Looking Under IBM’s New Procurement Covers: Examining the Latest From Emptoris (Part 3)

Please click here for Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

We covered the basics of Emptoris' new development and platform framework in the previous post in this series. In short, this new approach gives Emptoris a common development platform, with core objects, workflow, related stack elements and components; these are increasingly being leveraged throughout the Emptoris product suite. This approach originated in the telecom expense management (TEM) module and Emptoris has since extended this concept with a number of capabilities and modules that we'll profile further in this series. Examples include program management and request management tools, as well as a new supplier master module. You can also see this line of thinking in core Emptoris products such as strategic sourcing, contract management and services procurement that are now embedding elements in their current GA releases.

Emptoris shared with Spend Matters that they are now able to scale their development efforts in general and, importantly, change the profile of the type of developers they hire; they no longer find it necessary to hire "ten year veterans" but instead simply "take someone out of school and put them through a boot camp approach" to learn the Emptoris development environment and to quickly get new employees to required levels of consistency and productivity. Among the underlying philosophies and capabilities of the embedded approach is that it can co-exist with the entire technology stack of existing Emptoris capabilities in a self-contained manner. This strategy of subsuming code -- we once heard another vendor refer to the same concept as "eating your own code" -- from legacy code bases from existing modules and increasingly replacing it with framework-derived developments is a logical approach, allowing a gradual migration of underlying Emptoris suite components with minimal and controlled disruptions.

A further benefit of this new approach is that built-in reporting capabilities allow summary information to be gleaned throughout the new platform in a common, unified and consistent environment with a visual toolset. Of course, Emptoris users can still use even more powerful third-party BI capabilities, if required. In terms of replacing legacy code and components, Emptoris is taking, in part, a screen driven approach for when to introduce its framework into its modules. For example, a number of new views within sourcing are built around the embedded concept. This includes functionality and a streamlined UI that can show, with one click, what is happening in a given event, while also allowing users to create events in four steps -- a significant improvement vs. their previous click-intensive process.

The ultimate goal is to make integration across the Emptoris suite much easier and more consistent with third-party applications, as it leverages a common web services integration framework. Today, the real power of the framework approach comes through in the speed (less than 12 months) with which Emptoris developed and integrated a number of new modules entirely by using it.

Emptoris: A streamlined view into RFX and related action lists

Program Management
As a case in point, the Emptoris Program Management module (which, compared with Contract Management, is a fairly light-weight Emptoris module) showcases the new framework. Within this module, Program Management includes a request management capability that lets procurement and line of business users issue specific requests and then manages the internal prioritization, workflow and reporting on general approvals and statuses. This can also role-up to CPOs and executives. Example requests in a program management/PMO context include:

  • Permissions to add a catalog item
  • Embark on contract negotiations for a new item or contract renewal
  • Provide sourcing assistance, offer training
  • Conduct a supplier viability/risk analysis
  • Terminate a contract

In the above examples, Program Management provides automation and workflow around requests and includes, as do all other Emptoris applications built in a similar way, reporting and dashboards at the core. Consider Program Management module illustration: upon log in, a simple chart greets procurement users where they can see all the types of requests plotted against where they stand in the process of completion (e.g., submitted, analysis, planning, sourcing, negotiation, execution, closed, on hold). Users can delegate tasks and management to specific personnel and can see, by user, what requests have been submitted and where they are in the process. Perhaps best of all, all of this information can flow into other Emptoris tools.

When we first saw the request management capabilities within Program Management module in action, it reminded us of an ER triage process. Unlike in the medical field, this solution makes it easy to quickly become productive in, allowing the tracking of the individual "patient" from start to finish. The interface is simple (if not overly Web 2.0 yet) and uses a traditional Windows NT-type hierarchy and navigation structure. For example, a user can navigate using a tree structure to different dashboard status updates, their own set of reports, shared reports, their inbox, and other activities. Using the underlying ability to quickly configure new objects, workflows, templates and related items through framework, a business analyst (and not necessarily an IT specialist) can configure their procurement organization's Program Management environment as much as they would like.

The configuration of Program Management defaults to using a hefty set of included business objects that admins can view, create and edit. The complexity and level of detail among items/objects can be fractal, involving the collection and management of a wide range of drillable information as part of the broader project management, reporting and workflow framework -- e.g., contact information for users, roles, issue/event types and statuses, general milestones by type based on initiative or category.

As with the rest of the Emptoris suite, Program Management shows that Emptoris continues to put absolute capabilities above elegantly simplistic UIs. The absolute configuration capability of the tool -- and what the embedded approach enables in general -- should go a long way to simplifying and accelerating even highly customized Emptoris deployments, especially as embedded components increasingly make their way into the rest of the Emptoris modular solution set.

Stay tuned as our analysis continues.

- Jason Busch and Thomas Kase

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