Another challenge for vertical supply-chain solutions is integrating with existing operational systems, including transactional and accounting systems, MES (manufacturing execution systems), and shop-floor control systems. Solid integration allows companies to reap the full benefits of end-to-end, extended-enterprise planning, execution, reporting, auditing, and performance management.
"You've got to connect the supply-chain software into the plants to get effective integration into those business processes,” Aspen Technology’s Williams says. “That’s a difficult exercise when a lot of important data is trapped in a spreadsheet on Joe Blow’s desktop. We need to get to an enter-data-once regime."
Most vendors use traditional asynchronous EAI messaging buses along with batch data transfer but are trying to move to XML, SOAP, and Web services to capitalize on the flexibility of these technologies. “The ability to use a services-enabled platform to deliver composite apps — I think that’s the next generation of verticalized solutions,” predicts Everett Plante, senior vice president of product development at Manugistics in
In a factory setting, for example, supply-chain software must act as the integration engine across ERP solutions and third-party logistics software on both the UI side and the data side to optimize factory capacity and manage inbound supply, customer orders, and demand on a real-time basis.
“We see [the potential] to bring that together under a common framework, to manage and provide visibility into [vertical solutions]," Plante says. But, he notes, a whole range of technologies under development today must first come together, including portals, BPM (business process management), data integration, content correlation, and Web services — a situation that affects all supply-chain apps and not just those specialized for vertical industries.
In many cases, the visibility this integration provides will be mandatory, not optional. New supply-chain-related compliance regulations, such as the Food and Drug Administration’s 21CFR11 standard for tracking pharmaceutical products, require a high level of transparency with regard to the processes involved in creating a product. And for performance management purposes, customers want to be able to align business objectives with performance at all levels of the organization.
"We’re sort of closing the loop on the biz performance" with the new generation of supply-chain applications that are highly customized for and tightly integrated to vertical business processes, Aspen Technologies’ Williams explains.
The configurability debate