ERP and CRM

By Jacqueline Emigh  |  Posted 05-17-2005

Microsoft, i2 Ease Supply-Chain Collaboration

Gearing up for a big sales event planned for July, Microsoft and i2 Technologies are starting to team with customers and partners around a new joint supply-chain-management solution that's expected to get a major push from both vendors.

First announced at the i2 Planet conference in Phoenix last week, the solution will fulfill the SCM (supply chain management) component of the PPI (Peak Performance Initiative) unveiled by Microsoft in March, Celestine Vettical, worldwide director of manufacturing vertical solutions at Microsoft Corp., said in an interview with CIOInsight.com.

According to Vettical, the technology being co-developed with i2 will make it easier for customers to collaborate—both internally and with outside trading partners—by synchronizing information stored in various repositories, including the four ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems currently being produced by Microsoft.

"We'll initially focus the supply-chain solutions on customers in the high-tech, automotive and industrial markets," Vettical told CIOInsight.com. "Then we'll move on to retail and other areas."

i2's SCM technology already runs on Windows platforms, and i2 is already using Microsoft Excel as a user interface to its SCM applications, Baxter Nairon, senior vice president of solutions operations at i2 Technologies Inc., said in the same interview.

"Many of our customers are business analysts and planners who are very heavy-duty users of Excel, anyway," Nairon said.

But under the deal unveiled last week, the two companies intend to provide much deeper hooks from i2 into the Microsoft environment, including the 32- and 64-bit editions of SQL Server and Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server, as well as Windows Server.

Excel now will be used as the front end for development, too, enabling access between i2 applications and the Microsoft .NET development environment, in addition to the Microsoft Office System.

The first i2 solutions slated for development in these Microsoft environments include i2's MDM (Master Data Management) synchronization technology and DM (Demand Management) application.

"We've already begun teaming with some of our key partners on 'solution shaping,'" Vettical told CIOInsight.com. "We're building scenarios and product demos."

Microsoft also will be signing "certain lighthouse customers for an early release program," he added.

The sales event at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, to be held in Minneapolis in July, will kick off a larger field-enablement program for the joint SCM solution, Vettical said.

Next Page: Extending the data models of ERP and CRM products.

ERP and CRM

For its part, i2 also will be working with key customers and partners, but on a somewhat "more limited basis" and not until late summer or early fall, i2's Nairon said.

Also through the new solution, customers and partners will be able to extend the data models of various ERP and CRM (customer relationship management) products, for example, and then to run imported customer and product information on top of MDM for data synchronization, Vettical said.

Microsoft's four ERP products—all obtained through acquisitions, and now being pulled together through Microsoft's Project Green umbrella—are Axapta, Navision, Great Plains and Solomon.

Under Microsoft's PPI—first rolled out at the National Manufacturing Week conference in March—Microsoft said it will work with third-party partners on solutions around global value chain performance; sales and customer performance; new product development performance; and plant floor operations performance.

In an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News in March, Charles Johnson, worldwide director of manufacturing at Microsoft, predicted that the company will expand on PPI with an SCM initiative later in the spring.

According to some analysts, the supply-chain deal announced last week is a good move for both Microsoft and i2, as well as for their customers and partners.

"Many of Microsoft's manufacturing customers are still doing [supply chain] transactions manually, on paper. But it looks as though integration with i2's products will help them to perform these transactions electronically, as well as to synchronize data," said Chris Alliegro, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

"[Deeper] integration with Microsoft Office makes a great deal of sense, when you consider how much time users are spending in Office. It should also save on customer-side development."

Michael Schiff, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc., noted that in conjunction with other announcements issued last week, including a deal with the Teradata division of NCR Corp., i2 is extending its reach across a wider customer base.

"When you think of enormous amounts of data, you tend to think of Teradata," Schiff said. "On the other hand, Microsoft's products are used by many smaller companies—although I certainly don't want to imply that Microsoft doesn't have large customers, too."

Microsoft and its customers and partners also stand to gain from the supply-chain pact, he said.

"Microsoft's had a reputation with customers as a technology vendor. But [pacts] with ISVs, resellers and systems integrators help to produce solutions for customers, along with building sales for both Microsoft and its partners," Schiff said.

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