

So Rick Furino, chief operating officer of Creative Planet, in Los Angeles, has had eight IT staffers working six months hand-coding the links needed to make it all work—and they arent done yet.

"The complexity is linking the supplier catalogs to data in our supplier databases," Furino said. "The data takes on new relationships."