Start-up bets big on supply chain standard

When a major customer requested that Ohka America support e-business transactions, the company went searching last July for a vendor to help it automate. Using iConnector from Infoteria, Ohka successfully tested an electronic data exchange based on RosettaNet's XML standards.

"We were able to prove the concept that this would work very quickly and very cost-effectively," says Christopher Rosenthal, Ohka's RosettaNet project manager. As a result, the customer, Intel Corp., saw that Ohka, a producer of specialty chemicals for semiconductor manufacturers, was serious about complying with its request. And that raised Ohka's status with the chip maker, Rosenthal says.

Situations where a company needs an easy way to adopt Santa Ana, Calif.-based RosettaNet's standard for e-business transactions are a perfect fit for Infoteria, says CEO Tim Browne. The start-up is "100 percent focused on automating supply chains," he says. Infoteria has picked RosettaNet's XML-based Partner Interface Processes (PIP) and dictionaries as the standards most likely to be adopted for e-business.

Infoteria's focus on RosettaNet standards is a competitive advantage among a certain segment of customers, says Deborah Hess, a senior analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "For anyone specifically targeted on RosettaNet, this is probably the server they would want to have," she says.

Initially, Infoteria offered a set of independent, but interlocking, XML processing and management tools, such as iConnector. Last month, Infoteria released Asteria Server and Asteria Planet, which incorporate those tools into systems that are quick to implement, cost-effective and low-maintenance, claims Browne. Infoteria offers Asteria Server to large enterprises that want to build trading hubs.

Asteria Planet is a plug-and-play system for small and medium-size companies that trade with large companies.

Ohka is now upgrading to Asteria, which supports trading with up to five partners, according to Rosenthal. Right now, iConnector packages sales order data retrieved from the company's enterprise resource planning system, encrypts it and passes it over the Internet to Intel's proprietary document exchange system, he says. Ohka has an Asteria Planet server in place and is waiting for RosettaNet to validate the invoicing PIP that Ohka plans to use, says Rosenthal.

Because Ohka is still in the implementation phase of its project, Rosenthal can't yet calculate the financial benefits of using Asteria. However, he says he expects that a shrinking payment cycle and reduced invoice errors will produce savings. Rosenthal also sees a security benefit in using Asteria compared with an application service provider-based service, since Ohka can control the server and the data behind its own firewall. So far, the implementation has been fairly smooth, he says.

Risk Factors

Infoteria's biggest weakness at this point isn't in the product suite, but in the company itself, says Hess. Established in Japan, Infoteria has low name recognition in the U.S. and is up against well-known competitors, she says.

There's also a risk due to Infoteria's heavy reliance on RosettaNet, she says. The small and midsize companies that are the target market of Asteria Planet may not embrace RosettaNet as enthusiastically or as quickly as Browne hopes. Supporting other protocols is a good idea, Hess says.

Browne says Infoteria is branching out beyond RosettaNet. The company has built Asteria so that it can accept many different XML-based frameworks, he says, adding that Infoteria has produced versions that adhere to the ebXML business standard and the newsML content standard.

Johnson is a Computerworld contributing writer in Seattle.

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