B-to-B players tighten up

This week at Commerce One's e-Link user conference in New Orleans the business-to-business software vendor will trot out its partner SAP AG to announce further extensions to its co-developed MarketSet procurement application. Ostensibly the joint announcement will remind the Global 1000 that Commerce One, which suffered growing net losses last quarter, has friends with real-world business experience.

The Commerce One and SAP relationship is a prominent industry collaboration but certainly not the only example. The closer ties among vendors reflects a consolidation of the b-to-b players that is well under way, fueled by the "difficult investment situation," said Kimberly Knickle, an analyst at AMR Research.

Some recent consolidation examples are Peregrine Systems Inc.'s purchase of Extricity Inc.; Sybase Inc.'s acquisition of New Era of Networks Inc. (Neon); and Vitria Technology Inc.'s buyout of XMLSolutions Corp. "The integration companies that get on the short list repeatedly are down to six, seven, or eight names," Knickle said.

External forces aside, users are also pushing the argument for consolidation by urging vendors to provide integration solutions for applications as well as b-to-b, Knickle said. "People are saying, 'I don't want to have to use separate vendors for EAI [enterprise application integration] and b-to-b,' " she added. The problem is that the EAI vendors may not have all the needed b-to-b parts yet and provided adapters to e-marketplace on-ramps and HTML, she said.

MarketSet 2.0 embeds SAP Markets and Commerce One procurement and Internet sales functionality. It adds pricing reconciliation for auctions and tenders and introduces design collaboration tools, including project and workflow applications. Reconciliation features also include confirmation of orders and shipments.

"We want to automate the process to make sure everyone is engaged in the same transaction," said Debra Pyle, director of solutions marketing at SAP Markets in Palo Alto, Calif.

In addition, the supply-chain management component will allow partners to engage in forecasting and collaborative planning, which will result in triggering the procurement process for direct goods. Some pieces are still missing for the completion of a b-to-b transaction, admits Rob Rachwood, product manager at Commerce One in Pleasanton, Calif.

"We are able to integrate with the supply chain, but it needs to be optimized to all the members working in parallel, not serial," Rachwood said. "We need to tie together all the suppliers with an order and with logistics so the product is delivered just in time, so companies can reduce inventory and automate the delivery with the order."

Commerce One and other ebusiness infrastructure suppliers are scrambling to find procedures that work by focusing on strategic core business processes such as direct procurement, said Ken Vollmer, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc.

"People with SAP installed will look favorably at Commerce One's offerings in [direct procurement]. Commerce One gets SAP's business experience in how things are done in big enterprises," Vollmer said.

Ultimately, users will benefit from automating their b-to-b processes but will have to take a phase-in approach to b-to-b integration, sometimes piecemeal, AMR's Knickle said.

"Companies are being a lot more realistic," Knickle said. "They will be identifying their most important projects, specifying ROI and limiting the scope."

Sonic, Etigo, others ready releases

While the top-tier players get the spotlight at the Commerce One and Oracle user events this week, the third-party vendors will be busy, too.

At the Commerce One e-Link event in New Orleans, Sonic Software Corp., based in Bedford, Mass., will announce that its Sonic MQ messaging server will be integrated with Commerce One's MarketSet 2.0.

Sonic MQ is a Java-based messaging server that a representative called the electronic version of Federal Express, offering an absolute guarantee that a message was delivered.

The Sonic application uses load-balancing capability along with dynamic routing architecture to find the best available path between buyers and sellers.

Etigo, a Vienna, Va.-based sell-side procurement and service business that manages online the $60 million to $80 million warranty work for Toro, among others, will announce integration with the Commerce One platform.

At the OAUG (Oracle Applications Users Group) Spring 2001 Conference in Atlanta, ClearOrbit, formerly BPA Systems, will be launching a new suite of products called the Gemini series.

The Gemini software is designed for enterprise users to extend their Oracle ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems to support supply-chain execution for discrete manufacturing, said Michael Palmer, CTO of Austin, Texas-based ClearOrbit.

Noetix also will be launching a new suite at the OAUG conference. The Noetix Enterprise Technology Suite, an updated version of its query server, is designed to extract data from 15 Oracle modules in two days or less, sometimes in real time, said Ann Markley, vice president of marketing at Noetix Corp.

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