Commerce One Rolls out Conductor

"Composite application" platform aims to fill gaps in enterprise process automation

Pleasanton, CA  March 25, 2003  Commerce One this week rolled out Conductor, its new composite applications platform designed to let organizations more quickly and easily connect and coordinate business processes across their enterprises and between customers and partners, while at the same time getting more out of their current technology infrastructure.

Several Commerce One customers have already been piloting Conductor, including Eastman Chemical, which discussed the project in an interview with iSource Business (see below).

Commerce One, which made its name as one of the pioneers of e-procurement applications, argued that despite years of working to automate their processes, companies still suffer from significant gaps in their business process automation initiatives, with existing applications only automating some 60 percent of any given process and adjacent or unique processes left un-automated.

The answer to this dilemma, Commerce One asserted, can be found in "composite applications" that can dynamically combine and connect functionality and data from heterogeneous applications to support cross-functional and multi-organization business processes. "Composite applications focus on flexibly enabling business processes, independent of the technology that supports them," said Narry Singh, Commerce One's chief marketing officer.

Conductor's architecture is designed to lower the time and cost of creating and deploying composite applications, as compared to the alternative of using a combination of multiple point technologies like business process management (BPM), enterprise application interface (EAI), portals, identity management and various design tools.

Through a graphical user interface, business analysts can compose end-to-end business processes and add new application features and functions that complement customers' existing systems. Commerce One said that the resultant composite applications transcend the limitations of enterprise applications by enabling companies to gain new value from their existing systems and to bridge the gaps between disparate applications. (See below for a breakdown of the components in Conductor.)

Conductor in Practice at Eastman

At long-time Commerce One customer Eastman Chemical, the chemical manufacturer is working on a project to use Conductor to connect its SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to its Commerce One procurement systems, according to Eddie Page, manager for e-MRO at Eastman.

Eastman first engaged with Commerce One in 1998, implementing the provider's e-procurement platform and commencing transactions through the system in 1999. Eastman has since upgraded three times, the latest round, to Procure 5.6, having been completed in the last month. The chemical company currently runs Commerce One's application at all its U.S. sites (about a dozen altogether) and at its three Singapore sites, too.

For the new initiative with Commerce One, Eastman is using Conductor in a pilot project that the chemical company hopes will provide a cost-effective means to connect its SAP ERP system to Commerce One Procure in order to streamline the reconciliation process for procurement card (p-card) transactions in Procure.

"What we're doing with Conductor," Page explained, "is using it as the vehicle to verify an account code that might be entered by a user in Commerce One, to verify that against data in SAP and ensure that it is a valid account code.

"We'll store that data in the Commerce One Procure database. Later, we'll use the data to post the credit card charges against the proper account code. By doing that, we'll save the user from having to come back into the system after his or her p-card charges have occurred and reallocate the charges manually."

Page said the benefits would come in the form of improved accuracy since today the manual reallocation process does not have any verification and people may make mistakes when they enter account codes. "And we'll also have them enter the data one time, upfront, when they create their order [in Procure], which will save several minutes per transaction," Page added.

The connection was due to go live on April 1, but Page said Eastman made some changes on its end that pushed the go-live to mid-April. Once the connection is up and running, the company will do testing for two or three weeks in a development environment with a select set of users using dummy transactions. Assuming that goes well, Page expects Eastman to roll the new process out to all users within four or five weeks.

Looking ahead, Page said that  again, assuming that everything works out well in the initial pilot  Eastman may explore additional touchpoints between SAP and Commerce One. For example, currently Eastman handles non-inventoried procurement items through Commerce One and both inventoried and non-inventoried items in SAP. Eventually, Page said, the chemical company may look to use Conductor as the tool for creating a single interface in Procure that allows users to order both inventoried and non-inventoried goods.

More Pilot Projects

Besides Eastman, other companies that have been working with a pre-release version of Conductor include BOC Gases, Enporion and MSX.

BOC Gases is using Conductor platform to expedite its ordering processes by exposing internal product codes and specifications directly to its customers. In this way, customers have the ability to take advantage of specific details of any available pre-mixed gas directly on BOC Gases' internal systems before choosing to configure a custom mix to suit their needs.

"In addition to offering vendor-managed inventory directly to customers with internal applications distributing both bulk and cylinder gases, BOC plans to develop more advanced processes that will provide customers with deeper visibility into the data and move the transaction from BOC's billing system right through to the customer's inventory management system," said Kathy West from BOC Gases. "The new business process, with the help of Commerce One Conductor, will give key customers immediate visibility into critical data, such as product details, billing information, cylinder levels and specification sheets. Ultimately, BOC is aiming for end-to-end automation of its supply network processes."

Enporion, an oil and gas utility consortium, is using the Conductor platform to offer spend analysis reporting for its users. Conductor allows Enporion to extract spend information from supply chain purchasing transactions passing through its exchange, allowing both buyers and suppliers to generate on demand reports through Enporion's Web interface.

MSX, an automotive procurement outsourcing provider, installed the Conductor platform to automate and add value to the interaction between its Commerce One procurement application and internal JD Edwards financial systems. With Conductor, MSX is able to automatically configure invoice matching and payment authorization to provide customers with direct control to configure their solutions and eliminate the need for manual set up.

"We expect to see as much as a 50 percent reduction in cycle times, and a similar reduction in costs associated with developing custom integration interfaces by leveraging the composite application creation, connection and coordination capabilities possible with Commerce One Conductor," said Troy Gazette of MSX.

Other companies piloting Conductor include Open GIS Consortium, Industrial Technology Research Institute (Taiwan), Siemens and UCCNet. Singh noted in an interview that four of the piloting companies were not previously Commerce One customers.

Pieces of the Conductor Puzzle

The various components of the Conductor platform include:

  • Registry
    The key to the Conductor platform's flexibility and adaptability is its central and shared Registry. User and system interfaces are defined as services in the Registry. To dynamically execute these services in their correct context, the Registry also maintains definitions of user roles and access, systems, business processes, data schemas, transformation maps, choreographies, rules and security requirements.

    Relationships, interactions and attributes of every item defined in the platform can be maintained, modified, mixed and matched from the services and definitions held and shared in the Registry. This abstraction of key attributes of composite processes, users and services allows for lower total cost of ownership, Commerce One argues. Through the Registry, the time consuming and difficult work of creating and maintaining adapter connections and business relationships is automated across the network of internal and external participants.

  • Interoperability Engine
    Meanwhile, an Interoperability Engine provides document-level interoperability across applications participating in the business process. Working with the Registry, it determines the document formats, locations, security requirements and various other required characteristics to connect to the applications. The Interoperability Engine performs transformation and versioning, message and document security, signatures, routing and transport needed for secure, reliable interoperation.

    In addition, Commerce One said that in situations where a customer already has an EAI or B2B integration (B2Bi) infrastructure deployed, the Interoperability Engine can leverage these investments. Via gateways, the Interoperability Engine can also connect into existing electronic data interchange (EDI) infrastructures that a customer may have deployed.

  • Process Manager
    The Process Manager is the run-time engine where the business process is executed from the services accessed by the Interoperability Engine. When processes change, versions are upgraded, or new applications are added, the Process Manager uses the Registry to dynamically make the changes. Also included are reporting and analysis tools and the ability to present services for manual user input through a graphical user interface.

  • Graphical Process Builder (GPB)
    The GPB allows a business analyst to visually construct business processes from the resources listed and defined in the Registry. Processes can be reused or combined to create new functionality or to leverage differing registry resources inside the same process structure.

  • Design Suite
    The Design Suite provides the tools required to create business processes and composite applications. These include the Graphical Process Builder, UI Framework, Common Object Framework and XML tools.

  • Systems Management
    The Systems Management component handles message tracking, component monitoring, topology management, installation, configuration and initial data loading for participating services.

As an extension to the Conductor platform, Commerce One plans to release "process accelerators" that will provide ready-to-run business processes that can be implemented within the Conductor platform. These accelerators will address common business processes, such as supply and demand planning and management, invoice handling and commonly accepted best practices. The accelerators will be developed both internally by Commerce One and externally by the provider's business and integrations partners.

Similar to the process accelerators, the Conductor platform will take advantage of the library of existing Commerce One supplier relationship management (SRM) applications to provide specific business process functionality to complement the platform.

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