The flagship software suite of Sweden-based International Business Systems (IBS) (XSSE IBS B), called Application Software or ASW, espouses supply chain management (SCM), customer service, demand-driven manufacturing, financial control and business intelligence (BI) functionality. This global provider of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain management (SCM) solutions also offers IBS Virtual Enterprise software, a collaborative commerce solution with the additional abilities of enterprise application integration (EAI) software, which is further enhanced through its utilization of business logic for coordinating cross-application business models. Cramo, Europe's third largest equipment rental company, reportedly selected IBS Virtual Enterprise to minimize total procurement costs, optimize logistics, simplify routines, improve functional efficiency, and build long-term supplier relationships. Investing in a collaborative procurement solution with EAI capabilities and equipped with business logic was reportedly vital to remain competitive.
Part Two of the IBS Slow but Steady (and Demand-Driven) May Win the SCM Race series.
From a functionality point of view, ASW covers a broad range of functionality, but its functionality is not evenly deep across the entire extended-ERP scope. Historically, the professional services orientation of IBS has tended to favor much more in terms of modifications and customizations for each customer rather than providing deep, off-the-shelf product functionality development for the entire application suite. Rather, specific functional extensions, enhancements, and partnerships tended to be done on a one-off basis that would infrequently be applied to the entire product in different parts of the world.
This custom development for each customer approach of the past is drastically changing as IBS works to move away from the modifications business and towards a software development model. As a result, new customers using ASW in midsize sales order handling operations are increasingly finding that the functionality of ASW is ample and does not require heavy modifications as it did in the past.
Much of the issue of functional fit has also been reflected with more discipline in the sales process of IBS. I In the past the vendor was not as strict in its sales lead qualifications and marketing focus; however, now, the new approach being adopted by the organization should help to reduce the number of situations where customers will find themselves doing one-off development to the product. Accordingly, more notable additions in functionality in the late 1990s included support for telesales (which is one of the distinguishing functional areas of the product relative to its competition), enhanced executive information systems (EIS), and on-line analytical processing tools, and integration with IBM Lotus Notes/Domino.
This is Part Two of a four-part note.
Part One introduced the company.
Part Three will discuss the Market Impact.
Part Four will cover warehousing, challenges, and make user recommendations.
The Current Release: ASW 5.50
Along these enhancement lines, early in 2004, IBS introduced ASW 5.50, the current release of its specialized business software suite with a number of key improvements. With customer profitability and measurable business value as central themes, IBS delivered new functionality aimed at helping its customers improve supply chain communication, customer service, and process automation. The new release included improvements to the architecture and existing end-user applications, as well as entirely new modules. The software's highlights include a number of different features:
- a newly designed and enhanced user interface (UI) to offer greater efficiency of system operations and flexibility when dealing with customers. The Java- based interface can be fairly easily customized to fit individual needs and preferences, thereby facilitating improved sales order management and customer service. Further, related to this, IBS Portal is a role-based framework that includes all applications and content, per user, and provides functional integration, user visibility and a one-time log-on (single sign-on).
- ASW Business Connector Framework which further improves communication between ASW and external enterprise systems, among them SAP, offering integration and automation of system-to-system business processes.
- automated workflow routines that increase the efficiency with which customer issues can be handled, while providing decision support and driving reduced transaction processing costs.
- a new e-billing solution, offering a tool to complement invoicing processes, delivering a streamlined flow of communication between IBS' customers and their customers and suppliers.
- IBS Business Intelligence, providing advanced business and operational measurement with analysis of key performance indicators (KPI), whereby users can select components that facilitate and enhance strategic analysis, planning, and decision-making to monitor KPI and return on investment (ROI). They can analyze at the company group level and drill down to original transactions, or analyze net profitability for each business partner or a specific item.
One of the most important areas in ASW 5.50 is indeed IBS Business Intelligence. It manages and analyzes enterprise performance, brings information from different sources together not just from within one ERP-system. In that way, the entire supply chain can be monitored, including internal and external parts that use different systems. It also allows for industry standard performance metrics and benchmarks from the widely recognized supply chain operations reference (SCOR) model.
IBS is possibly the first software vendor to fully integrate and use the SCOR-model in this type of business application. SCOR enables customers to get a more efficient and coherent measurement and benchmarking across their whole supply chain, regardless of which ERP or supply chain software is used. Thus, IBS was recently awarded the Supply-Chain Council European Development Award for developing IBS Business Intelligence. The Supply-Chain Council is a global organization whose goal is to improve the supply chain efficiency of its practitioner members. Hence, SCOR encapsulates the collective knowledge and experience of SCC members worldwide. Its members are skilled practitioners in SCM, and whose understanding comes from working with real-life organizational problems.
SCOR provides both a "helicopter" or "10,000 feet" view of the entire supply chain as well as a deep and granular analysis of each individual process. It is organized around five major management processes—plan, source, make, deliver, and return. Within each of these management processes, every area is examined with a view to improving its performance and contribution to the overall chain. Interdependencies are identified and best practices soon become evident, whereby the result is a transparent, optimized flow of events. In the supply chain configuration stage, known as level 2, the model helps managers visualize their complete operation simply and clearly. Unnecessary steps that slow down the supply chain soon become glaringly obvious owing to the power of a simple geographical map to spot weaknesses or duplications in current practices.
Also, ASW 5.50 included an integration tool for program-to-program integration called ASW Business Connector Framework. ASW Business Connector Framework aims to reduce costs of individual business relationships, and increase revenue potential by enabling new trading arrangements that would not be possible by traditional means. Behind this is IBS' idea to offer the ability to deliver process-based integration solutions that are relatively fast to deploy, simple to maintain, and easy to change—without being dependent on an application or operational platform.
The vendor realizes that a number of its largest customers today operate on multiple enterprise systems. The best example might be the German appliance manufacturer Miele, operating SAP centrally with IBS ASW operating in most distribution and sales outlets globally. Hence, every vendor has to be increasingly able to "talk" more openly with other systems—even if they are from fierce competitors. On the other hand, this ability opens up very lucrative market for IBS and could allow it to specifically target accounts where it can offer a more cost effective solution than its competitors, with more flexibility, faster implementation, lower cost, and greater return.
To get more technical, the framework enables data interchange to other enterprise systems via various electronic data interchange (EDI) enablers, IBS Integrator (which will be described later), Microsoft BizTalk, and IBM MQSeries Integrator. The data interchange is asynchronous, database- and document-oriented, via extensible markup language (XML), EDI, or file transfer protocol (FTP). It allows complete business processing in and out of ASW, with all relevant conceivable messages. On the other hand, the business application protocol (BAP) is synchronous within a Java environment and executed on the IBM WebSphere Platform.
Field Service Management Capability
Mid-2004, IBS launched the new modules ASW Advanced Service Management and ASW Mobile Service Management, part of the IBS field service industry solution, which offers automated office and on-site management for field service operations and integrates them throughout a company's business system. Today's competitive business world requires field service providers to automate field service processes and integrate them into the supply chain, since by automating these processes, companies could achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction through accurate and fast service job fulfillment. IT solutions must be able to support field service by taking care of the details that make up successful service job fulfillment. A solution that integrates field service into the supply chain can provide benefits that range from inventory and procurement optimization to planning, analysis and business performance measurement that is critical for decision-making.
These new modules, developed together with certain pilot customers that are the leaders of the industry, help field service providers to lower their costs by optimizing visits through improved visit planning, and to reduce second visits by symptom analysis and spare parts preparation, as well as many other benefits. The advantages of integrating field service into the supply chain often translate directly into better customer service, increased sales and profits, and an improved ROI, since customers expect fast and accurate responses to their service needs.
With the IBS Call Centre module, service providers should be able to handle calls and create orders more easily while having instant access to customer and service history. Automated back-office routines provide optimized job planning and time reporting; field engineer assignment, scheduling, and notification; spare parts supply and van inventory preparation; quotation, service order, and service object handling; service agreement maintenance; service analysis; and warranty management. Soft serial number tracking and a serial number interface streamlines the transfer and tracing of spare parts and service objects such as machines. Support for mobile field engineers includes on-site reporting and invoicing, remote access to up-to-date customer and service information, route and scheduling information, job activity accounting, and mobile pricing with discounting.
In the larger picture, companies want to reduce costs as much as possible and thereby gain maximum value from field service revenue. Long-term strategies identify inventory management as the critical area that can benefit from IT solutions that integrate field service into the supply chain. By lowering inventory costs, through automated and optimized warehousing and procurement, companies can gain higher margins in their field service operations. An integrated IT solution offers additional benefits in the form of strengthened financial control, streamlined routines in all business processes, and enhanced planning and analysis through such capabilities as measuring KPIs.
IBS Service management is an adaptable solution for external, internal, local, national, or international service organizations to manage the entire service life cycle. It recognizes service requirements; generates service orders, service order planning; performs actual service; reports actual work, expenses, invoices, and follow-up). Users can gain instant access to service records, warranties, agreements, and available resources. They can also schedule installation and preventive service, ensuring cost-effective use of resources, shorten service order process with modern, interactive technology, and analyze service statistics to constantly improve service levels and efficiency.
More on Integration
Also in mid-2004, IBS introduced IBS Integrator, a solution for multi-system integration to enable organizations to integrate and automate business across departmental and corporate boundaries. In today's global economy, organizations need to integrate applications from other companies in order to achieve measurable and fast ROI, quantifiable value, and competitive advantages. To that end, they must have both a technical and business understanding of what systems can be integrated with each other, and they need to understand the value they can gain from integrating internal systems with each other, and with those of their customers, suppliers, and other business partners. To enable that, a user-friendly solution should be able to be used on an everyday basis by any employee or authorized user. These users can range from customers placing orders, business partners procuring goods from suppliers, or groups updating internal systems information for use in decision-making.
Integration has become one of the fastest growing segments of the IT market, since there is a large need to connect different platforms and applications in order to increase efficiency and coordinate business units, without having to discard and replace existing systems. The acquisition of Accima Technologies in late 2003, with the product Integrator, has since further strengthened IBS' position in the area of SCM.
The launch of IBS Integrator 3.0 was the first version that is fully aligned with the IBS' growing portfolio of software. IBS Integrator can be used for systems integration, e-business development and integration, B2B synchronization and data replication, creating and maintaining databases in data warehouse (DW) applications, refining customer information in CRM applications, synchronizing business processes with a SCM approach, "best-of breed" implementation, workflow integration with legacy systems and converting data when implementing new business systems. These actions can be used for connecting with various supply chain partners, including customers, sub-suppliers, service providers, third-party logistics (3PL) providers, and financial institutions, to name some. The product is packed with more than 250 useful features and functions, which make it possible to
- read and update all known databases;
- read, create, and convert XML, Microsoft Excel or any other text data;
- replicate and convert data between all known databases;
- send, receive, and extract mail, using file transfer protocol (FTP), hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), secure HTTP, Telnet;
- simple object access protocol (SOAP), or encrypted mail;
- sign and verify documents with full support for encryption;
- gain access to Lotus Notes/Domino;
- provide support for MQSeries;
- use its own message passing system which reportedly out-performs MQSeries;
- provide full XML support for create, query, transform etc.;
- provide support for the Oracle Queue system for best integration with Oracle's PL/SQL version of structure query language (SQL); and
- communicate using XML or almost any other format.
This concludes Part Two of a four-part note.
Part One introduced the company.
Part Three will discuss the market impact.
Part Four will cover warehousing, challenges, and make user recommendations.