TAMPA – John Mesberg, IBM Corp.’s vice-president of commerce solutions, oversees a broad a portfolio of products and services for procurement, supply chain and e-commerce buyers of technology that companies can match.

It’s so wide that he jokes his division is the Berkshire-Hathaway of IBM, referring to the U.S. conglomerate headed by Warren Buffett that owns a railroad, insurance company, Dairy Queen, an underwear maker, and a jewelry chain among other firms, not to mention significant stakes in a range of companies (including IBM).

Mesberg’s fiefdom includes the IBM Sterling family of products, WebSphere Transformation Extender, IBM Standards Processing Edition and Emptoris procurement suite of products, WebSphere Commerce, CPLEX and Decision Optimization Center.

So he knows a bit about the mistakes organizations make when they look for solutions linking them with partners and suppliers.

“These can be very complex, challenging implementations,” he said in an interview here during IBM’s annual SmarterCommerce conference. “When clients take on these implementations without considering what it takes to bring on 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 suppliers on board they can be in for a rude surprise, because it’s not a technology problem – it’s a program management problem. How do you get several thousand companies to bend to your will to accommodate your needs? They don’t move at your pace.”

IBM can do the integration or run things as a managed service. But that wasn’t his point.

“This is not an area where clients should go without their eyes wide open,” he said, even though technically there’s no reason why they can’t do the integration themselves.”

Mesberg is at the show to announce several new offerings for organizations to get closer to suppliers and partners.
One is IBM Multi-Enterprise Relationship Management (MRM), a cloud platform to be launched in June that essentially links the company’s Emptoris procurement solutions to its Sterling B2B e-commerce network.

IBM bought Emptoris two years ago because it offers powerful solutions to help organizations manage supplier lifecycle – from choosing to evaluating partners. But what was missing, Mesberg said, was the middle part – the ability to run electronic transactions between the organization and suppliers over IBM’s Sterling B2B network

“With Multi Enterprise Relationship Management we now have the tools managed on the cloud for our clients to make their partner or supplier selection – or large communities of customers – and to choose an electronic interchange, test and onboard them.”

He calls MRM “a community management building tool,” one that not only uses Sterling for electronic data exchange, but also, thanks to a set of APIs, the ability to connect to other transaction providers.

IBM says MRM will cut the “often tedious” task of onboarding suppliers.

For customers using the Sterling B2B Network who are frustrated by its reporting limitations, Mesberg also announced relief: Sterling B2B Services Reporting and Analytics, which allows business uses to create ad-hoc reports on transactions. Users can drag and drop data into pre-defined cubes. “We’ve built a very flexible framework for them,” Mesberg said.

It can be used, for example, by a manger who wants to know which suppliers of products have met their service level agreements, and of those that didn’t which had an impact on the business – perfect for a meeting with the supplier.

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