Vendors turn to helping suppliers get on-line

The balance has clearly swung to the sell-side of the business-to-business arena as vendors target once-ignored suppliers with solutions designed to ease their entry and performance in on-line marketplaces. Industry heavyweights are readying products and services that will help suppliers who have so far been slighted in the business-to-business (B2B) game. These solutions are designed to foster long-term relationships between buyers and sellers, rather than supporting e-marketplaces where sellers’ profit margins are squeezed.

Traditional buy-side vendors such as Ariba Inc. and Commerce One Inc. are finding that although marketplaces may be brimming with buyers, suppliers are struggling to integrate with multiple e-procurement systems.

Oracle Corp., too, is responding to suppliers’ concerns with the unveiling of an addition to its Oracle E-Business Suite, Oracle Supply Chain Exchange. The package is designed to link a company’s employees, customers, partners, and suppliers via supply-chain, transportation, and product development components. Oracle also promises to help suppliers keep better track of their buyers’ inventory levels.

Lisa Williams, an analyst at Yankee Group Inc., in Boston, said the supplier-enablement market has the potential to be as large as or larger than the e-procurement platform market because thousands of small suppliers will want to extend their reach to the on-line realm. “This is not just sort of an add-on to B2B,” she said. “This could be an entire stand-alone market.”

To help suppliers traverse the barriers of multiple e-procurement platforms, Ariba, based in Mountain View, Calif., has unveiled its new Ariba Supplier Hub Program. The program will provide suppliers with a single entry point to a variety of hubs, or on-line marketplaces via Ariba’s B2B commerce platform, said Cindy Elkins, vice president of supplier and content solutions at Ariba.

“Buyers are saying, ‘I need thousands of suppliers faster,’ ” Elkins said. “The suppliers’ quandary is, ‘What do I have in my back-end system … and how should I become B2B enabled?’ ”

Pleasanton, Calif.-based Commerce One’s Global Services program is intended in part to help buyers build better links to their sellers.

Dallas-based i2 Technologies Inc. is expanding its product line with an announcement of a new supplier relationship management (SRM) solution targeted to direct material buys. The company’s suite of B2B design, sourcing and procurement capabilities is designed to allow companies and their suppliers to collaborate and create products faster and cheaper.

Although suppliers continue to carp about on-line buy-side exchanges and reverse auctions squeezing the last point out of their margins, the big push for supply-chain integration this year made by i2 Technologies, Manugistics Group Inc., and Oracle may reverse that trend.

Manugistics is adding a new supply-chain pricing and revenue optimization module for its exchange modules.

“Supply-chain integration gives everybody immediate visibility. Suppliers get a picture of demand and can either take the price up or vary the price far enough into the future to bring demand in line with what they can supply,” said Greg Owens, CEO of Manugistics, in Rockville, Md.

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The supplier-enablement market is seen to have the potential to be even larger than the e-procurement platform market.