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A Supply Chain Applications Vendor Expands Beyond Its Roots

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: November 14 2006

Click Commerce is a thriving provider of on-demand supply chain management (SCM) solutions for a variety of worldwide industries. The vendor has evolved beyond its roots, into a provider of much more comprehensive on-demand supply and demand chain management software, consulting, hosting, and related services that should enable users throughout the world to collaborate (that is, to work jointly with others), in near real time, and conduct commerce (exchange ideas, opinions, sentiments, products, etc.) with business partners across an extended enterprise.

Part Two of the series Will a Tool Manufacturer and a Supply Chain Software Vendor "Click" in Matrimony?

For example, Click Commerce Supply Chain Management (SCM) solutions were acquired in February 2005 via Optum, a former warehouse management systems (WMS) vendor (which in 2004 had acquired V3 Systems and WorldChain, providers of software for supplier management and vendor managed inventory [VMI], respectively). These solutions provide supply chain execution (SCE) and WMS solutions for multi-tiered supply chains, and include a radio frequency identification (RFID)-ready demand fulfillment solution. These solutions also enable supply network communications, coordinate business processes and services, and optimize supply chain functions (see Who Needs Warehousing Management and How Much Thereof?).

With this technology, Click Commerce clients can receive orders and other information from customers who have implemented RFID initiatives, and can run their warehouse and fulfillment operations using the same RFID information that their customers use in their retail operations. The solutions are designed to function independently of one another, or in tandem for tailored enterprise network environments, although each solution includes Click Commerce's integration platform, best business practice methods, and a supply chain intelligence dashboard. Supported supply chain business processes include supplier enablement; fulfillment coordination; service logistics; shipment execution; and warehouse management.

In May 2006, Click Commerce released MOVE version 8.1 of its WMS software, which aims at enabling user companies to offer more value-added services, and provides support for RFID- and voice-enabled operations in the warehouse. MOVE 8.1's value-added services allow companies to offer such services as customer personalization, complex final assembly and light manufacturing operations, and support for reverse logistics requirements in the service supply chain. The release also provides RFID capabilities integrated with basic warehouse operations, such as receiving, put-away, picking, and shipping. In partnership with Vue Technology, the leading provider of item-level RFID, the RFID-integrated solution should increase productivity and inventory accuracy in the warehouse. It should also provide the ability to pull inventory through the supply chain network based on real-time demand to avoid stock-outs, and thus likely deliver increased customer service levels and lower supply chain costs (see RFID—A New Technology Set to Explode?).

In addition, the release further enhances MOVE's voice functionality, which creates a dialogue between warehouse employees and the WMS. MOVE 8.1 uses a voice-directed interface that allows warehouse employees to use a headset to communicate vital warehouse information about inventory operations, rather than inputting the information into a cumbersome handheld device. The solution, which includes technology from Vocollect, should result in increased labor productivity, improved inventory accuracy, and better safety for the company's warehouse workers.

The new release integrates with the Click Commerce Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), which enables extensible markup language (XML), electronic data interchange (EDI), or flat file communications between the WMS and external systems, as opposed to requiring a costly middleware provider. With the Click Commerce ESB, companies can integrate MOVE 8.1 with other applications, since the solution is based on open standards and uses service-oriented architecture (SOA), enabling composite applications to be tailored to users' business processes, instead of having to work in a predefined framework. The ESB integrates Click Commerce applications to work as a suite of products by leveraging Web services and business process execution language (BPEL) to orchestrate the flow of information between disparate applications (see Understanding SOA, Web Services, BPM, and BPEL).

More Acquisition-based Expansions

The Click Commerce Service Parts Planning and Optimization (SPP&O) solutions, which were acquired in May 2005 via former Xelus, are designed to improve the performance of customers' service and repair activities, and their investments in spare parts inventories. These solutions are particularly important for companies in the aerospace and defense (A&D), automotive, and high-technology industries, where maintaining and repairing complex equipment is critical (see Lucrative but 'Risky' Aftermarket Business—Service and Replacement Parts SCM). These products are designed to help optimize the procurement and distribution of spare parts inventories, the deployment of parts to optimal stocking locations, and the flow and disposition of inventory through the repair loop (and back into usable stock).

The SPP&O applications have a broad view of the service network, and provide strong planning capabilities coupled with an integrated tool for bridging the information gaps between partners. Embedded algorithms identify and address issues related to a user company's service parts supply chain, and help companies determine disposition and routing at each step: return, receipt, repair, and restock. Owing to Xelus' forays in leveraging RFID in tracking and analyzing service parts, Click Commerce has broadened its footprint with the service parts planning and reverse logistics expertise of Xelus. This should help them to eventually manage the entire gamut from ordering, moving, and fulfillment of parts (in other words, from raw materials), to subassemblies and finished goods, to aftermarket spare parts. Supported service supply chain business processes include parts planning optimization; product acquisition; reverse logistics; inspection and testing; reconditioning and repair; and distribution and sales.

To further expand its portfolio, in November 2005, Click Commerce acquired Requisite Technology, Inc., which enhanced Click Commerce's catalog offering by adding a master data management (MDM) capability that enables collaborative commerce and RFID programs (see Customer Data Integration: A Primer and SAP Bolsters NetWeaver's MDM Capabilities). Requisite's MDM software, which transforms disorganized plant, material, and finished product data into consistent information repositories, is currently embedded in some of the world's largest enterprise resource planning (ERP) provider's solutions, with approximately 400 of these customers actively using elements of the Requisite solution. The solution had already been in use on a software as a service (SaaS) basis (see What Is Software as a Service?), with various leading business process outsourcing (BPO) providers using the applications to support their procurement operations. Also, Requisite had delivered infrastructure and services (directly and through its global service partners, including Atos Origin) that made manufacturers' MDM and related cost reduction projects successful.

In addition to providing MDM capabilities, the acquisition added patented technology and increased Click Commerce's presence in Europe with additional sales and support staff in key markets. This provided the vendor with additional opportunities to deliver its demand, supply, and service chain collaborative commerce solutions (see Will a Tool Manufacturer and a Supply Chain Software Vendor "Click" in Matrimony? for more information). The acquisition also broadened Click Commerce's solutions portfolio to include Requisite's Bugseye patented search engine, Content Workstation content cleansing, alignment and validation tools, and eMerge content aggregation and workflow management tools. It also provided a framework for using data across many different levels (industries, regions, companies, and departments). Requisite provided software to many different industries and end users, including the A&D, commercial aviation, consumer goods, contract repair, high-tech, telecommunications, petrochemical, and transportation industries. Some of Requisite's leading customers include BASF, Eastman Kodak, Graybar, Marathon Ashland Petroleum, and Union Bank of California.

Mastering Data Management and Synchronization

These Click Commerce solutions enable companies to manage information about any type of item, including finished goods for resale; direct materials used in manufacturing; and indirect materials used in maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) operations. These solutions also enable companies to create, collect, align, and enhance data to provide a uniform version of information, regardless of catalog needs. The search capabilities allow users to search aggregated information to find relevant results, and to have access to item details and images. Consequently, the solution suite, re-branded as Click Commerce Master Data Management (MDM), now consolidates and manages widely distributed master product data within an enterprise. Its solutions provide a single, consolidated version of this information, which should improve the accuracy of dependent systems, and reduce errors arising from data duplication and inaccuracy.

The product suite is intended to address problems caused when a user company maintains its master data in raw or "native" form in multiple, disconnected ERP and other enterprise systems, while lacking the detailed descriptions, product attributes, and classification structures which permit corporate-wide analysis and visibility into cost and performance. Customers thus use MDM solutions to deliver core services and infrastructure to turn raw master data into more readily available product information that can be acted upon to cut costs, deliver products faster, and boost competitiveness. Supported MDM business processes include cleansing and normalizing existing data; organizing and mapping data to internal structures; integrating to MDM or ERP legacy systems; and conducting master data maintenance. The Click Commerce MDM solution does not replace enterprise applications or the data contained therein, but rather enhances the existing ERP system, thereby helping to reduce customer costs by integrating its solution with tools and processes already deployed throughout an organization.

The strategic intent behind these numerous acquisitions might be best shown by the fact that Click Commerce's global data synchronization (GDS) and secure communications solutions (acquired in 2004 via bTrade) complement its MDM capabilities by allowing companies to communicate normalized master data with their trading partner community via the Internet. Data synchronization is an industry-wide retail initiative that requires manufacturers and suppliers to "sync" product information with their retailer customers, and Click Commerce has identified GDS as one of the building blocks for an RFID-enabled supply chain. Conveniently, bTrade was one of the top five solution providers in data synchronization (along with UCCNet and other major standard-setting bodies). UCCNet had previously selected bTrade software to handle communications with the trading partners, and retail supplier on-boarding in North America. Today, this software handles communications for the global registry for the worldwide retailer industry. Furthermore, bTrade had early relationships with leading retailers like Wal-Mart, SUPERVALU, and Home Depot, and was well on its way to establishing itself as one of only ten data pools in the world.

Service Contract Management

Additionally, in February 2006 Click Commerce acquired substantially all of the operating assets of Elance, Inc., based in Mountain View, California (US). This provided on-demand e-commerce solutions for contractor management services business, with capabilities enabling companies to find, evaluate, purchase, manage, and pay contractors and third party service providers. After the sale of the services and contractor management business, Elance concentrated on its Internet business and the growth of its online service for small business outsourcing.

As manufacturing companies outsource more and more of their operations, buying and managing third party services and service providers becomes a real challenge. Click Commerce believes the addition of services and contractor management capabilities creates significant cross-selling opportunities in the A&D and contract manufacturing verticals, as well as in its core markets of high-tech, financial services, and institutional research. Click Commerce has continued to offer Elance outsourcing management software as a service to many other industries, including the energy, manufacturing, transportation, and utilities industries. Elance reportedly estimated that in 2005 its customers used its solutions to manage over $7 billion (USD) of their services and contractor spending on information technology (IT), contingent labor, operations, management consulting, marketing, print, and other service projects. The customers of this Elance business include a number of existing Click Commerce customers, such as FedEx and Motorola, as well as other well-known companies, like American Express and British Petroleum (BP). The acquisition also included two foreign Elance subsidiaries, which expanded Click Commerce internationally by increasing its European presence with additional sales and support staff in the UK, and by adding a small software development facility in India.

In 2006, Click Commerce expects the acquired Elance business to recognize approximately $7.5 million (USD) in recurring revenues from its customers' purchasing maintenance, hosting, and services. The majority of employees from this Elance business unit have become Click Commerce employees since the transaction. Consequently, the on-demand e-commerce solutions for service businesses (re-branded into Click Commerce Contract and Service Management products) should enable customers to manage their services and contractor management life cycles. To that end, customers can use these solutions to find, evaluate, purchase, manage, and pay for a wide variety of outsourcing and professional services, and other services. The solutions handle multiple types of services contracts and payment structures, such as time and materials, retained relationships, milestones, blanket orders, service level-based payments, and volume-based contracts. With these solutions, the customers might also realize the benefits of compliance with key policies, laws, and controls for corporate reporting, including the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). The solution can also help them manage labor and staffing, and provide visibility into spend volumes, supplier performance, and efficiency.

Helping Health Care Research

Last but not least (although this is somewhat unrelated to the other offerings), Click Commerce eResearch and Healthcare solutions help health care and higher education institutions improve response time and accuracy of approval processes by connecting research departments through administrative extranets. The software automates labor-intensive review and approval processes into flexible, more easily navigated sequences of workflows. Supported research and health care business processes include grant and contract management; institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) review; clinical trials discovery; incident reporting; conflict of interest reporting; and institutional review board (IRB) review. An IRB is a committee of physicians, statisticians, researchers, community advocates, and others who ensure that research studies involving human subjects are ethical and that the rights of study participants are protected. All studies involving human subjects in the US must be approved by an IRB before they begin. Click Commerce IRB extranet provides institutions with an Internet submission system for IRB applications that simplifies application creation, eliminates routine errors, and alerts research teams of approaching deadlines. An IACUC, for its part, is a committee charged with reviewing animal welfare issues and approving all research involving use of animal subjects per US federal guidelines. Click Commerce IACUC extranet provides institutions with an Internet submission system for IACUC applications that simplifies application creation, eliminates routine errors, and alerts research teams of approaching deadlines.

In late 2005, Click Commerce released Research Extranet version 5.5, designed for use in the health care and higher education industry. This solution provides new applications and tools that can lead to improved efficiency in complicated human and animal subject research procedures. Leading universities and research institutions such as Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Washington currently use Click Commerce's extranet solutions. It is expected that with the new Research Extranet 5.5, these institutions will be able to develop and deploy customized research procedures more efficiently, and improve their ability to share important research data across the organization.

Research Extranet 5.5 includes Process Studio, which should allow institutions to more easily manage the creation of research processes. It should also enable them to launch these applications more quickly, since with its addition, institutions can take more effective advantage of the Research Extranet and potentially increase productivity immediately. Additionally, the release provides support for Web services, which facilitates easy integration with external applications. The release also added important functionality for users of the Click Commerce IRB Extranet and the IACUC solution. Namely, IRB and IACUC administrators can leverage a new comprehensive reviewer notes feature, which allows review committees to make comments directly in the system, potentially streamlining the research approval process. This new feature also provides the ability to more quickly identify changes in modifications submitted by researchers. The Click IACUC Extranet is currently in use by five institutions to manage animal research compliance requirements, and provides access to pre-award grants, bio-safety committees, and conflict of interest reporting applications.

 
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