Some application solutions providers have gone beyond just applications to provide a community of solutions — a platform. Creating a ‘build’ environment or suite used to be the domain of the mega-players like Microsoft or Oracle. But now, many new Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) providers also provide platforms and tools including cloud hosting of your solutions.
More than a strategy to sell tools and database products, NetSuite and Salesforce got into the game to provide a broader suite of partner-developed applications that met IT departments’ need for integration. In the case of force.com, this truly represents a strategy for world domination: getting technology companies to create robust applications that can talk to other members of the force.com community in the cloud and move away from Oracle, for example.
A few months back, I attended the Intelligent InSites Build conference for their partners. This is a healthcare model for connected care — an extended enterprise solution which leverages the RESTful API (Representational State Transfer) web services approach.1 One of the benefits of this approach is that the partners can still develop their unique applications and support them on their own servers as well as comply with the architecture requirements of the community. (Let there be some space in our togetherness.) Enterprises benefit since the requirement of a fully integrated set of solutions can be met. But unlike an ERP, they don’t have to buy what they don’t want.
Of course, this approach has broader applicability than just for a single enterprise. In fact, the platform approach is a perfect fit for supply chains, where each enterprise might have some of their own apps, but also need to share data with trading partners.
The most recent entry into the platform world, and for supply chain, is TradeCard. We spoke extensively with TradeCard about their technology and the value this capability brings to their network of customers and partners. TradeCard got its start in the trade financial market at the birth of the internet with a strong presence in Asia. In the decade past as their network began to have more and more trading partners in common, many, many supply chain applications were added. TradeCard now has a rich capability of B2B applications — the links in the chain are automated. This is not just for planning use, as many cloud visibility solutions are, but also to provide a single source for transaction management. This allows multi-party processes to share the single version of the truth between them.
Using RESTful web services, customers can not only create new APIs, but also build brand new applications, including mobile. These apps can then integrate, and read and write to the customer’s database or their Tradecard data.2 All this sits on top of the Tradecard database and workflow processes.
TradeCard, unlike NetSuite or force.com, provides this on top of the single-instance TradeCard database. Pretty tricky to pull off. What is truly impressive, though, is the dynamism and collaborative potential of an on demand approach to the applications and data.
Such a rich approach to configuring the partners with whom a customer shares data or applications can allow the creation of specific new workflows and collaborative approaches across their supply chains. Think of this: instead of dealing with hundreds of endpoints for all your trading partners, you can share an app across your domain of partners. If you think about these RESTful platform options today, they open a new world of platform configurability and openness amongst a whole supply chain of partners. It enables them to share their innovative code, data, etc. to enhance the process performance in their supply chains.
In essence, TradeCard is leveraging much of the service frameworks’ approaches (Figure 1). Customers can engage with Tradecard as their SaaS provider, but also take advantage of AppXpress to develop more applications and data.
Conclusion: World Domination?
This platform approach — PaaS + SaaS — goes beyond the SaaS provider who may host unique databases for each tenant, and/or single instance code. For TradeCard, it allows the significant enhancement of their network advantage, as well as effectively engaging partners who will adopt their approach. For customers, these richer options provide real flexibility to manage their supply chain. But platforms of this type are a huge investment and require commitment — and ambition.
The reality is that there are just so many applications, data sources, companies, processes, and use cases — way beyond one company’s ability to dominate the world. However, the ability to absorb all these complexities without forcing a single solution (a UN approach, I think) is what TradeCard is really after.
In the last few years, so many customers who use these cloud supply-chain solutions from Descartes, MercuryGate, GT Nexus (now part of TradeCard), E2open, One Network, Amber Road, and many others, have been asking these players to make the integration between their clouds work to provide better workflow and improve information cycle time.
TradeCard’s approach achieves this goal, handsomely, allowing the world to talk together.
1. This uses the web for distributed computing rather than as a client server. The ‘host’ has to support a high-demand and failsafe infrastructure. This web service approach is used by Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others to support the linking and passing of web pages, data, on-demand code, etc. You can read about it on Wikipedia.— Return to article text above
2. Third-party developers who are partners of TradeCard can also develop on this platform.— Return to article text above
To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.