The synchronization and management of the Omni-channel customer fulfillment experience has fast become a complex problem for retail industry business management and supply chain teams. The added dimensions of taking orders online or from physical stores and fulfilling from multiple channels adds complexity and needs for smarter and more-informed decision-making.  Cost to serve and determining impact to profitability become ever more a challenge.

Yesterday, in conjunction with the Focus Connect 2014 event being held in Barcelona, JDA Software and IBM made a joint announcement that Supply Chain Matters believes demonstrates the ongoing importance and continued evolution of Supply Chain Control Tower (SCCT) support capabilities in the supply chain technology market. This announcement could also portray a possible broader relationship among these two technology providers in the months to come.

The specific announcement involves a joint collaboration among JDA and IBM development teams to address the need to process and fulfill retail industry Omni-channel orders in a more efficient and more intelligent manner. The approach calls for combining the elements of JDA’s warehouse management, demand planning and workforce planning business support capabilities (JDA Intelligent Fulfillment and Labor Productivity) with IBM’s Sterling Distributed Order Management network platform capabilities. In essence, this approach marries elements of supply chain planning and execution with an end-to-end order management and fulfillment platform that connects all channel participants. The combined capability is expected to be offered in either an on premise or cloud deployment option, the latter being supported by IBM’s SoftLayer business arm. The joint development effort is currently underway and according to the announcement, is expected to be available in late spring of 2015.

This author had the opportunity to speak with IBM regarding the joint announcement. Discussions among these two technology providers began in January of this year at the National Retail Federation (NRF) conference. Both companies have a rather strong market presence among global retailers and each was hearing customers speak to the increasingly complex challenges currently manifested in Omni-channel customer fulfillment, including the dynamic aspects of having to manage the tradeoffs of inventory, appropriate fulfillment location, transportation and labor requirement needs.  In May of this year, our Supply Chain Matters commentary associated with attendance at IBM’s Smarter Commerce Summit highlighted the evolving dimensions of Omni-channel and the needs to provide more predictive and prescriptive decision-making capabilities into the process.

The joint press release includes a quote from joint customer Lowe’s Home Improvement, and we were informed that both firms have identified interest from other unnamed retailers as well. Apparently, the original timetable called for announcement of joint product integrating JDA and IBM elements later in 2015, but it was obviously pushed-up to coincide with this week’s JDA customer event.

Our supply chain and B2B business community education series regarding SCCT has articulated that the concepts of control towers involve efforts to bring together supply chain planning and execution business process elements with enhanced intelligence and more predictive decision-making that can be provided in near real-time dimensions.  There have been a number of strategic movements underway among multiple supply chain, enterprise and ERP technology vendors to build, broaden or position SCCT capabilities.  We view this JDA-IBM joint announcement as yet another dimension of such efforts.  JDA has the potential to leverage a broader more feature-rich distributed order network platform that supports more dynamic process parameters while IBM garners access to deeper retail-specific supply chain planning and execution support functionality. We have been informed that JDA is building and architectural framework that supports plug-in capabilities from other vendors, similar to what we have heard from supply chain planning providers such as Steelwedge and its connection to the Salesforce.com platform. Similarly, supply chain business network provider E2open augmented supply chain planning and product management support capabilities with the acquisition of Icon-SCM and Serus Corporation respectively.

As noted in our previous commentaries, IBM has been integrating elements of Sterling order management and B2B messaging capabilities with its IBM Emptoris sourcing and procurement business suite, and has communicated efforts to bring the predictive elements of Watson decision-making to online fulfillment and supply chain synchronization challenges. Thus, the SCCT business process support elements continue to broaden from many dimensions and are a sign of what will transpire from SCCT support technology down the road.

In the meantime, readers and joint JDA and IBM customers should watch the ongoing joint efforts among both providers for further signs of what is to come.  Just like the prior announcement of the partnership among IBM and Apple, both parties provide the potential to remove the information integration burden for today’s highly complex supply chains.

Bob Ferrari

Disclosure: IBM, E2open and Steelwedge have current or prior business relationships with the Ferrari Consulting and Research Group, parent of the Supply Chain Matters blog.