i2 rebound gathers pace

Supply chain management software supplier i2 Technologies is rolling out new technology for retailers and manufacturers and...

Supply chain management software supplier i2 Technologies is rolling out new technology for retailers and manufacturers and bolstering the integration of its applications in a bid to put its legal and business woes further behind it. 

At the i2 Directions 2004 user conference in Florida, i2 executives were also promoting the closed-loop supply chain, a combination of technology and processes that allow customers to cut costs, boost supply chain efficiency and help them resolve glitches with on-the-fly work-arounds. 

Best practices are crucial for success, and chief executive Sanjiv Sidhu emphasised the differences between simply creating a forecast and implementing a full-scale supply chain plan. 

"A full-scale supply chain plan is something you commit to," he said. "The concept of a plan is having accountability and being something you live in and die in to make it happen." 

i2 officials also discussed the next generation of its operating services framework, on which the closed-loop supply chain is based. The architecture relies on web services and other technologies to enable master data management and data synchronisation.

The company is also making its products available as components that can be readily snapped into legacy or third-party installations. "You don't have to do rip and replace," said Sidhu. 

In addition, i2 plans to roll out enhancements specific to retail and manufacturing customers in the upcoming release of its Six.Two suite.

The upgrade, due to ship next June, will have a retail application that can consolidate financial planning, replenishment and merchandising. Customers will also get added supply chain visibility so they can manage inventory better at the shelf level and get accurate data on shortages or excesses. 

Another enhancement will allow retail customers to load new stock-keeping unit information on the fly, a process that can currently take days. 

For manufacturers, i2 will be beefing up the software to execute material management and replenishment processes more efficiently and feed relevant data into back-end ERP systems. i2 also plans to partner with companies that focus on industries such as telecoms, which rely on i2's master data management technologies and back-end software to build companywide workflows for processes such as claims processing. 

Several customers expressed confidence about i2's prospects, despite the company's decline, redundancies and legal troubles. The company recently posted a profit, drastically cut costs, resolved its legal woes and now intends to take steps for a stock market relisting. 

"We've struggled alongside i2 in the last year or two, and the user group saw a drop in membership as i2 stopped selling to new accounts," said i2 User Group president and supply chain capacity planning manager at National Textiles Leanne Marshall. "We were feeling the pain with i2, but we've seen a turnaround in the last year. People are making the decision to upgrade. 

"We all have a vested interest in i2's survival. Most of us shudder at the thought of having to start over. We're mature users who are happy with our solutions." 

She said that i2's move to improve its architecture to make integration easier was a "no-brainer" given that companies go with best-of-breed suppliers. 

Mike Stevens, leader of trailer fleet services at GE Equipment Services, echoed Sidhu's emphasis on the need for a disciplined supply chain plan. GE Equipment uses i2's demand manager, forecasting and supply chain planning tools to manage its fleet of 125,000 trailers. The software uses three years of historical data to make demand projections for use by the sales force. 

For the system to work well, it needs extensive participation by company employees, who have to be incentivised to join in. "This needs to be managed, and people have to be accountable for the results," said Stevens. 

Overall, Stevens is pleased with the product so far, although he said he would like to see the user interface simplified and the menu written in plain English.

"If I don't understand it, the sales force won't either," he said. "i2 is a strong technical company, but it has to give the interface a Forrest Gump look before it hits the market."

Marc Songini writes for Computerworld

Read more on Business applications