It's the Aftermarket Service, Stupid! (Part II)

Part I of this blog topic introduced MCA Solutions and its flagship Service Planning Optimization (SPO) solution for planning and optimizing spare parts [evaluate this product]. That blog post also tackled MCA's notably good times during 2007. In the meantime, an informative post on MCA was also published by the Sourcing Innovation blog.

A related 2007 milestone at MCA included a significant expansion with both new and existing customers in core markets, including aviation and defense (A&D), high-tech, and semiconductor manufacturing. Specific wins included the first joint effort with SAP for a large commercial aircraft manufacturer, expanded work with the US Navy to include planning for the entire naval aviation fleet, and successful deployments at new medical and capital equipment customers.

In addition to working with the largest corporate customers, MCA also cited growing revenue in the mid-market.  With its SPO OnDemand Software as a Service (SaaS) offering, MCA hopes to bring to smaller service organizations the same capability that service leaders in the Fortune 500 are seeing value from, but with a much lower upfront software and information technology (IT) infrastructure investment.

These benefits are attributed to lower monthly costs and faster implementations. The vendor will be expanding this offering in 2008 to make it even more appetizing and faster to deploy. The most recent win with the OnDemand SPO solution at Unisys Corporation might be a sign of succeeding with on-demand model at larger corporations as well as appealing to the mid-market. 

Quintessential SAP Partnership

SAP now officially recognizes MCA's Service Inventory Optimization (SIO) packaged composite application (PCA or "xApp" in SAP's lingo) as an exclusive SAP-endorsed business solution (EBS) in the service parts planning space. In general, an SAP xApp is open to any third-party application that that qualifies technically, and hundreds of those are planned for certification and launch in 2008.

This compliance should  make implementation in SAP environments fairly seamless, and, in MCA's case, offer the market one of the most sophisticated integrated service parts planning and optimization solutions available.

In mid 2007, MCA completed solution qualification for SAP EBS and now the two companies boast several joint customers. I should point out here the importance of achieving the coveted EBS denomination, since there are currently only about a dozen or so such solutions. In other words, MCA SIO is an SAP xApp certified solution, with seamless process and data integration between the involved applications supported by both companies.

For those that are more technically inclined, SIO leverages many of the SAP NetWeaver platform's components, such as Web Application Server (WAS) and Exchange Integration (XI)/Process Integration (PI). The product utilizes SAP's enterprise services (or web services, again in SAP's lingo) for integration between the SIO results (e.g., safety stock recommendations) and SAP's Service Parts Planning (SPP) module part of the SAP SCM suite [evaluate this product]).

Moreover, SIO runs in SAP Enterprise Portal and leverages the MCA Strategy functionality (soon to be explained), with forecasting and multi-echelon optimization capabilities.

After having completed a stringent solution qualification process in SAP's test facilities, SIO is nowadays tested and supported by both MCA and SAP. To illustrate the depth of an EBS-like partnership, let us see the evolutionary path that MCA has gone through over the years regarding its alliance with SAP (in the hope that a close relationship with SAP will prove to be very lucrative).

MCA indeed has a long history with SAP, and it has achieved certification at every level and for every major SAP platform. Namely, in 2005, MCA achieved "SAP Certified R/3 Integration" and "Certified for NetWeaver" open enrolment statuses. In 2006, MCA added “Powered by NetWeaver” to its sales collateral, although a few hundred other independent software vendors (ISV's) can tout the same.

Still, 2007 might have been crucial for the SAP and MCA alliance. For one, due to the above-mentioned EBS status, which denotes the deepest partnership level, MCA also received the SAP Pinnacle Award for “Outstanding Software Solution Innovator”.  Prospective customers should benefit from the tight integration of the broad planning process, and guaranteed support of the interfaces from both vendors through product upgrades. With the SAP EBS program, SAP's existing and prospective customers can access support for partner solutions through the SAP Solution Manager repository.

Catering to All SAP's Walks of Life

As a result, MCA has a spare parts planning solution configuration devised to return value and preserve information technology (IT) investment no matter where the client is in the SAP technology lifecycle. MCA’s SAP integration framework (coming from all the above-mentioned certifications) supports SAP's proprietary IDoc's and Business Applications Programming Interfaces  (BAPI's), and NetWeaver XI/PI enterprise services, which provide integration configuration flexibility and technology choices.

To that end, customers who don't have the infrastructure to implement the entire joint NetWeaver-based SIO-SPP footprint may have other options, such as to integrate with SAP R/3 and other legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems leveraging MCA SPO open API-based integration.

MCA SIO currently uses several SAP enterprise services, while the forthcoming release will incorporate around 20 services (which means even tighter integration with more SAP modules). The joint solution is integrated with SAP SPP, which ensures tight integration between the strategic and tactical plans, as SAP SPP is in turn tightly integrated with SAP ERP [evaluate this product] and transactional processes like collaboration, order fullfilment, purchasing, warehousing, etc.

Furthermore, in each of the potential configuration options (for virtually every SAP environment), MCA Strategy's  forecasting and inventory optimization is a core component. Its output is the target stock levels (min/max), reorder points (ROP) and reorder quantities (ROQ).  MCA's web site has the elaborate descriptions and nuances of all its products, which also include MCA Tactics and MCA Service Business Design (SBD).

MCA Tactics, whose scope is covered by SAP SPP in the joint SIO-SPP solution (confused yet?), is about generation of recommended orders (purchase orders, repair orders, allocation & transship orders, etc.) to ensure the user orders the right things to meet the service levels defined in the startegic plan.  MCA SBD does what-if scenarios planning for various network situations - e.g. network design impacts, impacts of different service level agreements (SLA's), impact of tradeoffs between part reliability and inventory stocking levels, etc.

Finally, MCA Solutions is a member of SAP's Industry Value Networks (IVN's) for High-Tech and A&D. All of the above integrations have been undertaken with the idea of facilitating the customer's entry point flexibility and early “self-funding” return on investment (ROI), while preserving the current IT investment and lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

Certainly, SAP customers can utilize MCA'a knowledge of SAP integration and lower their IT support costs, since in the spare parts planning and optimization space, MCA is currently the only vendor with this range of certifications and this deep a partnership with SAP.

We should not forget here about Bob Salvucci, MCA's president and chief executive officer (CEO), either. Prior to MCA, Mr. Salvucci had joined SAP America in the early 1990s, with responsibility for building the relationships with large SAP system integrators (SI's) and technology partners. From there, he moved into various sales management roles, and later became the president of SAP Public Services, prior to joining MCA a few years back. He and some subsequent MCA hires of ex-SAP staffers should have a deep understanding about how to successfully navigate through the complexities of working within SAP.

Is There a Life Outside SAP's Sanctuary?

However, while piggybacking on SAP remains critical, MCA cannot afford to "keep all its eggs in one basket" (in part given that the joint selling with SAP has yet to straighten some kinks out). Currently, MCA has about 60 employees and an install base of over 20 large discrete manufacturing enterprises, with all of them deploying MCA’s software across multiple sites.

Over half of MCA customers are SAP customers, while the rest have Oracle E-Business Suite [evaluate this product] and some legacy or mid-market ERP products. ERP integration is often cited as very important to prospective customers, while some existing MCA customers have requested that MCA develop a similar relationship with their ERP providers.

In fact, the recent three-party engagement at the US Air Force (USAF), with Oracle, IFS Applications [evaluate this product] and Xelus/Click Commerce (a competitor of MCA and Servigistics) may speak volumes about the co-opetitive nature of the market. While the SAP EBS-like relationship with other ERP vendors may not happen at MCA for various competitive reasons, the non-SAP base will continue to be important to MCA as it represents about one third of the pipeline.

It is thus no wonder that MCA has lately expanded the Oracle Partner Network (OPN) membership (at least to also send a "subtle" warning signal to SAP to get its ducks in a row for joint sale efforts). It remains to be seen how deep the partnership with Oracle can be in light of its capabilities via the recently acquired Demantra product.

Other Key Success Factors

MCA’s growth of late was driven by its focus on its core strengths: to become the solution of choice for aftermarket service parts planning, and to continue to drive innovation and better solutions. This implies working with and integrating  with leading ERP vendors, and with other best-of-breed vendors, primarily those in the SAP' ISV ecosystem. Most important of those would be Vendavo in service parts pricing, Questra  in intelligent device management, and ClickSoftware  in field service scheduling.

Still, the strength of MCA's exclusive SAP relationship was a key factor not only in deals that the two vendors conducted together with their joint solution, but in any SAP environment.  There were several SAP customers who went with MCA's stand-alone solution but liked the partnership with SAP and the potential to evolve to the joint solution as they widen their SAP footprint.

Both SAP and MCA tout that the pairing has already resulted in shorter sales cycles and some early wins. The two vendors have done two deals together lately, whereby the first one, Varian, is not using the joint SIO solution, but may in the future.  But they very recently closed their first joint deal at Bombardier Aerospace, which will be implementing the joint solution (MCA's SIO and SAP's SPP) later this year.

Another success factor has been MCA's dominance in the A&D sector in the upper-end of the market.  This included both expanding their footprint within existing accounts and adding new ones. In addition, there has been an increasing prevalence of performance-based logistics (PBL) know-how requirements by customers, and MCA's capability there was demonstrated with some of the largest players like Boeing, Lockheed, and Rockwell Collins.

MCA expects to win in the complex A&D SPO contest almost all the time (it only lost one prospect to Servigistics last year), and will compete well in the high-tech and industrial equipment sectors (especially within SAP accounts). The comany has had several recent wins including replacing two different competitors' solutions.

Some Caveats, Notwithstanding

Still MCA's growth in 2007 (and later) did not come from a buoyant market per se, but rather from a handful of big-ticket projects and from mining its existing install base. Overall, the market might be up a bit, but it is still far from being a huge one (albeit it is highly competitive). Based on MCA's pipeline, it could only be better next year as the alliance and joint selling with SAP kicks into gear.

The Europe, Middle-East & Africa (EMEA) region is key to acceleration in 2008 and beyond, and to that end, MCA's product is written in Unicode. This means the vendor updates a translation table, and then all of the screens (with the exception of a couple of administrative screens) can be updated in the new language.  So far MCA has done translations into German, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Japanese, although only German and French are in use and completely validated.

I would expect that Servigistics has a similar list of languages, perhaps more in use as it has had a bigger international presence. This brings us to the fact that MCA has some fierce competition in the market, especially in distribution intensive accounts. For one, it is Servigistics, with a much wider functional footprint (which will be discussed in separate blog posts), better international presence and bigger install base/revenues. In fact, the two vendors' "over the shoulder" attitude is quite similar to the Yankees-Red Sox baseball rivalry.

Servigistics cites that MCA is only an “archrival” on the SPO side and that Servigistics has closed far more deals than MCA (although the names of all of these client wins are not for print). Servigistics too cites 2007 as a record year according to many metrics: the highest revenue in the company's history, the largest deal closed in the company's history, the largest Asia-Pacific deal closed in the company's history, 10 of the top 20 largest deals in the company's history, the average deal size increased significantly, approximately 20 new customers, etc.

Servigistics' install base amounts to quite a larger number than MCA's, well over 100, but this includes customers Servigistics picked up from acquisitions. These acquisitions have brought Servigistcs a much broader functional footprint (outside the SPO space). The company has won a number of combination deals, even including within SAP accounts (e.g. where it sold both spare parts pricing and planning solutions), but when SAP gets its act together, this will likely happen much less often.

Namely, I think Servigistics service parts pricing is still somewhat better than the Vendavo/SAP combination, but that might change in the future. Vendavo currently has fewer customers for spare parts pricing, but a broader solution in overall price management in contract pricing,which is critical in the service space.

MCA counteracts that for the areas that Servigistics offers natively, MCA is partnering with best-of-breed players like ClickSoftware for field engineer/technician scheduling and optimization. Also, despite lesser revenues, MCA touts a narrower focus and profitability, which is not necessarily the case with Servigistics. It is well known that Servigistics has lately gotten two rounds of additional funding ($5 million and $3.5 million), and there have been some occasional layoff rumors and departures of some executives (difficult to confirm at a privately-held company, though).

But the competition doesn't end with Servigistics and Click Commerce, since Baxter Planning Systems  has recently boasted some deals, such as Atlas Air and 3Com (though both are hosted and not large in value). Logility, Infor and ToolsGroup can present an occasional opposition in distribution intensive deals.

SPO for the Masses? Not Quite Yet

Last but not least, usability enhancements, making the solution intuitive and much easier to learn and use (understand) remain the major challenges for all providers of such sophisticated ("rocket science") software. Expanding the “what-if” scenario capabilities (with rationale explanations) would be one avenue to pursue.

MCA also hints of a new “control tower” offering that is supposed to provide a graphical view of the overall service chain. But the details are kept secret from us (and Servigistics, I guess, although seemingly aiming at impressive Servigistics Command Center capabilities).

Only by solving this piece of the SPO puzzle will many other mainstream companies join those handful of forward-looking companies that have adopted these software tools and that have reported significant improvements in inventory levels and turnover concurrently with improved customer satisfaction.

What are your thoughts in this regard, and your experiences with the solutions like MCA Solutions' SPO?
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