Business Community Management – the Inovis way

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Business Community Management (BCM)—there’s a new name for you. It certainly was to me when I met the EMEA management team of Inovis, John Redfern – MD, Paul Tatam – Sales & Marketing Director and Stephen Jefferies – Director of Retail. Redfern described BCM as “BCM creates a comprehensive view of an organisation’s supply chain by integrating the technology, business processes and communication of the entire business community. By unifying the technology and business community communication, a company can optimise its supply chain and create sustainable value through three key avenues: increasing end-to-end visibility, reducing B2B complexity and automating the entire trading community.” Now that seems to be quite a mouthful and you may still not quite get what is involved.

Let’s go back to look at a typical supply chain. There you are, a manufacturer of widgets—of course, the best in the market. You have a number of partners who provide services and component parts that help you make your widgets. The first requirement to operate in today’s fast changing world is that you have all the necessary systems that allow you to manage your own operations. This is normally provided by an Enterprise Resource Planning package. This helps you manage your sales and purchase orders and their links into your production orders and, importantly, your finance systems. You can manage your own inventory in your own warehouses and WIP on the shop floor. Now all manufacturers have heard of Lean Manufacturing or one of its many derivatives such as TQM, Six Sigma and so on. All these are ways to help the manufacturer reduce their costs through managing their inventory through a just-in-time principal. There is a fundamental key to this—you have to collaborate with your partners. This means you need to share information, make compromises and work for the benefit of all concerned—that, of course, includes the customer. Now come the problems:

  • They don’t have the same meaning for the data terms that you use
  • They don’t use the same ERP system as you do
  • They have other customers who are your rivals so there is a need to secure sensitive information on both sides
  • In a number of scenarios, it is not just 2 companies involved but a plethora—for instance component manufacturer, logistics company and you
  • All your current ERPs are not very flexible and business users have developed lots of Microsoft Office based application front-ends
  • A high proportion of your orders are in error with a large number resulting in deductions and overpayments
  • You have a high number of stock-out situations occurring
  • It is costing you between £20–40 a time to resolve data and invoice errors.

So what you need to be able to work this complex environment is something that simplifies it all by taking the complexity away, improving the visibility across the whole supply chain with better security and that provides agile integration between all partners. So what services do you need in place to achieve this?

The first piece is a communications layer that allows all members of the supply chain to exchange content with a gateway/portal that controls the access to the content dependent on role. The content exchanged needs to be both validated as well as synchronised. As content is added there is a need for an event driven process to be triggered. This will need to integrate with a number of transactions and processes in different organisations to support the business process. Therefore there is a need for transaction and services management as well as facilities to make interoperability between the diverse systems easier. To overcome disparities in data meaning, there is a need for a Master Data Management solution for the community and data that is shared between business partners. In order to manage the environment, provide business intelligence and support alerts around governance and compliance issues, the solution has to have a layer for management and reporting. This is what Business Community Management is all about. Does this sound too good to be true?

So how do Inovis tackle this? Inovis provide a suite of modular applications, all of which are built upon their Multienteprise Expert Services Hub (MESH) platform—this is designed on a distributed architecture around a J2EE clustered environment. The BCM suite comprises five key modules that support the BCM model I have described. Jefferies said, “The modular nature of BCM applications enable companies to add value incrementally, allowing quick adoption as business needs require and the ability to scale for future growth”.

The Visibility module provides a “single pane of glass” view presented on a dashboard that enables the community to track and act upon the business intelligence in real time. The Transact module translates data from an array of protocols, standards and applications. The translation applications support VAN, Direct Connect, ebXML, Web Services, AS/1 (SMTP), AS/2 (HTTP/s) and AS/3 (FTP) and other network-based protocols and formats including EDI, EDI-INT, RosettaNet, and has specific adapters and support for enterprise integration to systems such as Oracle and SAP. The Collaboration module features out-of-the-box notification, events and alert capabilities. It allows the user to define the performance parameters and responses to meet specific community needs. The Communication module supports over 47 protocols and standards, including direct connect, AS1, AS2, AS3 and Value-Added Networks (VANs). The Optimize module is built around a centralised master data repository that standardises B2B documents, supply chain documents and catalogue items from the community. It features a tracking portal that provides visibility into every transaction in addition to tracking of data against pre-defined business rules. When errors are identified, transactions are quarantined and resolved before they can create downstream problems in the supply chain or other business process. These applications are provided as services run on the Inovisworks™ Value-Added Network hosted at Inovis’s Tier Four Data Centre, which Inovis claim has 99.995% availability with automated failover. The service is supported by professional and educational services to enable the customer to make the most of the solutions provided.

So we have a new acronym—BCM—and a new outsource service from a well-known experienced provider of outsourced services. If you want to improve your supply chain and you have been nodding your head as I have described the scenario, you should certainly look seriously at Inovis’s BCM solution.