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Supply Chain Software Buyers Guide
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Manhattan Supply Chain Software Review

 

Best of Breed Supply Chain Management Software versus ERP Suites

Open, adaptive, extensible and standards-based software technology takes on much greater importance when evaluating best of breed supply chain systems such as Manhattan Associates. Software buyers should understand how best of breed supply chain systems will reconcile with other business software applications in order to control system integration, software maintenance and application upgrade support and costs for the life of the supply chain system.

Competition between broad ERP software suites from global providers such as Oracle and SAP which offer broad platform technology stacks (i.e. databases, operating systems, middleware, applications and analytics) and integrated enterprise-wide applications, and best of breed Supply Chain software vendors which generally deliver deeper functionality, more domain expertise and market-specific innovation, results in each approach having advantages and risks which if not mitigated can mean the difference between deployment success or failure. For best of breed supply chain software vendors such as Manhattan, standards-based software technology architectures and platforms have emerged to mitigate these risks.

The truth is that even with comprehensive ERP software suites, most companies operate many different heterogeneous business applications, making system integration an imperative to achieve enterprise-wide business process automation and give decision makers access and visibility to information throughout the enterprise. Unfortunately, these imperatives are easier said than done.

To proactively recognize the effort and investment required to achieve enterprise-wide, integrated systems, software buyers must review the vendors underlying technology architecture along with available platform tools and services. Most business software vendors using a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) offer a standards-based approach to consume and exchange business process services and data among multiple vendor systems. While Manhattan Associates and most supply chain software makers offer an SOA-based application, they tend to very extensively in terms of breadth and depth of services, thereby requiring due diligence down to the individual service to ensure compliance.

Application vendors have historically offered Application Program Interfaces (API) for system integration. But this approach often lacks open or vendor neutral standards and only provides one-half of the two vendor integration equation, and as a result is being replaced by more intelligent framework tools, sometimes called Business Process Platform (BPP) suites. These platforms support industry-standard integration techniques, technologies and management, such as RESTful-based or XML web services, which deliver additional flexibility to run on a client or a server and often in the software developer's programming language of choice. These development tools also open up supply chain software ecosystems of third party applications, which share technology standards and offer more options to customers.

As with SOA, many supply chain system vendors offer platform tools for both integration and customization, however, they too vary significantly and must be examined to understand how they will (or will not) enable planned implementation and post-implementation software operation. 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, access and depth of data models, library of objects which can be shared or reused, metadata layers of insulation which identify application/data/presentation logic, master data management (MDM) hygiene capabilities and much more. With simplified system integration, interoperability and more reuse, these platform tools can achieve big savings when integrating supply chain systems with back-office ERP software, front-office CRM applications and the myriad of other legacy or ancillary systems.

Due to their age and maturity, more often than not, supply chain software systems often 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 percent to 20 percent or so of the missing SCM software functionality that represents a customer's unique business processes and competitive advantage. Applying custom programming to achieve the remaining fit is an expensive and often risk prone approach which then requires perpetual maintenance and ownership for the life of the supply chain software. A superior alternative in terms of time, cost, risk and complexity is to select a software vendor with underlying technology described previously, whereby additional software fit and extensibility can be gained without custom code, without changes to source code, without vendor lock-in and by a variety of resources or companies. When recognizing that implementation and professional services costs far outweigh the cost of the supply chain management software, on average by a factor of 4X or more, the significance of comprehending the role leading technology plays can be translated to very large cost investments—or savings—depending upon the supply chain management software selected.

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