Old enterprise application silos demolished

“No question that this is something that should have been around from the beginning of ERP, but now we have the technology,” says John Parkinson, chief technologist for the Americas at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, in Rosemont, Ill.

Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting in Daly City, Calif., calls it the future of enterprise application software.

What they are both talking about is X applications, cross applications that cut across the silos of traditional ERP, CRM, and SCM (supply-chain management) packages to respond to queries a single data base cannot answer. This is the stuff that still gets done in spreadsheets and on white boards, what gets put on paper and sneakered over to the enterprise application, according to Greenbaum. In other words, X apps address a functionality need that isn’t yet fully automated.

The X-apps trend is well established among major vendors as a footprint extension strategy for their mainstream applications. SAP AG calls it xApps. IBM Corp. has its DB2 Information Integrator. It’s called Liquid Data for Weblogic at BEA Systems Inc., and Oracle Corp. is doing cross-applications work within the Oracle9i Application Server platform.

So far, it is only a trend among the vendors. But just you wait: They are about to roll out major marketing efforts for these X-app solutions to you, their customers, according to Parkinson, who says the hype cycle is about to begin.

But hype doesn’t have to be a bad thing, especially if what is being hyped has value. As a matter of fact, early enterprise adopters are starting to nibble away at the abstraction issue, pulling data from various sources by building more Web-service-type interfaces. Perhaps it is the astute vendors listening to their customers who spawned the concept.

“The idea is (that) anywhere in the enterprise where there is an Excel spreadsheet, there is (an) … X application waiting to be born,” Greenbaum says.

Cross apps acknowledge that customers don’t want to buy a monolithic contract management application when a lot of their processes exist in applications they already own.

At its best, an X app grabs information out of an order-management system – production, profitability, customer history – pulls all this stuff together, and organizes it around a customer context.

Two companies that perhaps should be on your radar screen if you’re looking into cross applications are Model N, in South San Francisco, Calif., and Mindjet in Larkspur, Calif.

Model N’s Revenue Execution Application Suite 4.0 sits between ERP and CRM and cuts across many organizational lines, including executive, marketing, sales, and finance. The package captures pricing strategy, negotiated sales terms, back-out fees, channel fees, and according to Jamie Schein, chief marketing officer at Model N, it extends what any ERP system was designed to do.

Mindjet’s MindManager, a cross application that does information mapping, was used by DFS Group, a subsidiary of Louis Vuitton, to reorganize its IT infrastructure worldwide.

Greenbaum is right. The future of enterprise apps does not reside in individual silos but in making those silos disappear. When the CEO asks for the best five customers by region, you want to construct a response quickly and efficiently to that kind of cross-information-source question.

The task of automation is still unfinished. But we are getting there.