Collaborative commerce (c-commerce) is the latest e-commerce and internal operations effort to hit the enterprise. The goal of c-commerce is to join together enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), and e-procurement to create one intelligible system that seamlessly integrates commerce applications, from supplier to customer. While clearly exciting, it’s not an easy undertaking, as these pieces don’t necessarily always flow well together.

To make a foray into c-commerce, organizations must prepare their ERP applications, back-office legacy applications, and find ways to improve and ready in-house processes in order to become part of a collaborative approach.

In this article, I’ll discuss another critical area that can make or break a c-commerce effort: front-office applications, or customer relationship management (CRM). I’ll also review what J.D. Edwards, a leader in the c-commerce movement, has done and learned in regard to CRM strategy and integration.

Getting in the right position
As part of its mission to deliver integrated c-commerce applications, J.D. Edwards acquired YOUcentric, Inc., a privately held software provider with more than 110 CRM product components—from account management, contact management, and customer service call handling, to CTI support and support for wireless data access (WAP-enabled cell phones, Palm platform, pagers). An additional acquisition incentive was YOUcentric’s flexible Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) technology—a good fit with J.D. Edwards’ OneWorld Xe’s workflow integration toolkit, called XPI.

In addition, J.D. Edwards adopted YOUcentric’s unique approach to software development: Start with an organization’s business processes, choose the appropriate products and customize where needed, create new components if necessary, and weave them all together.

With a new CRM strategy in the palm of his hand, Bob Dutkowsky, J.D. Edwards’ chairman/CEO/president and cofounder, said the company is eager to provide customers with visibility into the complete supply chain. That visibility is provided through functions such as order status, self-quoting, ATP (available to promise), shipping and delivery status, joint planning, graphical configuration of products, and even a customer view into accounts receivable.

It’s all part of J.D. Edwards’ philosophy of making the customer the focal point of the front end which, in turn, will make the customer the focal point for all organizations within the value chain. It’s a simple yet powerful philosophy: Just as CRM is driving major structural and philosophical change within front-end supply organizations, change will be necessary all the way through the value chain to ensure that participants are collaborating effectively to meet customer demand.

Delving into c-commerce, part 3

The buzzword today is “collaborative commerce.” In parts one (“Preparing the enterprise chain for c-commerce”) and two (“ERP: A roadblock en route to collaboration”), we examined the new e-business approach and how your ERP system must be integrated for powerful c-commerce involvement. In future installments, we’ll examine how supply chain management plays into the c-commerce project.

The drive behind the leap into c-commerce
Yet just because the Tier 1 ERP vendor is making a leap into the CRM space doesn’t mean all c-commerce-thinking customers should line up at J.D. Edwards’ doors. But clearly, most customers will benefit from learning about its strategy and the specific forces behind its foray into c-commerce.

Today, customers are armed with more information than ever before, and technology advances, increased competitiveness, and market maturity make switching suppliers much easier in industries that were once able to lock their customers in. At the same time, product life cycles are shortening, which is increasing competitive pressure as suppliers attempt to maximize sales in a reduced window of opportunity. As a result, the customer is more empowered than ever before, while suppliers are under ever-increasing pressure to improve their ability to meet demand.

While businesses have typically been structured around the products and services they sell, now that structure focuses on the customers they serve. Barriers between departments are beginning to collapse as companies take an enterprisewide perspective of the customer base and begin understanding issues involved in a wide variety of functions, including sales, marketing, finance, and support in the context of the customer.

CRM, when done right, is a platform that manages the entire life cycle of a company’s products, from design to marketing, selling, and servicing. It also means that the life-cycle production process will no longer be linear. In other words, marketing and sales will help determine product design and product build based on interactions with customers.

As Dave Siebert, J.D. Edwards’ group vice president of worldwide software and channel operations, said, “Those who will win with c-commerce are those who can put together CRM in the most effective way to drive cost out of their business, increase customer satisfaction and loyalty, and improve response and delivery time.”

And the winner is: Flexible Java
To win, as Siebert described, flexibility is a must. It was no accident that J.D. Edwards acquired a company that happened to write Java technology into most of its applications. J2EE has firmly established itself as the platform of choice for developing and deploying enterprise applications. Hundreds of software products from hundreds of vendors are based on the J2EE platform, including many production-class Internet services.

J2EE serves as an important form of middleware to connect Net users with applications running in the enterprise, giving new life to legacy systems while providing employees information needed to make better decisions and be more productive. J2EE is also helping organizations to better manage the network and run back-office operations, such as billing.

The time is now
For all its promise, however, many experts predict that c-commerce initiatives won’t take off until 2004 at the earliest, due to the current economic temperature, according to Brian Zrimsek, research director at Gartner Group. He warned, though, that while it’s two years off, there’s plenty to do with c-commerce today.

“If you have c-commerce on your plate for the future, there are some things you need to start looking at now,” he said, such as cleaning up data and in-house systems, including CRM applications. J.D. Edwards is already mapping out its next step: integrating all YOUcentric CRM pieces with its own ERP, SCM, and Advanced Planning applications this year.

Obviously, it’s not too late—or too early, for that matter—to start working on your organization’s c-commerce effort.