Are Open-Source Data Interchange Standards for SaaS the Key to Radically Simple Supply Chains?

A couple of years ago, the Harvard Business Review ran an article on Radically Simple IT that noted that the fundamental problem with enterprise IT projects, which continue to be a headache for business leaders, is that these systems are constructed using a cathedral approach. Like the great cathedrals erected in Europe in the middle ages, enterprise IT projects are costly, take a great deal of time, and deliver value only when the project is completed. Furthermore, they yield systems that are inflexible and cement companies into functioning the way their businesses worked several years ago, when the project started.

What’s needed are systems that can be improved — rapidly and continuously — well after they’ve gone live. The systems should be built on a “path-based” approach that provides a path for the system to be developed over time. After all, it’s difficult and costly to map out all requirements before a project starts because people often cannot specify everything they’ll need beforehand.

Given the rapid escalation of supply chain systems, designs, regulation, and security requirements, it’s pretty much impossible to map out all of the requirements of a supply chain systems project before it starts. And even if it could be done, they’d just change tomorrow anyway! A new approach is definitely needed for developing and implementing systems that serve the supply chain, and I think we’re reaching the point where they will be born of necessity.

You see, even though there are now a number of big players out there that offer very broad solution suites, these suites are, still, for the most part restricted to sourcing and procurement, logistics and inventory management, or global trade and data exchange. While the footprints of each type of system is rapidly expanding within their respective domains, most systems are still not expanding beyond the comfort domains of the vendors providing the systems.

And to be honest, most vendors with expertise in sourcing and procurement, have little in logistics, inventory, or shop floor operations and most with expertise in logistics, inventory, or shop floor operations have little in global trade regulations and security requirements. The key is going to be the development of modular SaaS platforms that can interoperate using a common data language that is open and not owned by any single vendor. (Single vendor standards just build a single vendor eco-system, or a bigger Ariba Supply Network.) Just like the web was built on true open standards, next generation supply chains need to be as well. The question is, who will lead the effort and when will the major players buy in?

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