In a move eliciting mixed reactions from IT users, B2B software and services provider Sterling Commerce on Tuesday is expected to launch the first product to result from its $170 million acquisition of retail technology specialist Yantra last December.
Slated for announcement at the Retail Systems Conference and Exhibition in Chicago, Sterling’s “retail solution” will bring together Sterling’s own B2B platform and tools with Yantra’s applications for retail, supply chain, warehouse and order management, according to John Steltzer, Sterling’s director of industry development.
Sterling’s Gentran Integration Suite is already interoperable with Yantra’s applications, since both companies’ technologies are based on Web services, Steltzer said, during an interview with CIOInsight.com.
“They’re both holding hands pleasantly, side by side,” Steltzer told CIOInsight.com. “But we wanted to provide a deeper level of integration, for better collaboration with partners in the supply chain.”
Scheduled for completion by the end of this year, the new “retail solution” will support both hosted applications and applications run behind the customer’s network firewall, Steltzer said.
The architecture will also allow for a “hybrid model” in which only some functionality—such as data synchronization—is hosted, as well as for customer “evolution” from software hosting to in-house applications management.
Key areas of functional enhancement will include customer order management; enterprise selling; networked warehouse management, for centralized administration of multiple facilities; and supply chain execution, for managing PO (purchase order) lifecycles, supplier performance, and in-transit inventory, for instance.
Essentially, the deeper integration will enable support of more complex selling situations, said Adam Hatch, Sterling’s retail market development manager, also during the interview.
Hatch cited scenarios ranging from multi-channel order management—in which “you buy something online, and return it to a store”—to inventory management down to the individual store level, a capability that will let retailers pinpoint the location of “the proverbial pink refrigerator,” for example.
Steltzer told CIOInsight.com that the integrated solution will provide a broader gamut of functionality than the offerings of any competitors.
Meanwhile, though, other large vendors are also converging on the retail software space right now, including supply chain specialists Manugistics Inc. and i2 Technologies Inc. and ERP giant Oracle Corp., which recently purchased retail applications player Retek for $630 million.
Some customers said they are impressed with Sterling’s plans for supporting more complex retail, B2B, and supply chain situations.
“We need to make sure we meet all customer demands,” said Sandy Hood, an associate in the operations department at Broder Brothers Co., a clothing wholesaler that started using Yantra’s warehouse management software prior to the acquisition.
“Knowing transit times is right up there on the list,” Hood told CIOInsight.com.
“So is tracking customer shipments. This can be particularly tricky when there are multiple packages going from Point A to Point B.”
Some other users, though, expressed concerns over the possible implementation costs of Sterling’s solutions, versus other platforms, and how these might impact smaller businesses, as opposed to enterprises.
“We’re not using Sterling Commerce, even though we’re an ADX [Advanced Data Exchange] customer,” said Jack Case, vice president of information technology at Spray Nine Corp., a cleaning products manufacturer that conducts e-commerce with a number of trading partners, including hardware stores and other retail chains.
“We did look at Sterling a few years ago, but we came up with something that was more cost-effective for us, instead,” he told CIOInsight.com.
Through a deal reached between Sterling and ADX in 2003, ADX customers have the option of using a B2B platform that integrates technology from both these companies.
Pricing is not yet available for the upcoming “retail solution” from Sterling Commerce, a Sterling spokesperson said.