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Manhattan Associates Supply Chain Management Software Review

 

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ERP Suites Versus Best of Breed Supply Chain Management Software

Adaptive, extensible and standards based software technology takes on much greater importance when evaluating best of breed supply chain software solutions such as Manhattan Associates. Software buyers must understand how best of breed supply chain software will reconcile with other enterprise software applications in order to control system integration, software maintenance and application upgrade support and costs for the life of the supply chain software.

Competition between broad ERP software providers, such as SAP and Oracle which offer platform technology stacks (i.e. databases, operating systems, middleware, applications and analytics) and integrated enterprise-wide applications, and best of breed SCM vendors which generally deliver deeper functionality, greater domain expertise and industry-specific innovation, results in each approach having advantages and material risks which if not mitigated can mean the difference between implementation success or failure. For best of breed SCM vendors such as Manhattan Associates, standards-based technology architectures and platforms have emerged to mitigate such risks.

The truth is that even with comprehensive ERP suites, most companies operate heterogeneous business applications, making system integration an imperative to achieve enterprise-wide business process automation and give decision makers access and visibility to information throughout the enterprise. Unfortunately, these imperatives are easier said than done.

To recognize the effort and investment necessary to achieve enterprise-wide, integrated systems, buyers are advised to review the vendors underlying software architecture along with platform tools and services. Software vendors using a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) offer a standards-based approach to consume and exchange business process services and data among multiple vendor applications. While Manhattan and most supply chain software vendors do offer an SOA, they tend to very extensively in terms of available services, thereby requiring due diligence down to the individual service level among all an enterprise's applications.

Historically, application vendors have offered Application Program Interface (API) routines for system integration. However, this approach often lacks vendor neutral standards and only provides one-half of the two vendor integration equation, and as a result is being replaced by more intelligent platform tools, sometimes called Business Process Platform (BPP) suites. These platforms support industry-standard integration technologies and approaches, such as REST-based or XML web services, which grant flexibility to run on a client or a server and generally in the software developer's programming language of choice. These tools also open up supply chain software ecosystems of third party applications, which share technology standards and bring more options to customers.

As with SOA, many supply chain software vendors offer platform tools for both system integration and software customization, however, they too vary dramatically and must be evaluated to understand how they will enable planned implementation and post-implementation software operation. For example, platform tools tend to diverge considerably in terms of depth of standards, availability of data and services which may be consumed, enablement of business process automation (i.e. workflow), access and depth of data models, library of objects which can be shared or reused, metadata layers of abstraction which identify application/data/presentation logic, master data management (MDM) hygiene capabilities and more. With simplified integration, interoperability and reuse, these platform tools can achieve dramatic savings when integrating SCM systems with back-office ERP applications, front-office CRM software and the myriad of other legacy systems.

More often than not, SCM systems accommodate the bulk of customer functionality requirements out of the box. However, this represents the non-differentiated business processes, and it's often that last 15 percent to 20 percent or so of the missing functionality that makes up a customer's unique business processes and competitive advantage. Applying custom programming to achieve the remaining fit is an expensive and risk prone approach which requires perpetual maintenance and ownership for the life of the SCM software. A far superior option in terms of time, cost, risk and complexity is to choose a vendor with underlying technology described previously, whereby additional software fit and extensibility can be achieved without custom code, without changes to source code, without vendor lock-in and by a variety of resources or companies. When recognizing that implementation and professional services costs outweigh the cost of the supply chain management software, on average by a factor of 4X, the significance of comprehending the role leading technology plays can be translated to very large cost investments—or savings—depending upon the SCM software selected.

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