Looking Under IBM’s New Procurement Covers: Examining the Latest From Emptoris (Part 2)

Please click here for the first post in this series.

Emptoris still takes the traditional -- albeit effective -- position that its class of solutions fits cleanly in a standard enterprise applications business architecture diagram. Emptoris describes the sector in which it competes as strategic supply management (SSM for short) that sits next to product lifecycle management (PLM) and customer relationship management (CRM). These comprise what Emptoris labels as strategic tools in contrast to tactical tools such as eProcurement, supply chain management, ERP and HR systems. Emptoris positions the former triad of "strategy" tools as critical to stand above "commoditized transactional data" coming from back-office and source systems.

Specifically in procurement, Emptoris argues these more strategic tools can provide a new level of "orchestration" -- as Emptoris labels it -- across the entire supplier engagement lifecycle, starting first with supplier on-boarding and continuing down the procurement path. One of the major articulated values Emptoris places on automating and orchestrating this process is to get a "complete" end-to-end view of suppliers. It is the stewardship and leverage of the supplier record that is "the key pivot point," as Emptoris told us, one that will take their solutions to the next level in the market.

While we could review each of Emptoris' modular capabilities in more detail as a refresher, it would take dozens of posts to get through all of their material. Rather, we'll focus on key areas in this post series as well as some of the solution roadmap and architectural strategies defining where Emptoris is headed as part of IBM and how their capabilities could create competitive differentiation going forward. It goes without saying, however, that Emptoris' strengths on the functional level tie into more advanced capabilities including the ability to flow highly complex award decision data from an optimization-based event with thousands of line items and potentially different pricing, terms, etc. from one module (e.g., sourcing) into the rest of the suite, including contract management.

In the past, we have dinged Emptoris for having a complex user interface that mirrored and represented the often highly challenging and complex problems that Emptoris was solving for their customers -- problems that lesser sourcing suites (e.g., Ariba) could not even begin to tackle owing to constraints in their ability (e.g., number of line items they could support). In other words, Emptoris embraced complexity, but did little to mask it. Yet Emptoris is making strides with general usability across a number of areas of its suite, including enhanced abilities to reuse objects (e.g., templates) as well as decision guidance to simplify the creation and execution of specific activities such as RFIs and RFPs for targeted categories. We'll share some of these accomplishments and the execution of these new UI elements in the rest of this series.

Emptoris has made numerous enhancements to its contract management capability and usability

A broader component underpinning a number of these changes is how Emptoris is increasingly leveraging a common development framework across its R&D and engineering teams. Ultimately, this should not only speed up development cycles internally for Emptoris, but should also foster greater cross-suite interoperability and out-of-the-box advanced integrated use cases (with less customization and configuration required on the customer side).

While Emptoris development teams still use their own different platforms across the modules as well, this common framework approach is increasingly introducing standardized elements across modules, and will consume more and more of the original codebase. This is a big step forward for Emptoris – and would be for almost any vendor -- and takes an object and metadata driven approach to create components and reusability (think of it as bringing economies of scale like Ruby on Rails but for a Java-based environment).

The advantage of the environment is that it does not require hand coding (which as development and QA managers know, should increase the pace of development and lift the quality of the code as well). While Emptoris has ironed out some earlier release challenges (e.g., contract management a number of years ago), the new environment should help cement Emptoris' improving reputation for generally rock-solid releases across all of its modules. Added benefits are support for a wide range of browsers and mobile clients. It leverages AJAX on the front-end, a homegrown business process management (BPM) engine, common dashboarding/reporting (higher-level), role-based security, standardized searches, a configuration framework and straightforward forms editor, and a range of other underlying components. Yes, we are geeks!

Stay tuned as our investigation continues.

- Jason Busch and Thomas Kase

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