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The Implications of the Announced Apple and IBM Alliance


Business and social media is abuzz with today’s announcement that two long-time rivals, Apple and IBM, are teaming-up in an alliance to create simple business apps on Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices.  As pictured in the Times Square featured announcement, both CEO’s are pictured in a casual and friendly stroll.

Apple and IBM Alliance Announced

The obvious question is which of the vendor’s benefit the most from the proposed alliance.  Another question is the potential impact on supply chain and B2B business network technology deployment. In this Supply Chain Matters initial viewpoint commentary; we briefly dwell on both questions.

Under the alliance, IBM will create what is termed as “simple” business apps leveraging the respective Apple mobile devices.  IBM employees will further provide on-site services and support for Apple mobile devices. Of more interest is the report that IBM is planning to make 100,000 employees available to the Apple imitative, which is rather significant. Both alliance CEO’s made themselves available for a joint media interview. IBM CEO Virginia Rometty indicated: “This is just the beginning” and Apple CEO Tim Cook indicated: “This is really a landmark deal”. The apps themselves are reported to draw on IBM’s computing services including security, device management and big-data analytics. Apple and IBM engineers will jointly be developing more than 100 new business applications tailored for specific industry needs. The apps will begin arriving in the fall and IBM will resell iPhones/iPads containing the apps to its business enterprise customers.

The initial online consensus is that both vendors will benefit from this alliance and this analyst shares that opinion.  Apple has struggled to penetrate the coupling of its mobile devices with business enterprise applications since the market continues to perceive the company as just a consumer electronics provider, albeit with elegant offerings. Security of mobile based information remains a big concern for both supply chain and IT teams. IBM with its deep ties to C-Suite and IT teams has been struggling with the need for more positive revenue momentum. A late entry and lack of momentum in supporting cloud-based and mobile computing needs has not helped. Thus, benefits and rewards loom large for both vendors under this alliance.  They just need to collaborate and execute.

As for the potential impact for supply chain and B2B business network technology support, it’s too early to tell.  As we have noted to our readers, IBM has amassed a broad suite of end-to-end supply chain, B2B, customer fulfillment network, service and business analytics capabilities that can all benefit from further leveraging of mobile-based applications.  The open question remains on IBM’s track record of delivering on broader supply chain process integration in a much more time-to-market manner.  We anticipate there will be opportunities to enhance mobile-based apps in Emptoris Supply Management Suite, Sterling B2B and online fulfillment network as well as end-to-end supply chain focused analytics. Customers will just have to wait and see what develops in the coming months.

A further implication of this alliance announcement will be how other business enterprise vendors such as SAP, Oracle, Google and Microsoft eventually respond. Each has positioned the leveraging of mobile devices within business applications from a multi-vendor perspective in an effort to support multiple brands. This week’s announcement may prompt a re-visit of these strategies, and consumer electronics providers Samsung, Lenovo or perhaps HP, could benefit with enterprise software vendors again seeking deeper development alliances.

Bottom-line, our community can well anticipate some benefits of the Apple-IBM alliance along with the competitive response from other competitors in the market.  IT teams will be able to rest more easy knowing that burden of integrating application with mobile device will be assumed by alliance partners.

The open question however is how mission critical supply chain and B2B mobile computing needs will be viewed in the light of implementing other more simplified apps that meet alliance objectives for total apps availability.

We all need to stay tuned.

Bob Ferrari

Supply Chain Matters Impressions from Smarter Commerce Global Summit 2014

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Supply Chain Matters was invited to attend the IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit this week which was held in Tampa Florida.  This was our third annual attendance at this venue and by each of our encounters, we have gathered a stronger sense of IBM’s continued direction in supporting the Buy, Sell, Service and analytics needs for industry supply chains. As noted in our prelude posting last week, IBM has been following a broad strategy, primarily through strategic acquisitions to assemble a portfolio of end-to-end commerce applications and solutions that extend from online marketing and selling through customer fulfillment. In early March, IBM’s CEO, Virginia Rometty, outlined in her open letter to stockholders and customers, a crisper set of strategic priorities that now include a heavy emphasis on cloud and services based solution offerings. The open question in our mind as we traveled to Tampa remained with the timetables, urgency and overall integration progress.

Ironically, the Summit theme this year was: Moments Matter, and just about every keynote amplified the reality that the speed of change and innovation determines today’s business environments. After a packed two day agenda of activity, our overall impression of this conference was that IBM has indeed stepped-up its internal development pace, and the initial signs of cross-application integration capabilities are beginning to come to market.  However, the overall timetable is one that IBM customers will need to consider in their technology planning.

There were two significant product announcements made in conjunction with this year’s summit. Big Blue introduced IBM ExperienceOne, a new integrated portfolio of cloud-based and on premise offerings directed at helping customers to deliver deeper customer engagements by bringing marketing, sales and services business practices together in a singular information utility capability. This capability is essential an IBM consulting services service offering that leverages the company’s WebSphere Commerce, Customer Digital Experience and Enterprise Marketing Management software. That software includes elements of Sterling Commerce, Coremetrics, DemandTec and Silverpop, among others, all of which were prior acquisitions.

What should be of keen interest to our Supply Chain Matters readership was the announced launching of IBM Multi-Enterprise Relationship Management (MRM) platform that features cloud-based or on premise supplier and partner engagement capabilities directed at enabling a more adaptive end-to-end value chain.  As can be noted in the IBM announcement, MRM leverages functionality from Emptoris for quicker on-boarding of suppliers and trading partners, supplier lifecycle and contract lifecycle management. MRM leverages the IBM Sterling B2B Collaboration Network for reporting and monitoring of transactions and IBM Aspera eXtreme File Transfer and Enterprise File Sync and Share, for sending very large amounts of information across a network including use of desktop and mobile devices.

In our previous conversations with IBM executives, we often probed on the opportunities for assembling an end-end supply chain support capabilities across a contiguous business network, while integrating all of the various IBM vendor acquisition products within such a network. 

At last year’s summit, we noted that Emptoris’s senior development director Terrence (TC) Curley, was assuming a lead role in the initial integration of Emptoris suite components with those of Sterling Commerce and other IBM technology components.  The current MRM announcement is the first phase of that effort and admittedly, an initial release.  We had the opportunity to review the 12 month product roadmap for MRM and noted that beyond baseline an Enterprise Partner Engagement Foundation, the roadmap includes further adapters that integrate not only IBM Sterling B2B Collaboration Network, but also IBM B2Bi and SFG applications which can provide capabilities for quicker on-boarding of financial services, third-party logistics, business services or product management partners. The interesting aspect for MRM are the design principles that stress deeper levels of visibility, end-to-end network scale and collaboration along offering capabilities for supporting cognitive based commerce. If readers have not yet figured out what all of this implies, it means that IBM is gunning to be a viable player in offering an end-to-end business network platform.  Again, more work and time is required, but the component assembly and roadmap milestones are now underway.

We do want to mention one other vivid impression from this year’s summit. We had the opportunity to sit in on a keynote session that outlined IBM’s vision for Cognitive Commerce as well a follow-on session that outlined the vision and roadmap for IBM Commerce Solutions.  Make no mistake, IBM is indeed committed to huge investments in customer engagement, predictive analytics and machine learning capabilities tied to online commerce. One example of cognitive commerce service outlined was the ability to analyze peak selling periods and be able to predict the depth and breadth of product peaks and optimize inventory allocation to those peaks. Sales and Operations Planning teams should reflect on that type of capability.

There are plans for both enhanced B2C as well as B2B online and multi-channel stores, field sales applications that enhance mobility based applications and planned ecosystems of pre-integrated customer fulfillment partner solutions, including same-day delivery. Finally, there was an example of quickly IBM is responding to current day brick and mortar retailer needs. There are plans to be able to process an online order, by inventory checks of both fulfillment and store-level inventories.  To the surprise of some in the audience, IBM described a “dark store” which is one that can serve as a localized fulfillment entity for limited volumes, or be able to convert to a broader based customer shipment fulfillment entity after retail closing hours. In essence, IBM is prepared to support a rather innovative capability for a multi-purpose use store.

Supply Chain Matters will feature additional observations and thought commentaries  gathered from this year’s Smarter Commerce Summit in the days to come.

Bob Ferrari

© 2014, The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters Blog, all rights reserved.

The Interest Level in Supply Chain Control Tower Capabilities

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In 2012, this author was quoted in an article published in a MS Dynamics World article on the subject of emerging multi-industry interest supply chain control towers.  I was asked by the contributing writer to define this capability and describe the then current market interest. At the time, I was pleased to be able to contribute to the market education of this concept, and we continue to provide such education on this blog.

Full disclosure to readers: in 2012, two of the named sponsors of the Supply Chain Matters blog were supporting and delivering control tower capabilities to customers the names of which we could not disclose because of confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements.

I was recently contacted by the author of that same 2012 article to provide an update on the current market uptake in control tower capability.  Unfortunately, because of other business commitments, I was not able to circle back with the reporter up to this point. Shame on me!

I state that because the reporter has reissued an updated article (no-cost sign-up login account required), feeling somewhat loose to quote my original statements but not indicating that I was unable to comment by press time.

If I had spoken to this reporter, I would have stated the following.

The interest level in supply chain controls does indeed remain high, but most of that interest is in educational and foundational initiatives at the organization level. The aspects involve understanding the current capabilities and how they relate to current and future supply chain competency objectives.  When I speak to audiences about these capabilities, I often stress the wide change management aspects to consider in building a path towards a control tower.  That path includes training or recruitment of teams with advanced analytical and program management skills as well as determine where in a firm’s organizational structures such capability can best be nurtured and sponsored. There may be some further interim competency and technology implementation steps required in that journey which relate to data management, visualization and supply chain business intelligence tools.

In short, supply chain control tower is a phased journey with different timetable requirements and needs.

While I tend to agree that control towers may have been overhyped by some specific technology vendors I do not necessarily agree that a single instance of an ERP system necessarily provides an advantage. Nor do I agree that starting on the execution vs. planning end is a more viable roadmap. It is more about having a strategy that relates to a set of desired business outcomes where a supply chain control tower provides a significant competitive advantage for a business or product focused supply chain.

Industry supply chain momentum in control towers will continue but do not necessarily look to the technology vendors for crisp definition.  It will come from those knowledgeable resources in market, including the early adopters that understand and can articulate the various aspects of these capabilities as well as the benefits. 

Now you have my updated perspective.

For our part, we will continue to utilize Supply Chain Matters as a medium to provide a forum for market education as well as an exchange of various viewpoints regarding supply chain control towers. If you have perspectives or viewpoints to share, please contact us.

Bob Ferrari


Supporting the Journey for S&OP Insight Driven Outcomes Utilizing SAP

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Supply Chain Matters recently viewed a joint webcast sponsored by SAP AG and Intrigo Systems, Inc. which focused on the SAP Sales and Operations Planning, Powered by SAP HANA application. By our lens, this webcast brought forward important observations and learnings that warrant some amplification.

First and foremost there is often a need for supply chain teams to step-back and reflect on the original objectives of the Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) process. By our lens, S&OP bridges declared business goals and strategies with overall operational execution in various tactical and operational timeframe windows.  S&OP at its inception and as it exists today in many industry settings, is a decision-making process focused on a product’s value-chain that requires information and insights to weigh and execute timely decisions that make strategies actionable.

The joint webinar brought forward the realities that we often hear concerning today’s challenges among S&OP teams, namely more time spent on constantly collecting and assimilating data and information vs. this process execute more informed decisions, especially those anticipating likely outcomes of various decisions in the context of the business objectives of added revenues, increased profitability or enhanced customer service. Questions or potential business scenarios can be raised at an S&OP meeting, only having to wait for further offline analysis and assessment.

Supply Chain Matters has featured several previous commentaries related the SAP Sales and Operations Planning, Powered by SAP HANA application which was originally released in the spring of 2012. Candidly, we were somewhat critical at the initial product release milestone, given the expectations and planning milestones that were set for this application.  Since that time, SAP development teams and partners have made considerable strides in adding more compelling functionality as reflected in Version 3 of the current application. In May of last year, our commentary related to the annual SAP Sapphire and ASUG customer conference made note of encouraging words coming from early application adopters and key implementation partners. Viewing this latest webinar, we were pleased to observe that this application now supports an Excel-like front-end, that it is finally coupled to a process dashboard along with capabilities to support scenario planning and profit optimization across the supply network. SAP claims out-of-book SmartOps based multi-tiered inventory optimization integration with an available beta version of analytics drilldowns supported by SAP HANA. The application is now married to SAP Jam social collaboration capabilities and includes support for the mobility based process participants. A brief demo of this Version 3 release was shown in the webcast.

However, as the seasoned SAP user community is well aware, getting up-to-speed and achieving more responsive time-to-benefit supporting a process that spans such a broad level of participation and influence with an application with this current level of sophistication, often requires external assistance. While SAP Sales and Operations Planning, Powered by SAP HANA is a cloud-based application, the needs for managed scope, proven phased implementation of data integration coupled with considerations for change management and proper configuration remain important considerations.

Jeff Boyer, S&OP Solutions Architect at Intrigo Systems noted his firm’s investments in a Scrum framework methodology coupled to customer implementation teams of experienced business and technical consultants who have worked on multiple SAP and S&OP application support implementations. Intrigo has developed a series of industry specific solution accelerators specifically for SAP environments, along with utilizing an agile implementation methodology that divides a targeted 13-16 week S&OP system implementation into four defined Sprints. The initial implementation scope has clear definition as to SAP key figures, planning views and process users. Early assessments prioritize user value requirements and lock-in a go-live date. Proprietary tools and templates are leveraged to accelerate the implementation timeline as much as possible. Jeff iterated in the webcast that testing and validation occurs early and often, with daily Scrum meetings along with reviews held by a project steering committee for exiting each sprint phase. Considerations for project team and end user training, along with knowledge transfer are another component geared to allow the client project team to rollout and support the application among their end-user community.

It is no secret that even SAP recognizes that its applications can sometimes present complex challenges for its customers, particularly when multiple application implementations occur at the same time.  For some time now, this ERP provider has been offering what it has termed as solution accelerators, which are narrowed scope implementations that build upon prior tested templates and solution accelerators.  However, external and highly focused system integrators such as Intrigo Systems can provide more hands-on expertise for customers and quicker time-to-benefit for such applications, especially when it concerns enhancement of a firm’s S&OP process.

Bob Ferrari

Disclosure: Intrigo Systems is a client of our parent, The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC.

Join Us at an Upcoming S&OP Focused Breakfast Series

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We want to alert Supply Chain Matters readers that Bob Ferrari, our Founder and Executive Editor will be featured as a kickoff speaker at an upcoming series of Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) Executive Breakfast Briefing events sponsored by Steelwedge Software.

 This series has been designed to provide attendees with advanced understanding of technology being applied to support the S&OP process, including the important insights for integrating information and more predictive decision-making capabilities for process participants. There will be time allocated for ample interaction with speakers.

 Bob Ferrari’s presentation is titled: A Practical Guide to Using Predictive Analysis to Take Your S&OP and IBP Process to the Next Level. In this talk, Bob will address how many S&OP processes become stalled because they are trying to assimilate information that is most external to existing information system or spreadsheet capabilities. S&OP processes are literally drowning in data but starving for decision-making insights. Three significant industry converging forces are coming together to allow S&OP teams the ability to incorporate use of more predictive decision-making as well as to achieve goals for integrated business planning. Along with Bob, both the Boston and Chicago breakfast series events will feature Bruce Richardson, Chief Enterprise Strategist at as a speaker.

 These breakfast series events will be conducted in the following cities with more information and conference registration information provided at the below web links:

Wednesday, April 30 in Boston

Thursday, May 1 in Atlanta

Thursday, May 8 in Chicago


Join Bob Ferrari and other distinguished speakers at either of these upcoming Steelwedge focused events for insights on taking your organization’s S&OP process to the next level.


Dear IBM Investor- We are Investing Seriously in the New Paradigms for Computing Platforms

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Supply Chain Matters has opined in prior commentaries that significant high-stakes battles are underway among the major enterprise-level technology vendors as to which provider will ultimately dominate the cloud computing paradigm.  This battle involves incredible amounts of money and big strategic bets. Vendors such as Amazon Web Services, EMC, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Salesforce and IBM, to cite just a few, are placing big money stakes into this computing dimension.

By our lens, IBM got a late start in the area of cloud, but has dedicated much more effort and resources since.  In June 2013, we featured a commentary reflecting on the announcement of IBM’s intention to acquire privately held SoftLayer Technologies Inc. at a deal estimated to be around $2 billion. At the time, IBM signaled its intent to establish a Cloud Services division positioning SoftLayer as an anchor technology.  Our commentary further wondered as to when cloud computing strategies would make a more profound presence in IBM’s Smarter Commerce portfolio which includes elements of Buy, Sell, Service, business analytics and intelligence.

A new data point to IBM’s intent and commitment is IBM’s CEO Virginia Rometty’s published letter to IBM stockholders that, in essence, outlines efforts to invent a new and very different IBM. Ms. Rometty is clear and concise in acknowledging that short-term performance in 2013 did not meet the company’s expectations and that significant business change is underway in two dimensions. The first is shifting IBM’s hardware business to new, more lucrative market opportunities.  A part of that strategy was the January sale of the Intel-based x86 server business to Lenovo. The second strategy component is renewed concentration on future growth markets in specific global regions such as Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and other growth regions.

A broader agenda involves three declared strategic imperatives, each betting big on what IDC defined as the “Third Platform” of computing, namely Big Data Analytics, Cloud and Mobile.

The first IBM imperative is to leverage market opportunities in an all-in effort to transform industries thru leveraging use of advanced Big Data, analytics and applications technologies.  Stated is that two-thirds of IBM’s Research efforts are now devoted to data, analytics and cognitive computing.  Over $24 billion has been invested thus far in this area, with 15,000 consultants and 400 mathematicians focused on data-driven initiatives. This includes IBM Watson Group which alone consists of 2000 people and a $1 billion investment in ecosystem partners.

The second declared strategic imperative relates to transforming enterprise IT infrastructure for the new paradigm of cloud computing. The letter notes that in 2013, $4.4 billion in revenues originated from IBM’s cloud segments, a 69 percent increase. Approximately $7 billion on 15 acquisitions have been invested to-date to support this initiative. That includes the acquisition of SoftLayer, noted above, which is now characterized as the foundation of Big Blue’s cloud infrastructure level moving forward. Other elements are noted as a “cloud-first” approach for all IBM software development labs globally coupled with a new class of “cloud middleware services” to manage complex environments. IBM is further expanding its global cloud footprint from the current 25 data centers to 40 data centers strategically spread globally.  This is obviously an effort directed at countering cloud computing providers Amazon, Apple, EMC, Oracle and others.

The third strategic imperative is to enable “systems of engagement” for enterprises. That should be music to many supply chain and B2B/B2C focused teams. Quoted are forecasts that in just two years 57 percent of companies now expect to devote more than a quarter of their IT investments in this specific area. Unstated but implied is that the implication is that business focused teams will drive and own more of the final say in technology selection and adoption. This area is about leveraging social media based tools, mobile based interaction and computing needs. Over a dozen acquisitions have been initiated thus far to support this imperative. IBM is further leading by example, launching an internal Connections social platform supporting 300,000 users and 200,000 communities. Client Collaboration Hubs have also been formed to support collaboration and coordination directed at IBM’s top 300 accounts.

Many of today’s enterprise technology vendors hype their efforts for investing in cloud and other “Third Platform” computing support strategies and the reality is that this is indeed a high-stakes effort as to which vendors will dominate the future technology landscape.  IBM is not the only vendor that is quickly altering its strategic agenda, betting over $30 billion to-date on the new technologies that will form the landscape of future IT technology needs. Not all vendors have that clout as well as existing reach and mind-share, and this represents the high-stakes of this massive competition for technology dominance.

In prior commentaries, Supply Chain Matters noted that IBM’s most significant challenge was in cutting through layers of organization to harvest strategic investments into compelling solution offerings for customers, much quicker than others in the market.  It would appear that the company is starting to internalize that very need, including leveraging the use of “systems of engagement” for its own internal needs to accelerate time to benefit for its B2B and B2C customers.

For the product management, supply chain, and B2B/B2C networks community, the added proof points are the declared IBM strategic imperatives applied to the key competency components that make up IBM’s Smarter Commerce portfolio.  This coming May, the annual Global Smarter Commerce Summit once again convenes, and we, along with others, will be seeking and probing for evidence of harvesting strategic investments to dramatically enable faster, smarter and more timely value-chain business process capabilities for manufacturers, retailers and services providers. That is where the rubber truly hits the road in strategic imperatives.

Bob Ferrari

© 2014, The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog.  All rights reserved.


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