Supply Chain Management Vendor Finds Balance for Service Supply Chains

  • Written By: Michael Bittner
  • Published On: May 2006



Background

The early years for Click Commerce (founded in 1996) centered on extranet enablement, and in particular, on demand chain solutions for business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) e-commerce. Click Commerce's early channel management software allowed manual and dynamic creation of relationship hierarchies and online communities within a distribution channel, through the use of membership rules. The intent of this functionality was to help enterprises establish B2B distribution portals and B2B-to-consumer portals. In these portals, the relationships and business process rules between the enterprise and its channel partners are transparent to the consumer. Enterprise channel management strategies gradually gave way to the potentially explosive private trading exchanges (PTXs), leaving Click Commerce and competitor Comergent in a leading position for the sell-side PTX market. This market, however, never materialized.

Click Commerce also ventured into product information management (PIM), acquiring PIM vendor Requisite Technology in late 2005. Flagship client Delphi Automotive worked with Click Commerce to move its entire aftermarket catalog online, as the first step towards aggressively driving its aftermarket e-business. Large tier one suppliers looked to Delphi as a model for how to manage an aftermarket e-business strategy without rubbing distributors and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) the wrong way. Delphi's initiative also continued Click Commerce's successful run at extranet implementations in automotive and heavy equipment channel management.

Click Commerce's Version 4.0, dating from early 2000, featured layered architecture consisting of the Relationship Manager platform and a suite of more than eighty application modules. Version 4.0 featured extensible markup language (XML) for communication between its application modules and an enterprise's legacy, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and other back-end systems, in order to streamline implementation and integration processes. Click Commerce licenses Relationship Manager and Application Suite at enterprise or divisional levels. The enterprise then authorizes its channel partners, and in some cases the consumer, to access the modules, including the enterprise's ERP software and other legacy systems, via an Internet connection and a browser.

More recently, Click Commerce has ventured into warehousing and service supply chain execution solutions, with the acquisitions of Optum Software in early 2005 (which had in turn previously acquired World Chain) and Xelus, Inc., a leader in services parts management, in June 2005.

Optum was an established supply chain execution (SCE) vendor with over 750 implementations of its MOVE WMS product; clients included Grainger, Federal Mogul, GE Aircraft Engines, and Pier 1 Imports. Like many SCE vendors, Optum realized that its core competency of complex, high volume warehousing and distribution systems could be transformed if the classical four walls and enterprise-constrained boundaries in SCM could finally be broken. Optum invested heavily in its TradeStream product; this was a collaborative integration and aggregation application which provided centralized visibility of order and inventory information. This was an ambitious undertaking, and a more difficult project than it seems, given the difficulties of connection technologies and critical mass participation within a specific supply chain community. TradeStream was piloted and implemented by Lucent Technologies, which brought credibility to the initiative.

The company which for three decades was known as LPA, renamed itself Xelus in mid-2000, to exemplify its new zeal. Xelus, a leading service parts inventory management application vendor, survived by dominating the market for best-of-breed service parts inventory and demand planning technology—first with customized systems, and then with software applications. After a difficult period from 2002 to 2004, the company emerged with new technology, leveraging its installed base of clients like Delta Airlines and British Airways.

Click Commerce's supply chain solutions, while diverse, find synergy and balance through Network Logistics.

Network Logistics

Click Commerce's supply chain solutions spectrum now spans three segments:

  • demand chain solutions, which regroup B2B and B2C e-commerce, product information management (PIM), and channel management
  • supply chain solutions for warehouse management, order fulfillment, and supplier relationship management
  • service supply chain solutions, with parts forecasting, planning and optimization, repair depot management, and reverse logistics.

Network Logistics combines the strengths of the (acquired) parts, coupled with existing and newly developed technology:

Integrated service supply chains require the connection of demand, supply, and service, to power high performance supply chains that are lean, extended domestically and globally, agile and flexible, and demand-driven. Supply chain execution can be more complex in the service supply chain, as parts and assemblies have multiple and varied part identities, workflow, and assembly and disassembly processes. Service supply chain optimization is the key message and strategic thrust of Click Commerce. Service supply chain complexity is inherently plagued by critical issues of disconnected and error-prone manual processes, suboptimal fill rates and service levels, high inventory and cycle times, forecast inaccuracies, and limited flexibility. Click commerce is proceeding with its solution strategy based on the premise that time is the common metric across all links in the service supply chain. A tight coupling between decision support and execution systems is required in order to reduce cycle times, which translates into increased performance.

Network Logistics 4.1, the current generally available suite, addresses the critical service supply chain issues via rapid trading partner integration; n-tier supply chain coordination; global supply and demand visibility; order and forecast collaboration; real-time sense and respond capabilities; predictive, exception-based event management; and supply chain analytics. More specific to service parts management than previous releases, this release also offers subinventory tracking of inventory details, attribute and rule specifications based on part group, parts substitution, user level configurability, replenishment based on inventory condition, and enhanced serial number tracking.

Click Commerce has an ambitious product evolution roadmap that includes the technical progression of its Network Logistics and next-generation warehouse management system (WMS), towards a J2EE n-tier architecture, pure Java code base, with multiplatform support and database independence. The next generation WMS solution, WMX, scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of 2006, will be based on service-oriented architecture (SOA), and will be deployable as a service-and-use standard open source tool. Salient features will include voice identification and radio frequency identification (RFID) with compliance. Click Commerce is partnering with Vue Technologies for RFID, and pilot projects with Ryder and HP are under way.

Click Commerce recognizes that the playing field is highly competitive and fragmented with IT behemoths, best-of-breed operators, and B2B platform players. It is imperative for Click Commerce to differentiate via the provision of strategic business process-centric solutions, with technology and solutions that compliment ERP, designed for the extended enterprise. These complimentary solutions need to be flexible, adaptable, and efficient. Click Commerce believes that it will remain competitive because its composite applications will create true business process solutions that follow the current market trend toward integrated suites of best-of-breed applications. ERP has traditionally not been equated with highly agile performance, and Click Commerce believes it can provide process-centric solutions faster and cheaper, with an on-demand or license deployment model.

While manufacturers tend to perceive a conflict between best-of-breed and ERP suites, actual deployments indicate that coexistence is the norm. Recent analyst studies find that companies that implement a framework of leading functionality with strong integration between application solutions can achieve best-in-class operating results.

Manufacturers have dramatically improved inventory turns, and effectively positioned their service parts operations as a key profit center for the future. This coexistence between service planning and enterprise transaction application solutions has enabled service-oriented manufacturers to optimize their resources while supporting increasing demands and complexities with agreements at the level of customer service. Manufacturers have traditionally leaned towards best-of-breed functionality. However, until recently, the lack of acceptance of best-of-breed applications has been a key barrier to technology integration. Applications and integration technologies such as SOA are now evolving so that companies can obtain the best overall solution to their business problems.

Summary

Recently announced revenues of $58.7 million (USD) for fiscal year 2005 represented an increase of 128 percent over fiscal year 2004 results. Revenues appear to be evenly split between the three solution segments of demand chain, supply chain, and service parts. The balance of solution offerings appears to be achieving a positive result where the sum of the parts translates into a well-balanced whole. Given its head-to-head competition with major ERP vendors (SAP, Oracle, SSA Global, Infor, and Epicor) and Manhattan Associates, the largest best-of-breed supply chain execution (SCE) vendor, Click Commerce realizes that it will require focus, leverage, and near flawless execution. They are honing in on industry verticals like high tech, electronics, automotive, and aerospace, where they can leverage existing assets as well as its product strategy of an integrated and agile B2B suite delivering more for less. There may also be new opportunities in consumer goods and retail, with its WMX product attributes for RFID and voice identification coupled with strong value-added processing capabilities and next-generation architecture

 
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