Winshuttle recently held a User Group conference in London and I was lucky enough to meet with customers and colleagues back to back with the SAP Insider Financials show in Las Vegas the week prior. It is very easy at these events to meet with many people and gather an awful lot of information about how different Winshuttle customers and SAP customers in particular are using technology to overcome some of their most painful data processing problems in SAP. I had interesting conversations with some of these folks about the ways that they were trying to facilitate collaboration across the enterprise.
Quite naturally there was a lot of interest in the ability to push data entry methods to the outer fringes of the organization, and to partners up and downstream of the organization. The idea of extranet solutions is nothing particularly new. What is new, is the creative and imaginative ways that you can facilitate collaboration in your organization with costly software development initiatives.
In the Autumn of 1999, then boss of IBM, Lou Gerstner described what he referred to as a ‘storm’ when global companies started to use the internet to transform themselves. At the time, automotive giant General Motors announced that they would push procurement to the web connecting suppliers, partners, and customers all over the world by means of giant online markets. Ford went with Oracle to establish AutoXchange and GM chose SAP collaboration via Commerce One. By 2000, Ford claimed to have saved $10m on the first Auto-Xchange run and incorporated it into Ford’s sixth sigma lean manufacturing philosophy. Ten years later it seems to have faded from memory, no doubt supplanted by other technologies and solutions.
GM’s Commerce One foray eventually seemed to implode and ultimately what was Commerce One went into receivership laying off a spectacular 4,000 people. At the time it seemed hard to believe no doubt, that such a large venture could be such an awful flop. Upon reflection perhaps the reality is that all the moving parts made the concept unwieldy to work with. Indications from analysts in the daily trenches were that the technical challenges of wiring many companies using different sets of proprietary technology together seemed to have been the main problem. For the most part, all that technology is still out there. Some companies even have multiple instances of these proprietary stacks, so what are they doing?
For GM at least, SAP was a pivotal technology back then and apparently continues to be so today. Undoubtedly some savings probably flowed from some of these activities, certainly Commerce One was a parallel initiative to SAP’s own Enterprise Buyer Professional (EBP) solution that was web based. Even today, some ten years later we still discover companies that are using this solution but groaning and weeping about the transaction volumes that they are trying to process.
However, the basic process of procurement and requisitioning hasn’t changed and those familiar ME* transactions are still being used by many of these companies in addition to these portal solutions. So this brings us full circle to where we are today. Collaboration is still a major stumbling block for efficient operations and it is still the brass ring against which every major player hopes to make a significant score up and down the supply chain. The good news is that with the emergence of XML standards and existing robust methods of ERP transactional automation, companies like Ford and GM wouldn’t have to make massive investments in collaborative infrastructure to facilitate last mile collaboration between suppliers, customers, employees and their backoffice solutions like SAP ERP the way that they used to.
For those that attended the trade show and the user group meeting, the new offerings from Winshuttle for example, demonstrated immense opportunities for them to extend the possible accessibility of their ERP system without complex programming or tech-heavy lifting for the purposes of collaboration. In fact, custom development should be viewed as a short-sighted approach to building integration with your ERP system especially if you don’t anticipate your business to stand still in the coming years. If you have deep pockets for developer financing then I guess that’s no problem, but then you really aren’t doing more with less are you?
Here I am suggesting specifically that you can leverage existing BAPIs, RFMs, and transaction recordings created with Winshuttle Transaction to create web services that can be consumed by a wide variety of technologies including the popular Adobe Interactive Form and Microsoft’s InfoPath, and of course anything else that can make use of a WSDL.
In fact, interestingly we even have customers who have developed solutions based on Oracle technology that talk to Winshuttle Servers. The Winshuttle Server hosts and exposes the Winshuttle Transaction recordings (scripts) as WSDLs. I for one am very excited about the future opportunities that these technologies offer to all sizes of organizations providing consistent and robust ways to communicate in a bi-directional way with SAP without the need for programming.
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