I2 looks to technology rollout for a rebound

Von Marc L.

Supply chain management software maker i2 Technologies Inc. is attempting to further its rebound by rolling out new technology for retailers and manufacturers and forming partnerships to bolster the integration of its applications. At the i2 Directions 2004 user conference here, executives from the Dallas-based company also outlined i2"s vision for what they called the closed-loop supply chain, a combination of technology and processes that allow customers to cut costs, boost supply chain efficiency and help them resolve glitches with on-the-fly work-arounds.

Best practices around that system are crucial for success, and with that in mind, CEO Sanjiv Sidhu emphasized the differences between simply creating a forecast and implementing a full-scale supply chain plan.

In his keynote speech yesterday, Sidhu said that a full-scale supply chain plan "is something you commit to. The concept of a plan is having accountability and being something you live in and die in to make it happen."

I2 officials also discussed the next generation of its Supply Chain Operating Services framework, on which the closed-loop supply chain is based. The architecture relies on Web services and other technologies to enable things such as master data management and data synchronization capabilities. The company is also making its products available as components that can be readily snapped into legacy or third-party installations.

"You don"t have to do rip and replace," said Sidhu.

In addition, i2 plans to roll out enhancements specific to retail and manufacturing customers in the upcoming release of its Six.Two suite, said Pallab Chatterjee, president of solutions operations. The upgrade, due to ship next June, will have an optimized retail application that can consolidate financial planning, replenishment and merchandising capabilities. Customers will also get added supply chain visibility so they can more efficiently manage inventory at the shelf level, get accurate data on shortages or excesses and take appropriate action, said Chatterjee.

Another enhancement will allow retail customers who need to update their systems with new stock-keeping unit information to load it on the fly, a process that can now take days.

For manufacturers, i2 will be beefing up the software to more efficiently execute material management and replenishment processes and feed relevant data into back-end ERP systems. i2 also plans to partner with companies that focus on industries such as telecommunications, which rely on i2"s master data management technologies and back-end software to build companywide workflows for processes such as claims processing, he said.

Several customers expressed confidence about i2"s prospects, despite the company"s decline, employee layoffs and legal troubles. The company recently posted a profit, drastically cut costs, resolved its legal woes and now intends to take steps for a stock market relisting.

Anecdotally, the company"s health appears to be improving, and the Dallas-based i2 User Group has seen an increase in membership during the past year, according to the organization"s president, Leanne Marshall.

Marshall is also the supply chain capacity planning manager at textile and yarn manufacturer National Textiles LLC in Winston-Salem, N.C. The company runs i2"s supply chain planner application.

"We"ve struggled alongside them in the last year or two, and the user group saw a drop in membership as i2 stopped selling to new accounts," Marshall said. "We were feeling the pain with them, but in the last year, we"ve seen a turnaround. People are making the decision to upgrade.

"We all have a vested interest (in i2"s survival)," she added. "Most of us shudder ... at the thought of having to start over. We"re mature users who are happy with our solutions."

I2"s move to improve its architecture to make it easier to integrate is a "no-brainer," Marshall said, since companies go with best-of-breed vendors, and ease of integration is crucial.

Sidhu"s comments about the need for a disciplined supply chain plan resonated with Mike Stevens, leader of trailer fleet services at Stamford, Conn.-based GE Equipment Services. The company uses i2"s demand manager, forecasting and supply chain planning tools to manage its fleet of 125,000 trailers. The software uses three years of historical data to make demand projections for use by the sales force.

For the system to work well, extensive participation by workers at GE Equipment Services is needed -- and those involved need to be given incentives to do so. "This needs to be managed, and people have to be accountable for the results," Stevens said.

Overall, Stevens has been pleased with the product so far, although he said he would like to see the user interface simplified and the menu written in plain English. "If I don"t understand it, the sales force won"t either. i2 is a strong technical company, but they have to make the interface have a Forrest Gump look before it hits the market."