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According to Craig Rawlings, Supply Chain Management Leader — IBM Global Business Services, the integration of various supply chain areas such as planning, operations and logistics through the use of SOA is the really big thing coming down the line for the supply chain IT industry.

“Supply chain and logistics software solutions will expose web services that can be easily integrated into business process workflows,” he says.

“This will allow the development of composite applications that span multiple vendor solutions.”

“An example of such composite applications is the adaptive agent-driven supply chain solution where software agents that are developed using SOA would monitor events within the supply chain for exceptions.”

“Exceptions would then be escalated to the supply chain planning web services to determine if any of the plans would require repair,” he says.

“The repaired plans would then be sent to the supply chain execution web services for execution. In the meantime, this would all be displayed to planners through SOA enabled supply chain dashboards.”

Other solutions of the future include those that leverage the internet as a B2B communication/messaging channel.

“An example of this is SOA business process across organisations, facilitating the development of the virtual supply chain as seen in industries such as Automotive and Electronics where solutions reach across organisational boundaries to include contract manufacturers and suppliers,” Rawlings says.

Craig Rawlings says IBM’s approach to the development and implementation of supply chain solutions encompasses three key areas.

First is a deeper client focus — the development of solutions through collaboration with clients to ensure that the solutions meet their specific requirements.

“Next is differentiated solutions and services, through the development of SOA enabled Intellectual Asset Based solutions,” he explains.

“Finally, we leverage our global intellectual capital and human capital to meet our client needs, including the use of Global Delivery centres in India, Europe, ASEAN and China.”

Rawlings says IBM customers seek to innovate and develop global business models with supporting processes across multiple regions and organisations.

“In order to do this effectively, they are looking for supply chain visibility across multiple vendor solutions, sustainability, traceability and compliance functionality and an extensible IT architecture based on SOA to allow supply chain enhancements.”

“In addition, customers want supply chain optimisation with a bottom line focus, to counter effects of increasingly competitive and decreasingly profitable sectors/industries; and a top-line focus to enable greater customer service levels and customer experience differentiation,” Rawlings explains.

Opportunities for IBM lie in managing sustainability issues, the explosion of SOA, asset management, and supply chain optimisation solutions such as inventory optimisation and network optimisation.

“Asset Management provides visibility of an organisation’s key assets through its entire life cycle across multiple organisations, sites and regions,” he says.

“With the increased focus on sustainability within the supply chain we’ve also developed a solution to address regulatory compliance around carbon emissions which is generating great interest among our customers.”

“Equally, inventory management and optimisation, which focus on reducing working capital through the optimisation of inventory held within the supply chain and balancing supply and demand within the supply chain are still high on the agenda.”

Rawlings says there’s no doubt that consolidation within the IT industry will continue, with SAP and Oracle remaining dominant.

“For the remaining best-of-breed software vendors, these pressures will require the adoption of an SOA strategy to allow their solutions to easily integrate into an SAP or Oracle architecture,” he says.

“Customers will need to consider their key requirements and the need for differentiated solutions to determine whether they will take a best-of-breed or single vendor strategy,” he predicts.

“However, the uptake of SOA will increasingly facilitate cross vendor solutions.”

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