Feature: Repackaging apps

Enterprise application vendors are casting off traditional tactics of marketing monolithic suites, and are instead focusing on selling more affordable pieces of their offerings architected for specific business processes and designed to more easily integrate with disparate systems.

The shaky economy and frustration with unforeseen costs of large packaged apps is prompting users to demand applications that are easy to implement and plug into existing infrastructure quickly while imparting lightening-fast ROI. Vendors are countering with more modular suites and new implementation programs designed to streamline training and reduce deployment workload and prepackaged integration.

J.D. Edwards & Co. is among a growing number of enterprise software companies shying away from simply unloading its software suites and leaving customers -- along with a cadre of consultants -- on their own to figure out the crucial business processes associated with the deployment.

Instead, J.D. Edwards has a new methodology designed to help customers determine which business problems are solved by which business processes, so they can clearly map ROI back to the software.

"We are becoming more focused at trying to drive the discussion away from best-of-breed technical underpinning ... [toward which] business processes you need to tackle in which order," says Lenley Hensarling, vice president of product management at Denver, Co.-based J.D. Edwards.

Along these lines, J.D. Edwards in September announced it would begin standardizing its collaborative business application, called J.D. Edwards 5, on IBM's infrastructure technology in an effort to make the packaged software more affordable than buying piecemeal. The deal called for J.D. Edwards to pre-integrate and package its applications with IBM's WebSphere Application Server and Portal, Lotus collaboration tools, and the DB2 Universal Database.

This componentization of applications has proven advantageous for Graniterock, a Watsonville, Calif.-based heavy engineering and construction materials company. Graniterock -- which has deployed J.D. Edwards' human resources, payroll, procurement, inventory, and equipment maintenance applications -- can now add functionality incrementally, says CIO Steve Snodgrass.

"We've just added on to that suite as we've needed," Snodgrass adds. "We want to be in a position where we're not forced to buy more than we'll use."

Although the applications are modular, the company still can drive data from multiple modules to gain overall business insight, Snodgrass adds. For example, monitoring the cost to operate its equipment is crucial to Graniterock. The J.D. Edwards payroll system populates the number of hours a piece of equipment has operated. The company then assigns an hourly rate per piece of equipment and, by pulling data from the inventory management and procurement applications, can compile a profit snapshot and figure the true cost of maintaining equipment.

Oracle is tackling the pesky problem of the massive costs often associated with implementing packaged applications with a new program to be called Business Flow Accelerator. It will include the applications, licenses, support services, implementation services, and training to help companies attack specific business process issues more cost effectively and quickly, says Andrew Kass, vice president of application development at Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle.

The new program will encompass 28 high-level categories -- such as campaign to cash -- and associated process subflows that companies can purchase pre-integrated to existing Oracle eBusiness suite flows.

"They plug into each other and, as you want to add on more automation, you can add on additional flows that are already pre-integrated to the ones you have," Kass explains. "It is a way to incrementally get [to the functionality level you want] at a much lower cost."

SAP is also honing in on jump-starting customer deployment with the December release of Business Warehouse 3.1c, which features added business content to provide enterprises with built-in reports, templates, and analytics for common user requests, such as optimizing a marketing campaign.

On top of these features, SAP has built in user roles with pre-defined security permissions and predefined starting points to guide users through a process, says Ian Walsh, SAP's director of market strategy for business intelligence. SAP has also added business content for popular Oracle apps as part of its push to simplify the deployment and use of its applications.

"We're not locking them into a data model, we're giving them a starting point," Walsh notes. "For some customers, it gives them insight into the types of reports and analysis that they should run that they would never think of on their own."

Meanwhile, PeopleSoft's answer to lowering the cost of packaged applications lies in leveraging Web services standards via its Internet architecture and the recently announced AppConnect pre-integrated portal, integration, and warehouse solutions.

"It is not enough to just integrate applications at a process level," says Paola Lubert, vice president of marketing for AppConnect at Pleasanton, Calif.-based PeopleSoft. "You need to make sure that you aggregate all the data that is a result of the business process carrying on across the applications."

With AppConnect, the enterprise warehouse becomes an active entity that can be triggered to send out data via Web services when a particular condition occurs, such as inventory levels falling. Any application can pick up that data, which can be presented to specific users via the portal.

"[Improved integration] empowers companies to move to [a] more real-time way of operating [with] the ability to follow business processes from inception to end. We architected those applications so that the cost of maintenance and deployment is lowered," Lubert adds.

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