One word: Plastics

Omnexus Corp. is a neutral digital marketplace for the plastics industry that counts Dow Chemical Co., DuPont Co., Bayer AG, Ticona, and BASF among its co-founders. As the CTO of Omnexus, which has its North American headquarters in Atlanta, Bill Murphy drives the technology decisions for a consortium that will affect all aspects of the plastics industry. In an interview with InfoWorld (U.S.) Editor-in-Chief Michael Vizard, Murphy explains why consortium-backed public exchanges will ultimately triumph.

InfoWorld: Public exchanges have not been all that well-received. How will public exchanges evolve in the coming year to provide more value for their customers?

Murphy: The idea of having an open environment in which people get a lot of work done and save money on transactions still has enormous appeal. In these publicly backed consortiums, we’re moving away from things like price discovery. You can ask at the time of purchase for pricing, but we don’t keep a lot of listed prices out there and try to use it as leverage for nickels and dimes on pounds of plastic. Today, it’s about how you present a good opportunity for a purchaser to see what’s available, what the timing can be, and where it can come from.

InfoWorld: What other type of value-added services does Omnexus provide?

Murphy: In our marketplace, we have an application suite we call Sourcing, which enables someone to input basic parameters about a part…so you can narrow down the field about what you ought to be buying from an engineering perspective. Then you can go on into our marketplace where we have over 150 catalogues to find the best fit between [your need] and what’s offered.

InfoWorld: What platform are you using to accomplish this?

Murphy: We started with an Ariba Marketplace product. But I must tell you that through the course of the last nine months’ work, it has been dramatically adjusted to fit the needs of the industry. It’s probably 30 per cent original Ariba and beyond that maybe 70 per cent extended into application base for us.

InfoWorld: At first blush, the plastics industry does not strike me as a segment that would be an early adopter of cutting-edge technologies. How would you characterize this industry in terms of technology adoption?

Murphy: My background is in metals. I was in steel and aluminium, then became part of that Metal Spectrum marketplace. But the difference between what I’m experiencing in chemicals and plastics vs. other industries is that a fair share of their budget does go into technology. They often see it as an enabler of new products and as an enabler of more efficient production. In other industries you’ll find that it’s treated much more as a cost to be managed.

InfoWorld: What is the core benefit of being a public marketplace consortium created by companies in the industry?

Murphy: Every nickel spent doesn’t return a dime, some things you do take longer than you expect, and some things don’t materialize at all. That’s the nature of using IT to solve new problems in new ways. We have had a great blessing in that the founders have an experience base that says, “If it takes three years for this thing to bear fruit, that’s OK.”

InfoWorld: How challenging is it to get customers to actively use Omnexus?

Murphy: The real enemy is adoption and getting more people hooked up and buying in order to create the gravitational force across the marketplace. That is something we’re shifting gears to go after. We have something we’re putting together called “Ultra Light,” which is nothing more than a file transfer of a purchase order. It’s the minimal way to get customers involved without the legacy problem of dual entry in their systems and ours. That’s the first step…at a very low cost point, so it would appeal to someone who really doesn’t have a lot of resources to spend on these sort of things or to someone who does but just wants to try it out. Once they get to use it and see how it works, we will upgrade their integration capabilities over time.


Bill Murphy, Omnexus