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Things that make you go hmm… – What is i2 upto?

SupplyChainDigest reports on what i2 plans as its “Next Generation” solution in the supply chain space.
Whatever i2 is pushing is based on its Agile Business Process Platform (ABPP) – so it helps to ask what exactly is the ABPP? ABPP is explained on i2’s website as:

The i2 Agile Business Process Platform is a finely tuned, synergistic development suite designed to support new-generation supply chain management solutions.

Alright, what does that distil down to?

This new-generation platform functions much like a “factory”, in which standardized application components such as data models, business rules, user interfaces (UI), and business workflows can quickly be assembled and then adapted to meet company-specific business and market needs. The platform can bring greater speed, agility, quality, and cost-efficiency to any supply chain.

I have a lot of experience, way back in 1998-2000, working with Labview from National Instruments which is a prototype systems software development tool that I used in the R&D labs. And the above description by i2 sounds a lot like a Labview type of environment within which a business can structure its supply chain planning, design and development processes. More details about the ABPP:

The platform makes up a comprehensive environment for supply chain management application development, including:
Core platform services. Including distributed process modeling, execution and monitoring, business rules definition, and web and rich-content UI generation.
Data services. With extensive supply chain data models and processes for validation, synchronization, staging, and aggregation.
Integration services. From bulk data transport and mapping to web services support for messaging and generic EAI.
Application development. With a proven studio environment for the integrated development, modeling, testing, deployment, and maintenance of new solutions.

Now, that is something to look forward to and I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later. However, I would like to see how successful i2’s efforts are going to be in bringing a client’s organization up to speed on using even half of the functionalities described above. Will it turn out that i2 itself would have to invest a significant portion of resources to develop templates that will be adapted by the end-user. Or will there be special programmers such as ABAP programmers who do such customization. Time wil tell.
Back to the SupplyChainDigest article:

John Cummings of i2’s chief marketing officer says, “Historically, not enough of customer spending on SCM solutions went to true process innovation. Next generation supply chain is also about trying to change that.”

So here we have the notion that process innovation is going to be spurred within a firm by bringing in a tool from i2. Really? I don’t think so. What could happen is that in firm’s that have truly grasped and implemented process innovation is going to find i2’s tools more than helpful in building up a significant competitive advantage. But the source of that competitive advantage resides in the process innovation that prexisted the arrival of a tool but the extent of success derived would be greatly assisted by a tool such as that envisioned by i2.

John Cummings continues, “If you look at the Plan-Do-Check Act model, we’ve always been able to deliver the “Plan-Do” part, but not necessarily been able to close the loop on that and get to “Check-Act”.

All he is saying is confirming the view expressed above. The success of the PDCA model, a continuous process improvement methodology, is that it is a competency that pre-exists any tool that is brought in from the outside. In fact, I’d think that it is not dependent on any tool. But the next sentiment gets my undivided attention:

Now we like to do what I call “managing while tuning” the supply chain, tuning all the parameters in the planning cycle to make sure you’re getting the right answers.

I’d hazard a guess that John Cummings has a systems background of some sort, either in education or in some previous work experience capacity. “Managing while tuning” is so fine an art which is unfortunately not taught in any school except in control theory and perhaps then only for control systems and not for general systems that abstract control models – such as the activities of the firm. However, in the world at large, we usually “Manage while tinkering” which is just about the opposite of “Manage while tuning” which implies a strong grasp on the fundamentals of how to structure and execute the firm’s activities. But I’m impressed at the sweep of what i2’s tinkering with here.
More from John Cummings:

What struggled a little bit with what to name it, but it

Category: Reviews, Supply Chain Management, Supply Chain News, Supply Chain Software

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