MasterCard ties data, ERP

In what is being billed as an integration first, MasterCard International and SPS International last week launched software...

In what is being billed as an integration first, MasterCard International and SPS International last week launched software designed to connect procurement information from MasterCard purchasing cards to popular enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, starting with SAP AG R/3.

MasterCard SmartLink is designed to enable companies to streamline the monitoring, management and administration of direct and indirect corporate expenses, company officials said.

The software is the first to integrate corporate purchasing card data with back-end ERP systems, said Tom Cook, senior analyst at AMR Research in Boston. In addition, the announcement signifies the next step in business-to-business (B2B) commerce, he added.

"It's not just assembling applications, now we're looking at taking a process view," Cook said. "We're starting to see services come into play in the B2B market."

The software will allow ERP system administrators to generate transaction data specific to any corporate cardholder at any point of a transaction worldwide, said Philip Philliou, vice president of e-commerce and emerging technologies at MasterCard Corporate Payment Solutions.

Offered through MasterCard's network of member financial institutions, MasterCard SmartLink gives companies a means to drive effective e-procurement and to generate hard numbers on their ERP investments, Philliou said.

"Businesses that use the MasterCard SmartLink solution may greatly reduce the cost of processing paper-based purchase orders, which can often run as high as $120 (£84) per order," Philliou said. "Cost efficiencies are found in a number of ways, including [cutting] the time and staff involved to raise and approve a requisition."

In addition, MasterCard SmartLink automatically enables a business to approve transactions; generate invoices; merge data with the general ledger; make split payments and download individual transaction information without having to wait until the end of the month to receive the statements to track expenses, Philliou said. Full details of transactions are available for review by designated company officers within 48 hours of a purchase transaction, he noted.

Automating this generation of data will allow enterprises to avoid costly mistakes inherent in current methods of manually keying in transaction data, said Shams Mahmud, a research analyst at International Data Corporation. In addition, it will allow companies to perform more sophisticated analysis on their corporate spending, he added.

"If they need to make a cost reduction, having data in a reasonably quick turnaround would help them," Mahmud said. "To be able to shave expenses from one area or another is extremely important."

The software is also designed to enable a company to link its business processes with those of customers and suppliers, online and offline.

"The concept is that, by automating the connections between suppliers and a corporation, a user of MasterCard SmartLink is actually integrating the complete supply chain," Philliou said.

Despite the potential benefits, MasterCard has tested SmartLink in only one pilot deployment, and integration issues may arise, according to AMR's Cook.

"They're just feeling their way through," Cook said. "Once they learn from the SAP system, they'll be able to roll it out easier. That's why MasterCard is partnering with a systems integrator."

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