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Silvon Software chief: Consistency is key to analytics

Keeping tabs on every transaction in your supply chain and analyzing the data can clearly help you become more profitable and better serve customers. But supply chain analytics does come with some challenges. Westmont, Ill.-based Silvon Software Inc. markets business performance management analytics applications for the manufacturing, wholesale distribution and retail industries. Just off the launch of its latest applications set, Stratum 3.0, Silvon president and co-founder Mike Hennel sat down with SearchCRM to detail his company's approach to the market and discuss the developing arena of analytics for the supply chain sector.

What are the largest challenges in analyzing supply chain data?
These companies have focused on automating all of their transactional systems but they haven't done much with analytics. The good news is that they've got all the transactional systems in place. They've got lots of data. Especially with the trend moving toward smaller transactions across the board, they've begun to churn more data. The systems are capturing the information but they're still using spreadsheets to manage the business. So there's something in place, but we estimate that only about 5% of the supply chain market is satisfied with what's out there at present. Do you find that these companies have a good idea of where they need to go with shifting business process to adopt the new technology?
A lot of customers don't know where to start. They're concerned about getting involved in a project that becomes a never-ending scenario and costs too much. They prefer the incremental approach, which is actually very beneficial because it gives the ability for internal change management. If they get people thinking about how to shift principal operations and improve upon them first, obviously any technology will be more effective when it is applied. What's your take on the business performance management piece of the pie for these verticals?
There are a lot of parallels to the discussion of analytics. When we look at supply chain analytics we know it's an area that's only starting to emerge. For customers it makes so much sense in terms of tracking all the elements of their business from production to payment. Business performance management is an unavoidable aspect of all this. In the past these companies tried to build systems to speak to these needs themselves and there was little done beyond basic sales analysis. Where do you see the analytics market today?
Analytics was largely left out of the CRM picture for a long time in these industries, so there is still a learning curve. People collected data and couldn't figure out how to use it or they'd decide that the data they collected wasn't of a high enough quality to do much, but that's changing. The good news is that customer analytics has really picked up and there's also an increasing level of competition. Whenever you look at other people coming into your space it's a good thing because it validates the space. It raises awareness. How do you think your specialized supply chain approach stacks up against the larger players operating across the CRM and analytics space? How do customers receive the best-of-breed concept when there are others preaching one-stop shopping?
Clearly there's more competition every day. However, it's still highly fragmented. You don't see the same players bidding for every deal. You have to look at where different companies are coming from in terms of customer facing data. That data sits in a lot of different sources. It doesn't just sit in Siebel environments. It's part in the order management system; it's spread throughout the enterprise. You have to have an approach that centralizes that information and then feeds the other sub-systems that need it. If you need to get it out to the sales reps and you're using Siebel, great. Have that repository feed your Siebel system. But I think you have to take an enterprise approach. The issue for customers isn't just managing the data that sits in a CRM system, or just sits in an ERP system or their supply chain system. It's managing all that data across the enterprise and making sure that you've got the consistency. You don't want to speak one language about customers in your CRM system versus another way that you look at customers in your order management system. You have to make sure that you've got that enterprise-wide consistency.

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