ERP Software Suites Versus Best of Breed Supply Chain Software
Adaptive and standards based software technology takes on much greater importance when considering best of breed supply chain management software solutions such as RedPrairie. Software buyers must understand how best of breed SCM software will reconcile with other enterprise software systems in order to control system integration, software maintenance and application upgrade support and costs for the life of the SCM software.
Historical competition between broad based ERP software providers, such as Oracle and SAP which offer platform technology stacks (i.e. databases, operating systems, middleware, applications and analytics) and integrated enterprise-wide applications, and best of breed SCM vendors which typically deliver greater domain expertise, deeper functionality and industry-specific innovation, results in each having advantages and material risks which if not mitigated can mean the difference between implementation success or failure. For best of breed SCM software vendors such as RedPrairie, standards-based technology architectures and platforms have emerged to mitigate such risks.
The fact is that even with comprehensive ERP suites, most companies run heterogeneous business applications, making system integration an imperative to achieve enterprise-wide business process automation and give decision makers access and visibility to information from across the enterprise. Unfortunately, these imperatives are easier said than done.
To understand the effort and investment to achieve enterprise-wide, integrated systems, buyers are advised to review the vendors underlying software architecture along with platform tools and services. Vendors using a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) offer a standards-based approach to consume and exchange business process services among multiple vendor software applications. While RedPrairie and most supply chain software vendors do offer an SOA, they tend to very significantly in terms of available services, thereby requiring due diligence down to the individual service level among all an enterprise's applications.
Historically, software vendors have also offered Application Program Interface (API) routines for system integration. However, this approach often lacks vendor neutral standards and only provides one-half of the two vendor integration equation, and as a result is being replaced by more sophisticated platform tools, sometimes called Business Process Platform (BPP) suites. These platform tools support industry-standard integration technologies and approaches, such as XML or REST-based web services, which allow flexibility to run on a client or a server and generally in the software developer's language of choice. These tools also open up supply chain software ecosystems of third party applications, which share technology standards and bring increased options to customers.
As with SOA architectures, many supply chain management software vendors offer platform tools for both system integration and software customization, however, they vary dramatically and must be evaluated to understand how they will enable planned implementation and post-implementation software use. For example, platform tools tend to diverge considerably in terms of depth of standards, availability of data and services which may be consumed, enablement of business process automation (e.g. workflow), depth and access of data models, library of objects which can be shared or reused, metadata layers of abstraction which describe application/data/presentation logic, master data management (MDM) hygiene capabilities and more. With simplified integration, interoperability and reuse, these tools can achieve dramatic savings when integrating supply chain management systems with back-office ERP software, front-office CRM applications and the myriad of other legacy systems.
More often than not, supply chain management systems accommodate the bulk of customer functionality requirements out of the box. However, this represents the non-differentiated business processes, and it's often that last 15 to 20 percent or so of the missing functionality that makes up the customer's unique business processes and competitive advantage(s). Applying custom programming to achieve the remaining fit is an expensive and risk prone endeavor which requires perpetual maintenance and ownership for the life of the software. A far superior option in terms of time, cost, risk and complexity is to select a vendor with underlying technology described herein, whereby additional software fit and extensibility can be accomplished without custom code, without changes to source code, without vendor lock-in and by a variety of companies or resources. When recognizing that professional services costs outweigh the cost of the supply chain management software, on average by a factor of 4X, the significance of understanding the role leading technology plays can be translated to very large cost investments—or savings—depending upon the SCM software chosen.
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