Monday, June 21, 2010
Today, we announced our strategic partnership with Catalent. Over the last six months we have learned significantly from each other and developed a clear understanding of the functionality and information that needs to be shared between a global contract manufacturer and packager with their thousand customers. Instead of getting distracted by the complexity of each relationship, we focused on functional simplicity and broad utility.
Companies have complex business processes and inter-company process integration is often a tug of war between two companies trying to force-fit one company’s process with another company. The semantics surrounding these conversations is also confusing, since business process names and information fields are interpreted differently by both parties. Expand the conversation to all your supply partners and you soon have a massive challenge in basic communication. The standards approach with EDI and proprietary portals only makes matters worse, because it requires too much process and information integration to get even the basic level of visibility.
In reality, we just need to use a single business application for processes that cut across all the supply chain companies. By using the same application that has a common definition of data, business rules and collaboration tools, we can eliminate the many-to-many, multi-enterprise issues. The purpose of a common application is not to supplant current business applications at each company but instead to put into a common application framework the processes we already conduct via our informal activities using fax, phone and email.
In any large-scale network application, the value is based on commonality of capabilities. Inter-operability and uniformity, enabling collaboration with all partners, is far more important than special features for specific members. Large-scale network applications focus on core features that enable valuable capabilities across all users. At the core, Facebook and LinkedIn are very simple applications that enable its users to connect and share information across a set of relationships.
Our approach at TraceLink was to focus on the core functionality needed to facilitate communication, coordination and collaboration for well understood business processes. In order to keep it simple and valuable for our customers we established three guiding principles for designing functionality in our service:
- We are the communication vehicle between contract suppliers and their customers for their shared business processes.
- We facilitate the shared execution of those business processes by enabling each party to push and pull information in a format and manner best for themselves.
- We link and instrument the related business processes to show mutual dependencies and overall analytics.
These principles enable us to fill the capability gaps between companies without imposing one partner’s IT requirements on another. We believe our approach and solution will deliver the true benefits the industry seeks from a Cloud Supply Chain. Our partnership with Catalent will enable us to lead the adoption of a solution that will create a more predictable supply chain.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
The industry is abuzz with Cloud and SaaS applications, but most of them take the same enterprise solution design and provide it in a new deployment model. A conventional application available in the Cloud still requires IT to configure and manage at significant time and cost. When we look at Web-based applications that truly transformed industries (such as Google and Salesforce.com) their approach was to design a new solution centered on providing immediate access of a service to a business user. By empowering an individual to use, learn and share experiences of a business service, we can eliminate the time and cost required from IT to deploy and manage solutions. Instead, we place the solution directly in the hands of the business users via a simple registration process.
Any individual or department leader can use Salesforce.com to manage a sales pipeline or customer service through a simple registration process and credit card payments. In 2000, my VP of Sales at our company came to my office to inform me that he had decided to use a new online sales management tool. Salesforce.com’s tag-line at that time was: “Just Sign-On”. Within a week all the sales people were productively using the sales automation tool. Today, Salesforce.com has over 51,000 customers and other software companies are using a similar solution design for many enterprise business processes.
At TraceLink we also broke the conventional supply chain application model by providing access to a shared workspace, business processes and partner management directly to the individuals that manage supply chain relationships. Anyone can execute any business process with any partner. In the end, we recognized that the people who need the solution everyday are both the best judge of applicability to their business problems and most effective at managing the adoption.
Furthermore, the people centered approach also enables an incremental adoption path for large organizations and complementary access to the smallest organizations. The benefit for constructing a Predictable Supply Network is that we can gracefully scale from the smallest company to the largest enterprise. The benefits of growing application functionality and no-cost of deployment are universally available to everyone on the network.
For a Predictable Supply Network to be effective, people need to be at the center of the solution, since it is their insight and experience which is the best judge for interpreting information. The network needs to support communication of their perspectives and instructions to all the relevant team members. The construction of the team itself can vary from collaboration to collaboration and the tools need to enable the individual team members to identify the appropriate individuals that are required from both companies to successfully manage supply chain operations.
By breaking the traditional model of IT-based application deployment and management, we put the controls directly in the hands of the business user. There can be concerns about overall policies and procedures and these can be addressed by providing management and IT with the tools to monitor and inspect usage for security and cost purposes. Therefore administrative functionality is available to observe the adherence of corporate rules.
Finally, complete traceability and accountability of all actions are available to all the team members. A self-policing team is a far more effective mechanism for compliance than instituting endlessly finer level of access controls. Complete visibility of all actions by users provides preventative protection which is cheaper to implement and maintain.
Empowering business users with immediate access is the first step in transforming the supply chain.
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