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Road ahead for Sterling MCS & MCF Product Suite - An insight from Sterling Customer Connection 2009

The major theme of the Sterling Connect event for 2009 as expounded in great detail was around connecting and collaborating. The launch of the Sterling BIS suite was an obvious manifestation of that idea. However for those of us working with the Sterling MCS (erstwhile Comergent) and Sterling MCF, I picked up two key ideas which seemed to be of great interest and impact to practitioners and customers working on these applications.

For Sterling MCS, it was the projected move to port the application to the Sterling MCF like platform and architecture. This is expected to happen in multiple releases over the next 2 years or so. I believe the first release expects to incorporate the catalog and pricing functions of MCS within the platform offering. Having worked on both products, as a practitioner I applaud the move. The MCS platform could become a lot more extensible, configurable and upgrade friendly. New customers would benefit greatly from the richer catalog, pricing, configurator etc functionality which will now not only be bundled but will be integrated with the fulfillment suite.  However the major gap, I see with this approach is the impact to existing customers who have invested heavily on the current MCS platform. So far, I have not seen a clearly articulated point of view on what this move will bring to existing customers. There does not seem to be a very strong 'benefits' or new features story for these customers to redo their implementations to keep their upgrade and long term support paths clear. Also a clear upgrade path has not been worked out as yet to minimize the investments required by these existing customers. I do think that based on my conversation with Sterling engineering and product management, they are aware of these concerns. I do hope they come out with a comprehensive strategy to address some of these concerns of existing customers.

On the MCF side of the house, one key theme was around 'Multi Tenancy'. As a practitioner, I and my team when working in multi channel implementations have constantly faced the challenge of balancing out 'how much should be common' and 'how much should be kept separate' given the disparate nature of the selling channels. The benefits of keeping configuration and code common are obvious. The more common the processes and interfaces, the easier it is to ensure smooth cross channel operations. There is also significant lowering of TCO by having a common operations and support team. The disadvantages are loss in flexibility, potentially sub optimal processes for a particular channel and potentially longer and more expensive regression test cycles. In the case of Sterling being used in a 3 PL like scenario, there are also customer privacy imperatives where data and processes must be completely siloed while allowing ease of administrative maintenance.

Thus the move to support multiple entities on the same or multiple instances while maintaining the flexibility to have common configuration and integrations has great potential. The Sterling product has tried to enable this for some time for e.g. the choice to inherit configuration, the ability to setup enterprise specific event handlers etc. in the newer versions of the platform. During this conference they also spoke about how they are investing in enhancing this capability so that enterprises could even maintain different data schemas thus allowing more secure separation. However I perceive a gap at this point in time. As I have explained above, with the increased emphasis on multi or cross channel retailing, there is great benefit in keeping processes and integrations common across enterprises (say Retail and Direct). Thus a multi tenancy solution will not be complete if it does not address how the benefits of keeping processes common can be realized without the downside of longer testing and implementation timeframes (since a change in one flow requires regression testing in all other flows).

Author - Guneet Paintal, Principal Consultant - Supply Chain Management

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