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

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