Data analysis vendors add supply chain tools

SAS Institute Inc. is expanding its line of business intelligence software in a bid to help users apply in-depth analytics to their supply chain processes – making it one of several data analysis vendors with initiatives of that kind.

Cary, N.C.-based SAS has announced plans to ship two applications designed to exploit its analysis capabilities in the supply chain arena. The company also said it has set up a supply chain analytics consulting group to help companies install the applications.

Cognos Inc. in Ottawa and Hyperion Solutions Corp. in Sunnyvale, Calif., said they’re also working to add supply chain analysis tools to their business intelligence product lines. Scott Lawrence, director of analytic applications at Cognos, said the company’s software will give users the ability to fully analyze their supply chain operations.

Dennis McCarron, senior manager of business planning strategy at SAS, said the applications his company is developing will complement existing supply chain management systems, such as the ones sold by SAP AG and i2 Technologies Inc. The goal is to help users cut costs while optimizing their quality-control efforts, he explained.

To that end, McCarron said, SAS will offer a demand-intelligence package that provides an integrated view of inventory, price optimization and product demand processes. Companies will be able to use the software to tailor their supply chains to better meet market needs and to adjust pricing and promotions. The application is initially being developed for the retail and consumer goods industries.

SAS said it’s also working on a manufacturing process analysis application to help companies find ways to improve product quality and reduce time to market. That product will be initially targeted at semiconductor and other high-tech companies.

Both modules are available on a limited basis now and are due for general release by year’s end.

The demand-intelligence capabilities sound interesting, said Gary Keathley, materials manager at Alcon Inc.’s manufacturing plant in Houston. But he added that the eye care products maker customized its SAS applications to handle demand-analysis functions more than 10 years ago.

Alcon’s SAS installation can take sales data, crunch the numbers and project future production needs at the Houston plant based on factors such as seasonality and customer needs, Keathley said.

The manufacturing process application could also be useful, but SAS officials need to better “pinpoint what they are trying to go after” with that product, he said.

While SAS already sells some supply chain analysis components, it’s now creating an end-to-end offering that covers both the supply and demand sides of supply chain processes, said Bob Moran, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston. The new software will let users examine how events at one point in a supply chain could affect other segments, Moran said. That could be a key capability for companies that try to get by with the thinnest of profit margins, he added.

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