Many supply chain and IT professionals know quite well that one of the most complex and business-sensitive software systems resides within order management, fulfillment and electronic commerce support areas. The reasons are obvious, they are by mission and purpose connected and integrated with so many other supporting applications. These systems are always characterized as mission-critical for the business, and any project directed at changing elements of the system come with high requirements in project planning, performance and scalability testing.
With that in mind, when attending technology conferences, I always seek out customer presentations directed at changing order fulfillment and commerce platforms. This afternoon, a standing room only session at Impact 2011 highlighted retailer Target Stores recent efforts to change its online commerce platform. Meredith Jordan, Senior Group Manager for Target and her co-presenters did not disappoint in their comprehensive and well delivered presentation.
Target itself includes 1750 retail outlets in North America supported by 37 distribution centers and 355,000 team employees. The Target.com retail site, supported by 4 fulfillment centers, is the fourth most visited retail web site, and was hosted by a large-scale commerce provider. Target decided last year that it wanted more intimate control of the online customer buying experience and launched a program to host its own commerce platform. The most significant and profound aspect of this decision was a short timeframe for implementation, involving a mission-critical and important aspect of Target’s evolving business model. More significant, the timeframe from idea creation to initial implementation was a mere 8 months, which is somewhat profound in this area.
The project itself was pulled off by a joint implementation team consisting of Target, IBM Services, Sterling Commerce and Infosys Technologies team members. Today’s presentation spoke to a number of technical, business process and other challenges that were overcome in this implementation effort. Noted as key success criteria were centralized program management, close cooperation among Infosys and IBM technical teams in identifying and addressing unique technology and testing challenges, and the consistent commitment of Target functional and IT teams to move through each of the key milestones. The actual cutover to the new commerce platform occurred over a weekend, with the system ready to take orders on a Monday morning.
A key component of commerce platform implementations involves the integration of real-time inventory status, and in the case of Target, that involved a few million inventory transactions flowing each day from direct ship vendors, fulfillment centers and corresponding order transactions. Another key success criterion noted by the Target team was an initial focus on implementing the required basics of order management process and data management needs before moving to the eCommerce phase. Early involvement of the technical support teams helped to overcome technical challenges uncovered in certifying unique needs for required electronic messaging certifications (MQ6/MQ7). As is often the case in online commerce and fulfillment systems, volume benchmark requirements are specific to the individual business model and not typically out-of-box.
As is typical for these specific applications, there was certain learning as to what could have been done better. One area specifically noted by the Target team was the need to include data testing and add “second-ring” periphery systems in the end-to-end testing. Also noted was the importance of team communications in commonly understood terms. An example cited was the term ‘network’, which had completely different meanings among supply chain operations and IT technical teams in project meetings. The IT team context of networks was nodes for all systems while supply chain operations context of network was suppliers, distribution and fulfillment centers.
In the end, Target.com will be prepared to fully support upcoming needs for the 2011 holiday buying season offering customers some exciting new features. Teamwork and competency played a rather important role in this overall effort and hats-off to the entire implementation team.
Disclosure: Infosys Technologies is one of other sponsors of the Supply Chain Matters blog, and was one of other named Gold Sponsors of Impact 2011.
One of the promoted highlights of this afternoon’s conference agenda was a session on Smarter Commerce with the theme of the new intelligent customer as king. If there were ever an indication of which topics were most top-of-mind among attendees, it had to be this one. My very unofficial visual estimate noted in excess of 500 attendees for this particular session with many standees in the back of the room. Multi-channel commerce and operational capabilities apparently are on the mind of IBM’s customers.
Craig Hayman, General Manager of IBM Software Industry Solutions kicked off this session by setting the stage for the new empowered and connected customer who is driving new paradigms at every phase of the commerce cycle. Mike Rodin, Senior Vice President of IBM Software Solution Group noted the billions of dollars of recent acquisitions targeted to enhance the company’s smarter commerce portfolio of technology and services. That portfolio now includes:
On the Buy side: ILOG, Sterling Commerce
In Market support: Utica, Core Metrics, WebSphere Commerce
On the Sell side: Sterling Commerce, ILOG, WebSphere Commerce
On the Service side: Sterling Commerce, Utica
Predictive analytics: SPSS, Cognos
Data Warehousing: Natezza
Three customer panelists each noted how rapid changes in customer fulfillment and supply chain business models have driven changed requirements and an outside-in focus on the customer as the epicenter of commerce. These requirements include accelerating use of mobile technologies.
Frank Kern, Senior Vice President of IBM Global Business Services provided an insightful observation regarding today’s unprecedented level of supply chain complexity and business change. Businesses cannot manage their way out of this complexity, as had been the case in the past. The new skill and process requirement is creative leadership which translates to how quickly a business knows about a situation, and how quickly and timely that business responds. A further message should resonate specifically with supply chain management and supporting IT professionals. In this era of the ‘new normal’ of business, creative leadership translates to assessing what are the best possibilities vs. what is our biggest problem. As the after-effects of the devastating earthquake that occurred in Japan continue to permeate through global supply chains, this tenet of creative leadership is already beginning to show among certain impacted industries.
After this afternoon’s session on smarter commerce, this author came away with an analogy of a puzzle of different shapes and contours. In solving a puzzle, one assembles all of the required pieces and then begins to fit the pieces in-place. In the view of Supply Chain Matters, IBM is assembling the pieces of smarter commerce, supply chain and predictive analytics capabilities. In the messages of this conference, IBM is now transitioning into packaged technology and service offerings that it believes will assist customers in transitioning to smarter commerce in a cost effective and timely manner. The seriousness of the commitment and focus is reflected in the executive presence at this conference.
During the remainder of the conference, we hope to focus on the customer view of these Smarter Commerce capabilities.
This week Supply Chain Matters is attending the IBM Impact 2011 conference in Las Vegas along with 8000+ other attendees. This IBM customer conference was designed to focus on IBM’s middleware and integration technologies which include WebSphere, Cloud and SmarterCommerce offerings. Our attendance is by invitation of Infosys Technologies, one of the Gold sponsors of this conference event.
We begin our first commentary with some general observations. We were pleasantly surprised to see the large number of attendees at this conference, which IBM indicated was 31 percent higher than last year’s conference. This is perhaps an indication that corporate attention and consequent IT budgets are beginning to loosen-up and that planning for a new phase of technology investments may well be on the rise.
This morning’s conference kickoff opened with a live band, complete with multiple moving stages, along with the comedy of Larry Miller. I must admit that it has been quite a few years since I’ve witnessed a technology conference opening with such flair. Kudos to IBM for bringing back panache and embedded entertainment to a conference.
The kickoff speakers set the tone for an appropriate theme of optimizing for growth and business delivery results. One important key piece of data noted IBM’s recent CEO key business issues survey which found that nearly 80 percent of CEO’s expect business complexity to increase, but only half feel that their business is prepared to deal with this challenge. This so-termed ‘complexity gap’ is what IBM feels will motivate a more rapid pace of business transformation. This same finding was also emphasized in the Smarter Commerce session held this afternoon, which will be touched upon in our second commentary.
A number of new product announcements were made, among them being:
IBM Business Process Manager, a new unified Business Process Management (BPM) platform that provides customers visibility into key business operations.
IBM webSphere Application Server (WAS) 8, upgraded to speed the development of applications and services.
IBM WebSphere ESB Registry Edition, to accelerate the adoption of Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) adoption.
IBM WebSphere Application Accelerator, deployed in conjunction with Akami.
IBM Workload Deployer, to help customers setup private clouds at a much more rapid rate.
There were a host of other product and service announcements which we will not get into in this initial commentary.
The most interesting perspective in reflecting on the morning keynote is that IBM has invested over $60 billion in the acquisition of 16 companies that returns IBM to being a software and business process solutions provider. That now includes smarter commerce, distributed order management and supply chain capabilities. IBM is now positioning to inform and motivate customers to take advantage of the new portfolio. The remainder of our commentaries will reflect on the supply chain related aspects of these capabilities.