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Should interBiz Mean Intelligence And Prediction Beyond ERP?

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: December 6 2001

Should interBiz Mean Intelligence And Prediction Beyond ERP?
P.J. Jakovljevic - December 6, 2001

Event Summary 

In October and November, interBiz, the eBusiness applications division of Computer Associates International, Inc. (NYSE: CA), expanded its back-office solutions with the announcement of product enhancements and a free benchmarking service. The announcements were:

  • A free benchmarking service for businesses in durable goods industries

  • General availability of MK Manufacturing version 8.4

  • Premium Services Plans which provide maintenance for modifications and the migration of modifications to new versions of interBiz software applications

This, Part One of a two-part note, discusses these announcements and their Market Impact. Part Two will discuss the Challenges faced by interBiz and make User Recommendations.

Free Benchmarking Service 

On November 13, interBiz announced a free benchmarking service for businesses in durable goods industries. The benchmarking provides wholesalers and distributors with a comparison of their performance against the industry average and best-in-class. The benchmarking report also estimates the financial benefits of performance improvement.

interBiz has determined that there are approximately 35,000 distributors and wholesalers in the durable goods industry. The research has also reportedly found that the velocity of eCommerce has caused inventory and safety-stock levels to rise; that orders have become smaller and more frequent and consequently more expensive to process than before; that the customization of products has made forecasting more difficult; and that all of this has taken place at the same time that competition on price has stiffened.

The interBiz benchmarking service questionnaire was commissioned from Buker Inc., the global, independent consulting organization that developed Class-A certification and specializes in the distribution and manufacturing industries. The questions, and their interpretation, vary industry to industry but usually focus on delivery performance (by both the subject company and its suppliers), order management, cycle times, stock-out rates, costs, and cash management. Algorithms developed by Buker Inc. are applied to determine such things as impact on profitability. The interBiz benchmarking service is free. Wholesalers and distributors in the automotive aftermarket, professional and commercial equipment, electrical goods, hardware and plumbing, machinery, equipment, and supplies segments may participate.

MK Manufacturing Version 8.4 

On October 29, interBiz announced the general availability of one of its many flagship enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions MK Manufacturing version 8.4. Approximately one-half of the functional enhancements in version 8.4 relate to logistics management. MK Manufacturing 8.4 provides ERP and integrated order fulfillment on Windows NT and Unix platforms. Most popular relational databases are also supported.

Many of the feature enhancements in version 8.4 of MK Manufacturing are related to logistics management and fulfillment and include improvements in drop shipment, advanced shipping notices (ASNs), out-tracing of serial and batch numbers, multiple deliver-to addresses, greater carrier and forwarding agent flexibility, and consolidated delivery staging. Because advanced warehouse management is integral to MK Manufacturing, the inventory handling enhancements in version 8.4 (additional radio frequency (RF) support, interleaving of pick and put-away, cycle counting improvements, etc.) are reportedly available to all aspects of the enterprise, i.e., raw materials and work-in-progress (WIP) inventories, as well as the traditional finished goods inventory. In addition to logistics and fulfillment enhancements, MK Manufacturing version 8.4 delivers improvements to its service functions, planning, financial management, projects, and product customization features.

Premium Services Plans 

On October 15, interBiz announced Premium Services Plans, which provide maintenance for modifications and the migration of modifications to new versions of interBiz software applications. The company touts to be the first software company to develop a migration and modification plan that focuses on the mitigation of risk concept. The Premium Service Plans are available to all interBiz ERP and logistics solutions customers. In-house developed, third-party and interBiz-created modifications can be covered under the plans. Two plans are offered: the Migration Support Plan and the Maintenance Support Plan.

The Migration Support Plan ensures that when customers migrate to new versions of interBiz products their modifications will be migrated as well, at no additional cost. Additionally, customers that opt for the Migration Support Plan can have interBiz patches checked for compatibility with modifications (and any affected modifications that need to be adapted) before they install the patch on their system.

The Maintenance Support Plan provides business level and technical support for modifications. Maintenance Support Plan customers can place support calls on modifications through the ISO 9000 certified, 24x7 telephone and online support system interBiz maintains. Maintenance Support Plan clients no longer need to identify whether an issue is related to a modification or base product - both are covered under the Maintenance Support Plan. Pricing for the two packages is based on a percentage of the modification's initial cost and is billed on an annual basis.

Market Impact 

The market should appreciate the fact that interBiz continues to enhance the bundle of its back-office solutions. interBiz is a combination of many former ERP vendors, which has been seeking to reinvent itself in e-Business, and seemingly doing it well, especially with a recognized presence in distribution and logistics industries. InterBiz is a division of Computer Associates (CA) formed by combining a number of previously acquired ERP providers such as the MK Group, Acacia Technologies, and ACCPAC.

When in 1999 the company announced that 'the ERP era, as we know it, is over', the market interpreted it in a mixed manner. While some understood it as a natural evolution towards the era of inter-enterprise collaboration, the others took it as the company's attempt to 'stabilize' a number of possibly outdated ERP products and to focus on professional service revenue through an immense ensuing plumbing work disguised as e-business enablement. The fact remains that interBiz has been endeavoring to integrate CA's proven infrastructure technologies with enterprise applications for financial management, human resources, banking, supply chain management (SCM), and e-Business, breathing thereby a new life into tried-and-true but overly mature ERP products.

Nevertheless, despite some customers' defections, growth and an expanding customer base can be associated with interBiz that can now boast over 5,000 customer sites worldwide. Much of that expansion can be attributed to BizWorks, what the company prefers to refer to as its e-Business Process Management Suite, as opposed to a mere data-level enterprise application integration (EAI) suite.

Announced in 1999, the BizWorks suite includes EAI, business intelligence (BI), workflow event management, 3D visualization, wireless support, e-commerce software extensions, and Neugents, a neural network-based pattern recognition technology (learning agents). Many of these technologies CA obtained through the acquisition of Platinum Technology (see Computer Associates Splashes Into the Data Warehousing Market with Platinum Technology Acquisition). Neugents can reportedly spot business problems before they happen, as they look for patterns or anomalies and are able to digest significant historical information. BizWorks runs on CA's Jasmine database platform and leverages the stable of the company's respected infrastructure technologies, including Unicenter TNG's enterprise management backbone and Jasmine's intelligent infrastructure (ii) technology (see Computer Associates Jasmineii-When Is A Portal Not Just A Portal?)

BizWorks was devised to layer (wrap) over third-party and legacy applications too, which is quite important given the reality of homogonous applications environments that need to be made as cohesive as possible.

InterBiz Array of Applications 

interBiz also offers an array of enterprise applications of its own, including ERP, supply chain management (SCM), and warehouse management system (WMS) software. PRMS is one of the flagship manufacturing ERP offerings. The product supports manufacturing, distribution, financial, and warehousing capabilities for discrete, repetitive, process and co-existent manufacturing and distribution enterprises. Although having long been present in the market and been confined to the IBM iSeries (formerly AS/400) platform, the product has been undergoing continuous rejuvenation, partly through BizWorks' e-commerce enablement.

Another manufacturing-related product that continues to attract new customers includes the above-mentioned MK Manufacturing - a versatile Unix and NT-based ERP solution that supports make-to-order (MTO), configure-to-order (CTO), and make-to-stock (MTS) discrete manufacturing requirements. The company's flagship ERP products are backed up well with Warehouse BOSS, a rules-based stand-alone WMS and interBiz Logistics, an e-fulfillment distribution management package.

With the privilege of leveraging the parent company's wealth of technologies, interBiz has been delivering 'new economy' applications for wholesalers, distributors and third-party logistics (3PL) firms. The company seems to be betting on its logistics and e-business intelligence to differentiate itself in the market though. To that end, its BizWorks' rules-based management, reporting and visualization, and its Neugents may put a new twist in collaborative e-commerce. These and solid ERP functionality make a good foundation for supply chain event management (SCEM), which has recently been embraced by other ERP vendors with strong distribution incline, like SAP, Intentia, and J.D. Edwards.

Furthermore, interBiz offers full software and implementation services with tools and methodologies for mapping and improving business and manufacturing processes. The recent launch of interBiz's Online ASP offering may also bolster its mid-market acceptance. The company also caters for Unix, Windows NT, AS/400, and proprietary platforms support. All the former MK Group (Unix and NT) products are web-enabled, while Acacia's web-enablement (AS/400) is still in progress.

 
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