Supply chain vendors vying for inventory visibility

Rival vendors of supply chain management software are racing to develop tools that give users additional collaboration capabilities and real-time visibility of product inventory and demand levels.

For instance, Manugistics Group Inc. later this year plans to roll out an applications upgrade that will use Web services hooks to create a “glass pipeline” into supply chains for users, said Lori Mitchell-Keller, senior vice-president of market strategy at the Rockville, Md.-based company.

The software will take real-time feeds from Manugistics’ supply chain planning and scheduling tools, as well as from third-party ERP systems and other business applications, Mitchell-Keller said. It will also let users set rules for automated resolution of unforeseen supply chain problems and provide additional forecasting, scheduling and collaboration capabilities.

Manugistics expects to beta-test the software in August and release it by September as Version 7.1 of its applications, Mitchell-Keller said.

The upcoming applications sound similar to dashboard-style products that other vendors like SAP AG and PeopleSoft Inc. are rolling out, said Jeri Dunn, CIO at Tyson Foods Inc. in Springdale, Ark.

Tyson is installing Manugistics’ supply chain planning software in its chicken-processing businesses. But Dunn said she has yet to evaluate the features of Version 7.1.

Manugistics isn’t alone in targeting increased collaboration and supply chain visibility. SAP in the third quarter plans to beef up the real-time visibility capabilities in its supply chain applications by shipping an upgrade that exploits its new NetWeaver integration technology, said Christian Knoll, the company’s global vice-president of supply chain management products.

Knoll said NetWeaver will let both SAP and third-party software more easily share data to connect product life-cycle management, CRM and other corporate systems to supply chain applications.

Dallas-based i2 Technologies Inc. last month released an i2 Six upgrade that includes added extraction capabilities for pulling data out of various systems, as well as enhanced event management capabilities designed to give users real-time views of their supply chains.

In addition, Barneveldt, Netherlands-based Baan Co. NV said it’s prototyping an advanced planning tool that can automate responses to production scheduling snafus or other problems. Baan is also developing another application that will let supply chain managers execute a collaborative process in real time.

Almost every supply chain vendor is starting to offer inventory monitoring capabilities and other real-time visibility functions, said Karen Peterson, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. But most of the products are still in the initial stages of maturity, Peterson said.