Internet-based collaboration beats airport hassles

Mark O'Connell, CEO of supply chain vendor MatrixOne Inc. in Westford, Mass., recently spoke with Computerworld about the state of the market since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Q: Are companies putting supply chain projects on the back burner for financial reasons?

Not really. We're seeing the market be a little more conservative, but we're actually seeing more recognition that some very specific slices of supply chain management have a significant return on investment for customers. And those are the ones they're moving forward on. They're staying away from the generic supply chain management that will [allegedly] solve all their problems, and they're focusing on places where they can either reduce costs in a big way, reduce their inventories or defend the investment as having a pretty fast return measured in terms of real cash.

Research reports say that the fastest and highest productivity comes from product collaboration. More and more companies are pushing the engineering and design work out of their companies [to outsourcers]. The theory [behind the collaboration software] is to make it easy for you to harness all the ideas from your employees, suppliers and customers to bring the optimum amount of innovation to market. The goal is [to use software to automate the process of] getting multiple people at multiple companies to help you bring better products to market, all over the Internet.

Q: I know your company is involved in Southfield, Mich.-based Covisint LLC's supply chain project in the automotive industry. How's that going?

It's very exciting. There are two key things we're doing for them: The first is managing the interactions I was describing earlier. You could have a seat-belt manufacturer, a seat manufacturer and an automaker and get the engineers working together to collaborate on products.

The second is to put the purchasing of highly engineered, direct materials onto a Covisint portal powered by Matrix One. They can communicate to their entire supply chain and say, "Please bid on this project."

Q: How have the events of Sept. 11 changed the world of supply chain management?

It's been a shock to the system of the way we do business. People are afraid to fly to meetings. So now there's a general openness to try something different, to take the risk and make intellectual property available on the Internet and start to use collaboration software that can be used anywhere in the world.

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