Microsoft offers suppliers new software, services

Microsoft Corp. today announced availability of a new Solution for Supplier Enablement, which aims to help companies connect to their customers' electronic procurement systems or marketplaces in a more cost-effective manner.

The package consists of software, detailed architectural and deployment documentation, dedicated support personnel and consulting services that will be sold through Microsoft and outside partners, said Microsoft group solutions manager Tom Rizzo.

The recommended software is largely a collection of existing Microsoft products, such as Windows 2000 Server operating system, SQL Server 2000 database, BizTalk Server XML messaging and workflow engine and Commerce Server, which provides the personalization and transaction capabilities. But there was also a key piece of software, released last week, that should provide suppliers with a jump-start. The BizTalk Accelerator for Suppliers includes adapters that let suppliers connect to systems that use the XML formats created by Ariba Inc. and Commerce One Inc. and business intelligence tools for data analysis, Rizzo said.

Ken Vollmer, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.- based Giga Information Group Inc., said suppliers will now be able "to implement a comprehensive supplier solution faster than they would have been able to before."

"The concept of using adapters to sit on top of the basic functionality is solid, because you're not reinventing the wheel from scratch," Vollmer added, noting that suppliers should find the software less expensive to implement.

Other new features in the Microsoft software include a commerce-enabled business-to-business Web site that users can customize to suit their needs, automatic catalog transformation to any desired format and support for remote shopping, which enables buying organizations to punch out from their own procurement applications to a supplier's business-to-business site to make a purchase, Rizzo said. He expects that suppliers typically will employ a consultant to help them implement the software, he said. But the new software adapter and extensive supporting documentation is expected to reduce the time; Rizzo said customers typically have employed two to three consultants for 45 to 90 days, depending on the complexity of the project.

"Theoretically, if a customer is knowledgeable enough, they could do it themselves. But what we've found in B2B solutions is that customers hire outside consulting firms to actually implement those solutions. So we've partnered with a lot of key people in the industry to offer business-to-business solutions," Rizzo said.

The consultants have the documentation not only to put together Microsoft products but also to extend the software to connect to various non-Microsoft products that a supplier may use, such as an enterprise resource planning system (ERP) from SAP AG, Rizzo said. For instance, a supplier might store catalog information in an ERP system, and Microsoft includes documentation explaining how to pull that information out of the SAP application for publishing in electronic sales channels, Rizzo said.

"We don't want people to have to rip and replace their existing IT investments," Rizzo said.

Vollmer said integration with back-end applications has frequently been one of the most difficult parts of implementing a supplier-based solution. So having integration should make that process easier, he said.

Rizzo said pricing for the Solution for Supplier Enablement starts at US$24,000, which includes the standard editions of Windows 2000 Server, SQL Server 2000, BizTalk Server and Commerce Server, as well as the BizTalk Accelerator for Suppliers. The Accelerator sells separately for $5,000 per processor.

Global systems integrators working with Microsoft include Accenture, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and Compaq Global Services. Several regional systems integrators, including Covalent Works, Cactus CCI Internet and ePartners, have also created packages.

To provide integration with leading e-procurement and marketplace applications, Microsoft has worked with independent software vendors, including Ariba, Clarus Corp. and Commerce One. Other Microsoft partners offering complementary technology to support the technology include Data Return Corp., Dell Computer Corp., DIGEX Inc., RioLabs Inc. and SAQQARA Systems Inc.

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