SCE Leaders Partner To See Beyond Their Portfolio Part Three: Challenges and User Recommendations

IT Challenges

Lately, some supply chain execution (SCE) leaders, not wanting to rest on their laurels of recently outperforming the entire enterprise applications market (if not many more other markets across the entire economy spectrum), have entered a number of partnerships with the aim to thereby extend their value proposition far beyond their expertise on the execution side of the supply chain management (SCM). Part One of this note detailed these developments.

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges facing IT departments today is still unlocking data and processes from a plethora of heterogeneous applications running on different technologies and platforms, from mainframe to Web application servers. In the 1990s middleware was developed as "glue" that could integrate some applications, but it provided only limited success, while offering mainly point-to-point solutions that created a new set of problems, since there has been no standard infrastructure for communication within heterogeneous hodgepodge of systems. Also, point-to-point integration is too data-intensive and does not support dynamic, if any, process changes.

Although integration or applications servers may reduce that complexity to a degree because all the applications plug into a central hub, the EAI servers themselves tend to be proprietary and non-standard. Customers are increasingly desiring to do away with point-to-point integration approaches at that data level (with extensive lists of custom APIs and connectors/adapters) and to replace it with more inter-enterprise ranging integrations, based on business processes that extend beyond the traditional definitional boundaries of a single application suite.

Many believe that the advent of standards and Web services will alleviate the need for packaged software suites and to allow leeway for software tailoring. On the other hand, there have been massive changes in the overall direction of Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) market (see Enterprise Application Integration - Where Is It Now (And What Is It Now)?), as the need for robust, enterprise-level integration tools has grown rapidly as companies adopt sophisticated e-business and Web-based approaches.

The importance of business process modeling (BPM) and the expansion of business-to-business (B2B) exchanges add additional dimensions to the EAI conundrum, since the Business Rule Component of EAI systems, which should allow the applications to understand particular business processes (i.e., supply planning, sales order processing) and methods for business process management, remain perhaps the most important but least understood aspect.

This is Part Three of a three-part note.

Part One detailed the announcements.

Part Two discussed Market Requirements and the Market Impact.

Vendor Challenges

In addition, the strong downturn in the technology economy has affected many vendors' outlooks. The infrastructure and integration are not easy segments to compete within either, with wealthy and viable competitors coming also from the EAI specialists (i.e., SeeBeyond, Tibco, webMethods, Mercator and Vitria) , the infrastructure (platform and tools) providers, such as IBM, BEA Systems, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, and packaged applications vendors like SAP, Siebel Systems and PeopleSoft, since the latter two groups are benefiting from the lower cost of an integration solution due to Web services and maturing standards-based components.

Still, in larger corporations, customers still may prefer integration vendors with renowned product strength, vertical expertise, financial viability and savvy in XML-based B2B integration, multi-platform integration and workflow management. While standards may imply "cheap" or even "free" albeit also "immature" in some prospects' imagination, many mission-critical integration undertakings will still likely go to seasoned companies with proven track record and large customer reference bases. Application vendors' in-house developed platforms (i.e., application servers) also typically have limited integration scalability and cannot handle complicated processes incorporating data and BPM from disparate systems.

To that end, SeeBeyond and Manhattan Associates should mutually benefit from the alliance (For details see Part One), as well as the customers that have not yet standardized on their integration platform, in which case mature embedded SeeBeyond solution should be an apparent choice. SeeBeyond hereby obtains yet another high-profile endorsement beside recent like partnership with Siebel Systems, another leader in another market, CRM. The vendor has one of the most ambitious R&D initiatives in the EAI sector, and it plans to gain market share and to leverage pre-packaged integration solutions for certain vertical markets. It also has advanced features like process monitoring and 3rd-party adapters, which have both still missing from its peers' current offerings. In March, the vendor also detailed the first major upgrade to its product line in three years, which will begin shipping to customers at the end of March. Called Integrated Composite Applications Networks (ICAN) version 5.0, the integration software suite aims to set SeeBeyond apart from competitors with a new set of features, such as the support for Java and Web services-based standards for automating business processes and better compatibility with other middleware products.

The new products are also designed to allow developers or business analysts to pull data from multiple sources to build an application. This "composite application" idea might ultimately allow them to more easily assemble applications with visual design tools, since most SCE solutions involve a complex flow of transactions across a company's information systems network, users need simple to use, graphical tools to help them manage these transaction flows and quickly respond to problems. To that end, ICAN suite 5.0 introduces eInsight Business Process Manager 5.0, a graphical development tool for modeling business processes and pulling data from disparate sources.

SeeBeyond has also upgraded its core application integration server, called eGate, with the ability to write and run Java code on both eGate and other Java application servers that comply with the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) specification. The expanded Java compatibility should make SeeBeyond's development and administration tools useful for non-SeeBeyond software. However, despite a good fit at first glance, there will be a challenge of training Manhattan Associates' sales & support staff of SeeBeyond's quite technically complex product. The alliance will also require almost perpetual collaboration between the two product development teams to ensure interoperability and minimize the overlap of BPM and other integration features for a hefty arsenal of Manhattan Associates' products.

User Recommendations

Enterprises with dynamic inventories, which need to improve accuracy in order fulfillment, have a need for both SCP and SCE applications, and should benefit from the above joint solutions. Companies moving from make-to-stock (MTS) based on forecasts to make-to-order (MTO) supply chain strategy should posses the combination of planning and execution capabilities to support long term issues like network and distribution requirements planning (DRP), strategic sourcing, and manufacturing capacity planning. Without a real-time link between the warehouse, logistics and customer service departments, "visibility" often takes the form of a nightly batch process that loads inventory data to the order server for automated promising. Thus, make sure that the SCE system in consideration integrates reasonably easily with your legacy systems in place, and investigate whether it is vital to integrate all parts of your business with it to make most of the benefits the software offers.

The most important point for prospective buyers of EAI technology -- do a very thorough analysis of your existing systems, where your corporation's business needs will be in the next few years, and how you intend to integrate the systems (do not forget that mapping data from one place to another is the most arduous, expensive, and time consuming part of the whole process) before you even talk to any vendor. Many of the surviving integrating vendors have only written pre-packaged applications for particular vertical industries, so customers will have to investigate multiple vendors to insure there is support for their particular industry.

Customers with a need for EAI should ensure that the vendor and/or systems integrating (SI) firm used to build the application has a proven methodology for application integration, and check reference sites. Since the whole idea behind EAI is to integrate disparate data and technologies, the methodology should be component-based. While the needs of employees, customers and business partners will vary, successful integration tools will need to provide access to such applications as inventory control, ERP, CRM, data stores, packaged applications, legacy systems and a myriad of other applications. The effort will be grueling, but the returns from an integrated information portal can be significant.

Customers should try for the highest level of abstraction from the middleware to help promote reuse of components, reduce the level of coupling between applications, and reduce the amount of custom coding required in lower level languages (i.e. C or C++). Today, successful enterprise application integration requires the capability to share information both within the enterprise and across enterprises in near real-time. The rapid pace of new software development and acquisition, and the requirements of rapidly changing business environments, require that application integration solution be capable of great flexibility.

Given the application is very likely to be used over an extranet or the Internet, the product should support the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), access control lists, and X.509 certificates. In addition, the prospective customer should ensure that the tool employs UML (Unified Modeling Language)-compliant business process modeling (BPM) software. Try to take advantage of standards and challenge vendors in terms of interoperability and compliance with standards such as J2EE, XML, Microsoft .NET and Web services. The software vendors, must collaborate to ensure commonality across designs, otherwise you will end up with yet another version of the proprietary platform with a limited use in the future.

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