SAP's forthcoming Advanced Planner and Optimiser is a key part of the Supply Chain Optimisation, Planning and Execution, Scope, initiative announced in August 1997.
APO tackles the planning, execution and reporting of the entire supply chain. But after a first look at the APO technology, PC Week Labs believes SAP is entering dangerous territory, juggling relationships with established partners, such as i2 Technologies and Manugistics, while developing a competing product.
APO consists of several modules, all hinged on a proprietary technology called liveCache. These modules include Available-to-Promise, which allows corporate planners to tell manufacturers and suppliers when products will become available. The Demand Planning, Supply Network Planning and Production Planning modules use empirical data and statistics to predict demand for a company's products, how the supply network might hold up and how the production line will be affected, respectively.
All of these components can be managed from APO's Supply Chain Cockpit.
Manugistics' namesake product and i2's Rhythm have some of the same capabilities and have the advantage of being available now - APO is still in beta testing.
In fact, SAP is licensing and co-developing its optimisation capabilities from French vendor Ilog, which also has agreements with Manugistics and i2.
Where SAP departs from its competitors is with liveCache, which is built on an object database that PC Week believes SAP licensed from Object Management System, a Xerox project.
In SAP's case, the object database includes a copy of portions of the SAP database that are associated with supply chain management. Because liveCache is actually an SAP database, integration between the R/3 application server and liveCache is tighter by nature than the R/3 integration offered by competing products.
Performance is the critical factor for APO; SAP has developed liveCache to reside totally in RAM on a fairly massive server. Companies should expect to use a server that's separate from the SAP application server and that has between 1Gb and 4Gb of RAM.
liveCache's near-real-time replication features refresh data from the SAP application server and databases. Instead of accessing supply chain management information from the slower SAP system, corporate planners can get the information directly from liveCache, reducing response times to fractions of a second.
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