Oracle offers a closer look at the shop floor

Oracle Corp.’s recently-launched supply chain management software should appeal to manufacturers who need to give senior managers a birds-eye view of the shop floor, industry analysts say.

Manufacturing Operations Centre software, which was announced at the database giant’s recent Collaborate 2008 show in Denver, is designed to provide communication between systems on factory floors with enterprise resource planning applications, and let executives predict the effect on their companies of any exception conditions. The software is designed for companies who have already installed Oracle’s Business Intelligence Suite.

“Because manufacturers are trying to get more visibility of what’s going on over their whole network of manufacturing plants, they’re trying to put in an intelligence layer,” said Bob Parker, vice-president of research at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. He added manufactures don’t always want to replace their existing supply chain software, but they want to find a way to tie different systems together with software that can accept data feeds quickly and then aggregate it so an executive can view it.

“The shop floor collects a tremendous amount of data and that data is often in bits and bites, dates, times and quantities,” said Jon Chorley, vice-president for product strategy at Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle. But often business users don’t have easy access to important information, such as the customer, the priority and delivery deadlines, Chorley added. “Manufacturing Operations Centre brings those things together,” Chorley said.

Oracle also announced three other supply chain software packages. Advanced Planning Command Center combines role-based analytics dashboards, business planning scenario management and automated processes, and is designed to help manufacturers manage tasks. Service Parts Planning is designed to reduce spare parts inventory while the fourth product, dubbed Demand Signal Repository, is designed to capture and manage data from stores and retail distributors, building a “picture of demand” for a manufacturer.

Demand Signal Repository is aimed at manufacturers who do business directly with retailers, Chorley said.

“It’s really helping look at that consumer value chain, get a clear demand picture, have good collaboration and communication between the demand side at the retailer and the supply side at the OEM and to use that to more effectively have good dialogue between the sell side and the buy side,” he said.

The software provides a lot of capabilities for one package, said Dale Hagemeyer, research vice-president for the Gartner Group of Stamford, Conn.

“We think about supply chain,” Hagemeyer said. “Not only do you have your long term plan about what products you’re going to promote during what time frames, but that literally allows you to know, ‘What did the shelf look like yesterday? Did we have (product) out of stock? Did we have price fluctuations? Did we have something else going on that we need to know about?’”

He added Oracle’s supply chain products now include some of the modelling technology from Demantra Inc., which Oracle acquired in June, 2006.

Demand Signal Repository should appeal to companies making consumer packaged goods, Parker said. “I’m trying to deal with all kinds of data coming from retail customers on what’s selling through and the good news is I can get that data now right away,” Parker said. “The bad news is, (without Demand Signal Repository) I don’t know what the hell to do with it or how to organize it, so that’s important.”

He added companies making cars, trucks, airplanes or farm equipment would be more interested in Service Parts Planning, because they are trying to get more revenue from the equipment they are selling.

Oracle’s supply chain software does not necessarily have anything that’s not available from other software makers, such as Dallas-based I2 Technologies or Manugistics Inc. (now a division of JDA Software Group Inc.) but does provide it all in one application, Hagemeyer said.

George Goodall, senior research analyst for London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, agreed.

“When you look at the individual components, there’s not necessarily anything unique there. What we’ve seen is a lot of this functionality coming from a lot of different best of breed vendors,” Goodall said. “The difference is, Oracle is bringing a lot of these components together under one roof in an integrated way.”

Chorley said Oracle has not decided how much it will charge for the software.

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