Baan to offer more intricate supply-chain suite

Baan hopes to restore its flagging fortunes with a more sophisticated line of supply-chain applications that can handle global logistics and product configuration, while giving advice on complex issues such as sourcing.

Later this month, the company plans to announce a 19-module suite of supply-chain applications that combines newly developed functions with existing applications from Baan and two companies it bought in 1998, Berclain and Caps Logistics, according to Katrina Roche, Baan's general manager for supply-chain solutions. The suite will become generally available around October, she said.

The individual modules will for the first time all be integrated with each other, as well as with Baan's manufacturing, sales and electronic commerce suites, Roche said. The TransPro and RoutePro logistics modules will also link to rival SAP's ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications by the end of the year, Roche said.

The new supply-chain suite will emphasise wide-range planning and decision support, Roche said.

"We don't think sharing information (over the Internet) is enough. What's more important is what you do with it," Roche said.

Baan is beefing up the suite's analytic abilities, such as comparison-shopping among various suppliers or facilities to find not only the cheapest source but the most convenient for logistical or customs reasons, she said.

For example, the Inference Engine, due out this fall, will keep users updated on the overall health of their supply lines, alerting them via publish-and-subscribe messaging to potential problems such as due date changes or material shortages, Roche said.

Users will "teach" the Inference Engine what factors to look for, Roche added. "Those 'intelligent agents' Microsoft was talking about are finally here," she said.

The new supply-chain suite will also add a product configurator from Baan's existing FrontOffice suite, plus related functions from Baan's manufacturing side, Roche said.

"We think configuration is a key part of supply-chain management," she said. For example, it could let a user assemble the specifications for a custom-built product such as a corporate jet on the fly, ruling out any design or accessory combinations that aren't compatible. Then it could calculate what parts are needed and how long it would take to build and deliver the jet, Roche added.

The next step, probably around the end of the year, will be to put supply-chain functions into the FrontOffice suite, so that sales representatives talking with customers could also figure out lead times for the desired model, Roche said.

Another addition in early 2000 will be a global logistics module to help plan the most efficient shipping routes around the world, she added.

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