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When Eight O’Clock Coffee spun out from The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company Inc. it found itself with pressing e-commerce demands and limited resources to meet them.

The company completed its split with the grocer – better known as A&P – in late 2003. Last year, another challenge surfaced: the need to meet Wal-Mart’s requirement for business-to-business communication using the AS2 data transport specification. Eight O’Clock Coffee hired Global eXchange Services Inc. (GXS), a B2B e-commerce service provider to beat the line. The contract was signed in mid 2004, but announced in March.

Eight O’Clock Coffee was familiar with GXS. The company’s former parent had tapped GXS for network-based translation services.

After the spin off, Eight O’Clock Coffee embarked on the task of establishing a separate infrastructure. The company realized during that process that it needed to quickly comply with Wal-Mart’s AS2 mandate, said Ryan Kraudel, marketing manager for managed services at GXS.

The coffee company “looked to us to quickly get them up and running and communicating with Wal-Mart,” Kraudel said. Specifically, Eight O’Clock Coffee selected GXS Managed Services B2B outsourcing solutions.

The company primarily uses GXS’ managed service to receive purchase orders from customers and transmit invoices to customers. The service not only links Eight O’Clock Coffee to Wal-Mart, but to Target and about two dozen other retail customers.

Customers send a purchase order to GXS’ B2B service in the format of their choosing – AS2, FTP, or another protocol. GXS then translates the document into Eight O’Clock Coffee’s preferred format and sends it on to the company. Similarly, GXS translates invoices into the customer’s format before transmitting them.

GXS was able to get Eight O’Clock Coffee operational on its B2B service in about a month. Much of that time was spent mapping data formats among the e-commerce partners. The project also involved setting up the communication link and testing to ensure proper operation.

The customer integration project has led to additional work for GXS. The company now is looking to automate communication with Eight O’Clock Coffee’s suppliers, Kraudel said. The initial phase, now underway, assesses the technical sophistication of each supplier.

Some supplier partners have direct connections to Eight O’Clock Coffee, but most conduct transactions via e-mail, phone, or fax, Kraudel explained.

Kraudel said the Eight O’Clock Coffee project reflects a trend in which companies call on GXS following a divestiture. Spin-offs “generally don’t have the internal expertise needed to maintain the level of B2B communication they had under the parent company,” he noted.

GXS can empathize with a spin-off. Francisco Partners acquired GXS from General Electric in 2002. GXS now operates as an independent entity.

Manhattan Associates Launches RFID Lab

Manhattan Associates Inc. on March 1 unveiled its radio frequency identification (RFID) testing lab in Atlanta.
The new facility lets the supply-chain specialist expand its product assessment capabilities for customers. Manhattan Associates also operates a mobile RFID lab for customers opting to test products at their facilities.

Davison Schopmeyer, senior director of RFID professional services at Manhattan Associates, said retail remains a strong segment for RFID. Wal-Mart has been a RFID standard bearer, but some observers thought interest in the technology would drop off once the retailer’s top 100 suppliers came on board.

But this hasn’t been the case, according to Schopmeyer, who said the “next 200” also are active. The top 100, some of which initially took at “slap and ship” approach to RFID, are now considering different options for the technology, he added.

Beyond retail, pharmaceutical companies also are showing interest in RFID, Schopmeyer said.

Avnet Cultivates ISVs

Avnet Partner Solutions has launched a program for software-oriented partners residing in the distributor’s community of IBM iSeries specialists.

The ISV program, which debuted March 1 at IBM’s PartnerWorld conference, includes application support, a demand generation program, and an ISV advisory board. Brad Wilson, iSeries ISV program manager at Avnet Partner Solutions, said the company met with ISVs to identify their needs and structured the program accordingly.

Among the ISVs’ priorities is application support. Software partners, Wilson said, may need help making sure their applications are in line with IBM’s technology roadmap. Avnet Partner Solutions also will make resources available to support ISVs planning to retool their applications.

“All of them are considering different facets of application modernization,” Wilson said. Modernization, he added, covers a spectrum of development activity, from improving a graphical user interface to a complete rewrite.

The ISV program also aims to improve communication with that group. For example, Avnet Partner Solutions plans to create an ISV advisory board, consisting of 10 to 15 ISV representatives.

The move was inspired by an assessment of Avnet Partner Solutions’ iSeries partner base. The distributor found that more than 100 of its iSeries partners – about 30 percent of its iSeries community – fell into the ISV category. Those companies were either selling their own applications or had exclusive marketing rights to a particular application. Many of the ISVs market vertical solutions in sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing, and retail, while others provide cross-industry applications.

The software-centric partner program recalls the heyday of the AS/400 – the predecessor product line to the iSeries servers. A bevy of applications accompanied IBM’s 1988 launch of the AS/400.

“When it first came out, it was a solution box,” Wilson said. Although that emphasis has shifted over the years, that earlier solution focus is making a comeback, he added.

In February, IBM said it will “engage nearly 10 times as many partners” creating software applications and tools for the iSeries.

Cognizant Sees Growth In Retail

Retail is booming at Cognizant Technology Solutions, which recently reported continuing expansion in that sector following a sharp uptick in 2004.

Last year, Cognizant experienced a 62 percent boost in revenue from retail, manufacturing, and logistics customers. Those customers now account for 19 percent of the IT services firm’s revenue.

Ron Glickman, newly appointed retail practice leader at Cognizant, attributed the growth to retailers’ increased willingness to pursue global sourcing. In addition, the aging of retail automation – point-of-sales equipment and software related to store systems — has also contributed to demand, he added.