ERP drive switches to broader user needs

SAP centralises data management as Oracle targets manufacturing

SAP centralises data management as Oracle targets manufacturing

The ongoing Oracle/PeopleSoft takeover battle is moving towards a conclusion, and SAP is no longer under the acquisitive eye of Microsoft. As a result, attention is focusing on the major enterprise software suppliers' new products and strategies to support their users.

SAP moved towards giving its enterprise resource planning users more powerful management tools earlier this month when it acquired A2i Technology, marking a trend of slow and steady product development among ERP suppliers.

Master data management (MDM) is SAP's strategy to help users deliver information consistently across the business and IT systems. The goal is to improve decision-making, translate opportunity costs into gains and reduce the cost of IT maintenance.

Through the acquisition of A2i, SAP aims to bolster its Netweaver platform by incorporating A2i's xCat technology into its MDM module, which will be available this autumn.

SAP also plans to add an integrated global data synchronisation capability to MDM, geared towards the retail and consumer product verticals. This will help firms develop and deliver products more efficiently and meet their customers' demands more quickly, said Sunil Gupta, SAP's director of business development for MDM. "The ability to manage your master data is the foundation of that," he said.

The new version of MDM will feature high-performance search capabilities, for example, to search global product inventories; intelligent image and document management; and print catalogue-publishing capabilities. It also has tools for IT professionals to produce better web-based electronic catalogues for sellers and procurers.

Gupta said the global data synchronisation capability would help manufacturers track product data across the globe. "The challenge has been that [an organisation's data management] infrastructure has been a mish-mash of products which are not highly flexible and have a high maintenance cost."

Meanwhile, SAP competitor Oracle has confirmed that the next release of its E-Business suite would have improved support for manufacturing, healthcare, aerospace and utilities when it becomes available later this year.

Version 11.5.10 will offer a range of new functions for specific industries, including support for transportation planning and transactions based on radio frequency identification tags in manufacturing.

Debra Lilley, deputy chairwoman of the UK Oracle User Group, said the user community has had little information about release of the E-Business 11.5.10 suite, apart from a sneak preview to the user group about the financial product set in May.

"Some simple, but much-wanted enhancements such as supplier bank detail masking for security, are finally on their way. Financials is a very mature product set of the E-Business suite and Oracle will have concentrated their developments on the newer areas such as customer relationship management and healthcare," said Lilley.

"Users will need to weigh up new functionality against the cost of an upgrade. There is always a reluctance to be the first to move, but there will be an improved early adopters programme where many problems should have been rectified," said Lilley. She added that Oracle is expected to preview E-Business 11.5.10 in September at Oracle OpenWorld and release it by November.

As Oracle continues to fight for its takeover bid for PeopleSoft in the US courts, AMR analyst Nigel Montgomery warned that both companies face other challenges, "Oracle has done a lot of work on its own software. PeopleSoft is still going through a transition. It is only a year since it took over JD Edwards and has yet to settle."

Last week, Oracle and the US Department of Justice submitted their closing arguments in the US government's month-long trial to block Oracle's hostile takeover of PeopleSoft.

The Department of Justice is seeking to block the £4.1bn takeover bid on the grounds that it would stifle competition in the market for human resources and financial management software that is used by large corporations, and that this would lead to higher prices. A verdict is expected in August or September.

Montgomery said that although the big three enterprise resource planning suppliers get much of the attention, organisations should examine the products of other suppliers.

One such supplier is SSA Global, which focuses on manufacturing, services and the public sector. SSA sells ERP, performance management, CRM, product lifecycle management and supply chain management applications. It has about 13,000 customers in 90 countries. In June, it acquired Arzoon, a logistics and supply chain firm, and this month it bought Marcam, an ERP firm for process manufacturers.

"SSA Global fulfils an important role. There are a lot of companies which are more con-servative. They can have evolutionary growth [with SSA] rather than having the implementation [of SAP's ERP systems]," said Montgomery.

"There are some strong supply chain players such as Quantiq and TXT e-solutions that provide a wrapper around other systems. TXT has a fantastic planning engine and is strong in the fashion industry. It is working with SAP and others rather than going up against them."

Green shoots of recovery for ERP

IT managers have had less money to spend on new enterprise resource planning systems in recent years, making it tough for ERP suppliers.   "For the past two years suppliers have concealed what business they have been doing as they were not making many business sales," said AMR analyst Nigel Montgomery. "When the backbone sales dried up, there was a tendency to lump customer relationship management and supply chain into sales figures [to make them look bigger]."  But Montgomery said that things were about to change. "For the past few years, end-users have concentrated on logistics, warehousing and transportation. There is now an upsurge in demand for planning and visibility tools and complex [supply chain] planning."  AMR called this a "demand-driven supply network", and SAP called it a "consumer-driven supply chain", said Sunil Gupta, SAP's director of business development for master data management.   This is where the user looks back at the supply chain from the customer, taking into account their requirements. AMR sees ERP and manufacturing resource planning declining in favour of demand-centric supply chains, said Montgomery.

Oracle updates e-business suite

Debra Lilley, deputy chair of the UK Oracle User Group, said the user community is looking forward to the technology changes as much as the feature enhancements in the forthcoming release of Oracle's enterprise resource planning suite, E-Business 11.5.10, which is due out later this year.  "Over the life of 11.5.10 there have been enhancements of the technology stack. Many functional enhancements are built on these, and will, therefore, not be compatible with earlier versions," said Lilley. For example, enterprise planning and budgeting, which is to be released with 11.5.10, will only be back-ported to 11.5.9 as it uses the advanced Olap features of Oracle 9i/10g and the improved application server.   "The architecture of daily business intelligence changes to give performance improvements to those users who are still using an 8i database. The support status changes in December and users may decide that moving to 11.5.10 at the same time as upgrading their database is a good option."  Lilley said other infrastructure changes included the new integration repository, where external systems can access the E-Business suite more easily.

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