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SAP Research announces its Sustainable Business Network platform

A new intra-company supply chain program heads into a field test with selected SAP customers.

SAP Research announced it was entering into a “limited ramp-up” of its Sustainable Business Network (SBN) beta platform with a small number of customers and suppliers. The announcement was made as part of the recent Americas’ SAP User Group (ASUG) Community Focus event in Anaheim, Calif. 

A core part of a mature green IT purchasing and supply chain strategy, an SBN platform allows manufacturers to use one information sharing platform with their suppliers -- and their suppliers’ suppliers -- in a consistent manner to leverage common information requests and metrics. My firm and I have been advising both SAP Labs and SAP Research on management systems and approaches to use in the development of this platform, which has been known here by both the “Columbus” and more recently “Glasshouse” project names for more than a year.

It has been a long road to reach this announcement, which I was privileged to make with SAP Research last month at the Community Focus event. Although the limited ramp-up is a requisite step to commercialization -- and several functions in this cloud-based model will be considered “premium” (read paid) services in the future -- the platform in its current form is a chance for early adopters in the SAP customer base to collaborate with the world’s largest enterprise business software maker.

In its current form, the SBN platform looks and feels a lot like SAP’s sustainability report, rated A+ by the Global Reporting Initiative. Organizations join the platform environment like any other cloud-based application, by registering. Manufacturers ask suppliers to join to reduce sustainability reporting systems overhead, costs and effort. They can associate with one or many supply chains similar to “linking” or “friending” on common social medial platforms, protecting responses to questionnaires and survey instruments in a secured environment.

The SBN beta includes an on-demand tool called Sustainable Supplier Management that companies can use to assess the manufacturing sustainability level and compliance of their suppliers or answer assessment requests from their customers. Several in-build intelligent features allow for creating questionnaires with relevant and commonly used questions using crowd-sourcing and repository techniques. They allow for every question to be answered only once across all customers and make these responses available to selected members in the business network -- both manufacturers and suppliers.

SAP Research is testing with a selected number of suppliers and customer pairings and clusters to enlist further development support. The SBN beta will continue into 2012 with additional functionality added to the platform based on the early results from the limited ramp-up activities. In addition, SAP is looking to create more options to track and monitor metrics and performance against various environmental and social standards. Such standards will be based on prevailing regulations and best-practices management systems across industries.

Proceedings defining the SBN beta platform and additional information on the SAP Executive Advisory Council can be found by accessing and referencing presentation ACF0711 (registration and membership required).

William Newman is managing principal of Newport Consulting Group, an independent management and technology consulting firm based in Clarkston, Mich. Contact him via email or follow him on Twitter (@william_newman).

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