Can Webplan Reconcile Planning and Execution? Part One: Event Summary

Event Summary

The past two years or so have been an interesting if not a tumultuous period for the Ottawa, Canada-based, privately-held Webplan Corporation (, which felt compelled to further refine its original supply chain planning (SCP) and business-to-business (B2B) collaboration value proposition. The vendor, which started in 1984 providing fast-acting manufacturing resource planning (MRP) applications to midsized companies, was formerly called Enterprise Planning Systems and prior to that, Advanced Planning Systems. In 1998, Webplan not only changed its name, but started to reposition its product offerings towards a broader, collaborative SCP suite. In the most recent soul-searching exercise, during which it replaced and reshuffled much of its former leadership, the vendor has refocused on highly actionable response management software (formerly referred to as operational performance management [OPM], a subset of broader corporate performance management [CPM] software, which is about communication and delivering actionable intelligence at the right time) for manufacturers and distributors, what it believes will be a growth market.

Thus, at the end of 2003, Webplan announced that changes made to its business direction in 2003—including a drive toward delivering value to manufacturing customers through response management software—has gained acceptance with both its manufacturing customers and strategic partners, laying the foundation for growth in 2004 and beyond. Despite the fact that many manufacturers have invested in enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and many also have supply chain management (SCM) systems, most continue to use inopportune batch reports and pesky spreadsheets to manage their operations performance. These have proven to be inefficient and error-prone methods of supporting decision-making, and result in a reliance on "educated guesswork" rather than on accurate dynamic analysis in order to align decisions with strategic objectives. For that reason, Webplan software intends to do for manufacturing or operational decision-making what some business intelligence (BI) applications have already done for financial decision-making. (See Financial Reporting, Planning, and Budgeting as Necessary Pieces of EPM).

As stated previously, Webplan has made key management additions to strengthen its team. In 2003, Douglas Colbeth, former Spyglass CEO, joined Webplan as president and CEO, in addition to his role as chair of the board. Webplan also added sales and marketing expertise to build on its technology leadership, since a manufacturing industry veteran, Bob Dolan, was appointed vice president of North American sales, while Randy Littleson, joined Webplan as the vice president of marketing.

Today, a few dozen of the leading Fortune 500 manufacturing companies reportedly use Webplan software at over 200 of their manufacturing sites and is used by about 50,000 users (total), to make crucial manufacturing decisions. In 2003, Webplan indeed added market-leading manufacturing companies across several key verticals to its customer list. These included Coty Inc., a global manufacturer and marketer of personal fragrances, cosmetics, and skin treatments; and Thomas Built Buses, a manufacturer of commercial transit buses, school buses, and specialty vehicles. The Asia Pacific region has especially shown major growth potential for Webplan, as a large number of electronics and other discrete manufacturers in the region have found a need for its software.

This is Part One of a four-part note.

Parts Two and Three will discuss the market impact.

Part Four will cover challenges and make user recommendations.

Asia Pacific Expansion

As global manufacturers expand operations in the Asia Pacific region, there is an increasing reliance on outsourcing, and companies are looking to the likes of Webplan to deal with the continuous changes in supply and demand, along with challenges in supplier collaboration across regions. Casio Computer Company, Ltd., Japan, a producer of highly sophisticated consumer electronics, corporate system equipment, as well as electronic components; Giant Manufacturing Company Ltd., Taiwan, the largest bicycle producer in the world; and The Hana Group, one of South East Asia's leading independent electronic manufacturing service (EMS) providers are among recent high-profile additions.

Accordingly, on March 23, Webplan announced a strengthened and expanded commitment in Hong Kong and Tokyo, to support the recent growth of its Asian Pacific customer base and to build on this momentum through direct efforts and by expanding its partner network. Partnerships with leading technology, integration, and application providers, including Atos Origin, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Japan Ltd., Intel K.K., ITRI (Industrial Technology Research Institute), Kawatetsu Systems, Inc., Microsoft Co., Ltd, NTT DATA Corporation, Oki Electric Industry Co., Ltd., and Unitopia should continue to advance Webplan's position in the region.

In the Asia Pacific region, the vendor sells almost exclusively through its partners, and most of its implementations are also done by partners, while Webplan typically mentors the customer or the partner before or during the implementation. The largest partner in the region is Atos Origin, with offices in Singapore, Bangkok, Taipei, Shanghai, and Hong Kong; Singapore and Bangkok are the most active offices. ITRI in Taiwan is another important partner, while in Japan, until recently, Oki has been the only active implementation partner. However, Intel and Microsoft Japan as well as HP Japan are proving to be great technology partners and are actively promoting Webplan's product.

Also, on April 26, Webplan announced that Kawatetsu Systems has been signed as a value added reseller (VAR) in Japan. Kawatetsu Systems is a spin-off from JFE Steel, one of the largest steel companies in the world. With nearly 1,400 employees and fiscal 2002 revenues of nearly $3.4 billion (USD), Katwatetsu Systems has a strong reputation for reliable service and support in business application development, implementation and integration, and its System Integration Division specializes in manufacturing, logistics, and planning system development and integration. The firm has formed a dedicated team to market, sell, service, and support RapidResponse, and, as an authorized support partner, it will provide implementation services as well as maintenance and support to customers.

Western Expansion

As for Europe, Webplan is still present only through the installations at certain high-profile customer sites, including Agilent, Cannondale, General Domestic Appliances, Raytheon, Sumitomo Electrical Systems, and Smiths Industries Aerospace.

Webplan has also expanded its distribution model to include both direct and indirect sales on a global basis. Particularly notable was the December's announcement that Webplan has joined the Cognos Partner Program (CPP) as a Strategic Technology Partner. The two companies will integrate Webplan's response management with complementary Cognos' business intelligence (BI) products, Cognos ReportNet and Cognos PowerPlay for enhanced operations visibility and analysis, and with Cognos Metrics Manager to ensure operations decision-making alignment with corporate objectives. Both vendors believe the end result will be a more rapid and measurable return on investment (ROI) for manufacturers.

Webplan has also developed (or has been negotiating) and strengthened strategic partnerships with other renowned technology organizations including Intel, RedPrairie Corporation (a referral partner that also does account planning, pursuing joint pipeline accounts, and exploring ways to embed the Webplan technology into its supply chain execution [SCE] solution), Intuitive Manufacturing Systems (a mid-market ERP vendor looking to embed Webplan's multisite planning technology and currently negotiating a Webplan original equipment manufacturer [OEM] agreement), TDCI (a referral partner, with a captive install base of the MACPAC ERP system users with the rights to support them, and which intends to become a Webplan VAR to extend its capabilities), and Agile Software (there is already an established marketing agreement, while actively engaged in exploring an integrated solution). These partners are seen to strengthen Webplan's value proposition in areas of product functionality, performance, integration, scalability, and sales.

The vendor intends to leverage a manufacturer's investment in most important enterprise solutions (e.g., BI, ERP, product lifecycle management [PLM], manufacturing executions system [MES], enterprise application integration [EAI], warehouse management system [WMS], etc.) offered by the above application vendors, to provide advanced real time analytics and enhanced decision support capabilities across the organization. Webplan thus believes its above alliances with application partners, systems integrators, and technology providers should make it easier for large and mid-size manufacturers across industries to implement and use Webplan within the framework of their existing enterprise applications' investment and within a short time to benefit with a measurable ROI.

Webplan RapidResponse 7.3

As for the product's functional offering, at the end of March, Webplan announced the release of the Webplan RapidResponse 7.3 product, which it believes stands alone in providing the breakthrough solution manufacturers need to master the reality gap, and enable the "as planned" world to meet the reality of the "as it is" or the "as executed" world where constant changes occur in supply and demand. According to Webplan's officials, current practices for manufacturers are still to use people such as, planners, schedulers, managers, etc.; paper including, e-mails, faxes, and even letters; and tools, for example, re-run plans, ad hoc reports, disjointed spreadsheets, etc. to fill that reality gap. These minimally automated and under-optimized approaches make it extremely difficult to keep supply and demand aligned, or to fully understand the ramifications before decisions are made.

Conversely, Webplan believes the introduction of RapidResponse finally addresses the need manufacturers have for real time insight and visibility to effectively manage "at the moment" (including, "as changes occur"), by delivering innovative technology that enables manufacturers to anticipate potential problems, instantly review multiple action alternatives, and align operations to rapidly and effectively master the above-described unavoidable reality gap instead of coming to a halt every time they need to make changes in operations and output. By instantly viewing changes in the supply chain, proposing and sharing action alternatives throughout and beyond the enterprise, and ranking and scoring multiple "what-if" scenarios, manufacturers should be able to make informed, best-practice decisions and manage momentarily the issues, such as inventory excess, product cost variance, and the performance of contract manufacturers and suppliers. Also, the product's architecture connects directly to front- and back-end systems, supports a continuous flow of information across multiple sites, and intends to optimize the value of existing infrastructure.

As to deliver the above touted solutions, RapidResponse leverages the following three key novel technologies that enable manufacturers to abridge the dreaded inevitable reality gap and respond swiftly to today's problems in an informed manner:

  1. Active Spreadsheets provide Web-based global access to live data feeds from ERP, SCP, PLM, WMS, TMS (transportation management system) and other enterprise applications. With embedded AlwaysOn Analytics, manufacturers can analyze data based on near real time information and manufacturing algorithms (including calculating the impact of a demand change on supply requirements) found in a broad number of ERP systems such as SAP, Oracle, and many others. Doing so aligns action teams around a consistent, continuously updated view of the impact that changes in supply and demand will have on their operations in a familiar, intuitive spreadsheet view.

  2. Resolution Engine gives manufacturers rapid, iterative modeling capabilities that enable action team members throughout and beyond the enterprise to propose, detail or merge views, and share action alternatives to drive effective resolution to continually changing situations.

  3. Live Scorecard enables manufacturers to compare alternative "what-if" action plans based on real time information. By scoring proposed action plans against predetermined real world corporate performance metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs), Live Scorecard aims at ensuring that any chosen course of action conforms to both day-to-day and long-term business objectives and best practices.

Webplan RapidPesponse 7.3 is a further evolution of former Webplan Manufacturing Insight 2.0, which was built in 2003 within a collaborative framework as a personalized, role-based supply chain visibility and analysis solution that would provide real time alignment of supply and demand across the extended supply chain. Several enhancements were at the forefront of Release 2.0, included quick launch and new personalization capabilities, as well as web-based administration to manage users and groups, and support expanding Webplan user communities. Further, the release of Webplan Manufacturing Insight 1.0 took place mid-2002, and the product was, even back then, based on a modular architecture, while its inherent scalability meant that any company, regardless of size or level of supply chain sophistication, could benefit from the solutions' capabilities.

To make the purchase of its solutions affordable for a broad range of customers, Webplan has since been offering attractive investment options, such as "rent-to-purchase", to suit varying budgets. Designed with mid-tier companies in mind, the rental model should ease the burden on capital budgets and reduce financial risk. At the end of the contract term, the rental agreement converts to a perpetual software license, while flexible terms also give customers the opportunity to opt out anytime during the contract.

Early in 2002, Webplan also announced its plans to deliver its solution on the Microsoft .NET Framework. The initial extensible markup language (XML) Web service developed using Microsoft Visual Studio .NET provided an XML interface to the former Webplan CeO platform (recently renamed into RapidResponse Server). This has permitted applications and servers on almost any vendor platforms to take advantage of Webplan solutions based on Webplan technology, such as real time adaptive planning and trading partner collaboration, over the Internet. The new XML interface will be offered as a component of the RapidResponse Server, which leverages the capabilities of the Microsoft BizTalk Server and SQL Server to provide B2B transactions services and XML event services for real time distributed collaboration. Further enhancements included simple object access protocol-compliant (SOAP) XML interface for open access to the RapidResponse Response Management Platform from both .NET and Java 2 Enterprise Edition-based(J2EE) applications, which should enable access to Webplan supply chain information from virtually any platform, while the separation of business logic from presentation in ASP.NET will also reduce the effort required to upgrade customers with tailored Web applications.

This concludes Part One of a four-part note.

Parts Two and Three will discuss the market impact.

Part Four will cover challenges and make user recommendations.

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