Real-time intelligence rises to surface

Vigilant in the quest to deliver real-time data, BI (business intelligence) and enterprise application vendors are turning to analytic tools in an attempt to energize the supply chain.

Companies including SAS Institute Inc., and BI vendors Cognos Inc., Business Objects SA, and Informatica Corp. have unveiled supply-chain analytics designed to expose data otherwise isolated in the enterprise supply chain.

In an environment where cost control and profitability are dominating IT decision-maker’s agendas, analysts observe that BI companies are aiming to leverage history in managing supply-chain performance.

“A lot of the potential issues around business risks or less-than-expected performance have sources at the operational supply chain,” said John Hagerty, an analyst at AMR Research in Boston. “By shining light on that area, it might allow people to cut some of these operational issues at the source.”

To that end, Ottawa-based Cognos has rolled out Supply Chain Analytics modules based on its BI Series 7 intelligence framework with reporting, analysis, and event detection. The modules are designed to provide a single-process view of supplier relationship management, materials handling, inventory management, and demand and fulfillment data, according to the company.

“If my goal is to reduce costs to drive profitability, I might want to set a threshold … for manufacturing production variances that I want to watch,” said Paul Hoy, marketing director of manufacturing at Cognos. “The dashboard may tell me that I have an issue with cost overruns, (and) the BI layer can allow me to drill down and (then) tell me that product costs run high when I use a particular material from a specific vendor.”

Although BI vendors are maneuvering to leverage their history in querying and reporting, enterprise application vendors also are instilling BI into supply-chain applications. Oracle this month will launch a new version of Daily Business Intelligence with intelligence and analytics embedded into its transactional systems.

Oracle is eschewing the traditional BI approach of moving details from a transaction system to a warehouse to summarize and analyze it, said Kurt Robeson, chief applications architect of Oracle’s eBusiness suite.

Instead, Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle Corp.’s most recent release of its 9i database can create material views of the database that can be updated incrementally, unlike traditional BI methodology that requires queries to be refreshed when data changes, Robeson said. This allows enterprises to have more accurate, up-to-date information about the performance of the supply chain, he added.

PeopleSoft also has embedded analytics into its supply-chain offerings with its Enterprise Performance Management applications, which are designed to provide real-time business performance monitoring and analysis based on roles within an enterprise.

Despite the potential promise of supply-chain analytics to allow companies to fill in the gaps created by the deployment of isolated supply-chain systems, both the BI vendors and enterprise app companies still have issues to solve related to supply-chain analytic applications, said Karen Peterson, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

“To date, most of BI vendor functionality is somewhat immature, (and) the metrics that they have are at the first or second level and (not) tailored to specific verticals,” Peterson said. “For the enterprise vendors, their data models and their ability to pull data out and put it back in … have been very focused on their own functionality.”

Cary, N.C.-based SAS meanwhile unveiled in February a new suite of applications designed to infuse analytics into supply-chain systems. The suite offers enterprises visibility into supplier relationships, customer demand, spending patterns, and manufacturing processes enterprisewide, the company claimed.

SAS’ Supply Chain Intelligence suite includes data access, warehousing, cleansing, and data-mining capabilities, the company reported.

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