New reports from Forrester Research analyze the benefits of commercially available “digital operations platforms” that incorporate data automation and artificial intelligence to help manufacturers and distributors improve how they serve customers.

B2B companies these days need business software designed to help them “react to profound changes in B2B buyers’ behavior,” including higher service-level expectations and greater access to and use of data in sourcing decisions.

A new breed of digital operations platforms can provide new value through improved usage of data automation and artificial intelligence to help B2B companies better compete.

Leading providers of digital operations platforms, or DOPs, are addressing this need by “making their software smarter so that their customers can meet their customers’ demand for speed and choice, without sacrificing business imperatives such as profitability and working capital optimization,” Forrester says in a new report on digital operations platforms for distributors. (A sister report covers DOPs for manufacturers.)

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Liz Herbert, vice president and principal analyst, Forrester Research

The report, “The Forrester Wave: Digital Operations Platforms for Distribution Businesses, Q3 2020,” by Liz Herbert, Duncan Jones and George Lawrie, among other Forrester analysts, reviews and scores eight providers of such technology platforms, listed here in alphabetical order: Epicor, IFS, Infor, Microsoft, Oracle, Oracle NetSuite, Sage and SAP.

Going beyond legacy ERPs

The report asserts that many legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems for managing information on such things as customer activity and inventory stockpiles are “outdated and hampering business success.” It says that a new breed of digital operations platforms can provide new value through improved usage of data automation and artificial intelligence to help B2B companies better compete by more effectively recommending products and providing critical levels of service that meet the particular needs of customers.

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Forrester says that companies considering the deployment of digital operations platforms should consider the ability of each DOP to do the following:

  • Optimize product recommendations to resolve imbalances between customer demand and available inventory. “ERP usually requires human users to make tricky decisions, such as which customer should get scarce inventory that several customers want. Modern DOPs make more data visible to users to enable better-informed decisions.”
  • Simplify integration with customers’ and suppliers’ other operational applications. “DOPs replace ERP’s inside-out focus and proprietary technologies with open architectures that support newer and still-emerging standards, such as microservices and containers, and welcome best-of-breed ecosystem partners. Great DOP choices provide out-of-box solutions for their specific industry—not merely a broad vertical, such as wholesale distribution, but granular micro-verticals, such as building materials or restaurant food.”
  • Establish mutually successful, long-term strategic partnerships. “It’s very hard to replace a platform once you’ve implemented it, so you need to be confident that you can fully trust the vendor to treat you fairly commercially for as long as you remain a customer.”

Forrester has also released a similar report for manufacturers that reviews 13 DOP providers: Dassault Systemes, Epicor, IFS, Infor, Micorosoft, Oracle, Oracle NetSuite, Plex Systems, QAD, Ramco, Rootstock, Sage and SAP.

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