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Supply Chain Software Buyers Guide
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RedPrairie Supply Chain Software Review

 

ERP Suites Versus Best of Breed Supply Chain Software

Open, adaptive and standards-based business software takes on much greater importance when considering best of breed supply chain management systems such as RedPrairie. Software buyers must understand how best of breed SCM software will reconcile with other enterprise software systems in order to manage system integration, software maintenance and application upgrades and costs for the life of the SCM system.

Historical competition between broad based ERP software applications, such as SAP and Oracle which offer platform technology stacks (i.e. databases, operating systems, middleware, development tools, applications and analytics) and fully integrated enterprise-wide business systems, and best of breed SCM vendors which typically deliver deeper domain expertise, more specific functionality and industry-specific innovation, results in each having advantages and 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 many of those risks.

The fact is that even with comprehensive ERP software suites, most companies run heterogeneous business systems, making integration an imperative to achieve end to end business process automation and give decision makers access and visibility to information from across the enterprise. Unfortunately, these imperatives are technically complex, costly and easier said than done.

To understand the effort and investment to achieve enterprise-wide, integrated systems, software buyers are advised to review the vendors underlying software architecture along with platform tools and services. Software vendors using a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) offer a standards-based approach to consume and exchange data and business process services among multi-vendor software applications. While RedPrairie and most supply chain software vendors do offer an SOA, they tend to very significantly in terms of depth of services, thereby requiring due diligence down to the individual services needed among all an enterprise's applications.

Historically, supply chain software vendors have also offered Application Program Interface (API) routines for system integration. However, this approach often lacks vendor neutral standards and only provides half of the two vendor integration equation, and as a result is generally being replaced by more sophisticated framework tools, sometimes called Business Process Platform (BPP) suites. These framework tools support industry-standard integration technologies and approaches, such as XML or REST-based web services, which allow more flexibility to run on a client or a server and generally in the software developer's programming language of choice. These integration tools also open up supply chain software ecosystems of third party systems, which share technology standards and bring increased options to customers.

As with SOA architectures, many supply chain software vendors offer platform tools for both integration and software customization, however, they also vary dramatically and must be vetted to understand how they will enable planned implementation and post-implementation software use. For example, platform tools tend to diverge considerably in terms of use and 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 much more. With simplified system integration, interoperability and reuse, these tools can achieve dramatic savings in time and cost when integrating supply chain systems with back-office ERP software, front-office CRM software and the myriad of other legacy systems.

More often than not, supply chain management software accommodates the bulk of needed 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 feature sets that make up any given customer's unique business processes and competitive advantage. Applying custom software programming to achieve the remaining fit is an expensive and risk prone endeavor which requires continuous 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 modifications 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 software, on average by a factor of 4X or more, the significance of understanding the role leading software technology plays can be translated to very large cost investments—or savings—depending upon the SCM software selected.

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